Expectations have been all over for the Rams for the 2015 NFL season.
It's hard to find more teams in recent memory that has had the football world more split on it's expected production. It seems to be a recurring theme every year that "this is the year the Rams make the leap", though that hasn't come to fruition quite yet.
There seems to be a dead split in the football world between the Rams making the playoffs - which is a measuring stick for success - and falling short yet again. Each year, more and more fans begin to lose hope. The idea that this team will be nothing more than "competitive" starts to resonate within even the most loyal fans, and while being competitive was once viewed as a positive - as it showed marginal improvement - it's no longer enough and people want this team to take the next step.
By now every one has heard it at least once or twice for either way. It's either "the Rams look poised to take that next step, led by that defense and its front seven they should finish no lower than second in the division, and lay claim to one of the final 2 playoff spots". Or its something along the lines of " the Rams have made improvements and they're a tough play beating teams like the Broncos and Seahawks last year, but their offense might not be enough to get them over the hump and they are likely to finish no higher than third in the division.
Predictions are running wild, and the time is near when we all will find out what the season will really be like for the Rams. But in the mean time lets have a look at the factors playing against the team, as well as in their favor.
REASONS FOR SUCCESS:
- The Rams' defense finished the season on something of a hot streak. Historically, teams that have shown promise to close out a season - that may not have gone the way they would have liked - usually carry that momentum into the following season. This unit will have the same coordinator for consecutive seasons for the first time in four years. Also they have a group of players that really began to turn on the switch in the second half of last season. Players like Rodney McLeod, T.J. McDonald, and Alec Ogletree really became impact players. Add in an extremely solid corner in E.J. Gaines, and a motivated - because it's their contract year - Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, and you could have a very impressive unit on your hands. Not to mention the addition of Akeem Ayers, who might be one of the better additions of any team in the division. He's a low key, low priced add, that could and should make a huge impact and a lot of noise. His addition has finally completed this linebacker corps creating depth with Jo-Lonn Dunbar moving to a back up role, and adding splash play ability.
- The defensive line has a real chance to eclipse 50 sacks from just their position group. With a draft jackpot in Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and a healthy Chris Long - not to mention the depth of William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Michael Brockers, and Nick Fairley - this unit could be a historical one. Most of which should sound familiar from last season. The big issue then of course was to start the season Chris Long only played 2 quarters of football, Aaron Donald wasn't getting nearly enough clock, which all led to Quinn being doubled and tripled team every game. Keep this unit healthy and intact and they may make magic happen.
- The team finally appears to be set on a true identity. For the first time in a long time, the off-season moves reflected a team that appears to know exactly what it wants to do without any of the in between confusion. The importance of settling on an identity can't be overstated. The team looks primed to pound the football repeatedly, and rely on play action rather than the standard drop back for chunk yards and big plays. The deep ball also happens to be something new quarterback Nick Foles loves to throw. There's reason to believe they can play this style of offense while employing a sort count on the defense mentality.
REASONS FOR FAILURE:
- While the coaching staff has finally settled in on a true identity, they're relying on the NFL's most unproven offensive line, a sophomore running back that only had five touchdowns as a rookie and only average 4.3 YPC, and a rookie running back coming off of a torn ACL. Those aren't exactly ideal circumstances. There was a focus placed on improving the offensive line in the draft. But those upgrades are comprised mostly of good run blockers. At some point the team will have to pass leaving one to wonder how this unit will fare? Tre Mason certainly showed flashes as a rookie, but he also looked like a rookie. He proved he has a future in this league, but where is his ceiling? He didn't have as good a rookie season as Jeremy Hill or Le'Veon Bell/Eddie Lacy in 2013. So it makes sense for anyone to still be a little unsure of how well he can carry an offense. Todd Gurley is physically gifted, but he is also physically wounded. While we have seen a massive difference in a players return from ACL surgery as opposed to 15 yrs ago, the injury still ends careers. Also players have a higher chance of tearing their ACL again after tearing it once already. Once you add in this offense will be led by a new offensive coordinator, it really leaves you in the dark when trying to assess the situation.
- The Rams defense has struggled with consistency, leaving a reason to doubt the hype of their potential 2015 production. The issues with consistency has been relative for years. After so many years of not playing to their potential on a weekly basis, it makes sense to question why they will start now? Mental lapses and undisciplined play has plagued this unit for years. Those mistakes usually leads to big plays for the opposing offense. With so many questions on offense, and a brutal start to the schedule, this unit can't afford to start slow.
- Sam Bradford was traded for Nick Foles and a hanfull of draft pick swaps during the off-season. You can make a legitimate argument that the Eagles got the better end of this bargain. Not many NFL coaches - if any - will tell you that Nick Foles is physically better than Sam Bradford. The multiple teams that inquired about Bradford - even coming off back-to-back ACL tears - tell you all you need to know about how hes viewed amongst other clubs. His greatest issue has been health. Foles has also struggled with staying on the field. He has yet to avoid injury as a starter. In his rookie season he broke his hand, the following year he suffered a concussion, and last year he broke his collar bone. It's a far cry from the new found stability at the quarterback postion that has been getting sold. In fact comparing the first three years of Bradford and Foles, Bradford was healthy 42 of a possible 48 games. Foles has been healthy for 29 of 48 games. Health is one issue, but the greatest concern at the position is Foles' issues with turnovers. Even during his pro bowl season he led the league in dropped interceptions and only attempted 317 passes. In fact, dating back to college Foles has started 59 games and thrown 50 interceptions. He has also fumbled 16 times in just 28 NFL games. This all leaves us with one question, how much of an upgrade at the position did the Rams really get?
No one can deny there are definitely things to look forward to with this team for this season. But there's also reason to doubt there will be any real bump in performance. The question is which team will we see this season?