We have officially reached the final team to cover in the NFC West division. We've discussed San Fransisco, Seattle, and Arizona (all of which are linked). The Rams might be the biggest mystery of the group. While they have indeed flashed their real potential, the inconsistency from both players and coaches has left a lot to be desired. Many believe the Rams are primed for a breakout in 2014, and in a big way. But with all of the uncertainties, no one could blame any person who hesitates to jump on board with those predictions...
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR
The Rams offense has been accused of not proving anything. I disagree. I believe they have proven to be very explosive and dominant. But they have also proven to be arguably the most inconsistent offense in the NFL. It all starts up front. There have been stretches where the offensive line has looked as good as any line in the NFL. They've gone weeks without giving up a single sack. They’ve had games where running the ball is practically a formality. But injuries and inconsistent play has dogged this unit for years. Teams almost expect this line to screw up. A prime example would be the horrid performance against Dallas in Week 3 of last season. The line allowed six sacks, and saw the running game average 2.9 yards. But when facing the Saints and Colts, respectively, both of whom had far superior defenses - compared to Dallas who ranked near the bottom of the league in every major category - the offensive line shined. The Rams did manage to bring back Rodger Saffold, as well as draft Greg Robinson. The signing of Davin Joseph was a true underrated signing, and will add near starter-quality depth. This unit, as a whole, looks very strong but will need to stay healthy to prove their real strength.
The receiver corps is young. Yes, we have all heard that over and over again. But one could argue it is one of the deeper groups around. Is that depth proven? Absolutely not. But just examining the overall skill-sets, this bunch has everything you want. There's speed and electricity in both Chris Givens and Tavon Austin. There is the big, bad, punch-you-in-the-mouth receiver in both Kenny Britt and Brian Quick. Say what you will about Quick, but every catch he's had thus far has either been highly impressive or come with some high-effort yac. Both are faster than their size would indicate. They’ve also got a reliable, consistent pair of pass-catchers in Austin Pettis and Stedman Bailey. When stepping back and really looking at what the Rams have, it’s easy to see why Les Snead is so comfortable with the talent on the roster. There's two true issues: The play calling holds this group back, and there aren't enough balls to go around for anyone to gain enough experience for rapid development. This group will have to continue to grow up fast for the offense to have any real success.
The Rams' backfield has the potential to lead the league in rushing. Starter Zac Stacy will be tough to unseat. Regardless of all the chatter, it seems highly unlikely. Back-ups Benny Cunningham and Tre Mason will look to create a three-headed monster that will be nearly impossible to contain. There are so many different types of running backs, it can give a defense headaches. And believe it or not, you can't forget Isaiah Pead. While he certainly has not done much to win over the coaching staff - or the fan base - the fact remains he is an ideal third down back who's very explosive. At this point it seems like Brian Schottenheimer just needs to figure out how to utilize him. Everyone knows he can block well, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield as good as anyone.
Quarterback Sam Bradford has pretty much heard it all at this point. But the issue is that most of it has been negative. But it's like the old saying goes, "you are only as good as your last game." Well it just so happens, his last game was a damn good one. But the issue is, it was also pretty sad. Sam has to stay healthy. His performance last year shows that his recent confidence in interviews over the last two summers is not just talk. He has clearly been working to back it up. But nothing can be backed up in the training room. As long as Bradford stays healthy and picks up where he left off last year, there is little reason to believe this offense won't soar to new heights.
STRONGER THAN STRONG
For the first time, in a long time, the St. Louis Rams have received a lot of media hype entering a season; the reason being the defense. The most anticipated part of the defense is the defensive line. This D-line, lead by Robert Quinn, looks to wreak havoc on a regular basis. There appears to be more depth on this line than any other line in the NFL. But there is not only depth, but production. No team over the last two seasons has tallied more sacks than the Rams. Chris Long has been a mainstay in the sack+hurries category over the last four seasons. Michael Brockers has developed at a fast pace, and doesn't even look to have tapped his real potential. Kendall Langford looks to have become comfortable with lining up inside as opposed to his previous defensive end position in a 3-4. With extremely productive back-ups in William Hayes and Eugene Sims, the Rams still had the nerve to draft Aaron Donald. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about this group.
The linebacker corps is young and energetic. Lead by one of the most underrated players in the enitire NFL - James Laurinaitis - this defense will look to continue to build on a semi-impressive 2013. Alec Ogletree is a splash play machine. But he also still has a long way to go before reaching his potential. He may actually have the most growing and learning to do of any other player on defense. Jo-Lonn Dunbar brings a hard-hitting veteran presence, but his grip on the starting position may be slipping with young talents like Ray Ray Armstrong, Daren Bates, and others chomping at his heels. This group completes a front seven that may very well end 2014 as the most feared in the NFL.
The secondary is undoubtedbly the weak link of this defense. Not because there's not a lot of talent like the other areas, but because they are the most unproven. Janoris Jenkins is the most talented defensive back on the team, but he is the most undisciplined, as well. Being undisciplined translates to being inconsistent. He lacks discipline because he is a big risk-taker. Not that it's a bad thing, but he needs to be tamed. Trumaine Johnson is a very solid corner and, like Jenkins, possesses the ability to be a shut down corner. But he also tends to take too many risks. His biggest risks are with tackles. He looks to blow the guy up, rather than wrap him up. This results is more missed tackles. Speaking of which, T.J. McDonald lead the secondary in missed tackles, and he didn't even play the entire season. He looks for far too many kill shots. Rodney McCleod was the most consistent, and even he had major shades of gray. With all of that being said, the Rams realized that changes needed to be made and they made a lot of them. The biggest change was bringing back Gregg Williams. They also brought in players like Maurice Alexander, LaMarcus Joyner, E.J. Gaines, Greg Reid, among others. The influx of depth and talent added to this secondary is sure to create a lot of competition. Competition brings the best out of players, which leads one to believe the secondary should be greatly improved.
In conclusion - when speaking about the Rams - there are far too many if's, should's, and potentials. The team, as a whole, needs to be far more consistent to finally have that long-anticipated breakthrough. There is no one player - nor one coach - anyone can point the finger at. They all have their flaws; Fisher included. At this point, it is just simply time to get it done...
PROJECTED NFC WEST FINAL STANDINGS:
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 11-5
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 10-6
ST. LOUIS RAMS 10-6
ARIZONA CARDINALS 9-7
****I do believe, and I will be standing by this, that the entire division will "AT LEAST" finish .500 or better****