The Pittsburgh Steelers and St. Louis Rams will be going head-to-head this Sunday in Week 3, and both of these 1-1 teams will be looking to to move their record above .500 heading into Week 4. In preparation for the big game at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, I was fortunate to have an interview with Joe McAtee, editor of Turf Show Times (SB Nation's Rams website), and take a look at this matchup from the other side of the fence.
Take a look at the interview and, as always, if you're looking for news on this matchup from the Rams' point of view, head on over to Turf Show Times for all the information you'll need.
There is a lot of talk surrounding the Rams' defensive front, and for rightful reasons. But who are the weapons on the offensive side of the football that Steelers fans should keep an eye on in this Week-3 matchup?
I'm not sure we've got them yet..I guess, if I'm stretching, I could point to Tavon Austin. His acceleration and speed are top-tier, but it takes a lot to craft an entire offense around him and the Rams have never been dedicated to that. Through the first four weeks of 2014, WR Brian Quick looked like the best wideout the team has had since the Greatest Show on Turf, but he slowed down a bit thereafter and suffered a dramatic arm injury in Week 7. He still hasn't made it back to the field yet. The biggest name though, both because of recency bias and the promise of the unknown, is RB Todd Gurley. The Rams' first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Gurley tore his ACL last November playing for Georgia. This week, he isn't even on the injury report, so many are looking at this Sunday as his NFL debut. He's coming in with substantial hype, and the Rams certainly need him to make good on that promise early considering their dearth of offensive weapons.
The Steelers offense gets All Pro RB Le'Veon Bell back from his two-game suspension this week, he provides considerable matchup issues for opposing defenses. What are the Rams' plans to stop the running game after being gashed by Matt Jones of the Redskins in Week 2?
I just don't know, honestly. The defense is set up to allow for short runs and short passes in the center of the field, while protecting the sidelines and deep. The entire philosophy is based on the intent to get to 3rd-and-long and create splash plays with the defensive line crashing on the QB. Washington wasn't put in that position often enough because the run game was getting them extra yards, let alone the three big runs Matt Jones and Alfred Morris broke off.
The failures in the run-defense last Sunday just come down to execution, not playcalling. Too often, James Laurinaitis and the safeties, T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod and Mark Barron, were taking the wrong gaps. The plugs up front, especially Michael Brockers, weren't closing the middle. And the Rams didn't have edge integrity. So really, what's the plan? Do better.
The Rams are playing in the dome this Sunday, what makes Edward Jones Dome such a unique home field advantage?
Nothing, seriously. The Rams have been the next-to-worst team in the NFL over the last decade. That has an effect on any franchise's home support. There's still a dedicated base, but you can't have a team in 2015 that hasn't had a winning season since 2003 fill its stadium to capacity with raucous fans. It's just not happening.
Rookie RB Todd Gurley wasn't listed on the team's most recent injury report, pointing to a NFL debut for the former Georgia Bulldog. What are the expectations for Gurley going against a mediocre Steelers defense?
Good question! I think the expectations are a bit unfair for Gurley. Running backs are almost always a product of their environment, and especially given the modern NFL structure, their individual value has been largely depleted. So as the 10th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, some Rams fans are expecting him to come in and perform miracles from the first snap. It's something that's (a) largely out of his control and (b ) largely impossible.
On the other hand, this is a situation of the Rams' making. They drafted Isaiah Pead in the second round 2012 NFL Draft, though he never materialized as a legitimate NFL back. They drafted Zac Stacy in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and he'd go on to run for just shy of 1,000 yards in his rookie season. They drafted Tre Mason in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft and, despite not even suiting up the first handful of games, he ran for more than 750 yards at better than a 4.25 per-carry rate. You would think that group, supplemented with 2013 UDFA surprise Benny Cunningham would be sufficient, especially for an offense with plenty of other issues. So taking a running back at 10 overall is going to require something special to justify the pick.
Looking at the Rams-Washington game, the line was so abysmal in run blocking, there was just nothing to work with all game. Tre Mason ran for 26 yards on just 7 carries. If that's what Gurley's going to be dealing with for his NFL debut, he may wanna swing by the Pope on his way to the stadium to get blessed. He'll need it.
There is a long history between the Steelers and Jeff Fisher's teams, dating back to the days of his time with the Titans and the AFC Central. What are the fans' thoughts on the job Fisher has done with his time in St. Louis?
Well it's kind of the opposite of the Gurley situation. The Rams were in such horrible shape when Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney were brought in as head coach and GM. The roster was nearly devoid of any long-term talents. They began stocking up and did well in the first-two rounds, but there just wasn't enough of a 53-man roster to work with and they won just 13 games in Spags' three year-tenure. So Fisher came in with the bar set LOW. Winning 20 games over three years and missing out on the playoffs would be considered a failure in most places. For the Rams though, it's been a step in the right direction. The problem, though, is that the reasons why the Rams haven't gotten over the hump haven't changed. The names and faces have, but those reasons are now sounding like excuses. And Jeff Fisher's history is real. Rams fans were optimistic that he would be able to create a better environment than what he had in Tennessee, but it's just not looking like there's any real change. The defense, despite being talented, is undisciplined. And returning all 11 starters with no changes on the defensive staff suggests that continuity isn't an issue. The offense still is marred by poor line play and a lack of explosion in the passing game. Is any of that going to change? I don't see how it would happen any time soon.
Part of the issue too is job security. It doesn't feel like Jeff Fisher is on any kind of hot seat. The Rams don't have any real expectations. It's a franchise that is traumatized by the last decade of losing and the specter of a possible move to Los Angeles. The 2015 season doesn't exist in a vacuum, so Fisher isn't exactly playing for now. He's not pushing all-in by any means. The question or problem if you're a Rams fan is when his comfort playing a long-term strategy is going to pay off...or whether it ever will at all.