2012 NFL Season Preview

CBSSports.com Staff
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By Pete Prisco | Senior NFL Columnist

Offense

After so much promise on this side of the ball in 2010, the offense was a complete disaster last season. Injuries crippled this unit from the beginning to the end and it finished last in points per game and 31st in total offense.

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Quarterback Sam Bradford, who flashed star potential as a rookie in 2010, struggled through an injury-plagued season that has some questioning if he can be a star passer. I say he can and he will bounce back this season. He just needs help. He missed six games with a high-ankle sprain and will be learning a new system for the third consecutive season.

The offensive line was really hit hard by injuries with Harvey Dahl the only player to start all 16 games and he ended up at right tackle, even though he's really a guard. The return to form of Rodger Saffold at left tackle is a must and right tackle Jason Smith has to show something or he will be a draft bust after being a high first-round pick. The addition of center Scott Wells as a free agent from Green Bay should help stabilize this unit.

Running back Steven Jackson remains the top threat on offense, but he isn't a kid anymore as he approaches 30. How much more does he have left? He did rush for over 1,000 yards for the seventh consecutive season. Rookie Isaiah Pead will offer a nice change-of-pace style to the hard-driving Jackson and should help in the passing game.

The receivers were a big problem area in 2011. Slot receiver Danny Amendola went down in the opening game with an elbow injury, but he is expected back in the slot. The Rams did draft two receivers early, Brian Quick in the second round and Chris Givens in the fourth. They have to hope one of them can be a major contributor as a rookie. They also signed veteran Steve Smith.

Tight end Lance Kendricks has some nice pass-caching skills to do things in the middle of the field.

Defense

The Rams have some nice building blocks on this side of the ball in ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. They are all young and talented.

Long had 13 sacks last season could have easily been in the Pro Bowl. Quinn flashed as a rookie with four sacks to give the Rams a pair of good pass rushers.

The inside play was a trouble area in 2010, so the Rams signed Kendall Langford as a free agent from Miami and drafted Michael Brockers in the first round. Those two should help improve a run defense that was 31st in the league.

Laurinaitis was a tackling machine last season and has emerged as one of the better young inside backers in the league. Jo-Lonn Dunbar comes over from the Saints to give the unit more speed.

The key addition in the secondary is veteran corner Cortland Finnegan, who played for coach Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. He is a feisty player who will add toughness and good coverage skills to a unit that was crippled by injuries last season. The other corner will either be Bradley Fletcher, who is coming off knee surgery, or one of two rookies, Janoris Jenkins or Trumaine Johnson, both talented players. The back end will benefit from having better players on the corner after six corners found their way onto the injured-reserve last season.

Key Changes

 

Roster Additions:  CB Cortland Finnegan, OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, C Scott Wells, DT Kendall Langford, WR Steve Smith, DT Michael Brockers, WR Brian Quick, CB Janoris Jenkins and CB Trumaine Johnson

Roster Departures: CB Ron Bartell, C Jason Brown, P Donnie Jones, WR Brandon Lloyd and defensive end James Hall.

Staff: General manager Les Snead: new coach Jeff Fisher takes over for Steve Spagnuolo and has brought in his own staff; offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and defensive coordinator (play-caller) Dave McGinnis

Fisher was out of coaching last season but returns with his reputation as a coach who loves a physical style of football. Expect the Rams to get back to running it and playing good defense, which might not be the right style in this era of the NFL, but it's Fisher's style.

That could present problems if they don't develop Bradford the way they should. Brian Schottenheimer was far too conservative with the Jets, but that could be what drew Fisher to him. He needs to be more aggressive in his calling of plays.

Gregg Williams was expected to be the defensive coordinator, re-uniting with Fisher, but he is serving a suspension because of his role in Bounty-gate while with the Saints. That's why McGinnis, a veteran coach who was a head coach in Arizona, will likely be the defensive signal caller. Fisher, whose background is on defense, will also be involved.

As for new additions, Finnegan is expected to have the biggest impact. He brings a swagger and cover skills much needed on the back end of the defense.

Snead, who made his bones on the scouting side, did a nice job in his first draft, although he did take some risks in Jenkins and Johnson, both with character issues.

X-Factor: Robert Quinn

My pick is second-year defensive end Robert Quinn. He had 15 pressures as a rookie as a situational rusher and has a chance to be an elite rusher. When Fisher was in Tennessee, he had Jevon Kearse creating havoc from the edge.

It's too early to say Quinn can get to that level, but he flashed some big-time skills as a rookie, especially late in the season. He is not a great run player, but that can improve as he gets stronger.

In Long and Quinn, Fisher should have the type of pass rushers he loves.

Who's the go-to receiver?

Even if Fisher is run-oriented, the rules mean you have to throw it to win. That takes a top receiver. The problem is the Rams don't appear to have one, unless Quick can make a huge leap from Division 1A Appalachian State to No 1 receiver. He is big and fast, but raw. There are a lot of bodies in the mix, including several holdovers who can run, but it might end up being a bunch of guys fill that role.

Can Bradford bounce back?

The assumption that he can't is dumb. Bradford has all the tools to be a top-level quarterback. The Rams changed their offense last season and that seemed to affect him some. The ball needs to get out of his hands faster for him to have his best success.

It didn't help that the line crumbled in front of him and he had little outside to work with in terms of targets. Bradford is a fierce competitor who loves the game. He will be back playing more to his 2010 rookie form -- and even better.

