32 teams in 32 days: St. Louis

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 30, 2008



 
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ... 
 
ST. LOUIS RAMS
We wanted to link here to an entire video of 2007 Rams highlights. But there was only one highlight last year, and this was it. Who said white men can't jump?
 
show video here
 
2007 record: 3-13 (263-438)
 
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 3.7-12.3
 
All-time franchise record: 501-454-20 (.524)
 
Playoff record: 19-24 (.442)
 
Last five seasons: 37-43 (.463)
 
Best Quality Stat in 2007: Special Teams Index (13th), Defensive Hog Index (16th)  
 
Worst Quality Stat in 2007: Bendability Index (32nd), Relativity Index (32nd)
 
Best game of 2007: 37-29 win at New Orleans (Week 10). It took until Nov. 11, but the 0-8 Rams finally won a game with its greatest offensive output of the year and a shockingly dominant road victory over a Saints team that had won four straight to even its record at 4-4.
 
St. Louis outgained New Orleans,  409-299, and dominated the clock, 39:42-20:18, while Marc Bulger pieced together what was, far and away, his single greatest performance of the season, completing 27 of 33 (81.8%) for 302 yards, 9.2 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT and a 125.0 passer rating.
 
Yet the sad-sack Rams almost blew this performance. They held a 34-7 lead early in the fourth quarter before New Orleans stormed back with three fourth-quarter TDs.
 
Silly-season activity: There's been a lot of white noise in St. Louis this off-season – a bunch of moves, but few that should provide any lasting impact. The biggest move might have been the release of highly productive veteran wideout Isaac Bruce, one of the cornerstones of the "Greatest Show on Turf" offense of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Rams also waived QB Gus Frerotte, while bringing former QB Trent Green back into the fold with a three-year deal. Longtime kicker Jeff Wilkins also retired, and was quickly replaced by free-agent and former Seahawks kicker Josh Brown.
 
Strength: Special teams. About the only thing the Rams did last year at a level that approached mediocrity was play special teams. Their combined punt-team units, both in terms of kicking and returning, might have been the best in the league. They were also among the league leaders in kick returns. But as our Special Teams Index proved last year, there's really no correlation between playing special teams well and winning football games – despite the protestations of coaches everywhere of their importance. The Rams, who might have been the worst team in football last year, stand as proof.
 
Weakness: Institutional stability. Has one single game ever provided a greater sea-change in future fortunes than Super Bowl XXXVI, in which the mighty Rams were shocked by the upstart Patriots, 20-17? The St. Louis organization has literally never recovered. In fact, it's only been getting worse, lowlighted by last year's 3-13 campaign, perhaps the worst season in franchise history. The Rams organization is pretty much a disaster from top to bottom: little talent, no marquee names, volatility and inexperience in the coaching ranks. Success in the NFL begins at the top, and the Rams have little in the way of big-time leadership on the coaching staff or on the field. Hell, the organization even lost longtime owner Georgia Frontiere, who died in January.
 
Most underrated player: RB Brian Leonard. The Great White Hope was a big-time stud, darkhorse Heisman candidate and bona-fide pro prospect at Rutgers. Then the school brought in the electric Ray Rice at running back, and Leonard dutifully took on a secondary role as a senior. He proved last year as a rookie that he could become a two-way threat in the NFL. He rushed the ball just 86 times for 303 yards (3.5 YPA), but also caught 30 balls out of the backfield for 183 yards (6.1 YPC). They're not big-time numbers, and Leonard will probably never become a No. 1 back. But he could become one of the more versatile offensive players in the NFL, a guy who can play tailback, fullback and even tight end. In other words, he could be a guy that gives defenses fits for years to come.
 
Unit on the rise: Beats us. Maybe the Defensive Hogs, which was middle of the road last year, making it a highlight for the team.
 
2007 Draft grade: C+. No. 1 pick DT Adam Carriker instantly jumped into the starting line-up and could grow into a major impact player on the defensive line. The contributions of No. 2 pick Leonard were noted above. Other than those two, however, the Rams got little productivity out of their 2007 draft class and it remains uncertain whether those contributions will be forthcoming.
 
2008 Draft power: 1st (2), 2nd (33), 3rd (65), 4th (97), 5th (129), 6th (161), 6th (173), 7th (201)
 
General Draft strategy: Look at a team on the decline and you'll often see a series of poor draft classes. The Rams provide a perfect case study. They've certainly made some nice picks this decade, but which team hasn't made some nice picks? Unfortunately, there have been few major impact players, at least not enough to allow the team to maintain the elite status it enjoyed as recently as 2003.  
 
Youth/experience: Carriker provided a much-needed shot of youth along an aging defensive line last year. If other recent draft picks along the DL, such as back-ups Claude Wroten and Clifton Ryan, can make an impact, too, then one of the oldest parts of the Rams might become one of its youngest. St. Louis may find itself in the troubled position, too, of needing a bright young quarterbacking prospect if Marc Bulger's 2007 season proves to be the rule rather than the exception. Bulger had pieced together some impressive seasons before the disaster of last year. But he turns 31 this year and the former quarterback of the future may quickly become the quarterback of the past. The Rams have nobody in the stable that looks like an heir apparent.  
 
Coaching: The Rams have made major changes to its coaching staff and football operations. Head man Scott Linehan is still on board, back for a third season with a 11-21 mark in his first two (and moving in the wrong direction). There are several new assistants in town, however, including offensive coordinator Al Saunders (a former Rams assistant during the Dick Vermeil years). He served as OC in Washington for the last two years but, sadly for Rams fans, with little success. The Redskins dabbled only with mediocrity on offense during those two years.
 
St. Louis also brought in a new director of player personnel in Billy Devaney, a veteran executive who held the same position with the Chargers from 1990 to 2000.
 
Overview: The are few reasons for optimisim in St. Louis right now. After all, if you look at them through the Relativity Index, they were the worst team in football last year, even worse than the 1-15 Dolphins. Barring the sudden and unexpected emergence of a powerful Linehan-Saunders axis of coaching, or a 1974 Steelers-like draft class, it's hard to see a scenario in which the Rams could quickly turnaround. Of course, the 1998 Rams went just 4-12, fielded one of the worst offenses in football and provided few reasons for optimism, too. Then that whole stockboy-leads-Rams-to-Super-Bowl-title thing unfolded in 1999. Can lightning strike twice in the same 10-year-period? We wouldn't bet on it.
 
 

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