QUESTION: What a three weeks for the Rams. Three straight losses, Nick Foles coming under fire for poor play at quarterback, Case Keenum's highly publicized NFL concussion protocol failures and Stedman Bailey is shot in a Miami drive-by. Did I miss anything? Is this way too many distractions for a team to win on the road against a playoff-bound Bengals squad, or do you think distractions are overrated?
ANSWER: Well, you missed the announcement that the team will play a home game in London next season. That has added to the uncertainty surrounding the team’s home in 2016 and beyond, which is kind of the cloud hanging over this team all season.
I think the Rams have done a good job of handling the news about Bailey the past few days. There was the obvious shock of the situation, with players finding out either late Tuesday night or when they woke up on Wednesday morning, but I think it has helped them knowing that Bailey is expected to be OK and that it wasn’t, remarkably and fortunately, a life-threatening situation.
Q: Who's starting at quarterback for the Rams on Sunday, and how do you think that is going to go against the Bengals' banged-up cornerbacks?
A: Case Keenum had yet to pass the concussion protocol as of the conclusion of practice on Friday afternoon. So it looks like they will go back to Foles less than two weeks after benching him for Keenum. If Keenum is cleared on Saturday, then he is expected to start. It just seems so late in the week that it would be difficult for Keenum to get cleared and then be ready to be the starter.
The lack of production from the quarterback spot tells me the Rams won’t be able to take advantage of the Bengals’ cornerback situation. The Rams have just two touchdown passes in their past five games — four games with Foles and then one with Keenum. Let that sink in for a minute. The accuracy issues for both Foles and Keenum have left the Rams unable to get the ball to their wide receivers and tight ends, which allows defenses to focus on the run game.
Q: The Bengals lost to Arizona. Arizona lost to St. Louis. The transitive property favors St. Louis on Sunday. Are we looking at an upset? The Bengals are heavy home favorites.
A: I don’t think the Rams can win on Sunday. It comes down to an offense that has struggled with production from the quarterback spot and an offensive line that has been decimated by injuries.
The Rams went into this season relying on a young and inexperienced offensive line after releasing two veterans and letting two more leave as free agents. They spent five draft picks on offensive linemen, including a pick in the supplemental draft. In the past few weeks they’ve had season-ending injuries suffered by their two starting guards, Rodger Saffold and Jamon Brown, and their back-up swing tackle, Darrell Williams. But then they also have their rookie starting right tackle Rob Havenstein out with a leg injury and rookie reserve-turned-starter Andrew Donnal out with a knee injury.
Q: Quick, name a Rams wide receiver? That's a joke. You know the team. But, can you explain to far-away Bengals fans why the Rams never seem to turn up a quality long-term receiver? The last one I can think of is Torry Holt, who retired in 2008, the year after Isaac Bruce retired (unless you're counting Danny Amendola or Brandon Gibson).
A: Yeah, it’s certainly been a long time since the Greatest Show on Turf era of Rams football. They’ve tried to address this issue in the draft but the picks just haven’t worked out.
In 2008 they used a second-round pick on Donnie Avery when guys like Jordy Nelson, Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson were available. In 2012 they used a second-round pick on Brian Quick with Alshon Jeffery available. (Quick was off to a strong start last year, but suffered a season-ending injury and hasn’t done much this year.)
They traded up to the No. 8 spot in 2013 and selected Tavon Austin, who has showed flashes of his potential but has made a limited impact in his first three seasons. Austin, who the Rams picked with DeAndre Hopkins still available, is having his best season but the team still struggles with being able to actually get him the ball — because of quarterback inconsistency and/or offensive play-calling.
Q: The Rams' all-time leading rushers are Steven Jackson, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk and Lawrence McCutcheon, some history-laden names. Where do you see Todd Gurley fitting on that list when it's all said and done, Mr. Soothsayer? Will he, in your opinion, wind up being the best? Second-best? Can he possibly be better than Faulk as a runner (because I don't think Gurley can match Faulk as an all-purpose back…).
A: If Gurley is able to stay healthy, which is a big “if” considering his injury history in college at Georgia, he looks like he can be right up there with any of those guys. He’s big and fast and strong and looks like he has the all-around ability of guys like Adrian Peterson and Le’Veon Bell.
A big part of Gurley’s future success could be determined by the Rams’ offensive line. We’ve already seen that when he gets some holes to work with, he can break off long runs and make it look easy. But because of the youth and inconsistency up front we’ve also seen how hard he has to fight for yardage when he’s not getting much room to run.
When the Rams committed to going young on the offensive line this offseason, it was so they could grow that group together with Gurley. It’s possible that in the next few years that group will emerge as one of the better units in the NFL and if that happens you’ll see Gurley rack up big numbers on a consistent basis.