St. Louis Rams 2014 Season Review: Yet Another Mediocre Year
Jeff Fisher probably shouldn't be a head coach in the NFL any longer.
Fisher is a combined 20-27 over the past three seasons with the Rams, and his history isn't nearly as impressive as most would think. So, when the Rams went 6-10 in 2014 and finished 22nd in our nERD metric that assess a team's expected point differential against a league average opponent, it should come as no surprise that the coach behind the Rams mediocrity was none other than Jeff Fisher.
Coaching deficiencies aside, the Rams actually did some really good things on the defensive side of the ball in 2014, and may have some pieces to build around on offense. Where did their defense land in some of our advanced metrics? What can they improve upon 2015? Let's get to it.
The Good: A Solid Defense
The Rams' defensive line may be one of the youngest, most-impressive units in the NFL already. Rookie interior defensive lineman Aaron Donald looked like a stud in Year 1, and defensive end Robert Quinn is one of the best pass rushers in the league, posting three straight seasons of double-digit sack seasons.
St. Louis' defensive success starts up front, but as a whole, the defense was one of the league's best in 2014. The unit ranked 10th in Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP), including an 11th-place finish in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP while boasting the 9th-best schedule-adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP. The Rams only allowed 1.63 points per drive in 2014, the sixth-best mark in the league, and were one of only four teams to rank inside of the top-12 of each of our defensive efficiency metrics in 2014, joining the Texans, Bills, and Seahawks.
The Rams certainly figured out the defensive side of the ball last year, but their offense certainly lacked firepower beyond a few key players that were actually positive contributors to their team.
First and foremost, Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey may turn into above average, formidable starting options split-out wide in the coming years. Despite some rocky quarterback play, Quick and Bailey both finished the season inside of the top 20 wide receivers in Reception NEP per target -- Quick finished 19th and Bailey was 7th.
Before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury, Quick flashed at times, looking like a future number-one down-field threat receiving option in St. Louis. He posted an average depth of target down field of 16.3 yards, tying Calvin Johnson and Mike Evans for the 10th-best mark in the NFL.
The Rams could further solidify their receiving corps by re-signing free agent Kenny Britt, who had a bit of resurgence in 2014 after it looked like his career was hanging in the balance just two short years ago. Britt finished 28th in Reception NEP per target, and his 15.6 yards per reception average was the 14th best mark in the NFL.
Outside of having one of the league's best defensive units and developing some solid receiving options on offense, not much else went right for the Rams in 2014.
The Bad: An Overall Offensive Problem
When quarterback Sam Bradford went down with his second ACL tear in consecutive seasons, causing him to miss his 31st game in the last four years, the team originally turned to Shaun Hill in Week 1 as their preferred fill-in. The team then went to Austin Davis in Weeks 2 through 10 before allowing Shaun Hill to regain the starting job for the rest of the season. Neither option was good in 2014, and it hampered the offenses overall effectiveness.
Shaun Hill finished the season 28th among the 34 signal-callers with 225 or more attempts on the season in Passing NEP per drop back, while Austin Davis fared even worse on a per-drop back basis, finishing 31st overall. Hill and Davis' combined ineptitude forged a season of sadness on offense, and the Rams finished 28th in Adjusted NEP and 25th in Adjusted Passing NEP.
There were some aforementioned bright spots on offense, like the receiving core, but there wasn't much else to be proud of. The running game as a whole wasn't great in 2014, and the team finished 16th in Adjusted Rushing NEP.
The jury is still out on 2014 rookie back Tre Mason, as he finished 44th out of 67 qualified running backs in Rush NEP per attempt. Mason did manage to upend Zac Stacy, who finished 63rd in Rushing NEP per attempt, out of a starting job. Benny Cunningham also saw some work in 2014 in a change-of-pace role, but did nothing spectacular on his carries, finishing 51st in Rushing NEP per attempt.
However, it's certainly worth mentioning that the Rams had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL in 2014, and the unit gave up 47 sacks last year (2.9 per game).
Looking Forward to 2015
The Rams are not a terrible football team. Despite their offensive woes and playing in the second-hardest division in the NFL, the team may have underperformed a bit in 2014 thanks in large part to a very good defense. However, there are some holes to fill in St. Louis.
First of all, the team has to decide what to do with Sam Bradford. It's easy to think he'll be back in 2015, albeit on a restructured deal that lowers his current $13 million dollar salary due in 2015. If general manager Les Snead can manage to negotiate Bradford back on a team-friendly deal, it would make a lot of sense to have him back next season.
It's worth mentioning before Bradford went down to an ACL tear in 2013 that he wasn't bad in his seven starts -- he just wasn't great. His Passing NEP per drop back of 0.0 ranked only 23rd after the 2013 season, but he was completing 60.7% of his passes and was on pace for 3860 passing yards and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 32:9.
Additionally, the Rams have their defensive line figured out, but have got to find a way to beef up their offensive line. The team will likely reconfigure virtually their entire offensive line as right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Joseph Barksdale's contracts expire. The team will also have the option to cut center, Scott Wells, and the oft-injured left tackle, Jake Long.
General manager Les Snead has his work cut out for him this offseason by filling some voids on the offensive line, restructuring Sam Bradford's deal, and finding a way to make cap-friendly deals as the Rams currently have the sixth-least amount of cap space in the league. St. Louis will have the 10th pick in May's draft and will likely target depth at cornerback, offensive line, and possibly even wide receiver.