The Bengals get a great look at the team their head coach Zac Taylor came from. The Rams haven’t been as much of that picture of perfection they were on the way to their Super Bowl appearance last season. We caught up with Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times to get his perspective on the Rams and the game on Sunday.
Patrick Judis: The Rams’ rushing attack hasn’t been as potent as it was in 2018. What has been the issue there?
Joe McAtee: How many thousands of words am I afforded on this one?
I think we’ve got two major things going on here. One, the offensive line, and two, the personnel work distribution.
Last year’s line was likely the best Rams line of my lifetime finishing first in run blocking per Football Outsiders. So having moved on from LG Rodger Saffold III who left in free agency to the Tennessee Titans and C John Sullivan who was released, no surprise that the turnover hasn’t produced results that met such a lofty bar. The youth they turned to in those veterans’ stead, LG Joseph Noteboom and C Brian Allen, have struggled in the infancy of their NFL careers as second-year players who barely got any playing time in 2018. But there hasn’t been any consistency on the interior this year. RG Austin Blythe, who graduated from backup status to the starter last year filling in for OL Jamon Brown who was suspended and never regained his spot, was hurt in Week 2 against the New Orleans Saints. OL Jamil Demby filled in to complete that one and then again in Week 3 when Blythe was a no go. Blythe was back for Week 4, but Demby was called upon again in Week 6 when Noteboom tore his ACL and MCL. Demby’s performance was so bad that last week, the Rams promoted 2019 NFL Draft fifth-round rookie OL David Edwards to play left guard. So between the obvious dropoff coming from 2018, the revolving door at both guard spots and surprising poor play from the veteran tackles in LT Andrew Whitworth (I know, right?) and RT Rob Havenstein, the line hasn’t been anywhere as good as last year.
The second major factor has been the, um...how do I put this...new look running back usage. Some stuff happened at the end of last year with RB Todd Gurley, and the Rams are just kinda working through it. Part of that means limiting his exposure to limit the risk of aggravating his knee condition. Part of that means strange gameplans that may see Gurley only carry the ball a handful of times. Part that means using RB Malcolm Brown more than ever in his career despite joining the Rams the same offseason as Gurley and using third-round rookie Darrell Henderson Jr. But all of it is just kinda messy. And it’s not lending any consistency or dependability the way that a Gurley-centric attack had the last two years.
PJ: Los Angeles has relied on its passing attack to win games so far this year. Has this been dictated by the score, how defenses are playing them and/or part of their game plan?
JM: Definitely the latter and not the score, but I think that’s always been the case for Rams Head Coach Sean McVay. It’s just been more exacerbated this year for whatever reason. In 2017, we had 1.45 QB passes per RB run. Last year, that number was 1.52. This year, it’s 2.02. How much of that is the Gurley load management plan? Not sure. How much is game plans like the one in Week 4 when the Rams threw the ball 68 times with just 10 running back carries? Not sure. How much is not trusting the line to run block well or trusting them more (and the personnel involved) in the passing game? Not sure. But it’s all definitely a feature and not a bug.
PJ: Jalen Ramsey was a huge addition a week ago. What are your initial thoughts on how he impacts your defense following his debut?
JM: Well, he’s obviously a fantastic talent. The stress here though is that the Rams gave up their next two first-round picks and the ten contractual years those represent (I’m leaving out the fourth-rounder here) for 1.5 years of Ramsey. So the Rams are going to have to extend him which removes any cost value, and then he’s going to have to play to that level for years to come. So it’s obviously great to have a young player of his caliber, but there’s no wiggle room for him. He has to be great for us.
PJ: Who is a player you don’t feel gets enough of a spotlight from that national media that Bengals’ fans should know about?
JM: Ooh, there are a couple. For the last two years, I would have gone with Havenstein, but he’s had a rough 2019. I should note here the Rams’ wide receivers are fantastic in run blocking. The effort level there is always high. On offense, I have to go with the darling of late: TE Gerald Everett. He’s always been phenomenally athletic, but McVay and/or QB Jared Goff have always preferred TE Tyler Higbee. That may be changing with Everett producing at the highest level of his career. On the defensive side, there are a ton of candidates. I’ll go with LB Cory Littleton. He’s an athlete that lacks the bulk to really pound in run defense, but he’s got a high motor and is deceptively quick. He started as a special teams standout, but he hasn’t really suffered as a starting linebacker.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game?
JM: I have 0 clue in terms of gameplan or process, but I think the Rams are up for this one. Just like last week, their backs are up against the wall after the three-game losing streak they just snapped. They simply can’t afford to lose this, and I think the coaching staff and leadership around the team is strong enough to make sure that message translates to the field early. I think it’s likely to be a slower game in terms of the score where the Rams build up a comfortable lead not with quickstrike touchdown after touchdown but the slow burn of points and stops and points and stops that build up a two-possession game that pressures you guys into mistakes. It’s been the MO for McVay against struggling opponents since he arrived in 2017. So I’ll go with a 37-13 score in a game similar to the Rams’ performance in Week 7.
Thanks again to John McAtee for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find more of his work at Rams’ coverage over at Turf Show Times.