It's back to the Q&A grind this week, as Will of Rams Herd, Bloguin's St. Louis Rams blog, stops by to answer a few questions about this week's big matchup at the Edward Jones Dome against Cortland Finnegan, Jared Cook, William Hayes, some Rams players who did not in fact ever play for the Titans, and, oh yes, Jeff Fisher's mustache.
The last game between the two teams came back in 2009, a blowout Titans win against a bad St. Louis squad that ended up with the first overall pick. The last game in St. Louis was back in 2005. That game, the first NFL contest I attended in 17 years, included a Steve McNair pick-6 after a Chris Brown touchdown run that would have made it 17-0 early in the second quarter was nullified by holding on Bo Scaife, a big day by Kyle Vanden Bosch until then-rookie and future bust Alex Barron was inserted into the lineup, and a plethora of mistakes and generally sloppy play by two teams that would finish a combined 10-22. So, it's been a while since we've seen the Rams, which meant a Q&A was really in order.
In addition to answering my questions, Will also sent me questions which I answered over on Rams Herd. I'll update this post when that goes up. (Update: it's up).
Total Titans: From the Titans perspective, it's reunion week, most notably with longtime coach Jeff Fisher. A season and a half into the Fisher era in St. Louis, what's the view of the man on the sidelines?
Rams Herd: There has been some grumbling about Fisher already, especially early on as the Rams really struggled to create an identity on offense or defense, and were attracting obscene amounts of penalties on special teams. There hasn’t been as much grace for the head coach this year despite working with a very young team (younger than last year’s).
That said, we’ve seen some truly terrible coaching here in St Louis, and Fisher is far from that. But the partnership between him and Brian Schottenheimer has yet to make us forget about the glory days of Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz. Now that Sam Bradford is out, the rest of the season will really be a reflection on the head coach and how much of a difference he can make.
Total Titans: When Sam Bradford went down, I immediately declared Kellen Clemens the worst current starting quarterback in the NFL. Did you see anything against the Seahawks that makes you want to stand up and support Clemens aside from that he's currently the quarterback of your team, and seriously, you couldn't find anybody better?
Rams Herd: It’d be a pretty tight horserace between Clemens, Matt Barkley and this year’s version of Josh Freeman for those honors. Blaine Gabbert has got to be feeling almost good about himself by comparison. The trouble for the Rams is that if they were to plug in Austin Davis or Brady Quinn, not only might things actually get worse, but the rest of the offense would be stuck on page one of the playbook.
The only advantage that Clemens provides over the other options available (or potentially available via trade etc.) is that Schottenheimer can continue to do whatever it is that he does with the full playbook available. The Rams can still use their skill players to keep defenses honest, which appeared to be effective in creating lanes for the running game against Seattle. But… when it comes time for Clemens to actually make a throw? It’s cover-your-eyes time.
Total Titans: Given that Clemens will be unlikely to support a high- or even modest-efficiency passing game, how will the Rams try to move the ball on offense?
Rams Herd: Like you say, you can throw “efficiency” out the window with Clemens at QB, but this is still the modern NFL and you can’t just run the ball 40 times, particularly when your newfound starting running back has a tender ankle and banged-up ribs. The Rams’ approach in the passing game is what I would call a shotgun blast of cover fire.
Per PFF’s game charting, Clemens threw at least one pass to 11 of the 12 quadrants of the field. He actually targeted the intermediate zone more often than Bradford tended to. He is also more likely to get out of the pocket and throw on the run. Each of these things can keep a defense from just flooding the box to either load up against the run or pin its ears back and all-out rush the QB.
With the speed of the Rams’ skill players, opposing defenses have to defend as though the QB can actually make these throws, whether or not that is the case.
Total Titans: The Rams looked very impressive in shutting down the Seahawks offense on Monday night. The Rams have looked very unimpressive on defense in some other games, perhaps most notably the game against the Cowboys where DeMarco Murray had a zillion yards on the ground (actual number 175). How good is defense, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
Rams Herd: Our run defense was awful early, with rookie LB Alec Ogletree not really being comfortable filling run gaps, and decrepit Will Witherspoon opposite him. There were times I would watch the film on a big play and see Witherspoon sitting off by himself, whittling doll furniture like Lester Freamon on the Wire. Because James Laurinaitis is playing a Tampa Two MLB position, you can often take him out of a run play by running a tight end out in a pattern – Laurinaitis will vacate the box and travel downfield to follow, leaving the other two LBs and an inexperienced safety to clean up whatever the defensive line cannot.
That has improved in recent weeks with the return of Jo-Lonn Dunbar to replace Witherspoon. Dunbar is a bit of a liability in coverage, but he can read a run and lay a hit as well as anyone on the team.
The defensive line is legit, though, particularly Robert Quinn on the QB’s blind side. He has sharpened his pass-rush arsenal and is equally capable beating you with a swim move inside or rocket-speed outside. Playing next to Michael Brockers helps a lot, as Brockers is a legit talent at DT.
Total Titans: Is there anything I haven't asked you about you'd like Titans fans to know about the Rams?
Rams Herd: Well, I commend you for not being the zillionth person to ask “What’s wrong with Tavon Austin?” So instead, I’ll opine about what’s wrong with Jared Cook. He had a week one offensive outburst against the Cardinals, and has barely been seen since. In essence, he now looks exactly like what the Titans thought he was – a no-block player whose outstanding speed can be neutralized by physical press coverage. It will be interesting to see how the Titans defend him, and how well he responds.
Thanks again to Will for participating in this week's Q&A. Don't forget to check out Rams Herd for my answers to his questions and lots of great Rams coverage