Regular Season: Three Things To look Forward To

The lockout left us all yearning for football of any kind. The preseason wet our appetite for “real” football.  And cut day, where teams trim the final fat off of their rosters, lets us know we are mere days away from melodic voices of Joe Buck and Jim Nantz filling our living rooms. 

Preseason is in the books with the Rams going a perfect 4-0. Take it for what it’s worth but 4-0 in the preseason at minimum builds momentum heading into the season. It is a lot easier to spin positive when you are winning meaningless games than losing. Cut day has come and gone and rosters will be finalized in the coming days.  And finally DVR’s across the globe are being set to Fox, CBS, NBC and NFL Network.

So what’s left to look forward to? Well a lot, too much to cover in one post. But if I had to name one…FOOTBALL!  In an effort to sift through the rest and filter out what most to look forward to in 2011 here are three things Rams fans should be excited about:

 Year Two of Sam Bradford

From both a team and a personal standpoint Bradford’s rookie campaign was a successful one.  The Rams improved by six wins and the number 1 overall pick threw for 3512 yards and 18 touchdowns. Moving into year two of his NFL career more is to be expected. And from all indications more will be delivered.

To start with Spagnuolo upgraded the brains behind the offense by bringing in Josh McDaniels to replace Pat Shurmur. I would akin this to trading in an ’84 Buick that’s leaking oil all over the driveway for a new fuel efficient, supped up Lexus. At the very least McDaniels should help Bradford improve upon his woeful 2010 average of 6 yard per pass attempt.

With a year under his belt and a better understanding of the NFL game Bradford will command this offense with more precision and execution. Helping is the fact that Justin Smith and Roger Saffold will also have a year under their belt as a tandem protecting the franchise. Keeping Bradford on his feet will be a useful as he targets the Rams improved crop of Wide Receivers.

The final step in equipping Bradford for 2011 was giving him a better set of weapons. Billy Devaney did his part here. Bringing in Kendricks, Sims-Walker, Salas, and Pettis to team with Amendola and Alexander.  Having better targets will surely bring his touchdown totals into the 20’s open up the running game. Year two of Bradford will be the driving force behind the 2011 Rams and have the biggest impact on the team’s playoff chances.

Running Game

Since Marshall Faulk retired the Rams have been a one back team. As good as Steven Jackson is and has been not having a reliable backup has caused problems on the field for the team and off the field for the fans. Jackson has always prided himself on his toughness and taking all the carries. And he has been good at.  Racking up 10,618 yards from scrimmage in his career.  

With Jackson closing in on that dreaded 30 year old Running Back plateau and the offense stalling more often than not action was needed. That action was bringing in Cadillac Williams. No disrespect intended towards Kenneth Darby but defenses didn’t exactly game plan to stop him.  As soon as Jackson came off the field, Darby checking in or not, it was a passing play.

Good NFL teams need to successful running the ball even when their primary is not on the field. If a defense knows what is coming you’re doomed. Cadillac changes that all. Cadillac gives Spags and McDaniels 4,856 from scrimmage himself. A one-time 1,000 + yard rusher himself Cadillac has shown flashes this preseason of what he can do.

Up the middle, screen-passes, short yardage situations. Cadillac Williams keeps the offense moving when Jackson leaved the field. But perhaps most importantly he saves Jackson’s knees and body the added trauma that comes with turning 30 in the NFL.

Rams Defense

Drafting Robert Quinn was a statement pick. A statement that the Rams are committed to building a defense along with improving the offense.  Something the Martz regime seemed to ignore completely.  Spagnuolo is a defense first coach and he brought that mentality with him to St. Louis.

The Rams finished 7th in the league in 2010 with 43 sacks and pulling in 14 interceptions. James Hall, Chris Long and Fred Robbins combined for 25 sacks last season. Adding Robert Quinn, who has proved to be a good edge rusher this preseason, should free all four up to impose even more damage in 2011. 

Putting pressure on the QB and plugging up the running lanes will allow James Laurinaitis and his new tag team partner, Ben Leber, man the middle and punish receivers and backs trying to come across the middle. Quintin Mikell brings a veteran presence to the secondary that gave up way too many big plays in 2010. 

Watching the Rams D-line punish opposing QB’s this preseason and collapse pocket after pocket was impressive. Doing it in the regular season for four full quarters is another thing.  The Rams finished strong defensively. Ending the year ranked 12th in the league in points allowed and management only made it stronger in the offseason. Heading into the regular season the Rams defense is absolutely something to look forward too.