Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the St. Louis Rams.
Last year’s record: 7-9
Coach: Jeff Fisher
2014 is about… The defensive line. Everything about the Rams revolves around it. Robert Quinn and Chris Long have developed into a dominant pass rushing tandem and the two should be even more effective with the addition of premier rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Quinn finished second in the NFL last season with 19.0 sacks.
Core players: Robert Quinn (DE), Chris Long (DE), Zac Stacy (RB), James Laurinaitis (LB)
But they lost… Sam Bradford (QB), who tore his ACL late in the pre-season after a very strong training camp. Bradford was expected to have a big year in 2014. Without him, they’ll lean on veteran backup Shaun Hill to fill the void as the starter; Cortland Finnegan (CB), the 30-year-old defensive back who was routinely torched in coverage last year. Finnegan’s salary grew too big to justify his decline in production; Kellen Clemens (QB), the veteran backup quarterback who threw for 1,673 yards and just eight touchdowns while filling in for the injured Bradford. Clemens appeared in 10 of 16 games last season before signing with San Diego in the off-season.
Yeah, but they got… Kenny Britt (WR), a highly talented wideout who had his share of off-field issues during his tenure with the Tennessee Titans. If Britt can stay out of trouble, he should be an every-week starter on a team that lacks front-end talent at the receiver position; Greg Robinson (OL), who was taken second overall in May’s draft. Robinson is an athletic specimen who projects to be the left tackle of the future, but the Rams plan to bring him along slowly. He will begin 2014 at left guard.
Growing from within: Tavon Austin (WR), who is looking to bounce back from a lousy rookie season, admitted that he had trouble learning the playbook, but the coaching staff also failed to find an effective role for the dynamic receiver. He had just four receiving touchdowns in 2013; T.J. McDonald (S), who missed significant time last year due to a fractured leg. He is locked in as one of the starting safety spots, which is one of the weaker positions on the roster.
Why this team? The Rams don’t get the attention of the other teams in the division, but they have quietly accumulated a ton of talent thanks to the Robert Griffin III trade with the Washington Redskins. Jeff Fisher has a good thing going here. The Rams are big, physical and can dominate in the trenches, which is a proven winning formula. Now they have to hope Hill turns into Kurt Warner.
Why not? Without Bradford, the Rams likely won’t be in playoff contention. Their defensive line is damn good but it’s unlikely to carry the entire team. Hill is a fine backup but not the kind of player who’s going to win a division that consists of legitimate playoff contenders (Seahawks, 49ers, and Cardinals).
Perfect for fans of… The Legion of Doom, because starting middle linebacker James Laurinatis’s father was Animal from the famous wrestling tag team.
How much hope? 5/10. With Quinn and the strength of their defensive line, the Rams have the potential to blow up opposing game plans. Just ask Indianapolis last year. Now it’s about getting their offence on track, which showed signs of improvement with Zac Stacy running the ball last year. It’s basic but it all comes down to the quarterback.
Will you be mocked for front-running? No. The Rams have been one of the least successful teams over the last decade and haven’t won a division title since 2003.
A Meme To Remember: Robert Quinn could be the defensive player of the year this season. He’s unblockable.