To begin my column with a vague and general statement about life in the corporate world, the term “success” and how it’s applied to any undertaken task often solely comes down to the expectations for the task’s outcome and how closely they were met or surpassed. Managing those expectations from a client is a crucial part of how they’ll review one’s final output related to what they’d hoped it would achieve. Does the phrase “under-promise and over-deliver” ring a bell?
The thing is, it’s impossible for NFL coaches and execs to “under-promise” what their team can deliver when ticket sales hinge on their ability to excite the fan base for the upcoming season. Team officials don’t have the ability to lean on their limitations like corporate professionals often do. For example, a final business presentation to client can begin with something like, “Well, based on the budget we were given, the man power we had at our disposal, and the amount of time given for completion, what you see here is how we achieved our project goal to the best of our abilities given the limitations in place.” That’s how you manage expectations, by keeping them realistic.
However, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher can’t stroll up to the podium tomorrow and tell everyone, “Listen, we still don’t know what we have in our quarterback and the majority of our skill players, our secondary is remarkably young, our schedule is brutal, and we play in the most difficult division in the NFL. If we manage to go 8-8 or better, you’re welcome and I want a raise.” Can you imagine?
That’s what leads to all the cryptic coach-speak that’s become commonplace in the sports media landscape. Team officials have to keep fans hopes up without explicitly promising anything that they can’t deliver. This (finally) leads me into the subject of today’s column: what can we realistically expect from the Rams in 2014? This is something I’ve been stewing on and finally decided to write about after a similar question was posed in Nick Wagoner’s Friday chat over at ESPN. After a great on-paper draft, the team is finally headed into OTAs with training camp to follow in July. Expectations, at this point, can only be made based on projections of 2014 player ability and not their actual ability, which is important to note.
After two seasons under the Fisher regime, the team seems to have found an identity with last year’s revelation of running back Zac Stacy and how his style translated into production for the entire offensive unit. The defensive line, led by PFWA Player of the Year Robert Quinn, has become a force to be reckoned with and looks poised to become a generationally profound unit when factoring Chris Long, Michael Brockers, 13th overall pick Aaron Donald and an impressive amount of depth filling in behind them. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been brought back into the fold to help the defense evolve and level the playing field in the NFC West. Additionally, year three of any regime – especially one that is generally trending up, like St. Louis – is when judgments start being passed and success can start really being measured. For these reasons and others, expectations seem to be high for the Rams going into the 2014 season.
I took to Twitter last week to gather some opinions on what the base-line expectations are for this team as it stands currently. The question I asked dealt specifically with Sam Bradford, but the responses I received revealed a bit more about general team expectations and what would be considered a successful year. It was a small sample size, but here are a few of those responses:
@cover32_STL 9-10 wins is a must (which might not make the playoffs) Lots of good QB prospects coming out next year
— Blake Tillman III (@BKTIII) May 26, 2014
@cover32_STL For his sake (support-wise), playoffs is a must. Logically, 9 or more wins will do. He did good last year before his ACL injury
— Jeremy Karp (@jkarpsportsfan1) May 26, 2014
@cover32_STL Our schedule is brutal (thanks NFL). There is little margin for error in the NFC West. This winning-record drought needs to end
— Jeremy Karp (@jkarpsportsfan1) May 26, 2014
I tend to agree with these assessments, that the team (specifically Bradford, Fisher, and Snead) need to break the winning-season barrier sooner rather than later to ensure their jobs, but given that tough schedule and the dominance of the NFC West, is it realistic for them to achieve that this season? The Las Vegas Hilton has had their 2014 projections for team wins posted for just about two weeks, and the odds-makers are on the opposite side of the fence. They have the team bar set at 7.5 wins, which ties them with the win projection for the Cardinals and has them a handful of games behind the 49ers and Seahawks, who they’ve given 10.5 and 11 wins, respectively. The full list is right here.
What’s even more revealing about the “expectations vs. reality” debate is that, in their coverage of the Hilton odds, our friends at Turf Show Times asked readers if they believed the Rams would go over or under that 7.5 projection. See for yourself, but the outcome was an absolute landslide in favor of the over. It’s clear that Rams fans are hoping/believing/dreaming/praying that this will be the year the team finally smashes through that .500 wall, and Fisher and Snead likely are as well.
However, if they do have another 8-8 season or worse, given the schedule and the division and the youth and their other limitations, how mad can we really be? From a realistic standpoint, it’s an interesting question to consider.
I expect those expectations to get adjusted even further once the players take the practice field together very soon.