To get ready for Sunday's game, I exchanged five questions with 3k from Turf Show Times, SB Nation's St. Louis Rams blog. My answers to his questions can be found here, and his answers to my questions are below.
1. Jim Schwartz has quite a bit of history with Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who served as Schwartz's boss for many years in Tennessee. Just how big was it for the Rams to hire Fisher after firing Steve Spagnuolo this past offseason?
It's a complete change from the way the franchise has handled the role for more than a decade. Mike Martz, Scott Linehan, Steve Spagnuolo -- all were first-time head coaches. With Fisher, the Rams have brought in someone who has plenty of experience as an NFL head coach. It doesn't necessarily mean we're headed back to the playoffs, but given how poorly the team has performed under less experienced head coaches, it was a move that brought high praise from inside the organization, the fan base and the media as well.
2. One of Fisher's first moves on the job was to bring in Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator. Obviously, with the whole New Orleans Saints bounty scandal unfolding and Williams being suspended indefinitely, he won't be the defensive coordinator this season. How have the Rams handled this situation?
I mean, it's not as if there's a ton of precedent to go off of here. If one of your coordinators gets a job somewhere else, there's established operational conduct to follow. If one of your coaches decides to retire, that's been done before. But for the league to suspend your defensive coordinator prior to actually coaching a game with the team indefinitely without knowing if or when he'll be back? That's tough to manage, but to allude to the above answer, that's the exact kind of situation Fisher has likely handled better than his predecessors would have.
So without Williams, the defensive duties have been handled largely by Fisher and Dave McGinnis, the former DC and head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Additional support has come from secondary coach Chuck Cecil (who replaced Jim Schwartz as Tennessee's DC) and linebackers coach Blake Williams, who is Gregg Williams' son. Yeah, it's kind of Illuminati-ish on the sidelines these days.
3. Had Sam Bradford left college a year earlier, many people think that the Lions would have drafted him instead of Matthew Stafford. Both players have had injury issues in the past, and Stafford moved on from them last season to establish himself as one of the top young quarterbacks in the league. Bradford had a tremendous rookie season, but he took a step back statistically in 2011. Was 2011 the product of being on a bad team, or is there a reason for Rams fans to be concerned about Bradford's development?
Can I say both? Part of what's been so hard for Sam is a lack of consistency year to year. In year one, the OC was Pat Shurmur, his QB coach was Dick Curl (much to the delight of our commentariat, and in the fifth game, he lost WR Mark Clayton for the year (who was having a great start). I'm guessing you guys remember that game.
Fast forward to last year -- new OC in Josh McDaniels, no QB coach and Danny Amendola plays his last down in Week 1. Now he's dealing with his third OC in three years (Brian Schottenheimer), a QB coach again (Frank Cignetti, Jr.) and a WR corps that includes two rookies in Brian Quick and Chris Givens, a second-year option in Austin Pettis and a FA addition in Steve Smith (Giants type, not Panthers). In terms of receptions, the Rams parted with their top option, Brandon Lloyd, and their third, Danario Alexander. It's tough to build your franchise QB up with so much turmoil on the sidelines as well as on the field.
So while Rams fans have reason to worry, year three will be gauged more heavily than his first two years. Hey, it worked fine for Matt Stafford, yeah?
4. Janoris Jenkins was linked to the Lions quite a bit in the lead-up to the 2012 NFL Draft, but because of the team's own off-field issues, he essentially became undraftable for them. Instead, they addressed their need at cornerback by drafting Bill Bentley, who grew up as great friends with Jenkins and has already become a starter. How has Jenkins done so far for the Rams both on and off the field?
On the field, it's been largely positive. He drew rave reviews all through training camp, and his game time performances have been solid ... except for the Cowboys game, which was just a miserable performance. He was much better in our finale against the Ravens, including an interception returned for a TD. The talent is undeniable, and he can play physical on the line (which when combined with Cortland Finnegan should make for some testy battles). He's quick enough to play off and he's got the awareness to play zone. It's a matter of being disciplined and knowing how to play with and trust his teammates. Off field-wise? There hasn't been anything there, but you guys can probably hear the wood being knocked on all the way in Detroit.
5. What is the outlook for the Rams in 2012? The NFC West has become a tough division with the emergence of the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks making a lot of moves to improve. Do Rams fans see 2012 as the first step in the rebuilding process, or do they think this team can compete for a playoff spot right now?
I think it's a bit in between. With the defensive line strength (though missing rookie DT Michael Brockers for the first month hurts) and the talent available at cornerback, it appears that the defense is going to have to carry this team early. Will one of the WRs not named Danny Amendola or TE Lance Kendricks be a reliable factor for Bradford? That was the problem for the Rams until they traded for WR Brandon Lloyd last year, but by then, injuries had decimated any chance at a decent season; we put 11 freaking cornerbacks on IR ... in a single season ... that's just insane.
Knowing that the Rams just don't have an offensive line capable of providing enough protection to work deeper routes until the scheme opens them up (and that depends on execution of the shorter passing game and running game), it's going to provide the opportunity for Steve Smith or Brian Quick to step up. If they don't, Rams fans may well be going into another tough season with nothing positive to take away except for another valiant effort from Steven Jackson, who deserves better. But who knows. This is the NFL. Nobody outside of north Cali saw the 49ers going 13-3 with a new head coach and Alex Smith at QB. The truth is, the Rams need to do better than they have in the last five years, winning just 15 games. No better time to start than now.