To give you a preview of tonight's game, I traded scouting reports with Turf Show Times' Joe McAtee, AKA 3K. Big thanks to Joe for the collaboration - follow him on Twitter HERE. In the meantime, on to the report - my questions in bold, his answers follow.
1. Obviously, things change now that Sam Bradford is out for the year, but can you describe what the issues on offense have been outside of the quarterback position? What's working, what's not going well?
NOTHING CHANGES WE WILL GET BEHIND KELLEN CLEMENS AND SUPPORT HIM AS WE CONTINUE TO TAKE THIS SEASON GAME BY GAME TO OHMYGOD IT'S ALL FIRE AND BLEACH SEND HELP SEND HELP SEND HELP...ok. I'm better now. I think the Rams are just a mess of pieces that have yet to be organized in a sensible fashion honestly.
Between Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Tavon Austin and Jared Cook, the passing game didn't have any real identity to replicate. Givens hasn't really been used deep to open things underneath in the way we saw last year. Pettis has been a reliable target and is kind of the anomaly here. Austin has been the most confusing piece, being targeted inconsistently and used, um, inefficiently I would say. Cook has been all over the place. So the passing game is just unpredictable.
On the running game, it took the Rams a handful of games to move on from Daryl Richardson as the starter and firmly backseat Isaiah Pead. It's been a good move, but it's one of those moves I wonder why it took so long to get to. There's a preseason for a reason and all that...
So it's a young team with an imperfect offensive line that struggles with discipline and is now having to move through this season without the only realistically reliable QB. Yay.
2. Similarly, what is your take on Tavon Austin's season thus far? Has it been an issue with the OC not knowing how to use Austin or is it more that he's just a rookie and will need time to adjust to the NFL game?
So on Austin. We've discussed this quite a bit at TST, and yet I'm not sure I have a great answer. Sure, part of it has been the playcalling. When you come from a Dana Holgorsen-crafted offense that is so multi-faceted and allows the field to open up and go into Brian Schottenheimer's very NFLish restrained and repetitive classic offense, there are going to be growing pains. What is frustrating, having seen him a ton at WVU, is that speed and acceleration aren't learning curve skills.
The Rams definitely could have done a better job opening things for him early on in the season. But they're getting there. Not to belabor the discipline point, but he's had multiple touchdowns called back for penalties. The natural talent is undeniable. He'll get his traditional stats up. Again though like the Zac Stacy decision, you wonder why it took an experienced coaching staff so many games to this point in the season and why they weren't already there in week one.
3. On defense, what have been some bright spots and what are some of the vulnerable areas?
The only real bright spots have been DE Robert Quinn and OLB Alec Ogletree. Quinn's up to seven sacks (6th in the league) and that's with two games in which big leads were established that allowed the Rams' opponents to lean into the running game. He is undeniably one of the best pure pass rushers in the game.
Ogletree, on the other hand, is a modern OLB. He would have no place in the AFC North, but he's athletic as all get out. He's got three forced fumbles (not backfield QB hit-driven fumbles mind you) and a 98-yard interception return for a TD. He's a perfect option for the modern NFL to stem opposing passing attacks in nickel sets.
4. How has the rookie class outside of Austin looked so far?
Not bad at all. Austin, Ogletree, and Stacy are all firmly planted as key starters (and I hate using that term for the NFL since you can run out any wacky formation as your first play, but you guys know what I mean - first teamers, how about that).
T.J. McDonald was growing into his rookie season until he broke his leg against the Niners. He could be back this season, but if the Rams' season has us looking with more focus toward the draft by the time he comes off of IR, it may make more sense to just give him the whole year off to heal up.
CB Brandon McGee is starting to see more playing time, though we'll have to see how that works out once Cortland Finnegan is back in the rotation. Stedman Bailey has been limited largely to special teams and Barrett Jones hasn't cracked the rotation after a foot injury delayed his rookie season learning curve.
So it's definitely a solid group with good top options, but that should be expected somewhat with the capital the Rams had to spend last April.
5. What's the mood like in St. Louis fandom now that Bradford is out for the year? Is the year a wash? Is there still hope to make a run in the NFC West?
Is empoopened a word? Sadsoulish? It's just so unfair to Sam to see his season end like that, a season of which we debated whether or not represented a make or break year, a season in which he was on target to post career highs in every category except interceptions. He had more passing yards than Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. He was working a strong 7:2 TD to INT ratio (that of the 14 TD, 4 INT variety with three of those interceptions being incredibly fluky). He had stretches in which he showed wonderful command and managed a pretty bland offensive scheme very well. For someone who has dealt with such inconsistency among his coaching staff, to have such an untimely season-ending injury...it's just crappy on so many levels.
But we have to play the season out. Is it a wash? Do we have a real shot at the postseason? My head says hell no. I'll lean on that until I'm given any results to suggest otherwise. But hey, it's the NFL. Maybe the defense steps up. Maybe Tavon Austin takes his play to another level. Maybe the coaches feel pressured to use some more risky offensive alternatives in Bradford's absence. Maybe we get a couple lucky bounces. Maybe we cut down on the damn penalties. Maybe we get Greg Zuerlein more opportunities to take some rationally unacceptably long field goal attempts.
We've got three games before the bye to put things in order for the final half dozen. Would I rather have Sam Bradford than Kellen Clemens/Austin Davis/Brady Quinn/Brett Favre/Stan Gelbaugh? Of course. But this is a team game. There's plenty left to achieve. If we don't make the playoffs? In 2007-2009 and 2011, cumulatively, we won eight games. Eight. In those four years, we went 8-56. The team as a whole is better. Losing our franchise QB? Sure it might drop this season off. But we're on an upward path, and that's worth more than not being on one.