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    Rams season preview

    Rams season preview
    By Ira Miller | Special to NFL.com


    Pat Kirwan's take


    Pat Kirwan
    Steven Jackson touched the ball 436 times last year for 2,334 yards and 16 TDs, and he is just starting to hit his stride. Unassuming Marc Bulger threw 24 TD passes and just eight interceptions, which should tell you all you need to know about him. The offense will hold up its end of the bargain but the defense needs work.

    When first-round pick Adam Carriker replaced the under-achieving Jimmy Kennedy, the interior of the Rams' defensive front got better overnight. The secondary has to improve on third downs, and it won't be easy with Matt Leinart, Alex Smith and Matt Hasselbeck in the division. All things considered, the Rams have a good chance to win the division, something they haven't done since 2003.

    Projected record: 9-7The so-called "Greatest Show on Turf" is in transition. After compiling a 56-24 record and reaching two Super Bowls in five seasons between 1999 and 2003, the Rams have a 22-26 record over the past three years.

    Key players are aging. Isaac Bruce is 34, Leonard Little is 32, Orlando Pace and Torry Holt 31. But Marc Bulger, the 30-year-old quarterback, has a new contract, and Steven Jackson, the 24-year-old running back, already has established himself as a star.

    Nonetheless, the key to the Rams' success probably will be on defense.

    Over the last three seasons, St. Louis has been one of the worst teams in the league at stopping the run. In 2006, the Rams ranked 31st in run defense. In 2005, they ranked 28th (but last in average yards per carry). In 2004, they ranked 29th.

    The team's hope is that a re-make on the right side of the defensive line, with first-round pick Adam Carriker at tackle and trade acquisition James Hall at end, plus the presence of inside linebacker Will Witherspoon, last year's prize free-agent signing, and the development of young players, will change things.

    Only four projected starters on defense were with the Rams prior to the 2006 season.

    Under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, the former New Orleans coach, the Rams have adopted an aggressive approach, which startled Denver when it was unveiled in the season opener last year but faded quickly after that.

    St. Louis appears to have lost none of its offensive punch in the transition that saw Jackson take over from Marshall Faulk as the running back, and second-round draft choice Brian Leonard is making a nice impression in training camp.

    There is some question about the offensive line, however, particularly at center where Andy McCollum, the 37-year-old incumbent, was beat out by Brett Romberg for the starting job.


    Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images
    Is this the season wide receiver Torry Holt starts to show his age?

    » Rams photos: 2007 | Best of 2006

    Three key games:
    Sept. 16 vs. San Francisco: The Rams-***** series has taken interesting twists in recent years, with one team and then the other dominating. Last year, the teams split their two division games for only the third time in 16 years.

    Oct. 21 at Seattle: The Seahawks swept the Rams each of the last two years although all the games except one were tight. If St. Louis is to challenge for the playoffs, it must win at least once against Seattle.

    Dec. 9 at Cincinnati: The schedule maker threw the Rams a nice patch down the stretch, where they will play four of five games at home before finishing the season at Arizona. This one, outdoors in probable cold weather, will be tough.

    Team will be better than you think if ...
    Carriker can make as big an impact as the Rams think he can, particularly helping them stop the run. With Shaun Alexander and Frank Gore in the division, St. Louis must do a better job against the run or opponents will be able to keep the ball away from the Rams' offense.

    Team will be worse than you think if ...
    Bruce and/or Holt begin to show their age. Last year, they combined for 167 catches, 1,286 yards and 13 touchdowns. As good as Jackson is, the Rams are still a team that relies heavily on their wide receivers.


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    Re: Rams season preview

    Thanks, Ram-Bo and WB!!
    RnD

    GO RAMS!!

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