The 2012 season is over, and the Rams endured their ninth consecutive season without a winning record, but no offseason has come with as much disappointment…and optimism.
I say disappointment in a good way, because no one on the entire 53-man roster wants to go home this week unlike previous losing seasons. The Rams dramatically improved in one season under Jeff Fisher.
They overcame a 60% roster turnover, a front office change, and a new coaching staff to finish 7-8-1.
The defense had 53 sacks, tied for the most in the NFL with the Denver Broncos. The depth on the defensive line (William Hayes, Eugene Sims) clearly helped the play of Chris Long (11.5 sacks) and Robert Quinn (10.5 sacks). First round pick Michael Brockers solidified the interior, and linebacker Jo Lonn Dunbar proved a nice free agent pickup with 114 tackles.
The Rams finished 14th in total defense after ranking 22nd last year.
Janoris Jenkins tied an NFL rookie record with three interceptions returned for touchdowns. His four defensive touchdowns (3 INTs, 1 fumble recovery) led the NFL this season.
Steven Jackson crossed the 10,000 rushing yard plateau, and became the 6th running back in NFL history to have eight consecutive 1,000 rushing yard seasons.
Quarterback Sam Bradford threw for a career-high 3,702 yards and 21 touchdowns. He had a career-high quarterback rating of 82.6.
Second year WR Austin Pettis caught four touchdown passes, and looks like a solid option at receiver. If Brian Quick can translate his skills into the NFL, between Pettis and Chris Givens, the Rams have a plethora of young receivers.
More than anything, there was an attitude adjustment at Rams Park. Winning wasn’t just an idea, it became the goal, and then reality. When Fisher talked about ‘guys playing hard’ he wasn’t commending a group of losers coming off a blowout (Spagnuolo), but rather a confident mentality the team fed off to improve each day, coming off a win or loss.
- Week 1 — Blowing a three-point lead with 1:55 to go at Detroit
- Week 6 — Lost 17-14 at Miami despite out gaining the Dolphins 462-192
- Week 8 — A 45-7 “home” loss to New England in London
- Week 11 — Losing 27-13 at home to the joke of the league, the New York Jets.
- Week 15 — Trailing 30-7 at halftime against Minnesota at home with playoff implications. Eventually lost 36-22.
The Rams ranked 25th in the NFL in points scored with 299. They were 29th in third-down efficiency, converting only 32.1 percent of their third-down chances. The Rams had six 3rd-down plays against Seattle of nine yards or more, implying the team must improve on first-and-second down plays.
The defense forced just 14 fumbles, recovering only 4, the second lowest total in the NFL. They had a five-week turnover drought, where the team went 0-4-1.
The Rams had more penalties called against them (149) than any NFL team in 2012. And 130 of those penalties were accepted; that was also the most against a team. The Rams’ penalty-yards total (978) was the fourth-highest in the league.
The Rams were 2nd to last in the NFL averaging just 6.6 yards per punt return, and their kick return average (21.0) ranked 27th.
The 2012 season was quite a turnaround from their 2-14 debacle in 2011. Jeff Fisher instilled his confident leadership throughout the entire organization. The Rams had the youngest roster in the NFL this season, and they learned to win in tough environments, winning both from behind and with the lead.
The Rams have serious off-season tasks ahead of them including potential staff changes, Steven Jackson’s contract situation, and a stadium issue to resolve.
I took this except from Peter King, who wrote in his weekly column about the Rams:
One play, to me, typified what Fisher instilled in this team. Late in the second quarter of the tie at San Francisco, the Rams had a 4th-and-4 at their 10-yard line. Special teams coach John Fassel, in studying the Niners punt-defense team, saw a consistent weakness he thought St. Louis could exploit. The 49ers sometimes left the gunner (the punt-pursuit man wide left or wide right of the formation) unblocked by sending the blocker on the gunner in to try to block the punt. How easy it would be, Fassel thought, to complete a pass to an uncovered gunner. He told Fisher about it. Fisher wanted to run a fake at some point in this game. When Fassel brought it to him, Fisher eschewed traditional wisdom about faking a punt from your own end zone. Go for it, he said — if the Niners went for the punt block.
On this play, Niners cornerback Chris Culliver came off the gunner, safety Rodney McLeod, two seconds before the snap of the ball. Punter John Hekker saw it. Hekker faked the punt and threw the ball to McLeod. First down.
Hekker, undrafted rookie free agent. McLeod, undrafted rookie free agent. Hekker, with a pass 23 yards in the air from four yards deep in the end zone. McLeod, with the catch. Imagine having the faith in two kids off the street, in a game against the best team in the division, on the road. If this fails, Fisher is the laughingstock of the league, fake-punting from his own end zone. Unheard of.
But it didn’t fail. Like most of the chance St. Louis took in 2012, it didn’t fail.
Now its time to take it to the next level in 2013.