With the Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams scheduled to face off on Sunday, I reached out to our friends/enemies over at Turf Show Times. The great 3k kindly took the time to answer my questions.
Let's take a look at the answers.
1) What's going on with the Rams quarterback situation - present and future? What's an "Austin Davis"? Sam Bradford is obviously out for the season, but is he totally done in St. Louis?
Who the eff knows. Until August 23rd, Rams fans were hoping 2014 would be a breakout year for Sam Bradford. Following the injury, the hope was that the veteran expertise of Shaun Hill would help manage an offense that could lean on the running game to allow the defense to win games. That lasted one regular season half. And while Austin Davis looked overwhelmed in the second half of the season opener, he was the one who managed the win at Tampa and helped the Rams out to what should have been an insurmountable 21-0 lead early against the Cowboys. So as for right now, I don't know what an Austin Davis is. But I like it more than I hate it.
As for the offseason, I think that's just so far away. Rams fans are eager to see what Davis can do now that he's permanently (or at least semi-permanently) been handed the starting gig. I wouldn't count Sam Bradford out of the Rams' future only because HC Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead have already displayed a stubborn attachment to him, vocalizing their absolute commitment to him before the 2014 NFL Draft in which they could have brought in someone with perhaps better credentials than Davis. That assumes that both are still around. The discontent among fans is palpable, and there's certainly a possibility that this season gets much worse. Throw in the talk this week on the local ESPN Radio affiliate that the Rams already have one foot on the team plane to ship the franchise back to Los Angeles, and the future looks...cloudy.
2) Why hasn't wide receiver Tavon Austin lived up to exceptions as the No. 8 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft? How soon do you think the Rams are willing to cut bait with him (so that Chip Kelly can get his greedy hands all over him)?
Well, every Rams fan would tell you that the tenure of OC Brian Schottenheimer hasn't been all that enjoyable. The misuse of Austin continues to perturb the fan base in new and (not) exciting ways, including a pair of runs in the 2nd quarter against Minnesota in which Austin lined up as a RB and was sent between the tackles...a power running base with a 5'8", 176-pound tailback doesn't exactly spell success. Outside of how the Rams have used him, he did admit to some issues with the playbook last year. And he's not a very elusive guy in terms of any agility to pull of the kind of jukes that leave a defender crumpled or the balance to take contact and remain upright. So it's not all on Schottenheimer. That being said though, Rams fans are certainly hoping for more production when he gets back on the field, which could be as early as Sunday. (And I'd be surprised if he's not a Ram for the reminder of at least his rookie contract, good through 2016.)
3) I'm generally against the idea of hiring retread coaches. What do you make of the Rams' future direction under head coach Jeff Fisher?
Well, the Rams were in the absolute bottom of the NFL before Fisher. People forget just how bad they were, and certainly as Eagles fans, it's not like you guys have known that level of failure. From 2007-2011, the Rams won a total of 15 games. In five years. The last stretch you guys had that comes anywhere close was from 1982-1986, and you still won 11 more games than we did in our five-season cellar run. So just getting back to mediocrity with back-to-back seven-win seasons the last two years is an improvement, and I'd argue a not minor one. That being said, constant improvement is always demanded if you're not a top tier team. Even though the trajectory looks good for this team, it has to materialize in the record. Being in the NFC West certainly doesn't make things easy right now, but that's the reality Fisher is being paid to navigate.
4) What is the biggest strength and weakness of this Rams team?
I honestly think the biggest strength is unpredictability. Austin Davis is still not an entirely known quantity. The offensive line still has their best football in front of them, as does RB Zac Stacy. Hell, UDFA RB Trey Watts had five carries last week while 2014 3rd round pick Tre Mason hasn't seen the field. #2 overall pick Greg Robinson has barely had more PT than Mason. The WR corps hasn't been available in its entirety yet, and is being led by Brian Quick. In his first two seasons, Quick totaled 29 catches for 458 yards. He has 16 catches for 235 yards in three games this year. The D-line is hamstrung by opponents' gameplans and the secondary hasn't forced those offenses to call in a sufficient number of plays that would allow the D-line to disrupt. So I think the nature of being the youngest team in the league with a new defensive coordinator and a new starting QB is lending itself toward some difficulty for opponents' preparations.
As for the prime weakness, I'd say mentality. Granted, as the youngest team in the NFL, that's probably to be expected. It's just so glaring. Since Jeff Fisher took over as head coach in 2012, the Rams have led the NFL (in the bad way) in penalties and penalty yardage. Just in 2014, the Rams have given up 305 penalty yards; their opponents have given up just 105. The Rams have committed penalties that gave nine first downs to opponents; they received only two first downs via penalty. Throw in the miscommunication (see: Dez Bryant's 68-yard TD being guarded by.........nobody), the irresponsibility (see: Jared Cook dropping an easy TD which leads to Jared Cook shoving his own QB on the sideline) and it just doesn't seem like this team has it together mentally. My concern is that they can't even hold it together for 60 minutes of football to get the best out of them.
5) Let's hear a score prediction. Who wins this game and why?
Brandon, I just have no clue what the Rams are right now. They looked lost against Minnesota, especially as the game got out of hand after battling for two and a half quarters down just 13-3. The offense was anemic, which isn't surprising considering you had a QB switch at halftime among two quarterbacks who aren't exactly the most talented options in the league. They battled through a win on the road in week two, but might have lost had Tampa WR Mike Evans not been injured on the last play leading to a clock run off that ended the game. Then they exploded early and imploded thereafter against the Cowboys.
My worry is that you guys jump out to a lead and we're making desperate adjustments while you're making the comfortable ones to keep us at bay. My hope is something closer to the first half of the Cowboys game, though I'd prefer a slow build than a shootout, especially with you guys. I'll say 27-20 Eagles, but here's hoping that instability works out in our favor on Sunday.
To buy tickets, visit the NFL Ticket Exchange.