March 24, 2018

Know Your Opponent: Rams Edition

Is it the possible ending of Matt Schaub’s career in Houston if he cannot get the job done on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams? The recent play of Schaub has the Houston Texans on the brink of having their 2013 season head in the wrong direction.  The team is headed back to Reliant to try to end a three game losing streak.

There are plenty of storylines heading into this game and plenty of them surround Schaub, but a win is the only thing that can help the Texans at this point.



Quote of the Day

We need to that 12th man this week against St. Louis. If you want to come out and you want to come to Matt’s house, make sure you scream when St. Louis is coming to the stadium or when anyone is coming to the stadium.

– Ed Reed, Texans Starting Safety


We Ride Together, We Die Together


Know Your Opponent With Rams Herd

If you could use one word to describe the Rams at this point of the season, what would it be and why?

“Befuddling.” We knew the Rams were going young again, after fielding one of the youngest teams in the NFL last year, but we also expected them to be able to take steps forward. Instead, they’ve looked worse than last year, top to bottom, despite having a much more talented team. Even more confusing, this team seems to lack the Jeff Fisher identity. They lack his trademark physical play and underdog mentality.


Sam Bradford seems like one of the most gifted quarterbacks when it comes to physical skills. Why hasn’t he been able to put it together to this point?

Any number of reasons are out there, from surrounding talent to a mishmash of offensive playbooks. But now that he’s in his second season with an elevated talent corps and the same playbook, it’s becoming easier to separate Bradford’s skills – and flaws – from his surroundings.

Primarily, his biggest flaw is a “play-it-safe” mentality. As Greg Cosell and others have noted, it’s far too easy for the defense to take away his willingness to throw the deep ball, even if receivers are coming open. With any kind of pass rush in his face, Bradford’s most common response is to find the dump-off receiver and take a gain of three yards. He started to show progress in the first part of this year, but has quickly regressed.


One of Houston’s favorite players of all time in Cortland Finnegan is in his second season with the Rams. Why hasn’t he produced this season for the defense? 

One of Houston’s favorites, eh? Nice.

I looked at this recently. Sadly, it has been a full year since Finnegan has played like the shutdown slot corner that the Rams paid for. The most likely culprit I can point to is age. He is a small guy who likes to hit hard (and gets hit hard in return), and at age 29 his legs might be giving out on him. As a slot receiver or a slot corner, your primary tool is first-step quickness. He no longer has it and is giving up huge cushions in coverage to make up for it.


Tavon Austin was drafted to bring instant offense to the Rams. Talk about his early career for the Rams.

I think you captured the pre-draft zeitgeist on Tavon perfectly. Everyone assumed he was “instant offense.” My early impression is that this is far from the truth. He isn’t a player like a Calvin Johnson or Jimmy Graham that the defense cannot stop even when they know he’s getting the ball. Defenses know all too well when and where Tavon is getting the ball (see the point on Bradford), and they’re blanketing him with linebackers.

Like Darren Sproles in New Orleans, Tavon needs the threat of a deep game to clear out those underneath defenders if he’s going to get the space he needs to thrive. Unlike Sproles, Tavon is potentially a legitimate deep threat himself, but the Rams haven’t used him that way. (Rams fans have been extremely critical of Brian Schottenheimer’s play-calling, and Tavon is a perfect lightning rod for them.)

Right now, he looks like a frustrated player who is struggling to keep his composure. He’s dropping passes and his snap count is dwindling. Even when he makes a big play (especially on special teams), a foolish penalty inevitably takes it away. That said, I think his talents are still formidable and he could explode if the offense can get him into space.


Jake Long and Jared Cook were two big additions to the Rams this off season. Have they had any impact on the Rams?

Both were expected to have huge impacts, and both are scuffling a bit right now.

Long was a necessary addition considering the fragility of Rodger Saffold, but it’s hard to argue that he has made the team considerably better. He has given up a ton of pressure, and that seems to be contributing to the erosion of Bradford’s deep ball confidence. The Rams signed him at a discount compared to the price tag for an elite left tackle; it seems clear that he isn’t an elite left tackle any more.

Cook has fantastic speed and a mile-wide catch radius, but is way more contact-shy than a player of his size should be. His attempts at blocking are comically bad and he really struggles with being jammed at the line of scrimmage. After week 1’s 150-yard 2-TD performance, we wondered how the hell the Titans could squander a talent like this on the bench. In week five, he played only 38 of 73 snaps.


Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins are two gifted young corners. With “red flags” coming into last season’s draft, both seem to have turned into bright spots for the defense.

You can add rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree and WR Chris Givens to that list as well. That’s Jeff Fisher’s MO. He loves talented guys who have chips on their shoulders and isn’t afraid of disciplinary issues in their permanent record, as long as they happened on someone else’s watch. He was even willing to take a long look at Titus Young this offseason, which speaks volumes.

The truth is that most of these quote-unquote “character issue” players aren’t going to turn into the next Aaron Hernandez. They’re just overgrown children and Fisher seems to thrive on knowing how to raise them up. And he’s tapped into veteran players like Finnegan and Chris Long (the son of an Oakland Raider, after all) to demonstrate how to balance a bad-boy past with good-son behavior.


The Rams running game has been non-existent this season. What are these early season struggles attributed to?

Well, first of all, a lack of identity or the wrong players up front for the identity that the Rams want. Last year, the Rams used a mix of zone and iso blocking schemes, and had Steven Jackson to hand it off to. Jackson doesn’t get enough credit for being a technical runner, but if you watched his footwork, he was in constant sync with the OL. He had a very productive season despite his skills being in decline.

This year, we’ve shown a lot of looks but seem to be primarily an iso-blocking team. The trouble is that we have a collection of too-old and too-small players up front. We essentially have four offensive tackles and a center, and we’re using TE Lance Kendricks as a fullback. Add to that a lot of uncertainty in the RB group – Daryl Richardson was our starter but has a bad foot, Isaiah Pead is perpetually in the doghouse, and Zac Stacy seems to be constantly dinged up.

Last week (Disclaimer alert! We were playing the Jaguars!) Zac Stacy got the starting job and ran the ball well, but he was unable to finish the game. The hope is that he can continue where he left off, but the Texans will be a much more formidable test.


Who are some under the radar players for the Rams that the Texans need to watch out for on Sunday? 

I don’t know if you should count the team leader in touchdowns as “under the radar,” but Austin Pettis is a blue collar guy at WR that is really benefitting from the defensive attention drawn by Tavon Austin, Jared Cook and Chris Givens. He’s scored 6 times in the Rams’ last 7 games and is a guy that Bradford appears to trust.

Another guy is Kendricks. He is always on the field and has enough ability as a blocker and a route-runner that he can be a sneaky-good swiss-army-knife weapon. Like Pettis, he becomes more dangerous when defensive attention is drawn elsewhere.

On defense, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar recently returned from a four-game suspension and is getting back up to speed. He is a thumper who rarely misses tackles, and is expected to make a difference against the run.


A Big Thanks goes out to Will from the Rams Herd for talking about the St. Louis Rams with us.


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