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5 Qs, 5 As with Turf Show Times

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Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

On December 17, 2017, the LA Rams and Seattle Seahawks met in Seattle for their second of two meetings that season. In the first meeting, the Seahawks won 16-10, scoring 16 unanswered after falling behind 10-0 and delivering the world a piece of Jared Goff’s future by holding him to no touchdowns and two interceptions.

In the 2017 sequel however, the Rams delivered Seattle a warm glass of shut the flip up.

In their worst loss since 2011, the Seahawks fell behind 40-0 and never looked forward. It was only one of the seven losses that season that kept Russell Wilson from currently having posted double-digit wins in all eight of his campaigns, but it was also the most devastating. It felt like a complete turn in the division after Seattle had been the most consistently dominant force in the NFC West since 2012.

The Rams had “arrived” and won the division at 11-5. The Seahawks had left and we didn’t know if they’d be returning. Despite the difference in score, however, Seattle was only two games back in the division. A win that day wouldn’t have changed the standings, but maybe we could see that these two teams weren’t all that far from swapping places once again.

In 2018, Los Angeles swept the Seahawks and won the division at 13-3, three games ahead of Seattle. But the Seahawks held a fourth quarter lead in both games and lost by just two points in the first meeting and five points in the rematch.

All those “breaks” that Seattle is getting this year — yeah, that hasn’t really been the case in recent history. But they’ve managed to squeak out the wins in 2019 that they couldn’t get against LA in 2018, and that included in Week 5’s 30-29 victory in Seattle that came on a late fourth quarter touchdown to Chris Carson and a missed 44-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein to close things out.

It’s just another in a long line of close games between these two franchises. That wasn’t the case two years ago when the Rams made a statement on the road. The Seahawks are hoping to make their own December statement on Sunday night as they look to get one step closer to winning back the division after a two-year hiatus.

To get better intel on the Rams after the last two months, I sent five Qs to the incomparable Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times. In kind, he sent me five corresponding As.

Q: Few have been as critical of Jared Goff as I have, and you know me well enough to know it’s not based in division rivalries or biases. I’ve also recently critiqued the performance of Sean McVay and the contractual decisions of Les Snead. I can tell that the LA Rams fan base is a different one still though because I’ve barely heard a peep and just this morning I had both Falcons fans and Patriots fans upset with me for not being complimentary enough of their teams. Have you noticed a significant shift in how Rams fans view Goff, McVay, and Snead this season, just months removed from an NFC Championship? How much would getting swept by the Seahawks, a year after sweeping the Seahawks, change the outlook on the franchise?

A: Oh absolutely there’s been a change in the perception of both Goff and McVay, but I think that’s natural given (a) how poorly Goff has played at times and (b) how ridiculously positive the results were in the first two seasons under McVay.

As for Goff, it was a bit of a perfect storm for his regression. The system he’s couched in didn’t serve him well this year. The offensive line didn’t play well overall and at times was downright horrible. And he’s had some of his targets miss time in WR Brandin Cooks, WR Robert Woods and now TE Gerald Everett. And yes, he’s had some very bad runs of form missing some wide open targets by NFL standards. I think overall moreso than this season, the Super Bowl was really what spliced off a section of Rams fans who have been absolutely unappreciative of Goff since; his struggles only exacerbate that. There’s also a faction that whether because he’s the QB or a #1 overall pick or even something as arbitrary as his demeanor and brand as a Cali, Banana Republic clothing line-having kinda dude still backs the guy even during below average performances. So yeah, it’s complicated.

For McVay, this season has certainly helped show some cracks in the previously sterling armor. To take a team that had gone without a winning season in 13 years and immediately turn them into division champs and get them to the playoffs and then push them to a Super Bowl, yeah. That’s going to engender a lot of support from fans, from media and obviously from within the NFL where everyone was trying to hire anyone who had ever spoken to him last offseason. After the blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens for the first time, I saw a growing number of Rams fans who were quite displeased with the Rams head coach to the point that we had to put a number on how hot the hot seat was that he was on.

