2011 NFL Division Preview
NFL

The Rams Climb to the Top of the NFC West [2011 NFL Division Preview]

8/18/11 in NFL   |   BenSullivan   |   96 respect

Seattle Seahawks
 
2010: 7-9, NFC West Champion
Better or Worse in 2011: Worse
 
It’s going to be a long year in Seattle. They have needs at the two most important positions in the franchise, one on the field and one off of it. The hole in the on the field roster is at quarterback, but maybe more limiting to this team’s potential is their head coach, Pete Carroll.
 
Why Pete Carroll will never lead a team to a Super Bowl? Because he values his life outside of football, and that just doesn’t allow for you to be a successful NFL head coach. For better or for worse, I’m not making any value judgments here, the coaches who are successful at the highest levels of football put their professional lives far ahead of their personal lives. Guys like Bill Belichick and Andy Reid have seen sacrificed their lives off the field to have success on it. Coaches are constantly being asked to spend ridiculous hours at the office, tales of them sleeping on coaches for nights at time are legendary.
 
But Carroll has always been different, he’s always maintained that he won’t commit his entire life to football, and that’s why he’s never had great success at the NFL level. In college, his energy and ability to motivate players was enough to win, especially because it made him an outstanding recruiter. But in the pros you need a coach with a singular focus on football strategy.
 
Carroll can be a good fit for this team because they’re young and don’t have the talent to go deep in the playoffs anyway. He can get the most out of players who need to be motivated, but he’ll never be a top tier coach in the NFL.
 
Offense
 
Important Acquisitions: Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Robert Gallery
Toughest Player Losses: Chris Spencer, Matt Hasselbeck
Key Player: Russell Okung, yeah I went offensive line on you here
The “If” Factor: 5 ifs, as in the entire starting offensive line
2010 Offensive Ranking: 19th Passing, 31st Rushing
 
I’m starting to feel bad for Tarvaris Jackson. I mean, he went from a bad situation on the Vikings to a worse one with his move to Seattle this offseason.
 
He was doomed to fail in Minnesota because he was asked to do too much too soon. That team was built to win right away when he was there, and what he needed was a team, and a fan base, that was going to be patient while he developed. And now that he’s at the point in this career when he’s ready to play his best, he ends up on a team with two rookies on his starting offensive line.
 
In addition to those rookies the Seahawks have a first year starter at center, and a new addition to the team in ex-Raider Robert Gallery. Gallery is good, but transitioning to a new team and a new offensive system can take time, so whether or not he can be a dominant force falls squarely into if factor territory. The one player among the group tasked with giving Jackson time to throw who should have been a bright spot is second year left tackle Russell Okung. Okung is coming off a rookie season that saw him show immense talent but where he was slowed by injury. He’s nothing if not consistent, starting 2011 off with an injury to his left ankle during the team’s first exhibition game.
 
Okung, and the rest of the offensive line, will be the key to this offense. If they can open holes for the running game, and most importantly keep Jackson upright, they have enough weapons in the passing game to put a few points on the board. Mike Williams and Brandon Tate are good young receivers, and they stole Zach Miller right from under the noses of the Oakland Raiders.
 
The Seahawks have a few of the pieces in place to be a good offense, but don’t have a quarterback or an offensive line to take advantage of those playmakers at the skill positions. 2011 is going to be a frustrating year for the Pacific Northwestern Offensive Appreciation Club.
 
Defense
 
Important Acquisitions: Alan Branch
Toughest Player Losses: Jordan Babineaux, Will Herring
Key Player: Aaron Curry
The “If” Factor: Low
2010 Defensive Ranking: 27th Passing, 21st Rushing
 
The Seattle defense comes back pretty much intact from 2010, so the best predictor of its future success is to look at how it performed last year. Unfortunately, that performance wasn’t terribly good. The Seahawks were decent against the run, but struggled to stop other teams from gaining yards in the passing game.
 
While they didn’t bring in any significant upgrades, they should benefit from some of their younger players being a year older, better, and hopefully wiser. Aaron Curry, a top five draft pick from two years ago, has shown improvement in his play each of his first couple of years in the league. If Curry continues on this development curve 2011 will be his break out year. He has all the tools to get the job done, if he can start getting to the passer with more frequency he can join the ranks of the elite outside linebackers in the league.
 
Curry will get help from a defensive line in front of him that includes Brandon Mebane and Chris Clemons. This group is decidedly solid, they won’t win you any games but they certainly aren’t going to be a liability either. Depth among the group could be a problem as the season goes along, if any of the starting four go down your looking at over the hill vets like Raheem Brock or under performers like Kentwan Balmer being asked to pick up the slack.
 
There’s not a lot of room for error on this defense, even a couple of key injuries could really send them spiraling towards the bottom of the league defensive rankings.
St. Louis Rams
 
2010: 7-9
Better or Worse in 2011: Better
 
The St. Louis Rams were one of the more feel good stories of the 2010 season. After having the worst record in the league in 2009 before they bounced right back with a record just one game below .500, and were playing in a winner goes to the playoffs game in the last week of the year.
 
