The improvement of the Rams

My hope at the beginning of the Rams’ season was that they would get better as the season went along. I was fine with whatever happened in the first half of the season’s games, as long as we saw improvement in the second half.

Sure enough, after a 3-5 first half, the Rams have gone 4-2-1 in the second half. Interestingly, they’ve improved tremendously on the road, going unbeaten in four road games (3-0-1) since October 14 at Miami. Their current three game road winning streak is their longest since the division winning season of 2003.

On the flip side, after starting 3-0 at the Edward Jones Dome, they went only 1-3 in their final four games in St. Louis. One of the losses was expected, to Green Bay, and a win against San Francisco was a pleasant surprise. But losses to the Jets and Vikings…both winnable games…will haunt the Rams and fans that had visions of playoffs dancing in their heads.

There are absolutely areas that need to be cleaned up for the Rams to take another step in 2013. They’ll need to dramatically cut down on penalties, especially those on special teams. Flags set back an already ponderous return game, and put the Rams in poor field position far too many times. In fact, entering the weekend only two teams had more penalties than the Rams. The returners too often didn’t have the explosiveness the put the Rams offense in favorable position.

The second half provides hope on many fronts. Defensively, the Rams allowed nineteen touchdowns in the first half of the season. Eleven touchdown passes were allowed, and eight rushing TD’s. Seven of the eleven first-half TD passes scored on the Rams defense were thrown by Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay and Tom Brady of New England in back-to-back weeks.

In the second half, the Rams have cut their touchdowns allowed from nineteen to thirteen. After allowing eight rushing touchdowns in the first half, they’ve allowed just four in their last seven games. Bottom line, after allowing 196 points in the first half, the Rams have allowed just 145 in the second half. They’ve reduced their points against from 24.5 per game to 20.7.

In terms of scoring, after eclipsing 21 points just twice in the first half of the season, the Rams have scored more than 21 in five of seven games in the second half. After scoring 17.5 points per game in the first half, the Rams have scored an average of 21.3 in the second half. Of course, those scores include four touchdowns from Janoris Jenkins, which can’t be counted on all the time. The Rams offense needs to perform better. They have the fewest red zone trips and the fewest red zone points in the NFC.

The Rams need to stay on the field, too. Only Arizona has a worse third-down percentage in the NFC. Part of that is a product of penalties, and certainly quarterback Sam Bradford must take some blame. But primarily, many times when the opposing defense smells blood on third and long, they are able to get to the Rams QB. A healthier offensive line in the second half has made a difference, and should make a similar difference next season.

The Rams have some talented players who have gotten a chance to play this season, and they have several more that will ascend during a full off-season, like Brian Quick, Isaiah Pead, Rokevious Watkins, Matt Conrath and Rodney McCleod. That’s in addition to Jenkins, Michael Brockers…who hasn’t been healthy all season…Chris Givens, Trumaine Johnson, Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hecker.

The record indicates that the Rams are on the rise, and I don’t think it’s a fluke. I think this second half is going to be a jumping off point for 2012, and that the Rams are in for really good things in the future.