An interesting matchup looms ahead of the Rams on Sunday as they travel to Buffalo.
Well, let's start with the offense. How would you categorize Fitzgerald's work this season? Given the contract he signed, is he cemented in the long-term plans for the franchise as long as Buddy Nix is running the front office and Chan Gailey's on the sidelines?
It's fairly apparent at this point that their plan of attack is to get a rookie in development behind Fitzpatrick ASAP, then wait for that young guy to pass Fitzpatrick on the depth chart. They have gone out of their way to talk Fitz up and call him the guy of the "near future," but I think they're looking for their proverbial Colin Kaepernick to their proverbial Alex Smith. As for this season: Fitzpatrick is Fitzpatrick. He's up and down, ranging between lights-out and terrible. The offense has become more conservative lately, and as a result, Fitz has cut down on his turnovers a bit.
As for the running backs, I think it should be a good battle on the ground as the Rams' rushing defense has improved drastically from last year. I'm worried about how often you guys use screen passes, especially with C.J. Spiller. What do Rams fans need to know about Fred Jackson and Spiller and how they've been used this season and after the bye week?
They are not typically used together; last week against Jacksonville was probably the most that has happened this season, and they were only on the field simultaneously for maybe six or eight plays. You don't need to worry about both being on the field, really. Chan Gailey has really just gone with the "hot back" this season, and both have been hot at different times.
Buffalo's entire passing attack is screen-based, when you get down to it, and that includes the receivers. It's an offense based on a ton of formations, personnel packages and pre-snap motions, but they're doing fairly basic things. Indianapolis and Jacksonville really took away the screen game, but Gailey countered with a couple of effective Wildcat calls last week. There's always a wrinkle to watch out for, and it may not necessarily be the screen game.
You guys have had to make some adjustments to the offensive line this week with C Eric Wood and RT Chris Hairston. How crucial have those two been, and how do you feel about Sam Young and David Snow coming in?
Hairston has struggled; I'm not sure Young is as big a downgrade as everyone thinks he is. Both players are fairly unathletic and struggle with speed rushers. The good thing about Young is that he's very smart, so I don't expect a lot of mental errors or penalties. But any Rams pass rusher on that side will give him problems, so I expect a lot of chipping backs and tight ends over there.
Losing Wood hurts, but Urbik has been a good backup center for them over the last calendar year or so. Moving him in has been fairly seamless. Of course, it's not clear if he'll be playing center or not - that might be Snow, who was a pretty good center in college - but either way, losing Wood will hurt. Wood is one of the most technically sound interior linemen in the league, and rarely (if ever) misses a line call.
What's the consensus on the front seven on defense? You guys have done an insane job against the run the last three games - is that an aberration? Should the Rams prepare heavily for the pass rush?
The defensive line is steadily improving, largely because Mario Williams is playing much better since having wrist surgery during the bye week. He has six sacks in the last five games, and at least one sack in four of those five contests. There's a good amount of depth in the interior, but the starting four (Mario, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Moore) get the vast majority of the work, and they have eaten bad lines alive this season.
St. Louis will undoubtedly run two or three guys at Mario, but Buffalo rarely rushes more than four players, so they won't have to prepare for anything exotic. Dave Wannstedt runs a pretty vanilla scheme.
The run defense is still susceptible to leaks, because they're susceptible to mental errors. That's mostly on the linebackers, who are young in spots and can be terrible at times - even veteran Nick Barnett is liable to goof. They're getting better, but they haven't really played any strong running teams, either.
The secondary looks to be quality on paper. Leodis McKelvin, Stephon Gilmore (my favorite CB in this year's draft) and Jairus Byrd - that's an impressive core for a pass defense. Where should the Rams look to attack through the air? Is there a certain type of WR who has found success against the Bills consistently this season?
Byrd is one of the best safeties in the league, it's true. Gilmore still commits way, way too many penalties thanks to sloppy hand technique, but he's getting better each week. Those two guys are going to be good for a long time.
Teams can attack pretty much anywhere else, though. The other outside cornerback position has been a revolving door this season, and slot corner Justin Rogers is very beatable. Buffalo's focus of late has really been to take away the big play - which they've done a great job of - but as a result, they're susceptible to poor performance on third downs and giving up long, sustained, time-consuming drives. To me, that sounds like it'll play into the hands of Sam Bradford and Danny Amendola very well.
Thanks again to Brian for taking the time to answer these.