When assessing the St. Louis Rams at the midway point, it’s hard to keep in mind the expectations of the team when the season began. After a 2-14 disappointment in 2011, not much was expected from the team with a whole new coaching staff, a revamped defensive secondary and an offense relying on rookies and young talent.
So given the correct context, a 3-5 record at the half is actually a positive development for the franchise.
There are a few promising trends from the first half. Arguably the most important is the team’s record at home. In the early part of last decade, the Edward Jones Dome was an asset for the Rams. A loud Dome was able to pump up the home team while giving visiting teams’ offenses fits.
Through the early part of the season the Rams are 3-1 at the Dome and 3-2 at “home” overall. The team seemed to feed off the atmosphere in beating the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in the first five weeks. The Rams will still have three more games at home this season, and finishing the season with a record of over .500 at home would be a good development in head coach Jeff Fisher’s first year.
Another plus from the first half of the season was the team’s record within the NFC West. Although they’ve only played two games against division opponents, their 2-0 record through the first two division games is cause for optimism. The Rams were 0-6 within the division in 2011 and had only won three division games total since 2008 before this season. If the Rams could go 2-2 in the final four division games, it would be the first time since 2004 that the team would finish with a winning record in division games.
The team is still 3-5, though, and there’s plenty to work on in the second half. While the team has won three of four games at the Dome, they’re still winless outside of St. Louis this year. Learning to win on the road is a challenge for a young team like the Rams, and their upcoming road games – they go to San Francisco next week, and they’ll have to play both Seattle and Arizona in their home stadiums before the year ends – will be a good test of the team’s progress as the season goes on.
Another barometer of the team’s growth will be the defense’s ability to create turnovers. Fisher has preached the importance of forcing turnovers since coming to St. Louis, and the team responded in the earlygoing, intercepting three Matthew Stafford passes in the first half of the season opener in Detroit.
But the defense has regressed in recent weeks, due in part to the inability to create turnovers. The Rams haven’t forced a turnover since the week five victory over the Cardinals. Not surprisingly, the Rams are 0-3 in the three games since. If the Rams can start creating turnovers, the defense should improve in the second half.
The Rams have winnable games on the schedule in the second half – games against the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings should all be competitive if nothing else – but more than that, fans should simply look for improved play in the final eight games. They’ve experienced some highs already but this team’s best days are still ahead, whether or not those days are in 2012.