Another year in the books and another year of watching another team not named the Rams in the playoffs. It is perfectly civil to be disappointed with the Rams for finishing 7-9 and at least in record alone, finishing worst than last season. Just do me a favor and don’t be ashamed or disgusted. Sure, these Rams are young, dumb and full of attitude and aggression. That spilled out over Sunday’s finale in Seattle, as the NFC champ Seahawks took our little dudes to school in a place where very few opposing teams leave with head held high. The Rams got whopped 27-9 and got a lesson in where they are at in the current rebuilding mode. I’ll break down what I saw and what happens going forward.
Listening around Twitter and other internet sites, certain minds would have it that the Rams were supposed to play the upset card and win the NFC West this season. I personally picked them to go 9-7 and when Sam Bradford went down, I would have bet on a 5-11 finish. In the end, Kellen Clemens stepped in, Jeff Fisher and Brian Schottenheimer revamped the offensive game plan and Zac Stacy solidified the Rams rushing attack enough to steal games from the Colts, Bears and Saints to win 7 games.
In a disappointing season, look at the bright sides. The Rams were 3-4 when Bradford went down in towards the end of week 7, and we went 4-3 down the stretch instead of tanking completely. Clemens played well and should return as the backup if another team doesn’t scoop him up. Stacy rushed as good as any RB in the league over the last 9 games and defensive end Robert Quinn well, he basically dismantled opposing linemen and made them look like Pop Warner victims. 7-9 is nothing to celebrate but it is highly important that Rams fans put that record into perspective.
When Fisher took over for the Rams before the 2012 season, the home team had gone 15-65 in the previous 5 seasons. We were horrible, except for the miraculous soft scheduled 2010 where we went 7-9 and nearly made it into the playoffs. When Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney left Rams Park, the building may as well been on fire. Fisher and new general manager Les Snead took custody of an NFL franchise corpse. After 15 wins in 5 seasons, Fisher has led this team to 14 wins in 2 seasons. Please, pretty please with sugar on top, don’t forget about that as you drown yourself in depression this week as the New Year brings the well known phrase “maybe next year” to our minds.
The Rams aren’t built to win divisions or Super Bowls right now. We are built to improve. Get better. Reach higher every season. After going 2-14 two years ago, trust me, I am not asking the Rams to overtake the 49ers and Seahawks(who faced off for the NFC championship in January) any time soon. It was dismal to see our team play 1-5 against the division this year, but keep in mind those last three games came without our starting QB and on the road. When we faced San Francisco the first time, the offense was mired in a pass heavy attack without a real running back at the helm. The one win we managed, against Arizona at home, came directly from our defense’s ability to break down Carson Palmer and that slowly forming Cardinals attack.
Sports is hard to follow without putting things into perspective. One Rams fan told me last night I sounded like a Cubs fan when defending the Rams season. I could have quickly uttered the word “Titanic” and put done with it but I broke it down again instead. The Rams are rebuilding under Jeff Fisher. That is a fact and can’t be forgotten. His regime is exiting just its second season with this rebuilt vehicle.
The stupid penalties in the first 8 games and especially on Sunday in Seattle, come from a raw young talented team. There is no excuse to make a tackle after the opposing player gets 15 yards on you and pump your chest because you made a good tackle and prevented him from getting the other 55 yards and a score. Those things will be smoothed out or the players involved will be reassigned to practice squads in Earth City where if you beat your chest, comparisons to gamblers at Ameristar Casino are made.
