At the midway point of the 2014 season, the St. Louis Rams bear a striking resemblance to the two teams that preceded them under coach Jeff Fisher.
The 3-5 Rams have had eye-opening wins at San Francisco and at home over the reigning champion Seattle Seahawks. They've also laid eggs like the blowout losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings. In between, there have been missed chances such as the losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles when the Rams had the ball late with a chance to win.
The Rams had pointed to this year as the breakthrough season as they embarked on their third year under Fisher. But so far, this looks like a team that will again tantalize with quality victories coming too few and far between the disappointments.
Midseason MVP: QB Austin Davis -- The choices are few for this honor, but Davis gets it solely because, as hard as it is to believe, things could be much worse if not for what he's been able to do. He wasn't even supposed to make the roster, but he's done enough to keep the Rams in many games, led a game-winning drive against Tampa Bay and marched the Rams to a score to clinch their win against Seattle. He has his warts, but he's been a pleasant surprise in a season without many.
Biggest disappointment: The defense -- With new coordinator Gregg Williams taking over, this group was supposed to ascend to a top-seven caliber group. Aside from a strong statement against the Niners, that hasn't happened and there have been multiple games where the defense has been the group responsible for letting the team down. After only one sack in the first five weeks, many fingers have been pointed at the defensive line, but that has been corrected somewhat in recent weeks. The real issues lie in the back seven, where there has been little progress from key young players like linebacker Alec Ogletree and cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
Best moment: "The Mountaineer" -- That's the name of the rope-a-dope punt return the Rams executed to perfection in their stunning Week 7 win against the Seahawks. Punt returner Tavon Austin and most of the return team faked out the entire building by pretending a Jon Ryan punt was headed down the right sideline. Meanwhile, Stedman Bailey, who like Austin is a former West Virginia Mountaineer, made a terrific over-the-shoulder catch and returned it 90 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. It's this team's signature play and one that will grace highlight reels for years to come.
Worst moment: 49ers WR Brandon Lloyd's 80-yard touchdown catch -- Unlike in the MVP category, there's actually plenty to pick from here, but no play better sums up this season to date than this play. The Rams had a 14-3 lead against San Francisco and looked good on national television for "Monday Night Football" as they headed toward halftime. Just before the half, Jenkins was supposed to drop into a basic three-deep zone to prevent any receivers from getting behind him. He played the wrong coverage, got caught staring into the backfield, and Lloyd hauled in an easy touchdown. The Niners went on to score 21 of the next 24 points in a 31-17 Rams loss.
Key to the second half: Finishing games -- By hook or by crook, the Rams have to find a way to win games in the fourth quarter. They did it with a little help from Colin Kaepernick against San Francisco on Sunday, but it doesn't matter how it happens so long as it does. The Rams have been outscored 104-40 in the second half of their five losses this season, including 55-10 in the third quarter. For a team that has scored four touchdowns on its first possession and made a habit of starting fast, the Rams must finish with equal aplomb to make a second-half run.