This week, I tried a new theme out by agreeing to do a Q+A with Rams Examiner Tim Klutsarits. We both asked each other questions about the opposing teams to get a grasp on the matchup that will take place on Sunday in St. Louis. Up first are Tim’s questions on the Packers followed by my questions on the Rams.
Tim Klutsarits: I think there are a lot of Rams fans who were shocked by what happened to the Packers against the Bengals. What happened?
Mark Strotman: The Bengals seem poised to have a resurgent year. Minus Carson Palmer’s mistakes, they looked very good on offense and their defense looks much improved. The combination of Leon Hall covering other team’s number one receiver and Antwan Odom getting to the quarterback at will is a darn good one. The Packers are ready to get back on track and simply had a bump in the road that was going to happen at some point this season.
TK: Should that loss give Rams fans hope that they will pull off the upset on Sunday?
MS: It should give your defense a lot of hope that if they get to Aaron Rodgers, it will make things interesting. Cedric Benson reminds me a lot of Steven Jackson so the run game will be key, but Rodgers is due for a breakout game so the Rams will need to score points early and often.
TK: Aaron Rodgers has had a relatively quiet start when you compare what he did last season to this year. Is he struggling because of his offensive line or should we be expecting a breakout game from Rodgers soon?
MS: Rodgers has been good (zero interceptions) but not great (two touchdowns) and a game against one of the weaker NFC teams is what he needs. He has noted the concerns of the offensive line and I believe the Packers will adjust to that this week. Look for short passes and lots of slants to back the defense off. Rodgers will not throw for a ton of yards but his completion percentage will be very high.
TK: The Rams have had problems stopping the run in the past few seasons and it continues this season. How has Ryan Grant looked and what do you expect on Sunday?
MS: Grant has looked alright but certainly not anything spectacular. Some can say it is due to the lack of production on the offensive line, but that extra burst that Grant showed in 2007 is still nowhere to be found. Brandon Jackson will be out once again, so Grant will produce yards because of the touches he gets, but as of now the Packers are still relying heavily on the passing game.
TK: The Rams have also had problems stopping the tight end. Is Donald Lee capable of having a huge game?
MS: Lee might not be the one to look at here, but rather Jermichael Finley. He was touted as a breakout player coming into this season but has not benefitted at all from Rodgers’ lackluster start. If what you say is true, look for Finley to become a vertical threat on your linebackers.
TK: Defensively it looks like the Packers secondary is really beat up. Is this something the Rams can exploit?
MS: Thankfully, Nick Collins will be back in action and recently acquired Derek Martin will get the start for the injured Atari Bigby. The way the Rams will be able to exploit the secondary is through the run game. Bigby was by far our best run support in the secondary and so there will be a big hit there. With Collins back and Woodson playing like an MVP, I wouldn’t expect a big outcome from the passing game. If the Rams are going to win, it will be because Steven Jackson had success on the ground.
TK: What is your prediction for Sunday?
MS: Packers 31, Rams 17
Mark Strotman: Steve Spagnuolo took over as head coach this season. Have you noticed an attitude change on the team and is there a sense of resurgence on the horizon in the city of St. Louis?
Tim Klutsarits: There has definitely been a change in attitude under Steve Spagnuolo although the results have not shown it. He wants to be a tough hard nosed football team that plays smart. They have been hard nosed but lack talent at a lot of positions. There is definitely a plan in place and people do believe that the Rams are going to be better...at some point. No one is believing in any miracles in 2009 but there is hope to be much more competitive this season.
MS: Steven Jackson has been relatively quiet in the first two games. The Packers gave up a ton of yards against the Bengals by running outside the tackles. Do you expect them to try to run the ball or finally get the passing game going?
TK: Steven Jackson is the Rams entire offense and the Packers should expect a heavy dose on Sunday, especially because of what Benson did to the Bengals. The Rams underutilized Jackson in Seattle and it showed with a 28-0 loss. The next week against the Redskins they used Jackson more, he had over 100 yards, and the game was 9-7. The Rams know they have to get Jackson a lot of touches and that will increase as the season goes along.
MS: Speaking of the passing game, where has Donnie Avery been? Is this a matter of the Rams not having a number two to compliment him (so he is doubled) or has he just been unproductive? It seems like he is they key to the Rams’ offense being able to get going.
TK: Avery has been horrible in the first two games. He committed a fumble inside the Redskins 5 yard line on Sunday which was arguably the reason the Rams lost the game. He had two drops in D.C. and committed another costly penalty. In Seattle he had drops as well and had penalties. He in all reality lost his #1 receiver job to Laurent Robinson. The Rams are still high on Avery but they have put him on notice that he better get better….real quick.
MS: Entering the 2009 Draft, the three players I wanted the Packers to look at were Jason Smith, B.J. Raji, and Brian Orakpo. How has Jason Smith looked early as your left tackle of the future?
TK: Jason Smith has been a project thus far. He is getting better and better but has not dominated like you would hope a number two overall pick would do. He has played almost exclusively at right tackle during the regular season and will remain there for 2009. The plan is to move him in 2010 when Alex Barron is done with his contract. Smith will not play on Sunday vs. the Packers due to a knee injury.
MS: Will the Rams be able to stop Aaron Rodgers after giving up 240+ yards to both quarterbacks in the first two games? Rodgers seems to be poised to break out this week and a dome only makes it that much more likely that he will. How do the Rams plan to stop him?
TK: Stopping Rodgers will be a very interesting project this week. The Rams have not been good at getting to the quarterback (only 1 sack this season) but they are not giving up the big play in the secondary. The Rams have been picked apart by the running game and short passes to the tight end. Rodgers may have a big game but his stats will reflect a high completion percentage with low yardage. The Rams number one concern this week has been about getting to the quarterback. We’ll see how it plays out on Sunday.
MS: What are the top three things the Rams need to do in order to upset the Packers this Sunday?
TK: If the Rams get to Aaron Rodgers multiple times, get Steven Jackson close to 150 yards rushing and can protect Marc Bulger then the Rams will pull off the upset. Being 0-2 and with the situation the Rams are in here in St. Louis they can’t afford to lose this one. Going 0-3 and having another “lost season” is not something this organization can afford. Jobs are on the line for the players and the organization desperately needs to sell tickets for the remaining 7 games. This game is a sellout but most are not. If the Rams can win the season becomes interesting again. If not the Rams will fall off the radar completely because the Cardinals will be in the playoffs and the Blues will be starting their season. This is as close to a must win game as the Rams are going to have this season. Be aware Packers fans.