INT. OFFICE OF JIM SCHWARTZ, HEAD COACH OF THE DETROIT LIONSSchwartz paces nervously in front of his offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan. His office is a collection of the relics that remind him he earned his job, and the endless clutter that cuts off any nostalgic daydreams. His job is a herculean one - turn the Detroit Lions into a winning team. He knows he has to get his victories when he can. The upcoming game against the St. Louis Rams is one of those opportunities, but instead of being overcome with optimism or eagerness, Schwartz is tense. His mind is filled with the kinds of images that make mothers scream, that make children stay awake at night, afraid to close their eyes. His mind is on Steven Jackson.
SCHWARTZYou know most of these guys; I mean, sweet corn niblets, you were the head coach, Scott. What the hell do we do?
LINEHANSir, I don't really know. He's special. And besides, I wasn't very good.
SCHWARTZDamnit, Scott, you know that doesn't make one bit of difference! If our defense gets out of line, you come to me with it! And if I find out it's like you say, then I kick the player's ass! ME! The head coach! People start messing around with the head coach and all hell breaks loose. Whatever possessed God in heaven to make a man like Steven Jackson?MIKE RILEY, HEAD COACH OF THE OREGON STATE BEAVERS
God didn't make Steven Jackson. I did.SCHWARTZRiley! I should have known. Well, I'm taking your boy out on Sunday. If I have to, I'll send 200 guys his way.RILEYYou send that many, don't forget one thing.SCHWARTZWhat's that?RILEYA good supply of body bags...
St. Louis Rams, 0-7, 4th - NFC West
Detroit Lions, 1-5, 4th - NFC North
STL pass - 127/221, 57.47% (23rd), 165.71 yds/gm, 5 TD, 6 int, 70.0 rat, -14.5% pDVOA (25th)
DET pass D - 147/198, 74.24%, 258.5 yds/gm (30th), 17 TD, 4 int, 118.7 rat (32nd),
44.8% pdDVOA (31st)
One thing you can't knock Detroit's CBs for is experience. William James, Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry have been in the league for a combined 27 years. But with little help from a pass rush, they've struggled against opponents, especially being in the NFC North. Louis Delmas, the Lions' rookie FS, is a great talent at the back, but this is a defense that has too many holes.
Unfortunately, the Rams passing offense has been pretty cut and dry. Take our last game against the Colts. Outside of Marc Bulger's early connection with Donnie Avery on a 50-yard flea flicker, the Rams passed the ball 25 times for 90 yards. Horrendous. If there is a game where that kind of ineptitude is absolutely unacceptable, it's this one. This is a game where Bulger has to get people off of his back. He has to own this. He has to manage the game, spreading the ball around to Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton Danny Amendola, and the tight end duo of Randy McMichael & Daniel Fells. He has to involve Steven Jackson through the air to ensure our best player gets as many opportunities as possible to control the game. But I really feel this game comes down to Bulger and his ability to dissect a poor pass defense with limited weapons.
STL run - 25.43 rsh/gm, 111.29 yds/gm (16th), 4.38 yds/carry, 0 TD (t-31st),
-14.4% rDVOA (25th)
DET run D - 24.17 rsh/gm, 112.33 yds/gm, 4.65 yds/carry (28th), 5 TD, -6.8% rdDVOA (15th)
Larry Foote, Julian Peterson and rookie DeAndre Levy form a respectable trio that blends the experienced Pro Bowl talent with youthful vigor. They'll have their hands full this week, because asfans of other teams know, the Rams are winless and Steven Jackson is greatness.
Last week against the Colts, Jackson busted his ass for a season-high 134 yards. You have to give him credit for the effort; he's one guy you can definitely say is not mailing it in. The concern is what happens if the frustration bubbles over. There's no reason to think it'll be anything like Larry Johnson's debacle, but you can see the warning signs. Let's just hope if he does lose it, he doesn't take it out on anybody you hold dear.
STL O-line - 2.29 sacks all./game, 3.94 rbALY (Run Blocking Adj. Line Yards) (18th),
6.5% ASR (Adj. Sack Rate) (16th)
DET D-line - 3 sacks/game, 4.20 drbALY (21st), 6.3% ASR (18th)
While Detroit's D-line isn't very good, keep an eye on Cliff Avril. He's an agility DE, and he could take advantage of a Rams O-line that is very much in flux at this point. Plus he likes jeans. If La'Roi Glover did the Rams any favors, one of them would be the practice our offensive linemen got by playing against old, fat tackles. They'll get one of those in DT Grady Jackson. He's at the tail end of a productive career, but he's half the player he used to be. Figuratively speaking of course.
With Richie Incognito out, the Rams will need a big game from Adam Goldberg. The Rams will have a huge advantage if they can block out the middle similar to what we saw in the second half against the Colts when Steven Jackson started ripping off runs between the tackles. If not, it's going to get very angry on TST and for good reason. This is a battle the Rams should win.
