In a lot of ways, the Texans and Rams are twins. Both teams have a quarterback in a "make or break" season, both teams can't seem to produce wins against top tier competition, and neither team can get out of their own way with constant boneheaded penalties on special teams. Suffice to say that both the Texans and Rams are looking for their "get right" game this Sunday, and I have a sinking feeling that this contest will be a blowout one way or the other. Either the Texans get it together and win big at home, or the Rams finally put their impressive talent pool to work and go off for the first big victory of the season. No matter the result, the loser falls to 2-4 and makes it that much harder to reach the playoffs.
Pass the scotch...
1. What were your expectations for the Rams going into the season considering how stacked your division seems to be this year? Have they met those expectations so far?
Well, I don't think that there was a consensus among the base that the playoffs were a greater than 50% opportunity. As you noted, there's not a "bad" team in the division...or at least there wasn't in the preseason, and we've tried to take up that mantle. I don't know that if you told us we'd be 2-3 after five games, given our schedule, that we'd be all that upset. At Atlanta, at Dallas, home vs. the Niners...sure, we would have liked to have picked one of those up, but they're not embarrassing losses...unless you lose in the way we did to the Cowboys and 49ers. We looked completely inept and unprepared. The offense failed. The defense failed. Special teams, and the penalties we accrue throughout those opportunities when ST is on the field, made things harder for the major units. So a top-level view wouldn't be all that unacceptable, but the path we took to get here provides some context that is unsettling.
2. What is wrong with Cortland Finnegan, and why is he suddenly handing out uncontested receptions like Halloween candy?
I don't know that anyone has a good answer for that. I could just copy your answer about Matt Schaub and replace a word or two...
"I really don't know. Maybe he is shell shocked, maybe he is injured, maybe his [athleticism] just isn't what it used to be and he can't make any [aggressive plays] anymore. Whatever it is, he's playing absolutely horrible."
Last year, Finnegan was an integral part of a defense that had the capability to slow down even the best offenses. Not so much this year. In the big games, the defense looks incapable of playing cohesively front to back. Finnegan, for his part, looks the easiest target in the secondary, and teams have gone after him with success. Whatever it is, he has to get it figured out or he's going to continue to watch games rather than play in them.
3. What is the confidence level in Sam Bradford right now? Is he the problem or the solution? If the offense continues to struggle, should the front office consider using both of their first round picks in this year's draft to possibly move up and take a quarterback for the sake of cap space?
I think the last 11 games will decide Sam Bradford's role moving forward. I argued before the season that this was the make or break year for him with the Rams. It seemed to me that either he would play at a level that left no uncertainty that he can be a QB to lead this team into the playoffs and find success therein, or he would show that he was just not a long-term answer. That wasn't a unanimous view among Rams fans, let alone our TST staff. I found that surprising at the time, but I think more people are recognizing that a "break" year wouldn't mean necessarily immediately going and getting a top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, stacked as it may be at QB.
I offered the case of Alex Smith, who had his "break" year, which more than breaking his career just broke the confidence the front office had in him. They drafted Colin Kaepernick and Smith still led them to the NFC Championship the next season. A year later, a hit from Rams LB Jo Lonn Dunbar sidelined Smith and opened the door for Kaepernick to do what we all saw Kaepernick do last year in a Super Bowl year. Now Smith's a Chief (and finding some serious early success there), and everybody's relatively happy.
So I think the notion of having a break year meaning everything caves in for a franchise and the player is a bit misguided. It just means the marriage is over. And if the final 11 games for the Rams and Sam Bradford play out the way the first five did, I don't see how anyone wouldn't suggest that this relationship has a future.
I think he's definitely in the driving seat to be the answer this season. As for the other two, I don't think the public is aware of what happened between the coaches and Isaiah Pead. It's obvious there's been something that completely and irrevocably ruined his time with St. Louis. You could suggest it speaks to a level of professionalism both on behalf of the Rams and Pead that they haven't played this out in the media. Still, something broke in his progress after being a second round pick just a year and a half ago. As for Richardson, he was never a talented running back. He has a small skill set that fit what the Rams were doing at the time. And for an offensive line that has struggled for years to open running lanes, he was a sensible option. At this point though, I think the Rams are yearning for more and the line is starting to find some unity. Stacy might just be the guy who happens to be in the right place at the right time.
5. Put your name on it. The final score of this game will be Rams _____ Texans _____.
I'll go 27-23...and I guess I have to go with you guys. I think being on the road and having only had a Jaguars game to deal with the breakdowns of the Cowboys and Niners games (a win in which they still looked unbelievably sloppy at times), I don't know that they've figured out enough of the kinks yet. I'm hopeful that they have ironed out some, though, and can make this competitive. But having to play this one on the road, even the homer in me has to give you guys a slight edge.