Prior to this past weekend, the Rams were one team that the 49ers could actually look down to as possibly being worse. Now I'm not so sure about that. The Rams put up some offensive fireworks against New Orleans and if they do that this weekend, the 49ers will be in trouble. In the meantime, I sat down with Ryan over at Turf Show Times to get his thoughts on all things Rams.
NN: The Rams certainly looked impressive on offense against the Saints last week. Is the Saints defense that bad, or are the Rams on their way out of a season long funk?
TST: Well, the Saints defense is pretty bad, but the Rams purposefully and strategically exploiting those weaknesses is a sign that the funk may indeed be ending, in as much as it can end with the offensive line injuries. New Orleans' front seven was pretty weak and missing some key starters, which gave Bulger time to throw. When they did throw - and they threw deep a lot more than we've seen this season - the balls were targeted at receivers being covered by Jason David, who experts and Saints fans alike openly acknowledge as a problem. Bulger and the makeshift line in front of him will struggle with strong rushing teams like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and even Seattle, but it looks as though they've made enough progress, in play and play calling, that they can at least look respectable in their efforts.
NN: I noticed you mentioned some threads on Rams discussion boards showing some optimism for the rest of the season. Green Bay and Pittsburgh will be tough, but otherwise, is this a team could realistically 5-2 or better the rest of the way?
TST: No. We want them to after having such high hopes in August, but the fact is they're still playing with a beat up line and the defense has some key weak spots that teams can exploit. With mistake free and well crafted play, we can win this week's game (sorry) and likely win against Atlanta and Cincinnati. We'll likely need a lucky break or two to beat Arizona in the final week. Four wins this season, max.
NN: Is Steven Jackson finally 100% healthy, and if so, can we expect a return to last year's form without Orlando Pace on the line?
TST: I think he's close enough to 100% that nobody but Steven Jackson knows if he's not. A healthy Steven Jackson (and I spell out his name over and over because concerned fantasy players doing Google searches ahead of this week's game translate to hits...) compensates for the line in the running game. And a solid running game will help with protection for Bulger, but Pace's replacement, Alex Barron, is beatable too often. It takes more blocking from the TEs, FB and everyone else to compensate for the line now.
NN: How are Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan developing and what role do you see each of them filling as the season goes on as well as into 2008 and beyond?
TST: You know, for as much hype as Carriker got for taking the nose tackle role heading into the season, Clifton Ryan has taken over and given the Rams defense some power on the inside. Carriker, a former DE, has moved into a three-technique position, where he's done really well. Between the two of them, there's a lot of hope for our defense going forward. When Leonard Little returns and they bring in another fast, attacking DE (via draft or free agency) they'll have a strong defensive front. It nice to finally have young, talented building blocks on the Rams defense.
NN: The 49ers have struggled with the pass rush most of the season. However, in Week 2 they beat up Marc Bulger pretty badly. Was that more just getting used to no Orlando Pace or are the Rams consistently struggling in defending the pass rush?
TST: They'll still struggle with an effective pass rush, but what really hurt us in that game was the fact that Claude Terrell, our most capable backup tackle, went down with an injury during the game and the Rams were already struggling to adjust without Pace and guard Richie Incognito. That week two game also speaks to a problem the Rams had last season as well, slow starts. I don't know if was the decision to leave the starters out of most preseason action, but that's something they have to change going forward.
Thanks again to Ryan from Turf Show Times. I'll have my answers to his questions up a little later today.