Midseason Report: St. Louis Rams
November, 6, 2013
By Nick Wagoner | ESPN.com
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- At 3-6 and without starting quarterback Sam Bradford, a 2013 season the St. Louis Rams hoped would be another step in a positive direction has left them stuck in the mud.
The Rams have always viewed 2014 as the year they make the leap back into legitimate contenders, but they probably didn't think this year would come without more definitive progress.
GRADING THE ST. LOUIS RAMS
|Quarterbacks||Bradford was on pace for his best NFL season before a season-ending knee injury, though he had mixed in a couple of brutal showings against San Francisco and Dallas. Kellen Clemens is who he is and has been serviceable in two starts post-Bradford.|
|Running Backs||It took about four weeks, but since Zac Stacy took over the starting job, he's almost completely erased memories of the first month's nonexistent run game. If this grade were based just on Stacy, it'd be higher, but none of the other backs has proved a reliable backup to this point.|
|Wide Receivers||This group is third from the bottom of the league in drops with 12 and last in the league in yards per reception at 11.87. Expected improvements from a young wideout corps haven't been evident, and even the details like blocking on the outside have been missing. Only middle-of-the-pack production in receptions (97) and touchdowns (7) keeps this as a passing grade.|
|Tight Ends||A dynamic start from Jared Cook set the tone but soon fizzled. Cook has been unable to duplicate his record-setting season opener but still leads the team in receiving. He hasn't given much blocking but that was expected. What bolsters this grade is the recent blocking performance of Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey, who have provided the added bonus of a combined four touchdown catches.|
|Offensive Line||Thoroughly dominated by Dallas and, to a slightly lesser extent, San Francisco, the Rams' offensive line has found a rhythm in recent weeks, particularly with its run blocking. With a capable back in Stacy, the run blocking has been excellent at times. The pass protection has been hit or miss but it's been more hit than miss of late against good pass-rushing teams such as Carolina and Houston.|
|Defensive Line||In terms of creating a pass rush, the D-line has been as advertised, headlined by breakout star Robert Quinn. The team's defensive linemen have combined for 26 sacks, leaving just three for the rest of the defense. The grade is brought down, though, by the team's struggles against the run. Although the defensive line hasn't been as culpable for some of those problems, it still has to share in some of the blame.|
|Linebackers||Now, about that run defense. James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree lead the team in tackles and have their moments where they look as capable as any combination in the league. But they, along with Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Will Witherspoon, also find themselves out of position, missing tackles or struggling to get off blocks. Laurinaitis' two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery and Ogletree's interception return for a touchdown and forced fumble help keep this grade in the just-below-average range.|
|Secondary||There may be no more misleading statistic than the Rams sitting 9th in the league in passing yards allowed per game. They are allowing an almost 67 percent completion rate (28th in the league), an opposing quarterback rating of 99.7 (28th) and 8.4 yards per attempt (30th). The corners have struggled but the safeties have been worse, failing to provide help in coverage and routinely getting lost in run support.|
|Special Teams||The Rams have found a way to cut down on special-teams penalties in recent weeks with only two in the past four weeks, but the 19 they do have is still five more than the next-closest team. Penalties have denied some big returns, but for the most part those units haven't been good, either. Even kicker Greg Zuerlein has missed a pair of key and makeable kicks. The yeoman's work of punter Johnny Hekker and the coverage units deserve a tip of the cap, but otherwise it's been tough sledding for this group.|
|Coaching||Jeff Fisher and his staff deserve some credit for pulling the team out of its slide after two absolutely grotesque performances against Dallas and San Francisco and for keeping the team competitive in the two games since Bradford was injured. But that doesn't erase the fact that the Rams have seemed to struggle locating an identity and appear to have regressed from last year, particularly on defense. Perhaps most disappointing is that many of the team's young players have yet to take the anticipated steps forward.|