For those of you still unfamiliar with the work of one Joe McAtee, aka 3k, from over at Turf Show Times, Mocking the Draft, and other places around the SB Nation Network, the first thing I'd recommend checking out is his excellent Playbook Projector series of articles that teach some of the finer nuances of the game. But before that -- see what he had to say below about the Rams and their season thus far. My questions in italics, then his replies.
DK - It's tough to talk about the Rams without first bringing up Sam Bradford. I remember talking to you about Bradford last season and we talked about his somewhat arrested development with multiple OCs, young receivers, a shaky line, and an injured ankle -- in your eyes, how has he progressed this season under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer? In terms of accuracy, decisiveness, willingness to pull the trigger, how has he looked in weeks one through three, for Seahawks' fans that haven't seen him?
3k - Yeah, I think the sample size makes it a little tough to gauge his progress appropriately, as Kenneth "Internet Pimpin'" Arthur noted on your side recently. In week one, he was efficient. The Rams ran a very balanced offense, in terms of matching the passing output to the running game. He made few mistakes, and led the offense down the field for a field goal that put them in front with less than two minutes. In week two, he was spectacular in what was likely the best single game performance of his career.
With Danny Amendola exploiting the Redskins' inexplicably stubborn zone defense, Bradford operated effectively in the spaces between their LBs and secondary. Last week...was weird. The Rams shunned the ground game from the start, and relied on a passing game that was rendered inept largely due to an offensive line that spent more time helping Sam up than they did preventing him from needing to be helped up.
To your specifics, Bradford's accuracy should never be in question, save for 30+ yard passes. He has an uncanny ability to put the ball on a shoulder 20 yards downfield when he has time to do so. It's kind of gross. The decisiveness and willingness has been the problem, and as we discussed last time, it's largely due to factors outside his control. The O-line has suffered more early injuries than any other unit; given the state it was in even when healthy (patchwork at best), it's not something to feel strongly about. Despite efforts to add more bodies at WR, the Rams haven't found a breakthrough stud that Sam can rely on except for Amendola when defenses allow him to play into space.
I still think he's a wonderful QB. But the issues working against him aren't ones that he can thrive under, unlike say an RGIII or a Christian Ponder. It's not that Sam lacks athleticism. It's that he makes good situations better. He did so at Oklahoma when surrounded by strong talents. He did so in 2010 when he had the best O-line play of his career. Unfortunately, I just don't think this O-line has the quality to allow Sam to do what he does best - work the field laterally and space out pass defenses to open up other holes for him to exploit (oh man, that's ripe for some innuendo).
DK - What about the rest of the Rams' offense? I remember hearing a lot of good things about Isaiah Pead, Chris Givens, and Brian Quick prior to the draft but they've been fairly quiet early on... What have you seen from them, and are there any other youngins on the offense that have really impressed early this season? Wiley vets on the offense that are making their presence known thus far?
3k - Honestly, the marquee names on the offensive side from the Rams' 2012 draft class have been pretty quiet. Quick has yet to make an impact, and was made inactive last Sunday (much to many a Rams fans' chagrin). Givens has displayed the top end speed he was drafted for, but the O-line doesn't consistently protect Sam to the point he, or the staff, feels comfortable dropping deep to allow enough time for Givens to get behind defenses.
As for Pead, he's flat out been outplayed by 7th round selection Daryl Richardson. There's not a Rams fan out there who doesn't enjoy Richardson's no-nonsense style. You won't see him dance in the backfield. Ever. He explodes toward his gap decision, chooses quickly, and hits that gap hard. It's been his play that allowed Jeff Fisher to sit Steven Jackson almost the entire Washington game after a groin tweak. He's nearly matched Jackson's output in half the carries. Put short, because he's so limited skill-wise, it's worked to his, and the Rams', advantage. And while most opposing fan bases don't know about him, I guarantee the coaching staffs are seeing him on tape and adjusting their defensive game plans appropriately.
The rest of the offense? As I mentioned above, it's disjointed right now. I still don't know the identity of this passing offense. Brandon Gibson has been inconsistent - performing well in crucial situations here, forehead-slappingly poor there. All the other WRs besides Amendola and Gibson haven't made much of their playing time. TE Lance Kendricks has been a reliable target underneath, but hasn't found any space up the seam or toward the sideline. On Sunday, do they show any indication of what Rams fans should expect week to week? I doubt it. With this O-line and the relative youth at WR, it's something Schottenheimer likely has to play with week to week both to throw opponents off, but also to help patch over the deficiencies.
