Los Angeles Rams season review and off season review
The Rams opened the season 2-3 but also the first five opponents they faced ended up making the playoffs. The Rams won two straight and got to 4-3 before rattling off five straight losses against three playoff teams, but also including the most disappointing loss of the season at the Ravens in a game where they gave up 13 unanswered points to Joe Flacco on a torn ACL. Their most impressive came by finishing off a 3 game winning with a win in Seattle potentially derailing their division rivals postseason run. The sweep of the Seahawks and finishing 7-9 shows improvement can still come, especially when they had Robert Quinn for only 8 games. However they definitely need a quarterback and they definitely have a long road ahead of them.
Jeff Fisher, since about 2009 has been battling to get to .500. Since joining the Rams they have gone 7-8,7-9, 6-10, and 7-9. The thought is continuity is key, but as their defensive line is now in their prime, the seat should at least feel warm for Fisher to at least get to 8 or 9.
Frank Cignetti had little chance to succeed with an average to below average offensive line a below average quarterback and a rookie running back but he didn’t do anything to really earn a job next year either. The Rams internally hired Rob Norris, who was the Rams tight ends coach last year. The Rams defense has plenty of talent and Greg Williams did a pretty good job give it some of the injuries that they had to face. Overall it can still improve in time for Jeff Fisher & Company but the key now is finding quarterback play.
The argument could be made that this team got the worst quarterback play in the entire league. Nick Foles has been in freefall for the Rams and you can’t count on one hand how many times he would just seem to close his eyes and throw it up for grabs. Foles is only 8 million on the books to be cut but you would assume he is back, because who else is going to replace him? Case Keenum will probably be signed with a shot and a lot of talk will be about if they jump at one in this first round.
Running Back play
Todd Gurley was the offensive rookie of the year while Jameis Winston was the rookie of the year in some weird way. Without debate Gurley is a stud and a key if this offense wants to do anything at all. Tre Mason really had a rough season adjusting to the backup role. Averaging 2.8 yards per attempt and on only 75 carries was not the plan, and even Tavon Austin had 227 more rushing yards than him on 23 less carries. The new OC needs to make him effective as a change of pace guy, and with the use of Austin in the run they shouldn’t need to address this in the draft.
Wide Receiver Play
Along with being second in rushing, Austin also led the team in targets. Despite that he is third on the team in yards and seventh in yards per catch. It is understandable though, Austin is a possession, run after the catch type of player and a really small one at that. He isn’t quite a threat downfield, and is most effective with drags, screens and reverses. With that means you need big play receivers outside of him. The Rams are in an interesting situation because along with Austin only Kenny Britt and Stedman Bailey are signed, and all three would be free agents next year. Britt was healthy most of the year and was a non factor despite leading the team in receiving yards, while Bailey dealt with an off field injury that ended his season after eight games. Bailey showed promise at times, but like his college teammate Austin he projects in the slot. Brian Quick is a free agent an outside receiver but in his four seasons with the Rams, injuries have halted him to a career high of seven starts in 2014 after only making three last season. The thought would be that the draft and a decision between Quick and another free agent will make for two of the Rams wideouts next year, and that this will be a major year for both Bailey and Austin to prove they belong in yet another new offense, the third in their career.
At tight end is Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks. Both are signed, both are plus blockers and both have red zone potential. Tight end should be sured up and may see better results if the team can find an upgrade at quarterback.
Offensive Line Play
The Rams may have surprised teams by not being the worst line in the league, but specifically in the run it was still below average. Rookies Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown were the top performers on the line and hope to sure up the right side moving forward. Rodger Saffold was out from October with a shoulder injury, giving a couple other rookies a chance to shine at the guard position. They didn’t get stellar play, but it was enough to wonder how expendable Saffold is. The bet would be he is a cap casualty this offseason, and the Rams will move forward with cheap competition at left guard and Center. Greg Robinson is slowly growing into a left tackle despite talk they could shift him to the guard vacancy and find another tackle, maybe early in the draft. If someone is sitting there, sure, if not it would be assumed he gets another year to grow into the position.
Aaron Donald being the only player other than JJ Watt to receive Defensive Player of the Year votes should tell you where this guy is. Donald put up 11 sacks in year two of his career and he did it with a line that was jumbled a lot due to injury. The Rams are set at only rushing four, and with him being one of the four it is still one of the scariest lines in the league. Beside him at the tackle position is Michael Brockers and Nick Fairley. Fairley will be a free agent but may come back on the cheap as his 2015 as a rotation player wasn’t one that will draw interest.
On the ends there will be some interesting discussions this offseason. Chris Long and Robert Quinn are elite pass rushers, but combined to only make 12 starts this season. Long has one year on his deal and should be an extension candidate. However, with health a concern, they also see William Hayes and Eugene Simms, and their seven combined sacks as the backups as free agents. They should at least sign one, as depth is a key factor and if they can extend Long, and bring back depth the line should be the best on paper heading into a hopefully much more healthy 2016.
Mark Barron is listed as a safety but had his most success of his career in replacement of Alec Ogletree at linebacker. Ogletree only started four games due to injury, and Barron led the team in tackles in his spot. Ogletree was becoming a part of the core and his job is safe, but it will be interesting to see if the Rams extend Barron to play linebacker with Ogletree and steady Eddie- James Laurinaitis. Akeem Ayers is in the mix, but like Ogletree has one year on his deal, and if Barron returns, and Ogletree is extended it will be interesting to see how they rotate linebackers in 2016. Either way, if Barron returns it should need little touching up, only a late round pick if they don’t see themselves tying down either Ogletree or Ayers this offseason.
The secondary will also see either potential moves as players leave, or it could easily stay the same with resigning of assets. Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins are free agents at corner, and while Jenkins may see demand due to stats, Johnson is the better corner and should be higher on the Rams priority list. Lamarcus Joyner is proving he is a better fit as a nickel/free safety option, leaving Jenkins as a potential need to resign, but EJ Gaines is coming off of ACL surgery, and started 15 games in 2014, outplaying Jenkins in most. The Rams should look to sign Johnson and go into 2016 with Johnson, Gaines and Joyner as their trio at corner.
At safety it is easier to solve. TJ McDonald and Rodney McLeod play a similar, physical style of football, and with Christain Bryant and Lamarcus Joyner helping in centerfield they should be all ready to go in the back end.
Where do they go?
Key contributors on defense like Ogletree,Quinn, Long and even getting Gaines back should have this defense where many thought they would be in 2015. On offense the key is to find a quarterback, but wow is that hard. Wide Receiver isn’t pretty, and the line will need touching up, but the race for this team to get a QB before that defensive core doesn’t have enough to carry the team is on. Kind of awkward that Sam Bradford may be the best free agent quarterback, so you would assume, in the first two rounds they almost have to grab one. How they handle this process will tell you where Jeff Fisher is working next year.