20 minutes ago ē BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist


1. The Rams havenít made it official, but thereís no way Jeff Fisher would fire Blake Williams as linebacker coach and quasi defensive coordinator if Gregg Williams had a future at Rams Park. (Gregg is Blakeís dad.)

This isnít really a surprise. I didnít think there was much of a chance that Williams would return in a prominent role. If Fisher wanted to show Williams mercy, he could always give him a non-coaching job ó not that Williams would accept that.

But as I have said all along, I donít see why it would be a good idea to have Williams running the Rams defense. Yes, I think Williams will be reinstated by commissioner Roger Goodell after serving his sentence (an indefinite suspension). And one of the reasons why Williams will be reinstated is his cooperation with Goodell and the NFL in the Bountygate scandal in New Orleans. Williams turned Sammy "The Bull" Gravano and rolled on Saints players, coaches and the GM.

I donít see how Ramsí defensive players could trust Williams. (I wrote that earlier this year.) The Rams have unity, harmony and a real bond with the coaching staff. You donít mess with that by putting a controversial, and radioactive, coach in the mix. You donít install risky leadership by bringing in a defensive coordinator that could create friction and distrust. Fisher, obviously, is a lot smarter than that.

2. Iím not trying to hand out an award, or anything. But we can make the case for offensive line coach Paul Boudreau as the Ramsí top assistant coach in 2012.

After a hideous performance in 2011, the Rams cut down on their sacks allowed and the number of total quarterback pressures. Iíll cite a couple of evaluation systems for your reference:

According to the ďProtection IndexĒ at STATS LLC, the Rams ranked 25th among 32 teams in pass protection in 2011. They allowed 55 sacks, 28 hurries and 107 QB knockdowns. The O-line committed 38 penalties.

In 2012 the Rams ranked No. 16 in the Protection Index. They gave up 35 sacks, 34 hurries and 78 knockdowns. The number of penalties (37) were about the same.

At the Pro Football Focus web site offensive lines are graded for their ability to protect the quarterback. In 2011 the Rams were ranked 25th in Pass Blocking Efficiency, but improved to No. 19 on the PFF ratings for 2012.

Itís not as if the new regime at Rams Park handed Boudreau a bunch of heralded new linemen to work with. The Rams did spend money on free-agent center Scott Wells, but he was limited to 434 snaps because of injuries. (This season 19 NFL centers played at least 1,000 snaps.)

Guard-center Robert Turner was a nice pickup. The Rams had to use multiple left guards. They had to patch the left tackle position during Rodger Saffoldís injuries; he played only 621 snaps. (This year 36 NFL offensive tackles played at least 1,000 snaps.) Right tackle Barry Richardson, who was simply awful in Kansas City, actually gave the Rams a decent season thanks to Boudreauís coaching.

I think itís fair to say the Rams outperformed their talent level up front in 2012. Boudreau is one of the best in the business at coaching the offensive line.

3. We keep talking about the Rams schedule being easier in 2013 Ö well, Iím not so sure about that. As our pal Mike Sando at ESPN.com pointed out, the Rams will have seven games against teams that made the playoffs this season, and theyíll play five of the seven on the road.

Even though Seattle finished ahead of the Rams in the NFC West and made the playoffs with an 11-5 record, the Seahawks will face fewer playoff teams (six) than the Rams in 2013.

And then there are the division champion San Francisco *****. Theyíve been given the advantage of playing their most difficult non-division games at home next season, with Atlanta, Green Bay, Houston and Indianapolis coming to Candlestick Park. At least on paper, the ***** have a softer road schedule than the Rams in 2013. But things constantly change in the NFL. Teams we expect to be great have a setback. Teams we expect to be terrible suddenly have a good season.

The Rams will face an imposing list of quarterbacks in 2013, going against Russell Wilson (twice), Colin Kaepernick (twice), Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler and Tony Romo. The games against Luck (Indy), Ryan (Atlanta), Newton (Carolina), Schaub (Houston) and Romo (Dallas) will be on the road. But the Rams won three road games in 2012, and teams coached by Jeff Fisher are usually among the best in the league at cranking out road wins.

One note from Sando: the Rams went 5-2-1 this season against the teams scheduled to visit St. Louis in 2013. In addition to the home games against NFC West foes, the Rams will play New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Chicago at the Edward Jones Dome in 2013.

To have a shot at the postseason, the Rams have to become more dominant at home in 2013. While itís true that the Rams had some impressive home wins in 2012 (Washington, Seattle, San Francisco), they also played a couple of real stinkers in losing to the NY Jets and Minnesota. It will also help to have eight home games instead of seven. The Rams gave up a home game in 2012 by agreeing to play New England in London.

4. A priority for the Rams in 2013: fixing the third-down offense. The Rams finished 29th among 32 teams in third-down conversion rate (32.1 percent). Among quarterbacks that had at least 100 passing attempts on third down, Sam Bradford ranked 24th in the NFL with a third-down passer rating of 69.3.

Bradfordís third-down numbers donít make a lot of sense to me; he was at his best on the longer, deeper stuff. On third down and 11+ yards to go, he completed 20 of 29 passes and had the leagueís fifth-best passer rating (111.4.) But Bradford struggled on third and short (63.8 rating), third and 3-7 yards to go (62.6 rating), and third and 8-10 yards to go (52.9 rating.) Obviously, Bradford needs to do better. But the receivers play a role in this, and I also wonder if the Rams need to have a better approach on third-down play calls.

5. We continue to hear from Rams fans that wonder if Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins has a shot at being voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The answer: forget about it. Jenkins turned heads by scoring four defensive TDs this season and has all of the skills to be a magnificent CB in this league for many years.

Jenkins, however, wasnít even the best rookie corner in the NFC. The top rookie CB was Green Bayís Casey Heyward, who allowed a completion rate of only 44.5 percent when targeted by passers. When quarterbacks threw to a receiver covered by Heyward, they had no TDs, six interceptions and an abysmal passer rating of 31.1. Heyward was credited with 12 pass breakups, and wasnít flagged for a single penalty. (Stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.)

Thanks for reading...

ó Bernie