The St Louis Rams' confident, physical play of the last two weeks gives me an unfamiliar feeling as we approach a road game against the Chicago Bears. I kind of expect the Rams to win. Naturally our team still has weaknesses, but I see worries on the other side as well and I can see our team taking advantage. More importantly, the resiliency showed last week makes me think twice about counting us out of anything.
That said, the Bears are a tough team at home. Under Lovie Smith, the Bears have posted only one losing record at home - his first, in 2004. That may be as much a reason why he has been one of the league's longest-tenured coaches. So rather than queue up their Thursday Night Football embarrassment against the Packers, I went back to their week 1 home win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Here's what I saw on tape:
Jay Cutler is still a wreck when pressured, home or away. The Colts' defensive line came out on fire, pressuring Cutler into eight incompletions on his first eight passes, including a foolish pick-six inside his own ten yard line that gave the Colts an early 7-0 lead.
However, when Cutler gets his feet moving, he's dangerous. Cutler began moving in the pocket a lot more, improvising at times and keeping his eyes downfield, and the Bears' offense woke up big time. And after a few series of chasing him around, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis appeared to run out of gas. The pass rush all but disappeared, which meant that the tight ends suddenly had license to release from the line of scrimmage, flooding the field with weapons.
Brandon Marshall will be a difference maker, if the Rams single him up. The Packers apparently erased Marshall from the game plan by simply rolling a safety over top of him on every play. They also have some decent talent at cornerback as well. The Colts have neither, and Marshall ate them up early, allowing for Devin Hester and Earl Bennett to polish them off.
Tim Jennings deserves his own island. The diminutive Bears corner has fantastic ball skills, plucking a deep pass that was ever so slightly underthrown down the sideline by Luck. When Brian Schottenheimer dials up the inevitable deep chuck to Chris Givens, Bradford would be well advised to lead his receiver by plenty.
Henry Melton is a force inside. We've already heard this from the guys at Midway Illustrated, but the tape didn't lie. He is reminiscent of Corey Williams at defensive tackle, but more slippery. And he simply abused the Colts' interior line in this game. Andrew Luck threw more throws off his back foot than off his plant, by my rough count.
The Colts' running backs were open all day in the passing game. Too bad none of them could catch a ball, or it might have been a much closer game. But the patient approach to moving the ball that the Rams have been using on offense should pay off well against this defense.
This game should be reminiscent of the last two, with the Rams in it well into the fourth quarter, and be in position to possibly steal a win to go 2-1 for the first time in quite a while. The difference-maker just might be Austin Pettis, if he repeats the tough grabs over the intermediate middle that he's been making all preseason.
PS. This was probably the best-officiated game by the replacement refs of any that I've seen so far. The crew was decisive, unobtrusive, and generally didn't embarrass themselves. That same crew, headed by Wayne Elliott, came to St Louis in week 2 and got overwhelmed.
Was the chippiness of the Rams' players a factor in that game getting out of hand? Was the Dome atmosphere actually more imposing than Soldier Field? (I was at the Dome ... it was as loud as I've ever heard it.) One way or the other, it will be interesting to see whether the referees play a role in the outcome of this one, and whether the Rams' boundary-pushing will come back to bite them.