The New England Patriots are facing an unfamiliar foe, so we spoke with Joe McAtee of TurfShowTimes.com to get the inside scoop on the Los Angeles Rams.
1. Outside of DT Aaron Donald, who are the strengths of the defensive front seven Who are the weaknesses? In particular, how has Dominique Easley looked?
It's a pretty complementary group and a deep one at that. Rams Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams likes to rotate guys frequently using a full eight-man unit (the Rams have actually had nine defensive lineman take > 1/3rd of the defensive snaps, but various injuries here and there that have caused one- or two-game absences have forced that moreso than scheme). So the biggest strength is just versatility.
Donald is a freak who combines quickness and strength better than any interior defensive lineman in the game right now. Robert Quinn is a phenomenally athletic edge rusher. DE William Hayes and DT Michael Brockers are both smart, strength-first guys. The depth foursome of Ethan Westbrooks, Eugene Sims, Cam Thomas and Easley isn't just around to eat snaps either. And with the various blitz packages that Williams prefers to call up as often as he does (which is very often), the burden on the line is lessened quite significantly.
If there's one weakness I'd identify, it'd probably be technical. With the departure of MLB James Laurinaitis, the Rams moved OLB Alec Ogletree inside and it has exposed some of his technical incapabilities. The problem therefore for the line is that they're often too reliant on shoehorning plays toward linebackers (something Michael Brockers has been assigned and been proficient at since his days at LSU). Because they're not often tasked with defeating the run themselves, it exposes the vulnerability of having Tree play the MLB spot.
As for Easley, I've been pleasantly surprised. He's not heavily relied upon, so it's not as if the Rams are asking him to pull 70% of the snaps and be a primary option.
2. Mark Barron is a great, versatile piece that seems to have found a good niche in the defensive front 7 and with defending tight ends. Does he have any particular struggles in coverage (ie: weak against slants, seams, zone, man)?
Definitely in man coverage, but the Rams don't offer that often to Barron outside of the tight end assignments. He's also useful in Williams' blitz packages which have really lined up nicely timewise for Barron. Under almost any other scheme, it'd be hard to justify the deal he received this offseason. With Williams designating this role in his defense you can at least accept the fact that somebody has to man it and not many would be able to do it more forcefully (which is the primary requirement) than Barron.
3. Jared Goff is clearly a big topic point; how has he looked over his first two starts and how have the Rams simplified the offense for him (if at all)?
This one's tough to figure out without knowing the conversation inside the coaching staff.
The Rams' offense has been incredibly conservative under Head Coach Jeff Fisher regardless of the quarterback or offensive coordinator. That hasn't been different in the two games Goff started. In the first game, Goff barely worked beyond 10 yard routes; part of that was because the receivers weren't often being asked to run them.
Against New Orleans, things were similarly conservative but Goff was extremely successful early on in the rare instances when he worked downfield aside from a very, very impressive two-minute drill to finish the first half. The second half matched the scheme against the Dolphins where Goff wasn't offered the opportunity to do much of anything with any aggression.
The question is whether that's being done to curtail Goff (either because of his inexperience or because of a perceived flaw) or it's the nature of the offense the Rams want to run or if it's an issue of how Goff is operating within the constraints of the offense.
4. Todd Gurley is an impressive running back, but the Rams rank 28th in rushing DVOA. How has the offensive line performed this year?
LT Greg Robinson is quickly approaching full "bust" status as the #2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft to the point Fisher made him a healthy inactive last week against the Saints, a game which his entire extended family from Louisiana attended to watch him play. G Rodger Saffold is believed to have had hand surgery last weekend, so he's less than 100%. The unit as a whole just isn't functioning well.
5. Kenny Britt is having a fantastic season and the entire offense is pretty balanced with Gurley, Tavon Austin, Brian Quick, and Lance Kendricks. The Patriots have an ugly tendency to drop back into zone coverage against inexperienced quarterbacks and force them to lead extended drives. Do you think Goff and company are able to run 10+ play drives, or do they rely more on home run plays?
Definitely, absolutely, entirely the former. Completely. Fundamentally. I'm just feeling ill at the idea of home run plays. Why would you even run one? What would the point be? Like gaining 30 or 40 yards at a time? Instead of spending 5 minutes of clock gaining 17 yards on six plays before punting? I can't even understand what you mean Rich. You mean like...If you...The person arm ball throw far good bad...
THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS HAVE VIOLENT ENDS.