Jeff Fischer stepped into St. Louis and showed why he is still the man. Imagine taking over a franchise that had lost 65 of its last 80 games, and in mid-December you still have them as a part of the playoff talk. The Rams missed the playoffs, and with a 7-8-1 record they recorded their 9th straight losing season, but they improved by 5.5 games and raised everyone's expectations.
Fisher's offenses in Tennessee were known for their strong running game, ball control and play-action passing. With this only being the second season for Fischer and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer it remains to be seen how this offense will evolve.
For the first time as an NFL quarterback Sam Bradford will start the season with the same coordinator and the same offense, that alone will likely lead to better play. Imagine if every year you had to completely relearn your job, doesn't sound like too much fun to me. Also sounds like a pretty good reason for a subpar performance. Last year Bradford stayed healthy and with good coaching he showed signs of improvement on many fronts. This season is going to go a long way towards defining his capabilities as an NFL quarterback.
The skill positions on offense are pretty thin for the team. Jackson was the man at running back for 8 years, but he voided his contract and has since signed with Atlanta. I can't blame him, the man is a beast and the organization did nothing to help him out. He produced during the best of times and the worst of times, I wish him nothing but success with the falcons. However, that leaves only Richardson and Pead to run the ball. It's going to get rough at times on the ground. Receiver won't be much better. Gone are Amendola and Gibson, two of the top three pass catchers the past few seasons. The team only has young, unproven guys to replace them and no one is singing their praises from the sidelines. It will be interesting to see who is able to step up and establish themselves as a go-to guy for Bradford.
The Rams didn't blitz nearly as much last year as they did the year before, but that's because they didn't have to. The front four has some real talent and they were able to get there on their own.
"All of a sudden this became a physical team," one scout said. "Their defense improved leaps and bounds. With Long and Quinn and those guys they can really bring some heat."
That's music to the ears of any defensive coordinator. Chris Long and Robert Quinn both had double digit sacks last season and both are still improving. Long is an underrated player, even though he gets impressive sack totals he does more than that. He constantly disrupts plays and hurries the offense by being in the backfield. Quinn has a lot of athletic talent, but could improve against the run.
The linebackers are led by none other than James Laurinaitis. He is a rock in the middle not missing a game in four years and barely ever coming off the field. He struggled a little in the early going last season while learning a new role in a new defense, but by the end of the season he was in full swing. No one has more tackles than Laurinaitis since 2009, he leads everyone else by a mile. He is a smart, savvy player who always gives 100% when he shows up. Dunbar plays on the weakside and proved to be a steal for the team. He has the type of attitude that Fischer loves, he hits everything that moves, and they got him off the free agent market for a steal. If he learns to read the play action a little better he can really develop into a good player.
The Rams surprised a lot of people last year by being able to look competitive with teams that everyone thought would blow them out. The Rams have the unfortunate luck of being in a division with two real powerhouses, Seattle and San Francisco, but still managed to go 4-1-1 in the NFC West last year. They're not going to sneak up on anyone this year, guys will be fully prepared when Sunday comes. But they should still get better than the year before because Fischer knows how to coach his guys up. After purging the locker room everyone who is left knows whats expected of them and they are on board. Another year in the same system will help everyone.