The St. Louis
Rams, formally known as the “Greatest Show on Turf”, were snake bitten in 2005. Their Coach Mike Martz fell out of favor with the front office and then ended up in the hospital with a heart ailment. The team was in disarray and as a result, the Rams finished the season with a 6-10 record. Enter new head coach Scott Linehan, strategically different from Martz and full of energy. Linehan snatched up former Saints Head Coach Jim Haslett after he was fired at the end of last season to spark some life into the defense. St. Louis still has the offensive firepower to score at any given time, but Linehan will need to produce the right game plan for success. If the defense can match the talent and aggressive nature of the offense, the Rams can shock a lot of teams in 2006.
I truly believe that the Rams would’ve been in the NFC playoffs last year if it wasn’t for the injury to starting quarterback Marc Bulger. In eight games, Bulger threw for 14 touchdowns against 9 interceptions. Back-ups Jamie Martin and Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t do enough for the offense when Bulger went down last season. As a result, Scott Linehan brought in journey man Gus Frerotte as the back up to Bulger. Frerotte is a very reliable quarterback with the ability to win games coming off the bench. He is also familiar with Linehan’s system and can easily adjust if his number is called.
Steven Jackson is entering his third year in the NFL and will be the lone starting running back for the Rams this season. Although he didn’t get the amount of carries that he wanted, Jackson was still able to rush for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Linehan’s coaching strategy is to run first, in order to set up the pass. Expect Jackson to have a big year in 2006. However, his back-ups are question marks. Now that future hall of fame running back Marshall Faulk will most likely retire, the Rams must rely on Tony Fisher and Moe Williams to become suitable running backs.
Wide Receiver Torry Holt was one of the few bright spots on the offense. In 14 regular season games, Holt snagged 102 receptions for over 1,300 yards. He is an elite receiver with amazing hands and the ability to get down the field in a hurry. Don’t expect things to change for Holt this season either. His teammate Isaac Bruce missed 5 games due to injury in 2005. If healthy, Bruce can still beat defenders downfield, even at the age of 34. Kevin Curtis played nine games for the Rams last season and came on strong with 60 passes and six touchdowns. Shaun McDonald also contributed to the offense down the stretch and will most likely continue to blossom into a reliable receiver.
The St. Louis Rams have plenty of depth on the offensive line. Tackle Alex Barron struggled last year as a rookie, but held on to finish the season. The best O-linemen on the team is Orlando Pace, who may even be regarded as one of the best linemen in the NFL.
New defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was brought in to get the defense to a dominant level in the NFL. He will have some work to do in order to accomplish that goal. The defensive line totaled 22 sacks in 2005 and will need to raise that total this year. Leonard Little and Anthony Hargrove are ends that can sustain a good pass rush through a game. The tackles, La’Roi Glover and Jimmy Kennedy will need to get more of a push up the middle and clog the running lanes. Pisa Tinoisamoa and Will Witherspoon were the unsung heroes for the Linebacker corps in 2005, combining for 175 tackles. Dexter Coakley is an aging back-up with the ability to keep up if possible. Veteran safety Corey Chavous will lead the no-name secondary in 2006. Chavous has slowed down a bit with age, but can still cover and shut down the middle of the field.
A LOOK AT THE 2006 SCHEDULE
The Rams open up against the Denver Broncos at home and then will have back-to-back road games against division rivals San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals. Before their bye week (week 7) the Rams will face all three division rivals from the NFC West. It is important for St. Louis to go into the bye week with a winning record.