St. Louis Rams
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
2014 record: 6-10 overall, 2-4 NFC West
2014 Postseason results: None
Odds to win Super Bowl 50: 70/1
Odds to win NFC Championship: 25/1
Odds to win NFC West Division: +955
Regular season wins: under 8 -160 / over 8 +130
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The St. Louis Rams began last year 1-4 and never recovered from that slow start. The highlight of the season was a 28-26 win over the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. The Rams were 6-7 at one point and had a shot at a winning record. However, St. Louis would lose their last 3 games to finish 6-10.
The Rams, coached by Jeff Fisher, have not had a winning season since 2003 or made the playoffs since 2004. St. Louis also faces the potential distraction of the franchise perhaps moving back to Los Angeles by 2017, after 20 seasons in St. Louis. The goal is to get this team back to respectability.
The Rams averaged 315 yards per game on offense, including 213 passing and 102 rushing yards. The Rams averaged 20.2 points per game. St. Louis was #20 or worse in all four categories out of 32 teams. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer left to become the OC at the University of Georgia. Fisher promoted quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti, Jr. as the new coordinator.
Part of the offensive woes for the Rams can be attributed to quarterback Sam Bradford tearing his ACL for the second straight season. This time it happened in the pre-season. In a surprising move, St. Louis traded former #1 overall pick Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Nick Foles. Foles missed the last 8 games last year with a broken collarbone, but still threw for 2,163 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and rushed for 68 yards for the Eagles .
Some say Foles is a product of Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly’s fast paced system and has inflated numbers. I don’t know if that is true but he has to be better than the combination of Austin Davis and Shaun Hill who took over for Bradford last year. Davis and Hill combined for 3,658 passing yards with 20 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last year. Davis returns to back-up Foles, but Hill is now with the Minnesota Vikings as the back-up to Teddy Bridgewater. St. Louis drafted Sean Mannion in the 3rd round out of Oregon St.
The St. Louis Rams drafted Georgia running back Todd Gurley in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. He rushed for 911 yards and 9 touchdowns last year for Georgia before a torn ACL sidelined him. He is doubtful for week one of the regular season but has been cleared for 11 on 11 drills. If he can remain healthy he will provide a dynamic 1-2 punch with Tre Mason. Mason rushed for 765 yards on 179 carries and 4 touchdowns and made 16 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. When Gurley was drafted Zac Stacy requested to be traded. The Rams obliged Stacy by trading him to the New York Jets for a seventh round pick. Stacy had 76 carries for 293 yards and a touchdown, and also made 18 catches for 152 yards. Running back Benjamin Cunningham had 66 catches for 246 yards with 3 touchdowns, and also had 45 catches for 352 yards and a touchdown. Undrafted free agent Malcolm Brown out of Texas will also get some carries. Running back Trey Watts is suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Fullback Corey Harkey did not have any carries last year but did catch a touchdown pass.
The top five receivers and four tight ends are back for the Rams. Kenny Britt had 48 catches for 748 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tight end Jared Cook had 52 catches for 634 yards and 3 touchdowns. Receiver Stedman Bailey had 30 catches for 435 yards and a touchdown. Brian Quick had 25 catches for 375 yards and 3 touchdowns. Quick is questionable for the start of the regular season as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Tight end Lance Kendricks had 27 catches for 259 yards and 5 touchdowns. Receiver Tavon Austin had 31 catches for 242 yards, and rushed for 224 yards on 36 carries with 2 touchdowns. The Rams also drafted receiver Bud Sasser in the sixth round out of Missouri.
The offensive line was terrible last year allowed 47 sacks to the two quarterbacks. Guard Davin Joseph, tackle Jake Long, and center Scott Wells are all gone via free agency. The Rams signed guard/tackle Garrett Reynolds from the Detroit Lions. St. Louis also used four draft picks on offensive linemen, including tackles Rob Havenstein (2nd round, Wisconsin) and Andrew Donnal (4th round, Iowa), plus guards Jamon Brown (3rd round, Louisville) and Cody Wichmann (6th round, Fresno State). The line will have plenty of young but talented new faces. They must gel quickly if the offense wants to improve in 2015.
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The Rams allowed 352 yards per game on defense last year, including 241 passing and 111 rushing yards. St. Louis allowed 22.1 points per game. While the numbers were average, the defense played a lot better in the second half of the season. The defense had to stay on the field for long stretches because the offense had so many short drives. Gregg Williams returns as the coordinator. The entire defense returns almost entirely intact.
Robert Quinn returns at one end after making 10.5 sacks last year. End Chris Long missed the last 10 games of the season last year after undergoing ankle surgery. Eugene Sims, William Hayes and seventh round pick Martin Ifedi out of Memphis will also see time at the ends. Tackle Aaron Donald was the NFL defensive rookie of the year last year. He had 11 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. Michael Brockers will start at the other tackle. The Rams also signed tackle Nick Fairley from the Lions.
Weak side linebacker Alec Ogletree had 111 tackles including 7 for loss and two interceptions. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis had 109 tackles. Jo-Lonn Dunbar will start at the strong side. The rams also signed Akeem Ayers from the New England Patriots. Sixth round pick Bryce Hager out of Baylor will likely back-up Laurinaitis.
Strong safety T.J. McDonald had 105 tackles including 8 for loss and an interception. Free safety Rodney McCleod had 72 tackles and 2 interceptions. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins had five interceptions including 2 pick sixes. E.J. Gaines had 70 tackles and 2 interceptions.
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Kicker Greg Zuerlein made 24 of 30 field goals last year, including 7/10 from 40 yards and beyond. Punter Johnny Hekker averaged 42.6 net yards per punt and landed 33 punts inside the 20 yard line. Austin and Bailey each had a punt return for a touchdown. Cunningham will return kicks again after averaging 27.5 yards per return last year.
The Rams open the season at home against Seattle, before a road game at Washington and a home game against Pittsburgh. St. Louis opens October with road games at the Cardinals and Packers, before going on the bye in week six. The Rams close October at home against Cleveland. In November, St. Louis has home games against the 49ers and Bears, and road games at the Vikings, Ravens and Bengals. December brings home games against the Cardinals, Lions and Buccaneers on a Thursday night. St. Louis closes the season with trips to San Francisco and Seattle.
This team could have one of the top defenses in the league if they can stay healthy. The offense should be improved if Foles can stay healthy. This team will probably be better than the 49ers but I don’t think they are at the level of the Seahawks and Cardinals. I see 8 wins for the Rams in 2015.
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