1. What does the future hold for the Rams, talent-wise? Is Sam Bradford done there?
Well, the roster's in better shape than it has been in a decade. The Rams are stacked with young talent thanks almost entirely to the RGIII trade in 2011. So with the youngest team in the NFL (for the third year running...) the future definitely seems bright. Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald are playing really good football right now and rookie Aaron Donald is the truth. Add those to Robert Quinn and James Laurinaitis and you've got the makings of a quality defensive unit. The offensive side is much, much more questionable. The hope is that an offensive line anchored by rookie LT Greg Robinson can help carry the load, but if there's a side of the ball to address in the draft it's the offense.
As for Sam Bradford, we'll have to see. Every reason for the Rams to move on existed in this last offseason. His contract, his knee injury, a less than stellar record of prodcution...those aren't new. And yet Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher and General Manager Les Snead stood by Bradford in absolute terms. I don't see why they would necessarily avoid doing the same thing. I think there are two key issues at hand - the contract and the lack of a backup with potential. Even if Bradford is a Ram in 2015, it's going to require a new contract. There's no way you can justify keeping him on a $16.5 tab for 2015 when you can cut him and save $12m. As for the depth, they've got to get a more viable young QB with promise than Austin Davis. I thought they'd spend a mid-round pick on a QB in the 2014 NFL Draft, so perhaps I'm naive for thinking they will this time around.
2. Is Jeff Fisher's seat even a little bit warm?
Only a bit. He's on contract for a full five years and the Rams would have to pay a pretty penny, $6m, to get rid of him. Plus, Fisher's running the team right now so to let him go would require an entire franchise overhaul. As disappointing as the start was to the 2014 season, I don't think it's anywhere near enough to get him canned.
3. What are the chances the St. Louis Rams are the Los Angeles Rams in 2015? Is there a big push in St. Louis to get them a new stadium to keep the team in town?
It's really tough to know what the reality is behind closed doors. If I had to guess, I'd have difficulty going either way beyond 50%. Owner Stan Kroenke is obviously interested in exploring the opportunity to move the team, but it would require the NFL to sign off on it. The bottom line for him is that he wants ownership of the facility. That's going to be tough for him either way but might be easier in St. Louis. And the NFL has no interest in owners using teams for the primary purpose of adding assets to their portfolios. It just doesn't make sense for the league to allow/support owners to abuse their franchises that way.
That being said, the push that's coming feels a bit less like it's intended to keep the Rams and more intended to draw support from the NFL. Certainly, the fan base (small though it is, comparatively) are compelled to fight to keep the team, but they're relatively powerless. The economic engine though that an NFL team provides is something the city and the state want to hold on to. I thought it was interesting that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said St. Louis is "an NFL city" and not the Rams' home or something in that vein. We'll have to see what proposal his task force, led by a former Anheuser-Busch CEO and a local attorney, comes up with before the Rams' lease expires. Either way, it's going to be a huge story to track this offseason.
Offensively, it leaned heavily on the run. Tre Mason's 29 carries was a season high for a Rams RB this season, and by a mile at that. Part of that you have to assume was that they didn't want to put to much on Shaun Hill's shoulders in his first game as the Rams' starting QB since week 1. But part of it also might have been because they perceived a weakness in the Broncos' run defense they could exploit. Whatever the motivations, it worked. The running game opened up drives and provided workable third down conversion opportunities, but the Rams just struggled to extend drives throughout the game going 3 of 14 on third down. The running game worked well enough though to put the Rams in field goal opportunities five times which was the difference in the game...
...thanks to the defense, which was lights out. The Broncos' only touchdown came on a miscommunication between CB Janoris Jenkins and S Rodney McLeod, which isn't the first time that's happened much to the displeasure of Rams fans. In any case, that one play was the only thing preventing the Rams from claiming a perfect defensive performance. It led to the only points for the Broncos all day, which for a team that was averaging more than 30 points per game is incredibly impressive. It all started up front with the pass rush. While the Rams have the talent to dominate up front, it took them more than a month to get it going. The first five games left the Rams with the least sacks of any NFL team in the history of the league through five contests. Part of the issue was teams playing away from the Rams' strength, which the Rams struggled to stop. Once they found some success though in forcing teams to have to drop back and avoid an entirely short passing game, they've been able to have success with the D-line.
No reason to think that combination of running offense and heavy pass pressure isn't the order of the day for the Rams on Sunday.
5. Is this season viewed as a disappointment for the Rams? Were there playoff hopes to start the season and have they yet been dashed?
I think it is, only because they started off 1-4. Jeff Fisher's teams historically start off very slow, but the hope was that in building off of the things they did well in 2013, it wouldn't take that learning period to get going. That hope was misguided. Since that 1-4 start, the Rams are 3-2 with wins over three of the four teams from the conference championships last year. They're playing great defense and the offense has been, well, sufficient. There was definitely a contingent of Rams fans demanding playoff football before the season started, but here's how I described my expectations back in the preseason. You know the playoff picture graphics that go up in the pre-game shows and during the game? I wanted the Rams to be on that going into Week 17. It wasn't that the Rams had to make the playoffs. We haven't even had a winning season since 2003...I just didn't want to be out of the mix. Just to be back into the realm of relevance for the NFL at season's end would have been/would be enough for me.
So technically, that's still possible. The Rams have Oakland, Arizona and the Giants at home. Let's say they win all three of those (and if you're scoffing at the idea of the 4-6 Rams beating the 9-1 Cardinals, I would note that the Rams were beating the Cardinals in the 4th quarter in Phoenix two weeks ago...we just decided to Ram that one away as we are wont to do). That puts the Rams at 7-6. Washington on the road? 8-6. That leaves the Week 17 game in Seattle and this Sunday's game against yall...so yeah, I'm kind of hyped for this one.
Editor's Note: FanDuel is hosting a $500,000 one-week fantasy football league this weekend. It's $10 to join and first place wins $40,000. League starts Sunday 1 PM ET and ends on Monday night. Here's the link.