Once the lights fade on the Super Bowl in the opening week of February, all of the attention in the NFL turns to the upcoming season. Who will get better? Who will be worse? Most media coverage shifts to the NFL Scouting Combine, then to the start of free agency, all before finally peaking in May at the NFL Draft. As difficult as it may be to overlook the acquisition of “big name” free agents and the drafting of top-shelf collegiate talent, there are a variety of other facts that will play a massive role.
With the St. Louis Rams being relatively quiet in free agency, some fans have already started to take a pessimistic outlook on the upcoming season. Most bemoan the fact that Kenny Britt and Rodger Saffold were the “key” moves in free agency, while other are mightily concerned that Les Snead and Jeff Fisher may take “the wrong path” in the 2014 NFL Draft. However, even without adding more talent to the roster, there are a number of ways that the Rams will improve, regardless of the new names in Rams Park.
1) Gregg Williams taking over as the Defensive Coordinator
One could argue that the release of Tim Walton might have been the most “favorited” move of the offseason for the St. Louis Rams, after he tortured the fan base with his “soft zone” coverage for majority of the season. Juxtaposing that move with the signing of Gregg Williams is nearly night-and-day. In fact, Sports Illustrated ranked the hiring as the No.1 Coordinator signing of the 2014 offseason, remarking that “Williams and his aggressive, edgy coaching mindset will be a nice fit with the physical style of play in the [NFC West].” With the youth and talent on the Rams defensive roster, Gregg Williams will inevitably make an immediate impact on Sundays. Moreover, his influence on Draft Day could certainly add some more toys to his defensive repertoire, which is a scary thought considering the current roster’s dominance.
2) The return of T.J. McDonald
With all the buzz around “new additions” in the offseason, we sometimes have the tendency to forget about the players already on the roster that are returning from injury. McDonald’s rookie season was a roller coaster, starting off the year with a handful of solid starts before breaking his leg against the San Francisco 49ers. He did return in the latter portion of the season, and performed admirably in a secondary that that had been patched together in the absence of both himself and Cortland Finnegan. In 2014, with a clean bill of healthy and a “year” of experience under his belt, McDonald should be able to truly demonstrate his abilities on the football field. Moreover, the acquisition of Gregg Williams might affect the young defensive back more than any other player on the defensive roster, with Williams’ historically aggressive use of strong safeties in both run support and as pass rushers.
3) Rodger Saffold starting the season at guard
We’ve all heard the numbers for Saffold on the St. Louis Rams by now, being graded as the No.18 overall guard last season in only six regular season starts, according to Pro Football Focus. Saffold allowed zero sacks and only seven total pressures on the quarterback, all while not committing a single penalty; an impressive feat, considering that was an area he had been notorious for in the past. Even with some question marks surround when Jake Long will return, most anticipate that Saffold will start the season on the interior. One would suspect that he will only get better with more reps and experience on the inside, especially if he can build some chemistry with the reportedly-healthy Scott Wells and whichever offensive tackle he ends up being sandwiched between on the offensive line. Despite all of their drafting and free agent signings, the Rams haven’t had a truly dominant guard on the roster since Jeff Fisher and Les Snead took the reins in St. Louis. This should be the first of many seasons where the interior of the line is not one to top issues with the offense.
4) The return of Sam Bradford
In case you forgot, the St. Louis Rams were without their starting quarterback for half the season. Yet, under the passive guidance of Kellen Clemens, were able to pull together a solid 7-9 record by the end of the season, riding the coattails of Zac Stacy, a dominating offensive line, and a nearly unstoppable pass rush. Insert Sam Bradford back into the mix, with an offensive coordinator who finally “understands” how to use his offensive weapons, and with a group of receivers that now have some genuine NFL experience, and you, theoretically, should have a recipe for offensive success. Let’s not forget, Bradford was having the best statistical season of his career prior to his injury, despite the “confusion” in offensive philosophy in the opening quarter of the season…
5) Having an “established” offensive philosophy
Speaking of offensive philosophy, the St. Louis Rams offense appeared to find its way in the second-quarter of the regular season, after Jeff Fisher made the drastic shift in “style,” following the disappointing loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Not surprisingly, Bradford tallied an impressively high +6.9 grade in that three game span, including a 7-to-1 touchdown-to-interception differential and a 111.0 quarterbacking rating. Even after the devastating Bradford injury, the offense remained competitive, with Zac Stacy nearly managing 1,000+ yards in only 12 games, and Tavon Austin eventually “breaking out” in the latter portion of the year. In the Rams new, run-oriented offense, the team managed a respectable 23.25 points per game over the remaining 12 games of the season; borderline Top 15 in the span. More importantly, the Rams managed six wins, including four that came under the quarterbacking guidance of Kellen Clemens, and not including the two losses to the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks that came down to failed execution on the final possession of the game. With a more-than-competent coordinator now manning the Rams already high-powered defense, an established offensive philosophy, and an (expected) infusion of new and more experience talent on the offensive roster, the St. Louis Rams should be able to start off the 2014 season in high gear.
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Tags: St. Louis Rams