Rams 2015 Preview: Complete St. Louis Guide for Preseason, Season

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVAugust 5, 2015

Rams 2015 Preview: Complete St. Louis Guide for Preseason, Season

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    The St. Louis Rams will kick off the preseason in just over a week—a sure sign that the regular season will be here before we know it. 

    Training camp is already under way, and the players are fighting for roster spots as they endure the brutal summer heat. Those practices give the coaches a general idea of where the players stand, but the preseason will be the ultimate indicator of who makes the roster and who is sent home. 

    Once the roster is established, the team will enter the regular season and attempt to compete in the NFC West—one of football's more unforgiving divisions. 

    There's a long camp still ahead of us and an even longer season, but after a long spring and summer, we're finally ready for some football. 

    This article will preview the upcoming season and preseason by outlining the schedule, key games, the top offseason additions and more. 

Complete Schedule

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    Preseason

    Preseason Week 1: Oakland Raiders (Away), Friday August 14, 9 p.m. ET

    Preseason Week 2: Tennessee Titans (Away), Saturday August 23, 8 p.m. ET

    Preseason Week 3: Indianapolis Colts (Home), Saturday August 29, 8 p.m. ET

    Preseason Week 4: Kansas City Chiefs (Home), Thursday September 3, 8 p.m. ET

    Regular Season

    Week 1: Seattle Seahawks (Home), Sunday September 13, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 2: Washington Redskins (Away), Sunday September 20, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 3: Pittsburgh Steelers (Home), Sunday September 27, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 4: Arizona Cardinals (Away), Sunday October 4, 4:25 p.m. ET

    Week 5: Green Bay Packers (Away), Sunday October 11, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 6: Bye 

    Week 7: Cleveland Browns (Home), Sunday October 25, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 8: San Francisco 49ers (Home), Sunday Novermber 1, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 9: Minnesota Vikings (Away), Sunday Novermber 8, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 10: Chicago Bears (Home), Sunday Novermber 15, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 11: Baltimore Ravens (Away), Sunday Novermber 22, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 12: Cincinnati Bengals (Away), Sunday Novermber 29, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 13: Arizona Cardinals (Home), Sunday December 6, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 14: Detroit Lions (Home), Sunday December 13, 1 p.m. ET

    Week 15: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Home), Sunday December 17, 8:25 p.m. ET

    Week 16: Seattle Seahawks (Away), Sunday December 27, 4:25 p.m. ET

    Week 17: San Francisco 49ers (Away), Sunday January 3, 4:25 p.m. ET

Top Offseason Additions

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    Todd Gurley

    Todd Gurley was selected by St. Louis with the No. 10 overall draft pick. There was not an immediate need for a running back, with Tre Mason on board, but Gurley is such a rare talent that St. Louis didn't dare pass on him. 

    Gurley can stiff-arm, bounce off defenders and run between the tackles like a power back, or he can catch passes and leave defenders in his dust like a change-of-pace speedster. His blocking needs some work, but he's otherwise excellent in virtually every department. 

    If Gurley comes anywhere near his potential, he'll be a household NFL back very soon. 

    Nick Foles

    Nick Foles had his ups and downs in 2014. He led the Philadelphia Eagles to a 6-2 record in his eight starts, so he was far from a disaster. Still, no one can deny he was a shell of his former Pro Bowl self from 2013. 

    Given the stout defensive support, it seems the Rams are likely playoff contenders if Foles can come anywhere near his 2013 form. Even if he doesn't recapture that magic and is merely competent but not spectacular, that's still a monumental improvement over the last two years of Kellen Clemens and Austin Davis. 

    Acquiring Foles was a gamble, but still not nearly as risky as praying for a healthy Bradford for a third straight year. 

    Akeem Ayers

    While the St. Louis defensive line mostly dominated in 2014, the linebackers failed to consistently help out by stopping the run. 

    The Rams entered the offseason in need of a big-bodied linebacker capable of shutting down the run, and that's exactly what they got in the 255-pound Akeem Ayers. 

