One of the first games I circled on the New York Jets schedule when it was released was the upcoming game against the St. Louis Rams. Why? Because I knew we could break the game down with our good friend Will Horton of Rams Herd, without question the top Rams site out there. Will and I worked together back in the day at the Fanball Network when TOJ was just a little baby. When Fanball shut down TOJ would have died with it if it wasn’t for Will’s guidance in migrating the site to our own domain. Since then, he has consistently provided help to me in keeping the site running fluidly. So if you like TOJ, make sure to thank Will because it wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. Anyway on to the game -
RH - The New York Jets seem to be bottoming out under Rex Ryan, after going to the AFC Championship game twice in his first two seasons. Are you ready to blow this team up at this point, or do you still have hope for a turnaround the season?
TOJ - There won’t be any kind of major turnaround happening this season. From a talent standpoint, this team has the worst group of skill position players in the NFL and I’m not saying that as a hyperbole. On defense they lack a pass rush and remain too slow at the linebacker position. Realistically, they need about 4-5 new starters on both sides of the ball in 2013 so I suppose I do advocate blowing it up.
RH - The Jets hardly lack for lightning rods, and you have two of them at quarterback in Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. How do you handle the two of them for the remainder of the season, and does Greg McElroy enter into the picture?
TOJ - Mark Sanchez is going to start the remainder of the season. The decision to bring in Tim Tebow was pushed on to the coaching staff by Owner Woody Johnson. They very clearly had no desire for him and no plan on how to use him. Tebow will remain a poorly used gimmick. McElroy isn’t a factor at all. There have been desperation calls for him from some Jets fans but he is a 7th round pick with zero experience. Rex will lose the locker room if he hands the job to him with two quarterbacks on his roster who have won playoff games.
In 2013, Sanchez will be back because of how his contract is structured. Tebow will be traded or cut. And the Jets will likely bring in a veteran to compete for the starting job with Sanchez in camp. Maybe a Matt Moore type player.
RH - Obviously, age and injuries have caught up with this team in a big way. How different is this season if you still have Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes in the starting lineup?
TOJ - Not that different. GM Mike Tannenbaum will use that as an excuse to keep his job this off-season but this team had major problems even with those guys on the field. They are thoroughly mediocre at right tackle, guard, running back, quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker…and that has nothing to do with Holmes or Revis.
RH - The Rams rebuilt their team with a sizeable number of Jets castoffs, starting with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Meanwhile, the Jets continue to struggle on offense under Tony Sparano. Would you take Schottenheimer back at this point?
TOJ - No. Sparano’s incompetence doesn’t cover for Schottenheimer’s incompetence and stubbornness when he was here. I don’t blame Schottenheimer’s struggles on Sanchez either because his offense was poor under Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, and Brett Favre as well.
RH - Despite the cloud of negative press surrounding the team, the Jets have shown an ability to step up and play good football from time to time (vs Bills, Pats, Colts, and first matchup with Miami). What are their keys to playing well, and can they find success against the Rams?
TOJ - The Jets play well when their defense is stopping the run and forcing turnovers, and their offense is running the ball well opening up a downfield play action passing game…all things they are very inconsistent at. I think they will play well on defense against the Rams, creating a close, low-scoring game. Ultimately I just don’t have enough faith in their offense to pull a win out though. I’d take the Rams in 16-10, 17-13 type game.
TOJ - Jeff Fisher seems to immediately have changed the culture in St. Louis. Can you talk about the tangible differences in the type of the team the Rams have this year as compared to the previous couple of years?
RH - There are a lot of ways to answer to this question. This just feels like a radically different team this season than the one before, even though most of the primary playmakers – Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson, Chris Long & James Laurinaitis – remain the same. The major differences are in experience, in the roster, and in the attitude.
The Rams won Jeff Fisher over this offseason by giving him complete say over the organization. In Miami, he would have had to work with Jeff Ireland. Here, he hired his own GM, and assembled a very experienced coaching staff. Then, he went very young with his roster. This is a complete 180 from last year’s Rams, which had coaches learning on the job and a roster of veteran role-players half-assing it through the season.
