The Rams’ season was derailed with an injury to starting quarterback Sam Bradford that the team was unable to overcome. In other divisions in the NFL the Rams may have been able to be competitive, yet in the intense atmosphere of the NFC West their 7-9 record was only good enough for last place behind the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals. With two picks in the first 13 of the 2014 draft (courtesy of the Robert Griffin III trade with Washington) and a returning Bradford to steady the ship, hopes will be high in St Louis that 2014 can see them close the gap to their divisional rivals.
Prior to his injury, Bradford was in the process of putting up some impressive numbers; his 1687 yards and 14 touchdowns helping him achieve a passer rating of 90.9. Backup Kellen Clemens was unable to produce to a similar level, with seven interceptions and just eight touchdown passes. Rookie running back Zac Stacy was a huge plus offensively. Despite having to wait for his chance to get some game time, the fifth round selection managed 973 yards and seven scores to provide balance to the Rams offence. Receiving honours were split, with Jared Cook’s 51 catches for just 671 yards leading the team and showing where improvements can be made. Rookie Tavon Austin showed signs of promise, hauling in 40 passes for 418 yards.
St Louis finished 13th in conceding 22.8 points per game and 15th in yards allowed (345 per game). Rookie linebacker Alec Ogeltree lead the team with 117 tackles, just ahead of James Laurinaitis who racked up 116. Robert Quinn had a sensational year, however, racking up a mightily impressive 19 sacks (and an interception). Chris Long weighed in with a further 8.5 sacks out of the Rams’ total of 53. Trumaine Johnson was the leader in the secondary, with three picks and 11 passes defended. He was supported by Janoris Jenkins, who intercepted one pass and defended a further 14. The Rams will, however, look to improve on the 4200 yards that they gave up through the air in order to close the gap on their divisional rivals in 2014.
Greg ‘The Leg’ Zuerlein hit 92.9% of his Field Goal attempts and was perfect from under 40 yards, whilst Johnny Hecker had an impressive 45.3 net average on 78 punts. Austin took the lead in the returning game, with a 22.1 yard average on kick-off returns and a 98 yard punt return touchdown.
Jeff Fisher continues the rebuilding role he started in St Louis and is now entering his third season at the helm. With plenty of high draft picks in place the time is nearing where his roster will need to start delivering on the field for him to feel secure in his job. It has been nine seasons since the Rams made the playoffs; with a fit Sam Bradford, Fisher will be confident of stopping the drought before it hits double figures.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
Protecting Sam Bradford has to be the key for the Rams in the draft. Guards Chris Williams and Shelley Smith have moved to Buffalo and Miami respectively. Jake Long will be a welcome return off IR and the eventual return of Rodger Saffold (after a vetoing of his proposed move to Oakland) offers some stability, but it would be a major surprise if the Rams do not use one of their two high draft picks to bolster the offensive line. Keeping Bradford healthy is the key to their season and they need to make moves to guarantee this.
Beyond this, Bradford needs more weapons to work with through the air. Austin showed promise, but more options are badly needed. The second pick could well be used on a wide receiver. Further reinforcements are needed to bolster a weak looking secondary. The loss of veteran Cortland Finnegan to Miami may not be felt too keenly on the field, but his experience in the locker room will be missed.
The Rams have not been very active in Free Agency; clearly they see the draft as the way to make the additions that their roster badly needs.