If Rams’ offense doesn’t improve, it won’t be for lack of trying

Quarterback Nick Foles and running back Todd Gurley are the two most prominent offseason additions to the Rams' offense.

Billy Hurst (USA TODAY Sports) / Jeff Lewis (AP)

ST. LOUIS — At some point, this had to change.

At the beginning of this offseason, the St. Louis Rams looked in danger of becoming three-peat champs as the bottom dwellers of a very tough NFC West division. With the Seattle and San Francisco defenses finishing top five in the league over the past two years, it’s no place for a weak offense, which is exactly what the Rams had. Their offensive statistics ranged from poor to very bad, some of it through circumstances out of their control — when your intended franchise-changing quarterback logs a total of seven games out of 32 due to injury, things probably won’t go according to plan.

So, this offseason, the Rams made a different one.

Some of it seemed by chance; they found themselves looking for an offensive coordinator after Brian Schottenheimer left, and their subsequent decision to promote from within left the team with a domino effect that resulted in several key staff changes. Other movement, however, appeared more calculated — from the quarterback position to the overhaul of the offensive line.

The most recent change was the addition of former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia to the coaching staff, where he’ll work as an offensive assistant. He had interviewed for the quarterbacks coach job earlier this year after it was vacated by Frank Cignetti’s promotion to offensive coordinator, but lost out to Chris Weinke. Rams coach Jeff Fisher was impressed enough, however, that he kept Garcia around.

"I just felt like Jeff was going to be an outstanding coach. He just has that ‘it’ factor," Fisher says. "He’s working with the receivers right now. He’s helping Coach Sherman with the receivers."

Garcia’s hiring is one of at least six major moves the Rams have made on that side of the ball since their season ended. In addition to Cignetti, Weinke and Garcia on the coaching side, the Rams traded starting quarterbacks with Philadelphia, drafted four offensive linemen in the second through sixth rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft, and used their first pick on game-changing running back Todd Gurley, who’s rehabbing his ACL. If there seems to be a motto for the team headed into the 2015 season, it’s go big or go home — literally on the go big part, considering they drafted 1,272 pounds of offensive linemen this spring.

Of all the player moves, the Sam Bradford-for-Nick Foles swap at quarterback might provide the most immediate impact, since there’s no guarantee when Gurley will step on the field.  Fisher credits the quarterbacks who have stepped in during Bradford’s injury-plagued seasons (there have been plenty, both seasons and quarterbacks), but appears excited the Foles solution actually has long-term potential.

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"I think we’ve settled into ‘the guy,’" Fisher says. "We have somebody that can be special at the position, so it’s exciting for us to know that I’ve got an offense that will be built around his talent level."

If Foles can return to his 2013 form, where he had a 119.2 quarterback rating over 13 games, and Gurley is able to join the team in the backfield, the Rams will be spoiled for choice in their offensive options — especially if their first-round pick from two years ago, wide receiver Tavon Austin, can find his groove.

Then again, it’s hard to argue the team’s biggest moves this offseason were skill players, considering the state of the offensive line before the draft at April’s end. They basically had a left tackle and a left guard, and a likely starting center with only four games of NFL experience. Credit Fisher and general manager Les Snead for addressing the problem in the draft, though it’s scary it ever got that bad to begin with. They drafted several promising linemen, including a second-rounder, Rob Havenstein, and third-rounder Jamon Brown, both of whom could start this season.

"We felt if we got Todd, then we could do what I’ve been wanting to do since we got here, and that is just go get offensive linemen," Fisher says.  "I wanted to build the offensive line (from the beginning). You build your team inside out. And we wanted to build, but there were too many other holes. There were too many other needs. And so we filled those."


Now, if the Rams have finally fixed that line, it could go a long way toward solving plenty of their interwoven problems — like the fact that their quarterbacks can’t stay healthy (opposing teams registered 93 hits on them last year, and the line allowed the eighth-most sacks in the league), and that their run game was 20th in the league in total yards.

Or if the problems aren’t fixed, whether by rookie learning curves or misjudged potential, and the Rams’ offense flames out again this year, at least they’ll have gone down swinging. Already with a defense that could give even Napoleon nightmares, they’ve at least put together a roster on the other side of the ball that, if nothing else, gives them a breather after ranking 25th last year in time of possession per game.

"We looked at last year, immediately after the season, and felt like, ‘OK, this is what we need to do,’" Fisher says.

Mission partially accomplished.

You can follow Elisabeth Meinecke on Twitter at @lismeinecke or email her at ecmeinecke@gmail.com.