This is one of the rare times that I can brag a little. Last week’s preview was dead on. Fans of the greatest show on turf may not have rejoiced, but, for now, this is the blueprint for success. Before we get into the review, I have a few comments.
First, when I went back and watched the game recording, I was more than a little surprised how well the offensive tackles played. Sam Bradford was only sacked once, and the Rams were pass-happy in the first half. Yes, the tackles had assistance from the tight ends from time to time, but they more then held their own in one on one battles.
Second, for those fans that have been frustrated by Bradford’s laser lock on the main receiver and the inability to throw the deep ball, I hope you have been watching the last few games with open eyes. He is showing remarkable improvement. If you don’t believe me, please read this tremendous article by Tim Shields as example 1: http://www.ramsherd.com/2012-articles/season/anatomy-of-a-play-sam-bradford-s-deep-throw-to-chris-givens.html
Third, notwithstanding Bryan Burwell’s beliefs, there are many fans here in St. Louis that like Steven Jackson. Personally, I love the man and the player. The young kid, who started as an arrogant athlete that did not understand when he might be inappropriate, is now a man that is a model of professionalism and leadership. As time has passed, I grow to appreciate the complexity of Steven Jackson. He cannot be limited to one adjective or stereotype. In my opinion, he is one of the more interesting personalities off the field. For the past year and a quarter, Steven Jackson has performed admirably, but not spectacularly, under extremely difficult circumstances on the field. I was incredibly happy to see the return of the beast in the second half of the Arizona game. This man has given his all to this team, probably to his physical detriment. I would love to see him have a great year and finally have some success with the Rams.
Now, let’s take a look at how the factors I noted as important to a win, actually played out:
PREVIEW - 1. STOP THE RUN. PERIOD.
There is no excuse in this game for the defense. They have to stop the run.
Arizona has 272 rushing yards total for the season. They average 2.7 yards per carry. They have not had a 100 yard rusher in any game. In fact, they have not had 100 yards total rushing in any game. In the last game, they only had 25 net rushing yards. One might expect that Arizona will ignore the run and focus on the pass. I think differently. I think NFL coaches will look at the Rams defense and decide to focus on the run. Additionally, Arizona has a huge issue at right tackle, and they gave up 8 sacks last week. Therefore, I expect to see 20 to 25 runs from the Cardinals because it makes strategic sense and because they can't let Chris Long bang Kevin Kolb around all day long. The Rams must keep Arizona below 100 yards total rushing. In fact, I am setting a target of 80 net rushing yards.
REVIEW – Dead on. The Rams allowed 45 total rushing yards with only a 2.6 yard average. The lack of success caused the Cardinals to only attempt 5 rushes in the second half while the Rams accumulated 5 sacks. How predictable were the Cardinals in the 2nd half? Four of the five rushes were on 1st down. All first down rushes resulted in either zero or negative yards. The one run on 2nd down came on a 2nd and two. The play resulted in a 12 yard run. Additionally, according to the Pro Football Focus, the Rams pressured Kolb 46 times. Yes, 46 times. With a legitimate running game to worry about, 46 pressures would be impossible.
PREVIEW 2. PATIENCE WILL PAY OFF - PART I
The defense and the Rams' fans should prepare for Kevin Kolb to have some success in this game. I watched most of throws prior to writing this preview and Mr. Kolb is hot and cold with no warning. Overall, his stats look pretty good. He has a 97.6 passer rating and a 63% completion rate. He has 7 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. He also has 10 rushing attempts for 32 yards. However, he will make some bad throws. It is a given. Thus, the game plan on defense should be: focus on the run to set up difficult third downs and blitz like crazy on obvious passing downs hoping to encourage the bad throw. If you don't get a bad throw, Kolb will at least throw the ball away or take the sack. It is obvious that he has been told to protect the ball and he is fighting himself to do so. Additionally, do not get deflated if Arizona makes some plays. Kolb is not faking his stats. Sometimes, he is quite good. This may end up being a bend don't break game on defense.