Two key additions that Fisher brought with him from his Titans days are Cortland Finnegan and defensive assistant Dave McGinnis. Both of these guys fully embrace Fisher’s old-school football mentality that the physical battle has to be won before you can accomplish anything else. After beating up on Robert Griffin III and the Redskins (and being called “dirty” in the process), McGinnis sounded off: “I’ve been in this league 27 years and have never been on a dirty defense. I’ve been on some damn tough ones. Never been on a dirty one.”
TOJ - How would you evaluate the performance of former Jets on the roster, most notably Brian Schottenheimer and Wayne Hunter?
RH - I won’t say Brian Schottenheimer has been a revelation as offensive coordinator, but his offense is like a breath of fresh air compared to the Josh McDaniels days. McDaniels’ intricate pass routes work fine when you have protection like Tom Brady does, and you can hang out in the pocket for days. When you don’t have that, your quarterback gets ground to a fine paste.
What makes Schottenheimer’s offense really click, and turned Wayne Hunter into a surprisingly useful player along the way, has been the work of offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Fisher lured Boudreau from Atlanta, where he built a near-impenetrable wall around Matt Ryan, and he has been a perfect fit here. The OL coach doesn’t require top-shelf talent, which is good because the Rams don’t have it. The mere fact that Hunter washed ashore in the final week of preseason and was starting by week 2 tells you all you need to know about the talent level here.
Two more ex-Jets have been valuable contributors as well. Robert Turner has been invaluable as a fill-in center, covering Les Snead’s ass for spending big bucks on a constantly-injured Scott Wells. And Matthew Mulligan is good for 30 or so snaps of quality blocking at tight end.
TOJ - What is the opinion of most Rams fans on Sam Bradford? Is there a strong confidence that he is the long term guy at quarterback? Do you hear complaints about not keeping that #2 pick and just taking RG-3?
RH - Sam Bradford is getting increased scrutiny in season three, for sure. He is far from a rookie now, and guys like Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, RG3 and even a little shrimp like Russell Wilson have been stepping into the limelight.
It’s a good thing, then, that Bradford is finally showing signs of being that franchise guy. He regressed badly last year in his pocket presence, and never established a deep-threat. This year, behind Boudreau’s line, he looks much more confident. And with Chris Givens reeling off 50-yard plays on a weekly basis and Danny Amendola dramatically expanding his game from being just a short-crossing-route guy, Bradford’s game is taking off in a hurry.
That said, he needs to get more consistent from week to week and start reeling off more multi-score games like last week’s. Even though Fisher loves to run the ball, you have to be able to win games in the air in today’s NFL.
TOJ - How far away is this team from competing with San Francisco and Seattle for a division title? What are the areas they need to improve in before reaching that level?
RH - Well, so far the Rams are 2-0-1 against their division after playing tooth-and-nail against a very good 49ers team in their own house. I think they are well positioned to hang in with each of their division opponents. Their biggest area of improvement has to come on the road, where they’ve yet to win a game this season, and against the upper-tier teams of other divisions. The 49ers and Seahawks have made hay outside the division this year, with 8 wins in 11 matchups. The Rams have won just one of six outside the West.
TOJ - Finally, what is your prediction for Sunday? And are most Rams fans very confident in winning this game?
RH - A lot of Rams fans will find it pretty easy to focus on all the stories of disarray surrounding the Jets, and have this game circled as a win on the schedule. I certainly have a lot more confidence in Bradford than I do in any of the Jets’ QBs, but it is a team game and there have been holes in our game over the last several weeks. Also, I’m interested to see what Rex Ryan has in store for his old offensive coordinator and vice versa, after spending so many years practicing against each other.
The difference in this one could be the fans. The Rams have been playing inspired football at home all season (I am not counting the London game as a “home” game, no matter what the NFL schedule says). Big hits from our defense and big plays from the offense should keep the fans energy high, and help push the Rams over the top.