St. Louis Rams 2015 Year in Review: Reasons for Optimism in Los Angeles

The emergence of Todd Gurley and dominance of Aaron Donald was not enough for a winning season. Will 2016 and a new home treat them better?

Remember " The Greatest Show on Turf?"

Those days are long gone.

The St. Louis Rams went 7-9 in 2015 and missed the playoffs for the 11th season in a row.

It was their fourth losing season in a row under head coach Jeff Fisher. Surprisingly, the Rams started discussing a  contract extension with Fisher. This is somehow nothing new to Fisher even though he has been a mediocre coach for a very long time.

The Rams' last playoff  appearance was on January 15, 2005 when they got clobbered by Michael Vick, Peerless Price and the Falcons.

I knew I would find a way to sneak Peerless Price into an article.

Nelly could not have been pleased, but 2015 was the final season for the Rams in St. Louis, as they are moving to Los Angeles for the 2016 season.

Let's look at what the Rams did well -- and poorly -- in their final season in St. Louis.

What Went Right?

Todd Gurley.

Gurley was drafted 10th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft even though he had sustained a torn ACL at the end of his junior season at Georgia. He missed the first two games of the NFL season before taking a few carries in Week 3 against the Steelers.

In Week 4, Gurley went off for 146 yards in an upset win over the division-rival Cardinals. He finished his Pro Bowl season with 1,106 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

How did Gurley rank against other top tier running backs last season in both raw numbers and our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can read more about in  our glossary?

Player Rushes Yards TD Yards/Carry Rushing NEP Rushing NEP/Carry
Adrian Peterson 327 1,485 11 4.5 3.82 0.03
Doug Martin 288 1,402 6 4.9 -1.59 -0.01
Todd Gurley 229 1,106 10 4.8 7.98 0.03
Darren McFadden 239 1,089 3 4.6 -4.41 -0.02
Chris Ivory 247 1,070 7 4.3 -18.07 -0.07

Among the top five players in rushing yards, Gurley rated the best in NEP. Among all running backs with at least 200 carries, Gurley ranked second behind DeAngelo Williams, who had exactly 200 carries and a Rushing NEP of 14.32.

On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Aaron Donald had another stellar season. He was voted First-Team All-Pro in 2015 and made his second Pro Bowl in only his second year in the league.

J.J. Watt ended up winning Defensive Player of the Year, but a strong case could have been made for Donald. The second-year product out of Pitt looks to be on his way to a phenomenal career.

The Rams' defense was actually good in 2015.

According to our Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points per play metric, the Rams ranked eighth overall on defense.

Their rushing defense ranked third on a per-play basis and prevented 40.97 points over the course of the season. Their passing defense ranked sixth on a per-play basis. They had a solid defense and an elite running back, but they also had their struggles.

What Went Wrong?

The entire offense aside from Todd Gurley.

Quarterback  Nick Foles was traded to the Rams in exchange for Sam Bradford. Foles possibly had the worst season for a quarterback in 2015.

No matter how you slice it, Foles had the worst Passing Net Expected Points rating in the league with a score of -59.52.

Here is how he compared to the worst-rated NEP passers in the league who had a minimum of 200 drop backs.

PlayerDrop BacksYardsTDINTPassing NEPPassing NEP/Drop Back
Peyton Manning3472,249917-7.95-0.02
Blaine Gabbert3072,031107-9.15-0.03
Colin Kaepernick 2721,61565-9.49-0.03
Matt Cassel2181,27657-31.24-0.14
Nick Foles3512,052710-59.52-0.17

This is ugly. We all know how poorly Peyton Manning played in his final season. Foles played that much worse. If the passing was that poor, you know the receivers didn't fare well.

Kenny Britt led the team in receiving yards with 681. Do you know who the last Rams wide receiver was who had more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season? It was Torry Holt in 2007.

The Rams graded out as the worst offensive team in the NFL, posting a schedule-adjusted NEP of -43.45 points. The 31st-ranked Tennessee Titans fared much better (i.e. less awful) at -28.5.

What's Next?

They say that a change of scenery can do wonders for a person. Will the move to Los Angeles help the Rams finally make the playoffs?

According to the sportsbook Bovada, the Rams are 50 to 1 to win Super Bowl 51. Only five teams have worse odds.

The Rams did not increase their odds through free agency as the period started without any major moves. They lost Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod from their secondary. They also lost middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. They re-signed strong safety/linebacker Mark Barron.

The Rams currently have a little over $11 million in cap space according to Spotrac. However, they have done poorly in free agency in recent years.

They realize that the quarterback position was a mess for them, and have already named Case Keenum their starter for Week 1. Keenum dropped back 129 times last season, and his Passing NEP was 12.58. He averaged 0.1 NEP per drop back.

That is is a small sample size, but his Passing NEP per drop back score was on par with Matthew Stafford (0.10). Still, the move doesn't seem likely to help the Rams improve greatly on offense.

In 2015, the Rams found a way to win games against each of their division foes. They went 4-2 in a division that included two playoff teams: the Cardinals and the Seahawks. They actually swept the Seahawks.

Perhaps the best sign of all is the Rams' potential on defense. After all, our metrics saw Denver and Carolina -- the two Super Bowl competitors -- as the best defenses in the NFL last season.

Offenses in today's NFL are as efficient as ever, but an elite defense can still conquer all. 

And that defense should continue to prosper as long as Aaron Donald is playing.

Offensively, Gurley seems destined to be an elite running back for years to come. Jeff Fisher aside, the Rams only seem to be a few pieces away from becoming a playoff team.

Los Angeles should be excited for their Rams.