Every season is different. At least they all start out that way.
The Rams have had only four winning seasons and five playoff appearances since crossing out the words "Los Angeles" on team merchandise. For 19 seasons, St. Louis' small, but passionate football fans keep expecting THIS year to be different.
This year did look different. It felt different sitting on the hill overlooking one the team's first training camp practice of the season. Receivers ran crisp routes and made perfect catches on perfect throws. Defensive ends and offensive tackles took turns getting the best of each other in one-on-one drills. A high-energy practice topped only by the buzz emanating from the crowd overseeing the whole affair.
A 7-8-1 finish may not be a desirable result for a team like the Packers, but for the Rams it was the prescribed follow up to a 2-14 season. Head coach Jeff Fisher, having rejoined the coaching ranks after a one-year sabbatical and a dissolved marriage to the Titans, had his team playing like anything was possible. It was exactly what fans needed too. And created a set of expectations not felt since the Kurt Warner years and usually reserved for the city's baseball dynasty.
Expectations don't always run parallel to reality. Sometimes desire feeds those expectations, divorced from reality.
Anyone predicting 10 wins for the 2013 was probably counting on things outside the norm. Injuries and bad bounces for division rivals a year or two ahead of the curve, unburdened by nearly two decades of disastrous franchise leadership.
This is a young Rams team. The roster is filled with first- and second-round picks, most of whom are less than a year or two removed from their college days. Spirited, perfect practices hid gaps that won't be filled until next spring, hopefully. Matched up against one of the league's toughest schedules, Super Bowl expectations, playoff expectations, were no match for the conditions on the ground.
Expectations will have to wait another year. But it's hard to tell a long-suffering, dwindling fan base to hold out, even just for the next season.
The Rams are 3-5 at the halfway point of the season. It's not an insurmountable position, at least not for a team that still had its starting quarterback and a willingness to adjust to opponents. A shot at .500 is still possible, but it's a tough proposition. Dates with Super Bowl contenders like the Colts, 49ers, Seahawks and Saints make up half of the final eight.
Before looking ahead, let's look back at the season so far, at the players and the coaches and the front office moves that contributed to the team's 3-5 start ... and another year of waiting.
Thinking back, looking ahead
Jeff Fisher rolled out a cooler of beer and started the season anew a few weeks ago, a few weeks too late. But the teams has improved, sort of, since then.
Offensively, Brian Schottenheimer finally called more running plays, equalizing the balance. It worked. The quarterbacks were more effective without being asked to pass the ball 45 times. Receivers took on a reduced workload and even started blocking more down the field. But the tendency to get too cut by half is still there, exemplified by a head-scratching play call at the end of Monday night's loss to the Seahawks, with Kellen Clemens asked to channel Sam Bradford's accuracy and acumen in the red zone ... no threat of running the ball behind him to keep the defense honest.
Rookie defensive coordinator Tim Walton called his first good game of the season ... in Week 8. The pass rush was back, corners lined up in man and got their hands on opposing receivers with regularity. Gone were the soft cushions that left the middle of the field open and made it easy for opposing quarterbacks to hold off the pass rush with quick, productive mid-range shots.
There are signs that on both sides the ball the Rams are finally adjusting and adapting to the rest of the league ... seven weeks into the season.
Discipline problems remain. Tavon Austin has lost almost 250 yards on punt returns alone because of penalties. Refs threw their flags liberally against the Rams in Week 8, costing them more than a few needed yards and second chances to make something happen. It's a problem that's become synonymous with Fisher's Rams.
Whatever points Fisher and his staff get for improvements, it's offset by a lack of timeliness. You have to wonder what the record might be if the head coach had started the season over when the season first started. Going into the second half, with four games against potential Super Bowl contenders, a 4-4 or even a 5-3 record could have been just the buffer the Rams needed to make a push, even without the starting quarterback.
But here we are, waiting for another year with eight games left to play in the current one.
We'll be running a series of posts looking at each position on the team at the halfway point of the season throughout the day on Saturday, Nov. 2.