Behind Enemy Lines: St. Louis Rams

The Steelers travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams and their ripsaw defensive front.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and St. Louis Rams are both 1-1 and involved in an interesting matchup Sunday in St. Louis. Nate Latsch, the publisher of Gridiron Gateway, shed some insight on the Rams for us:

Steel City Insider: Mike Tomlin made a big deal about the crowd noise, which he said leads to a ferocious Rams pass rush, at the Jones Dome. How accurate is he on that?

Nate Latsch: The Rams had plenty of empty seats for their season opener against the Seahawks at the Edward Jones Dome, which wasn’t surprising considering the potential relocation talk, but the fans who showed up were loud and provided a strong home-field advantage. That had to help a strong effort from the defensive line that recorded five of the team’s six sacks against Russell Wilson.

Will that be the case this Sunday after a disappointing road loss to the Redskins in Week 2? I’m not sure. The Rams gave their fans plenty to cheer for in the season opener, but if the Steelers come out and score two touchdowns early they could take the crowd out of it.

Steel City Insider: I understand why the Rams would present such a problem to the Steelers' protection, but why is the same front having trouble stopping the run? Is it just a lack of data two weeks in?

Latsch: I wrote about this in-depth here — Rams struggling in run game — but I think we’ll find with time that the rushing numbers the Redskins put up on Sunday were more of a result of Washington’s strong rushing attack and less about the Rams’ difficulties in defending the run.

The Rams have definitely struggled in that area, with maintaining gap integrity and missing tackles being two reasons for concern, but they didn’t fare too poorly with their run defense against a Seahawks team that led the NFL in rushing last season.

Steel City Insider: If the Steelers do block the Rams up front, what are Ben Roethlisberger's chances against their secondary?

Latsch: The Rams have allowed Wilson and Kirk Cousins to complete 80.9 percent of their passes the first two weeks, something Jeff Fisher noted during his press conference on Monday as an area the team needs to improve on as soon as possible because of the challenges ahead.

“Defensively, the completion percentage is way too high,” Fisher said. “Not to look ahead, but we’ve got Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer and Aaron Rodgers ahead of us and we’re allowing way too many completions against our defense.”

I’m sure the Rams will dial up the pressure against the Steelers, but don’t know how the Rams will limit Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown.

Steel City Insider: How is Nick Foles? Didn't the Rams trade a lot to get him? And do you feel it will be worth it?

Latsch: Foles quickly became a leader with the Rams and earned the respect of his teammates, who voted him as a captain, but the results on the field after two weeks have been hit and miss.

He was good against the Seahawks when he rallied the team to an overtime victory, but then struggled against the Redskins. The inconsistent play of the young and inexperienced offensive line in front of him hasn’t helped, but Foles needs to be better than he was in Week 2.

The Rams and Eagles basically swapped quarterbacks, Sam Bradford for Foles, and exchanged later-round draft picks. The Rams did get the Eagles’ second-rounder in 2016, which could end up becoming an impact player for the future.

I’d say the trade was definitely worth it for the Rams. Depending on Bradford after he missed 25 games over the previous two seasons because of knee injuries would have been difficult to do and his bloated contract limited salary cap flexibility. The Rams have already signed Foles to a two-year contract extension at a reasonable amount of money and Bradford will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

Steel City Insider: I thought Tavon Austin was a sure-fire first-rounder who would play much bigger than his size. But I've been mocked since then. Does Austin show glimpses of being the guy I thought he was coming out of WVU?

Latsch: There have definitely been glimpses. Austin scored two touchdowns in the season opener against the Seahawks — on a punt return and a run out of the backfield — but he only has three receptions in the first two weeks. He’s had 11 touches in two games, including eight rushing attempts, but they need to find more ways to get him the ball consistently and give him a chance to break big plays.

Austin began his NFL career in 2013 catching six passes in each of his first three games, but hasn’t had more than five catches in a game since. And he’s only done that once over the past 27 games.

So it’s not looking good for Austin living up to his lofty draft status, but it hasn’t quite reached the point where there’s no hope because the Rams continue to talk about getting him the ball more.

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