NFC West Preview: The St. Louis Rams

For many years now the Rams have been the laughing stock of the league. I firmly believe that's about to change. I love what the Rams have done during the off-season and draft and I mostly like what their pre-season has shown (though there are still some major areas of concern. 

Off-season moves:

Draft:
Round 1: Sam Bradford, QB
Round 2: Rogger Saffold, OT
Round 3: Jerome Murphy, DB
Round 4: Mardy Gilyard, WR
Round 5: Mike Hoomanawanui, TE
Round 5: Hall Davis, DE
Round 6: Fendi Onubun, TE
Round 6: Eugene Sims, DE
Round 7: Marquis Johnson, DB
Round 7: George Selvie, DE
Round 7: Josh Hull, LB

Marquis Johnson was cut to get down to the 53. Davis was traded for FB Dennis Morris who didn't make the roster. Everyone else made the 53.

Free Agent signings/Re-signings
AJ Feeley, QB
Fred Robbins, DT
Oshiomogho Atogwe, FS
Mike Karney, FB
Craig Dahl, SS
Kenneth Darby, RB
Na'il Diggs, LB
Clifton Ryan, DT
Keith Toston, RB (UDFA)
Thaddeus Lewis, QB (UDFA)

Trades:
Mark Clayton, WR (draft pick)
Bobby Carpenter (traded Alex Barron for Carpenter)
Hall Davis for FB Dennis Morris

Join me after the jump for some more indepth analysis and season predictions.

Offense Review:

Sam Bradford started out a bit rough (it didn't help that he had no protection the first game and had to throw the ball away three or four times to avoid a sack), but by the third game against the Pats he was on fire. Extremely poised in the pocket, doing an excellent job of seeing the entire field and going through his checkdowns. He wasn't locking in on any one receiver. 

His accuracy and touch have been talked about ad nauseum but I think one aspect of his QB skills that is overlooked is his strength. He fired some rockets out there that really surprised me. 

I felt that your offense struggled in the redzone. Several times you were inside the 10 and had to settle for field goals. It's nice to drive the length of the field but it's disheartening to not finish it. 

Jackson is a stud of course, but I think Bradford desperately needs a #1 WR. Avery was probably going to be that guy but he's out. Can Amendola step up into that role? The pass protection was rough at times, but it did improve significantly, especially in blitz pick ups (Ravens and Patriots were throwing blitzes at Bradford all day--none of which fazed him in the least). 

The addition of Mark Clayton should definitely help out Sam Bradford and Toston and Darby as backups to Jackson should give him some rest and keep him healthier. I think this offense has the potential to be scary good.

Defense Review:

The Rams defensive line has been vastly improved. Moving Chris Long to the left end spot was a great decision--he was making plays all over the field (I recall a particular play against the Browns where he chased down a receiver on the other side of the field). I thought Larry Grant also did a spectacular job--against the Browns he had one forced fumble on kick off coverage and was making plays all over. 

The weak point for the Rams on defense is their secondary. The first game they were being eaten alive in pass coverage--both in the flats and the deep ball. By the third game the underneath stuff seemed to have gotten fixed (indicating to me that it was probably mostly mental stuff and not talent), but the deep stuff is a major concern. Lots of wide open receivers down the field.

I also noticed that the tackling was very sloppy throughout the pre-season. Lots of players who managed to brak away from the first tackler and gaining extra yards. Perhaps the most egregious example is James Laurinaitis grabbing Rob Gronkowski at about the six yard line and Gronkowski still managing to hop into the endzone. Definitely something that needs work on. 

The run defense is impressive and the pass rush has improved week to week (though it's still inconsistent).

Special Teams

The return units are great. Gilyard and Amendola are both exciting returners. I thought the coverage units didn't do so well--mostly because of that sloppy tackling I mentioned earlier. If the Rams can fix that they'll be much better off.

Schedule & Win/Loss predictions:

Week 1 AZ @ Stl--I think the Rams can win this one. Still have momentum from the pre-season and theCardinals are a team in turmoil right now

Week 2 Rams @ Raiders--This is an interesting one. I think that the Raiders can bring the pressure--if your offensive line can handle it than this could be an exciting and close game. I think the Rams offense is better than the Raider's offense, but overall their defense is better. I'll give it to the Raiders, but narrowly

Week 3 Redskins @ Rams--I think that the Redskins offense will be too tough to stop. This is a Skins victory

Week 4 Seahawks @ Rams--I think the Rams win this one too. I don't think that the Seahawks have the offense to put up good numbers and I don't think that their secondary can stop Bradford (especially with them trading their best CB away). 

Week 5 Rams @ Lions--This will be an interesting matchup. I love what the Lions did in the off-season and Stafford is the real deal. I think this will be a high scoring affair and the last team with the ball wins. Special teams may be the difference maker here and the Rams have better ST than the Lions. Win for the Rams

Week 6 Chargers @ Rams--Chargers offense is too high-powered for the Rams secondary. Loss.

Week 7 Rams @ Bucs--I think that the Bucs offense isn't good enough to carry the day and their defense (especially secondary) won't stop the Rams. Win

Week 8 Panthers @ Rams--Panthers should win this one but I'm predicting upset for the Rams.

Week 9 Bye

Week 10 Rams @ 49ers--At Candlestick. There's no way we lose this, not with our improved offensive line, improved passing attack and better special teams. 

Week 11 Falcons @ Rams--Have to give this one to the Falcons with their high-powered passing offense.

Week 12 Rams @ Broncos--I'd love to say that the Rams will win, but it's at Denver. However I don't think Orton's the answer there at QB and I think their offense will struggle. It'll be a close game but the Broncos will win.

Week 13 Rams @ Cardinals--Cardinals win this one. By this point in the season I'm predicting Max Hall as the starter (I think he'll be better for the Cardinals than Derek Anderson). They're at home too, which will give them an added edge

Week 14 Rams @ Saints--Have to give this one to the Saints because of their passing offense. However they tend to play down to the level of their competition (Redskins and Bucs last year), so this one could be closer than people think.

Week 15 49ers @ Rams--Calling this for the 49ers again, though it won't be the smackdown that it was last year. Bradford's too smart to make the kind of mental errors that killed the Rams last year. Loss for the Rams.

Week 16 Rams @ Seahawks--Sweep of the Seahawks by the Rams? I think it's possible. Like I said I think the Seahawks secondary is very suspect as is their offense with no true #1 WR and aging QB who's a bit frail. Win

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