|Stephen Dunn / Getty Images|
|A healthy Steven Jackson will go a long way toward the Rams improving in 2008.|
The St. Louis Rams have not had a winning season since 2003, the end of a five-year run in which they set the standard for offense in the league while averaging more than 11 victories a season.
Now they hope for a little back-to-the-future ball, bringing back as their offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who coached receivers in 1999 and served as associated head coach in 2000 when St. Louis became the first team in history to score 500 points in back-to-back seasons, a streak the Rams extended to three years in 2001.
Of course, much is different since then. Isaac Bruce and Marshall Faulk are gone and Orlando Pace is well past his prime and coming off a year largely lost to injury.
Also, in recent years, under first Mike Martz and then under current coach Scott Linehan, the Rams got away from their old "Greatest Show on Turf" offense. In Saunders' offense this year, they will stress motion and shifting to try to create mismatches, use a lot of four-receiver formations, which were notably missing in 2007, and when not using four wideouts, employ a fullback much of the time.
Injuries to Pace, defensive end Leonard Little, quarterback Marc Bulger and running back Steven Jackson were critical in a fall to 3-13 last year, a season that brought back the ugly memories of the Rams from most of the 1990s.
Injuries were a factor with 27 players missing 152 games; 13 of the 27 were starters, including six whose season ended on injured reserve. But even before he was hurt, quarterback Marc Bulger struggled through his poorest season, a surprise considering a year earlier he had his best season.
Whatever the Rams manage on offense could be helped by a defensive line that looks like it will be a strength, even with defensive end Chris Long, the second player chosen in the draft, stuggling to make the transition to the NFL.
Little, who had toe surgery, looks strong again, although his age (34 in October) is against him. Same is true of tackle La'Roi Glover, also 34. There is good depth in the line but the front seven is undersized and susceptible to a power running attack.
On the hot seat
Coach Scott Linehan. He's in the third year of a four-year contract, and after going 8-8 in his first season, 2006, fell to 3-13 in 2007. Further, his specialty is offense, and last year the team ranked 24th in offense and 28th in scoring.
Offensive tackle Orlando Pace, strange as that might seem. With Pace healthy, the Rams' offense figures to be much better than it was when he was hurt. If he's anything close to his pre-injury form, they should be OK on offense.
Hard road to hoe
Rams will be better than you think if ...
Marc Bulger recaptures his 2006 form and the defensive line is as good as it could be; last season, St. Louis got just 5½ sacks from its defensive ends.
Rams will be worse than you think if ...
They can't find complements to wide receiver Torry Holt and if the defensive line does not live up to expectations.