By Dave Thomas
Nothing like starting your season off with a contest against a division rival to see just where you are with a new campaign underway.
For the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks, a team that was inches away this past season from finishing off back-to-back Super Bowl titles, the road to Santa Clara (site of Super Bowl 50 this season) could very well likely run once again through the Pacific Northwest. If that’s the case, it will be because the Seahawks win their division and finish with home field advantage once again in the NFC playoffs.
Seattle will kick-off that pursuit this coming Sunday in the nation’s heartland when it meets NFC West foe St. Louis.
While not much should be taken from the pre-season, the Seahawks went 2-2 (wins over San Diego and Oakland), with the Rams going winless (0-4). Again, that doesn’t mean new Rams’ QB Nick Foles and the rest of his teammates can’t compete with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks come Sunday afternoon.
Rams Have New Look
When St. Louis takes the field at the Edward Jones Dome this Sunday, it will be with a new look under center.
Unless you were a Rams’ fan living under a rock in St. Louis this off-season, you were either excited or dismayed when the team parted with former Oklahoma star Sam Bradford (two major knee injuries) and in return picked up Foles, the former signal caller, albeit briefly, in Philadelphia.
There are several schools of thought here:
1. Foles is an upgrade at the position simply because he’s more apt to stay healthy than the talented but oft-injured Bradford;
2. When healthy, Bradford can sling it with the best of them, the key being when he is healthy;
3. Foles was not the long-term answer for Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly, so a change of scenery and playing in a city that the pressure is not quite as high in should help the young QB gain his footing in the league.
No matter how you cut it, Foles will have to assert himself early in the season that he is the man to lead Jeff Fisher’s team for years to come, or he could get the hook sooner rather than later.
For St. Louis, a 2014 performance that ended with a record of 6-10 and last place in the NFC West, there really is nowhere else to go but up this time around.
When looking at the division, Seattle (12-4 in 2014) is the prohibitive favorite, though no one should overlook Arizona. Anyone’s guess when it comes to the highly retooled San Francisco 49ers, so the Rams could at least make their way out of the division cellar from a season ago.
Along with Foles (46 career TD’s, 17 INT’s in three seasons with Philadelphia) running the offense, St. Louis will look to its first-round pick (10th player chosen overall), Georgia running back Todd Gurley.
Despite a season-ending left knee injury to his collegiate career last year, Gurley has the potential to be a beast in the backfield for the Rams if he is fit to go and can keep his knee healthy in 2015. If Gurley can’t go (and even if he does get some touches), look for second-year Auburn back Tre Mason to see plenty of time behind Foles. Mason led the team last season with 765 yards rushing on 179 carries.
No matter who carries the rock for the Rams, opening up holes is of course key.
St. Louis also grabbed three offensive tackles (Rob Havenstein, Jamon Brown and Andrew Donnal) in the draft, looking to build an assertive line for years to come.
Lastly, if Foles and the Rams are to put up big numbers offensively, they will need production from wide receivers Kenny Britt (led team in 2014 with 748 yards receiving), Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
Defense Wins Championships
While the old adage of defense wins championships is something coaches in a number of sports always preach, just how will the Rams be on that side of the ball in 2015?
In 2014, St. Louis was led by the likes of Alec Ogletree (111 total tackles, tops on team) and James Laurinaitis (109 total tackles) on a defense which ranked sixth overall in the league.
This year’s squad will again look to Ogletree and Laurinaitis to lead the way, along with hoping for a healthy Chris Long (defensive end, played in only six games a season ago after playing in all 16 his first six seasons in the league). Long has 51.5 sacks in his seven years with the Rams.
Finally, the Rams may perhaps see the emergence of rookie linebacker Bryce Hagar.
The Baylor product led St. Louis with 22 tackles in the pre-season.
Seattle and St. Louis (who will meet again Dec. 27 in Seattle) are no strangers to one another.
Seattle leads the all-time series by a margin of 21-12.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.