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VanRam over at Turf Show Times and I sent some emails back and forth this week and we gave each other some background about how the season has gone and the outlook going forward.

Brandon:

My first thought of visiting St. Louis is the 2001 playoffs. Warner was the MVP, and although the Packers had just beat San Francisco in the wild card game, the Packers came into the game with no wide receivers (the remains of WR Antonio Freeman were the leading receiver that season while a young WR Donald Driver rode the pine) and a shredded defensive line. I knew the defense couldn't stop Warner/Faulk and Favre couldn't win a shootout with his receivers. Instead he threw 5 or 6 interceptions, but he did the right thing because he had to try and make some big plays if they had any shot at upsetting a clearly superior team.

Despite winning the NFC North already I don't expect any healthy starters will sit for this upcoming game. They still have to win one more game to secure the 1st round bye, and Dallas could still stumble based on their underwhelming performance in Detroit last week. Your last few posts sounded pretty discouraged. I don't know too much about the Rams, except for all the injuries, but there are some similarities between the 2007 Rams and the 2006 Packers. The Packers were 4-8 and suffered three awful losses in weeks 11-13. Mike McCarthy looked clueless in trying to find anything that worked during the losing streak, but they finished the season 4-0, although against a string of three bad teams and Chicago in week 17 when everyone was sitting out, primarily on the strength of an improving defense. What specific improvements are you looking for in the last three games to build on for next season?

VanRam:
I remember watching the Rams/Packers game last season. Naturally, the one thing that kept going through my head was whether or not Farve should still be playing. I guess we know the answer huh? Interesting parallel between the Rams of '07 and the Packers of '06, of course, both teams finished with an 8-8 record. We expected the Rams to compete for the division title, not for a top three draft pick. This season's fan disillusionment is rooted in that.

As far as improvements for the Rams through the next three games, I suppose more than anything we'd just like to see the offense score some points and play decently for a full game. In spite of all the injuries this team has suffered, you'd be hard pressed to find a Rams fan that didn't think they could have done better, even just a couple more wins.

We're waiting on a winning offseason. What steps did the Packers take to get from a lackluster 2006 to a special 2007?

Brandon:
The biggest step forward in 2007 is the offense. The defense has slipped this season especially in the secondary. Favre is playing the same as he has for the past few seasons, but his supporting cast is so much better. The biggest move was quietly trading a 6th round pick to the Giants for RB Ryan Grant. He doesn't have elite talent, but he's a very decisive runner with excellent vision (can't measure that at the combine), doesn't fumble, and is a decent receiver. The next big step is the improved receiving core. In 2006, rookie WR Greg Jennings was overmatched, TE Bubba Franks was the worst TE in the NFL, and once teams double (triple) teamed WR Donald Driver then Favre had no one to throw to. Now Jennings is much better in his 2nd season, rookie WR James Jones has been surprisingly good, TE Donald Lee had only 10 catches in 2006 but has come out of nowhere, and 4th and 5th string WRs Koren Robinson and Ruvell Martin (who both play a lot) have had solid seasons. The last notable step is rookie FB Korey Hall (converted from a linebacker in college) who has been making some huge lead blocks for Grant.

There is no one thing the team did to turnaround from a division championship in 2004, rebuild after a 4-12 2005 season, and rebound to win the NFC North in 2007. GM Ted Thompson came in and gutted the roster in 2005, the Packers have the youngest team (or 2nd youngest) in the NFL, but half of the starters are holdovers from the Ron Wolf and Mike Sherman eras. Then he went out an hired Mike McCarthy who Green Bay had fired when he was an assistant in 1999. McCarthy spun his wheels for a few seasons as New Orleans offensive coordinator before spending the 2005 season as offensive coordinator for one of the worst offenses every to play in the NFL (San Francisco and QB Alex Smith's legendary rookie season). It looked like an awful hiring, but McCarthy has been fantastic at keeping teams off balance this season and has been a very good head coach. After signing a couple of quality free agents in 2006 (NT Ryan Pickett and CB Charles Woodson) Thompson completely avoided any free agents that cost over $500,000 in 2007. Instead he has spent the last three drafts trading down for more picks, which has added a lot of depth and several starters.

VanRam:
That's certainly encouraging for Rams fans to hear. We're especially hopeful that the Linehan hiring, which looks like the McCarthy hiring did after 2005, will be viewed as the McCarthy hiring is circa 2007. It's amazing what the draft can do for team, and as much as I hate to see the Rams lose again and again this season, I'm hopeful that we can make something happen with the upcoming draft. While you might be hard pressed to grade it an A, the Rams draft this year looks pretty good. The additions of Carriker (1st round) and Clifton Ryan (5th round) have made instant impacts. CB Jonathan Wade (3rd round) has improved as the season has gone on, thanks in part to the injuries and other situations giving him plenty of opportunity to play, and I think he'll be real contributor next season. Second rounder Brian Leonard's status has suffered a bit because of the offensive line injuries and the woeful replacements we've had. I wish he was a better blocker. The beleaguered o-line has exposed a real need for the Rams to have a punishing fullback like Korey Hall. The Rams will have to add some help on the o-line in the next draft, likely with a first round pick.