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Yakuza Rich

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: June 14, 2008, 09:32:33 PM



ST. LOUIS RAMS
YR’S PREDICTED 2007 RECORD:8-8
ACTUAL 2007 RECORD: 3-13

The future was looking bright for the St. Louis Rams coming into 2007 as there were still some remnants of the explosive offense from the Mike Martz era with Bruce and Holt at the receivers along with introducing Drew Bennett. Steven Jackson was an absolute beast in 2006 and Marc Bulger seemed to flourish under coach Scott Linehan. Plus, the defense was looking to get stronger with young cornerback Tye Hill and newcomer defensive tackle Adam Carriker.

Instead the Rams were not built quite as strong as it appeared and within a couple of weeks they had a few injuries that already crushed their chances of making the playoffs. Left Tackle Orlando Pace landed on injured reserve in week two and there was nobody to replace him. Jackson wound up being hurt the entire year and fans started to wonder where the guy they saw in 2006 had gone to. Bulger was banged up and largely ineffective and the defense was largely a mess and not improved in any capacity from the years prior.

The Rams were thought to possibly fire Linehan, but stuck with him for one more year. There’s some new higher ups in the organization and for all intents and purposes, Linehan had better go at least 9-7 to keep his job. Lately the Rams have been focusing on defense, particularly in the draft and with the new higher ups in place this could eventually mean that the Rams could be finally done with the high profile offenses and replacing them with good ole smashed mouth football.


OFFENSE

QB: Marc Bulger
RB: Steven Jackson
FB: Brian Leonard
WR: Drew Bennett
WR: Torry Holt
TE: Randy McMichael
LT: Orlando Pace
LG: Milford Brown (28th)
C: Brett Romberg (20th w/Nick Leckey)
RG: Richie Incognito (28th with Steussie, McCollom, etc), Roy Schuening
RT: John Greco, Alex Barron (31st @ LT in 2007)

Scott Linehan likes to throw the ball deep, but given how nobody uses deep pass patterns like Mike Martz, his passing game seems conservative. But, in reality it’s a pretty aggressive scheme in the NFL.

Linehan comes from that Ernie Zampese school of offense (same as Martz) that likes to throw the ball early on to help stretch the field and allow for the running game to be successful. He does have some West Coast Offense tendencies in the red zone as he loves to throw the ball inside the twenties. Linehan brought in Al Saunders to run the offense, another Zampese disciple.

I suspect the Rams will try to focus on two things on offense in 2008, protect the QB and throwing less interceptions. They couldn’t do either and wound up leading the league in interceptions thrown and were 27th in sacks allowed. They also only had one passing play that went for 40 yards plus last season, fewest in the league. Generally if you are throwing picks, you should have more 40 yard pass plays because you should be throwing the ball deep and deep passes are more likely to get picked off. With Saunders aboard, he’s been very good at minimizing sacks allowed and interceptions because he favors a shorter passing attack. In particular Saunders likes to use the swing pass and the WR screen along with the reverse and then use those tendencies to keep the defense off balance.

As you can see, the O-Line was decimated with injuries and they addressed it to a degree in the draft. I’m sort of guessing that they have just about given up on Alex Barron. He was a Martz draft pick and the over/under was four on the camera panning to Linehan shaking his head after a Barron sack or mental mistake each game last year. John Greco played left tackle in college, but he’s probably better suited to play right tackle. Still, a pretty solid move in the draft because you get a guy that should compete with Barron immediately and possibly take over for Orlando Pace in the future. Rookie Roy Schuening played right guard in college. If Incognito can stay healthy and keep his head on straight, Schuening will have zero chance of beating him. That may cause the Rams to move Schuening to left guard, although he also played some right tackle at Oregon State as well. The Rams may be better off moving Incognito to center, where he would almost instantly be the best run blocking center in the league. If they can get something out of Schuening and Greco, they have a chance of getting above .500, but that’s a tall order for a couple of rookies.

Drew Bennett didn’t do well in Linehan’s system last year, but I’d still consider him a threat. That being said, Torry Holt is slowing down and Linehan loves speed, so with the uncertainty of Bennett they were forced to draft Donnie Avery in the second round, a David Patten type of receiver…a pure speedster who will mostly run deep routes to stretch the field. Randy McMichael is pretty overrated, but the other TE’s, Dominique Byrd and Joe Klopfenstein, are not going to beat him out for playing time.

For the Rams to be successful, they’ll probably need a monster year from Steven Jackson. He did have 1,002 yards rushing at 4.2 yards a pop last year, but he got off to a horrid start due to being banged up and the problems with the O-Line. They need for him to get around 1,300+ yards at 4.5 ypc and to be consistent, particularly early on. That will take pressure off of Bulger, who is a pretty good QB provided he’s not being used as target practice for opposing defenses. Brian Leonard will likely be used to spell Jackson, but I’m sure they are hoping they can get some mismatches with Leonard as a receiver.


