The NFC West is considered the weakest division in the whole NFL. Most years a team will win the division with an 8-8 or 9-7 record and winning most, if not all, their division games.
To everyone’s surprise, the winner of the division (Arizona Cardinals) represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. Last year the Cardinals could get away with going 3-7 outside the division because they went undefeated inside theirs, but this year will be different.
The St. Louis Rams had its second disappointing year in a row as they finished 2-14. Nothing went right for the Rams from running back Steven Jackson, who was not at his usual level of play, to that defense that, well, was bad.
The Rams received an overhaul, but will it make them a better team?
Steven Jackson, some say, was hindered last year due to contract disputes which held him out for a little while, but this year he is under contract and ready to rumble. Jackson is the best back in the NFC West and is one of the top backs in the NFL. Behind an improved offensive line, Jackson should be able to cause more trouble for opposing defenses, especially with his size and surprising speed.
Randy McMichael has been a reliable target at tight end since being signed as a free agent a couple years ago. He has good size and hands which will be crucial as he will be one of two targets that Bulger will need to rely on this season.
The offensive line is not great, but it’s not bad when healthy. With the signing of center Jason Brown and drafting tackle Jason Smith out of Baylor with the second overall pick, the line should be able to open holes for Jackson and keep Bulger on his feet. Keeping Bulger upright will be crucial as he lacks a reliable receiving core.
Marc Bulger was a Pro Bowler in 2006 and showed similarities to the “Greatest Show on Turf,” but now is a different story. He has not even shown glimpses of that form since and has suffered from injuries and from just not being on his game. Part of his problem was the offensive line and lucky for the Rams there are only a few good pass rushers inside the division.
The defense was the worst kept secret in the NFL—everyone knew it was bad and the nine games the defense gave up 30 points or more proved it. This year will be very different. It will not go from the worst defense to a top five defense but it will be improved.
Head coach Steve Spagnuolo was defensive coordinator for the Giants and his style plus that of the new defensive coordinator Ken Flajole’s style, which produced All-Pro linebacker John Beason, will turn the defense into a machine. The Rams are going from a 3-4 to a 4-3 which will make them a lot better.
The defensive line consists of Adam Carriker and Chris Long who both played in a 4-3 in college. This new system might be what Carriker needs to thrive and the one-on-one blocking Long will receive will allow him to get to the quarterback more consistently than in the 3-4 system.
The linebackers will benefit the most from the change. James Lauranitis played in a 4-3 at Ohio State, and both Chris Draft and Will Witherspoon thrived in the 4-3 system in Carolina. This group could end up as the heart of the defense.
The secondary will also benefit in a big way as the line will put more pressure on the quarterback so guys like Tye Hill and Oshiomogho Atogwe won’t have to cover for 10 minutes. Safeties Atogwe and recently acquired Butler will be able to show off their ball-hawking skills and the corners like Hill will be able to defend more passes as they will be more off-target.
Torry “Big Game” Holt’s departure removes the last remnants of the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Now is a new era, but the Rams do not have anyone to start it with. Donnie Avery is the No. 1 receiver but he’s probably a No. 2 or 3 receiver on other teams. He needs to show he is a No. 1, but then what?
Tight end Randy McMichael is reliable, but someone else needs to step up. Unfortunately, the other receivers on the team are all coming off injuries so whether one is able to step up is another question. A steady run game will help, but the passing game needs a lot of help.
Steven Jackson is a No. 1 back and because of an improved offensive line, and lack of a receiving core, he should see more carries and put up bigger numbers.
Randy McMichael is a low-end No. 1 tight end because of lack of targets in the Rams’ offense.
Donnie Avery is a No. 2 receiver, but be warned. Last season he still had Tory Holt to draw defenders and now it is just him. Can he shake the top defenders in the league?
The sleeper is receiver Keenan Burton. He is coming off a knee injury, but he’ll see single coverage and could catch defenses off-guard.
Prediction: 5-11, Fourth Place