Turf Show Times is the excellent Rams SB Nation blog, and one of their writers, 3K, was kind enough to do a Q and A with me about the upcoming game on Sunday. I answered his questions for TST, and you can find them right here.
1. It seems that since the end of the Greatest Show on Turf, the Rams have been offensively challenged, at least for the most part. When you drafted Sam Bradford, that seemed to turn things around, as he had one of the best rookie years for a QB in NFL history, but he really slumped last year. How is he doing this year, and is he progressing the way he should be?
Sam's been dealt a tough hand to this point in his career: poor offensive line play, a dearth of talent at WR and annual change among the relevant members of the coaching staff.
One thing Rams fans learned quite well is the effect a poor offensive line can have on a quarterback's confidence in timing and reads. In 2006, Marc Bulger topped 4,300 passing yards, had 24 TDs and posted a career low interception percentage of 1.4%...he was also sacked 49 times. His play regressed every year thereafter (coupled with injuries) and the Rams released him after the 2009 season, never playing another snap. I think that still lingers in the minds of Rams fans who have seen Sam take the punishment he has in the last three years.
As for the WR corps, it's a very young group now that they've re-tooled the unit. Danny Amendola's a great threat underneath, but is injured far too often to be counted on for more than 10 games a season. Brandon Gibson is far too erratic to have a place in the team's long-term aspects. The real hope for Rams fans is in the two rookies - Chris Givens and Brian Quick. Givens has tremendous deep speed and went on a tear in the middle of the season. There's enough game tape now that teams adjusted accordingly, and he's had to work the middle of the route tree to moderate success. As for Quick, coming for Appalachian St. didn't exactly prepare him for the NFL with top talent every Saturday. But he's got a big frame and the staff were wowed at the athleticism for his size he displayed both in college and throughout draft season. He's a long-term project, but Rams fans would have liked to have seen a bit more production from him at this point.
But IMO, what's really hampered Sam's development is the chaos among the offensive coaching staff the last three years. He's had two head coaches (Steve Spagnuolo and now Jeff Fisher), three offensive coordinators (Pat Shurmur, Josh McDaniels, Brian Schottenheimer this season) and "three" QB coaches (Dick Curl, nobody and now Frank Cignetti).
So while he's underperformed given the trajectory his rookie season put him on, he's had nearly everything possible working against him. That being said, he's having his best year and there's still work to be done in personnel, especially along the O-line. He still has the skill set to succeed in this league. He just needs a couple teammates you could say the same thing about.
2. Jeff Fisher was the big coaching hire from last off-season, and he seems to have brought a new attitude to St. Louis. Other than the record, what's the obvious difference between the Rams this year and from the Steve Spagnuolo years?
Experience. You know the saying, "Act like you've been there before." Well you you don't have to act "like" it if you actually have been. The Rams tried three head coaches who they promoted from a coordinator position: Mike Martz, Scott Linehan and Steve Spagnuolo. Martz tried to ride out the Greatest Show on Turf era for too long without restocking the cupboard, and the latter two just couldn't handle the breadth of the job (not saying they can't if they get another shot, but they certainly couldn't with the Rams). Fisher, on the other hand, knows how to manage the entirety of a roster.
Where Steve Spagnuolo implemented his "four pillars" to essentially make his job easier (and failed), Fisher's played this game for a long time. He was a head coach for 17 years. He knows how to handle the job. It's a complete 180 from recent Rams teams, and I don't think you'll find one who's uncomfortable about that.
3. You had asked me about the Vikings rebuilding the offensive line, because I suspect it's a subject that hits close to home for you. The Rams have had miss after miss in attempts to rebuild theirs, and it's gone on since Orlando Pace left. Is the line still a big concern, and is Bradford going to end up with shell shock, much like Marc Bulger did?
Whoa. Great minds and all.
It's a concern in terms of talent, but not in terms of maximizing talent. O-line Coach Paul Boudreau has done a magnificent job elevating the play of a line that has, at times, included guys like Joe Barksdale, Shelley Smith, Quinn Ojinnaka...on the field...in an NFL game...the Rams added the worst starting RT in the NFL in 2011 according to Football Outsiders (Barry Richardson) and the target of Jets' fans ire in the preseason (Wayne Hunter). The play at RT has improved from 2011...It's been tough to watch, but seeing the improved play and looking around the roster seeing less holes at least offers more realistic optimism that the line will improve in a short time. But no, it's not a very good unit, especially in the run game.
4. What was the bigger addition to the Rams secondary--Janoris Jenkins, mega talented but troubled rookie draft pick, or Cortland Finnegan, the big name free agent that followed Jeff Fisher from Tennessee to the Rams? And how is Jenkins doing? He was passed on by so many teams, he just seemed destined to dumb-ass himself out of the NFL. Is that still true, or has he turned it around?
Over the entirety of the season, I'd have to say Jenkins. That unit's been almost entirely rebuilt in a single year, with Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson coming through the draft and grabbing Finnegan in free agency. And they've looked really, really good especially when you recognize how poor the safety play has been. Rams fans can get frustrated at the defensive strategy of sitting the corners 6, 8 even 10 yards back off the line, but the Rams can't rely on safety help. It's worked well over the course of most games.
As for Jenkins, his problem was, in a word, weed. It wasn't the kind of behavioral stuff (see: Titus Young) that has coaches developing new curse words. Yes, he got in a bar fight. I was in the Army. I've forgotten more bar fights than most people see in their lives. It happens. And yes, he has four kids from three women...which isn't illegal, and is certainly well outside the boundary of judgement by most people. By all accounts, he's actually a very good father. Rams HC Jeff Fisher actually wanted to include a financial counselor as part of his contract to help him manage his finances and his family, but the CBA actually prevents that...and now we know. In any case, it hasn't been an issue. Fisher suspended him for a game (along with Chris Givens as I linked earlier) for missing practice. It was the right thing to do, and Rams fans hope the leaders in the locker room can help him understand how valuable he is to the team, because he's played very, very, very well this year.
5. Finally, a stadium question. Fans of Minnesota went through an ugly stadium battle before a new one was approved, and now the Rams are in the middle of one as well. How is it looking, what's the status of getting a new one or a refurbished Edward Jones Dome, and what's the time frame for resolution?
They've got two years, so the story won't be going away any time soon. And as you guys know, the way these things play out in the media can make you want to tune the whole story out. So as early as it is and both sides entrenching as much hyperbole as they can to stake out their ground, there's just not a ton to say here. The negotiation process is a process, and St. Louis fans just want a deal done to keep the team in the Lou. Now, me being from Dallas and becoming a fan of the Los Angeles Rams back in the mid-80's...I don't have much skin in the game. And there are plenty of LA-based fans who are hoping that somehow the team moves back. So yes, this threatens to be the most annoying Rams-related story since Kurt Warner's wife's hair.
Thanks to 3K and the good folks over at Turf Show Times for some great answers to some fairly mediocre questions.