Great Article - "Rams face a 'must-win' offseason"
I don't see why we can't be next years last to first team! Lets milk that last redskins pick for what it's worth!
Louis Riddick | ESPN Insider
When you miss the playoffs in the National Football League, the beginning of a new calendar year becomes relevant in many ways. Just as mainstream society treats Jan. 1 as a chance to clear the decks in their personal life and make a fresh start, teams in the NFL use their exclusion from the playoffs as motivation to "do better" going forward by mentally pushing the reset button and eyeing the road ahead. Internally, they quickly will adopt the philosophy that with a few good unrestricted free agent signings, a solid draft and continuous improvements from their players and coaches, they will have as good a chance as any of reaching the "tournament" the following season.Externally, fans hold on to the hope that maybe, just maybe, the new year will be their year. After all, it's been shown it's not impossible for a team to reverse its fortunes from one season to the next and move from the divisional cellar to the penthouse. In fact, it's common, and someone will probably do it in 2014.
For the sake of this discussion, we will refer to this reversal as a "worst-to-first" scenario. It was certainly on display this past season. The Eagles went from the bottom of the NFC East in 2012 (4-12) to 10-6 and winners of the NFC East on the final weekend of the regular season. Using Chip Kelly's "science over tradition" methodology, the reset button was pushed, requiring players in many ways to unlearn what they had previously absorbed in previous years. When it was all said and done, not only was there buy-in by the players and support staff, but more of a fundamental shift in the way everyone approached both the mental and physical aspects of the game, as well as the weekly preparation.
Looking ahead to 2014, who could follow in the Eagles' footsteps? For which squad will the personnel evaluation/acquisition, development and utilization -- plus a little good luck on the injury front -- all combine with good chemistry to add up to a division title and a shot in the playoffs?
Not only did I quickly identify a team that has the opportunity to do just that, but even more so in my mind, must do just that if it wants to avoid the scrutiny and skepticism that will be justifiably directed at management, coaching and the players themselves in the event that 2014 is not a success: the St. Louis Rams.
Coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead have been the men in charge of the Rams since the beginning of the 2012 calendar year, and immediately were able to produce tangible improvement. They took a team that had been a combined 10-38 in the three seasons prior to their arrival and went 7-8-1 in their first year, which may not seem significant until you consider the fact that they were also 4-1-1 in the NFC West. Additionally, prior to the 2012 draft, they completed a deal with the Washington Redskins in which they traded the No. 2 overall selection for the Redskins' first- and second-round picks in 2012, along with first-round picks in 2013 and 2014. They paved a pretty sound path to success.
Getting back to the present day, 2013 was characterized by regression, as the Rams' overall record was only slightly worse at 7-9, but within the division, they were just 1-5. Optimists will point to the fact that they still were able to play close to .500 football with backup quarterback Kellen Clemens after he became the starter from Week 8 onward, and to some degree I can appreciate that. But this is a team that supposedly has one of the best leaders/teachers/tacticians in the NFL in Fisher, has drafted six players in the top two rounds of 2012 and '13 combined, and signed big-ticket UFA's such as Cortland Finnegan,Kendall Langford, Jake Long and -- to a lesser degree -- Scott Wells, since Fisher and Snead arrived. In that context, more is and should be expected.Now, I will stop here and remind you that having the means to improve your team is one thing, but actually coming up with a plan and executing to maximize the return on your investments is another. If you want confirmation of that dilemma, just take a look at the Rams' draft history. In the 2001 draft, they had three first-round selections, and within four years of that draft, they were consistently one of the worst teams in the National Football League, with the three players they drafted (Damione Lewis, Adam Archuleta and Ryan Pickett) producing average to below-average careers at best.
Philosophically speaking, the first two drafts of a new regime are critical, as it is from those drafts that the foundation for future success has to be laid. As a general rule, by the time each of those draft classes have reached their fourth season, at the very least you expect your first- and second-round picks to have developed into productive starters, and at least one starter coming from Rounds 3-7 in each year.
The Rams are in good shape as it pertains to their first- and second-rounders, with Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins and Alec Ogletree. And Tavon Austin showed signs of becoming a legitimate situational threat over the last quarter of the 2013 regular season. That said, I don't ever see 2012 second-rounder Brian Quick as a legitimate starting WR, and Isaiah Pead was never going to be a starter at RB regardless of the emergence of Zac Stacy orDaryl Richardson. The Rams also did well with draftees Trumaine Johnson (third round, 2012), Chris Givens (fourth round, 2012) and T.J. McDonald (third round, 2013), who all have become starters, so the future has a chance to be bright in this respect.
Continuity as it pertains to potential losses in free agency should not be of major concern, as Clemens and starting OG/OT Rodger Saffold are the only two that I see as priorities -- but that does not mean they could or should not continue to aggressively upgrade the roster with scheme-specific, context-driven scouting methodology as it pertains to the draft and/or unrestricted free agency.
Finding a couple of young, high-developmental-ceiling starting OTs should be a major priority, as Long's recovery from a late-season ACL/MCL injury is not a given, and Saffold, besides being an unrestricted free agent, is better suited for guard than tackle. The Rams also need a receiver who can make big plays on a consistent basis outside the numbers in one-on-one situations. This offense was 29th in the league in total number of 20-plus-yard completions, and 29th in percentage of catchable passes that were dropped.
Finally, and most importantly, they will need to figure out if the most import piece of the puzzle for any NFL franchise. While Sam Bradford is still in place as he returns from injury, I have never been a believer in Bradford as a championship-caliber signal-caller. His career 58.6 completion percentage, 6.3 yards per attempt and 79.3 passer rating do nothing to get me fired up -- and that's even while knowing he has gone through numerous coaching changes during his brief NFL career. That being said, the powers that be in St. Louis continue to say that he is "locked in" as the starter heading into 2014, although we will see just how locked in he really is when the draft concludes.
Pessimists will point to the fact that, regardless of all of the ammunition with which this team has to build a powerhouse, they still play in the NFC West, and Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona will get better as well. To that I say there are no excuses in professional football, particularly when your core of young players should get better with another year of experience. The Rams have quality players at a couple of premium positions (DE, MLB/WLB, CB), and the team is paying big for a head coach and GM going into their third offseason together. This team has been constructed with their philosophy and their players. The Rams are their program. Now they have to capitalize.
There is big opportunity in St. Louis, and it needs to be taken advantage of. The 2014 season provides a fresh start, but also demands scrutiny. This really does feel like a "must-win" situation. Will the Rams seize their chance to rise?
Re: Great Article - "Rams face a 'must-win' offseason"
I agree with much of this article. And we as Rams fans know better than anyone just how one's fortunes can take a turn for the better in just one season, as illustrated by our Super Bowl run a year after going 4-12. Yes, we play in the toughest division in football. No, it won't be easy getting to the playoffs. But as soon as you start counting the ways YOU CAN'T do something, you're beaten. And quite frankly, far too many fans have been quick to proclaim us incapable of great things because "we're young", "we still have holes", "it takes at least 5 years" etc. and so forth.
Although I'm not a fan of his, Rex Ryan said something amusing when he got hired by the Jets. he said "I didn't come here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings". And while Ryan and the Jets have had mixed success over the last few seasons, they HAVE beaten NE several times. The message is simple: Don't bow down before anyone. And don't accept runner-up status. EXPECT to win. And next year with the Rams, I expect bigger things.