They lost that game to the Seahawks, proving that despite all the steps they took forward they have plenty more to make.
 
I know you’re probably sick of me, and everyone else, saying it but it just can’t be said enough that the NFL is a quarterback’s league. You win when you have a good quarterback and you lose when you don’t. It’s that simple.
 
Okay, maybe it’s not quite that simple, you can hide a bad quarterback and get a few wins, maybe even sneak into the playoffs (like that pesky Seattle team from last year), but you can’t be a consistently good team if you don’t have a consistently good quarterback. Which is why, especially with the old rookie wage rules, that St. Louis had to hit a home run when they had the first overall pick in the draft a year ago.
 
They had to hit a home run because they had to use the pick on a quarterback. When your team is that bad the only thing that is going to make them good, not just better but actually good, is to get a true franchise quarterback, and you’re never going to have a better opportunity to do just that than when you get the number one overall pick. The bust level is high for these picks, so they had to get it right. Good for them Sam Bradford was waiting to be selected.
 
Bradford proved to be all that the Rams could have asked for and then some. He changed the whole dynamic of the team, and now has the Rams on the short list of teams that have a player under center who will give them a chance to win for many, many years to come.
 
2011 will be another step forward for Bradford and the rest of the Rams. In a tougher division the climb to the top would be harder, but considering how little it will take to win the NFC West this year, something like 8 or 9 wins, St. Louis has what it takes to get there.
 
Offense
 
Important Acquisitions: The Cadillac Williams, Mike Sims-Walker, Jerious Norwood, Harvey Dahl
Toughest Player Losses: Laurent Robinson
Key Player: Stephen Jackson
The “If” Factor: Very High
2010 Offensive Ranking: 21st Passing, 25th Rushing
 
After years of relying solely on running back Stephen Jackson to carry the load offensively, 2010 saw the Rams debut a rookie quarterback and a newfound passing game. Sam Bradford, the number one overall pick in last year’s draft, had one of the best seasons we’ve seen from a first year passer in a long time. He finished with 3,512 yards, 18 touchdowns, and most importantly only 15 interceptions.
 
The Rams added some skill position players in the offseason like The Cadillac Williams, wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker, and Jerious Norwood to help Bradford continue his progression into the ranks of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. None of those pickups were game changing in and of themselves, but good offenses are deep, and this team was shallow at both receiver and running back.
 
They were especially in need of adding depth in the backfield, for years they have worn down their workhouse back, Stephen Jackson. Jackson was one of the more productive backs in the league, but runners in the NFL can only take so much pounding, and if they’re going to get anything from him in the future they’re going to need to provide some relief for him. Both Williams and Norwood are coming off injury, but if neither of them can be the change of pace guy that St. Louis has been trying to find Bradford is going to have a hard time carrying the team to wins all by himself.
 
The offensive line, which was a weak point at times last year, will see an improvement with the addition of veteran guard Harvey Dahl. Dahl and the offensive line should give the playmakers on offense a chance to make plays. If Bradford avoids a sophomore slump, and one of the new running backs can prove to be a capable backup (my money is on The Cadillac Williams) the Rams offense will take a step forward in 2011.
 
Defense
 
Important Acquisitions: Al Harris, Ben Leber, Zac Diles, Quintin Mikell, Daniel Muir, Robert Quinn (R)
Toughest Player Losses: None
Key Player: James Laurinaitis
The “If” Factor: Even higher than the offense
2010 Defensive Ranking: 19th Passing, 17th Rushing
 
This Rams defense is quietly amassing the talent to become one of the best units in the league for the foreseeable future. They have two good ends, assuming Robert Quinn is as good as advertised, upgraded their outside linebackers, have one of the best young middle linebackers in the game, and added a playmaker in the defensive backfield.
 
That playmaker is the ex-Philadelphia Eagle Quintin Mikell, who brings a toughness and a winning pedigree to a team that has been in need of both for quite a while now. Another player who ups the toughness quotient for the Rams D is third year player James Laurinaitis, who has notched triple digit tackles in each of his first two years in the league. Now that he has better players around him Laurinaitis has a chance in his third year to take a step up in his career and be a big time player.
 
The defense should put ample pressure on opposing quarterbacks with Chris Long and Robert Quinn at the defensive end positions. Long has steadily improved during his first three years in the league, increasing his sack total each year. 2010 saw him tally 8.5 QB takedowns, and if he continues his progression 2011 should see double digit sack numbers from this previous top five draft choice. Quinn was this year’s first round draft choice and was a sack machine at the University of North Carolina, when he was on the field that is. Good thing in the pros no one cares that you’re getting paid to play, so he should be all right.
 