DK - Steven Jackson is St. Louis' version of the Beastmode -- only he's been doing it much longer. What's Jackson's status of late and what should we expect from Jackson on Sunday? Further - how would you characterize the Rams' offensive formula thus far? Run-heavy, balanced, spread it out?
3k - Well the groin injury and Richardson's impressive early performances have limited his work rate the last two weeks. He spent much of the Bears game on the sideline with some kind of pillow-looking pad wrapped around that groin. Nevertheless, he's still one of the best all-around RBs I've ever seen. The real problem is opportunity. Give him a hole, and he can carve out 13 yards like he did last week. Don't, and he'll plod ahead through 10 other carries for just 16 yards...like he did last week.
If anything, at this point, it's been a passing offense overall. As I mentioned above, it was largely balanced the first two weeks; last week, the run game was abandoned. Why? Who knows. You're not going to get a ton of info from a Jeff Fisher regime. Will they repeat the unbalanced attack this weekend? I literally have no idea. This offense is so hard to get a grasp on.
I think the question is how they scheme for your offense which has been so run heavy to this point. The interior D-line isn't a strength, we don't get great run support from the safeties, and we're only two LBs deep. I certainly don't feel strong about a run defense a year removed from last year's escalator run defense ("Oh, you're trying to get to the next level? Let us help you! Eighth floor, kitchenware!").
DK - Much like the Seahawks, I think the identity that the Rams are developing is that of a hard-nosed, tough defensive team. What could you tell me about the Rams' schemes this season under new coach Jeff Fischer? Are they running in base a lot? Nickel, dime? Which players names should Seahawks' fans know going into Sunday?
3k - Oh good, I get to stop talking about the offense. That's good not just because the offense is so enigmatic, but because the defense has been sooooooo good. The defensive line has been great in the pass rush, decent in run defense; bear in mind, the Rams' first round selection, DT Michael Brockers, is yet to make his NFL regular season debut...which he will on Sunday in all likelihood.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar is the best outside linebacker to play aside James Laurinaitis. And while the safeties are a liability, the cornerbacks have been wonderful. Mixing up Cortland Finnegan, rookie Janoris Jenkins and Bradley Fletcher, the Rams have stifled, negated, and yes, frustrated opposing WRs each week.
And it's been a lot of nickel work, despite the last two games offering relatively balanced offenses from the Skins and Bears (I recognize the Skins are a run-heavy team, but against the Rams they tallied 29 passes and 29 runs).
DK - If you're the Rams' coaching staff - how do you gameplan for the Seahawks' offense, and what matchups would you look to exploit against the Seahawks defense?
Oh crab crap sandwiches. I think I answered that in the last one. I think part of what the Rams have to do is rely on the pass rush to stock up in other areas. The DE-CB combo is going to make it really tough on opposing passing games.
The problem, then, is that you guys have been so proficient on the ground. It certainly makes for an interesting matchup with two strength on weakness battles. And I don't know that there's much to exploit against you guys. Against Stafford, RGIII and Cutler, the game was to provide pressure and capitalize on bad decisions. In all three games, it worked. Stafford threw three picks, and again against the Lions, the Rams kicked the ball away leading with just 1:55 to go. Against the Skins, the Rams forced RGIII to play short. Despite a high completion percentage, he was limited to just more than seven yards per attempt including an interception. And Jay Cutler? 17/31, 183 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT. That's pretty damn good.
I think given the strength of the pass defense, they have to overload (at least early) against the run. Bring a safety up. Pinch the LBs (all three of the Rams' top CBs are plus tacklers in the run game). Maybe Brockers makes a big enough impact to help mollify the Seahawks' running offense. If nothing else, he's allowed me to use "mollify" in a Q&A. Tip o' the cap. In all, I think the bigger question is what the Rams' offense can produce against the Seahawks' impressive defense to this point. With rookie K Greg Zuerlein's insane leg (he's got the power to hit from the upper 60s), the Rams can make the most out of field position wins. Will they get any on Sunday? I think that could well decide the outcome.
Awesome stuff, and big thanks to 3k for the in-depth scouting report. Head over to Turf Show Times for more.