For this week’s “Getting to Know” segment, we reached out to longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch lead Rams beat writer Jim Thomas with these five questions:
MC: As great as rookie running back Todd Gurley has been, it’s hard not to start a conversation about the Rams without mentioning those five former first-rounders on the defensive line. As I look at the whole “Sack City” identity, the games that stand out are the six sacks of Russell Wilson in the season-opening win over Seattle and the four sacks of Carson Palmer in the Week 4 win at Arizona. How has this team been able to generate such consistent pressure, especially on the road against Palmer, who has been sacked only seven other times in six games?
JT: “DT Aaron Donald and RDE Robert Quinn are the headliners, giving the Rams a potent inside/out combination. Both made the Pro Bowl last year. No less than 13 players have at least 1/2 sack for the team this year. William Hayes and Eugene Sims are very good backup defensive ends. Either could start for other teams in the league. (And Hayes is now starting for the injured Chris Long.) Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to blitz, and he’ll send safety Mark Barron from the weakside LB spot, Lamarcus Joyner from the slot, and LB James Laurinaitis from the middle. The Rams have always had success getting Wilson down; he actually takes a lot of sacks despite his elusiveness. As for Palmer, well, the Rams get to just about everybody. They have 171 sacks since the start of the 2012 season, a league-high.”
MC: Speaking of Gurley, you’ve seen Adrian Peterson play the Rams a few times. In 2012, Peterson had zero yards through seven carries and finished with 212 yards in a game at St. Louis. As you’ve had a chance to witness Gurley post the most yards rushing in a player’s first four starts (566) since the merger, are the wide-spread comparisons to Peterson justified and what ways, if any, do you see similarities between the two?
JT: “Well, for starters, they’re very similar in stature. Gurley is 6-1, 227; Peterson is 6-1, 220. They both are intriguing blends of speed and power. Both know how to use the stiff-arm. I think Peterson is more of a violent runner in terms of contact with defenders, but Gurley is no wallflower out there either. He’s also an aggressive runner.”
MC: It doesn’t seem long ago that the Rams drafted Wayzata native James Laurinaitis in the second round (2009), yet he passed Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen to become the franchise’s career tackles leader this season. How is he playing this season, is the ninth-ranked run defense good enough to contain Peterson and how do you think James will be remembered in Rams history when he retires?
JT: “I have immense respect for Laurinaitis. Why? His durability, his productivity, his coverage skills are underrated (10 career INTs). He’s a good blitzer, and he’s the captain of the defense, routinely getting the unit out of bad plays and into good ones. He is under-appreciated by many in St. Louis because he doesn’t make the head-banging, highlight-reel hits, and lacks top-end speed for the position. The Rams certainly have the talent and team-speed to contain Peterson. But let’s face it, he can make any defense look bad.”
MC: The Rams have the 32nd-ranked passing game, but numbers don’t always tell the full story. How is Nick Foles performing with his new team, has Tavon Austin emerged as the No. 1 receiver and how has the pass protection held up through an injury and some shuffling of players at the guard spots?
JT: “Foles has been so-so. He has had a couple of very good games (Arizona, Seattle), a terrible game (Green Bay) and several so-so outings. He doesn’t throw all that much, partly because the Rams had time of possession issues earlier in the season, and lately because of the emergence of Gurley and the running game. Seven QBs in the league have completed more passes this season than Foles has thrown. He needs more consistency, but doesn’t always get the help he needs from the receiver corps (both in terms of gaining separation and catching those 50-50 balls). The pass protection has gotten better lately, but the league’s most inexperienced O-line can be had with stunts and twists.”
MC: I covered the Browns in 1995, when they announced their move to Baltimore during the season yet finished the year in Cleveland in a strange atmosphere that would take too long to explain here. There has been no announcement by the Rams, but it seems like a similar situation is happening there. St. Louis, which lost the NFL’s Cardinals years ago, once again is looking at an uncertain NFL future. What do you think will happen and what is the mood in the community and on the team?
JT: Although he hasn’t spoken publicly since January 2012, it’s no secret what Stan Kroenke wants to do. He wants to move the team to Los Angeles in a pure money move. Because of his unwillingness to engage the public (or the media) here, and his plans to move the team, he is extremely unpopular here. In protest, fans are staying away from the Edward Jones Dome. Season ticket sales are down about 10,000 this year; the team is averaging only about 51,000 per game (and that’s tickets distributed). Although the team is better this year, it doesn’t help that the franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 2003 and endured the worst five-year stretch — 15-65 from 2007-11 — of any team in NFL history. The city is trying to build a second stadium for Kroenke in less than 25 years, which is unprecedented in NFL history. So this is different than the Cardinals’ departure, because the region was unwilling to build Bidwill a stadium back in the mid 1980s. This time around, the region is pretty far along on a $1 billion stadium plan.”