Quarterback instability will be Rams' biggest issue going into 2016 season in L.A.

The Rams team that returns to Southern California after a 21-year absence bears a striking resemblance to the one that left Anaheim for St. Louis in 1995, and that's not good for football fans who are already mentally lining up for tickets.

The Rams, who won their only Super Bowl after the 1999 season, have not reached the playoffs since 2004. In that 11-year drought, they had a record of 56-119, home attendance dwindled and fan frustration mounted.

It was a similar ending in Anaheim, where the Rams went 23-57 in their final five seasons amid shrinking crowds and growing rancor, their fans angered by what they thought was a concerted effort on the team's part to disillusion them, thus making it easier to justify a move.

The current field boss is Jeff Fisher, who is familiar with Los Angeles, having played defensive back at Woodland Hills Taft High and USC and served as Rams defensive coordinator in 1991.

The Rams have gone 27-36 since 2012 under Fisher, finishing third or fourth in the NFC West each season. With one year remaining on a contract that pays him about $7 million a year, Fisher won't have much job security heading into 2016.

Part of the reason for the Rams' struggles has been instability at quarterback, a position they sought to solidify by acquiring Nick Foles from Philadelphia for Sam Bradford, the No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft who missed half of 2013 and all of 2014 because he twice torn ligaments in his left knee.

But Foles was erratic, failing to hit open receivers and generate any semblance of a consistent passing game, and was benched in favor of Case Keenum in mid-November.

The Rams are owned by billionaire real-estate magnate Stan Kroenke, a Missouri native who purchased a 30% stake of the team to help pave the way for the move to St. Louis in 1995 and increased his share to 40% in 1997.

Kroenke became majority owner in 2010, after the death of former owner Georgia Frontiere, saying at the time that he would do everything in his power to keep the Rams in St. Louis.

His loyalty to Missouri eroded over the next five years. He dismissed his home stadium as second-rate, portrayed St. Louis as a dying town, and said the city's proposed plans for a new stadium would mean "financial ruin" to anyone who owned a team playing in it.

Kroenke's 2014 purchase of 60 acres of land on the Hollywood Park site for an estimated $101 million got the Rams-to-Los-Angeles ball rolling, and he secured the necessary votes from NFL owners Tuesday to move the franchise.

Here's a little more of a primer on Los Angeles' new pro football team:

Are they winners?

The Rams have been mired in mediocrity for four years, improving from the dreadful club that went 13-65 from 2007-2011 but only enough to hover around .500. The defense, anchored by tackles Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers and cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins, has improved steadily, and rookie Todd Gurley emerged as one of the NFL's best running backs this season. But an inexperienced and injury-prone offensive line, the lack of an impact quarterback and a thin receiving corps will make it difficult for the Rams to contend for the playoffs in 2016.

Thrown for a loss

The quarterback situation in two words: a mess. Foles, who passed for 27 touchdowns with two interceptions in leading the Eagles to the NFC East title in 2013, wasn't the answer. He ranked 33rd in the NFL in completion percentage (56.4) and 34th in passer rating (69.0), the low point coming when he had four passes intercepted and took three sacks in a 24-10 loss to Green Bay on Oct. 11. Keenum, a restricted free agent who went undrafted out of Houston in 2012, had a record of 3-2 as a starter with a decent passer of rating of 87.7. His mobility helped him scramble for key gains, but he lacks the height and arm strength to be an elite NFL quarterback.

Star search

The Rams raised eyebrows last April when, with the 10th overall pick, they took Gurley out of Georgia just five months after he had suffered a torn knee ligament. But the talent evaluators knew what they were doing. Gurley missed the first two games but still finished third in rushing with 1,106 yards and had 10 touchdowns, a remarkable feat considering the team's young line and anemic passing game.

Donald had 69 tackles, 49 quarterback pressures, 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. He might be the league's best defensive tackle. Brockers, who had 27 solo tackles, is one of the league's best nose tackles. Johnson, a lock-down corner who had seven interceptions and broke up 17 passes, is the team's top priority in free agency. Jenkins, also a free agent, broke up 15 passes, had three interceptions and made 64 tackles.

