It's a night that must belong to the offense. Unfortunately, they're starting with an arm tied behind their back with Steven Jackson holding out. And now come reports that Torry Holt may sit out against the Chargers tonight, back spasms. He'll be a game time decision, but with the Rams first team offense needing to score, I'd be surprised if he didn't slog through a few series with Bulger.
There is some "read between the lines" news on Steven Jackson. Head coach Scott Linehan told the Belleville News Democrat when asked about Jackson's holdout:
"I know they've had some talks, and I know it's moving along. Whatever that means. It sounds positive to me, though."
That would seem to confirm news from earlier in the week that Jackson's representation and the Rams front office have engaged in low level discussions. There's some assurance in that. Whether the "moving along" and the "sounds positive" comments are talking points from the front office, reality or misguided optimism remains to be seen. For now, I'll choose to take it at face value, with that opinion to be updated tomorrow, pending the outcome of tonight's game.
The pressure's on this offense, and they get a break with a couple of key San Diego starters out tonight. Supastar linebacker and noted PED fan Shawne Merriman missed most of the week with a virus and cornerback Antonio Cromartie has a bum ankle. That's a break the Rams have to exploit, particularly the passing game. Anyway, my questions for the Rams offense tonight:
- Can the o-line shake off the rust? Even All World LT Orlando Pace looked a little lost last week, in his first action since the first half of last season's opener. You have to figure that Pace can step it up this week, but the rest of the line will have to sharp. Give Bulger time to find his man and make his throw. In the run game, they'll have to compensate as much as possible for the lack of Steven Jackson, and open holes enough so that the backups can at least give the Rams a weapon to control the clock. That means nice lanes up the gut.
- Can Nick Leckey build on his strong camp showing? He needs to; he's starting in place of Brett Romberg tonight at center. Leckey's not a brand name, but his yeoman efforts have been productive when he has started. I've always wondered a little bit about Romberg's size and the impact that has on the run game. Leckey's got an inch and about 5 lbs on Romberg, a negligible difference. The additions of Jacob Bell and a nasty Richie Incognito at guard bolsters the middle of the line. The Rams have done more with less in those spots; see late 2006. Of course, those guys can't be rusty either.
- Will wide receivers not named Torry Holt make an impact? They'll need to, whether Holt plays or not. Without Holt, Bennett gets his first good shot at redemption. The other one I'm really looking for is Keenan Burton. Burton looks like a solid possession receiver with flashy hands and an ability to work in coverage. Barring a shocker, he's got a roster spot, but I'd like to see him do something with that spot, put this hooha about the Rams WR depth to rest. Donnie Avery might not play, needing some more time to get up to speed after returning only this week. Hey, if the guy can play without putting himself at risk of further injury, play him. Nobody's going to judge too harshly if he looks like a rookie. I want to see that speed. The battle for the final WR spots between Looker, Stanley, et al ought to be a good sideshow.
- Can Lance Ball make the case to stick? Without Jackson, he'll definitely have the floor to make his case. He lacks true running back speed, but his size, 5'9" 232 lbs, and low center of gravity make him a bulldozer to tackle. I think he could be a god third down specialist or a goal line guy. With Jackson out, the Rams need to mix and match their runners based on situations and strengths, Pittman as the speedy guy and Leonard as a screen pass guy. It still leaves the team short of what they'd have with Steven Jackson, esp when it comes to opponents stacking the box, but, as Rummy said, you go to war with the team you've got.
- Will we see some of that Al Saunders tight end play we've heard so much about? I hope. All summer we've been told about big plans for Randy McMichael. The Rams offense was too incompetent last week for him to factor in, but this week we'll need to see him employed as a top 3 receiver, like we'd see from him in the regular season. Klopfenstein would help his cause among fans if he showed up too. Anthony Becht will be a useful addition to the blockers, but he could sit out with a sore hammy again.