The Diary of an Illinois Boston Fan

NFL Previews

Time to wrap up the NFC West with the hottest ticket in LA. After moving back to Los Angeles from St. Louis, the Rams are now stuck with high expectations for a young but very talented roster. The front office is actually working on extending Jeff Fisher for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense. Fisher is a decent head coach but he’s missed the playoffs more than he’s made them. A lot of people have compared him to Marvin Lewis, but Lewis consistently has one of the better teams up in Cincinnati. Fisher has so far gotten a lot of focus on Hard Knocks and talked about how he’s sick of going 7–9 but after so many 7–9 seasons, maybe Fisher should look in the mirror and find what the reoccurring factor is.

Before I get to the team, I would like to say how I feel bad for the city of St. Louis. The Rams have repeatedly average to bad teams on the field and expected their fans to just accept that then pony up money from a 7% tax hike to build a new stadium for the Rams to stay. The owner Kroenke is a snake and the NFL is even worse for letting him almost successfully extort St. Louis residents when it’s become very clear that he can pay for a giant stadium by himself. I’m not saying it won’t be a fun stadium to be at and use as a west coast NFL HQ, I’m just saying it’s all dirty and the NFL should be ashamed for how they handled it.

Projected Offensive Depth Chart:

QB: Jared Goff

RB: Todd Gurley

OL: Greg Robinson, Eric Kush, Cody Wichmann, Jamon Brown, Rob Havenstein

WR: Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin

TE: Lance Kendricks, Cory Harkey

Already on Hard Knocks, fans have gotten to see the struggles the average rookie QB faces when transition to the NFL. Goff has high expectations for him obviously being the number 1 overall draft pick and he seemingly will have a steeper learning curve than most. Coming from an offense where he never had to learn a real play, Goff now understandably shows frustration when having to identity defensive situations. That’s clearly a red flag when it comes to trying to throw the rookie to the wolves this season. His inability to throw simple routes when he isn’t being rushed (the highlighted fade route debacle with Kenny Britt) makes you worry about the development of your future franchise player. It may be best to let Case Keenum handle 2016. Keenum isn’t going to take you to the playoffs, what he can do is put you in a good spot in the top 15 of the draft and grab a playmaker that will make life easier for Goff in 2017.

Speaking of playmakers, the Rams have already started to build the pieces for a great offense and that all begins with second year standout Todd Gurley. After missing the first 4 games of the 2015 campaign, Gurley had 1106 yards and 10 touchdowns. Had he played those other 4 games he would have prorated to 1474 yards and 13 touchdowns, easily one of the best rookie years in the history of the NFL. Gurley was considered a high risk in the 2015 draft after coming off a nasty ACL tear, the Rams now look like geniuses for taking who looks like the next great running back. He’s a lot more than speed, too. Behind a very shaky offensive line; the best linemen is the maligned first round pick Greg Robinson who is at the end of his leash when it comes to becoming a worthwhile member of this team…Gurley showed impactful vision to burst through the hole. His line did him no favors by lacking on the creation of running lanes but Gurley found the small gaps and turned on his second gear to create big play after big play. He is a special kind of player, one of the rare running backs that can be successful without a talented line in front of him. As he continues to recover from the injury and grow into an NFL body I fully expect Gurley to start truly dominating the league soon. His ability to be a superstar will help in the development of Goff more than anything else and I can only hope the Rams realize that and don’t get stuck jumping the gun by pushing Goff too much too early.

The wide receiver position has been sorely lacking for what seems like forever. The best receiver they have is the diminutive Tavon Austin, who seemingly turned a corner last year on the way to being a dynamic playmaker. Much like the Percy Harvin’s and Julian Edelman’s of the game, Austin is frequently used in the running, passing, and kick return game to best utilize his skills where necessary. The only problem is that he’s been toiling away with bad QBs his whole career (with Sam Bradford being injured 90% of the time he was there). When no one can properly get you the ball, your development on routes and timing plainly takes a hit. He’s also been stuck without another solid receiver to take some pressure off of him. Kenny Britt continually feels like he’s ready to break out, but nearing 30 years old maybe it’s time we finally kill the hopes of Britt ever being the player he should have been. The most he does is go down the field fast but he doesn’t have great hands so he’s not really showing us any value. When Austin was the focal point for the defense, the Rams couldn’t do much to find scoring help elsewhere until Gurley came along. While I don’t predict this year being a double digit touchdown year for Austin, it’s still entirely possible for him to reach it now that he has another playmaker with him. He can focus more on getting physical and running routes while building his rapport with Keenum and Goff with hopes of a better future coming soon.

