Jeff Fischer came to St. Louis last year and made an immediate impact on the fortunes of the Rams. After a 2-14 year in 2011, St. Louis turned it around and went 7-8-1 in 2012. They beat the San Francisco 49ers at home and tied them on the road. Now, our NFL analysis turns to the issue of whether, in a rugged division, this is a ceiling, or if the Rams can scrape out a few more wins and make the playoffs.
St. Louis’ calling card is a tough four-man defensive front that can really collapse the pocket on the edges. Chris Long and Robert Quinn each posted double-digit sack totals last season, and the team finished tied for first in the NFL in sacks. That makes the somewhat shaky secondary performance even more disappointing, but with talented corner Janoris Jenkins entering his second year and Cortland Finnegan on the opposite side, I think Fischer can coax some improvement.
The Rams are also going to have to stiffen up against the run. They ranked 19th in yards-per-rush allowed, but here too, I think the talent on hand is enough to at least move them to respectability. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is a solid, stabilizing presence and the fact the defensive ends can take care of the pass rush should mean the linebackers can stay at home and stop the run.
Offensively, Fischer has a lot of skill position players to sort out. I like some of the kids the Rams have drafted in recent years at running back, receiver and tight end. The problem is that none of them are great, and none have been able to stand out. You can turn to Isiah Pead or rookie Zac Stacy in the backfield. The receiving corps is strengthened by the West Virginia duo of Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey. I also like Austin Pettis and Chris Givens. The same goes for Lance Kendricks at tight end.
I won’t go so far as to call this an embarrassment of riches—heck, it could be an embarrassment of mediocrity, a view I know a lot of scouts would adhere to. But this is yet another area where at least a few players can emerge as steady and give Sam Bradford some targets in the offense.
Bradford isn’t ever going to live up to his #1 overall draft pick status, but he’s made strides to becoming a pretty decent NFL quarterback. Enough to lead a team to at least a .500 record. That’s all it will take for the Rams go “Over”, their Las Vegas win number of 7.5, and I’m picking them to do just that.