On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers offense faces perhaps its biggest challenge with the St. Louis Rams. Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Rams and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: The Rams now have a quarter of a season with Nick Foles as the starting quarterback. How has Foles fit in with the offense?
He's performed above what should have been expected of him, I'd say. The Rams don't run a system that's all that demanding on the QB, so he's not being pushed all that hard. Perhaps what I'm most surprised by, and appreciative of, is the lack of interceptions. Foles has just one, and even that came in the desperation of the final minutes in a loss against Pittsburgh. That's certainly more forgivable than the first three quarters when he has to manage risk, especially since the Rams' offense isn't well-stocked.
Foles doesn't have to be great for the Rams to succeed. The team is built on the back of the defense and the hopes that the running game will open things up for the pass. So to this point in terms of return on investment, he's certainly been more than adequate.
APC: Todd Gurley had his first big game last weekend, rushing 19 times for 146 yards. Does this mean that St. Louis' medical staff has given full clearance to use Gurley as much as necessary, or do some usage limitations remain?
I don't think the usage limitations apply any more, but the narrative around Gurley took off way too fast after last week. Most people who didn't watch the game are unaware that his big runs all came in the 4th quarter. This is Gurley's rushing production by quarter since his debut in Week 3:
Q1 v PIT: 0 rushes/0 yards
Q2 v PIT: 3/2
Q3 v PIT: 1/4
Q4 v PIT: 2/3
Q1 @ ARI: 1/-3
Q2 @ ARI: 3/5
Q3 @ ARI: 6/38
Q4 @ ARI: 9/106
So it's not that Gurley didn't have a big performance in Phoenix. He did. But the overwhelming bulk came at the end of the game, inarguably when it mattered most. Still, I think the Rams wouldn't be opposed to getting more out of him in the first halves of games moving forward.
APC: After two quiet years, Tavon Austin finally appears to be a significant part of the Rams offense. Is that just because the team finally replaced Brian Schottenheimer, or has Austin improved this season?
Well, part of it is new OC Frank Cignetti and a new scheme set for the offense that benefits both Tavon Austin and Todd Gurley. Again though much like Gurley, I'd point to Austin's four games as a whole not just last week:
Week 1, v. SEA: 2 receptions/-2 yards/0TDs, 4 rushes/17 yards/1 TD
Week 2, @ WAS: 1/6/0, 4/40/0
Week 3, v. PIT: 5/38/0, 0/0/0
Week 4, @ ARI: 6/96/2, 2/20/0
He did also have a punt return for a TD in week one, but nonetheless you've got the pair of games in Weeks 2 and 3 that aren't indicative of a breakout. Credit the Rams for trying. He's second in targets and tops among the wideouts. I'm just hesitant to push any more chips in on the back of one really good game.
APC: Can St. Louis' defensive line be stopped, and if so how?
Well, the bottom line is no. They're just too good, too deep and too well-supported by Def. Coordinator Gregg Williams' blitz packages. Seven of the Rams' 17 sacks come from defender who aren't on the line, so it forces offensive lines to deal with a lot of angles and confusion when the Rams put three people next to the linemen and threaten blitzes from all of them.
Of course the thing I often point out is, you don't have to stop the Rams' defensive line if you just negate it. The Rams, obviously, do a great job of getting to the QB...if there's time. Offenses that run quick throw sets from three- or five-step drops that take what the Rams' defense is designed to give you (the short middle of the field) have had success. Well, moderate success. A different kind of success. The Rams are giving up the second-highest pass completion percentage in the NFL at 75.7%. But they've also only given up three passing touchdowns and have created six turnovers.
The Pittsburgh game was the perfect example of what the Rams' defense is designed to do: allow you to dink and dunk the middle of the field if you're disciplined to routinely take advantage of it and then punish you physically. If you decide to risk going elsewhere, either on the sidelines or deep, the results overwhelmingly favor the Rams. The Steelers opened the game taking the middle and putting together a field goal and a touchdown in their first two drives. They got away from that and only scored 3 more points in their following eight drives. Of course, it also helps when the run defense is clicking as it was that day against Le'Veon Bell.
So while I'd suggest, bias and all, that you can't really stop the Rams' D-line, I also readily admit the wiser teams won't get drawn into that battle.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?
I have to go with the Packers only since I'm still hesitant to place much faith in the Rams' offense. They don't have a full stable of weapons to attack opposing defenses at multiple points. I went with a 17-10 score in our staff prediction piece, but I'll just say I'd love to be picking the wrong team to win on Sunday.
We'd like to thank Joe and Turf Show Times for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Rams. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Rams vs. Packers.