Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Power Rankings: Preseason: 32. This week: 30.
Where they stand: The Rams are fourth in the NFC West with a 1-7 record. Expectations were low because the Rams parted with so many established players as part of a massive rebuilding project. The Rams are showing signs of improvement, particularly on offense, and they have continued to battle admirably despite glaring deficiencies at some positions, notably receiver. Beating the Lions before the bye week might have been critical for the Rams' psyche. They have bought into rookie coach Steve Spagnuolo, but believing would have been tougher if the Rams had taken an 0-8 record into their bye week.
Disappointments: The Rams knew they would struggle some as a young team finding its way amid significant scheme changes. To be competitive and win a few games to this point, they needed more from safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, cornerback Ron Bartell, defensive end Chris Long, receiver Donnie Avery, tight end Randy McMichael, quarterback Marc Bulger, tackle Alex Barron and defensive tackle Adam Carriker (placed on injured reserve). The team has invested considerable resources in each of those players. None is enjoying a particularly strong season. Veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon was another player expected to contribute. The Rams waited for him to emerge before trading him to the Eagles. Losing receiver Laurent Robinson to a season-ending injury was crushing. He had emerged as the Rams' best option.
Surprises: Defensive-minded coaches can sometimes be combustible, as Mike Singletary and Jim Mora have shown within the division. Spagnuolo has shown unwavering poise despite the Rams' struggles. He has been consistent with his message and unflappable. The team's veteran players have bought into Spagnuolo to a degree the Rams could not have anticipated. Having the previously volatile Steven Jackson onboard with the program was critical for Spagnuolo. Jackson has become a leader and a leading Spagnuolo proponent. His growth and maturity has helped the Rams stick together through brutally tough defeats, notably the overtime loss at Jacksonville after defensive end Leonard Little scored to put the Rams ahead in the final minutes of regulation.
Outlook: Jackson gives the Rams their best chance at being competitive. He has four 100-yard rushing games and a 4.8-yard average per carry even though defenses have little else to fear from the Rams' offense. The Rams play a relatively tough schedule over the second half of the season, starting with a home game against the undefeated Saints in Week 10. They have a chance to win a couple more games, but the rough schedule and the Rams' limitations make any final record projection better than 3-13 seem optimistic. The final eight games will stand as a success if the Rams win a couple of them while watching some of their core players develop. Even then, the Rams could very well need to consider drafting a franchise quarterback. The team also needs better young talent on its defensive line. Little and fellow veteran James Hall are the best pass-rushers on the team. That is not a good sign for a team that has recently used high first-round choices for defensive linemen.