Could being swept by you guys change things? Probably not. I think the losses they’ve stacked up to this point have done that already. The bigger issue is how they grow out of the rut this year and get back to better football on the offensive side for longer stretches than what they’ve gotten this year.

Q: Marcus Peters will be a free agent in 2020 and it seems apparent that after another season with at least three pick-sixes, that a team will go for broke on Peters on a new deal. Meanwhile, the Rams secured his vacant corner spot with Jalen Ramsey, giving up two firsts and a fourth. How’s Ramsey looked so far? Will Peters’ next team regret his next deal? And is giving up two firsts, a fourth, and Peters (who I imagine will return a third round comp pick) for Ramsey, Kenny Young, and a fifth a good deal? What needs to happen for it to be a good deal?

A: Ramsey’s fantastic. Hasn’t played below his reputation at all. Just such a steep, steep cost. Back to that in a sec.

Yanno, I’m glad to see Marcus Peters balling out. He arrived on the back of so much criticism for his time in Kansas City being such a headcase and infighting with the coaching staff. With the Rams, he was a great teammate and never made any problems. Is he outspoken? Absolutely. Is he hilarious? Entirely. So I’m sincerely happy for the guy. He’s a better person than he gets credit for. I wouldn’t be surprised if he lands a big deal that’s a win-win for himself and his future employer.

As for the Ramsey deal, the first thing I’d note is that we traded those three picks (representing 14 potential roster years) for one-and-a-half seasons of Ramsey. That’s simply not enough from the Rams’ new CB1 to justify the cost unless Ramsey makes a superior, individual contribution to a deep playoff run. Otherwise, the Rams HAVE to sign him to an extension at which point you lose most of the value for cost since he’s going to reset the position ceiling. To this point, he’s played well enough to begin the argument to justify the trade. But he’s going to have to do so for another three years or so in order to meet the mark. That’s just an incredibly high bar, but he might be good enough to do it.

Q: It’s not easy to get double-digit sacks out of three players, but Aaron Donald, Clay Matthews, and Dante Fowler could all get there. You could see two of those players gone next year though, if the Rams felt themselves claustrophobic from a 34-year-old Matthews and little cap room, so what are the reinforcements in pass rush looking like?

A: Not great, but it’s a position the Rams will likely invest in this offseason. The best hope is a diamond in the rough situation from Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. He was a fifth-rounder in the 2018 draft, but he broke his foot in OTAs last year and missed the whole season. He has flashed at times in 2019, but he’s too far down the depth chart for significant playing time. Samson Ebukam isn’t able to do much as a pass rusher. He’s a solid edge with plus run defense, but not starter quality given the state of the front seven coming out of 2019. Natrez Patrick was a preseason fan favorite converting to outside linebacker after playing inside at Georgia. He has the feel of a fan favorite that will offer more to memory and inside fan story than on-field contributions.

The bottom line is that the Rams will likely bring someone in either on the cheap in free agency or with a draft pick.

Q: Aaron Kromer is the run game coordinator and offensive line coach. So. Should he be fired? Are there any assistants that draw constant ire of the fans?

A: A couple of weeks ago, you could have made a case for Kromer. I do think though we’re starting to see some of the effect of his coaching in the line’s reliability in the last month or so. For the first time since moving back to LA, the Rams had an injury crisis, and the O-line wasn’t spared. Early injuries saw Jamil Demby get plugged in. Kenny, that did not go well. The Rams next went to fifth-round rookie David Edwards who filled in nicely, but injuries to Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen, the Rams’ top two draft picks from 2018 that essentially redshirted last year to take starting jobs this year, sidelined them for the season. Recently, RT Rob Havenstein injured his knee, so the Rams were working with an offensive line where the only Week 1 starter in the same was position was LT Andrew Whitworth. Austin Blythe kicked inside to center from right guard where Edwards filled in. New Ram Austin Corbett got plugged in at left guard while rookie Bobby Evans, a third-rounder out of Oklahoma, took on right tackle duties. So Kromer certainly deserves some buffer with all the personnel changes forced upon the unit this year. And the unit has been better overall the last few games.

