St. Louis Rams Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Heading into Week 6?
After a 2-14 disaster in 2011, the Rams have already surpassed their single-season win total from a year ago. Much thanks can be directed toward head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead. Both men have shown the commitment to right the ship of this franchise with their expertise and leadership ability.
Coach Fisher has brought toughness to a team that has lacked mental toughness for the last decade. St. Louis was soft under Scott Linehan, and they were equally as soft under Steve Spagnuolo. At 3-2 it's easy to see this team has turned the corner, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Let's take a look at just where the Rams sit through Week 5.
Defense, defense, defense: That has been the name of the game through the first five weeks of the season. St. Louis currently touts the 14th-best overall unit in the league. They have made a living by rushing the passer and taking the ball away from opposing quarterbacks.
In 2011, Spagnuolo's defense registered a modest 39 sacks. A little over a quarter of the way through the 2012 season, Fisher's club already has 15. The additions of Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson have already been paying dividends on the back end as well.
Pro Football Focus has the Rams graded out as the eighth-best coverage unit in all of football. Finnegan and Bradley Fletcher are both rated in the top 15 of cornerback positional grades. Jenkins got a little behind after Weeks 1 and 2, yet the last three weeks have been impressive. Over the last three games, opposing quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 60.8 when throwing his way.
What was once considered a glaring weakness at the end of last season, has quickly become the most stable and reliable groups in all of football. All of this strong play from the secondary has resulted in St. Louis being one of the stingiest defenses through the air. They have only allowed two touchdowns through the air, and it has been two weeks since a team has scored an offensive touchdown against them.
Injuries might end up being the death of this team by season's end. First, it was center Scott Wells and then it was left tackle Rodger Saffold. Both only made brief appearances before exiting with serious injuries. Saffold is dealing with a bum knee, and Wells has a bum foot. And now this week Danny Amendola found out he would be sidelined for an undisclosed amount of time with a dislocated clavicle.
Everyone knows that you can't control injuries, but bad offense can be controlled. Outside of players missing games, an inept offense has been the most troubling area for St. Louis through five games. Brian Schottenheimer's offense has shown signs of life, yet consistency is nowhere to be found.
Currently, they sport the league's 29th-best offense at 278 yards of total offense per game. Passing the ball has just not been easy, whichever way you try to spin it. Schottenheimer's game plans have only been netting the Rams 183.4 yards per game. You know your offense is in trouble when you've fallen behind a Mark Sanchez-quarterbacked team in terms of passing efficiency.
However, blame should not only be directed at the offensive coordinator. Sam Bradford and the wide receivers need to absorb some of the blame as well. According to Advanced NFL Stats, the Rams have the fifth-worst pass success rate. Pass success rate is the percentage of pass plays resulting in positive yardage. So, how do they get that number up? It starts with the wideouts getting better releases off the line and winning individual matchups.
Amendola was the only one who could do this at a consistent level. So, it will either be Chris Givens or Steve Smith who flourishes in that roll going forward.
Rising: Chris Givens
Many feel Smith will be taking over for the injured Amendola, but I'm thinking Givens will end up benefiting from his absence the most. His snaps have been climbing weekly and he has solidified himself as a legitimate downfield threat. In back-to-back games he has caught passes of 50 yards plus.
Falling: Quinn Ojinnaka
If St. Louis had any other option at left guard they would have used it by now. By default they are stuck with Quinn Ojinnaka. He consistently looks overmatched. Through four games this season he has allowed three sacks, two quarterback hits and 10 hurries. PFF has him as the worst pass blocking offensive guard in all of football.
Rising: Robert Quinn
A three-sack, 11-pressure effort will help boost your confidence after four sluggish games to start the season. Unfortunately, he won't get the opportunity to square off against the Cardinals' offensive line weekly. Nonetheless, a breakout game in all three phases never hurts.
Falling: Quintin Mikell
After a solid Week 3 performance in Chicago, two straight home games has doomed Quintin Mikell. His pass coverage ability needs work as he has allowed 12 catches on 14 targets. Not to mention opposing quarterbacks are hitting it big with a QB rating of 103.3 when targeting him.
The Outlook Heading Into Week 6
This team can only go as far as the offense takes them. Defensively, they are light years ahead of the offense. For St. Louis to make a serious late season push they will need all 11 starters on the offensive side of the ball to step up.
Coach Fisher will find a way to keep this team competitive every week. And by the looks of the upcoming slate of games, everyone will need to be in sync. The 2-3 Miami Dolphins are up next, and if the Rams are smart, they won't overlook Joe Philbin's team.
They quietly have one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL. Defensive end Cameron Wake will try to make Bradford's day a nightmare. Hopefully Wayne Hunter can give right tackle Barry Richardson some pointers because he will need it. Wake has eight sacks, eight quarterback hits and 26 hurries.
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