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5 Qs, 5 As with Turf Show Times

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

One of the reasons I don’t believe in any true “rebuild” happening in the NFL is clearly exhibited in the case of the 2018 LA Rams. They did not rebuild. They just made necessary changes and got better virtually overnight.

From 2005-2014, the Seattle Seahawks went 17-3 against the St. Louis Rams. Then from 2015-2016, the Seahawks went 1-3 in those games despite the fact that the Rams went just 4-12 in the latter of those two years. In that offseason, the Rams hired Sean McVay to replace the fired Jeff Fisher, signed Andrew Whitworth to play left tackle, and added Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and moved Lamarcus Joyner from corner to free safety. Yes, LA already had Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, and an incredible special teams unit in place, but they didn’t really “rebuild” at all ...

They built. They had a few great pieces and they finally put them in a position to succeed and win games.

In 2017, the Rams went 11-5 and won the division. With a little more time to get comfortable in their current positions, a few more additions, LA is now 8-1 and Seattle is the biggest underdog they’ve been in a game since drafting Russell Wilson in 2012. How quickly these things change: in 2016, the Seahawks were 6.5 games better than the Rams and less than two years later, few are expecting a Seattle victory in the Coliseum on Sunday.

To get a better understanding of how far the Rams have come and what to expect this weekend, I sent five Qs to Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times and in kind he sent me five corresponding As.

Joe also joined my on the Seahawks Chats podcast this week; any podcast episodes from me will now be availably exclusively to Patreon donors at only $2 per month. Pledge and get the RSS link or download for weekly chats on the Seahawks, their opponents, and all other NFL related topics. This will be an ongoing thing so please do pledge if you’ve enjoyed any of my podcasts (3000 NFL Mock Draft, Real in the Field Gulls, Seaside Chats) in the past! Me and Joe go way deeper than the five Qs below, but check ‘em both out.

Now onto the Qs!

Q: The Rams are 8-1 and undeniably in contention for the Super Bowl in a way that they haven’t been since 2001, but how significant are the issues on defense? Are you concerned that even if LA goes 15-1 that it might only take one Drew Brees or one big game from Cam Newton or possibly if he gets in there, Aaron Rodgers, to upend the Rams in the playoffs? Would you undo the Marcus Peters trade if you could?

A: Pretty significant. The Rams have two issues right now: edge pass rush and coverage. The former is a talent issue. The latter is an execution issue.

Pass rush off the edge used to be the strength of the entire Rams roster. The early Jeff Fisher era Rams had Robert Quinn and Chris Long and William Hayes and Eugene Sims at defensive end. They were talented and deep off the edge. But Sean McVay’s first year in charge had Robert Quinn, miscast in a 3-4 OLB role and clearly sapped by various injuries, and Connor Barwin who was brought in more for his knowledge of and experience in Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ defense. The Rams moved on from both and promoted from within bringing Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre into starting roles where neither has flourished. Recently added Dante Fowler Jr. brings perhaps more talent but the cost of his arrival and the sheer fact the Jacksonville Jaguars were willing to part with him suggests he won’t be the panacea many Rams fans are hoping for.

Coverage, though, doesn’t have such an obvious dearth of talent on the depth chart even while CB Aqib Talib is out injured. CB Marcus Peters is a two-time Pro Bowler who is coming off of a horrorshow against the New Orleans Saints. Fan Favorite CB Troy Hill’s career with the Rams has been a rollercoaster. He struggled in 2016 but was stellar down the stretch in 2017 including in the wild card playoff game. This year, he’s again been the subject to fan ire. CB Nickell Robey-Coleman is a stellar slot corner, but given his size has limitations of what he can be expected to do. And while S Lamarcus Joyner and S John Johnson III are positives in run support, Joyner has had a down year after a stellar 2017.

The combination of the two has plagued the Rams for weeks now. And as to how concerned I am about it in big games, I’m understandably very concerned given that both aspects were exploited against the New Orleans Saints last week. It’s not something the Rams can’t find ways to win in spite of (they were 8-0 until last week after all), but it’s the sheer fact that you don’t get a whole series of games in football like in baseball, basketball or hockey. The NFL postseason is built on single game installments. And like you mentioned, it only takes one big game from a Drew Brees or whomever the Rams face when it counts to undo all the positives of this team and there are a lot.

Would I undo the Marcus Peters trade? No. I think we’re looking at a low point, and it’s a bit hard to assess things at the lowest level. At season’s end when we have a full sense of how he performed especially after the regular season, maybe my answer would change. But the Rams brought a two-time Pro Bowl corner in at a cost less than a first-round pick. That the Rams haven’t gotten his best play is maybe a task for Phillips to take on quickly and turn things around. And if he does, maybe we’re looking at things a bit differently in a few weeks.

Q: I was a bit surprised that the Rams could still find money and room for Dante Fowler at the trade deadline; how necessary was it to add a player like Fowler? It seems he was relatively active (one TFL, one PD) in his debut with the team, how do you expect him to rotate in and out with the other players at his position?

A: I would put the level of “necessary” need very low. The Rams were 8-0 with the #12 defense in DVOA prior to last week (they’re now weighted down to 15, which still isn’t in the bottom half of the league) with wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay Packers. So the issue isn’t one of a roster need. It’s whether they needed to address it, and I really don’t think we needed to (again...we’re 8-1...). I think the question is one of opportunity. The Rams had an opportunity to improve at best or add to at worst a position of roster need and at a pretty low cost; the Rams will send a third- and fifth-round pick to Jacksonville, but they’re likely to pick up a pair of third-round compensatory picks having lost WR Sammy Watkins and CB Trumaine Johnson to free agency. So I’d suggest it was more an opportunity with upside at low cost and not necessarily a need per se. If anything, the Rams will still have the roster need in the offseason that they’ll still need to address anyway.

As for his rotation, he played more than 60% of the snaps in his first game with us. So I think it’s fair to say we’re going to see a ton of him down the stretch.

Q: Jared Goff needs Todd Gurley more than Todd Gurley needs Jared Goff. True or False?

A: I would say false because I think they both need each other and the receiving group equally. They were both on the field in 2016, and I’m not sure either needed each other much at all then. In fact, I’d suggest Jared Goff and Todd Gurley need the offensive line more than the line needs them. But the bottom line with the Rams’ offense is that they have components everywhere. Goff, Gurley, the wideouts, the line. They’re all (very good) parts of a whole that is absolutely cranking this year.

Q: I really don’t mind just talking about Aaron Donald for a very long time. For as long as you’ve watched football, how many defensive players do you think you’ve ever seen play on a regular basis are better than Donald and why is it Bobby Wagner?

A: Wobby Bagner.

Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player as consistently dominant as Donald. He’s so central to opposing team gameplans and for obvious reason. And it’s just amazing because he’s different.

The Rams list him at 280 lbs. The Seahawks have a full 16 players heavier. So he’s not the biggest guy. He’s not winning on sheer size, but he has plenty of power. It’s that his power is compact. And the application of it is FAST. And he’s just very, very, very good. And that makes me happy.

So yeah, you should talk about him at length. Have you considered turning Field Gulls into an Aaron Donald blog? I think that idea has legs, Kenny.

Q: I know you’ve heard of Michael Dickson because in the last meeting between these two teams the Rams blocked a punt of his, so let me ask you this instead: Have you ever heard of Michael Dickson’s revenge?

Ooh is that like when you drink the tap water in Mexico and then your innards are all a hot pot of snot for like a week?