It's time for our weekly tradition of speaking with the enemy. So here are 5 Questions posed to Turf Show Times with some solid answers. Enjoy!
Blogging The Boys: What's the situation at tackle where Roger Saffold was hurt? Joe Barksdale is going to replace him, how much might this affect the Rams on Sunday.
Turf Show Times: The Rams' offensive line isn't stacked with a ton of talent. And that was certainly the case last year before adding Jake Long to take over at LT. Nevertheless, offensive line coach Paul T. Boudreau (the middle initial being necessary to distinguish him from his son, Assistant Special Teams Coach Paul F. Boudreau) worked magic all season last year keeping Sam safer than he should have been behind the lines that were protecting him. That's continued to be the case so far this year as the Rams are the only team in the NFL yet to surrender a sack. Throw in the final two games of their 2012 season, and that extends to a four-game sackless streak. So the sample size is getting large enough to lend some credibility to the line's ability to protect Sam.
As for Barksdale himself, he got enough snaps last year where he's not entirely green. He was at a minimum competent last week, and combined with Boudreau(T-type)'s ability to get the line to function as a unit and not five individuals, I expect a solid showing against a very tough test on Sunday.
BTB: It's been a slow start for the running game without Steven Jackson, but the Rams have been playing from behind a lot. Can the Rams run the ball and will they on Sunday?
TST: Technically, yes and yes. If I'm answering those questions sincerely, probably not and yes they have to. As I talked above, the line isn't especially talented. So they're not going to consistently create huge running lanes. I think that's part of the decision to continue rolling with starting RB Daryl Richardson who might have the smallest skill set for any starting RB in the NFL. There's not a ton he can do. He's far too small to power over tacklers, he doesn't have nearly any elusiveness to juke defenders and he's not a supreme athlete out of the backfield.
So what does he do? He avoids dancing in the backfield at all costs and accelerates like a rocket. It's not highlight fodder. He'll ride his lead blocker on a 3-yard hole for a 3-yard gain over and over and over. It's better than RBs who are more talented that might try to open up a bigger hole and either get stopped at the LOS or even lose yards. It's consistent, and it's productive...but just barely. Many Rams fans are hopeful that Isaiah Pead can begin to justify his 2nd round draft status in his second year, but a lack of playing time last season, a week one suspension this year and an acute case of fumblitis have put him so far behind the curve, he's still playing from behind at this point.
BTB: Cortland Finnegan and the Rams secondary have been picked on a bit this season. What's going on back there and is there a possible fix coming?
TST: This might be the biggest source of Rams fans' angst right now. It's the defensive scheme. Whether it's because the safeties are so young or because the coaches haven't the level of play they want to to rely on them in more isolated defensive situations or because it's just the kind of defense they feel most comfortable with (and Rams fans are worried its the third), HC Jeff Fisher and first-year Rams DC Tim Walton are leaving the cornerbacks deep off the line. Through two games against seasoned QBs like Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan, they're more than comfortable to work the soft center of that defense picking up shorter gains keeping the chains moving...and their defenses rested. I've read about Tony Romo's truncated passing this season, and ironically, the Rams might be the best situation for that shorter passing game right now.
And while the coaches have on the whole made some successful second-half adjustments in both games, each game featured a blown coverage on the best WR on the field. In week one, Cortland Finnegan whiffed on a half-press, half-off coverage attempt on Larry Fitzgerald. It was far too easy a TD for someone as good as Larry Fitz. In week two, Janoris Jenkins overplayed a soft inside move from Julio Jones without safety cover. It turned a 12-yard throw into an 81-yard TD. It's indicative of some sloppy play from the Rams this season that includes far too many penalties and is evidence that the youngest team in the NFL tends to play like it.
BTB: Sam Bradford's career has been up and down, how's he looking this year?
TST: Actually, he's looking wonderful. The season-to-season consistency he hasn't been afforded before this year certainly has an effect.Turning over some combination of your HC, OC or QB coach every year doesn't exactly help the development of your young franchise QB. Sam might have developed a more diverse game approach because of it, but there were times he looked more of a problem than a solution. That hasn't been the case this season. He's commanding the offense, and in the case of both games in which the Rams dug themselves a hole, he's led second half comeback efforts with aplomb. He made a crucial mistake in the opener throwing a batted pass in front of the Rams end zone leading to an easy pick six, and he might need to get a bit more aggressive downfield on second reads when the line holds up. But overall, he's having his best individual start to a season by far.
BTB: What must go right for the Rams on Sunday? How do they achieve victory in Dallas?
TST: First off, they've got to avoid digging a third consecutive hole to crawl out of. That starts with a defensive gameplan that doesn't make it so easy for opposing offenses early. It doesn't mean the Rams have to abandon the soft coverage shell they've leaned on this year. But they have to add a wrinkle (ESPECIALLY on third downs that have been met with so many groans from Rams fans this year) that takes away easy yards. Allowing the linebackers to release earlier? More aggressive safety play? Blitzes? Sure. They've mixed in all three in second halves, and in varying the application of all three, it's worked well. The first halves, though, have been without those switches, and it's been ugly. They'll need to get it going before 30 minutes of gameplay are over.
Offensively, a stronger run game would certainly help, but between the Rams' O-line and a stable of RBs that haven't really stood out, I'm more skeptical than assured that one is coming. So a Rams win likely relies more on getting the passing game going earlier. There's not much reason it can't. Jared Cook, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens -- all three offer great options for Sam Bradford to rack up yardage.
Lastly, and perhaps unexpectedly given Jeff Fisher's experience as a head coach, the guys in polos have to get better. The penalty situation has gotten out of control. The staff has to get that cleaned up. Has to. And some of the offensive gameplanning has been too conservative even for me, who's probably more comfortable with conservative football than 90% of the TST family. I get that the staff trusts the defense and that with a kicker like Greg Zuerlein who can bomb field goals from inhuman distances they might not feel beholden to the same level of risk aversion (or lack thereof in this case) that other teams do. But the Rams aren't there yet. They're too young and too sloppy to play that style of football, and the start to this season has proven it. When they've opened things up in the second half (even in the case of going to the no huddle last week), they've been more impressive. Finding the balance in the gray area between might be the staff's biggest challenge this year. Sunday probably gives us our best assessment of whether or not they're succeeding in that challenge.
Thanks Turf Show Times!