Okay, make it official – “The Greatest Show on Turf” is dead. Gone. Will never see it again.
With the release of longtime WR Torry Holt and OL Orlando Pace, the Rams officially cut ties with the last cast members of their legendary show. The offense is now in the hands of RB Steven Jackson and a cast of characters that haven’t exactly wowed the league with their scoring prowess. To try and fix this, new head coach Steve Spagnuolo brought in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who takes over from the beleaguered Al Saunders. Saunders navigated the Rams to a woeful 14.5-point-per-game average a year ago, second worst in the league. Remember when the Rams would frequently assault NFL betting point totals? Yeah, that’s a trend of the past.
Key Departures: TE Anthony Becht, WR Drew Bennett, S Corey Chavous, QB Trent Green, WR Torry Holt, C Nick Leckey, RB Brian Leonard, OT Orlando Pace, C Brett Romberg, OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa.
Key Acquisitions: Free Agents – TE Billy Bajema, QB Kyle Boller, C Jason Brown, FS James Butler, WR Tim Carter, DT Orien Harris, FB Mike Karney, WR Laurent Robinson. Draft – OT Jason Smith; ILB James Laurinaitis;
Shurmur is expected to adopt a more run-heavy offense in St. Louis with a re-worked offensive line. Hulking tackle Jason Smith, the former Baylor standout, was taken second overall and former Baltimore Ravens center Jason Brown was signed in free agency. They should pay big dividends for the aforementioned Jackson who – after bursting onto the scene in his rookie and sophomore seasons – tailed off a bit over the last two years. Jackson had an okay 2008 campaign (1042 yards, seven TDs) but often faced stiff defensive fronts as opponents dared the Rams to throw the ball. And when it came to throwing, the Rams weren’t great; Marc Bulger tossed only 11 TDs to 13 interceptions and no St. Louis receiver caught more than three touchdowns. Newly-signed WRs Laurent Robinson and Tim Carter could shore up the unit, but neither has ever been a go-to receiver in the NFL.
Defensively, the Rams upgraded at a number of positions yet remain without any star power. The draft netted them former Ohio State standout linebacker James Laurinaitis; they then nabbed former Giants safety James Butler in free agency. Expect Laurinaitis to fill in for the departed Piso Tinoisamoa, who was released despite leading the Rams in tackles (104) last year. Butler will add depth to a secondary that showed flashes last year; O.J. Atogwe led the club with five interceptions while Jason Craft proved adept on the blitz with three sacks. The big question for the unit will be if last year’s No. 1 pick – Chris Long – can become an elite-level pass rusher. Long started 2008 well but fell apart down the stretch, failing to record a sack over St. Louis’ final nine games.
Notable 2009 Games: The 2-14 record from a year ago essentially kept St. Louis off the primetime schedule this year. There are no Thursday, Sunday or Monday night games to speak of – the biggest game of the year might be when Brett Favre and the Vikings come to the Edward Jones Dome on October 11th. If sports gambling is in any way affected by national television coverage, online sports books will have a hard time garnering action on the Rams – they’re a NFL Sunday Ticket special.
2009 Outlook: Ugh. The Rams have a truckload of question marks on offense and the defense is hardly awe-inspiring. Spagnuolo is expected to improve the defense the same way he did as the Giants’ coordinator, but he doesn’t have anything close to the pass-rush New York had. If he can get St. Louis to five or six wins, it’ll be a nice improvement, but it’s asking a lot from this team.