Despite their resurgent play of the last three weeks, the St. Louis Rams still have question marks—question marks that can and hopefully will be answered by the time they finish with their remaining games.
I know Rams fans are feeling pretty good about their team right now—as they should—but let us not allow the rose-colored glasses spawned by three consecutive wins to obscure from our view the areas in which the Rams need improvement.
Improvement could mean a few different things—perhaps bringing in new players or coaching up existing ones or just finding out what certain players are capable of who have not yet had an opportunity to prove themselves.
Let's go through the questions and see if we can find some answers.
Brian Quick has been a disappointment. There's no getting around it.
For a skill-position player to be taken 33rd overall in the draft and still not have made an impact for his team through the 14th week of the season is unexpected, to say the least.
Still, Quick's first mini camp with the team was in May—that's seven months he has had to learn the NFL game, yet he remains a non-factor on Sundays.
One might be tempted to ask how much more time does he need?
The possibilities might surprise you.
Since before the Rams drafted him he has drawn comparisons to Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson—both products of division I-AA schools. Jackson only played in eight games as a rookie, recording a stat line that Quick has already eclipsed.
Jackson came on stronger in his second season, recording 27 catches and six touchdowns in 2006. Since then he has become one of the elite receivers in the NFL.
The Vincent Jackson comparisons are encouraging, but it would sure be nice to see Quick put all doubts to rest with a strong final three games of the 2012 season.
All the great quarterbacks can put their teams on their backs and will a win out of them from time to time. Those are the moments that separate the great from the good. We haven't yet seen that from Sam Bradford.
To be fair, when a quarterback goes through three offensive systems in three years his development will suffer. Add to that the injuries and blunderings of the offensive line and the lack of skill at the wide receiver position and it's clear that Sam Bradford has not been dealt a strong hand in any of his three seasons as an NFL quarterback.
All reasons aside, if the Rams are going to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16, they will likely need a great performance from their franchise quarterback. The Buccaneers rank No. 1 in the NFL in rush defense allowing an incredibly stingy 78.2 yards per game.
If—or more likely, when—the Rams' running game is neutralized by the Bucs, they are going to find out if Sam Bradford is capable of taking over and elevating the play of those around him.
It's the question that will get the most attention from the fans this offseason.
The Rams did not draft Isaiah Pead in the second round to have him play on special teams. They envisioned him as their running back of the future. Despite Daryl Richardson leapfrogging Pead on the depth chart in the preseason, there is no reason to believe the Rams' expectations for him have changed.
But expectations often do not meet with reality.
If the Rams want to find out if they can afford to let Steven Jackson go they need to see what Pead can do in game situations. They need to give him carries.
Daryl Richardson has not been much of a factor in recent games. In fact, he has only had six carries for 10 yards in the last two games.
The time has come to give Richardson's carries to Pead so they can determine whether or not he offers them enough to justify allowing Jackson to walk.
They are going to find out beyond any shadow of a doubt.
The Rams held Gore to 58 yards on 23 carries, a dominant performance by the Rams run D.
Spiller had better success with a 5.3 yards per attempt, but that number was inflated by a couple of long runs.
The real test, however, begins now.
For the next three games the Rams front seven is going up against the best of the best. The results will leave no doubt as to where they stand as a run defense.
Hear me out.
If, over the next three games, Chris Givens performs like he did against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13 and Brian Quick can start getting and catching a significant number of targets thrown his way, then the Rams' starting receivers could be set for next season with Givens and Quick out wide and Danny Amendola in the slot.
They have depth returning in Austin Pettis, whose contract runs through 2014. Brandon Gibson is a free agent after this season but could be re-signed for relatively little money.
There is also the possibility of getting Bradford another weapon in the form of a tight end in the second round of the draft.
Givens and Quick starting out wide is what the Rams' braintrust had in mind when they drafted them. If they can prove they are ready before the offseason begins, the Rams could spend their draft picks and free agent money on other needs.