Time once again for our weekly “Five Questions, Five Answers” look at the upcoming opponent. This week, helping us out is Joseph Lyons, who covers the Rams for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Seahawks and the Rams play Monday night in St. Louis
Question 1: Will the Rams offense look much different with Kellen Clemens at QB rather than Sam Bradford?
A: I don’t think so. Clemens has been Sam’s back-up for a couple of years and is extremely comfortable in running (offensive coordinator) Brian Schottenheimer’s system. He’ll need some time to get up to speed with the receivers/tight ends on the first unit, so the extra day of practice this week is a bonus. Clemens isn’t nearly as accurate as Bradford, but he’s probably a little more of a risk-taker. The Rams’ success in recent wins over Jacksonville and Houston was tied heavily to rookie Zac Stacy and the run game. They’re going to try to establish the run as much as possible to hopefully make life a bit easier for Clemens.
Q2: Statistically, the Rams’ offense wasn’t ranked real high even with Bradford. What has been the main problem?
A: The dropped passes and penalties have been a big problem for this team. Coming into the season, with new weapons like (tight end) Jared Cook (pictured above in an Associated Press photo scoring a touchdown in the season opener against the Cardinals) and Tavon Austin added, the Rams tried to go to more of a spread-it-out passing attack. But that’s a hard offense to run when you’re trailing early as the Rams were in early-season losses to Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco. So Coach Jeff Fisher went back to basics and his style of football. Running the ball and using more of a play-action attack, the offense has been better over the last month or so. But the mistakes continue to limit this team. Last Sunday at Carolina, a long TD pass was called back because of a tripping call on Jake Long and another perfectly thrown pass was dropped in the end zone by Brian Quick.
Q3: The Rams last year tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 52 but are not on quite the same pace this season. What’s changed?
A: A big part of that, I believe, is tied to game situations. Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco played most of their wins over the Rams with big leads and didn’t put themselves into any real must-pass situations. As well as Dallas and San Francisco ran the ball, there really wasn’t much need to throw. The play on the line has been good, but not as consistent as last year. But it’s still the key to this defense. Guys like Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers have to make plays.
Q4: The St. Louis secondary has had a few injuries. How has it been playing?
A: The play at safety has been spotty at best. The Rams entered the season with two untested safeties in rookie T.J. McDonald (out with a broken leg and replaced by Darian Stewart) and Rodney McLeod and they’re still making way too many mistakes. Veteran corner Cortland Finnegan has been out the last few weeks with a hamstring injury and, frankly, was struggling before getting hurt. Second-year corners Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson have been decent at times, but this unit has been giving up way too many big-yard plays.
Q5: Finally, from afar it seems like the team has been a little bit of a disappointment after entering the season with some saying it was a darkhorse playoff contender. Is that a fair assessment?
A: A very good assessment. After making some positive strides in last year, going 7-8-1 overall and 4-1-1 in the division in the first year under Jeff Fisher and making some off-season noise with the additions of Jake Long, Jared Cook, Tavon Austin, etc., I think some figured the Rams would simply continue to move on that positive path. But it’s usually not that easy. This is still the youngest team in the league, a team that’s playing a very good schedule in a division with the two teams most touted by most as the ones to beat in the NFC. Entering the season, I felt like this was team that was probably a year away from being a real contender and I think most of the regulars at Rams Park were projecting 7-9, 8-8 or 9-7 for this team. The disappointment, I think, has been in the way they’ve lost. They weren’t even competitive in the losses at Dallas and at home on a Thursday night against San Francisco and they continue to make a lot of the same mistakes (dropped passes, costly penalties, etc.) over and over. And now, with Bradford finished for 2013, I think it’ll be real interesting to see how this group responds.