DEFENSE

DE: Chris Long (rookie)
DT: Adam Carriker
DT: La’Roi Glover
DE: Leonard Little
ROLB: Chris Draft
MLB: Will Witherspoon
LOLB: Pisa Tinoisamoa
CB: Tye Hill
CB: Fakhir Brown
SS: Corey Chavous
FS: OJ Atogwe


The Rams play a typical 4-3, Cover 2 scheme. It’s a bit surprising that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett sticks with this scheme since he made his name as a defensive coach in Pittsburgh where they ran the 3-4 and he has pretty much struggled every year he’s used the 4-3, Cover 2. The thinking behind the Haslett hire is that as a head coach he couldn’t solely focus his efforts on the defense, but the reality may be that his stubbornness to playing the 4-3, Cover 2 may be his downfall or he just may have been successful in Pittsburgh because just about every defensive coach is successful there.

One of the big problems the Rams and Haslett have had over the years is at defensive tackle. They actually have a solid duo here as La’Roi Glover can still play and Adam Carriker has a lot of upside. Unfortunately they were unwilling to allow Carriker to play the 3 gap technique which is an aggressive gap shooting technique. Instead they gave that responsibility to Glover and had Carriker play more of the nose tackle role where he ate up blocks and stopped the run. Carriker was decent enough for a rookie at that role, particularly one who played defensive end in college. But he didn’t record a sack and I think they’d be better off giving that role to Glover and allowing Carriker to run loose and reek havoc.

Leonard Little isn’t your typical strongside defensive end, but was moved there back in the Lovie Smith era as Smith likes to have speed at the strongside DE spot to take advantage of the slower right tackles and Little has never moved from that spot since. That being said, it wouldn’t be surprising if Little was released after June 1st. Chris Long will play the weakside spot. I think a little too much is made out of his father being Howie Long. I saw a prospect that didn’t beat tackles on the outside in college and a lot of his sacks came when either the QB held onto the ball too long or was flushed out towards him. I really believe that if his name was Chris Thomas or John Smith, he’d probably be a mid to late first rounder. He does have excellent hands and a great motor.

The Rams only had 31 sacks last season, which is anemic. But when your leading sacker is the middle linebacker with 7 sacks, the pass rush is probably worse than their sack number indicates. They could really use a 2 gap nose tackle here and allow Glover and Carriker to sub in for each other and then bring Glover in on passing downs. If they could get that nose tackle and get about 5 sacks from Little, who has to be running on fumes at this point in his career, they would have quite the formidable D-Line. They let Brandon Chillar go, which was puzzling since he was turning out to be a pretty good linebacker. So now it looks like they’ll replace him with 32 year old journeyman Chris Draft. Draft usually plays the strongside, so him and Tinoisamoa may wind up changing spots.

Tye Hill hasn’t really done much for the Rams. Fakhir Brown is a Cover 2 corner and knows the system. Corey Chavous would be a nice free safety, but the Rams insisted on signing him to play strong safety, which he just cannot play. Atogwe may be a keeper. He had a really good year last season with 8 interceptions.



SPECIAL TEAMS

KR: Brandon Williams
PR: Brandon Williams
K: Josh Brown
P: Donnie Jones (10th)

It appears that the Rams will be handing over the return duties to young speedster Brandon Williams as Dante Hall is past his prime. Jeff Wilkins retired, but should get an upgrade in Josh Brown who has a great leg and had to kick in Seattle for years. Donnie Jones finished 2nd in my statistical rankings for punters back in 2005. He then fell off the face of the earth in 2006, finishing 31st. My guess is that he may have had an injury as he finished 10th last year. The special teams play looks completely better than it was under the Martz era.



OUTLOOK

Believe it or not, the Rams could be a potential “Fab Four” team as they have the one key ingredient, a “solid, veteran” Quarterback. Bulger may not be to everyone’s liking, but he’s probably on the higher end of the profile of QB’s that lead Fab Four teams. They also play in the AFC West which has routinely been the worst division in football and I wouldn’t count on the Cardinals or Niners to make the playoffs if I was on their payroll.

But the issue is that Bulger can’t stay healthy. They also lack depth on the O-Line and while overall I think highly of Scott Linehan’s offensive mind, his playcalling will drive you absolutely batty. And I still don’t like the Rams’ defense. For them to make it they’ll have to stay very healthy and probably score a lot of points to ease the pressure off their defense. This means Bulger will have to be in pristine condition and Jackson will have to return to his old form. But I see a team with at best 9-7 talent with a 6-10 coaching staff.


YR’S PREDICTED 2008 RECORD: 7-9

bucs1

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#1 : June 14, 2008, 09:42:54 PM

I think the Rams will do better next year.  Especially since they stole our star quarterback of the future, Bruce Gradkowski. ::)
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