If the last decade of Rams football is any indication, the Rams might be in for a setback year. All rational indications say this is not the case. The team should keep trending upward, especially now that they have acquired legitimate offensive weapons to flank Sam Bradford.
However, based off the pattern of recent history alone, Rams fans might have a good reason to be a little queasy about the upcoming season. Here is a look at the Rams records and general expectations since the Greatest Show on Turf era ended after the 2003 season. See if you notice a pattern from year to year.
- 2004 Expectations: People forget this now, but expectations were high for the 2004 Rams. The main cogs of the Greatest Show on Turf, minus Kurt Warner, were still in place, albeit with a slowed down Marshall Faulk. Coming off a stellar 12-4 season in which they grabbed the number 1 seed in the NFC, most pundits expected the Rams to continue contending with Marc Bulger at the helm. By all means, they should have done exactly that, at least for a few more years. However, the front office had been a dysfunctional mess for a couple years by this point, leading to a rash of horrible personnel decisions and bitter infighting among many Rams employees, the main beef being between President Jay Zygmunt and head coach Mike Martz.
- Actual result: 8-8. The Rams probably injured themselves the way they backed into the playoffs with a .500 record, but hey, they made it. They even made their presence felt by knocking off the Seahawks on the road in the first round of the playoffs for their third win over their hated rival that year. Then they promptly went down to Atlanta and gave up what seemed like 900 yards rushing to Michael Vick and the Falcons.
- 2005 Expectations: Not as high as they were in 2004, but the Rams were still expected to compete for a playoff berth. Led by Torry Holt, the wide receiver corps was very strong, and second-year RB Steven Jackson was expected to help relieve Faulk’s aching knees. The defense was a question mark, but the hope was that all the heavy investment via the past three drafts would pay off. (Spoiler alert: It wouldn’t.)
- Actual Result: 6-10. Mike Martz made it 5 games into the season before
he was pushed out the door in a brazen power play by Jay Zygmunta heart condition forced him to step down for the rest of the season. He was promptly fired after the season ended. This wildly disappointing season also featured a front office exec threatening St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz; a bunch of anonymous players trashing former Rams’ first round DTs Jimmy Kennedy, Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett; and Leonard Little taking a mysterious leave of absence for 3 weeks to purportedly hunt down the person responsible for his brother’s murder. The overall dysfunction mercifully peaked this season, but, unfortunately, the on-field performance had not come close to reaching its nadir.
- 2006 Expectations: Despite a fresh start with newly minted coach Scott Linehan, expectations actually were pretty tempered. Fans and the media began to catch on to the fact that the front office’s collective dysfunctionality (made up word alert) had depleted the team of young talent. The offense still had Isaac Bruce, Holt, Bulger and an up-and-coming Jackson, so the offense was at least expected to put up points, but all in all, mediocrity permeated the air.
- Actual Result: 8-8. The Rams somehow opened the season 4-1, despite all those games being decided by one possession. A five-game losing streak followed, including not one but two gut-wrenching 2-point losses to the Seahawks. Thanks to a beast mode performance by Jackson down the stretch, the Rams actually bookended the season with a 4-2 record in their last 6 games, including a 3-game winning streak to close out the season in which they looked dominant at times. Jackson’s final Pro Bowl numbers: 2,334 total yards from scrimmage (1,528 rushing yards plus a whopping 90 catches for 806 yards) and 16 total TDs. Bulger also seemed to be regain his magic from 2003, compiling 4,301 passing yards, 24 TDs and only 8 INTs.
- 2007 Expectations: Higher than many fans remember. As noted above, Bulger was coming off a career year, and Jackson appeared to be the best running back in the league next to LaDainian Tomlinson. Continuity was a big theme heading into 2007. Many pundits expected the Rams to build on the strong finish from 2006 because much of the talent had been retained for Linehan’s second year. The recent draftees were also expected to step up into more significant roles to help the team make a playoff push.
- Actual Result: 3-13. A complete disaster of a season. The Rams not only didn’t build on the previous season’s strong finish, they destroyed any memory of it by starting the season 0-8 before eventually finishing 3-13 for the season. Their point differential of negative-175 was the worst in the league. On top of all this, Rams owner Georgia Frontiere died a few weeks after the season ended. The silver lining? Every single Rams’ 2007 draftee was either on another team or out of the NFL entirely by the middle of the 2010 season. Wait, that’s not really a silver lining. Correction: There was no silver lining.
- 2008 Expectations: A lot lower than the year before. Although he had only been in place for two years, it had become clear that Linehan was not cut out to be a head coach. The all-around talent shortage did him no favors either.
- Actual Result: 2-14. After an 0-4 start, the Rams canned Linehan and replaced him with former Saints head coach (and Rams enemy) Jim Haslett. Haslett actually provided a glimmer of hope, as the Rams won the first two games under his leadership and nearly knocked off the Patriots on the road for a third straight win. Instead, the Rams finished the season on a 10-game losing streak and finished 2-14. Their point differential (negative-233) somehow ended up 58 points worse than the previous season.
Stay Tuned for Part 2, coming tomorrow.