Young bucks

Gurley is 21 and, with superior speed, power and field vision, figures to be more productive with experience and better blocking. He had 11 gains of more than 20 yards — second-most in the NFL — and a league-leading five plays covering 40 yards or more. Tavon Austin, 24, the eighth overall pick out of West Virginia in 2013, had 434 rushing yards, 473 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He is among the fastest players in the league, making him a threat as a receiver, running back or punt returner.

Explosive and athletic linebacker Alec Ogletree, 24, had 42 tackles and two sacks in four games before sustaining a broken leg. He was replaced by Mark Barron, who converted from safety to hybrid linebacker and led the team with 116 tackles, 14 for losses. Big things also are expected from 6-foot-3, 219-pound free safety T.J. McDonald, 24, the former USC star who suffered a shoulder injury in Game 11.

Tests in the West

The Seattle Seahawks, under former USC coach Pete Carroll for six seasons, have been the class of the NFC West, winning seven division titles in 12 years and reaching the Super Bowl three times, winning after 2013 and losing after 2005 and 2014.

Arizona (13-3) won the division in 2015 and reached the playoffs in 2014. San Francisco won the division in 2011 (13-3) and 2012 (11-4) but finished last this season after Jim Harbaugh, who guided the team to the Super Bowl after 2012, left to coach at Michigan. The 49ers on Thursday hired Chip Kelly, the former Oregon and Philadelphia Eagles coach.

Coaching carousel

The struggles of Foles and the passing game led to the firing of offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti in early December, and wide receivers coach Ray Sherman, running backs coach Ben Sirmans, offensive assistant Jeff Garcia and assistant special teams coach Paul F. Boudreau were let go after the season. The receiver corps was disappointing during Sherman's four-year tenure and particularly bad in 2015, when Rams receivers caught 137 passes for an NFL-low 1,635 yards and eight touchdowns.

Rob Boras, who replaced Cignetti, could be retained, but the Rams have reportedly expressed interest in Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. Gregg Williams, who has coached in the NFL for 25 years, is expected back for his third season as defensive coordinator, and the rest of the defensive staff is expected to be retained. The Foles trade put Les Snead, in his fourth year as Rams general manager, on shakier ground.

Draft intentions

The Rams, who boosted their defense with several key first-round picks in the past five years, have the 15th overall pick in April. They might have a shot at one of the top two-rated quarterbacks in the draft, Jared Goff of California and Paxton Lynch of Memphis, or they could look to bolster a receiving corps that hasn't had a wideout break the 1,000-yard mark since Torry Holt in 2007.

Where to see them

The full NFL schedule for next season isn't out yet, and the Rams don't know for sure where they will be playing their home games, though it looks like it will be at the Coliseum. What's known is that the home games will be against Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Carolina, Buffalo and Miami, plus a game in London against the New York Giants. The Rams will be on the road at Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, New England, New York Jets and Detroit. Ticket information is not yet available.

History lesson

Dan Reeves moved the Rams from Cleveland to Los Angeles in 1946, and the team remained in Southern California through 1994, playing 33 years in the Coliseum and its final 15 years in Anaheim Stadium.

During its Southland stay, the Rams had four owners — Reeves (1946-71), Robert Irsay (1971-72), Carroll Rosenbloom (1972-79) and Frontiere (1979-94) — 14 head coaches, including Sid Gillman, George Allen, Chuck Knox and John Robinson, and made 21 playoff appearances.

Among the highlights were a Norm Van Brocklin-led NFL championship in 1951 and a surprise Vince Ferragamo-led run to Super Bowl XIV, where the Rams lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19. Among the low lights were three straight losses in the NFC championship game — to Minnesota (14-10) in 1974, Dallas (37-7) in 1975 and Minnesota (24-13) in 1976.

The franchise produced 15 NFL Hall of Famers, including defensive ends Deacon Jones (1961-71) and Jack Youngblood (1971-84), defensive tackle Merlin Olsen (1962-76), offensive tackle Jackie Slater (1976-95) and running back Eric Dickerson (1983-87).

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 15, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Lots of baggage - The Rams are coming to L.A. with a star running back and an improving defense, but without a franchise-type quarterback" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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