Sam Bradford established career highs for passing yards (3,702), touchdown passes (21), passer rating (82.5) and yards per attempt (6.7). He moved around in the pocket better than he ever has as an NFL player, scrambling for 127 yards rushing. He led five fourth-quarter comebacks, although two were erased by defensive letdowns. At the end of the season he was looking off receivers, going through his progressions and hitting check-down receivers — all while playing a much, much tougher schedule than, say, Andrew Luck. Despite this noticeable improvement, he was middle of the pack among NFL quarterbacks, ranked 18th in passer rating. Assuming offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer returns, Bradford finally will be in the same system for back-to-back seasons. Bradford’s fourth NFL season, 2013, won’t be boom-or-bust for Bradford, but it will begin to define whether he’s destined to be an elite QB. Or just a pretty good one.
Slowed by a groin injury early on, Steven Jackson spent the first half of the season in a timeshare with rookie Daryl Richardson. That changed over the second half of the season as Jackson returned to his workhorse ways. He topped 10,000 career rushing yards and posted his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season — something only five others have done in NFL history. If this indeed was Jackson’s Rams farewell, he went out in style in terms of leadership, working with the young backs and handling his contract situation. Richardson was a phenom early, flashing speed and decisiveness, but didn’t get on the field much as the season wound down. He had 82 carries for 451 yards in his first 11 games, but only 16 for 24 in his last five contests. After missing most of the spring practice period because his college was on the quarter system, rookie Isaiah Pead was beaten out by Richardson in the preseason for the No. 2 job and rarely played.
Colorful, hard-nosed Brit Miller began the season as the starting fullback and special teams captain. But he wasn’t as noticeable on special teams as in previous seasons, and his playing time at fullback decreased as the season progressed. Ten games into the season he was gone, released Nov. 20 — in part a victim of the improved play by the TE corps, particularly the blocking of Lance Kendricks out of the fullback position. Improved blocking was a hallmark of Kendricks’ game in 2013; then again, he was arguably the team’s most improved player, period. His 519 reception yards were the most for a Rams tight end since the move to St. Louis in 1995, and his 42 catches were second best. Costly drops were way down compared to his rookie season, and 65.6 percent of the passes thrown his way resulted in catches. Free-agent pickup Matthew Mulligan was an upgrade as a blocking tight end, but every now and then he surprised defenses with a catch.
Who knows what kind of statistics Danny Amendola would’ve posted were it not for injuries that cost him five games and limited his playing time in three others? Maybe 100 catches and 1,000 yards. As it was, Amendola’s 63 catches for 666 yards were the second-highest totals of his career. After returning from his second injury — a plantar fasciitis-related foot issue — he didn’t seem quite in sync with Bradford. Chris Givens had a good rookie year, leading the team in reception yards and becoming the first NFL player since 1966 to have a catch of 50 yards-plus in five consecutive games. Although defenses adjusted over the second half of the season, he gave the Rams a much-needed big-play threat. Brandon Gibson had his best year as a Ram; Austin Pettis made some clutch red zone catches. Rookie Brian Quick and veteran Steve Smith were disappointments. Overall, this group had trouble getting consistent separation against the league’s better secondaries.
Despite all the talk and emphasis on having a strong running game this season, the Rams were only marginally better on the ground by the numbers, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and gaining 1,714 yards. In 2011 under Steve Spagnuolo, the Rams averaged 4.1 yards per carry and gained 1,667 yards. So the run-blocking still needs work. On the other end, despite some rough moments here and there — particularly early in the season —the Rams dramatically improved their pass blocking, giving up 35 sacks compared to 55 in 2011. Bradford had endured a streak of 30 consecutive games getting sacked a least once— a league-high at the time. But just like that, the Rams ended the season with back-to-back sack-free games, at Tampa Bay and Seattle. Ten different players started at least one game, and the Rams used seven line combinations over the course of the season. If they gave out an offensive line coach of the year award, Paul Boudreau would have to be a candidate.