HAWKBLOGGER: Lots of people talk about Sam Bradford as being the reason the Rams are competitive again, but tell us about their defense. What are they good at, and how have they played?
RAMSHERD: This is an overachieving unit on defense for the most part, but the most noticeable difference has been the effectiveness of the defensive line, particularly the emergent play of Chris Long, who leads the league in QB pressures (55 in 15 games). A couple of things could be factors here, including a move to the left side of the D-line, the signing (and surprisingly effective play) of DT Fred Robbins in the spot next to him, and perhaps just the benefit of two full years of experience in the league. In 2009’s training camp, he looked lost; this August, he was nearly unstoppable.
More subtly, the defensive units are playing better as units, as they seem to have a better grasp on Spagnuolo’s scheme. Everything builds off pressure, and Spags likes to mix high-risk blitzes in on occasion, which requires discipline from the players left in the second and third level of the defense. The Rams don’t allow a lot of long dink-and-dunk drives… but that said, this is still a defense that is vulnerable to big plays, with a secondary that is seemingly always dinged up in one way or another.
HB: How are the Rams different than the first time the teams played this season? New players? Key injuries? New tendencies?
RH: I think you’ll see the Rams more fully transitioned away from a run-based offense, as Sam Bradford has been given the reins completely. The Rams still like to run the ball, particularly when they have a lead and are trying to kill the clock, but they also use the no-huddle quite often to spark the offense. And as the season has progressed, the weakness of the offensive line as a run-blocking unit has become painfully apparent.
The X-factor in the offense, literally, is WR Danario Alexander, who is the only player on the roster with the size, speed, and ball skills to play the “X” receiver position and turn downfield routes into legitimate threats. Alexander is a rookie with five knee surgeries already under his belt, and the Rams have been easing him into the offense. Last week against San Francisco, though, he got a season-high 40 snaps and delivered a game-changing performance. (Full analysis: http://ramsherd.com/2010-season/december/danario-alexander-inside-a-game-changing-performance.html)
HB: If the Rams lose and end up with a high draft pick, how would you expect that they’d use it? What are the biggest position needs beyond the obvious at WR?
RH: With 7 wins already, the Rams are probably looking at a 15th pick at best, and it looks likely that both AJ Green and Julio Jones — the two consensus elite WR prospects in the draft right now — will be off the board. I could actually see them trade down in this scenario, still looking to get a WR from the next tier — perhaps Pitt’s Jonathan Baldwin. However, if I was Billy Devaney, I’d look hard at a running back in the Jahvid Best or LeSean McCoy mold to platoon with Steven Jackson next season. We are several players away from being a complete team, but building the offense around Bradford would be my first priority.
HB: There is lots of talk amongst Seahawks fans about whether losing this game may help the franchise win in the long run due to higher draft choice in a key draft. Any talk like that from Rams fans?
RH: To be honest, no. That conversation has been pretty much worn out over the past three seasons. The talk among Rams fans that I’ve been part of is firmly focused on making the playoffs, as implausible as that sounded in Week 1, and how much benefit that experience could yield to this young and hungry team. In particular, Sam Bradford has shown that he needs just a little bit of time to acclimate to the game speed and intensity of each level of the NFL season; there’s no way to learn playoff intensity without actually playing in a playoff game.
HB: Is there anything that scares you about this Seahawks team?
RH: Recent history, more than anything else. The Rams defense has given up 100-yard rushing games to all kinds of anonymous Seahawks players over the past few years, so a legit player like Marshawn Lynch could be in line for a big day. However, if the Rams play up to their potential and take care of business, they should be able to prove themselves the better team, and the best in this flawed division.