The start of the NFL season is less then a week away and the St. Louis Rams are a team looking to take the next step in making the playoffs. It will not be an easy task as they play in the toughest division in the league. They have made significant improvements during the offseason, but it came at a price as they lost some key contributors. Although the preseason is just a glorified scrimmage, there are some observations that could be indicators of what is to come.
Running game will struggle
Daryl Richardson is the week one starter and will most likely be the number one back on the depth charts for the season. Behind him sits second year player Isaiah Pead, who was given most of the preseason to surpass Richardson. Pead will have to watch the first game of the season from home as the league, under the drug testing policy, has suspended him.
The Rams had high expectations for Pead as he was taken in the second round where Richardson was taken seventh round. Last preseason Richardson showed off his speed and shiftiness earning him the back role to now departed Steven Jackson. Pead struggled and told reporters that he wanted to forget about last year and start anew.
Pead has struggled in the preseason as he has rushed for 86-yards, no touchdowns, and two fumbles. Although Richardson only put up 34-yards rushing, he did not touch the ball in two games as Pead was given the start in his place. When Pead is out running the ball he looks frantic. He tries to do too much with the ball instead of running in his lane.
Richardson has looked more like a fluid back, but also showed he cannot carry the run load on his own. The Rams have a lot of depth at running back and will most likely need to use it to have a decent running game. When the Rams had Jackson they were one of the very few teams that had a workhorse back. After a string of Hall of Fame running backs in the backfield for the Rams, it looks like that era has ended for the St. Louis Rams.
Rookie defensive starters can play
This offseason the Rams were thin at the outside linebacker position and safety. In the draft they went out and selected Alec Ogletree and TJ McDonald to come fill the void.
Many were skeptical if the two could be solid contributors at their position. Many general managers did not want to touch Ogletree in the first round because of his history and McDonald lacked coverage skills.
Since the first game the rookies have came out and played. Although Ogletree did not rack up a lot of tackles in that game he was always near the ball ready to make that tackle. In his third game of the preseason he had one fumble for a touchdown and an interception off Peyton Manning. He is definitely going to solidify the Rams front seven as one of the best in the league.
In McDonald’s first game he finished near the top in tackles. The safety has been known for making a few big hits in college and has showed some of that in the preseason. McDonald knows what his weaknesses are and is putting in the work to improve them. This work ethic and determination has earned him the starting spot at safety.
Sam Bradford and his weapons
Sam Bradford is entering his fourth season as the Rams starting quarterback. He showed improvements last years and is looking to build off that. The Rams have added even more offensive firepower to surround him.
All of the talk coming out the offseason was the chemistry Bradford built with his new tight end Jared Cook. They didn’t do much during the preseason, but expect Cook to be a redzone favorite. Cook is fast and big tight end that will beat the linebacker and out jump the secondary to grab the touchdown pass. He gave the Rams a preview of what it looks like in the third game against the Denver Broncos.
Many reporters have also created a lot of hype around Tavon Austin during the offseason. He showed off his speed on a punt return against the Broncos, but outside of that nothing to wow us. Jeff Fisher has said he has not truly revealed how they plan on using Austin yet. One problem the rookie wideout has had so far is catching and securing the ball. Sometimes it looks like he is trying to make a move before even receiving the ball. Austin will need to tame his nerves in order to show off the talent he has.
Sam Bradford has looked solid at times during the preseason and has put up solid numbers. He has shown off his arm strength and pinpoint accuracy. He would have a lot better stats if his receivers would catch the ball. He has placed it where it needs to be with the right zip on it. He has also shown he can be flustered in the pocket and a lack of confidence on third downs.
The Rams took advantage of the preseason by going for it on fourth downs after struggling to convert on third down. They have also struggled to reach the redzone because they cannot convert. Bradford has shown he will improve this year, but he will need his offensive weapons to step up big. The Rams defense will be a force to be reckoned with, but if the Rams want any chance at making the playoffs they need to play well on both sides of the ball. They have a much-improved team this year, can they show it on their win-loss columns.