The St. Louis Rams are not a playoff team yet, and the keyword there is "yet." Soon enough Jeff Fisher and company will be making a push for the playoffs for years to come if they keep progressing at their current pace.
However, at 7-8-1 there are still a few holes that need fixing on both sides of the ball. Currently St. Louis has nine draft selections in 2013 and has a bit of cap space heading into the offseason. According to the cap gurus over at Spotrac, the Rams have $2,452,140 worth of free space to work with once free agency starts.
Yet it would be wise to expect that number to change with expiring contracts and probable restructuring taking place. Also, it is not that these numbers are not from the NFLPA—Spotrac calculates these numbers by calculating the individual cap values of each player.
Regardless, St. Louis does have a bit of room to work with and will need to continue to build piece by piece.
Let's take a look at what went wrong in 2012 so we can continue to look ahead to 2013.
Danny Amendola's Health
Without question wide receiver Danny Amendola is a huge part of the Rams' offense and has steadily become quarterback Sam Bradford's best friend on the field over the past few years.
After missing 15 games last season due to a dislocated elbow, St. Louis was hoping Amendola would be able to play healthy for a full 16-game slate. Unfortunately for the Rams, things didn't quite play out accordingly and No. 16 missed a total of five games this season.
His first injury, a broken collarbone, was suffered during the team's Week 5 game against the Cardinals. The severity of his broken collarbone forced him to miss three games. If the Rams hadn't had a bye during his recovery time, it was likely that he would have missed a fourth game.
His second injury of the season came during St. Louis' Week 11 matchup against the Jets. It happened in just his second game back from the collarbone injury.
Even though he suffered the foot injury during the Jets game, he toughed it out and played the entire game. Yet the following week he was limited to seven snaps and couldn't finish the game due to immense pain in the foot.
His limited role against Arizona in Week 12 probably hurt his recovery more than it helped the Rams' offense that day. I say that because Amendola went on to sit out two more games so the foot could properly heal.
As you can see, his numbers from the first half of the season to the second half of the season were not affected by his array of injuries.
Despite missing numerous games the past couple of seasons, there's no question that Amendola is the most reliable weapon the Rams have when he is in the lineup. At his size, it's hard to believe he is ever at 100 percent. He definitely takes some big blows on both offense and special teams.
Based on his projections, Amendola would have finished the season as the team's top receiver if he would have played in all 16 games. Instead rookie wide receiver Chris Givens led the charge with 698 yards receiving.
Red-Zone Deficiencies On Offense
Offensively, Bradford had the best season of his young three-year career, Steven Jackson eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the eighth straight season and tight end Lance Kendricks bounced back after a challenging rookie campaign.
All three of those things signaled progress, yet the Rams still finished the season with the 23rd-best offense in the NFL—eight spots higher than they finished last year and the highest position they have finished in since 2006.
Unfortunately, 23rd still places them in the bottom half of the league, and to make matters worse, Brian Schottenheimer's offense averaged the third-fewest red-zone trips in the league at a measly 2.3 trips per game. Only Tennessee and Jacksonville had worse seasons in that category.
At home, Schottenheimer's offense did a better job at working inside the 20-yard line versus when they were on the road. In St. Louis they averaged almost three (2.9) red-zone trips a game, and on the road that number dropped to 1.9.
Tough to win many games when you can't put yourself in position to score touchdowns. Those telling red-zone inefficiencies also played into the Rams' inability to put points on the board. For the sixth season in a row they averaged less than 20 points per game.
The last time they averaged above and beyond 20 points a game was in 2006.
Being the youngest team in the NFL has its advantages and disadvantages. Immediate contributions from a rookie class are something every head coach wants, yet there has to be a balance of both inexperienced and experienced players on the roster to make a playoff run.
If you take a look at every playoff team, each one has a healthy mix of young and old. Sure, Seattle leans a little on the young side and Atlanta leans a little on the old side, but for the most part the rest of the playoff teams fall right in the middle.
According to Blogging the Beast, St. Louis had the youngest team in the NFL this season. The average age on the Rams' roster was 25.32 years of age. The next closest team was the Eagles at 25.55 years of age.
Pressing the reset button on certain areas of the roster is never easy, but it helps speed up the development of the players by putting them out on the field.
Based on the snaps charted by Pro Football Focus, nine different rookies logged playing time on offense and six different players logged playing time on defense. Not to mention St. Louis started two rookies in its base 4-3 defense and three in its nickel package.
It's safe to assume that this team wouldn't have succeeded in 2012 without the fountain of youth, but at the same time the Rams were held back due to some occasionally inconsistent play. Heading into 2013, St. Louis will be more experienced and well-versed at a multitude of positions.
Successful drafting tactics were on full display from Coach Fisher and general manager Les Snead in 2012, so I'm confident that an ever-improving Rams organization from the top down will save me from writing this same article next year.
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