Can they stop the run?

They were gashed in the run game last season, giving up 151.7 yards per game. The defensive interior was pushed around, which put a lot of pressure on Laurinatis. He made a lot of tackles, but he needs help.

Brockers and Langford should help get that number down, but it needs to be closer to 100 per game.

Insider's Take

"I like Sam Bradford, but he's iffy as far as his health goes. He's always hurt. He's 50-50 to make it through the season. He's had a million things medically. They have good runners in Steven Jackson and rookie Isaiah Pead. They will have to carry the offense. They are awful at receiver. Rookie Brian Quick has ability, but he's going to have to some things right away to help that group. They have to get a lot from young guys there. Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola are their guys and that's not good enough. The offensive line is bad. They have to be better there. It's just not a good offense. The defensive line should be really good. They have Chris Long and Robert Quinn on the outside and I really liked Michael Brockers coming into the draft. They have some talent behind them. James Laurinaitis is borderline Pro Bowl talent and Cortland Finnegan will help the secondary. I see them having to win a lot of low-scoring games because that offense will struggle. I just don't see enough talent."

Xs and Os

By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider

The Rams are now under the guidance of head coach Jeff Fisher. I expect a year for Steven Jackson similar to the 2000 season Eddie George had under Fisher. George touched the ball 453 times (28 per game). The Rams have the fewest wins in the NFL over the past five seasons with 15. Fisher knows that in order to pull the team out of the doldrums, he has to run the ball and play defense. The Rams will be playing a lot of games trailing, and that means lots of passing. Last year they gave up 55 sacks -- one for every seven attempts, which is awful. The best thing they did in the offseason was sign veteran center Scott Wells to solidify the line calls.

Rams' Rivals: NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
2012 Preview • Schedule
Cardinals @ Rams: 10/4 (8:20 p.m. ET)
Rams @ Cardinals: 11/25 (4:15 p.m. ET)
San Francisco 49ers
2012 Preview • Schedule
49ers @ Rams: 12/2 (1 p.m. ET)
Rams @ 49ers: 11/11 (4:15 p.m. ET)
Seattle Seahawks
2012 Preview • Schedule
Seahawks @ Rams: 9/30 (1 p.m. ET)
Rams @ Seahawks: 12/30 (4:15 p.m. ET)

The Rams will bounce back and forth between 12 and 21 personnel on the early downs and go right to their three wide receiver package on third downs. Danny Amendola is back on the field after missing 2011 as Sam Bradford's go-to slot receiver, similar to Wes Welker for the Patriots. In 2010, Amendola was targeted 123 times and caught 85 passes. Why was Amendola missed so much in critical situations? Look no further than his third down production: 49 targets, 29 receptions at 10.3 yards per catch and 18 first downs. The Rams will put more points on the board this year if rookie wide receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens develop quickly. Last year, the Rams scored 13 or less points 12 times.

The defense will be a 4-3 package which was supposed to be run by Greg Williams, but he's suspended indefinitely. Jeff Fisher told me he plans to have a significant hand in the defense but he also has two of his former coordinators -- Dave McGinnis and Chuck Cecil -- to run the show if need be. Cortland Finnegan will be one corner and he can matchup with the opponents' best receiver. Rookie Janoris Jenkins may get the other corner spot, but he isn't ready for receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, who the Rams see in the first three weeks.

As for the pass rush, the Rams would love for the front four to handle it without pressure calls, which leave a questionable secondary vulnerable. Chris Long is playing like an elite pass rusher but really needs Robert Quinn to take the next big step. If Quinn is just average, every team will slide the protection to Long all season. The Rams were 31st against the run and their issues are up front at the tackles. Signing Kendall Langford and William Hayes in free agency will help, but the book is out about first-round pick DT Michael Brockers. Coach Fisher told me he's hoping Brockers plays like Albert Haynesworth played for him in Tennessee.

Draft Recap

By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

In trading down from the No. 2 overall spot, the Rams were given a bounty of picks by the Redskins, including first-round picks in each of the next two drafts.

Rams Draft Analysis

The Rams then took a bit of a gamble on their top three picks -- junior defensive tackle Michael Brockers out of LSU and little-known wide receiver Brian Quick from Appalachian State. Brockers lacks a big body of work, while Quick will likely need time to adjust to the major jump in competition he'll face. The steal of the draft could be second-round pick cornerback Janoris Jenkins, if he can avoid the off-field issues that plagued his college career and torpedoed his draft stock.

The player in the best position to make an immediate impact would seem to be kicker Greg Zuerlein, who the Rams selected with the first pick of the sixth round. The Rams thought enough of the Missouri Western State product to release veteran kicker Josh Brown.

The rest of the Rams' picks:

1st Round - No. 15 overall - Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
2nd Round - No. 33 overall - Brian Quick, WR, Appalachian State
2nd Round - No. 39 overall - Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
2nd Round - No. 50 overall - Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati
3rd Round - No. 65 overall - Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana
4th Round - No. 96 overall - Chris Givens, WR, Wake Forest
5th Round - No. 150 overall - Kevious Watkins, OG, South Carolina
6th Round - No. 171 overall - Greg Zuerlein, K, Missouri Western State
7th Round - No. 209 overall - Aaron Brown, OLB, Hawaii
7th Round - No. 252 overall - Daryl Richardson, RB, Abilene Christian

 
 
 
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