Honestly, I don’t think there are any coaches that Rams fans look down upon. We’ve already seen Greg Olson leave (2017 QB coach) to take offensive coordinator duties under John Gruden with the Oakland Raiders. Matt LaFleur went from Rams OC without playcalling responsibilities to Tennessee Titans OC with playcalling responsibilities to Green Bay Packers head coach. And Zac Taylor jumped from 2018 QB coach to 2019 Cincinnati Bengals head coach. So there’s been so much exiting and new faces coming in where units haven’t struggled for years to assign much ire to any coaches.

Q: We exchange 10 questions a year, and I don’t want to harp on the negative too much, but I think we can get into “it” a little bit. It’s a simple question: Are the Rams a good organization?

A: Overall, yes. They certainly have some...issues.

You’ve got an owner that can’t be individually attentive. Between his other sports holdings (Arsenal in the Premier League, the Denver Nuggets in the NBA, the Colorado Avalanche in the NFL, the Colorado Rapids in MLS and now some eSports holdings), he has too much to get into the weeds in terms of controlling decisions. Another issue for Kroenke is his non-team investments. SoFi Stadium is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more than just a place for the Rams to play football. It’s a small town inside of LA where he will make billions of dollars thanks to the commercial developments around the stadium, another performance venue and studios for NFL Network. Also...he’s rich as hell and owns all kinds of other stuff. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it means he HAS to have the right guys assigned to each of his franchises.

In the case of the Rams, that’s COO Kevin Demoff. He’s certainly the right guy from a business perspective (fans of Arsenal might have a veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery different view of the structure at Arsenal...). Demoff though has handed off contractual negotiations to VP Tony Pastoors which is another issue. Unlike other teams where the general manager oversees those negotiations, Rams GM Les Snead isn’t particularly involved there. That kind of structure is obviously going to get questioned when you’re signing Tavon Austin after just three seasons and then doing the same for Todd Gurley. Neither of those deals looks particularly wise in retrospect and obviously throws into question the priority structure given how much of the cap is going to be tied up in recent years once extensions for Ramsey and WR Cooper Kupp get done.

There’s also the issue of the Rams playing to the fickleness of their relocation to LA and the swings in popularity that came about with it. An NFL team back in LA? Exciting! The Rams pulled off three series based on their return to LA: Hard Knocks, All or Nothing, and Hollywood and Football, a reality show that was on E! that chronicled what it was like for the wives of some of the Rams players living in LA and managing their personal lives off the field. That’s how compelling the Rams’ relocation was - a reality show about the Rams’ wives. It lasted one season. And what kind of football did the Rams provide to meet that level of interest? A fifth season under Head Coach Jeff Fisher in which the Rams went 4-12. Suffice to say, that didn’t help the Rams’ credibility trying to break through a ceiling crafted by the Lakers, Dodgers and USC football on the local sports market. The football has certainly improved since then, but there have been insinuations that some of the moves (hiring an attractive young coach, headline-making trades, etc.) have been made moreso for their impact on media and in LA circles to ensure that SoFi opens to packed crowds than for the benefit of the team on the field.

Overall though, it’s going to depend on where the Rams go from here. Kroenke bought the team in 2010. Demoff joined the year before to oversee business operations and brought in Pastoors in 2010 to assist him in running things on Kroenke’s behalf. Snead became the general manager in 2012 when Fisher was hired. So you had a group that collaborated on the Fisher years to little avail in terms of the football but got the bigger win they wanted as a franchise moving back to LA. Now though while business wins will certainly help enrich Kroenke, fans won’t care if the football can’t match the 2017/18 standard on a consistent basis.

Bonus: I’ve lived in LA for almost 11 years now. Tell me a secret about the city that you don’t think I know.

I made my cousin once take me to the Bull Creek Spillway where they filmed the chase scene in Terminator 2 so I could pee in it.