We've taken a look at the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals, now it's time to get to the real bottom of the trash can that is the NFC West. I'm talking, of course, about the St. Louis Rams. The Rams have had a brutal schedule to start the year, there is no denying that. They also have a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels, and therefore a new offense for second-year quarterback Sam Bradford to learn. The lockout and shortened offseason certainly didn't help that process.
But they aren't the only team to have turnover. The 49ers have a new system across the board. The Titans, Panthers, Raiders, Broncos and Browns have new head coaches. They have all been more successful than the Rams so far this season.
The Rams were considered by some to be the favorites in the division. At the very least they seemed the most stable, with most of the offense and defense returning and a clear franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford. A shortened offseason, new offense, injury and brutal schedule looks to be a lethal combination to their playoffs hopes, which according to Football Outsiders, is zero.
One thing really holding the Rams back this year has been the play of their receivers. They thought adding Mike Sims-Walker during the offseason would give them the #1 receiver they needed, but it did not work out. He was cut shortly after they traded for Brandon Lloyd. I think the Rams overestimated the impact that Josh McDaniels would have on their team, as well as Bradford's ability to make his receivers look good. McDaniels was able to lead some great offenses in New England without big-name receivers. That has not happened in St. Louis so far.
Their offensive line has also taken a step back in pass protection. After an impressive rookie season, tackle Roger Saffold looks to be in a sophomore slump. The Rams ranked 10th in pass blocking last year according to Football Outsiders. This year they rank 23rd, which can help explain Bradford's ineffectiveness this season.
Where the Rams have really struggled, though, is on defense. They are ranked 31st in the league: 28th against the pass and 32nd against the rush. Giving up 253 yards to rookie DeMarco Murray certainly didn't help. Their secondary has been banged up the last few weeks, but there is no excuse for their poor run defense. They weren't great in 2010, ranking 20th in that category, but they weren't expected to regress in that area.
Here is a look at the remaining schedule for the Rams:
Week 8: vs. New Orleans Saints
Week 9: @ Arizona Cardinals
Week 10: @ Cleveland Browns
Week 11: vs. Seattle Seahawks
Week 12: vs. Arizona Cardinals
Week 13: @ San Francisco 49ers
Week 14: @ Seattle Seahawks
Week 15: vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Week 16: @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 17: vs. San Francisco 49ers
Their schedule isn't as tough, as they still have all six of their divisional games remaining, but if the 49ers keep up the pace they will have a tough time beating them. It should be interesting to see what the Rams do if they are able to win the "Suck 4 Luck" sweepstakes. I can't imagine them not trading the pick, which would mean they can really stockpile picks. Next year's draft will be huge for them either way. I'd look for them to shore up their secondary and get Bradford some more weapons on offense. They also need an eventual successor to Steven Jackson, who is approaching the wrong side of 30 and has had a huge workload in his career.
Don't forget to vote your favorite 49ers to the Pro Bowl, especially Justin Smith. If he isn't a starter this year I will throw a tempter tantrum. You can vote HERE.
...just kidding. Seriously click the last link. It's good, clean, high-brow humor.