The San Francisco 49ers host the St. Louis Rams to close out the 2015 season. The division rivals are both out of the playoff picture. The 49ers are playing for draft position, while the Rams might be playing for a .500 record. We took a few minutes to chat with 3k from Turf Show Times about his Rams. Since this is the final week of the season, we focused on the future. The Rams have some really strong building blocks, with a strong defense, and Todd Gurley. Can they turn it around? What does the offseason hold in store for them? We got the scoop from 3k.
Niners Nation: Will Jeff Fisher ever actually get fired by the Rams? Is he just that good at the politics? The man is like a mediocre cockroach.
Turf Show Times: It's just really hard to say yes right now. If there was cause to fire him, it was there last year. That so many fans supported him after the 2014 season but have changed their minds in 2015 is odd, but those kinds of thresholds are arbitrary in any case. You're getting at what I think he's best at with the politics nod; I think he's just a master of the kind of stuff that doesn't really manifest itself on the football field. It's why he's on the competition committee and why so many members of the media and other coaching staffs respect him so vocally in public. When Mike Silver, he of many years at SI and now at NFL.com, can still say with a straight face that Jeff Fisher is "a really good head coach" with a 169-155-1 record tells you he's mastered things beyond the record. It's that mastery that keeps him employed, obviously.
The stranger thing right now is that people are still mocking Jeff Fisher as being "an 8-8 coach" despite the fact that all three of his first three seasons were losing years for the Rams. Yes, if the Rams win on Sunday, they'll finally meet that 8-8 record we've all been waiting for (Note: That is not what we've all been waiting for). But that it would take a four-game winning streak to close out the season is as Jeff Fisher of a run to 8-8 as you can get.
NN: The Nick Foles trade really didn't work out for the Rams QB position. What do you expect the Rams to do given the short extension they gave Foles?
TST: I know this is a bit of an odd approach, but I don't think Nick Foles himself was what didn't work out. I think the system is the problem. When Case Keenum throws 23 passes for 103 yards in a win against the Seahawks and people are excited about the positive management of the offense...that's an indication of how little you want your QB to do. Foles isn't built to operate in that kind of a system. In any case, the lack of a system fit shows that there's no reason the Rams have to be overly committed to Foles moving forward. Keenum's helping the Rams get to the end of the season and rookie QB Sean Mannion is laying in wait. Perhaps the Rams add another QB to the mix for 2016, but there just isn't a reason for the Rams to lock Foles into their future plans.
NN: Aside from Todd Gurley, is there anything specific about the Rams offense that has fans excited?
TST: Smoke? Mirrors? I think the best thing the offense got when they made the switch at QB Nick Foles to Case Keenum and changing offensive coordinators from Frank Cignetti, Jr., to Rob Boras was the level of competition. Getting the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the playoffs out of possibility was perhaps more helpful than the switch itself. The Seahawks game was the real exhibition of what the Rams are supposed to do, though. That there's not really much to get excited about on offense outside of Gurley is by design. The Rams are supposed to win on the back of their defense and just enough offense to put opposing offenses in bad field position. You could make an argument for Tavon Austin, but it has taken three years to get him up to sufficient productivity is part of the problem of Fisherball. Add in the fact that his improved offensive output is coming from sweeps and other run options and not through the air is the reminder that the Rams aren't going to use a dynamic offense to attack opponents (and that the skill set difference between Nick Foles and Case Keenum, or anyone else, just isn't that key to the system either).
NN: Football Outsiders ranks the Rams defense No. 6 overall. What are the weaknesses in the unit that need to be addressed this offseason?
TST: Contracts. Honestly, the defense is well-built. The personnel hasn't been the issue. Coaching and consistency have been. There's absolutely no reason the Chicago Bears should be able to put up 37 points in St. Louis in 2015, but it happened. So no, it's not a problem of the roster. The real issue is the set of questions the Rams have to answer in the front office this offseason.
With three free agents on the defensive line between DE Eugene Sims, DE William Hayes and DT Nick Fairley (the youngest of the three at 27 and the least tenured in just his first season with the Rams), who gets a new contract to stick around? And should the Rams part ways with DE Chris Long who is due nearly $10m with a $2m bonus after what was arguably the worst season of his eight-year career? At cornerback, both Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are coming up on free agency. Can they keep both? With E.J. Gaines (who has been injured all year but perhaps played a level above both in 2014) and Lamarcus Joyner in tow, do they need to? And with all of that going on in front of them, what about FS Rodney McLeod and SS/LB Mark Barron, both of whom...yup.
That's a lot of decisions to have to make and moreover to expect to get right, but it'll shape the face of the defense moving forward...whether the Rams fix the mental and execution issues aside.
NN: What would you rank as the top three needs for the Rams heading into the offseason?
TST: Well...one would be the coaching problem, but that's not getting fixed. So how much does anything else really matter? I've argued that the Rams' personnel isn't the issue. So has Arizona Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu...Part of it goes back to the Washington-St. Louis trade from the 2012 NFL Draft that Washington used to get Robert Griffin III. From that trade, the Rams ultimately received DT Michael Brockers, CB Janoris Jenkins, RB Isaiah Pead, G Rokevious Watkins, OLB Alec Ogletree, WR Stedman Bailey, RB Zac Stacy and OT Greg Robinson. Add that to the normally inherited picks of the last three years, and it's near impossible to understand how Jeff Fisher has taken the Rams from 7-8-1 in 2012 to 7-9 in 2013 to 6-10 in 2014 to whatever the Rams finish in 2015 unless you just chalk it all up to Fisherball.
If you do, as I do, then there aren't three needs. There's just the one at the top and everything else. So I'll go with this for the Rams three needs:
1.) A different approach strategically at the top, (not happening)2.) Luck. A lot of luck. (maybe happening)3.) A well stocked bar of various spirits and intoxicants to make the certain lack of #1 and the potential lack of #2 more acceptable. (definitely happening)