The Miami Dolphins face the Los Angeles Rams later today, looking to extend their four-game winning streak with their second-straight game against a Southern California franchise. Miami will be facing rookie quarterback Jared Goff who is making his first career start, and they will be facing a team they have only played 12 times in franchise history.
That leaves a lot of question marks to be answered about the Rams. To try to get a better look at Los Angeles, I turned to Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times, who was kind enough to answer my questions.
1. The Jared Goff era officially starts this weekend for the Rams as the team moves to the first overall pick from this year's Draft. What do you expect to see from the rookie? Will the offense change at all from the Case Keenum run offense?
Well, I think it's a bit unfair to Goff that he's coming into the circumstances that he is, ESPECIALLY in a season in which Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz have quite clearly shattered any fair perceptions of top prospects in this class not being ready for the NFL.
Goff takes over an offense that finished 29th in points and dead last in offensive yards in 2015. Having traded most of their immediate draft capital in the 2016 NFL Draft to move up to select him, the Rams didn't make any other overwhelming draft selections on the offensive side leaving him to work with most of that 2015 offense which, to this point in 2016, is 32nd in scoring and 31st in yards this year.
That being said, it's only fair to set the bar low. The system recommends perhaps setting it lower. And that's the real unknown.
In an interview with the MMQB, Rams QB Coach Chris Weinke said with respect to the switch to Goff, "We’re not going to change our offense." In the first media scrum following the reports of the decision, Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher said regarding the offense, "There are some things that we will expand." Fisher has a notorious history of saying one thing and doing the other, so who knows.
If I had to guess, I'd say it depends more on you guys. If you guys clamp down on the easy stuff to get him in rhythm and keep a lid on the ground game, I could see the Rams getting desperate and having to open things up to try to stay in the game with a QB who can work deep, something Case Keenum is physically limited in. If the opposite happens and the Rams are able to open up a lead on some defensive miscues on your part and perhaps a big takeaway for our defense to gift us important field position, they might get more aggressive with an early lead. But if this is a grind-it-out Fisherball battle that sits on the running attacks, special teams and field position (and that'd be my bet at least for the first half), I don't think Goff is going to do anything spectacular. The Rams never asked Keenum to. It's the system they're built for. And If we're in a battle well into the 2nd quarter, I don't think they'll change much.
2. This is game number four in Los Angeles for the Rams since returning this offseason following 20 years in St. Louis. Before the Rams (and Raiders) left LA back in 1995, the running story was that fans in LA were fairly apathetic about football and that the teams had to leave because they were losing money despite the size of the market. How have the fans in LA responded to the Rams' return and what has been the atmosphere at the games?
So they've responded in person with legitimate excitement and awareness. There's no doubt there's a generation of fans who, like I, went from being LA Rams fans to being St. Louis Rams fans and have come back full circle. I think there is a bit of a generation gap, and I think the market overall has yet to really take on the franchise. That's understandable. Whether it's in-sport competition from USC and UCLA or a generation for whom many took on fandom of other NFL teams or non-football sports attention (see: the Lakers & Dodgers). the Rams don't get automatic top billing in LA. They shouldn't. Especially for a team that hasn't posted a winning season since 2003.
And LA fans have picked up on that. The lack of fan support for Head Coach Jeff Fisher has been apparent. The disdain for the offense under QB Case Keenum was audible. I think the narrative of apathy was largely down to performance. It's something I had to cover last year in St. Louis and the narrative was the same. The idea that St. Louis is a "baseball town" might have applied in 2015 with the Rams starting 4-8 and the baseball Cards winning the division for the third year in row. It wasn't the case in the Greatest Show on Turf days.
And if we're being honest, there's no reason not to expect the same in LA if the Rams continue to stall out under Jeff Fisher and/or beyond his tenure while other teams provide a more enjoyable investment of time.
3. Clearly, the strength of the Rams is their defense, especially that defensive line. The Dolphins, meanwhile, will be shuffling their offensive line with left tackle Branden Albert out and center Mike Pouncey doubtful. How can Miami attack, and find success, against Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and the rest of the Rams' defense?
You just have to deny the pass rush opportunities. Don't employ seven-step drops. Don't hold the ball forever. Scramble for a few yards once or twice to keep the idea of spy contain in the defense's heads. Work a lot of short crossing routes to motivate the linemen to hold up and try to bat the ball down instead of going all out on the rush. And run the ball.
The skill level of the Rams' front is too high to play an aggressive, deep route passing game. So uh...don't do that if you want to be able to avoid noticing Donald & Co.
4. The Rams seem to like to play these no-touchdowns scored or allowed games, including last week's 9-6 win and Week 2's 9-3 win. Obviously, not allowing a touchdown is a sign of the strength of the defense, but not scoring a touchdown signals bigger issues with the offense. While the change from Keenum to Goff seems to put some of the blame on the quarterback, it is not like Todd Gurley is tearing up the league with a 17th best 515 yards so far this year, a 3.1 yards per attempt average, and having never reached 86 yards in a game. Gurley is down nearly 30 yards a game from his average last year. Is Gurley's disappearance because teams have not been respecting Keenum? Is it play calling?
It's all of the above. The struggled for Gurley and the Rams' ground game go back to Week 9 of 2015. Since breaking the record for the most rushing yards for any NFL running back's first four starts, Gurley has averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry and barely more than 60 yards per game across 17 contests. That's not a small sample size.
It's partially on Gurley, who clearly has lost trust in his line to the point of being patient to let holes develop and is feeling the pressure to create runs on his own. It's partially on the offensive line which is less than awesome. It's partially on the passing game and Case Keenum's inability to press linebackers and safeties deeper pre-snap. And it's partially on the coaching staff in all facets including play calling both in the run and in the pass which doesn't force defenses to empty the box.
5. Heading into the 2012 offseason, there was a battle between the Dolphins and the Rams for Jeff Fisher, with Miami fans irate that Stephen Ross did not land Fisher. Miami, instead, hired Joe Philbin, who has already been fired and Adam Gase hired this offseason. Meanwhile, Fisher has tallied records of 7-8-1, 7-9, 6-10, 7-9, and, so far in 2016, 4-5. How close is Fisher to losing his job? How do fans feel about him? Have the move to LA and the trade up for Goff bought Fisher more time to try to this out?
In terms of the fans, it's 2016. There's too much traditional media and online content and social media for the Rams' PR department to spin away the mediocrity under Jeff Fisher. So at least in terms of the fans, there's plenty of action at #FireFisher.
As for the idea of the hot seat and/or Goff buying him time...I'm just not sure that's the case.
There have been rumors regarding a contract extension since late 2015. Regarding his contract, Fisher recently said, "I'm not uncomfortable at all...[Rams Owner Stan Kroenke] and I are are on the same page."
That's not inspiring. And I've made the case quite comprehensively that the Rams haven't sincerely cared about winning in recent years. That's ultimately down to Kroenke to change. His hermitic ways with the media make it tough to decipher where he stands on the matter, but his inaction is pretty tough to stomach.
Now it's fair to assume that the Fisher hiring had something to do with relocation, he being the head coach of the last NFL franchise to relocate: the Houston Oilers to Nashville. But the move is over. It's time to restart LA Rams football. And Jeff Fisher's resume is so wildly soaked with insufficiency that he's just four losses away from having the most losses of any head coach in NFL history.
It's hard to imagine Fisher ascends to the top of that list and keeps his job, but if Kroenke is sincerely more interested in expanding the Rams' international brand and developing their business opportunities, I could totally see him buying into the hollow idea of "consistency" at the head coaching position despite four years of losing football under Jeff Fisher and strong odds for a fifth.