REVIEW – The first series may have made people think the Rams’ defense was going to have some difficulty with Mr. Kolb. He completed 6 of 9 passes and moved the Cards right down the field on a 17-play-drive for a field goal. When absolutely necessary, the defense stood up and Kolb miss fired on his last two attempts of the drive. There were other decent Cardinal drives. They were inside the 20 yard line three times, but only scored 3 points. Overall, the game was a mixed bag for Kevin Kolb. He had had 289 yards passing, his lowest quarter back rating of the season with a 72.8, and probably very severe body aches.
PREVIEW 3. PATIENCE WILL PAY OFF - PART II
On offense, we have seen this game before. If Dockett is back, we should expect Sam Bradford to be under tremendous pressure all day long. This is the strength of the Arizona defense. They lead the league with 16 sacks for the year. They also are one of only six teams to hold the other team to a less than 75% passer rating. We all know what Adrian Wilson has done to the Rams before. The short passing game which worked wonderfully against the Redskins should be in play again. Additionally, if there is any way to get some EFFECTIVE rushing we can slow down the pass rush. I hope to see a slow methodical approach to offense. Unlike Seattle, this team will blitz and blitz often. If we become pass-happy, or decide to consistently attack deep (a la McDaniels), we are asking for trouble.
REVIEW – I may have underestimated this back-up offensive line. The line and Sam Bradford did an excellent job of handling Arizona’s pass rush and blitz. The first play of the game was a blitz. The play action gave Bradford just enough time to complete a 14 yard pass. Bradford was sacked only once, but he was hit six times. However, the vast majority of those hits and the one sack occurred in the first half. Why? In the second half, the Rams ran 23 times, and they ran effectively (see point 5 below).
4. DO NOT SPREAD THE BALL
This may sound strange because you often hear about the benefits of spreading the ball around in the passing game. Nevertheless, I believe Arizona has a true weakness in the secondary. Of course that weakness is not Patrick Peterson. Also, Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes are excellent safeties. On the other hand, William Gay has been a problem at CB all year for Arizona. He was even replaced last week. His back up, Greg Toler was not much better. I see no reason to spread the ball around. I propose that we attack the weakness. When we pass, we need to go after William Gay/Greg Toler. Moreover, if we attack the weak CBs, it will force Arizona to double with more safety help. Anything we can do to get Adrian Wilson out of the box is a plus. If we lose because William Gay beats us, I can live with that.
REVIEW – Initially, Peterson was covering Danny Amendola wherever he was on the field. Therefore, the Rams ignored my advice as Sam Bradford went after Peterson at times to get the ball to his favorite receiver. After Amendola went out, the Rams had very little success against Peterson. Toler was playing over Gay and the deep bomb to Givens was on Toler. With only seven completions, it is difficult to say the Rams picked on anyone.
5. THE RETURN OF SJ39
Groin or no groin, it is time for Steven Jackson to lead this team. If his groin is not healthy enough to run well, then he should not be playing. I apologize to @SJ39. I realize he has many things stacked against him. We have three backups on the offensive line. His groin is problematic. He is older, and there is no doubt that he has lost a step. Unfortunately, there are no excuses in the NFL. We need more production from our running game. We watched Marshawn Lynch take hit after hit after hit last week and still keep moving forward. We need this from Steven Jackson. Keep your balance and move forward.
REVIEW – Steven Jackson was not given many opportunities in the first half, but he still plowed forward. He had five rushes for 19 yards. In the second half, we saw the return of the beast. The Rams ran the ball again and again. Jackson consistently gained yards. He had 13 rushes for 57 yards for a 4.4 yard average. However, the average is a bit misleading. His first rush in the 2nd half was for seven yards. Here were the results from his next seven rushes: (5, 11, 5, 5, 12, 8 and 1). With 5:35 left when the Cardinals knew we would run, he gain 0 yards, 7 yards, -1 yards, 0 yards and -3 yards on his last run. When it mattered, Jackson he had 8 rushes for 54 yards. In other words, he averaged 6.75 yards per carry.