The Dallas Cowboys welcome the St. Louis Rams to Cowboys Stadium on Sunday. To get a better idea of what's going on with the winless Rams, I turned to Turf Show Times, SB Nation's Rams blog, to get their take on 5 Questions I asked about their team.
Blogging The Boys: The Rams were an improved team last year with high hopes for 2011. So far, it's been a very rough ride. What couple of areas have had the most impact in creating the 0-5 record?
Turf Show Times: Foremost, key injuries have really hampered this team so far. On offense, Sam Bradford's most reliable safety valve, Danny Amendola, was sidelined in the first game with a dislocated elbow, and nearing his return he tore his triceps in practice putting him out of reach for the season. The Rams struggled while relying on rookies Austin Pettis and Greg Salas to fill Amendola's role, although Salas finally stepped up to the plate last week against the Packers with a very Amendola-ish effort finishing with 8 receptions for 77 yards.
Having more of an impact, though, has been the injuries at cornerback. First, it was our third corner (the likely nickel starter) Jerome Murphy who broke his ankle in the preseason - gone all year. Then it was our top starter, and one of the better press corners in the league, Ron Bartell. He fractured his neck vertebrae in two places in the opening game - also, gone for the year. Lastly, in a bye week practice, Bradley Fletcher injured the same knee he blew out in his 2009 rookie season - three's company. It's a huge hole that teams have easily exploited (see: Torrey Smith's first quarter in week 3), and it's one that the Rams likely don't have a solution for this year. Beyond the injuries, it's been a litany of small mistakes that have seen the Rams go from popular NFC West picks to cellar dwellers. Anyone who watched the MNF game against the Giants got a good look at how those mistakes have bitten the Rams in the boo-tay.
4 more to go...
BTB: Sam Bradford, will he play? Even if Bradford plays, do you expect to see an altered offensive scheme? If he doesn't, what's your take on A.J. Feeley?
TST: He'll be a game time decision, but if I had to guess I'd put my money on him starting. Part of that is his character, but maybe more relevant is Feeley. There's not a team in the National Football League that would want A.J. Feeley on the field in meaningful situations in their uniform. Still, quarterbacking hasn't been one of the top issues that have contributed to the Rams' horrendous start, so it's not as if Rams fans couldn't bear the pain of seeing Bradford on the sidelines. In terms of any changes to the system, I wouldn't expect much. The Rams don't have an incredibly deep game that require much power from Bradford's ankle. If anything, I wouldn't be surprised if they abandoned some of the designed rollouts like this one.
BTB: Brandon Lloyd is now a Ram. What's his role going to be? Is he the #1 guy now? Mark Clayton is getting healthy, do you expect Clayton to play? Talk about the receiving corps in general.
TST: Who knows. Danario Alexander is the most athletic deep threat, Salas stepped into the slot role well last week, Kendricks has shown glimpses of being the kind of TE that changes passing defenses, and now Brandon Lloyd and Mark Clayton come on board. I honestly don't know what to expect with this unit. Just guessing, I might expect Lloyd to settle into the top spot quickly if only for his experience under Josh McDaniels, then-Bronco head coach, now-Ram OC. Clayton, if truly healthy, has to factor in. He exhibited the greatest level of synchronization in the passing game last year before blowing out his knee. Alexander is too useful to become an afterthought. If anyone gets pushed out, I would guess it would be Brandon Gibson, a nimble option for a WR unit, but one that has seemingly been pushed aside by chemistry, athleticism and youth elsewhere on the roster.
BTB: Why did the Rams release Laurent Robinson? He's been a big help to Dallas, especially with all the injuries we've had at receiver.
TST: He never really settled into his role, partially because too much was being asked for him. I've seen three Cowboys games this year, and it's obvious that the talent the Cowboys have in the passing game (Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten) open things up for Robinson that the Rams' receiving options didn't during his tenure with the Rams. Honestly, I see both moves (his release from the Rams and the Cowboys' subsequent pick up) as one of those rare win-wins.
BTB: The defense is clearly struggling. Break it down as to what's gone wrong.
TST: As mentioned above, the cornerback injuries can't be ignored. The Rams were forced to push Justin King into a starting role, and he's just incapable of performing at that level. He's a blatant deficiency, and the fact that teams have come out throwing at him early only reinforces the fact to future opponents. Another issue has been the decline of Fred Robbins. Last year, the Rams picked up Fred Robbins from the Giants in free agency, a move that looked like a masterstroke as Robbins went on to have a huge positive impact in run defense and proved to be capable in the pass rush. Age, it seems, caught up with him in the offseason, as he has been ineffectual in all aspects of the game.
The Rams have a few bodies to play at the 3-tech, but nobody that really hampers offensive line protection. So to bring pressure, the Rams are forced to blitz often, leaving weak cornerbacks in single coverage and only Quintin Mikell as a capable pass defender at the back. Craig Dahl puts himself in good position in the run game, but lacks much power for a run-stopping SS. And Darian Stewart is still too raw to be relied on. It's not the most elegant defense, but coming off of a performance in which the Packers scored the least points in any of their games thus far this year (and shutting them out for the second half) could be a turning point. Of course at this stage, the Rams have an impressive collection of seemingly positive collection points. Let me know if you guys need some...
Thanks for the knowledge, Turf Show Times.