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Know Your Enemy: St Louis Rams

The St. Louis Rams had a disappointing 6-10 2014 season after losing Sam Bradford for the millionth time to injury. The Rams went 3-5 at home in the Edward Jones Dome and 3-5 on the road. The Rams beat Seattle, Denver and Oakland at home and won on the road against lowly Washington, Tampa Bay and division rival San Francisco. The Rams lost on the road to Seattle, San Diego, Kansas City, Arizona and Philadelphia. The Rams lost at home to Dallas, Arizona, San Francisco, New York Giants and Minnesota. Jeff Fisher starts his 4th season as the Rams head coach with Frank Cignetti as Offensive coordinator and bounty hunter Greg Williams as defensive coordinator.

Stats and Upgrades

The Rams struggled with 2nd year pro Austin Davis and veteran Shaun Hill starting 8 games each at QB during 2014. Both threw for 63% completion but had 20 TDs to 16 interceptions combined. The Rams run game was league average 4.1 YPC (17th). The Rams lost 16 interceptions and 11 fumbles in 2014. The Rams were 21st in PPG scoring 20.3 per contest. Bradford was traded to the Eagles for Nick Foles who may be a boost over the Austin and Hill combination. The Rams also drafted Sean Mannion from Oregon State in the 3rd round as Shaun Hill left to the Vikings in free agency.

The Rams defense allowed 22.1 PPG which was average at 16th in the league. The run defense was average allowing 4.2 YPC. However, the Rams pass rush was strong garnering 41 sacks despite an injury to Chris Long limiting him to 220 snaps. The Rams forced 25 turnovers netting 13 interceptions and 12 fumbles recovered. The Rams get Long back healthy for 2014 and added Nick Fairley to a one year deal in free agency to bolster the interior pass rush and run game.

Strengths

Pass Rush

The Rams pass rush is their greatest strength. Robert Quinn had a +19.8 grade with 10.5 sacks, 15 hits and 29 hurries. Aaron Donald was a phenomenal rookie DT with a +16.5 pass rush grade with 9 sacks, 6 hit and 29 hurries. Long had a +11.1 pass rush grade in 2013 and will be a big upgrade playing his normal snaps. The addition of DT Nick Fairley is a huge gain for the Rams netting a +8.1 pass rush grade, despite Fairley missing 8.5 games in 2014 due to an injured knee. All four Rams’ starters can rush the passer exceptionally well. Akeem Ayers was added to provide a pass rush from the SAMS spot after missing all of 2014 due to injury with the Titans. The Rams pass rush should be in the top 5 in pressure in 2015.

Running Backs

The Rams were average in 2014 with a 4.1 YPC rushed tally. Zac Stacy and Bennie Cunningham struggled as backup RBs but starter Tre Mason did well with 4.3 YPC on 176 carries. The Rams bolstered their run game by adding 1st round pick Todd Gurley. Gurley is a great rushing talent but is coming off a torn ACL. If Gurley can recover quickly or by mid-season, the Rams run game should be feared with Gurley and Mason combined.

Coverage

The Rams have a variety of players with coverage skills. EJ Gaines had a great rookie year in 2014 with a +2.4 coverage grade. He was a steal in the 6th round. Former 2nd round pick Janoris Jenkins is a solid CB despite his -2.3 coverage grade notched in 2014. 2nd year pro Lamarcus Joyner and Trumaine Johnson are tall talented backup CBs.

Free safety Rodney McLeod had a +4.3 coverage grade. Strong safety TJ McDonald is more of an in the box run defender and earned -4.2 coverage. Failed 1st round pick Mark Barron was traded from the Bucs to the Rams midway through the 2014 season. The former 1st rounder will try to revive his career in St. Louis and beat out McDonald or McLeod.

MLB James Laurinitus is a solid cover linebacker and 1st round pick Alec Ogletree has the speed to keep up with tight Ends and running backs on the weakside.

Run Defense

The Rams’ run defense was average but should be improved. Chris Long and Nick Fairley additions should help tremendously for 2015. Donald is a beast in run defense and Ogletree graded well. DT Michael Brockers had a solid run defense grade and will rotate in with Fairley in 2015. DE William Hayes was strong in run defense filling in for Long but average in pass rush. Robert Quinn struggled in run defense at Right End but could benefit next to Fairley and Donald. Laurinitus struggled in 2014 but has been good in the past against the run. McDonald is a good in the box safety against the run. The Rams will be tougher to run on during the 2015 season.

Weaknesses

Run Blocking

Run blocking is the main concern for the Rams RB success. Early 2014 first round pick, Greg Robinson, struggled at left tackle in 2014 as did left guard Roger Saffold in paving the way for running backs. Scott Wells was terrible at center after a receiving a big contract a few off seasons prior by the Rams. Wells will replaced by Tim Barnes or Barrett Jones in 2015. Former Tampa 1st round pick Davin Joseph struggled and will be replaced by Jamon Brown, the Rams’ 3rd round of the 2015 draft. Garret Reynolds was added from free agency from the Lions as a backup guard and tackle. Reynolds struggled at tackle and is more of a guard.

Right Tackle Rob Havenstein was nabbed in Round 2 of the 2015 draft and will replace Joseph Barksdale who leaves in free agency to San Diego. Barksdale struggled in pass protection at right tackle but had a good run blocking grade. The Rams have a new center and right side of the offensive line. The young Rams’ young player’s quick development (Robinson, Brown and Havenstein) along with Gurley’s health will be the key to the Rams rushing attack for 2015.

Protection

The Rams struggled to protect their QBs. The Rams’ offensive line allowed 47 sacks, 42% pressure on Davis and 35% pressure on Hill. Greg Robinson was a high 1st round pick and has lofty expectations. Unfortunately for Rams’ fans, Robinson had a -16 pass protection grade as a rookie. Rogers Saffold did well at left guard in pass protection. The Rams new center and right side will be the key to improved pass protection along with the development of Robinson to meet his lofty expectations.

Quarterback and Weapons

The Rams have lacked weapons for years. Tavon Austin is a bust so far with only 242 yards in 2014. Kenny Britt tried to salvage his career and was decent with 748 yards and 3 TDs but is not a number 1 WR. Jared Cook could do more from his 634 yard and 3 TD total at tight end. Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey are poor number 2 and 3 WR options but young and could develop. The Rams adding Nick Foles compared to Hill or Davis won’t be enough to make due with these sub-standard weapons. If the protection continues to be a problem, the Rams offense will be poor in 2015 despite Todd Gurley.

Nick Foles had a strong and surprising 2013 season in Philadelphia. Foles avoided turnovers and led the Eagles to the playoffs with a good completion percentage and smart decisions. Foles regressed in 2014 tallying only 59.8% completion 12 TDS and 10 interceptions. Foles missed half of the 2014 season due to injury. This production is eerily similar to the Rams QBs of 2014 but Foles had plenty of weapons and protection with the Eagles unlike the Rams arsenal. The Rams could be in trouble unless Foles reverts back to 2013 form.

Outlook and Schedule

The Rams travel to Green Bay for a Week 5 matchup and head to Minnesota in Week 9. The Rams host the Bears in Week 10 and the Lions in Week 14. The Rams have a good pass rush and decent coverage but their offense is still a mess due to protection, QB and weapon issues. The Rams could win some low scoring games with their defense but all NFC North teams should be able to beat them in close matchups.