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St. Louis Rams scouting report

Oct. 11, 2011

Following is a scouting report on the St Louis Rams (0-4) based on interviews with coaches and scouts whose teams have played the Rams recently:

Run offense: St. Louis has had big problems under new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the former Denver Broncos coach, and ranks No. 32 in the NFL in rushing yards and No. 31 in points. But at least the Rams had their bye last weekend to self scout, plus halfback Steven Jackson should be about full strength after missing most of the opener and all of weeks 2 and 3 because of a strained quad. At age 28, Jackson is a physical marvel at 6-2 and 236 pounds — he will be among the players featured in ESPN Magazine’s upcoming body issue — and still has a great combination of power and speed. He’s averaging a healthy 5.4 yards on 23 carries. While he was out, Cadillac Williams (29) was only OK (4.0-yard average on 50 carries) as the primary back. He just doesn’t have the explosion after torn patellar tendons to both knees in back to back seasons (2007 and ’08). The right side of the line, guard Harvey Dahl and tackle Jason Smith, run block well.

Pass offense: Quarterback Sam Bradford had a promising rookie season last year (seven wins despite a 76.5 rating) in former coordinator Pat Shurmur’s ball-control passing game but has not played well behind an underperforming line and in a new system that emphasizes deeper drops and throws downfield. Bradford (6-4, 228) has the makings of a franchise quarterback — his arm is plenty strong, he has good though not elite mobility, and he’s smart. But his rating (70.8 points) is 31st in the league, and he’s completed less than half his passes (49.7 percent) and only three touchdowns (to one interception). The offensive line has been major liability (18 sacks, last in the league in sacks percentage), starting with Smith, a 2009 first-round pick who has immense talent but sloppy technique. The Rams signed Dahl as a free agent from Atlanta, but he, center Jason Brown and left guard Jacob Bell have been one of the softest interior lines in the league. Even left tackle Rodger Saffold has had some trouble, though that was mostly against Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney earlier this year; the second-year pro still looks like a keeper. Receiver Benny Amendola (5-11, 186) was the Rams’ Wes Welker last year with 85 catches running short routes out of the slot, so his season-ending elbow injury in the opener was a huge loss. Former Jacksonville starter Mike Sims-Walker (6-2, 214) is big and strong but hasn’t made plays (12.6-yard average on 11 catches). Third-year pro Brandon Gibson (6-0, 210) leads the team in receptions (13), but over the long haul the most talented receivers probably are rookies who’ve had limited roles so far, third-round pick Austin Pettis (6-2, 202, six catches), and second-round pick Lance Kendricks (6-2, 241), a tight end from Wisconsin who has eight catches.

Run defense: Coach Steve Spagnuolo runs the same scheme he did as coordinator for the New York Giants while winning the Super Bowl in the 2007 season. It’s based on the varied and complex 4-3 blitz scheme of former Eagles coordinator Jim Johnson. But without anything like the Giants deep talent on the defense line, the Rams’ defense has been a disaster this season. It ranks last in rushing yards allowed and second-to-last in points allowed. The biggest problem is age, beginning at defensive tackle, where Fred Robbins (6-4, 325), signed from the Giants’ in ’10, and Justin Bannan (6-3, 312), signed from the Broncos this year, no longer can hold the point at ages 34 and 32, respectively. The best player is middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (6-2, 247), a third-year pro who might be a Pro Bowl candidate on a better team. Former Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga has been fine playing the run as the starter at strong-side linebacker, but weak-side linebacker Ben Leber has been a free-agent bust at age 32 after 10 years with the Vikings.

Pass defense: The Rams are OK statistically (No. 13 in passing yards allowed, No. 15 in opponent’s passer rating) but in trouble because of injuries at cornerback and a shortage of pass-rushing talent. Their best lineman is end Chris Long (6-3, 276), the No. 2 pick overall in 2008 who is a hustle and effort rusher. He had 8 1/2 sacks last season and has three this year. The other end is James Hall (6-2, 281), the former Detroit Lions starter who had 10 1/2 sacks with the Rams last season but age 34 is losing burst (one sack this year). At cornerback, three of the likely top four players going into training camp are out for the year because of injuries: starter Ron Bartell (neck in camp), starter Bradley Fletcher (knee last week in practice) and possible nickel back Jerome Murphy (ankle in camp). That leaves Al Harris, the former Packers cornerback, as a starter. Harris can’t run anymore at age 36 and almost two years removed from knee-reconstruction surgery. Another former Packers cornerback, Josh Gordy, is in the running for the nickel job after Fletcher’s injury. Gordy, who has good speed and OK size (5-11, 195), finished last season on the Packers’ roster, but Pat Lee and fourth-round pick Davon House beat him out for the final two cornerback spots in camp this year.

Special teams: The Rams’ return game is a major problem. On punts, rookie Greg Salas fumbled one of his two returns, and last week Pettis took three big-league shots because he refused to call a fair catch. Packers castoff Quinn Porter, an effervescent undrafted rookie out of Stillman College who was cut at the end of camp in 2010, might be the man this week after getting one return (for one yard) against Washington in Week 4. Porter (20.6 yards on five returns) or Jerius Norwood ( 26.0 yards on six returns) will handle kickoffs. Punter Donnie Jones (45.0-yard net, 39.2-yard net) is a left footer who can hit for distance and hang time. Kicker Josh Brown, 32, has a solid 81.7 percent career average on field goals and is 6-for-7 this year.

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