Editor’s note: Over the course of the summer, Next Impulse Sports will be releasing NFL team previews every Tuesday and Thursday. Check back on Thursday for the Arizona Cardinals Edition and access all NFL team previews here.
Today: The St. Louis Rams
Last Year: 7-9 (4th place in NFC West)
I have a couple of issues with the St. Louis Rams. They’re incredibly boring to watch when they have the football. Nobody wants to see Sam Bradford or Kellen Clemens throwing the ball to Jared Cook, Chris Givens, and Austin Pettis. Sure, Tavon Austin is exciting when he actually has the ball, but that doesn’t happen too much. He caught 38 passes last season.
Another problem I have is with head coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher has been coaching for 19 years. In those 19 years, he’s accumulated a .532 winning percentage. That isn’t by any means a bad number, but it is only the 68th best winning percentage in NFL history. In his 19 years, he’s taken his team to the postseason six times. The last time he did so was in 2008. Since 2008, Fisher’s teams haven’t won more than eight games in a season. Yet, for some reason, when Fisher was hired by the Rams prior to the 2012 season, people were stoked. Here’s an example of what was written at the time:
Fisher guided his Titans teams to six playoff appearances, and gave them stability and an identity the Rams have lacked since the last days of the Mike Martz era. The Rams face a daunting rebuilding process, but they have made the best possible hire to get back on the winning track.” — Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer
While Fisher has brought stability to a franchise that suffered through a 10-38 three-year stretch with Steve Spagnuolo, in his first two seasons with the franchise, Fisher has gone 7-8-1 and 7-9. Fisher’s first year with the team was nothing short of a drastic improvement, taking a 2-14 team and turning it into a seven-win team. And the front office has done a phenomenal job stockpiling draft picks to aid Fisher in his rebuilding process. But, last year’s 7-9 record can hardly be called an improvement.
Yes, Fisher has the defense playing at a relatively high level. The offense, on the hand, isn’t playing at a very high level. Sam Bradford is currently one of the most overpaid quarterbacks in the league. Zac Stacy averaged fewer than four yards per carry. Tavon Austin, the Rams’ first-round pick, only managed to catch 38 catches in his first season. As a whole, the offense ranked 27th in passing yards and 19th in rushing yards.
I get that the Rams are playing in the NFC West, a division seemingly littered with Super Bowl contenders. But, if Fisher only manages to win seven games again, his seat has got to be getting warmer, right? If the Rams fail to make the playoffs again, which is a likely possibility, Fisher will have only made the postseason six times in 20 seasons as a head coach.
So, can we please stop talking about “stability” and “identity” when talking about Jeff Fisher? Instead, let’s call him what he is: an experienced NFL coach that has won 53 percent of his games and has gone to the postseason 32 percent of the time.
Last Year’s Stud: Robert Quinn
My god, this guy might be the most underrated pass rusher in the game, mainly due to my last two problems with the team that he plays for. Quinn posted 19 sacks last season. The game that I got to see him play in, against the Bears, was unreal. Jermon Bushrod, regarded as an above-average left tackle in the league, couldn’t even slow him down. Quinn took over that game.
The dude’s a menace.
Runner-up: Chris Long
Last Year’s Surprise: Alec Ogletree
The rookie ended up leading the team in tackles with 117.
Runner-up: Jake Long
Last Year’s Disappointment: Sam Bradford
Bradford was actually putting up pretty solid numbers (14 touchdowns, four interceptions) before suffering a season-ending injury. But, with Bradford missing the second half of the season, his year can only be described as a disappointment. Bradford’s cap number last season was $12,595,000. It’s $17,610,000 for 2014.
Runner-up: Tavon Austin
He was electric when he got the ball, but that didn’t happen nearly enough.
Aaron Donald is nasty.
The St. Louis Rams might have the best defensive line in the game. That is all.
Other notable pick: Michael Sam
This Year’s Stud: Aaron Donald
Did I mention that he’s nasty? Oh, and he’ll also be lining up next to Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Yikes.
Runner-up: Robert Quinn
This Year’s Surprise: Tre Mason
Running back wasn’t exactly an area of need for the Rams, but, by selecting Mason, the Rams are getting a back who can both catch and run with the ball. He should end up wrestling some carries away from Zac Stacy.
Runner-up: Kenny Britt
This Year’s Disappointment: Sam Bradford
At this point in his career — he’s entering his fifth season — Bradford needs to show something for a full season in order to justify his monster rookie contract.
Runner-up: Zac Stacy
Draft early: N/A
Good value in the middle rounds: Tavon Austin, Zac Stacy, Jared Cook
Don’t draft: Sam Bradford
What Vegas Is Saying (LVH Sports Book): 7.5 wins
What We’re Saying: 8-8 (3rd place in NFC West)
The defense will be fine. The questions for this team involve the offense and whether or not Sam Bradford will (finally) emerge. The bad news for the Rams is that they are forced to play in the NFC West. Because of this, I can’t see them making the playoffs, unless the Seahawks and Niners are hit with significant injuries. If the Rams had the luxury of playing in a division like the AFC South, we might be talking playoffs. But, because they play in the NFC West, another season hovering around .500 seems like the most likely outcome.
[genericon icon=twitter] Follow Sean Wagner-McGough on Twitter @seanjwagner