By David Demarco, Staff Writer
Despite playing in what has become to be known as the toughest division in the NFL, the Rams marched into the 2013 season with the highest expectations in recent years. The Rams improved to a 7-8-1 record in 2012 under the new regime headed by Head Coach Jeff Fisher and General Manager Les Snead. With a strong off-season led by the additions of Tavon Austin, Jared Cook and Jake Long the Rams seemingly patched many of their woes for the upcoming year. With a vastly improved defense in 2012 and key moves to aid the offense, the Rams seemed capable of once again being one of the NFL’s most improved teams.
Week one the St. Louis squad delivered an exciting win over the division rival Arizona Cardinals. Quarterback Sam Bradford executed well, passing for nearly 300 yards and more importantly was sacked zero times. The most targeted receivers were new additions Tavon Austin and Jared Cook who pulled in a pair of touchdowns. The home crowd witnessed expectations and results, which met each other for the first time in recent memory. The former weakness of the Rams, a lack of pass protection and offensive weapons seemed to have been an issue of the past.
For the next three weeks the Rams suffered a defeat to the Falcons before being blown out by the Cowboys and division rival 49ers. The defense, once the strongest point of the Rams, had let all three teams jump to significant leads early in the game forcing the Rams to uncomfortably play from behind almost the entire length of each game. The 49ers and Cowboys both drew up similar game plans, it showed. With the Cowboy’s running backs running by the Rams 34 times for 193 yards just as the 49ers rushed for over 200 yards as a team, the defensive struggles were exposed. Wide open passing lanes all over the field were also huge issues for Fisher’s Rams.
Unfortunately for the Rams they have taken another step back with a major loss to what was their strength, being the running game. When Steven Jackson walked away from the Rams, management was fully confident in their ability to replace his production with a mixture of young talent in Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and 6th round rookie Zac Stacy. In the three game skid the Rams’ running backs combined for 92 yards on 39 carries, averaging an abysmal 30.6 yards per game which is notably different than the 98.3 average just a year ago. The lack of a running game forced the young team to turn to a one dimensional passing offense and, thus putting the Rams in poor scoring positions on almost every drive. Third and long, three and outs as well as the inability to get small yardage became too repetitive in this three game slide.
The fifth game of the season arrives and the 1-3 Rams welcome Jacksonville to their home turf. With a change in the backfield the Rams ran the ball much better with rookie Zac Stacy shouldering the load averaging over 5 yards per carry. The ability to move the chains consistently and get short yardage opened up a passing game for Bradford to toss 3 touchdowns. The Rams were able to grind out their second win of the season to keep in contention in the NFC West.
A deep playoff run or even a playoff run at all seemed farfetched going into the 2013 season in the highly competitive NFC. The Rams were expected to continue improving and play tough defensively but the struggles and inconsistency on both sides of the ball are alarming. It’s not that the Rams are losing; it’s how they are losing. Fortunately for the young club there is plenty of football to play, including five home games.