Both the St. Louis Rams and the Green Bay Packers are 3-3. That's where the similarities end.
Sure, part of what makes this game interesting is that expectations for each team are different. People expected Green Bay to be in the hunt for another Super Bowl appearance. It's not as if that isn't the case anymore, but a 3-3 start doesn't exactly suggest they're ready for a post-season run were it to start today. On the other hand, the Rams topped their win total from last year in the season's first five weeks. Despite having the same record, the Packers are around 7th in major power rankings while the Rams average 20th.
This then is a contest of assumptions.
Either we assume the Packers are just too good and the Rams' offense is too ineffectual or we assume that Green Bay's lack of a ground game coupled with a mediocre defensive output will allow the Rams to dictate field position to their advantage.
I'm not comfortable with either, since the Packers have been too inconsistent and the Rams struggle so mightily on offense. Check in with me at halftime, though. I'll likely have an answer by then...
St. Louis Rams, 3-3, 4th - NFC West
Green Bay Packers, 3-3, 3rd - NFC North
Oct. 21, 1:00 p.m. ET - FOX
(via) - STL-GB in green
GB pass - 154/226, 68.14 cmp% (4th), 1,532 yds, 17 TD, 4 INT
7.36 yds/att, 255.33 yds/gm (14th), 42.3% passing offense DVOA (3rd)
STL pass D - 135/212, 63.68 cmp% (23rd), 1,247 yds, 4 TD, 8 INT
6.50 yds/att, 207.83 yds/gm (5th), -17.8% passing defense DVOA (4th)
This is pretty much the game. Consider the averages from the last three games from Aaron Rodgers: 25/36.67 (combined, a 68.18 completion percentage), 297.33 yards, 4.33 TDs, 0.66 INTs. He's on fire. The Pack do have a lengthy injury list right now however, and the receiving threats aren't unimpacted. WR Greg Jennings is hurting from a groin injury and will sit out while TE Jermichael Finley has a shoulder injury he's dealing with though he'll likely play. Still, with Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb, the weapons Rodgers does have are sufficient to put up points.
On the other hand, the Rams' passing defense is the strength of this team, but we saw an interesting gameplan from the Dolphins last week that, while stifled for most of the game, found some room underneath to get the ball in the endzone twice, once gifted enviable field position from the Brit Miller fumble. I think the question here is if this unit, like in Detroit, can take advantage of mistakes. We know Rodgers is going to rack up yards, move the ball and spread it around. If the Rams can grab an interception or two though, it could be the difference between a loss and a key home win.
GB run - 143 att, 585 yds, 4.09 yds/att (13th), 97.50 yds/gm (23rd), 1 TD, 1 RB fumb
2.9% rushing offense DVOA (8th)
STL run D - 149 att, 622 yds, 4.17 yds/att (22nd), 103.67 yds/gm (14th), 6 TD, 0 RB fumb
-6.4% rushing defense DVOA (19th)
Another significant battle, this is weakness on weakness as a Cedric Benson-less Packers team is even more toothless on the ground. Last week against the Texans, the trio of Alex Green, James Starks and John Kuhn combined for just 82 yards in 29 carries. The Rams would do themselves a world of good to repeat that.
Given what they were able to accomplish against the Dolphins, it's not an impossible request. James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar have combined to form a potent duo. Two weeks ago, I keyed in on Rocky McIntosh's work rate. Let's re-visit (via Football Outsiders):
|Total defensive snaps||67||60||69||61||81||54|
|% of snaps played||26.87||35.00||56.52||55.74||28.40||53.70|
You can see against teams with more potent rushing attacks, McIntosh is playing around half of the snaps. That being the case, I don't expect to see much of him on Sunday. The Rams need to overload against the pass. Does that mean more opportunities for Green Bay with their RBs? Only if they're interested in taking them.
GB O-line - 23 sacks allowed (31st), 37 QB hits allowed
3.67 Adj. Line Yds (24th), 9.2% Adj. Sack Rate (30th)
STL D-line - 18 sacks (t-4th), 32 QB hits
3.71 ALY allowed (10th), 7.3% Adj. Sack Rate (12th)
Here's the must-win of the game for the Rams. The Packers' O-line is struggling in both offensive aspects. To be fair, they're improving, and the volume is a bit deceiving as Rodgers has thrown the ball 83 times more than Green Bay has run it and a full 40 times more than Sam Bradford has thrown the ball. Nevertheless, it's a line that, outside of Bryan Bulaga, is limited in what they can do. G Josh Sitton has a plus skill set for the run game, but that's not exactly a great match for Green Bay's offense. Jeff Saturday looks like a shell of his former self at center. The left side of the line is a notable weakness that I expect Green Bay fans to put near the top of their needs list after the season ends.
