You guys know the scoop. Turf Show Times contributor and author 3k was kind enough to exchange some questions with me earlier today on the upcoming game. See:
Hogs Haven: What happened? Two years ago you guys are a .500 team, then 3-12, now 0-4. Defense has remained steady (which is to say, meh) but the offense has just collapsed. Who is the finger pointed out? Bulger? Linehan? Someone else?
Turf Show Times: That is a difficult question to answer in under 10,000 words. In my view (and this is one that has been lightly contested among the faithful), responsibility rests at the top. For me, this franchise has been wrecked by the mismanagement of our GM, Jay Zygmunt. Zygmunt was a money man (and a great one, to be fair), but his ascendancy to the GM position has ruined our team. The two reasons you can look at this team and say, "Two years ago you guys are a .500 team," is the weakness of the division overall and the fact that we were two years younger. As we've aged, the Niners and Cardinals have continued to develop their teams, and are reaping the early benefits. So to point the finger at someone for two years of decline across the franchise, I point all ten fingers at Zygmunt. If I've got to blame a unit on the field, it's the O-line. Last year, our front 5 were decimated by injuries; this year, they're just playing piss poor. Hopefully, Jim Haslett (newly promoted Head Coach) will solidify the personnel up front and cement the chemistry on the front line to get the offense on solid footing.
HH: Not a lot of people are giving the Rams much of a chance in this game, but then again no one was giving us a chance against the Cowboys, either. I think to win these big upsets the underdog has to play pretty much flawlessly in every aspect of their game and play way above their heads in one or two parts of the game. What thing or things do the Rams need to do superlatively to win against the 'Skins this coming Sunday?
TST: It's hard to pick one thing with a team that has played so poorly in so many areas.
If I could nail it down to three, it would be the following:
- 1 - Better protection: without time, Bulger can't produce. Without lanes, Steven Jackson can't run. Without a productive offense, it's hard to win.
- 2- Pass defense: If there's one thing I'm willing to forgive the Rams so far this season, it's rush defense. In the Eagles, Giants, Bills, we've faced three solid rushing attacks. With the pass, however, many of us believed the Rams would be able to defend the pass this year with the combination of Fakhir Brown, Tye Hill, and Ron Bartell at CB with OJ Atogwe in the back. As it stands now, Brown was released from the team in the turmoil at the end of Linehan's tenure, Hill has looked absolutely confused on the field, and Bartell has been less reliable than last year. The secondary has to step it up, or Santana Moss, Randle-El and Chris Cooley are going to look like Hall of Famers.
- 3 - (And this one is most important) - Play with emotion: One of the things that was so striking about the first four games of this season was how little the Rams appeared to care that they were getting blown out. The philosophy or mentality or whatever you want to call it that defined the team had become infected with indifference. Now that Jim Haslett has the reins, he has to prove that the Rams want to play. We've seen it with players like Steven Jackson and Chris Long, but football is a team game and every single player on the field has to go full out.
HH: Most people don't have a hard time accusing Steven Jackson of being one of the best running backs in the league. He's struggling a bit right now; is that the result of general team woes or is he different as a result of injury? What is the team not doing with him right now that they were doing with him in, say, 2006?
TST: It's the offensive line, which, to use the classic football joke, has been offensive. The kinds of holed that allowed Jackson to show a rare combination of power, agility and athleticism have shrunk. The ground unit is coming off their best game so far which saw Jackson plow for 110 yards. For three quarters, the Rams were able to hang with the Bills, taking a 14-13 lead into the final frame, but an all-too-familiar scene saw the Bills open the 4th with an interception return for a TD and a touchdown pass to Lee Evans on the next drive. So it's not as much what the team isn't doing.
Yes, he's not getting as many touches, but when you're averaging 3.6 yards per carry (compared to 4.4 yds/carry in '06), it means that you're dealing with defensive tackles too often and not linebackers. That failure to allow Jackson to get to the second line of defense rests on the shoulders of the O-line, not the coaching.
You'll find my answers to his questions over at Turf Show Timse along with this Q&A back and forth between VanRam and Jason La Canfora; good reading.
The line opened at 14 points in favor of Washington and has shifted down to as low as 13 but typically somewhere in the 13.5 range. Which just so happens to be, I'm told by Bodog, the current over/under on the Redskins turnovers in the entire 2008 NFL season. Last year it was 29.
Oh happy day.