This is Sam Bradford’s team. Let me say that loud and clear. Clemens was fine and did his job but let’s not coin him the answer. He won 4 games with the Rams and Bradford won 3 but that is where the pros end. Clemens benefited from a new system and a fresh legged running back. Schotty and Fisher had Bradford throwing the ball 38, 55, 48 and 41 times in the first 4 weeks of the season. Clemens threw the ball over 35 times once in his 9 starts and that came against SF on the road in a blowout. Bradford didn’t have Stacy for most of the first 6 weeks. He had Darryl Richardson and barely an attack to give him any chance on the passing attack. Bradford threw 14 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions with opposing defense aiming in on him. 3 of the 4 INT were tipped. Sam played very well in the second half of last season after the playbook was switched up and the Red Zone efficiency magically improved. He continued that assault this season, moving an offense that wasn’t ready to thrive yet. Imagine if Sam is around when Tavon Austin is fully utilized and mobile with Stacy on the ground as well? That’s 2014 looking at you.
Be mad. Go ahead. It’s appropriate. Say you won’t show up to games next year. Beg the team to use their #2 or #3 draft pick on college quarterback Jameis Winston. All is relative these days to the usual outcry of fans and neither statement is stupid. The Rams finishing 7-9 isn’t eye popping great but put into perspective of their rebuilding mode and looking at the loss of Bradford nearly halfway through, the season wasn’t a total loss and nearly could have better.
Imagine if we don’t flop the entire first quarter in Atlanta and get a win there. What if we don’t cough up that game to Seattle at home with the win a yard away with seconds left? What if we don’t give that game to the Titans at home? Same as last year, where we lost close games to Tampa and Detroit and let a win in San Francisco get away. The Rams revamped their offense halfway into last season, just like this year, so hopefully there is one solidified plan that can go throughout 2014.
Sure, the division play won’t get any easier. Arizona played well enough for a playoff spot but got denied and the 49ers and Seahawks will chase The Lombardi trophy again. The Rams will have to earn every single win they get in the West, but they will be better tasked to do so next year. After a draft where the Rams could trade down and double their top picks and free agency, the Rams will start 2014 with a set offense and hopefully an improved secondary. Some of the youthful arrogance will wear off the younger players. Alec Ogletree will only get better. Chris Long will continue to manhandle quarterbacks. Brian Quick, Austin, Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey and Jared Cook will settle in. The Rams double boot combo of Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hecker will be back. Stacy and Cunningham will be ready to shoulder the running load and may mix in some hyper speed with Richardson in the mix. “Earth, Wind and Fire” Part 2?
Oh, I didn’t forget Robert Quinn. That would be like forgetting about Zeus in the talk of immortal Gods. With apologies to Stacy, the player to watch all season was this mad dog defensive end who won’t leave the mind of every tackle who had to bend their fingers back and twist their wrists trying to stop him. Quinn got 19 sacks on the season and that came with getting held, strangled and double teamed by every single team. If he had gotten a couple more calls, you could have easily seen 20 if not 25 sacks from Quinn, the parting gift #13 pick from Spags and Devaney before they left. Quinn forced 7 fumbles and recovered 2. He was adept at stopping the run. He disrupted offenses every play. He has played all but 1 game in his first three seasons, gathering up 34.5 sacks. The North Carolina man child is doing very well and deserves the Defensive Player of the Year. Need proof? Ask quarterbacks and/or offensive linemen if they’d rather deal with throwing towards Richard Sherman or holding off Quinn. That answer should be easy.
All in all, I am proud of what the Rams accomplished in 2013, when looked at over all 16 games and when taking into account the setbacks. It wasn’t always pretty and could have been better, but having seen what the fanbase dealt with from 2007-2011, I will take it. And I am especially excited for what should come in 2014 and beyond.
Photo Credits(Respectively)-fansided.com, bleacherreport.com
Dan Buffa is the co-creator, administrator and writer for the movie website, http://www.film-addict.com. He also writes for the local blog United Cardinal Bloggers in addition to Arch City Sports. He also writes for his personal blog, http://www.doseofbuffa.com. He is a STL born and raised writer with a need to inform and the ability to pound out 1,000-1,500 word pieces with ease. When he isn’t writing or drinking coffee, he is spending time with his wife and two year old son in South City. Follow him at @buffa82 on Twitter and reach him for thoughts, comments and general feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.