Patrick Peterson won round one of his matchup with Brandon Lloyd. The Cardinals' rookie corner allowed only 3 catches on ten passes to Lloyd, and came away with an interception. What can the Rams do differently in round two?
This is a big test for Lloyd, who made an early splash with the Rams but has since been swallowed up by opponents' top corners in division games. The Bradford-to-Lloyd connection has been good on only 7 of 23 passes against Peterson, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman.
With few other healthy or trusted options on offense, Bradford is going to continue to look Lloyd's way in this home rematch with Arizona. The big questions are: 1) can Lloyd get open? and 2) will Bradford look elsewhere if he can't?
Bradford continues a troubling trend of locking onto a primary receiver, failing to look through his progressions. His ability to diagnose defenses is still a work in progress, but one assumes that he is making his decision where to throw the ball in his pre-snap reads. There should be mismatches in several areas, particularly when he has a matchup against a safety or outside linebacker, places where the AZ defense is still struggling. But Bradford needs to find them, and find them in time.
The second factor to watch in the passing game is the play of Lance Kendricks, who is active today. Sam Bradford has lacked a security blanket since Danny Amendola went down, and at the time we thought it might actually mean positive things for the Rams' offense, forcing Bradford out of his short-passing shell. According to Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus, Bradford's average depth of target has increased by almost three yards from last year, a large gain. But as we all know, his overall production has gone down.
Lance Kendricks could provide that underneath role, if he's able to go strong today. But his production has been maddeningly inconsistent.
Without the safety of the reliable underneath route, Bradford has taken more shots deep, in desperate attempts to jump-start scoring drives. Their last meeting with Arizona, when Greg Salas got injured, was the tipping point of this trend, as this chart shows.
Outside of one magical week against New York, when Danario Alexander had a breakout performance, Bradford's deep ball has been little more effective than a warning shot across the bow of an opposing ship. All the more troubling when it becomes a focal point of the offense, then.
Brandon Lloyd was supposed to be a difference maker in this regard, providing a dynamic threat that stretched and stressed defenses while underneath men like Kendricks, Salas and Pettis tore apart soft zones in the middle of the field. None of it has come to fruition so far, and even with an injury-racked offensive line, the Rams need to show something in the passing game over these final few weeks of the season to renew our faith in the potential of Josh McDaniels and his offensive philosophy.
No better time than now, no better place than the Dome.