    Ayers is not comfortable in coverage, but he gives St. Louis a run-stuffing linebacker who's also a pretty good pass-rusher. With Ayers in the mix, opposing linemen will have to look beyond the St. Louis defensive line for potential pass-rush threats. 

    With Ayers at linebacker, along with two blitz-capable safeties in T.J. McDonald and Mark Barron, the pass rush can literally come from any level of the defense. It's a frightening reality that will stump opposing coordinators in 2015. 

    Nick Fairley

    In order for the St. Louis defensive line to stay effective, the Rams need more than just star power at the starting positions—they need very deep depth as well. 

    When Kendall Langford left the team, it wasn't covered by the media as a huge loss, but it deserved more attention. He was the No. 3 tackle and kept Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald fresh throughout every game. He played a vital role, even if his job lacked glory. 

    Nick Fairley not only gives St. Louis a suitable replacement for Langford, but he also possibly provides an upgrade. Fairley is a better pass-rusher, and he's actually built as a true 4-3 tackle, whereas Langford was always a better fit as a 3-4 end.

Preseason Overview

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    Oakland Raiders (Away)

    The Rams kick off the preseason on the West Coast against the Oakland Raiders. It will be St. Louis' first taste of football action after a nine-month drought, but the environment will be tame. 

    The starters will likely play the opening quarter. Foles might play only a series or two, which is understandable, since the coaching staff is likely still squeamish after Bradford's preseason injury a year ago.

    Gurley will also be handled with the kid's gloves. Due to his health status, it's unlikely the rookie will even dress for the game. Defensive stars Quinn and Donald will also watch from the bench, though they'll probably see a handful of snaps in the opening quarter. 

    The remaining starters should see a full quarter of action, but this game will mostly be about evaluating the rookie offensive linemen and the low-level depth players. 

    Tennessee Titans (Away)

    The preseason exhibition in Tennessee will be identical to the first preseason game. The starters will operate during the opening quarter, but the top-tier players will be handled delicately. 

    At this point, we will have some clarity on what the starting line will look like. Expect all five line starters to play beyond the opening quarter, giving the group a chance to develop some chemistry. 

    Indianapolis Colts (Home)

    The third preseason game is commonly referred to as the "dress rehearsal." The starters will play the entire first half and possibly beyond. 

    Foles, Quinn and Donald will be the exceptions. The season is in serious jeopardy if one of those three players goes down for a significant period, so they'll likely be yanked from the game about halfway through the second quarter. 

    With Foles out, Austin Davis and Case Keenum will get some very valuable reps with the first-team offense. As a result, this contest could very well decide the winner of the competition for No. 2 quarterback. 

    Kansas City Chiefs (Home)

    The final preseason game is completely void of any real action. The starters will play a single series and the superstars will likely not touch the field at all. 

    This game will primarily feature backups and low-level players. It's a chance for those on-the-bubble players to make their final statement and attempt to make the final roster. 

    It won't be an exciting event, but this game will help determine the finishing pieces to the final roster, so it's important.

Key Regular-Season Matchups

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    Week 1: Seattle Seahawks (Home)

    Typically, the first game of the season is hardly a make-or-break scenario. But for a team that has consistently struggled with youth, inconsistency and confidence the past three seasons, a victory would instill some serious momentum moving forward. 

    This is especially true considering the Rams open against the NFC champion Seahawks. Winning this Week 1 matchup will ensure the team of something we already know—the Rams are deep and talented enough to take on any opponent in the league. 

    Week 2: Washington Redskins (Away)

    This game is especially important if the Rams fall in the opener against Seattle—a relatively likely event.

    If the Rams start 0-1, it's vital that they overcome a beatable Washington team in Week 2, which will give them a boost of confidence before entering a grueling three-game stretch featuring Pittsburgh, Arizona and Green Bay. 

