The St. Louis Rams finished last season with a 2-14 record, finishing fourth place in the NFC West. It resulted in the firing of head coach Steve Spagnuolo and General Manager Billy Devaney and continued a losing atmosphere for the team that included a horrendous five-year run of 15-65.
To replace the former coach and GM, the Rams brought in new head coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead to right the ship. Free agent acquisitions and draft picks have been largely panned as a success, and a buzz of excitement is returning to a fan base whose tolerance has dwindled in recent years.
The offense ranked 31st in the league with an average of 283.6 yards per game and last with an average of 12.1 points per game. Things weren't much better on the other side of the ball, as the defense ranked 22nd in the league with 358.4 yards allowed per game.
Projections, which could be premature at this point, are looking up for the stumbling team as Fisher and company have brought in playmakers who are reaching the high-points in their careers.
Here are five reasonable goals for the Rams for the upcoming season.
The Rams ranked in the top half of the league last year with 39 sacks, and the defensive line looks to improve this season.
Defensive end Chris Long has improved his sack totals each of the past three seasons, earning five in 2009, eight in 2010 and 13 in 2011.
In 2011, Robert Quinn earned five sacks while playing just 52 percent of the defensive snaps for the Rams. It's hard for a rookie to settle into his position when he rotates in and out 50 percent of the time.
The young defensive end is a strong, quick and athletic pass-rusher who also made an impact on special teams in 2011, showing the ability to block kicks. In limited playing time, he ranked second on the team with 14 quarterback hits. He continually finds ways to pressure the ball.
The departed defensive end James Hall had just six sacks in 2011. If Quinn doubles that total, the Rams can reach 45. Fred Robbins had just one sack last season.
A much improved secondary should also free up linebacker James Laurinaitis to rush the quarterback and increase his sack total from three to a much higher number.
The team also added first-round pick Michael Brockers to the line, who should serve as a valuable run stuffer so Long and Quinn can attack the quarterback on passing downs.
The Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles led the NFL last season with 50 sacks, so the Rams racking up at least 45 would put them towards the top of the league in the category based off last year's numbers.
The Rams ranked dead last in the NFL last season with an average of 12.1 points per game and 31st with 283.6 yards per game. The season continued a trend of poor offensive play by the team in recent years.
The team drafted Brian Quick No. 33 overall in this year's draft and is already drawing rave reviews from teammates. Speedy receiver Chris Givens was also drafted early in the fourth round, which should bolster the wide receiver corps from last season.
Oh yeah, and Bradford's go-to guy from his rookie season Danny Amendola is back after suffering a season-ending injury early last year.
The Rams also strengthened its backfield by drafting its running back of the future Isiah Pead who should be a strong compliment to Steven Jackson.
If the Rams can score just nine more points and 50 more yards per game with their new offensive additions then it will put them in the middle of the pack for offense in the NFL—not an unattainable feat.
In 2011, the Rams were ranked 22nd in the NFL with 12 interceptions. This offseason, the Rams added veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan and drafted corners Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. Back off the injured reserve also are Jerome Murphy and Bradley Fletcher.
While it's unknown how Jenkins and Johnson will excel in the interception department, the other three have shown the ability in the past to read the ball well.
Plus, there's always the factor of strength in numbers with a solid player at every position in the secondary, so the strong players won't have to make up for guys who don't read the ball as well.
Since 2000, Jeff Fisher's teams have had 17 or more interceptions nine of the 11 years. In four of those years, his teams had 20 or more interceptions.
The Rams absolutely have the talent to continue the trend.
With no offensive line protection and lack of weapons at his disposal, quarterback Sam Bradford suffered the sophomore slump with a measly rating of 70.5.
Head coach Jeff Fisher and General Manager Les Snead have put a focus on those positions surrounding the franchise quarterback, making notable free agent acquisitions and draft picks.
To anchor the offensive line, the Rams signed Pro Bowl center Scott Wells to replace the underperformed Jason Brown. Wells, who should provide valuable leadership to Bradford after being the snapper to Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, excels in both pass and rush protection.
Additionally, Rodger Saffold is back after the tackle suffered a season-ending injury in November. While his play was not solid in 2011, he has shown capabilities of being above average during his rookie 2010 season.
Jason Smith has now been hit where it hurts—his pocketbook—which should be a great motivator under a new coach which he has no equity built up with. Not to mention, Smith should also benefit from greater coaching with Fisher now in control of the team.
Harvey Dahl has been a consistent, nasty lineman who should provide more than adequate support.
The Rams have spent a significant amount of money to protect Bradford, so expect to see it pay off with higher dividends this upcoming season.
In 2011, the Rams ranked No. 27 in the NFL for attendance with 86.3 percent. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals had worse attendance.
Yet, in the midst of a tough economy and a five-year run of a 15-65 record, the fans can hardly be to blame for not having a full capacity every game. However, one can argue that 86.3 percent attendance isn't anything to scoff at for such a poor team.
Fans have a reason to be excited. The team got their coach, made significant free agent acquisitions and appear to have had a successful draft on paper.
This team is going to be better, and fans in St. Louis will respond to a winning team.
That doesn't mean that St. Louis has bandwagon fans whatsoever. How many teams have fan bases who sellout games throughout one and two win seasons? Teams that are annually out of any playoff picture a quarter of the way in the season.
The only factor that could keep fans away is the instability of the franchise in St. Louis. Are they staying in the city long-term, or are they packing the moving fans in just a couple of years?
Level-headed fans who observe the situation with a clear view and without hopeful delusion will see there is a very good chance, if not probable, the team stays in St. Louis. Sports are important to the Gateway City, and fans are intelligent enough to know boycotting games will not accomplish anything.
If a winning, contending team is put on the field, fans will respond.