Let's jump right into it:
1- Jeff Fisher has been a well-respected HC in the NFL for many years, but his team in Tennessee really started a downward spiral his final two years there (14-18)... What was the reaction of the Rams fanbase when they learned that Fisher would be their new head coach for 2012, and what type of change has he brought since arriving?
TST: Almost to a man, the fan base was excited by the move. Since Dick Vermeil semi-retired after the 1999 season, the Rams have gone through three head coaches who were promoted from a coordinator position: Mike Martz, Scott Linehan and Steve Spagnuolo. None had the kind of success at the top position, and all three have returned to coordinating roles. That being the case, Fisher's experience immediately squashed any fears that the Rams would yet again find themselves failing at the hands of a coordinator who had gotten in over their heads. It's not to say that there aren't good head coaches who have worked their way up from a coordinator job; it just didn't work out for the guys who the Rams' hired. I think Lovie Smith's done a fine job with you guys, and he was the Rams' DC for three years.
In any case, the fans were just happy not to have to play that game; Fisher knows how to handle the job, is in tune with the swings that come with being a head coach before, during and after the year, and brings a new attitude. The Redskins quickly took to the airwaves calling the Rams' cheap and dirty (something that was often said of Fisher's teams in Tennessee), while the Rams just define their approach as being more "physical", more committed to winning. I'll take what Rams CB Cortland Finnegan said about himself and tweak it a bit to apply it to the Rams: if they're your team, you love it. If they're not, you hate it.
2- Last year, the Rams secondary went through a crisis, and that led to the acquisition of Cortland Finnegan and the drafting of two pretty good prospects, CBs Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. How is the secondary shaping up so far this year, and how do you see them matching up with the Bears WR corp?
TST: The problem wasn't so much that the DBs last year were awful; they were all hurt. The Rams sent 11 cornerbacks to the IR last year. I'll give you a minute to grab a kleenex and wipe whatever you were drinking off your computer screen...alright, good. Eleven. Think about the worst cornerback on your team. Imagine someone worse. Now he's the best cornerback on your team. Now imagine the worst cornerback on this new unit of horrendous corners. Again, imagine someone worse. Now he's your best. Now play 10 more NFL games. Yeah, it was painful to bear.
Fisher and GM Les Snead came in and quickly overhauled the depth chart the previous regime had in place, as you mentioned. After two weeks, it's an unquestionable success. Coupled with a plus pass rush with Chris Long and Robert Quinn, the pass defense has capitalized on mistakes, forcing three INTs from Matthew Stafford in week one (including a pick six from Finnegan) and another from RGIII. Not all is positive, though. The Rams' safeties...are not safe. With Finnegan, Jenkins and Bradley Fletcher all eager to play tighter on the line from the snap, both the Lions and Redskins found opportunities to test the Rams' deep coverage. It's not something Rams fans are happy about, but there's just not the talent there from a pass defense perspective. I wouldn't be surprised to see Cutler target Alshon or Brandon Marshall deep in the first half once or twice just to force an adjustment from the Rams.
3- Who are a couple of players flying under the radar for the Rams that we should keep an eye on this week?
TST: Number one is easy - RB Daryl Richardson. The Rams selected Richardson in the seventh round out of Abilene Christian, upsetting some since they had spent a day two pick on RB Isaiah Pead. It's quickly turned into their best value pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. Richardson looked great in the preseason with a no-nonsense running style that, juxtaposed against Pead's backfield dancing, had fans quickly wondering if Richardson should be Steven Jackson's backup. Last week after Jackson was sidelined with a groin injury, Richardson repeated the success he had in the preseason except instead of playing the Cowboys' third stringers, he was taking on the Redskins' starting defense. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry over a 15 rush workload. Not since the Rams drafted Jackson to supplement Marshall Faulk have the Rams had a secondary rushing threat.
After Richardson, I'd point to CB Janoris Jenkins and DE Robert Quinn. Their both natural studs. Quinn needs a bit more refinement, especially in the running game, but his lateral bend allows him to drop his shoulder while rushing the pass rusher to a freaky degree. There's a reason so many UNC fans compared Quinn to Julius Peppers - they're both blessed with unnatural skills for the position. As for Jenkins, he can do it all - man, zone, press, bump & run. He's very gifted. He had some mental lapses in the preseason, but it was more about learning the scheme and when to handoff coverage responsibilities. Through the first two games, he's looked very good.
4- After the disastrous attempt at a passing attack last week versus the Packers, I suspect the Bears will come out running the football like madmen. Even with Matt Forte out, the Rams can expect a HEAVY dose of Michael Bush, early and often. If the Bears really focus on running the ball, how do you see the Rams defense holding up?
TST: Is not good an acceptable answer? The Rams were horrid against the run last year. While they drafted DT Michael Brockers in the middle of the first round for specifically that reason, he's still out for another week or two dealing with an ankle injury from the final preseason game. Kendall Langford was also brought in to shore up the middle of the line, and the linebacking corps was changed to help MLB James Laurinaitis. While the season opener provided a glimmer of hope, the run defense struggled last week with RGIII leading the attack (BTW, that dude's really, really good. Really good.). I'm interested to see how they perform against you guys with a more conventional ground game; it should at least give us a better baseline to work from. That said, I'm not optimistic that it will be a great performance.
5- Sam Bradford - He seems to have a lot of supporters, and a lot of critics. Do you see him, say around the 5-year mark, being an elite NFL QB?
TST: I do, but that's dependent two factors he's had going against him thus far in his career:
1.) He needs a reliable receiving corps. Danny Amendola's a great short game option, and as last week showed, he can be used to great avail. That being said, had the Redskins dropped out of their zone scheme and played tighter on the line, Danny wouldn't have finished with his ridiculous stat line: 15 rec., 160 yds. Brandon Gibson looks much better this year, his fourth with the Rams. Brian Quick hasn't factored much, but fellow rookie Chris Givens has exhibited the speed that fans were hoping for. I think he's someone that's going to have a big moment this season. And I really think TE Lance Kendricks is going to be a very good option in the passing game. Looking ahead to the five year mark, Sam has to get good play from his passing options - something he didn't really have his first two years, but has in the first two weeks of this season.
2.) The offensive line has to keep him upright. Sam took more punishment last season than any QB in the league. You guys saw what it did to your offense last week. Offensive line play is crucial for the Josh McDaniels offense we ran last year, and without it, the Rams' passing O was terrible (why they continued to run it when the protection it relied upon...well, there's a reason the coaching staff from last year was let go). Inexplicably, the patchwork line this year has performed well. But it's already beset with injuries - Rodger Saffold hurt his neck in week one and will miss a few more weeks after an MCL injury against the Skins. Rookie guard Rok Watkins had to be put on IR. Veteran center Scott Wells is hobbled. Wayne Hunter's working on a bum ankle. I'm absolutely worried about the line and its ability to keep Sam healthy, to say nothing of run blocking.
So yes, I think he can be an elite QB, but it's football, and that level of success isn't achieved individually. If he were forced to deal with the 2011 O-line and WRs, then I'd say no. But he doesn't have to. I'm hopeful that things are moving in a direction where he, and the Rams, can start being known for their on-field successes instead of being the team that helps their opponent churn out highlights on a regular basis.
Make sure to visit Turf Show Times for their version of this post... And a big THANK YOU to 3k for chatting with us today!