At the end of last season the St. Louis Rams look liked the up incoming team in the NFC West who could take control of the division the same way the Kurt Warner led teams did from 1999-2003. Even with rookie quarterback Sam Bradford at the helm, the number one overall pick in 2010, the Rams were able to finish 7-9 and tied for first place in the NFC West. The Rams entered the last week of the season with a 7-8 record and needed to beat the Seahawks, who were 6-9, to win the NFC West. The Rams ended up losing 16-6 to the Seahawks and although they were tied for the first place, the Seahawks won the tiebreaker and went on to the playoffs.
After the way the Rams finished the season and how Bradford played in his rookie season I thought the Rams would be the favorites in 2011 to win the NFC West. Before the 2011 off-season began they were with the rest of the NFC West looking overmatched because of who they had at quarterback. The 49ers had Alex Smith who has been transformed into a reliable quarterback, the Cardinals had Derek Anderson and John Skelton before trading for Kevin Kolb and the Seahawks had Matt Hasselbeck and now have Tarvaris Jackson under center. So far the 49ers are the only team were their QB situation is working out. Before the season started the Rams were looking like the favorites based on their play last season and with their stability at quarterback. However due to injuries and one of the hardest schedules in the NFL the Rams have started 0-6 this season.
Through week six of this season the Rams have lost to the Eagles, Giants, Ravens, Redskins, Packers and Cowboys. Their brutal schedule does not get any easier the rest of the season with games against Saints, Bengals, Steelers and the 49ers twice. There are some winnable games for the Rams the rest of the season but they have a tough hill to climb being one of three winless teams remaining in the NFL. The Rams offense this season has been affected by injuries to running back Steven Jackson who had only six attempts in the first three games, missing the second game against the Giants. Jackson is healthy again and has played well the last two games however Bradford is now hurt and missed week seven’s loss to the Cowboys and could be out this Sunday against the Saints.
The Rams have not had good wide receivers since the days of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and defenses are exploiting this in the offense this season. Much like the 49ers faced last season defenses this season are focusing in on the strong part of the Rams’ offense which is the rushing attack. If you don’t have wide receivers a defense respects they will put eight players in the box to stop the run and make you try to beat them with the pass. Bradford was still able to pass for 3,512 yards and 18 TD’s last season thanks to the emergence of WR’s Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson. This season however the Rams lost Amendola to injury for the season and Gibson is not putting up the same numbers as last season. Desperate for a wide receiving threat the Rams traded for WR Brandon Lloyd from the Broncos and hope he can give a boost to the passing game.
Even with the hard schedule the Rams offense is ranked similar to where they finished last season. In 2010 the Rams were ranked 26th in yards per game, in 2011 they are ranked 28th. They ranked 21st in passing offense last season and are ranked 23rd this season. In their rushing attack the Rams were ranked 25th compared to 26th this season. For most team’s remaining stagnant and not progressing in your offensive production from the previous season is not a good thing but when you have a schedule like the Rams you will take it.
On defense is where the Rams are in more trouble. They are ranked 29th in total defense which is alarming because their head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, is an expert on defense and this has become the team’s biggest weakness. The Rams defense is the worst in the league against the run and they showed it last week against the Cowboys. The Rams defense allowed Cowboys rookie RB DeMarco Murray to rush for 253 yards rushing in his first NFL start. Not good for a defense that was built to be strong against the run . The Rams have had three cornerbacks go down for the season due to injury and when you combine that with a lack of a good run defense, and one that gives up an average of 183 rushing yards a game, you can expect opponent’s to not only run but pass all over you. The bad play by the Rams defense allows opponents to eat up the clock and does not allow the Rams offense to get on the field to score.
All in all the Rams have talent on both offense and defense but injuries and a tough schedule has contributed to their winless start this season. A friend of mine who is a Rams fan has said he noticed there is less competiveness in the way the Rams are playing this season compared to last season. When I asked him why this is he responded, “The injuries are demoralizing but when you have a hard schedule like the Rams and you are weak on defense and you are down early to better teams, frustration sets in and then you lose your competiveness.” As a Niner fan I relish in the fact that the Rams are 0-6 after their promising season last year. But with a bad record comes top draft picks and this could be bad for the 49ers and the rest of the NFC West because the Rams are a player or two on both offense and defense from being contenders in the NFC West.