Behind Enemy Lines: Get to know the Rams

The 49ers are set to play their second division game of the year and are looking to extend their winning streak to three Monday night against the Rams. We asked Gridiron Gateway's Nate Latsch about the state of the St. Louis leading into Monday night's showdown.

The St. Louis Rams fell to 1-3 last week with a loss to the Eagles, but ended on a high note by managing to cut a 27-point deficit to 13 before the final whistle.

It's been a tough start to the season for the Rams, who lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford with an ACL tear for the second straight year. But St. Louis still has a talented defense that has given the 49ers trouble in the past.

We spoke to Gridiron Gateway publisher Nate Latsch about the state of the Rams and asked him important questions leading into Monday night's tilt with the 49ers:

Niners Digest: Nate, we knew heading into the season the Rams' front seven would be elite. And so far, St. Louis has the league’s No. 1 passing defense, but are doing it with just one sack on the season. Couple that with allowing 152.5 rushing yards per game (fourth-worst in the league), and this defense is hard to figure out from the outside. The talent is there, but what do you attribute the team’s lack of sacks and struggles against the run to?

Latsch: I just wrote something on this, but it has definitely been one of the big surprises this season. The Rams brought back Gregg Williams to be the defensive coordinator after two years of having young, unproven guys leading the defense.

Williams has brought plenty of pressure from different areas, with linebackers and defensive backs blitzing often, but the Rams still just haven’t gotten to the quarterback as much as they did a year ago when they primarily pressured with their front four. The Vikings showed in the season opener that they were going to focus on getting the ball out of their quarterback’s hand as soon as possible to try to negate the impact defensive end Robert Quinn and his teammates could have with the pass rush. That has become a trend that we’ve seen every week since.

The Rams have still been able to get pressure on the quarterback, but haven’t gotten the sacks. (On a side note, the Rams’ lone sack this season came on a play where rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald basically pushed the center back into the quarterback.)

ND: Not many would have predicted the Rams having the sixth-most effective passing attack in football with presumed third-string quarterback Austin Davis at the helm. Are his numbers an aberration due to the fact that opposing defenses are having a difficult time preparing for him? Or does he have staying power with a chance to be a starting quarterback going forward?

Latsch: The other big surprise this season has been the emergence of Davis, who came into training camp fighting for the third quarterback spot with rookie sixth-round pick Garrett Gilbert with the possibility that the team wouldn’t even keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.

The Rams only kept two QBs (Sam Bradford and Kellen Clemens) out of training camp last year after cutting Davis. He was actually out of football until Bradford got hurt and the Rams signed him and Brady Quinn to back up Clemens. I’m not yet sold on Davis having staying power as a starting quarterback, but his numbers aren’t an aberration due to lack of opponents preparing for him. It could be because the Rams haven’t really played a good defense yet — that will change this week, obviously — but Davis has done a good job of taking what defenses are giving him, using his legs to buy extra time to throw and also pushing the ball down the field.

ND: Rookie tackle Greg Robinson was viewed by many as a can’t-miss prospect. But to this point, the No. 2-overall pick has played just 10 snaps. Did the Rams do the right thing by taking Robinson with right tackle Joe Barksdale and left tackle Jake Long already on the roster? Should they gone another direction with that pick, perhaps taking an offensive play maker? What’s the plan for Robinson?

Latsch: The Rams coaches continue to say that they think Greg Robinson has a chance to be a very good player in the NFL, but his inability to contribute so far this season has definitely been a big letdown for St. Louis fans.

When the Rams picked him, he looked like the kind of player they could plug into the left guard spot for his rookie season and he’d be able to excel as a run blocker (like he did at Auburn) while developing as a pass blocker (which was the knock on him coming in). But after starting out in training camp as the No. 1 left guard, the Rams started moving Robinson back and forth between guard and left tackle and then eventually decided to go with veteran Davin Joseph, a two-time Pro Bowler, as the right guard and moved Rodger Saffold from right guard to left guard.

I liked the pick of Robinson at No. 2 overall because it was obvious the Rams wanted to run the football and follow the blueprint that the Seahawks and 49ers have used — play good D and run the ball — to become two of the top teams in the NFL. I think Robinson still has a chance to develop into a very good player. He’s still only 21 years old, which makes him one of youngest players in the league, but he’s got all the physical tools to be a dominant lineman.

It’s also possible that starting right tackle Joe Barksdale signs elsewhere as a free agent this offseason, which would give Robinson a chance to be the starter at one of the tackle spots — the Rams could move Jake Long from left to right tackle — in his second season in the league.

ND: Vegas says the 49ers are 3.5-point favorites for Monday night’s game, which indicates the sharps think the Rams are going to be a tough beat despite their 1-3 record and the fact they’re playing their third quarterback. But, as we know, Monday night games can be tough to win on the road against desperate teams, which St. Louis seems to be. With the NLCS this weekend and the Rams Super Bowl team being honored at halftime, is Monday shaping up to be an emotional atmosphere for the team, contributing to the 3.5-point betting line?

Latsch: The Rams have been much stronger at home than on the road in recent seasons. They got blown out by the Adrian Peterson-led Vikings in the season opener at home but then two weeks later had a 21-0 lead on the Cowboys in the second quarter before eventually losing 34-31.

St. Louis was 5-3 at home a year ago and one of those losses was a 14-9 defeat against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football where Kellen Clemens, making his first start in place of Sam Bradford, drove the team down to the Seattle 1-yard line in the final seconds but was not able to get them in the end zone for the game-winning score.


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