St. Louis Rams 2013 Outlook: Running And Gunning On Defense
By: Kim O'Hara | Posted: March 01, 2013
Welcome to TFG's 2013 Outlook series. We'll be taking a quick glance back at the 2012 season before focusing on what factors will impact each team's chances for success in 2013. Check back regularly to read about your favorite team. Up next: the St. Louis Rams.
2012 record: 7-8-1. The turnaround season in Indianapolis stole all the Rams' thunder, but St. Louis improved from 2-14 to 7-8-1 in head coach Jeff Fisher's first year, including 4-1-1 in an extremely competitive NFC West.
Key Losses: St. Louis overhauled its staff in 2012, so major changes weren't anticipated when the club improved dramatically in Fisher's first season. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who had been unable to fulfill his role due to a bounty-related suspension, was officially terminated, as expected, at the season's end. Running back Steven Jackson, entering the final year of his contract, was given the opportunity to void that last season and become an unrestricted free agent. As of February 26th, it looks as though Jackson will indeed test the waters of free agency.
Important Additions: Tim Walton, the Detroit defensive backs coach, has been hired as St. Louis' defensive coordinator. Fisher first attempted to bring Walton on board as a defensive assistant last season, but Walton declined the opportunity in order to stay with Detroit, where he had coached since 2009. Under Walton in 2012, the Lions allowed an NFL second-most receptions of 40+ yards with 13, while surrendering 26 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. For St. Louis' sake, here's hoping that was more of a personnel issue than a coaching one.
Why St. Louis has hope for 2013: Look no further than the Rams' defensive performance in 2012. Its secondary allowed fewer touchdowns (16) than interceptions (17) while its pass-rush posted a tie-for-NFL-best 52 sacks. The sacks were well-distributed, with Chris Long and Robert Quinn registering 11.5 and 10.5, respectively, as five additional teammates each contributed 3 more.
Watch for Janoris Jenkins to improve on a stellar rookie season
In his rookie season, cornerback Janoris Jenkins not only proved he could intercept the football, doing so 4 times, he established himself as an offensive threat with the football in his hands, returning 3 of his 4 interceptions for touchdowns. A 75% touchdown rate for interceptions is an auspicious way to begin one's career as an NFL defensive back. Take into consideration that this defense performed so well under a mishmash of defensive assistants pitching in during Williams' suspension, and you can only imagine the ceiling for this unit once it's guided by a steady, consistent hand.
Why St. Louis may be doomed for 2013: As well as its defensive front rushed the quarterback, it struggled to keep runners out of the end zone, allowing the NFL's second-most rushing touchdowns with 18. To keep pace in a division that will force St. Louis to face Frank Gore, Colin Kaepernick, Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson two times each next season, it's imperative for the Rams to lock down on its red zone defense.
This could be quarterback Sam Bradford's last opportunity to become St. Louis' franchise quarterback. After an impressive 2010 campaign that saw Bradford set the record for most rookie completions (354) and most rookie passes without an interception (169), the University of Oklahoma product spent the majority of his second season dodging sacks (he took 36) before succumbing to a season-ending high ankle sprain. In his third season, Bradford bounced back with the help of tight end Lance Kendricks, reliable slot receiver Danny Amendola, veteran Brandon Gibson along with rookies Chris Givens and Brian Quick.
The receiver-by-committee approach served the Rams well, but one of his receivers must emerge as an upper echelon wideout next season for Bradford to truly flourish. Amendola, who has been Bradford's security blanket when healthy, becomes a free agent next month and could seek a payday elsewhere. If Amendola does abandon ship, look for Kendricks to assume the security blanket role while Givens and Quick compete to become the team's primary deep threat.
Circle These Games: San Francisco 49ers. The Rams went 1-0-1 against the reigning NFC champions, and it appears as though Fisher was able to disrupt the 49ers otherwise potent offense. The Rams will hope to expand on 2012's successes with two victories against the team that will have the biggest target on its back in 2013.
Odds to win Super Bowl XLVIII, according to Bovada: 50-1