The St. Louis Rams improved from 2-14 to 7-8-1 last year in Jeff Fisher’s first season as head coach. Third-year quarterback Sam Bradford posted career numbers, throwing for 3,700 yards with 21 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.
In their four games against divisional titans San Francisco and Seattle, the Rams were 2-1-1. They even beat RGIII. They also lost 45-7 to New England in London. Their lowest point came in a 27-13 beating by the New York Jets.
The 2012 season was a mixed bag for the Rams. After finishing 25th in scoring offence and 14th in scoring defence they kept offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer but let defensive coordinator Gregg Williams walk after serving a suspension all last season for his ties to Bountygate.
The 5.5 game improvement in Fisher’s first season is a reason to believe in St. Louis. Despite their difficult division, here’s why we expect big things in 2013.
1. Sam Bradford finally has consistency
This is the first season Sam Bradford has not entered camp learning a new playbook. The former Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma played the best football of his profession career last season. The numbers weren’t gaudy, but Bradford was not working with a lot of weapons. The teams second and third leading receivers, Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola, are both gone, but are replaced by rookie Tavon Austin and new tight end Jared Cook. Fellow tight end Lance Kendricks caught 42 passes last season, so look for the Rams to utilise plenty of two-tight end looks.
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Cortland Finnegan defends a pass against Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery
2. The defence is young and aggressive
Excluding unit veteran Cortland Finnegan, 29, the average age of the Rams starting defence this season will be 24.7. Led by 26-year-old middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, the defence allowed 21.8 points per game last season, down from 25.4 in 2011. Rookie Alec Ogletree is expected to start from Week 1 at weakside linebacker and could be a steal after falling to the 30th pick with character concerns. The Rams will start six players they have drafted with top-40 picks. They combine that talent with three undrafted free agents. Starting safeties Darian Stewart and Rodney McLeod, as well as strong side linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar all took the road less traveled to starting NFL jobs. The defence is a youthful blend of high-profile names and anonymous hard workers that tend to excel in professional sports.
3. Tavon Austin is really, really good
He seemed destined for national stardom before West Virginia saw a 5-0 start sour into a 7-6 season. Austin and now Jets quarterback Geno Smith caught some of the flack for their team’s funk, but it was no fault of theirs; the WVU defence couldn’t stop a nosebleed last season. Austin finished with incredible numbers: 72 carries for 643 yards rushing, 114 catches for 1289 yards receiving and 978 return yards for two touchdowns. The Big 12 often forgets how to play defence, but combine a 4.34 40 with moves like this, and he should be fine:
4. Daryl Richardson is an emerging talent
After nine seasons of Steven Jackson carrying the load, the Rams will turn to second year runner Daryl Richardson. The 252nd pick of the 2012 draft, Richardson averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season in spot duty. A capable receiver, Richardson is ahead of Isaiah Pead and rookie Zac Stacy.
5. They finally know how to win
The Rams dropped a four-point game to the Lions and three-point game to the Dolphins last season. With another year of experience for a young roster, look for those games to go St. Louis’ way this season. When driven, the Rams are a tough team to beat — they played a pair of overtime games with the 49ers last year, winning one and tying the other. The 49ers and Seahawks are super teams on paper, but if either team takes a step back look for St. Louis to take advantage.
Jeff Fisher is a quality coach with a hungry team. Three times Fisher-led teams have earned double-digit wins following 8-8 or 7-9 records. If Bradford can take a step forward in his second season under Schottenheimer’s offence with his new offensive weapons, look for the Rams to earn their first winning season since 2003.
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