The Opposite Sideline: Rams up, down

Stu Courtney
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Each Thursday morning, Press-Gazette Media will get the lowdown on the Green Bay Packers’ next opponent from a beat writer who covers that team.

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher will bring an inconsistent team to Green Bay on Sunday.

We know the NFL schedule-makers have the St. Louis Rams visiting Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. What we don’t know: Which Rams team will show up?

Will it be the Rams with the daunting defense who stunned Seattle in the season opener and upended previously unbeaten Arizona on the road last Sunday? Or will it be the offensively inept bunch that lost 24-10 at Washington and 12-6 at home against Pittsburgh?

The Rams (2-2) got a major boost from rookie running back Todd Gurley in their 24-22 upset of Arizona. Gurley rushed for 144 of his 146 yards in the second half, including a 52-yard burst that set up the winning touchdown, and quarterback Nick Foles threw for three TDs. The Rams’ defense held the Cardinals to field goals on four of their five trips inside the red zone but lost inside linebacker and leading tackler Alec Ogletree to a broken leg.

We asked beat writer Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to answer a few questions about what the Packers can expect from the Rams:

1. The Rams have been up and down, beating a couple of good teams in the Seahawks and Cardinals but losing to the Redskins and at home to the Steelers. Why have they been so inconsistent?

JT: “That’s kind of been their M.O. under Jeff Fisher. They’ve had some big wins, but they’ve also lost to some teams that were very winnable games, like Washington. …. Part of it is that they are such a young team. I think this is the third year in a row that, entering the season, the Rams were the youngest team in the league. They’ve got only three players on the team (defensive ends Chris Long and William Hayes and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar) that are 30 years old.”

2. What has been the key to their success?

JT: “They’ve had good defense — and that’s where they’ve got most of the high draft picks, and more of the experience – but they’ve also been able to get some offense going. …  You look at the Pittsburgh and Washington games, no offense … they were 4-for-22 on third down in those two losses, scored only 16 points and had less than 250 yards offense in both those games. … The defense had a terrible first half in the Washington game, they just couldn’t stop the run. Other than that, though, the defense has been pretty good to really good.

“The games they’ve won, they’ve combined that good defense with some offense. They have a first-time coordinator at the NFL level in Frank Cignetti, they have a new quarterback in Nick Foles, they start two rookies on the offensive line — entered the season with only 76 career starts total among their five starters (on the line), which was easily the league low. And then what you’d hoped to be your franchise running back, (Gurley) wasn’t ready to go for the first two weeks of the season and was lightly used against Pittsburgh. So with all those moving parts, I think everybody expected the offense would struggle early.”

3. So Foles has been inconsistent at quarterback?

JT: “A little bit. Washington easily was his worst game, he played better against Pittsburgh, threw one terrible interception on a deep ball at the end. Overall, though, he has taken pretty good care of the ball. That’s his only interception, the deep ball he threw late in the Pittsburgh game.”

4. The running game is showing potential with Gurley, what kind of a runner is he?

JT: “They were 29th in the league in rushing entering the Arizona game, they were averaging only 78 yards per game on the ground. … But then Gurley just goes off in the second half. He’s a very intriguing blend of speed and power. I think some of the Cardinals were a little surprised by his speed.  He’s about 220 or so, he’s got some change of direction but he’s certainly not a Barry Sanders or Marshall Faulk. You can tell, there’s something about him that’s a little different. A lot of it has to do with vision, his eyes … he showed a little bit of that in Arizona."

5. How good is the Rams’ pass rush (17 sacks, tied with the Packers for second in the NFL)? And what about the loss of Alec Ogletree?

JT: “You’ve got five first-round draft picks on the defensive line. Nick Fairley, the ex-Detroit Lion, he comes off the bench, he’s the fifth one. But all four starters are first-round picks: Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald. It’s all about the pass rush. The Rams, over the last three seasons entering this year: 145 sacks, which was second only to Buffalo with 147. … It’s a really good group.

“Alec is a huge loss. He was their leading tackler. …. A sideline-to-sideline player, known for making splash plays like a sack or an interception, forcing a fumble. …. He was playing really well. If you’d had to pick through four games who was the defensive MVP and maybe even the team MVP, it would’ve probably been either Ogletree or Aaron Donald. So it’s a huge loss.”

6. What will they have to do to stay with the Packers?

JT: “What helped against Arizona is they were plus-3 in takeaway/giveaway. … They have to do something like that.  They’ll try to keep the ball in front of them and not let Aaron Rodgers get over the top. It’s tough for a lot of quarterbacks to carve you up that way, to consistently mount those drives, (Arizona’s) Carson Palmer almost pulled it off. But Rodgers is a master at that. It looks like he’s throwing a lot of short stuff this year.  And they’ve just got to get some offense going … those Pittsburgh and Washington games it was almost feeble, but I think they feel pretty good now that it looks like Gurley’s going and this young offensive line has a little momentum coming out of that Arizona game.”

7. How important is this game for Rams? It’s followed by a bye week and then home games vs. Cleveland and San Francisco.

JT: “The schedule does, at least on paper, kind of lighten up after this. If they could somehow pull off a minor miracle in Lambeau, they could have just tons of momentum and really have something going. They’ve had a hard time putting good efforts back-to-back, so it will be kind of seeing is believing if they can play as well against Green Bay as they did against Arizona. … I think they will come in pretty relaxed knowing that almost nobody expects them to win and just go out and see what happens.”

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