St. Louis Rams Look Relevant Again
Although the St. Louis Rams never seem to be listed among the most consistent NFL bottom feeders (such as Oakland, Cleveland or Jacksonville), the last decade has been anything but kind for the team that once called Los Angeles its home. Ever since Rams fans were treated to The Greatest Show on Turf, featuring Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, and Isaac Bruce, the team have been rather irrelevant. The franchise has not seen a winning season since 2003, and the last playoff appearance came a year later in '04. There are certainly other droughts in the NFL that are worth more recognition, but this little stint is nothing to boast about.
Luckily for Rams nation, St. Louis general manager Les Snead has put together a roster that is poised to make the playoffs in 2015. Get excited, Rams fans!
The hot topic everyone wants to talk about is the switch at quarterback. Nick Foles will be under center for the Rams come September, and the transaction that snatched him from Philadelphia in exchange for Sam Bradford may turn out to be great for everyone involved. Foles was inconsistent at times with the Eagles, especially in 2014 before he suffered a season-ending collar bone injury. With that being said, Foles has proved he can win games in this league. He is 15-9 overall as a starting quarterback, which is by no means jaw dropping. However, since 2013 when he overthrew Michael Vick for the starting job in Philly, Foles is a combined 14-4.
Some will say that he was simply a product of Chip Kelly's system (which we will ultimately find out) but Foles showed glimpses of talent even early on when Andy Reid was still coaching the Eagles. He has the arm talent to really stretch the field and create big plays. His performance with the Rams will come down to consistency and discipline. Bradford was playing well before his ACL tear last year, but it was time to move on for the organization. They also saved a lot of money in the deal.
Foles won't have to do it all by himself. He'll have some toys to play with. The Rams are extremely deep in the backfield, and this will help alleviate some of the pressure off of him. The big news out of camp is that first round pick Todd Gurley has been cleared to start practicing and will be ready for the regular season. Gurley is a workload back, and a franchise-caliber player that the Rams can build the team around. However, as strong and powerful as he is, expectations need to be tempered for University of Georgia product, as he is coming off of a serious injury. That is where the depth comes in. Tre Mason is a talented scat back coming into his second year, and his rookie season was a nice start to his career. Mason totaled 765 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Benny Cunningham is another guy who can start in a pinch and give the other backs a breather.
On the outside at receiver, there is no real star, but again the depth is formidable. Kenny Britt showed last year how talented and effective he can be when he stays out of trouble. Brian Quick will be returning from injury and he is a guy who has made big plays and stepped up for the Rams in the past. Stedman Bailey is still looking to take the next step and harness that impressive athleticism. Tavon Austin has begun to find his niche as a gadget player. Of course Austin is a disappointment overall, but if he can find any way to contribute with his speed, it will prove invaluable.
Also, not underestimate the duo of Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks at tight end, especially as red zone targets. The offensive line is young and will have growing pains, but 2014 first round pick Greg Robinson should improve. Barrett Jones is a versatile and intelligent lineman known best for his success at the University of Alabama, and he will finally get his first real chance to play. Veteran Rodger Saffold remains at guard.
This is a young offense that will most likely struggle to score at times. It's safe to say this unit won't be posting 30+ points a game, but that is perfectly fine because if the Rams make the playoffs, it will be due to the special defense they have put together.
The group is strong at practically every position. The Rams front four of Chris Long, Michael Brockers/Nick Fairley, Aaron Donald, and Robert Quinn should be frightening for opposing offenses. This unit can get after the quarterback and cause serious havoc. Long only played in six games last year and battled an ankle injury, and the same held true for for Fairley in Detroit, who finished with a 9.8 Pro Football Focus grade before a bad knee sidelined him for the season. Aaron Donald picked up right where he left off at the University of Pittsburgh and dominated as a rookie. The future is so bright for the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, and PFF had him as the best defensive tackle in the NFL in 2014 with an overall mark of 34.4. Quinn had a down year last season, by his standards. He still managed double digit sacks and is still one of the best 4-3 defensive ends this league has to offer. This front four is scary and it will drive this defense. Just ask Peyton Manning what he thinks of these guys.
James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree are more than capable linebackers in the middle of this unit, and they can benefit greatly from the guys up front. Ogletree is still young and developing as he enters his third NFL season, but he really played well in the second half of the campaign a year ago. Laurinaitis is a veteran MLB, and although his play is not spectacular, he is dependable on a weekly basis. The Rams also picked up former New England Patriot Akeem Ayers, who made some big plays last year and showcased his ability to get after the quarterback off the edge.
The back end of the defense is also impressive. Janoris Jenkins is a corner who likes to take risks and anticipate passes, but his attitude and play style fit the group as a whole. It seems that the Rams found a steal in the 2014 draft with sixth round pick E.J. Gaines. As a rookie, Gaines recorded 10 passes defended and two interceptions. When quarterbacks threw towards Gaines, their combined QB rating was a 79, which is sub-par. Perhaps the best part of this stacked defense are the two safeties, T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod. These two are head hunters who fly to the ball and make plays.
McLeod you most likely know best from this.
And here is McDonald, who almost took Gaines' head off trying to hit Odell Beckham Jr.
With a defensive-minded head coach in Jeff Fisher and a creative defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams, this defense should be fun to watch.
Young weapons on offense that can make ends meet for a surefire top five defense? Sounds like a playoff team to me.