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2006 Rams Preview

By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Picks

In the Mike Martz Era in St. Louis, the Rams were about as predictable as Drunk Uncle Larry. Was he going to show up wearing pants? Were they going to throw the ball 18 straight plays? Will he set the Christmas tree on fire again this year? Will they lose to the 49ers at home, again?

Needless to say, the Rams have been one of the most wildly unpredictable teams to wager on under Martz. But the star-crossed franchise finally bid adieu to Mad Mike and is now looking to rebound from its worst season since 1998.

Even without Martz, The Greatest Show on Turf hasn't packed up its tents. First-year coach Scott Linehan is renowned for his offensive brilliance. After an impressive run in Minnesota (No. 1 offense in 2003, No. 4 in 2004), Linehan was the coordinator on a Miami team that went from 29th in total offense in 2004 to 14th in 2005.

Linehan oversaw the improvement in the Dolphins run game from 31st to 12th. He'll need to engineer the same turnaround for St. Louis. The Rams averaged the fourth-fewest rushing attempts per game last season (23.8), and will be without Marshall Faulk, who is done for the year. Linehan also has an offensive line where four of the top seven players have an average age of 34.

Besides a stronger offensive running game, the Rams need to get much better defending against the run. Last season they were dead last by yielding 4.7 yards per rush. They also gave up 14 rushes or 20+ yards. That type of patty-cake D has to go if they'd like to make their sixth playoff appearance in eight years.

After a ton of offseason moves, are these the same old maddeningly inconsistent Rams, or will Linehan and new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett provide stability in St. Louie?

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Here's Doc's 2006 St. Louis Rams Preview:

2005 Record: 6-10 (3-5 home, 3-5 road)
2005 Rankings: 9th offense (4th pass, 22nd); 30th defense (23rd pass, 28th run)
2005 Against the Spread: 5-11 (2-6 home, 3-5 road); 9-7 vs. total (5-3 h, 4-4 r)
2006 Odds: 13/2 to win Super Bowl, to win NFC, to win NFC West, is wins O/U
2006 Strength of Schedule: 16th (.508 opp. win percentage)
Returning starters: 17 (10 offense, 7 defense)

Key stat: The Rams only forced 27 takeaways while their quarterbacks threw 24 interceptions. Overall, St. Louis was 28th in turnover differential at -10.

Key acquisitions: Will Witherspoon, LB (from Carolina); Corey Chavous, S (from Minn.); Tony Fisher, RB (from GB); La'Roi Glover (from Dallas); Tye Hill, CB (draft); Todd Steussie, OL (from T.B.); Matt Turk, P; Joe Klopfenstein, TE (draft); Dominique Byrd, TE (draft).

Key departures: Marshall Faulk, RB (injury); Adam Archuleta, S; Ryan Pickett, NT; Chris Claiborne, LB; Brandon Manumaleuna, TE; Jamie Martin, QB; Tom Nutten, OG; Rex Tucker, OL.

Offense: Money receivers? Check. Young stallion at running back? Check. Unflappable quarterback? Check. Veteran offensive line? Check. St. Louis has been in the top ten in the league in offense for seven straight seasons and I don't see it stopping any time soon. Linehan needs to put Steven Jackson to work, and Jackson needs to respond by staying healthy. The line is old, and needs to cut back on penalties, but it is experienced and deep.

Defense: Witherspoon and Glover were two very good signings for a unit that surrendered 27 points per game. Glover will provide an inside pass rush and Witherspoon is strong against the run. Their two starting corners - Jay Butler and Travis Fisher - are back from injuries, and if Hill and Chavous can make some plays the secondary will be dramatically improved. They need to be because opponents completed 61.9 percent of their passes against the Rams, 26th in the league.

X-factor: Marc Bulger. He needs to stay healthy. He's completed 65 percent of his passes in his four-year career, but he's missed an average of four games per season since 2003.

Outlook: You just don't know with this team. I think the defense will be better, which will only help a still-potent offense. They also need to regain their once-powerful home-field advantage. They're just 9-7 overall and 5-10-1 ATS in their past two seasons. Health is a major issue - as it is for all teams - but if the Rams are lucky they could bounce right back into the playoff picture.

Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at robert@docsports.com.

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