    Even if the Rams defeat Seattle in Week 1, beating the Redskins and gaining an early 2-0 record could do wonders for attendance. With relocation rumors in the air and a potential lame-duck season in the works, early success is absolutely mandatory in order to ensure a significant crowd advantage for the remaining home games. 

    Week 13: Arizona Cardinals (Home)

    The Arizona Cardinals are a major threat in the NFC West. They have replaced San Francisco as the No. 1 hurdle between the Seahawks and another division title. 

    If the Rams want to become part of that conversation, they'll have to stand tall against all division rivals, including Arizona. That's no small feat. Arizona's defense is every bit as talented as St. Louis'—maybe even more so—and its offense is far more competent. 

    The Rams cannot expect to win a division title while getting swept by the Cardinals for a second year in a row. Defeating Arizona on the road in Week 4 might be asking too much, so this Week 13 game at the dome might be St. Louis' only hope. 

    Week 16: Seattle Seahawks (Away)

    The annual away game in Seattle has been a thorn in St. Louis' side for years. The Rams haven't won in the Seahawks' stadium since 2004, when Marc Bulger was the quarterback, Marshall Faulk was still with the team and Steven Jackson was a rookie. 

    If the Rams enter this game with a playoff-worthy record and end up upsetting the Seahawks, it's a sure sign that the team is finally ready for not only a playoff berth but also a deep playoff run. 

    Week 17: San Francisco 49ers (Away)

    The 49ers will likely take a big step backward in 2015, but that doesn't mean St. Louis can take this game lightly. It's a season finale against a divisional opponent, so it could have serious playoff implications, even if the 49ers are no longer in the hunt. 

    If the Rams lose against Seattle in Week 16, this game might be St. Louis' last shot at redemption. If the Rams win over the Seahawks, this is still an opportunity to pile on and possibly enter the postseason with some momentum.

Keys to Success

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    The Foles Factor

    The Rams will lean heavily on the run game, but the offense still needs a quarterback centerpiece to manage the unit and lead those late-game comebacks. 

    Even though 2014 was a down year for Foles, he still led the Philadelphia to two fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives in just eight starts. If he offers similar late-game magic in St. Louis, the Rams will be in good shape. 

    As you might recall, the Rams faced many comeback situations in 2014. The games against Dallas, Philadelphia, San Diego and Arizona all offered an opportunity to wrap up the win in the fourth quarter, but St. Louis fell short each time, mostly due to poor quarterback play. 

    If Foles can bring a special X-factor that Austin Davis and Shaun Hill lacked, the Rams' record will be much-improved. It could be the difference between the playoffs and another near-.500 record. 

    The Defense Living Up to the Hype

    The St. Louis pass rush was spectacular in the final 11 games of 2014, but the group had just one sack in the first five contests. The defense cannot afford a similar slow start. 

    With St. Louis' offensive line woes and the offense's overall lack of chemistry, stout defensive play will fule this team. There's enough talent on that side of the ball to carry the team; it's just a matter of the group stepping up and reaching that potential.

    With all the star power up front, there's no excuse for St. Louis not finishing No. 1 or No. 2 in total-team sacks. If the defensive line is as devastating as the hype indicates, the rest of the defense should flourish.  

    The Run Game 

    While the Rams will require a few clutch performances on Foles' part, this is still a run-first team. If the Rams can't run the ball down the opponent's throat, the offense will be a collective failure. 

    Gurley is the definition of an elite running back prospect. Assuming he returns to full health by Week 4 or Week 5, he'll provide the backfield with a dynamic weapon. In the meantime, the Rams will depend on the perfectly solid one-two punch of Mason and Benny Cunningham. 

    Although, the real key to success on the ground is the offensive line, not the backs. With rookies manning the right guard and right tackle positions, along with a first-year starter at center, the line will have plenty of growing pains in the early season. 

    If the line can jell by midseason and grow into a cohesive unit, the run game will prosper, and the offense will finally show signs of life. 

    Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and served as the Rams' game-day correspondent in 2014. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or following him on Twitter.

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