Nov. 25, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA: A St. Louis Rams helmet sits on the field against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Rams: Underappreciated Competitors or Sadly Irrelevant?

The NFC West; This is the division that went from being the sideshow of the NFL to one of the most competitive and talented divisions since the days of Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers.  Between the innovations of the 49ers who effectively utilized the pistol offense to baffle defenses and the reinvigorated Seattle Seahawks who possess one of the most hard nosed and consistent defenses in the teams history, this division is stacked with championship caliber opponents.  Even the Arizona Cardinals, who despite their lackluster offense, have acquired a brilliant offensive mind in Bruce Arians.

When all is said and done it appears that these teams have found a way to personify the intimidating juggernauts they were of yesteryear.  This is true for all of these franchises, except for the one team that is trapped in football limbo between being an underappreciated sleeper and a team that is forced to clean house and rebuild its franchise once again; the St. Louis Rams.

Ever since the Rams lost Super Bowl XXXVI in 2001 to the underrated New England Patriots, this team has lacked both a sufficient quarterback as well as a competent head coach to lead this once iconic franchise to supreme victory once again.  While Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk were able to keep the rams relevant in the 2003-2004 regular seasons, their majestic perseverance and unwavering abilities seemed to slowly dissipate as they lost two consecutive divisional playoffs.  Once these demoralizing loses occurred, the St. Louis Rams were devoid of any tenacity or talent as they only managed a single .500 season between 2005 and 2011.

As dominant as this team once was, they quickly became a franchise that all opponents circled on their calendars as an easy victory to boost their playoff chances and nothing more.

However, the Rams transgressions over the last several years have not appeared to debilitate them permanently or hamper their spirit.  In fact, as of last season the Rams have proven that not only are they refusing to capitulate themselves to an existence of chronic disgracefulness, but that they are also revamping their roster to make themselves an unexpected force to be reckoned with.

The acquisition of Jeff Fisher, a brilliant defensive mind who had a long and successful tenure at Tennessee, was the beginning of the Rams ultimatum to themselves to be a great team rather than one that exuded mediocrity.

While it could be argued that the Rams first overall selection of QB Sam Bradford in the first round was the inaugural start of their return to relevancy, they still lacked a strategically adept coach who could properly utilize Bradford’s talents to their fullest extent.  Under the tutelage of Fisher, Bradford was able to boost his quarterback rating from an average 70.5 to a respectable 82.6 within one year.  On top of that, Bradford’s inexcusable turnover antics were also minimized from 7 lost fumbles in 2011 to 0 in 2012.Even with these impressive improvements from the Rams starting quarterback, the team still needed to reload offensively after the devastating loses of RB Steve Jackson and WR Danny Amendola to free agency.

St. Louis not only addressed this problem in the 2013 NFL Draft, they also expanded their horizons by selecting top defensive prospects to establish consistency on both sides of the ball.  Between the Rams acquisition of Tavon Austin, arguably the best offensive player in the draft, and selecting a dynamic safety in T.J. McDonald, the Rams strategically found a way to procure the players that would cater properly to their playing style and needs.

Seeing how the Rams were able to boast a surprising 7-8-1 regular season without these young and athletic prospects, the addition of these collegiate wunderkinds will only build upon the new and improved teams philosophy of constant improvement over taking a backseat and biding their time for next season.

Granted, while the Rams have a plethora of potential going forward into next season, the fact of the matter is that all of these positive trends won’t be fully realized until they can prove it can work on the football field and not just in theory.

However, based on what they valiantly accomplished last season and the gargantuan steps they have taken to elevate themselves to an elite level in terms of roster capabilities, the St. Louis Rams look to make a splash in their division which is up for grabs for the team that not only wants it the most but for the franchise that is seeking to be an up and coming Super Bowl contender.

Tags: NFL St. Louis Rams

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