It is simply amazing what one year can do for an organization, especially one that had completely bottomed out at the depths of the NFL. Flashback to mid-January of 2011, when the St. Louis Rams had just signed Jeff Fisher as their new head coach. The team was in shambles, finishing 2-14 in the NFC West, and were easily the worst offense in the league.
To be fair, the team was marred with a plague of injuries, one of the worst in NFL history. In fact, the the team had 16 total players on the reserve, including the starting right tackle (Jason Smith), starting left tackle (Rodger Saffold), starting guard (Jacob Bell), fullback (Brit Miller), three of the top wide receivers (Danny Amendola, Greg Salas, and Mark Clayton), and the top four cornerbacks on the depth chart (Rob Bartell, Bradley Fletcher, Al Harris, and Jerome Murphy). On top of those players, Steven Jackson pulled his groin on the opening rush of the regular season, Sam Bradford suffered a severe ankle injury in Week 7 against the Cowboys (that should have ended his season), and Austin Pettis was suspended for the final two game of the regular season for PEDs.
As a result, the Rams’ scored only 193 total points, which was the 11st lowest season total in league history, and by-far the lowest in the league that season. The team ended the season with a -214 point differential (32nd in the NFL) and a -5 turnover differential (12th in the NFC). According to Pro Football Focus, the only offense that graded out worse than the Rams’ was the Denver Broncos. However, PFF provides an all-encompassing grade, involving a culmination of run offense, pass offense, run blocking, pass blocking, and offensive penalties; St. Louis ranked 31st in passing, 26th in rushing, 27th in pass blocking, 22nd in run blocking, and 27th in penalties. As previously mentioned, that led to a 2-14 record at the end of the season; going 1-7 at home, 1-7 on the road, 0-6 in the NFC West, 1-11 in the NFC, and ending the season on a seven game losing streak. Not good…
Stan Kroenke cleaned house at the end of the year, releasing nearly the entire coaching staff and front office. He made two blockbuster signing, one in Jeff Fisher, as the Head Coach, and the other in Les Snead, who would become the new General Manager of the franchise. Fisher slowly, but surely, filled his coaching staff with some of the best and brightest in the business, signing Dave McGinnis as the Assistant Head Coach, Brian Schottenheimer as the Offensive Coordinator, Frank Cignetti Jr. as the Quarterbacks Coach (there was not one in 2011), and the all-powerful Paul Boudreau as the Offensive Line Coach, just to name a few.
Fisher and Snead also went out and snagged Scott Wells, Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar in free agency, all before making the “once in a lifetime” trade with the Washington Redskins for a bounty of picks in the 2012 through 2014 drafts. In the 2012 NFL Draft, they took their future starting defensive tackle (Michael Brockers), two future starting wide receivers (Chris Givens and Brian Quick), one starting cornerback (Janoris Jenkins) and another rotational cornerback (Trumaine Johnson), a potential starting guard (Rok Watkins), a future starting running back (Daryl Richardson and/or Isaiah Pead), a starting kicker (Greg Zuerlein), and snagged a starting punter as an undrafted free agent (Johnny Hekker). Not bad…
Although the Rams’ played the 4th hardest schedule in 2012 (opponents having a 134-122, .523 winning percentage), had to learn a new offensive and defensive playbook, and fielded the youngest team in the NFL at the start of the season, they still saw a remarkable turnaround in just one year.
The Rams finished 7-8-1 on the season; going 4-4 at home, 3-4-1 on the road, 4-1-1 in the NFC West, 6-5-1 in the NFC, and ended the season winning four of their last six games. They also finished six slots higher in overall offense, and three slots higher in overall defense, according to Pro Football Focus; but, that doesn’t paint the real picture of the improvement.
|Passing Offense||-45.4 (31st)||18.1 (17th)||+63.5|
|Rushing Offense||-5.3 (26th)||5.2 (18th)||+10.5|
|Pass Blocking||-26.7 (27th)||2.6 (22nd)||+29.3|
|Run Blocking||-20.4 (22nd)||-5.2 (25th)||+15.2|
|Overall||-107.8 (31st)||10.1 (25th)||+117.9|
|Run Defense||-47.6 (29th)||-5.0 (22nd)||+42.6|
|Pass Rush||6.1 (13th)||-1.6 (17th)||-4.5|
|Pass Coverage||-8.5 (22nd)||-15.9 (24th)||-7.4|
|Overall||-48.6 (27th)||-28.5 (24th)||+20.1|
|Home Record||1-7||4-4||3 Wins|
|Away Record||1-7||3-4-1||2.5 Wins|
|Division Record||0-6||4-1-1||4.5 Wins|
|Confer. Record||1-11||6-5-1||5.5 Wins|
|Points For||193||299||+106 Points|
|Points Against||407||348||-59 Points|
|Point Diff.||-214||-49||+165 Points|
|Turnover Diff.||-5||-1||+4 Turnovers|
As you can see from the table, the Rams’ improved drastically in almost every category, including a 117.9 grade point improvement in overall offensive production. The team scored 106 more points on offense, and allowed 59 fewer points on defense. St. Louis played significantly better in the division and the conference, made even more remarkable by the fact the a clock administrator error likely cost the Rams an additional win over the Detroit Lions in the season opener (admitted by the NFL).
The sky is the limit for the St. Louis Rams in 2013, now settling into their second year in the system with a handful of new talent from free agency and from the NFL Draft. The NFL’s youngest roster from 2012 now is laced with talent, unbound by the “rookie barrier” that might have slowed the learning curve the season before. It is simply amazing what a little bit of health and an intelligent regime change can do for an organization in only one year’s time. One can only imagine what will happen this season…