It's been an off-season filled with tumult for the St. Louis Rams. A head coach was fired. A head coach was hired. A tense stadium negotiation was arbitrated. Another defensive lineman was arrested for DUI.
Oh, and did I mention that the Rams still don't have, you know, a defensive coordinator? That Gregg Williams guy—what ever happened to him anyway? Haven't heard much about him this off-season.
But starting Sunday, the Rams are now ensconced in the warm, velvety embrace of training camp. The time of year where every full-time NFL writer/reporter digs deep into his bag of tropes and pulls out the classics for us to gaze upon with wonder.
"Just How Good Are These Rookies, Anyway?" (The Rams' track record indicates they're about five roster cuts, two major draft busts and one knee surgery away from it being 2013.)
"How Coach Fisher is Changing the Rams Culture!" (Step 1: Don't tear down pictures of past champions. Even though you probably have about 10,000 bazillion more reasons to than Spags did.)
"Just How Good Can This Team Be?" (Nobody knows. Literally no one. But this article will be written. This question will be asked.)
You'll see them all. Along with the normal soundbites. Just working hard each day, trying to get better. Those flare-ups are going to happen in practice, okay? You've got 300-pound guys banging on each other in this heat? It's bound to get testy. I think we're going to be improved from last year, our leaders have really stepped up. Et cetera.
But amidst the flowery bullshit, we've got a football season coming up. And while I'd love to see the Rams get 10 wins and a Wild Card berth in 2012, it's probably not going to happen. Also, they'd better not win two games again. Because that sucks.
So what's reasonable to expect this year between those numbers? What are some hard and fast statistics we can look at to say, "Hey, these guys are making progress"? Not the pie in the sky, mind you—just solid freaking numbers that we can grade against come January.
We're here to help.
Win six games and that's a significant improvement. Means you were probably in 10 or more heading into the fourth quarter. Which is about 8 more than the Rams were in during 2011. The winning would be nice, but the excitement is what people want to see.
Win six and a couple of those wins are like last season's New Orleans games... unexpected treats. Winning six also puts the Rams in line for a reasonable jump into the playoffs in 2013 with a solid draft and some free-agent acquisitions.
RUN DEFENSE: Less than 112 yards/game
The Rams were the pits in run defense in 2011, ranking 31st in the NFL and surrendering a whopping 152.1 yards per game. San Fransisco, on the other hand, led the NFL with a 77.3 y/pg average. Those yardage totals for the Rams add up to an 4.8 average per carry. (Side note: !!!) Literally giving opponents a first down, pending a spot every other play.
Bringing that number down by 40 y/pg would put the Rams in the middle of the pack for run defense and allow the offense some breathing room. Sounds like a bunch, that 40 yards, but take away a couple of big runs, including a 91 yard breakaway (Side note: !!!!!!) and you're on your way to being respectable. This defensive line can do it. Pending Robert Quinn's punishment. (Side note: Ugh.)
SAM BRADFORD: 14 games played/275 completions/ 59% completion rate/ 3,300 yards/ less than 10 INTS
These numbers are less than his rookie of the year campaign. We're not worried about him getting 20+ touchdowns—he just needs to make completions, make them at a good rate, and make them in places that move the chains. Oh. And he needs to actually stay on the field and do as much of that as possible.
Sam's only 24 years old entering his third season. In Coach Fisher's offense he doesn't need to put up Cam Newton numbers, he just needs to stay upright, make good decisions and be a field general. Steve McNair, Kerry Collins, Vince Young—when these guys had their offense cruising, it was because they were deadly at repetition. They just kept coming at you, made a couple plays when it was really needed and let the D and the RBs do the heavy lifting.
RAMS RECEIVERS: 250 catches/3,300 yards/15 TDs
The Rams WR corps had 187 catches (11.7 per game) for 2,283 yards (142.6 per game) and 8 TDs in 2012. They were only targeted 373 times, or 23.3 times per game. Once Danny Amendola went down, the receivers' stats went to hell in a hand basket, pacing nearly 19 percent off the NFL, get this, AVERAGE for the year.
The addition of Brian Quick and Chris Givens may help. The return of Amendola will help. Rookie RB Isaiah Pead will gobble up some catches out the backfield while Steven Jackson will be featured more prominently in the reception game.
Let's assume that Jason Smith has some professional pride and at least becomes serviceable on the O-Line and that Roger Saffold's 2012 season was more an aberration than the norm. That happens and the Rams WRs - finally- aren't the weakest link on the Rams.
Hit those goals, friends, and the Rams are going to be, well, still a losing team.
They're going to be showing signs of a pulse. At this point, we're not asking for much.
Because Sunday naps are more fun at your house after the game than in those plastic seats at the EDJ.