Projected Defensive Depth Chart:

DL: William Hayes, Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn

LB: Akeem Ayers, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron

CB: Trumaine Johnson, LaMarcus Joiner

S: Mo Alexander, Cody Davis

You’ll be hard pressed to find a truly better defensive line than the one the Rams trot out this year. Robert Quinn, when healthy, is one of the most destructive DEs in all of football. Only 3 years removed, now, from his 19 sack season Quinn still has plenty of time to return to form after missing half the season last year. In 2014 he had his third straight double digit sack year with 10.5 and that’s with teams focusing heavily on blocking him anyway they could. He might have the best set of pass rushing moves of anyone else at his position. He uses every combination of point of attack hand battling, swims, bull rush back offs, and spins all with ease. It’s like watching Clayton Kershaw throw a curveball, fastball, changeup, and slider to strike out 9 guys a game every game. Quinn has a motor comparable to that of Reggie White, where he can stop and start without missing a beat, making it extremely difficult for offensive linemen to figure out what he’s going to do next because he can switch moves in a matter of milliseconds. When he’s been on, he’s really been on. Now, thanks to teammate Aaron Donald, Quinn isn’t the main focus anymore which is scary for anyone having to block him.

Donald has become the best DT in the league and is already on his way towards making a Hall of Fame career. Even though he’s a shorter guy, he’s still plenty big and powerful. There’s not been a center in the league that can handle him on their own, usually installing a guard or even two to triple teaming Donald. Still with all those people blocking him, Donald racked up 69 tackles and 11 sacks along with over 20 tackles for a loss last season, the most for all DTs. His ability to space eat allows for fellow defensive tackle Michael Brockers to crash in on the passing game and combine for the best interior rush attack in the league. If Quinn can return to form this year, it’d be shocking if the Rams weren’t near the top of the sack list.

The Rams linebacker corps is a very talented one that just doesn’t feel like it has performed appropriately. Alec Ogletree was expected to be devastating pass rusher, many comparisons made to Von Miller, but has dealt with injuries that have forced others to step up in his place. After trading for S Mark Barron from the Bucs, the lack of Ogletree staying healthy has forced the Rams to play him very similarly to how the Cardinals play Bucannon…in a hybrid Safety/LB role. Barron has responded fiercely by using his coverage skills to keep quarterbacks leary of throwing across the middle while also becoming a force in the Rams’ top tier run defense. It seemed like Barron was headed for the bust pile until the NFL’s changing systems put him as one of the more valuable types of athletes out there. Now he gets another season to play this hybrid role and put the Rams near the very top in total defense once again.

I didn’t like the fact that the Rams let Janoris Jenkins leave this offseason, but they had to choose between him and Johnson so they chose Johnson. I liked Jenkins’ ball skills better, but watching tape closer you’ll find Johnson may have the better footwork and physicality to keep defenders from scoring on him more often than they did Jenkins. Last year Johnson actually did end up tying for the most interceptions in the NFC so if he can put it all together, he can prove the Rams made the right call. It’ll be much harder on Johnson to defend without Jenkins covering the other half of the field and we may find that his success was because of Jenkins, but only time can tell now. The rest of the Rams secondary won’t do Johnson any favors and he will be looked at as their leader, we just need to wait and see if he has it in him now that this is his air space to patrol.

The Rams still look a few pieces away from really contending, even if Goff comes in and exceeds all expectations. I still worry that they’re going to rush him much like the did Bradford and one wrong play will send Goff to the IR and the Rams will face that nightmare all over again. But there’s still hope. That defense is pure nastiness and we saw what a great defense can do with a mediocre offense last year in Denver.