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NFL St Louis Rams

St. Louis Rams Must Build On 2013 And Learn From It

St. Louis Rams

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

2013 was a year of adversity for the St. Louis Rams. It featured issues ranging from the playbook, play-calling, the hiring and quick exit of Rob Ryan, fans calling for the head of Brian Schottenheimer and Sam Bradford, the use of the newly acquired play makers, and injuries all in a 17-week span that engulfed the lives of the Rams fanbase.

The preseason hype was all about the excitement surrounding this offense with Tavon Austin and Jared Cook coming in to give St. Louis the explosive players they had been missing around Bradford. Cook started the season off with a bang that quickly faded as he failed to produce yards after the catch and touchdowns for the next seven weeks. He would finish with 51 catches and five touchdowns for a solid year by most standards. Austin struggled to find his niche as an NFL player leading to questions about the play-calling and usage. It took him nine weeks, but he exploded onto the scene with dynamic punt returns, big catches, and the type of gadget plays Rams fans expected from him out of the gate. Sadly, an ankle injury would put a quick stop to his season forcing others to step up in his place.

The main recipient of playing time in his absence was his former college teammate Stedman Bailey who managed to impress coaches and teammates with his play on special teams early in the season. Bailey managed to put together several solid performances during the final stretch of 2013 hauling in 65 percent of his targets. It made up for the lack of development displayed by second-year wideouts Brian Quick and Chris Givens. The struggles of Quick weren’t exactly expected, but his production was eerily similar to his first season where brilliant plays were matched by boneheaded drops. His third season will be a true marker of what his career will look like. Givens was expected to be the Rams No. 1 receiver, and according to his targets he probably was. His production took a big step back only grabbing 34 catches in all 16 games.

Without a formidable run game early in the season the offense was thrust upon Bradford’s shoulders with receivers that struggled to hang onto the ball. He was throwing the ball nearly 40 times a game and putting up career numbers while being knocked around like a pinball against defenses that were fully focused on bringing him down. Zac Stacy was able to get a chance after only one carry for four yards in the first four games of the season. He immediately claimed the starting tailback position with his power running style that always headed down field instead of east and west.

He was easing the load on Bradford for a few games until a knee injury led to the QB landing on the IR thanks to a torn ACL. With Bradford out and Kellen Clemens stepping into the starting role the offense morphed into a run-based scheme. The offensive live started protecting better as defenses couldn’t just blitz away like they could when Bradford was throwing the ball every down.

Stacy carried the offense as he helped Clemens produce career highs, and for a change St. Louis could run the ball effectively in the red zone as No. 30 bounced his way through traffic. Clemens wasn’t an upgrade at QB, but he turned n surprising efforts in upset victories. He still had the accuracy issues that led to seven interceptions. The play of Clemens was shocking to some, including me with a passer rating of 78.8 by the end of the season. He displayed command of the offense and showed above average mobility that kept plays alive.

The defense was equally atrocious against the run and pass at times this season, but they rallied behind Robert Quinn‘s arguable DPOY performance by season’s end. The Rams ended the season giving up just 22.8 points per game which was good enough for sixth in the league. Quinn and Alec Ogletree forced 14 fumbles between them, and the Rams have several young key pieces to build around on offense and defense. They just have to learn from the mistakes of 2013 to build on their 7-9 record. Rams fans should focus on how bright the future looks for the youngest team in the league.

Roy Whitehead is a St. Louis Rams writer for rantsports.com, follow him on Twitter @roypatrick1, or add him to your network on Google