As we do each week, here's our Q&A with SB Nation blog, Turf Show Times. Thanks to 3k for his exrtemely thorough replies to our six questions. Steven Jackson had limited practice on Wednesday with his quad injury. Below, 3k gives us the Rams' fans' pulse on Spags, Bradford, Chris Long, and Jason Smith. He also throws in a prediction (homer alert!).
1.) Whats the story on Jason Smith? Rams took him 2nd overall a few years back, was supposedly a franchise LT, and has only played RT for them. I believe he also got benched last week. Has he shown them anything at all or is he just never going to reach his potential?
The story is the story is the story. In short, he's not progressing. With Alex Barron on the roster in 2009, the intent was to give him time at RT before moving over to the left. Injuries curtailed his rookie campaign, and in the 2010 draft, GM Billy Devaney pulled a stunner (which is at this point not stunning) by going for a tackle at the top of round 2 in Indiana product Rodger Saffold. The initial thought was that Smith would move to LT and Saffold would take over at RT, but by the end of camp it was Saffold setting up to protect Sam Bradford's blindside. Since then, it's been Saffold who has improved and Smith who has leveled off. Smith was outright benched last week and was taken out for an ankle injury (that nobody saw and that can't be found on tape) in week one against the Eagles. There's serious concern among Rams fans both for his development and his future since the Rams are pouring money into his bank account: $8.5m this year, $10m in '12 and $12m in '13. The reality is that he's playing his way into being released after this year if he doesn't turn it around quickly and significantly.
2.) What's the feeling on Sam Bradford and his struggles year two? (Any chance you'd want to trade him for our next two 1st round picks?)
It's a factor of multiple changes and limitations out of his control, IMO. In year one, his most dependable receiving options were Danny Amendola and Mark Clayton until Clayton was lost for the season in a week 5 embarrassment in Detroit. Amendola's elbow bent a way human elbows aren't designed to bend against the Eagles and Clayton's on the PUP list for a few more weeks, so he's had to work with a list of receivers that don't exactly have opponents shaking: Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson and Danario "I've had 5 surgeries on the same knee" Alexander. Add to that the fact that he's adjusting to a new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, in his second season, and he's got a lot of change to adjust to. Being in the NFC West, Rams fans are worried that he's going to be Alex Smith'd (seven OCs in six seasons...) and the lack of continuity will hold him back. But his talent is still ridiculous. His touchdown throw to Gibson last week was stupid amazing, and it's the kind of play that has Rams fans holding out hope he'll be able to right the ship quickly. He's got to get better at red zone reads though. And two first round picks is ridiculously enticing.
3.) What are fans' patience level with Steve Spagnuolo right now?
Thin as a model in weird European magazines. And it's not just the 0-3 start; it's the performances therein. The Rams outplayed the Giants for the majority of the week 2 Monday Night Football game, but two costly turnovers (a muffed punt return and a dropped lateral screen returned for a TD) to go along with two deep red zone possessions-turned field goals suggested a lack of focus. Allowing Torrey Smith, arguably the most one-dimensional rookie WR in the league whose game is built off of pure straight line speed, to beat you over the top three times in the first quarter is just inexcusable. He doesn't get fired up a la John Gruden or Bill Cowher, and that doesn't rub fans the right way when your team is losing. And his reluctance to get after the referees after questionable calls does nothing to help him. Jason Smith got into a scuffle last week after the play, and the Ravens defensive player (whose name eludes me right now) threw Jason Smith to the ground. Smith got flagged, and Spags though visibly upset did not lose his mind. Any sane coach in that situation loses his mind. Shanahan would have broken a facial blood vessel all over the ref's face.
4.) The Rams defense is in the bottom 5 in a ton of categories. What parts of the D are your weak links and which parts are your strengths?
The obvious weak link is the secondary. We lost our #1 CB (Ron Bartell) to a doubly-fractured neck in week 1 and our #3 CB (Jerome Murphy) in the preseason for the duration of the 2011 campaign. In their place, the Rams promoted Justin King is (and this is the nicest thing anyone will say about him all season) not good at playing cornerback in the NFL. Teams are going after him from the snap. I noted last week in my Q&A with Baltimore Beatdown, the SB Nation community for the Ravens, that I expected Flacco to target him early. If you didn't hear about Torrey Smith's week, you don't pay attention to football headlines. That being said, the only reason the Shanahans shouldn't have Grossman going after him is if he's out of the game. He's just an unavoidable deficiency that injuries created. As for the strength, I'd point to the D-line. First round pick Robert Quinn has come along quickly after being inexplicably inactive in week 1 (did I mention Spags wasn't the most popular coach?), and Chris Long is a 60-minute terror to deal with. Defensive tackle isn't a strength; many Rams fans were hoping to scoop Cofield.
5.) Obviously, the Rams have had the Skins number I think 3 of the last 4 meetings. What's your prediction for the game and why?
Man, everyone asks me this and I always take the homer route...so you know damn well I'm a do it again! 27-17 Rams. But it's also out of self-interest. If the Rams go 0-4 into the bye and put out a lackluster performance like what they've shown in the first three weeks, Turf Show Times is going to be an unenjoyable place for two weeks.
6.) What's the feeling on Chris Long? The stats don't seem to be there. Are fans/team still high on him and what are expectations for Sunday and this year?
Classical stats aren't. Part of that is a lack of supporting weapons. Teams doubled teamed him often in his first two seasons, daring other defensive linemen to win their battles. Last year, James Hall did just that, and the matchups this year have been much more favorable for Long this year. As for the fans, I think there's a split between fans who see the final stat line and put a lot of weight into sacks as the ultimate determination of a defensive end's play and those who see things on tape that suggest otherwise. It was a point I tried to make earlier this month using Rams legend Deacon Jones and Julius Peppers as notables in the piece. I'd say this: casual fans who don't see the Rams may not take note of him. But I guarantee coaches and assistants who watch tape make sure that offensive lines are well aware of him going in to each week.
Feel free to ask any more questions as 3k will be checking this thread often.