Yes, a confession from the start: I am talking about improving stats, standings and overall records in May for the upcoming 2013 season. It’s because the building blocks start now, not in September, October or November. Truthfully, it really started back in February.
In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you have come from and, more important, avoid the pitfalls, mistakes and the bumps in the road to become more successful in the very near future. That all starts with team philosophy, opportunities in building a championship foundation through talent procurement (via both free agency and the yearly draft), a solid offseason training program, the assessment of team personnel and, of course, the installation of new strategic planning and tactics to maximize talent on the roster. It’s like looking into the rearview mirror; NFL organizations look to make changes in all three phases of the game (offense, defense, special teams) whenever possible, but having a philosophy and sticking to your philosophy separates the unique franchises from inconsistent play and losing records over time.
“Our plan is to completely install everything and the players are aware of it,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said this week. “We’re going to install everything from the first snap of a game with first-and-10 to the last play of the game where you’ve got a Hail Mary pass and everything in between. We’ll do that (until) we complete the OTAs and then we’ll come back again and repeat it again at training camp. They’ll have the complete installation twice.”
In 2012, the Rams finished third in the NFC West with a 4-1-1 record and 7-8-1 overall record. Diving into where Fisher and his staff will look to improve the Rams from a statistical point of view, the No. 1 goal coming out of each and every game is to outscore your opponents. The Rams finished third in the division with a total of 299 points (Seahawks 412, 49ers 397). The front office worked hard to improve the talent base via free agency by acquiring Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long to protect Sam Bradford’s back side and moved Roger Saffold to the right tackle, securing both edges.
2012 was undoubtedly a great start in adding talent. Chris Givens was a productive rookie, while Brian Quick needs to step up. The Rams landed even more explosive playmakers in the 2013 draft (wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey) and a hybrid tight end in Jared Cook, which will help improve their point differential from a -49 to Seattle/San Francisco territory (first and second, respectively, at plus-167 and plus-124).
The Rams’ offense finished ranked 25th in the NFL. They ran 1,002 plays that resulted in 5,264 yards, with a 5.3 average yards per play. With the addition of these new and explosive weapons, the Rams look to improve their first down total of 287. They will be unpredictable, with multiple formations, and allow Bradford the opportunity to throw the ball from several platforms, specifically outside the numbers and to receivers from the slot position. This will improve the Rams’ net yards gained per pass attempt, which will increase with these players’ positional attributes to turn a five-yard slant into a 75-yard touchdown.
The one real question mark pertains to how the Rams will fill the shoes of Steven Jackson. Second-year players Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead will compete for the starting position. These two running backs specialize in power, stretch, toss/sweep (outside runners), but rookie Zac Stacy and Terrance Ganaway are both inside runners. Who will carry the load?
Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will have to fill the void of a Pro Bowl runner and manufacture yards by committee (410 attempts in 2012) unless one of these young, untested runners steps up to carry the flag and improve first downs by rushing the football. Running the football is extremely important; it shortens the game by chewing up the clock, opens up the passing game through play action by not allowing the defense to pin its ears back and come get your quarterback. With a balanced attack and a slew of new weapons, the Rams will improve a drive count whose previous success rate was a meager 27.5 percent. That will be the key to the Rams’ offensive attack in 2013: to finish.