Rams 2009, Mission 1: The NFC West

As Jim Thomas points out in his Game 1 preview, the Rams have been NFC West doormats for the past three years, winning only 4 of 18 games against the Seahawks, Cardinals, and 49ers. This includes a streak of eight consecutive losses to Seattle, a team we once owned in division play.

The depths of our suckitude in 2008 can almost not be plumbed. The Rams allowed a horrific 92 points more than they scored in their six division losses, more than any team in the league and almost matching the 2007 Dolphins (-96) as the worst divisional showing of the last five years.

What’s really embarrassing about this ignominious mark is that the NFC West has been among the least competitive of all divisions in the NFL over that same span of time. Here’s a chart of how many wins outside its division each division in the NFL had in 2008:

AFC South: 26
NFC East: 26
AFC East: 26
NFC South: 22
AFC North: 19
NFC North: 13
AFC West: 12
NFC West: 10

With the exception of some unexplainable shenanigans in Tampa and Buffalo, the rest of the NFL has not gotten worse since last season. And in AFC play, the NFC West gets matched up against the powerhouse AFC South, so if the Rams are going to make improvements this year, it has to start within the division.

Curiously, both the Seahawks and 49ers are moving toward a much more run-oriented offense, which puts a lot of focus on the Rams’ key efforts to improve on defense. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and 8th-man-in-the-box James Butler will get ample opportunities to set a new tone, defensively, against these division foes. The Rams still look overmatched against the high-flying Arizona Cardinals’ offense — particularly that triple-threat of receivers — but if anything the desert birds’ defense looks worse than a season ago, which puts the onus on our rebuilt offensive line to produce both sustained drives to own the gameclock, and big-play punch to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns.

Ideally, the turnaround will start this weekend in Seattle.

We’ll be revisiting our preseason prediction for this game (a 30-17 Seattle win) before kickoff, and looking at key matchups and signs for optimism. We will hopefully also be getting the perspective of our hyper-optimistic correspondent at Flock Of Seahawks. (For the record, G-man has already predicted a 24-10 win.)

Good luck, and go Rams!