2nd St. Louis Rams 8-8 (-1)
Pythagorean Wins: 7.6 (8-8)
Recent Developments: Fakhir Brown is likely facing a suspension after missing a routine drug test. That's right, he just didn't go. Brown is not much of a corner. He's 30, terrible against the run and last year allowed nearly half the passes targeting his receiver to be successful, but he's also one of the Rams' three best DBs. I think that in relation to other units the secondary is frequently overvalued, but as many teams have proven in the past, an obvious and exploitable weakness will be exploited and that team will suffer disproportionately. As many leads as St. Louis's sure to be potent offense attains this season, fans in the gateway city are bound to be very frustrated by their defenses inability to protect them.
Reasons for Optimism: A player I loved coming out of the draft, Adam Carriker, has made a very smooth move to the interior. His presence should do wonders for the Rams interior rush defense. A unit that indubitably sucked last season has a shot at hard-scrabbling its way to merely mild crappiness.
Orlando Pace is healthy and ready to anchor what could conceivably be the league's best offensive line.
Steven Jackson is the NFL's second best running back.
Reasons for Pessimism: Rams defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is an idiot. Despite investing huge resources into the Saints defense, including three first round picks and 69% of all first day picks, the only year the defense was above average was his first season, 2000, when they ranked 14th. From there the team was bad or awful in every following season, culminating in a 27th and 25th finish in his final two seasons, 2004-2005. If you group those two seasons' DVOA, only Houston (43.2) San Francisco (40.9) St. Louis (30.1) and Minnesota (24.4) were worse than the Saints (22.8). That's two offense first teams and two of the worst teams in pro football.
Beyond a poor eye for talent and no history of success, he's a very poor play caller. The Rams led the league at blitzing 6-7+ defenders and not surprisingly were eviscerated by screen passes, posting a 126.7% DVOA against. To compound the problem, they face three of the best screen receivers in the NFL: DeAngelo Williams, Marion Barber and Reggie Bush.
Equally troubling is the Rams complete lack of depth at wide receiver. I mean, Dane Looker? Dante Hall? Willie Ponder? Come on. If/When Isaac Bruce (35) gets hurt or declines, Drew Bennett is ill suited to fill his shoes and however great the drop-off from Bruce to Bennett, the drop-off from Bennett to Random Scrub is even worse. Bennett is a 29 y/o marginal #2 receiver whose superficial numbers benefitted greatly from being the de facto #1 for the Titans. Playing opposite Torry Holt he has a decent shot of replicating his very "blah" 2005 performance: 53% catch percentage, -10.3% DVOA. Unfortunately, whoever then works the slot for a Rams team that employs three or more receivers on half of their plays is anyone's guess. Small school product Derrick Stanley is a true long-shot to produce anything this season, former college Qb Marques Haggans is a project at best and Dominique Thompson was barely adequate at William & Mary. While I excoriated Charlie Armey for drafting Brian Leonard in the second round, the decision to wait until the 249th pick to address a desperate need for depth at wide receiver is much less forgivable.