That being the case, the Rams need to win the point of attack in both facets. They'll need to play pass-first, so read the angles on Chris Long and Robert Quinn on first and second downs early. How quickly do they leave their edge positions and try to disrupt the pocket? Will Green Bay try to catch them in overpursuit with their ground game? We might not see much of Eugene Sims or William Hayes this week, if the DT crew of Michael Brockers, Kendall Langsford, Jermelle Cudjo and Kellen Heard can help negate the running game.
STL pass - 111/186, 59.68 cmp% (19th), 1,217 yds, 7 TD, 5 INT
7.20 yds/att, 202.83 yds/gm (27th), 2.3% passing offense DVOA (22nd)
GB pass D - 129/221, 58.37 cmp% (7th), 1,381 yds, 10 TD, 8 INT
6.81 yds/att, 230.17 yds/gm (18th), -6.2% passing defense DVOA (10th)
As pointed out in my Q&A with Kevin McCauley, the manager of Acme Packing Company, the Packers have played a decent amount of zone coverage. Given the talent in their secondary, it's a conservative strategy. When you have talents like Davon House, Tramon Williams, Casey Heyward, Morgan Burnett and of course Charles Woodson all roaming around your secondary, you can afford to bend a bit.
I think the interesting thing then is how Bradford manages the game. If the Pack show much zone coverage, it's all about reads and timing. It could well take Chris Givens out of the offense to a large degree, which means guys like Austin Pettis, Steve Smith and Brian Quick may have to find more success this week than last. Brandon Gibson and Lance Kendricks, as they look to lead this unit in Danny Amendola's absence, have sustain their production from last week. Look, Sam topped 300 yards in this matchup last year. Does he have to match that? I doubt it. The pass defense is better this year. But he has to be more efficient, and (ah, a dead horse. I shall beat that for you, good sir) make more out of red zone opportunities.
STL run - 156 att, 635 yds, 4.07 yds/att (15th), 105.83 yds/gm (16th), 0 TD, 1 RB fumb
-8.5% rushing offense DVOA (18th)
GB run D - 161 att, 661 yds, 4.11 yds/att (18th), 110.17 yds/gm (17th), 4 TD, 0 RB fumb
-10.8% rushing defense DVOA (16th)
Arian Foster - 17 carries, 29 yards. That should scare you, as it's the lockdown job the Packers put on the Texans last week. Is it consistent with the rest of their season? No. But if it's any indication of the slightest capability of this run defense, it's very impressive. Green Bay has the personnel in their front seven to put any offense on tilt. At the linebacking level, they're strong with A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews leading the way. Losing D.J. Smith was tough, as Brad Jones has to step up. Not having Nick Perry on the field changes things across from Matthews a bit, but it's not like the Rams have elite blockers in the first place on the edge. Erik Walden provides depth in run support, so it should be interesting to see what the Rams do when he's on the field.
What can we say about the running game right now...I mean, it's providing a spark, thanks largely to Daryl Richardson. But here's the thing (and yes, I recognize this might make some of you a bit upset) - he doesn't have a great skill set. In fact, he's only got one real quality that's worthwhile - acceleration. Because of that, he's a one-cut vertical guy. No dancing in the backfield, no broken tackles. Get the ball, hit the hole and run as fast as you can. It's worked well largely because the offensive line has done well, but also credit Schottenheimer for not giving him a complex workload. No counters, no sweeps. Just power off tackle and A/B gap runs. I'm down. If it ain't broke...
STL O-line - 18 sacks allowed (t-28th), 35 QB hits allowed
3.69 Adj. Line Yds (23rd), 8.6% Adj. Sack Rate (29th)
GB D-line - 21 sacks (1st), 39 QB hits
4.32 ALY allowed (26th), 8.9% Adj. Sack Rate (4th)
With the news that B.J. Raji will sit out this game, things change a bit as the Packers will have to roll with ex-Ram Ryan Pickett at the nose on Sunday. That means some combination of C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal and Jerel Worthy. Mike Daniels figures to get some work as well. While they've struggled up front against the run, they, along with help from Matthews and Perry, can get after the QB. It sets up an interesting dichotomy on Sunday.
