I'll skip the intro and jump right into my second of three questions for the St. Louis Rams' preseason opener against the Jets tomorrow night. You can read the first one, asking how the Rams will fare against the Jets elite group of linebackers, right here.
Oh, don't forget to vote for which night you want Turf Show Radio to be broadcast. We're making it a regular weekly thing starting next week, so I need to get this settled.
How will the Rams run defense play against the Jets?
The Jets are a power running team, as we mentioned yesterday. How could they not be with an offensive line like that? Thomas Jones ran for 1300+ yards and 13 TDs, and this year they're planning on using Jones, Leon Washington and the bruising ex-Iowa RB Shonn Greene as kind of a three-headed monster. (Of course the contract situation with Washington could lead to some disgruntlement with Jones). Even without three of their starting offensive linemen, the Jets will be running the ball tomorrow night, and that means the work the Rams have done to address the middle of their defense will get its first test.
As you may recall, the Rams were bad against the run last year, historically bad. Getting bigger and more physical was one of the team's top priorities and led to some much needed moves in the signing of free agent SS James Butler, drafting MLB James Laurinaitis in the second round, drafting DT Darell Scott in the fourth round, and most recently adding enormous free agent DT Hollis Thomas.
Last season, the Jets had 4.75 adjusted line yards on runs through the middle, 3rd best in the league. Over the right tackle they had a league-best 4.97 ALY. A full 76% of their running plays came through either of those two spots. With Woody, Faneca and Mangold out tomorrow night, the Rams will have something more closer to a practice session than facing off with one of the best run-blocking units in the league. They might still have blocking FB Tony Richardson ready for this game, but he's been sitting out with a hip pointer. At 37-years-old (damn!) he might not see very many preseason snaps. Starters or not, the Jets playbook features lots of runs and they'll be using them tomorrow night. Unless reports of the Jets QBs playing "underwhelming football" forces them to use their much shakier passing game.
For more on the Xs and Os of the Rams run defense, be sure to go back and review 3k's last two Playbook Projector pieces.
Players to watch:
James Laurinaitis - He's calling the plays now, and more often than not, he'll also be the guy responsible for bringing down the running back. As far as Laurinaitis' role as the field general, watch how the Rams players hit their gaps, something they had terrible difficulties with last year. Then there are those instincts and tackling ability the Rams cited when they drafted him. This is his first chance to put it to the test.
James Butler - Butler replaced Corey Chavous, a respected player whose legs and tackling were long past their prime. On those obvious running situations, he'll be acting more like a fourth LB than a defensive back, which is a big part of the reason the Rams brought him here.
Hollis Thomas - Now, officially the biggest guy on the Rams defense, 340 lbs, he fills a big (ha!) need for a run stuffer in the middle that the Rams have been so sorely lacking. He's got to prove that he's healthy and still has what it takes as a situational player at the age of 35.