November 13, 2012So, how do the St. Louis Rams look at the halfway point? How does their 3-5-1 record stack up against expectations or recent history?
From a positive standpoint, the Rams already have one more victory than they mustered in all of 2011. Gone are the despair and resignation of last season, when the team seemed invariably to flounder despite good intentions.
This edition has been in every game in the first half of the season except for that trans-Atlantic tilt with New England, which reminded the coaching staff and the players that much work remains to be done to bring the Rams back to the top tier.
It's apparent that head coach Jeff Fisher has instilled his fiery brand of competitiveness in his team. On both sides of the football, these Rams have played with more intensity than their counterparts in the past several years.
Quarterback Sam Bradford has displayed more of the ability that garnered him a first-round selection in the 2010 draft. After rough sailing in his sophomore season, due in large part to a lack of adequate protection, Bradford once again is showing his capabilities as a professional quarterback.
Even with the absence of key target Danny Amendola due to injury, Bradford has stepped up his passing game and shown strong leadership skills. Although he has improved from 2011, Bradford still needs to "close the deal" by getting the Rams' offense into the end zone with more touchdowns.
The team is averaging just 17 points per game, putting the Rams near the bottom of the 32-team league in point production. More touchdowns are needed to boost the offense's confidence in scoring, and the quarterback is key to that.
A big plus thus far in 2012 has been the addition of placekicker Greg Zuerlein. The rookie kicker already has made a 60-yard field goal and several of 50 yards or more. Incredibly, his 66-yard attempt in Miami against the Dolphins actually was long enough but wide of the goal posts. That game featured two other missed attempts by Zuerlein, the only game this season where he hasn't been perfect.
A corps of new wide receivers is starting to display some consistency and reinforcing Bradford's confidence while Amendola recovers from his injury. Chris Givens has made some sterling catches and is developing into a reliable receiver, while Brandon Gibson also is making strides even while he's had his share of dropped passes. It's been a tough start, though, for others vying for a spot in the rotation, including Brian Quick, Austin Pettis and Steve Smith.
With the Rams' All-Pro running back Steven Jackson showing some signs of the wear and tear of several years as the Rams' lone running threat, it's been heartening to see Daryl Richardson emerge as a viable alternative.
Certainly, Richardson has complemented Jackson in the first half of the season, enabling the veteran to get some much-needed breaks from on-field combat. Richardson is considerably smaller than Jackson, though, so questions about his durability have yet to be addressed.
On the defensive line, Chris Long has been joined by Robert Quinn as stalwarts who can rush the opposing quarterback and force sacks, rushed passes or a change in strategy. James Laurinaitis has continued his fine work as linebacker, while new addition Jo-Lonn Dunbar has provided an additional tackling threat. And Cortland Finnegan has greatly enhanced the Rams' secondary coverage as a guy who can realistically change the game with an interception or prevention of the big passing play by the opposition.
Sure, the Rams have quite a ways to go before they're seriously threatening the likes of the Patriots, the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, among others, as an NFL elite squad. But, they have a realistic shot at a .500 record this season and even better looking down the road. Fisher has brought both a fighting attitude and a winning strategic game plan to our downtrodden gridiron heroes. The best is yet to come.
Evan Makovsky is host of the E-MAK SHOW, broadcast weekdays 6 to 9 a.m., on KXFN 1380 AM St. Louis.
"Like" the E-Mak Show on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/The-E-Mak-Show/144217308970555