Behind Enemy Lines: St. Louis Rams

We caught up with Nate Latsch, the publisher of GridironGateway.com, to ask him a few questions about the St. Louis Rams going into this week's matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.

CardinalFootballTalk: The Rams beat the Seahawks in the season-opener but have lost two straight in very unimpressive fashion following that win. Was the performance against Seattle more indicative of where this team is right now or has it been the following two losses against the Redskins and Steelers?

Nate Latsch: I wasn’t surprised when the Rams beat the Seahawks because they’ve played them tough at home since Jeff Fisher arrived. They’ve actually won three of four home meetings with the Seahawks under Fisher and in the game they lost Kellen Clemens drove the Rams down to the 1-yard line in the final seconds but they couldn’t punch in the go-ahead touchdown.

The first three games this season have featured a little bit of everything. The Washington loss was surprising because the defense couldn’t stop Kirk Cousins or Matt Jones and the offense couldn’t get anything going. Against the Steelers the defense showed up but the offense didn’t. That loss, to me, shows that this defense has the potential to be very good. But it’s so difficult to figure out what this team is going to ultimately be. These next two games will tell a lot.

CFT: St. Louis' offense has mustered only 16 points in the last two games while averaging less than 236 yards per game. What is the main cause of these offensive problems? Is QB Nick Foles not performing like the team expected or are there other more pressing issues?

NL: The Rams overhauled their offensive line this offseason, releasing two veteran starters in left tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells and then opting not to re-sign right tackle Joe Barksdale and right guard Davin Joseph. But after previously spending on free agents like Long and Wells failed to work out, they chose to go young. Very young. They selected left tackle Greg Robinson with the No. 2 overall pick in 2014 and then drafted five more offensive linemen this year — including grabbing one in the fifth round of the supplemental draft. Two of those picks, second-rounder Rob Havenstein and third-round Jamon Brown, are starting at right tackle and left guard, respectively. The other two spots on the line are occupied by veterans Rodger Saffold (right guard) and Tim Barnes (center).

The offensive line was good enough against the Seahawks but hasn’t been good the past two games, which has led to the running game being unable to find consistency and Foles being under siege early and often. The Rams want to be a team that runs the ball and sets up the passing game off of that, but so far they haven’t been able to do that.

CFT: Speaking of Foles, what's your take on him replacing former No. 1 draft pick Sam Bradford? Bradford isn't exactly lighting it up in Philadelphia but do you think the Rams made the right decision in trading Bradford for Foles in the offseason?

NL: The Rams had to do something. If they chose to bring back Bradford and he got hurt for a third consecutive season, then they’d be basically stuck in the same spot without any hope of finally breaking through and contending for a playoff spot. They were also in a tough spot because of Bradford’s salary-cap hit and that he’s going to be a free agent at the end of the season. How much do you pay a guy like that who just can’t seem to stay healthy?

So shipping Bradford and his salary to Philadelphia for a guy like Foles, who was up and down the past two seasons, is a worthwhile gamble. The Rams have already re-signed Foles to a reasonable contract extension, so they know they’ll have him for the next two seasons after this one.

Foles isn’t among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL and may not even rank in the top half of the league’s starters, but he should be able to run the run-based offense the way the Rams want. So far through the first three games Foles has done some good things, but has also had some costly mistakes. The Rams need him to play better.

CFT: RB Todd Gurley has been somewhat of an enigma this season. He saw his first action of the year against Pittsburgh but his stat line was extremely lackluster given the lofty expectations for him. Do you see Gurley eventually breaking out as a rookie or even being a major contributor at some point?

NL: The rookie first-rounder definitely has the talent to make a difference, but the Rams’ running game is a mess right now because the offensive line isn’t creating a lot of holes for the running backs. I think the Rams will continue to increase Gurley’s snaps and touches going forward, but until they figure out the problems up front he might not be able to make much of an impact. With all the inexperience on the offensive line, it may take several weeks for the run game to get going consistently.

CFT: The Rams defensive front is always one of the most talked about units in the NFL. How has that group performed so far? I see that they've already racked up 13 sacks, good for best in the NFC, but is the St. Louis pass rush truly living up the hype?

NL: The Rams defensive line was strong against the Seahawks, struggled against the Redskins and then was good again against the Steelers.

After the way the Rams struggled against Washington Week 2, I thought Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown were going to go crazy against them last week. But that just didn’t happen. The defense struggled early in that game but settled down and played very well, particularly in the second half.

The Rams’ defensive front looks like what everyone expected it could possibly be. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has picked up right where he left off from his defensive rookie of the year, Pro Bowl debut season. Defensive end Robert Quinn, who got off to a slow start a year ago, looks like he’s back to the form he showed when he had 19 sacks two seasons ago. They are also getting good contributions from defensive tackle Michael Brockers and defensive end Chris Long.


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