Backup QBs cast large shadows for Rams, Jets
The Los Angeles Rams hope a change of coasts and a slumping opponent will change their fortunes Sunday when they travel to face the New York Jets (1 p.m. ET, FOX).
After a 3-1 start put them on top of the NFC West, the Rams (3-5) are riding a four-game losing streak.
The Jets (3-6) are last in the AFC East, and there are rumors of discipline issues leaking from inside the team's facilities.
Both the Rams and the Jets need a victory this weekend. The winner may be able to salvage its record. The loser simply will be digging the hole deeper on what would be a lost season.
Both franchises have issues at the quarterback position. Both teams stuck with journeymen veterans instead of turning the reins over to younger players who were high draft picks.
The Jets re-signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a free agent contact after the well-traveled Harvard product had a career year for the team in 2015. Fitzpatrick has not produced close to those same statistics in 2016 and already was benched once this season.
Quarterback Geno Smith replaced Fitzpatrick for a start but got injured. The Jets also have young QBs Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg waiting in the wings.
Fitzpatrick missed a series in a loss to the Miami Dolphins last week due to a knee sprain, and Petty looked solid in his stead. That injury to Fitzpatrick at least has coach Todd Bowles thinking about making a switch.
“If (Fitzpatrick) misses a significant amount of (practice) time, then Bryce will play (this week),” Bowles said.
The coach termed Fitzpatrick day to day and said he would like to see the veteran practice at least once before feeling comfortable starting him Sunday. Fitzpatrick, who was limited in practice Wednesday, threw two costly interceptions against Dolphins, giving him 13 picks against just eight touchdown passes this season, so many Jets fans are hoping to get an extended look at Petty.
The Rams drafted quarterback Jared Goff first overall in this year's draft, only to have him sit and watch Case Keenum play below average. Even with a Los Angeles fan base booing during last week's loss to the Carolina Panthers, coach Jeff Fisher continues to hedge on making a change.
“Case is starting. Jared is improving,” Fisher said. “I keep saying that as you guys keep asking the questions, he's improving. But for right now, Case is starting, and we're going to New York. But, Case right now, especially against this (Jets') defense, gives us our best chance. It's an extremely complicated defense, and they can pressure the quarterback, they can do anything they want to do. They're very, very talented. Our focus is this week against the Jets, and Case will be under center.”
The New York defense that Fisher raves about is in disarray due to discipline problems.
Two of the stars of the unit, defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, were benched to start the Dolphins game, reportedly for being late or missing team meetings. Bowles continues to call the benching of the two starters a “coach's decision.”
Despite the issues and the praise Fisher heaps on the unit, the Jets' defense is struggling. New York ranks 26th in the NFL in points allowed at 26.1 a game.
The Jets' pass defense is not playing well, and cornerback Darrelle Revis looks like a shell of his old self. New York is 22nd in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game at 272.2 per contest. The secondary has given up over 300 yards passing in four games this season. One solace for the unit is that Keenum has only one 300-plus-yard passing game this year.
The Rams' running attack was supposed to be dominant thanks to second-year player Todd Gurley. That has not come to fruition, and the ground game actually has regressed. Gurley has no 100-yard rushing games this season. Do not look for that trend to be broken against the Jets. Even with Wilkerson and Richardson missing time, the Jets are fourth in the NFL in run defense, allowing only 81 yards on the ground.
Los Angeles ranks 31st in total offense.
“(Three) weeks ago, we were one of the top offenses,” Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin said. “The last two weeks, we kind of fell a little short. Now they're saying we're the worst. It really doesn't make a difference to us. These last eight games, we're going to come out week by week and try to go as hard as we can.”