After some conflicting reports earlier in the week, the Rams appear to be ready to start Sam Bradford (wearing a protective brace on his anke) against the Arizona Cardinals. ESPN's soothsayer John Clayton got caught up in the confusion of these conflicting reports on Friday.
@EvanSilva: ESPN's John Clayton on #Rams QB Sam Bradford: "Looks like he's gonna probably sit. ... Bradford is not in the lineup for St. Louis."
@Clayton_ESPN, two hours later: "Sam Bradford practiced Friday and is listed as questionable. He has a chance to play Sunday."
That practice session on Friday was pretty limited, according to Howard Balzer, but clearly Sam wants to show that he is capable of playing through pain. While his toughness is laudable, is this the right move? Here are a few keys to watch in the wake of this decision.
Can the Rams offensive line protect an immobile Bradford?
AJ Feeley didn't exactly play well last week, but he looked remarkably spry for a 50-year-old. (What? Feeley is only 34? Are we sure about that?) The Rams called a lot of rollouts and movement in the pocket with Feeley, to keep the opposing pass pressure off balance and keep the Rams from facing the prospect of bringing in 3rd stringer Tom Brandstater.
With Bradford under center, though, Josh McDaniels' gameplan has called for a lot less movement, a contributing factor to the number of hits he's taken so far this season. Bradford is expected to see, and target, the entire field. He's also expected to stand in until the play develops.
The Cardinals are not good at defense, but one thing they can do is get after the quarterback. With Calais Campbell leading the way, the desert birds have 16 sacks and 29 QB hits in just seven games.
If Sam Bradford starts, that's great. But can he finish the game as well? And can he stand in long enough to take advantage of coverage mismatches down field?
Will there be immediate chemistry between Bradford and Brandon Lloyd?
Bradford knows how to find his talent on the field. Despite having very few practices together before week 1 last year, Bradford found new receiver Mark Clayton early and often against the Cardinals last year. This weekend, though, you can probably count the number of reps in practice that Bradford and Lloyd have had together on one hand. (If that hand has a couple dozen fingers, that is.)
Lloyd immediately made the Rams offense better, directly and indirectly, by being able to execute Josh McDaniels' routes with precision and timing. Hopefully, Bradford is able to find his new man simply by throwing the ball where it's supposed to go, and have the unexpected surprise of finding his receiver there ready to catch it.
Can Steven Jackson and James Laurinaitis carry the team again?
Jackson's calendar age might be 28, but last week his legs looked as young and fresh as they ever have, totaling 191 yards from scrimmage and barreling in a pair of touchdowns. No doubt the Rams would like to lean heavily on Jackson again this week, regardless of who starts.
Meanwhile, James Laurinaitis led a resurgent performance by the Rams' linebackers, on whom much of the blame for the season's defensive ineptitude can be blamed. (Yes, our plague of injuries to cornerbacks has been supremely damaging, but they don't defend the run.) With the Cardinals also gimpy behind center, they will be leaning heavily on Beanie Wells to carry their offense.
In a season largely gone wrong, Wells' running has been going very much right for the Cardinals. The Rams will have their hands full if they can't stop him.