Let’s face it: we all have dreams where we see Jeff Fisher raise the Lombardi Trophy at the end of Super Bowl XLIX, with league MVP Sam Bradford having tossed a last-second touchdown pass to Tavon Austin after Robert Quinn caused a possession-changing fumble on a tremendous sack over Tom Brady or Peyton Manning (unfortunately, it cannot be Russell Wilson!). You guys have had that dream too? We would not be Rams fans if we had not.
But, as fans, we also have to accept reality. The Rams should be better next year, but they are still not clear-cut playoff contenders, much less Super Bowl shoe-ins. Competing in the tough NFC West will not help matters either, and the team’s chances of success is also dependent on unpredictable factors such as Bradford’s knee and Zac Stacy avoiding a sophomore slump.
So, with that in mind, what could be termed realistic hopes for Rams Nation? What would constitute a successful season that would, hopefully, place the team in a better position for loftier ambitions in 2015?
A Winning Season
Ah, that Holy Grail! The Rams have not gone over .500 since 2003 and I, for one, would be perfectly happy with seeing the win column number at least ‘9’. I am not expecting the division title, or even a wild-card playoff spot. Just one off-season of knowing that my team has won more games than it has lost. Wouldn’t that be nice.
But even this target will be a tough task. The Rams already have six challenging games within their own division and face games against Manning’s Broncos, an impressive San Diego, and a resurgent Kansas City. Yes, many of their games are winnable, but, in order to notch up nine wins, they are going to have to win bouts where they would be considered underdogs. Luckily, though, Coach Fisher seems to be building a hard-nosed attitude to the team where the status of underdog could lead to extra motivation.
A Top Five Defense
In terms of yardage and scoring, the 2013 St Louis Rams defense were only slightly above average across the league, and ranking thirteenth and fifteenth in those categories. The only respectable defensive rankings were third in sacks and ninth in rushing yards. So, to make the leap to the top five will be a challenge. Fortunately, the Rams seem to have many of the pieces in place to make this improvement, starting with Gregg Williams as Defensive Co-ordinator. Williams will make the defense more aggressive and will, hopefully, introduce coverage schemes that will rectify the team’s leaky secondary. Leading the charge, of course, will be a formidable defensive line that has a strong chance of topping the NFL in sacks, but other players – notably Janoris Jenkins, T. J. McDonald and whoever takes over at free safety – will have to step up in order to make this realistic goal true.
A healthy and productive Sam Bradford
This is essential. Bradford was heading towards a career-best season before his ACL injury last year. His numbers would not have been elite, but would have sufficed to temporarily silence his many critics. Not only must Bradford play all sixteen regular season games, but he must also do so to a standard that, at least, equals, if not exceeds, his shortened 2013. The opposite is simply too daunting to contemplate: a search for a new quarterback that will significantly set back the rebuilding plan and possibly waste the best years of Quinn and of team’s other young stars.
Last year we had two, but I do feel that the Rams roster has the potential for perhaps one more. Alec Ogletree could emerge into a leading force at the linebacker position, and a healthy Jake Long could regain the form that took him to Hawaii four times earlier in his career. Kicker Greg Zeuerlein, and Tavon Austin, as punt returner, are also realistic options, while Roger Saffold demonstrated the potential to be one of the best guards in the League. Less likely possibilities include Janoris Jenkins and Zac Stacy should they post the figures of which they are both capable. But adding a third Pro Bowler would be representative of significant improvement for a franchise that spent many years without sending someone to the game.
Admittedly, the Pro Bowl is such an arbitrary process that it cannot be considered a true reflection of the state of a franchise. But there is no denying the morale boost it has on fans to see their favourite players chosen among the NFL’s best. Ideally, of course, no Rams will play in the Pro Bowl; after all, you cannot play in the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl…
A standout receiver
The receiver position has been such a turnstile of futility over the years that it would be a cause for optimism just to see one player emerge as a leader. The excitement generated among the fanbase when Chris Givens went through his streak of 50-plus yard catches shows the impact that such a big-play figure can have, as also evidenced by Tavon Austin’s performance against Indianapolis last year. Both Givens and Austin have the potential to be this leader, as do Jared Cook and Kenny Britt. Maybe one of these could break past that 1,000-yard barrier that has been denied to Rams Nation for far too long. Alternatively, a fleet of receivers with at least 600 yards each would also demonstrate that the position is finally heading in the right direction, a cause for joy among fans of the blue-and-gold.
Even if the Rams achieved these targets, there is no doubt that I would still be disappointed. But perhaps that disappointment in itself would be a measure of how far the franchise has come in terms of our expectations since the Linehan / Spagnuolo days.
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