Russ Salvatore for Wall of Fame!
Yes, the Bills making the playoffs are about as slim as me winning the NYS Powerball. They are 5-7 and have a great shot at being one game below .500 with a win. Hooray! This week, they take on the St. Louis Rams. As we do every week, we are joined by the opposing team's blogger. The fine folks over at Rams Herd answer all my questions about Sam Bradford, Jeff Fisher, their defense and Stephen Jackson. Enjoy and tell a friend.
1) If you were the opposing offensive/defensive coordinator, how would you attack the Rams?
The AFC East has been putting on a primer on “how to beat the Rams” so far. Defensively, the Rams play a lot of soft zone designed to let defensive backs keep the play in front of them, and mix in varying levels of blitz into their pass rush. If you have a premier offensive line like the Patriots, that means you can simply sit back in the pocket and run crosses and digs into the zone ad nauseam and wait for the eventual openings down field. If you don’t, like the Dolphins and the Jets, quarterbacks can still take advantage of deep cushions by making quick decisions and quick passes. It will take you a lot longer to get downfield and it won’t open up holes in the run game, but nearly any team with a disciplined QB can put 17 on the board relatively reliably and give their team a chance.
2) What has Jeff Fisher done for this football team this year?
Fisher’s impact has been huge on a few different levels, and the difference from the Spagnuolo / Linehan days is stark. Firstly, he prizes talent, even if it comes with question marks, and that allows the team to take chances on players like Janoris Jenkins and Chris Givens that came with some character flags. He is enough of a disciplinarian to keep these guys in line, and enough of a player’s coach to give them (and their talent) free rein.
Secondly, he is an excellent and well-respected manager of a team. He got carte blanche from Rams owner Stan Kroenke to build the coaching staff and the front office he wanted, and he assembled a hell of a staff. Among his key hires are offensive line coach Paul Boudreaux, snagged from Atlanta, defensive line coach Mike Waufle, formerly of the Raiders and Giants, and receivers coach Ray Sherman. Most importantly, Fisher stays out of the way and lets these veteran guys coach.
Thirdly, I could say that “he knows how to win,” but that’s a cliché. I would say that he does bring something akin to “The Process” that Nick Saban made famous in Alabama. Basically, do your job, and hit harder than the other guy for as many plays as is necessary, and good things will happen.
3) What is up with Sam Bradford? In a way, he's kind of been the forgotten #1 overall pick. Is he improving? What is his deal?
Bradford has been getting a lot of scrutiny this year after being rag-dolled behind an awful (and very poorly coached) offensive line last year. He hasn’t taken off, but he has regained a lot of the momentum he had built up in his 2010 ROY season, and shown more big-play ability than he ever has before. More importantly, he now has a receiver in Givens who can step up if his favorite target Danny Amendola goes down. I compare Bradford in year 3 to where Eli Manning was in year 5 – potentially on the cusp of a breakout year, particularly if the team continues to restock his weaponry.
4) You guys have been really going after the QB this year with Chris Long and Robert Quinn, why has your pass rush been so much better this year in comparison to last year?
Schematically, there aren’t huge differences in what the Rams’ DL is doing. The big difference has been upgrades at defensive tackle and cornerback, both positions that were absurdly weak last year. The Rams couldn’t stop the run and couldn’t generate interior pressure without taking huge chances, and opposing offenses feasted. This year, they have to play honest and our pass rush is getting home.
5) I've always had a lot of respect for Stephen Jackson. He's been a great runner on kind of a lousy team (No offense. We suck too) and he's on pace for over 1,000 yards. Have you guys thought about replacing him or have you been lowering his carries?
here was talk of trading Jackson at the deadline, particularly with the team in a 3-game slide and looking to next year. I for one am grateful that we didn’t. Jackson has been averaging 22 carries per game since the trade deadline, still more than capable of carrying the load. The Rams did finally draft a legitimate backup in Daryl Richardson, the first we’ve had in Jackson’s career here, and that helped keep SJ’s legs fresh through the first half. Now, though, they seem intent on riding him to the finish line.
6) I don't know what to think of the Rams. You guys played exceptionally well against the 49ers, but you were beaten down by the Pats and the crappy Jets. Are they for real or are they just a tease?
I actually just wrote about this, when talk of the Rams being “in the playoff hunt” started to surface. They aren’t “for real.” Not yet. What they are is a very young team that has talent but just isn’t very consistent. This run of four games, each one against competitive second-tier teams, will tell us a lot about where the Rams belong. My guess is that they go 2-2 down the stretch, showing flashes of greatness at times and frustrating stretches of ineffectiveness (especially on offense) at others.
7) Can you tell me 1-2 players that Bills fans should look out for that none of us have probably ever heard of?
Well, hopefully you’ve heard of Chris Givens by now. The fourth-round rookie has become the Rams’ preeminent deep threat with five consecutive games of 50+ yard catches, and showed last week that he’s capable of being a high-target chain-mover as well. On defense, Janoris Jenkins is our enormously talented but highly inconsistent rookie cornerback. He got torched in coverage last week, but also put ten points on the board for his team by inducing a safety and recovering a fumble for a touchdown. Also, look out for Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a rescue project from the defensive wasteland in New Orleans. He is laying heavy hits at the outside linebacker position, and has been a key run-stopper as well.