The defensive line will pressure the quarterback, the linebackers are going to be the ones stuffing the run, and the upgrades in the defensive backfield will help slow down opposing passing attacks.
 
The Rams are a young team on the rise, and this defense is like a sauce that’s been simmering on the stove for hours, and its finally ready to unleash all it has to offer. 
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8/22/11   |   Dream_Machine   |   13448 respect

Seahawks takes the division again. Without TJax Though. They still have problems with their secondary but we will have enough to scrape on by.

Breakout player of the year - David Hawthorne, finally out of Tatupu's shadow.

This team will show the NFL what 2-TE sets can really do in the NFL.

8/21/11   |   kramer   |   11004 respect

chevleclair wrote:
I have some fairly bold predictions.  1) I've seen Charlie Whitehurst play, and he at least deserves more credit than he's getting. Look for Seattle to surprise everyone is Whitehurst gets to play regularly.

2) The Rams will finish dead last if Stephen Jackson gets hurt.

3) The Niners have done as much as could be plausible to improve their offense. If they don't get 9 wins this year, it's time for an overhaul.

4) Kevin Kolb is an Andy Reid system product. Given that track record so far, Arizona will flatline this year. This is a testament to Andy Reid's coaching ability, but given the records of Koy Detmer, AJ Feely, and Donovan McNabb away from Andy Reid so far, I see Kolb turning into a disaster.

I don't know what the Cards saw in Kevin Kolb.  I thought he was lousy with the Eagles.  Derek Anderson was a disaster, and proved that he was a one year wonder.  I don't see how Kolb is any improvement over him.  They knew Kurt Warner was most likely going to retire, but when he did it completely killed them.  They have a pretty decent WR core, but if you don't have a QB who can get the ball to them, they're useless.

8/19/11   |   chevleclair   |   378 respect

I have some fairly bold predictions.  1) I've seen Charlie Whitehurst play, and he at least deserves more credit than he's getting. Look for Seattle to surprise everyone is Whitehurst gets to play regularly.

2) The Rams will finish dead last if Stephen Jackson gets hurt.

3) The Niners have done as much as could be plausible to improve their offense. If they don't get 9 wins this year, it's time for an overhaul.

4) Kevin Kolb is an Andy Reid system product. Given that track record so far, Arizona will flatline this year. This is a testament to Andy Reid's coaching ability, but given the records of Koy Detmer, AJ Feely, and Donovan McNabb away from Andy Reid so far, I see Kolb turning into a disaster.

8/19/11   |   WhoDat12   |   2252 respect

I think the division is the Rams to lose.  They have a solid QB in Sam Bradford and with the free agent pickups they look to be loaded on defense.  I'm not completely sold on Kolb in Arizona yet.  He could be the next Matt Schaub, or he could be the next Scott Mitchell.  I'm not sold on whoever the 49ers choose to be their quarterback, and I don't even think Tavaris Jackson is sold on Tavaris Jackson. If he is, he shouldn't be.

8/18/11   |   Scott   |   54625 respect

The only thing that concerns me about the Rams is their schedule at the beginning of the season.  They open at home against Philly, play a Monday Night game in New York against the Giants and then have back to back home games against the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins.  After the bye week, they play at Green Bay and at Dallas before playing the New Orleans Saints at home the last weekend of October.  It's conceivable that the Rams will be better this year then last but their record could be worse.  By the time November rolls around, they could very well be 1-6 with very little margin of error the rest of the season.

8/18/11   |   Jess   |   35096 respect

 Another note - I would consider Tatupu a tough player loss as well. Although, he was gone last season, so it's not like it's something we're not used to. It just sucks to have someone who was such an integral part of the team not so long ago in FA now.

I might have to disagree that they'll do worse this year than they did last year, but I won't venture to say that they'll be a whole lot better. I also think that they're headed in the right direction, minus the QB situation. Seattle (thanks to Tim Ruskell) always had a tendency to sign old and incredibly injury prone players to long contracts. They also weren't focused much on size either on the offensive line OR the defense. Now the players are getting a lot younger and a WHOLE lot bigger, and contracts are getting smarter. I see hope in this young team, though I'm not blinded by my fandom to think that they're a shoe-in to take the division this year. Far from it.

Oh yea...and I wouldn't discount Whitehurst. I know that they've already given Jackson the starting job but if he can't prove he's the right guy for the job before the season or early into it, Carroll won't hesitate to bench him. Portis isn't ready yet to take the reigns, but Whitehurst has the potential to be solid - maybe not great, but solid. He's composed in the pocket, he's big enough to see over our O-Line, he's tough, and he'll make plays to move the chains...even if that means busting through some defenders himself if nobody's open.

8/18/11   |   Jess   |   35096 respect

 I sure hope this isn't true, but it's one thing I am concerned about. For some reason I keep hearing from people that the Cards will be back on top - and of course 49ers fans always claim it's their turn...but I've got to be honest  - as a Hawks fan, the Rams scare the crap out of me.