Mid-season reviews are popping up all over the place this week, and I guess that, you know, it kind of makes sense being that this is the mid-point of the NFL season and all.
For the Rams, coming off of three straight losses, the 2006 mid-point is also kind of crossroads. That's kind of a hackneyed analogy mix up, but this week's tilt in Seattle is really going to be the make or break point for the Rams' season, barring some really, really strange, alien abduction-like occurances in the NFC West between now and January.
With injuries having taken their toll on Seattle and the Rams' defense having taken its toll on the Rams, we have a chance to get a crucial game in the division and tie our overall record with the Seahawksat 5-4. (They'll still have the division lead in that case because of division record, stupid 49ers.) Needless to say, it's a big game.
Over at Fox Sports, on the Football Outsiders weekly DVOA rankings, they used the occasion to project teams' season records. They project the Rams to finish with an 8-8 record, just behind Seattle who they project to finish at 9-7. In terms of rankings, the Rams are 14th and the Hawks are 23rd. The Seattle offense doesn't compare to the Chargers' or the Chiefs' offense, especially without Hasselbeck and Alexander. For the Rams D, it won't be an easy game, none of them have been, but if they can step it up just a little bit and if the Rams play mistake free football all around, they have a real chance to win this game and keep hopes for 9-7 and a shot at the division crown alive as they head into a slightly easier stretch of the schedule.
Jumping back to the mid-season gradings, the Post-Dispatch had an interesting look at the Rams of 2006 and the Rams of 2005. Both team held 4-4 records at the season's midpoint, and the similarities don't end there. Looking over the basic stats, the Rams of '06 are eerily similar to the Rams of '06, except for a few key areas. On offense, this season's version of the Rams is scoring few points, 28 to be exact, which can largely be attributed to the contrast in Linehan's approach versus the Mad Mike Way. The one comparision stat that looks a little worse is the rushing yards per carry, 3.8 this season compared to 4.6 last. At least part of this has to do with Linehan running the ball 30 more times thus far, since some carries will inevitably come up short or go for no gain the more you try. Part of it falls on the O line, which needs to improve run blocking, as well as pass protection.
The 2006 defense has recorded fewer sacks than last season, 16 to 22. This stat stands out to me because Haslett is known for blitzing, and this, in part, seems to indicate that Haslett's schemes aren't working very well. I suspect given the Rams weak run defense, teams are trying hard to draw the Rams into a blitz and then beating them with play actions and other plays designed to fake them out. Haslett's statements this week after Larry Johnson's 170+ yard performance focused in on the fact that Ram defenders were lining up incorrectly. I don't have anything to cooberate that outside of my own observations, but the stats support that, albeit somewhat circumstantially. Nevertheless, it's worth watching as the games go on this season.
I'm not going to give the Rams any kind of grade or make any bold predictions here, but I think there is reason for optimism in that these are all things that can be easily improved with the right off season acquisition and temporarily by with a little more discipline and the right play calling. It's enough to top 6-10, but is it enough to top 8-8?