Friday means it's rub down time. Here's the TST, oiled up and ready to get off to a good weekend.
When San Diego has the ball...
Rivers lives and dies with the screen pass and the short tight end routes. Gates and RB LaDainian Tomlinson lead the team in receiving touchdowns, with no other eligible pass catcher coming close to their numbers. It just so happens that these sorts of plays are a specialty for the Rams defense.
Rivers got shaken up early in Kansas City as the Chiefs put lots of pressure on him through three quarters, and he looked like J.P. Losman through the first half. The Rams have made forcing turnovers a specialty, to the point that they could give dull seminars at the local Holiday Inn to an audience full of drones in short sleeve shirts with black ties and a big rectangular name tag that says "Hello, my name is." Getting some points off of those turnovers will force Rivers to pass, pass, and pass. At that point, the real strength of the Rams defense, mid-field coverage, will force Rivers to air it out more. If Rams secondary, with Fakhir Brown back this week, should be able to cover the Chargers' wide outs with man coverage and keep the potential for damage fairly low.
San Diego lacked solid pass protection last week, and Rivers got sacked four times as a result. He also threw a key interception that set KC up for their first TD of the game, coming on an 11-yard pass from Huard to TE Kris Wilson. Given the that shaky pass protection and the Rams numbers against the run (121 yard per games average), the Chargers' game plan will be the Martyball special, run it up the middle. Haslett better have the boys up front well prepared for that or it'll be a long day for the Rams defense.
Say, when will the workload catch up with LaDainian?
Let's not oversell anything here. In many ways the Rams defense is strictly middle of the pack, except for the middle of the defense. They could step it up a notch here coming off a week to practice Haslett's schemes and defensive plays to minimize the impact Gates and Tomlinson can have. Of course, they could just as easily play like they did against Detroit, letting the game spiral into the shoot out many are calling for.
When the Rams have the ball...
Mark Bulger is no Damon Huard, and Damon Huard is no Mark Bulger. If Huard and the Chiefs group of so-called receivers can put up big numbers against the Chargers, there's no reason in the world to expect anything less from Bulger, Holt, et al. Taking advantage of San Deigo's weak man coverage is key. According to Football Outsiders DVOA rankings, San Diego has a much harder time defending against number one receivers than the Rams do. Torry Holt, despite all the talk about Steve Smith and Michael Irvin's man love for TO, is one of the league's best. Seattle, according to those same FO rankings, is the second best in the league against #1 WRs, and you remember what Holt and Bulger did to them.
Having a solid running back like Jackson, the Rams can mix it up and keep SD guessing. Note Larry Johnson's 100+ yard performance against them last week. Jackson's ability to catch some screen passes will help exploit a Chargers middle missing outside LB Shaun Phillips...and should be missing Shwane "who put steroids in my peanut butter" Merriman. The Chargers are just 24th in the league, per DVOA, defending against the running back as a receiver.
Broken record alert. This would be a good week to get Klopfenstein more involved in the offense. Tony Gonzales posted a career day against the Chargers last week, and the weakened middle mentioned above can only help with that. I don't know why I've become such a fan of the pass catching TE in the league this year, but I want to see more, more, more, I say!
The spread, last time I checked, was still San Diego -9. Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. Bet on the Rams with confidence this week.
Rams 31 - Chargers 28