DET pass - 119/212, 56.13%, 194.17 yds/gm (21st), 4 TD, 10 int, 61.7 rat (26th),
-31.7% pDVOA (30th)
STL pass D - 149/223, 66.82%, 249.57 yds/gm (25th), 11 TD, 5 int, 98.7 rat (28th),
38.4% pdDVOA (29th)
Matt Stafford looks like he will go, while Calvin Johnson is a game time decision. That really leads itself to a deciding point when Stafford has the ball - interceptions. Stafford has thrown 6 picks in just four games, and that was with a healthy Megatron. The Rams need to capitalize on his inexperience and then make the most out of that field position. Of course, it would help significantly if we can get a pass rush going to try and force some throws, but with James Butler, Oshiomogho Atogwe, and Ron Bartell healthy, you would think we could get something done on that front. Keep an eye on rookie TE, Brandon Pettigrew. At 6'5", he's a big target, and the Rams have shown a proclivity for losing pass defense battles against TEs.
DET run - 26.5 rsh/gm, 99 yds/gm, 3.74 yds/carry (t-23rd), 5 TD, -10.9% rDVOA (22nd)
STL run D - 31.57 rsh/gm, 135.86 yds/gm, 4.30 yds/carry (21st), 11 TD (t-31st),
9.9% rdDVOA (29th)
St. Louis' team rushing defensive stats took a hit after the Colts game from another deceptive performance. Before the game, if I had told you Joseph Addai would finish with just 64 yards on 20 carries, you would have probably assumed two things: one, that the Rams killed off any long runs from the Colts, and two, that the Colts got a great game and didn't have to rely on the run. You would have only been right on the latter. Although we limited Addai, Donald Brown ripped off runs of 45 &13 yards, giving extra punch to an offense that really didn't need any. To win this game, we can't give the same help to Kevin Smith.
James Laurinaitis has to rally his defense, including David Vobora who is set to return from his suspension, to killing off the run and forcing Stafford to go to the air. Smith Has only had one good game, and that, unsurprisingly, was in Detroit's lone victory this season (or last) against Washington. The correlation shouldn't be shocking. When you can give Stafford and Johnson some help on the ground, Detroit can make things happen.
DET O-line - 3.67 sacks all./game, 3.33 rbALY (30th), 9.1% ASR (27th)
STL D-line - 1.71 sacks/game, 4.24 drbALY (22nd), 5.0% ASR (27th)
Another key matchup between units that are special, but in a bad way. When I stopped by Pride of Detroit last year to get some help with my mock draft, the majority of readers not only agreed that they needed an O-lineman or defensive help with the first pick, but roundly criticized me for mocking a QB at the #1 pick (who at the time was Sam Bradford). Even when I mocked Stafford to the Lions after Bradford left, the reaction was negative. Well, that didn't happen, and Detroit is still feeling the pain on the O-line. Outside of LT Jeff Backus, it's a pretty weak line including Dominic Raiola who, IMO, is one of the most overrated centers in the NFL. He doesn't stand out in any facet of the game, although he is serviceable. I've just seen his name thrown around more often than it should be.
On our side of the ball, it's all about the pass-rush-benjamins, baby (damn, that's an outdated reference...). The Rams have to keep Stafford uncomfortable and ensure he doesn't get enough time to just wait until Calvin Johnson isolates himself. Chris Long has as good a chance as any to get on the sack board this week. Should he fail to do that, he's only going to get more scrutiny going into the bye. Hell, if this team doesn't get a victory, these next two weeks are going to be absolutely brutal. We've got to come with it this game.
This week's top 3 storylines brought to you by the wild pizza crusts of eastern Asia:
1.) The Rich Gold (S. Korea, Pizza Hut) : The Rich Gold is for the discerning pizza eater, including a crust made of sweet potato mousse. For the Rams to have any shot on Sunday, Marc Bulger has to be as smooth as sweet potato mousse - no lumpy interceptions, the even temperature that sees consistency throughout and no hot or cold pockets, and a great finish in the red zone (which for the Rich Gold pizza is that inexplicable collection of stuff in the middle.
2.) The Mizza (Taiwan, Pizza Hut) : Is this really a pizza? A layer of what looks like a tortilla under Spanish rice and then some kind of tostada. It's more like the revenge of different foods I've thrown up at some point in my life. Still, it is a three-layered beast -- exactly what the Rams defense needs to be. A layer of pass rush topped with a tier of sure tackling and finished with a hungry pass defense. Delicious.
3.) The ShrimpyCheese Bite (Japan/S. Korea, Pizza Hut): Let me just say, I apologize for what I am about to show you. You have the choice to turn back now. I urge you to do so....
The ShrimpyCheese Bite is a relatively normal pizza with a crust made out of shrimp stuffed with cheese, covered in dough and deep fried. The atomic bomb, sex change operations, and the ShrimpyCheese Bite - sometimes mankind's imagination and scientific wizardry leads to things that hinder us more than help us as a society. And yet something drives us to these things like a 3k to a beer. So it is with the Rams. I wish I didn't have such a desire to spend so much attention on such a ShrimpyCheese Bite pizza of a team. It's ugly on the outside, and it makes it hard to try to get to the middle of it. Still, there's something oddly enticing about these Rams. So much youth - I can envision a 2011 playoff-bound Rams team with names like Steven Jackson, Donnie Avery, Jason Smith, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis delivering. At the same time, to get to that team, I had to eat the ShrimpyCheese crust of Adam Carriker, Brian Leonard, Joe Klopfenstein and Tye Hill. Even though I paid for a pizza, I feel like a I got something else.