Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY

Behind Enemy Lines: Inside the St. Louis Rams

What has Nick Foles provided at quarterback? What makes Todd Gurley such a talent? Why is the Rams' defensive line so formidable? Nate Latsch, who covers the Rams for, has the answers.

Nate Latsch covers the Rams for

Outside of the ability to play more than a game or two before a knee injury, what did the Rams gain in the quarterback swap that sent Sam Bradford to Philadelphia for Nick Foles?

One of the problems with Sam Bradford, besides the propensity for getting injured, was he was the last No. 1 overall pick to enter the NFL before the rookie wage scale was implemented, which meant he signed the richest contract ever by a rookie before playing his first NFL snap.

He had one year remaining on that deal going into this season and the Rams weren’t able to come to an agreement with him on a contract extension, which may have provided some salary cap relief, last offseason. The Rams said after the trade that they didn’t trade Bradford because they weren’t able to come to terms on an extension, but it’s possible that figured into the situation.

The Rams received $12 million to 13 million in salary cap relief by trading Bradford to the Eagles for Foles, then used that extra money to sign defensive tackle Nick Fairley and outside linebacker Akeem Ayers in free agency. Then, on the eve of the regular season, they signed Foles to an incentive-laden two-year contract extension at modest money for an NFL starting quarterback.

The Rams like what they have seen from Foles and feel like he’s a good fit for their run-based offensive scheme. So far, he’s been up and down but has showed the ability to move the ball down the field against good defenses like the Seahawks and Cardinals.

Todd Gurley put on a show at Arizona, running through a really good defense for more than 100 yards in the fourth quarter alone. That’s pretty incredible considering he’s about a year removed from a torn ACL and didn’t play in the first two regular-season games. What stands out about him? Is it nothing more than he’s really big and really fast?

One of the things the Rams said they liked about Gurley when they drafted him was that he played in a pro-style offense at Georgia and had success in that scheme.
He is big and fast and, in the second half against the Cardinals, showed the ability to run away from defensive backs. He made it look kind of effortless on a few of those runs. I don’t know that he’ll see a lot of work on third downs because the Rams can bring in Benny Cunningham for pass pro, but the Rams feel like Gurley can eventually be a versatile every-down, do-it-all type running back.

Gurley didn’t have many holes to work with in his limited carries against the Steelers or in the first half against the Cardinals, but in the second half he showed what he was capable of when he got some room to work.

Gurley will be going up against a really good Packers run defense. So let’s go to the line. How are the guys who will be blocking for Gurley? That’s not exactly a bunch of household names up front.

The offensive line has been an issue for the Rams this season.

It was an issue last season and they went out and basically replaced three or four starters with rookies and inexperienced players. They start two rookies in right tackle Rob Havenstein, a second-rounder from Wisconsin, and left guard Jamon Brown, a third-rounder who played tackle at Louisville. They had three players competing in the offseason for the center spot before settling on Tim Barnes, who had some experience as a backup but had only started four games. The only guy with significant experience is right guard Rodger Saffold, who is in his sixth season.

I’ve said all along this Rams’ offensive line would be good, but I wasn’t sure if that would be in 2015, 2016 or 2017. The Rams used the No. 2 overall pick last year to select left tackle Greg Robinson out of Auburn and decided this offseason they wanted to go with a young group that could grow together. There have been growing pains, especially in the run game, but that second-half performance against the Cardinals should give them some confidence that they can get the job done.

The Rams had a great defensive line anyway. Then they added Nick Fairley. It almost isn’t fair the talent in that group. Why is Aaron Donald so unblockable? What makes Robert Quinn such a terrific pass rusher? And how about the rest of those guys?

One of the strengths of the defensive line is their depth and their ability to bring in guys off the bench and rotate fresh bodies in there as often as possible. Fairley hasn’t made much of an impact yet — he’s got nine tackles and half a sack in four games — but he adds to that group and his presence may have motivated defensive tackle Michael Brockers, another former first-round pick who is having the best season of his young career.

Donald is fun to watch. He’s undersized, about 280-290 pounds, but he’s so quick off the ball that he practically lives in the backfield and disrupts opponents’ passing games as well as running games. He had 3.5 sacks in the first three games but then was held without one against the Cardinals. But when the Rams’ coaching staff reviewed the game film, they credited him with eight quarterback pressures.

Donald has been so good in his brief time with the Rams that he’s already surpassed Quinn as the team’s top defensive player — and the 25-year-old Quinn is a two-time Pro Bowler with 48 career sacks. Quinn is so fast around the edge that he’s constantly putting pressure on quarterbacks or causing left tackles to commit false start and holding penalties. One underrated aspect of Quinn’s game is his ability to cause fumbles when he gets to the quarterback. He’s forced 14 fumbles since the beginning of the 2013 season.

Another guy to watch is left defensive end Chris Long, who was the No. 2 overall pick in 2008. He suffered his first serious injury a year ago, which caused him to miss 10 games, but he’s come back strong and already has two sacks in four games.

Led by that defensive line, St. Louis is tied for the league lead with 17 sacks. That obviously helps the back seven cover. If Green Bay can protect Aaron Rodgers, is that group vulnerable against the pass? Or are the Rams pretty well loaded there, too?

The back seven is definitely the questionable part of this defense, especially with weak-side linebacker Alec Ogletree out indefinitely after suffering a left injury against the Cardinals.

Ogletree was having the best season of his young career and he was good enough to lead the team in tackles the past two seasons. Now he’ll be replaced by Akeem Ayers, who slides over from the strong-side linebacker spot. So there will likely be a drop-off there, though it’s tough to say how much until he gets out there in that role. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis has done well to organize the defense but hasn’t been as effective as he was earlier in his career.

The secondary has some young talent that has grown up the past few years, like cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson and safeties Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald. The Rams also use safety Mark Barron, a former first-round pick from Alabama, quite often in big nickel sub packages. They have an aggressive and physical defense and they will attack quarterbacks with a variety of blitzes, including guys like Barron and nickel cornerback Lamarcus Joyner.

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