(FootballSTL) -- Yes, these new offensive weapons are going to be scrutinized about as much as the Royal Baby. Yes, Sam Bradford is out of excuses to not perform at an elite level on a consistent basis. Yes, these safeties the Rams currently project as starters don’t have much of a track record of success in the NFL.
You can throw a dart at the Rams roster right now and whoever it hits can be viewed as a potential storyline this season. But if you strip everything away and get down to the nitty gritty of what is most important to this team this season, to me, it all comes down to the offensive line.
Or more specifically, the health of it.
If you could promise me Jake Long, Scott Wells and Rodger Saffold will all stay healthy for the duration of 2013 I’d tell you I really like the Rams chances of winning a boatload of football games. Those three guys, in addition to Harvey Dahl, have enough of a track record in this league to suggest they will provide some outstanding protection for Sam Bradford.
Long’s a four-time Pro Bowler, former All-Pro (2010), former second team All-Pro (2011) and was - rightfully - the number one player selected back in 2008. Saffold, when healthy, has done a marvelous job blocking for the Rams. Wells is a former Pro Bowl center as well.
But that’s not all there is to it unfortunately.
Long’s battled injuries for much of the last couple seasons. He had a back ailment in 2011 in addition to a torn right biceps muscle. Saffold, as we’re all too aware, has missed a ton of time since entering the NFL. Wells signed a four year deal with the Rams last offseason before fracturing a metatarsal in his left foot in the first game versus the Lions.
Talent along the offensive line is nice. But it’s only nice when the guys are, ya know, actually out there playing instead of standing on the sidelines nursing an injury.
To me, this entire season comes down to whether or not Sam Bradford has time to throw the football. We’ve seen it before. When given the proper amount of protection he can pick defenses apart with the best of them. His problem comes when faced with consistent, relentless pressure that results in him getting drilled to the ground every single play.
But if he’s got enough time, most NFL experts believe Sam Bradford is as good as anyone in this league.
Same goes for his targets. Sure, a lot of people will focus on the new toys Bradford’s been given. Tavon Austin will bring instant excitement. Jared Cook will stretch the field from a position that rarely has his type of speed. Stedman Bailey will push Brian Quick and Austin Pettis for playing time. Will there be some growing pains there? Ya, probably. But there’s too much talent among that group to not get the separation required to make plays.
And we’ve already established that, given time, Bradford will hit them in stride.
Running game? Eh. No, Steven Jackson’s not here and there’s no obvious replacement. Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson and Zac Stacy all offer something different to the position. But let’s be real here. This will not be a running team in 2013. It will be a passing team. Anytime offensive coordination Brian Schottenheimer runs it will be to set up the pass, nothing more. So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the running back position is so beyond critical to making this offense go this season. It’s important, sure. But not vital. I’m sure they’ll find some combination that works for them.
So, again, if you really want to get down to it the offensive line is the key here. No, wait. The health of the offensive line is the key. IF (and that’s a gigantic if) Sam Bradford has enough time to set his feet and throw consistently, he will hit his targets. He’ll also hit targets that certainly have enough speed and playmaking ability to get open.
But if the line starts getting hurt and Bradford starts getting hit again? It all unravels from there.