Head coach Jeff Fisher has turned the St. Louis Rams into a 3-3 team with a lot of hope to begin the 2012 NFL season. Optimistic fans are thinking playoffs six games into the year, following a team that has already matched its average wins per season since 2007.
That may be a little premature, despite the fact that two of St. Louis’ losses have been by a combined seven points.
It’s probably best to wait a year. This team needs to learn how to win on the road, first—especially since it will only have seven real home games this season.
In a crowded NFC playoff picture, the Rams would already be on the outside looking in if the playoffs started today. Seven teams in the conference (Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks) have four or more wins.
The Rams defense has been impressive all season; it allowed a season-high 28 points to the Washington Redskins in Week 2 and has given up just 30 combined in its last three games.
But the offense has yet to catch up.
St. Louis has consistently been forced to rely on the big leg of its rookie kicker, Greg Zuerlein, to put points on the board because the offense has been unable to get touchdowns.
A rookie kicker can only take a team so far, as evidenced by the Rams’ Week 6 loss at Miami.
Zuerlein missed kicks from 52, 37 and what would have been an NFL-record 66 yards out. They were his final three kicks of the game and they all had the distance, but went wide left.
The Rams lost by three points.
That sort of result gives Rams fans hope of being able to get three points on any drive that stalls in the opponent’s territory. However, St. Louis is not going to win many more games without getting the ball into the end zone.
Sam Bradford scored the team’s first rushing touchdown on the season in Week 6. He’s thrown six touchdown passes.
If the defense can provide points for St. Louis on a consistent basis, the Rams will have a much more favorable chance of getting to the playoffs—but that’s a tall order.
The Rams have an army of rookies playing prominent roles for them on both sides of the ball this season. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive tackle Michael Brockers are starters for the defense.
Running back Daryl Richardson and wide receivers Chris Givens and Brian Quick are getting varying degrees of offensive playing time. Running back Isaiah Pead is entrusted with some kick-return duties; much like Jenkins runs punts back.
Even the aforementioned Zuerlein is paired with Johnny Hekker to form a St. Louis rookie kicker/punter combination.
In 2013, those guys will all be sophomores with a year of experience under their belts. They should be more readily able to be consistent producers out of the gate.
Jenkins—as touted and talented as he is—has still been absolutely torched on double-move routes (or simple streaks, in the case of the Dolphins’ Marlon Moore) on more than one occasion in this young season.
Perhaps we will be able to look back on those plays next year and definitively call them rookie mistakes.
This year’s rookie crop in St. Louis gives Rams fans optimism regarding the team’s ability to draft and utilize talent as well—the 246 rushing yards produced by the Rams’ backup running back belong to Richardson, a seventh-round draft pick.
That bodes well for the upcoming NFL Draft, during which St. Louis will have two first-round selections.
Trading away the ability to select Robert Griffin III this spring landed the Rams a first-round pick in each of the next two seasons from the Washington Redskins.
Washington is also a .500 team entering Week 7. Whether either team’s ultimate 2012 record will produce a top-10 selection for the Rams remains to be seen, but the current regime seems to be able to be trusted with picks throughout the draft.
Adding two more legitimate first-round talents to the roster in 2013 to this young squad will create a very promising future for St. Louis.
The Rams may even have something to learn from the history of the team that beat them in Week 6: the Miami Dolphins.
Adding left tackle Jake Long in the 2008 NFL draft (first overall) and returning quarterback Chad Pennington to the lineup, the Dolphins went from a 2007 record of 1-15 to an 11-5 mark in 2008.
That was with a lack of a viable No. 1 receiving threat, as the Rams have now.
St. Louis will be equipped to add a No. 1 wide receiver or turn Quick into one over his second professional offseason. It could also use those early draft picks to shore up the offensive line and keep Bradford off his back.
In a division as competitive as the NFC West, the Rams could be a very good team and still be out of the playoffs in 2012.
They’re currently in last place in their division at .500. If they end the season that way, they’ll have the luxury of playing other fourth-place NFC teams that should still be inferior to them next year.
Coupling that with the expected improvement of the team as a whole should translate to a playoff appearance for St. Louis in 2013—if the Rams can’t put it together on the road in time to make a run this season.