So we, admittedly, underestimated the commitment required for us both to preview all 32 NFL teams together in a little more than a month. It's tedious, thankless work. So from now on we're splitting the rest of the teams among the two of us to get done twice as quick (and with half the work). It is with that that we're proud to bring to you the 30th of our 32 team previews for the upcoming NFL season, the St. Louis Rams.
Finally. It's been too long covering teams that I don't care enough about. But the Rams are my team. I can tell you about their team this year even if you woke me up in the middle of the night to ask me. Stick with me, because I always run a risk of giving my team a better review than they deserve.
Two years ago they went 8-8 and still made the playoffs. In fact, they went 8-8 and won their first playoff game against Seattle before getting smacked by Atlanta. Last year, they jumped off the fence of mediocrity to the side of Suck City. All the problems the Rams were fighting before such as poor defense and front office turmoil all boiled over last year. Mike Martz had to take time off because of endocartitis but was fired before the season even ended. The defense ranked in the bottom three in the league. They needed an overtime "thriller" to beat the Texans.
So the season ended and the Rams got the overhaul that was put off for too long. They hired the offensive coordinator from the Dolphins, Scott Linehan. To try to fix their ailing defense, they hired dismissed Saints coach Jim Haslett.
Linehan is a good hire. Everyone was expecting St Louis to shift gears and hire a defensive coach, but this move made sense. When the Rams were good, they were the "Greatest Show on Turf." They had MVP Marshall Faulk. They had MVP Kurt Warner. They had Issac Bruce and Torry Holt. They made their name on offense and their defense -- which was good under coordinator Lovie Smith -- just did the dirty work. Instead of completely shifting gears, they hired a coach who could help keep their offensive identity.
Linehan is no Mike Martz though. Martz had a complicated system that relied heavily on the pass, even if the team wasn't far behind. Linehan is a runner's man. When he was coaching in Minnesota before Miami, it didn't matter who was running. It just mattered that they were running. Michael Bennett, Onterrio Smith, Mewelde Moore. It didn't matter. Then last year, Ronnie Brown became a beast. Now, Linehan may have his best talent yet -- Stephen Jackson. Jackson was shafted last year when the coaches decided to ignore the run game even after he showed the skill he had. Now, Linehan has been quite vocal on how many more carries Jackson will get and how much he loves the guy. I think Jackson will have a Pro Bowl year and amass at least 1,500 yards. And this isn't fan optimism. This is knowing how Scott Linehan works and how good Stephen Jackson really is.
The rest of the offense hasn't changed too much. Marc Bulger will be the quarterback once again and now that the passing game won't be the only option, he won't be ending every play making friends with a new defensive lineman. Although his season-ending shoulder injury came from trying to tackle someone, St. Louis will feel safer with him throwing less just for his health. His weapons are still there. Torry Holt has been one of the most consistent receivers for the last six years. Issac Bruce still contributes and when he can't, Kevin Curtis will.
And if Marc Bulger does go down, for the first time, he has a backup that can play. Gus Frerotte had a good year in Miami last year, and unlike Jamie Martin or Ryan Fitzpatrick, can provide the team with a stable arm if Bulger goes down.
The biggest question on the team is tight ends. Brandon Manumaleuna was traded for a draft pick during the second day of the draft -- possibly because he didn't feel like attending Linehans optional workouts. They drafted Joe Klopfenstein from Colorado in round two and Dominque Byrd from USC in round three. As of now, Klopfenstein is top of the depth chart and Aaron Walker is number two. However, none of these tight ends really have much experience in an offense that depends on them.
Offensively, the team has recently been called into question because they haven't been scoring in the preseason. Marc Bulger hasn't shown any concern himself because of the fact it's the preseason and I have no reason not to take his word on it. The offense has been moving the ball in preseason play, so they haven't looked hopeless. Also, with Holt and Bruce not even playing in the last game, defenses will play different than when they have to cover one of the best receivers in the league.
I wasn't down with Jim Haslett at first. Being friends with Tom, I heard about how much he hated him. However, now that he can focus on just one side of the ball, I think he will breath life into a dead defense. He wants an agressive defense that doesn't make mistakes -- AKA the opposite of the 2005 defense. They brought in some new players to help them out. La'Roi Glover at defensive tackle and Corey Chavous at strong safety. Their biggest move was signing Will Witherspoon from the Carolina Panthers. Witherspoon is being moved from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker, but it's an adjustment he seems to be doing well with. Pisa Tinoisamoa was one of the few bright spots of the Rams defense last year, moved over to strong side. Their d-line is good, with Leonard Little and Anthony Hargrove, great defensive ends -- although not much can be said about the character of Leonard Little, who once killed a woman because of a DUI and then actually drove drunk again.
I'm a little concerned about the secondary though. Travis Fisher is returning from injury and besides him at corner is Fakhir Brown from the Saints. Brown has never dazzled, but Haslett has spoken well about the man he worked with last year. Waiting in the wings is first round pick Tye Hill out of Clemson. Hill is competing, but he will need some more time before he starts a game.
The preseason games showed some hope for this defense. They held Kansas City, who usually hosts one of the meanest rushing games in town, to only one touchdown. They shut down the Colts, although Manning did move down the field for an early score. Houston put up some points, but Linehan threw his second string out while the Texans first was still in.
As for the front office turmoil, that's settled down for a bit, but I don't think it's gone. Jay Zygmut, President of Football Operations, was one of Martz's arch-enemies, and some departed players, such as Mike Furrey, who's with Martz in Detriot, blasted the way Zygmut handled releasing players. Hopefully, this will work itself out if the team performs on the field because Rams fans are tired of behind the scenes crap.
Seattle is the team to beat in the NFC West. I'm hoping for a combination of a Super Bowl hangover and a Madden Cover Curse. However, I think that the new Rams will have a shot this year. They aren't going to be any dominant presence, but as the team clicks more and more throughout the season, they will gain some momentum. The 49ers will not be a threat in the division and the Cardinals are in a simliar boat the Rams are. The Rams secondary will have to cover both Boldin and Fitzgerald from Arizona, but maybe they can pressure Warner enough -- unless Warner's gone by game two.
Their defense will help their offense for a change and the brightest spot for the Rams this year will be Stephen Jackson. I'm thinking that the Rams can finish at 8-8, if they're lucky 9-7. I wouldn't bank on the playoffs for this year, but I think the Rams will show great improvement this so that there will be hope for the return of the dominate Rams of years past.