I have a brief window of time in my Thanksgiving weekend driving schedule -- two days down to Florida, three days with family, two days back -- to write a quick game preview for this Sunday's tilt in Denver. Perhaps my sacrifice of nearly 3,000 tire miles to the gods of travel will earn a few points in the Rams' favor this weekend....
The road curse isn't a curse ... it's conditioning.
The Rams have gotten out to good starts in each of their last several road games, only to lose late. In my mind, this is a conditioning issue, especially for the defense, which gets noticeably gassed late. Given that their defensive gameplan is predicated on constant pass pressure, a lack of conditioning can be a killer. (The outside linebackers have no excuse, though, as they get rotated in and out of the game constantly.) The thin air in Denver presents a major conditioning problem to road teams, and the Rams offense will have to bail out the defense by actually controlling the clock and maintaining possession in the fourth quarter, not just turtling on the ball and going three-and-out.
Champ Bailey can be thrown on... sometimes.
Bailey is still considered to be one of the premier corners in the league, and rates higher in Pro Football Focus' cornerback ratings than Darrelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha; Asomugha simply erased one side of the field against the Rams in Week 2. However, Bailey is allowing 60% of the passes thrown his way to be completed, an unusually high number for such a good cover corner. Where Bailey excels is in not allowing yards after the catch -- an average of 2 yards per reception. This means that Bradford can target Bailey's side of the field, but cannot throw short of the sticks and expect the receiver to do the rest.
The running game will be key
Pushing S-Jax to any/all that might listen, expect @RamsHerd would agree. #NFL
After facing two consecutive weeks against strong run defenses, where the Rams had to be creative in creating space for SJax to work in, he gets to take handoffs and run up the gut against the 31st-ranked Broncos run defense. Jackson has done a good job of breaking through the first set of tacklers and getting to the mid level, but hasn't fared so well getting past that second wave and into the soft underbelly of the secondary. However, the most important thing for Jackson will be to prevent negative plays in the running game, and set up consistently makable downs. (A couple of scores would be nice too.)
17 points won't be enough to win.
The Broncos' offense can score considerable amounts of points through the air. Like the Seahawks, their offense is tremendously unbalanced, with the running game a complete disaster. However, unlike the Seahawks that the Rams held to 3 points in their first meeting, the Broncos' passing game has a dangerous deep threat that is utilized often. You can't score too many points against a Josh McDaniels offense, which had Spagnuolo reaching back to game tape of Super Bowl XLII. Hopefully he took some cues from the Giants' offense, which involved multiple high-risk, high-reward plays downfield.
The Rams will need to trust Josh Brown's leg on the road.
Two weeks ago, Spagnuolo dithered with a decision to kick or not with Josh Brown, and it led to a comically bad sequence that involved an attempted pooch punt by our field goal kicker. Those three points would have been (*cough*) a little valuable in an overtime loss. Unlike Candlestick, Mile High stadium is a long distance kicker's paradise. Spagnuolo will need Brown's services in this game, and Brown will need to deliver.