Each week, I'm left speechless at times by the Rams' ability to randomly come together and block a play well. The 44-yard run by Richardson. The deep drops Sam needs to allow time for Chris Givens to get behind defenses. It doesn't make sense. So at this point, my analysis of the Rams' o-line consists of me just nodding at Paul Boudreau's general direction chewing on a wad of random brown organic matter and spitting in that "hey, notice me spitting" kind of spitting with my thumbs in my belt loops. Keep on coachin, coach. (And no, I don't care that Joe Barksdale will start because we were already playing Wayne Hunter and Barry Richardson at the tackle spots and made them look decent. Joe Barksdale will be a damn Pro Bowl candidate in four days at this rate)
This week's top 3 storylines brought to you by the three dumbest new shows of the fall lineup:
1.) Animal Practice
You have to be careful with animals in entertainment. If you lean on them too hard, you run out of material pretty quick. There's a reason why nobody wants to reboot Lassie or Mr. Ed or Flipper. That stuff worked before when there were only four channels so everyone found ways to spend their time making themselves smarter, better people. We don't play that way in 2012, yo.
And you can't take the 80s/90s movie approach of "let's put an animal with a guy who most obviously does not like animals and he'll fall in love with the animal at the end and the animal will save him and then everyone will want an animal" strategy of Every Which Way But Loose, or Turner and Hooch. Hell, even that Chuck Norris film that was a total ripoff of K-9 made $5 million. Times were strange back then.
Look, what I'm saying is you can't just rely on the zaniness of animals to carry a show for multiple seasons anymore. There has to be substance, a reliability factor that viewers can lean on. You know if you watch Grey's Anatomy, there's gonna be some weird medical emergency and the hospital staff are all rumping each other. Watch Two and a Half Men? First off, don't do that to yourself. Second, you know what the jokes are going in. Animal Practice? They took the bit part from Hangover II and turned it into a show about a veterinarian's office. Sometimes, I don't think TV execs even give the slightest of damns.
You've got to have a structure in place so that when things go wrong (writers walls), you have something to fall on. The Rams need the same thing for their passing game. We saw inklings of it last week, with Brandon Gibson coming on late, a greater contribution from Lance Kendricks and a bit more versatility from Chris Givens. With Danny Amendola out and an offensive line that isn't going to consistently create space for Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson, it's the passing game that is going to have to get us in range for points. No, the red zone issues probably won't go away. But it's a casting issue that the Rams will have to figure out over the rest of this season and into next year. Fans should be pleased that there is a semblance of a plan without Danny.
It just sucks they had to go to it in season one.
2.) Chicago Fire
Oh, damnit. One of the things dumb TV loves to do is take non-dumb TV and make it dumb. FX crafted a well-received series called Rescue Me, that while I haven't watched received praise from people I trust on entertainment. It touched on all kinds of topics while remaining true to the occupation. But this mess? This isn't going to be anything but camera's panning way too fast, stuff falling from ceilings and a bunch of stupid sex scenes.
These shows always have stupid sex scenes. Like a fireman who's just dealt with a fire for ten hours or so, and is covered his own smoked flesh with the charred ashes of who knows what. He'll come home to his wife and spout some dumb monologue about how crazy life is and how crazy his job is and then his wife will have some INSANELY corny one-liner that gives him the green light and they'll smoky fireman love.
It happens, and it makes no sense but you can't stop enjoying it. Like this offensive line. No, foolywang, I don't mean that this offensive line is smoky fireman sex. I mean it's nonsensical. It's unbelievable. And yet, I keep my eyes open throughout the whole show. (spit 'n nod, folks. Spit 'n nod.)
3.) Made in Jersey
Look, I get people are stupid. I live in D.C., man. I deal with stupid every day.
I was on my way to a subway station the other day, and this college-aged kid stops me because I'm in a suit and his training tells him that means I have money so he better make sure to stop me. He starts going on about kids in Cambodia or Uganda or something, and I have to be his damn parent and tell him that you can't save all the kids with a $5 donation. Sure, you're trying to save kids in Uganda, but you're not doing a damn thing for kids in Somalia, Eritrea, the Congo, the Ivory Coast, Namibia, Thailand, Mongolia, Uzbekistan...hell, you ain't even doing anything for people in the lower Mississippi Delta, dude, and they're a car ride away. You want to save Namibia? Run an energy company. If not, let me go spend this $5 on sandwich and go on ignoring the hundreds of millions of kids who live crappy lives. I've got things to focus on like my own pampered kid. Besides, if you cared more about yourself, you'd probably be in a suit instead of handing out fliers of malnourished African kids, you pompous little douchebag.
Which is to say, I just said, "No thanks" and kept walking. It was stupid.
Now this show? This fictionalized flagellation of Jersey Shore wrapped in the lie that any decent acting elevates the material beyond Jersey Shore that officially counts as "network legal drama #1,467?" This is stupid.
I don't like stupid.
I don't like when the Rams try to outdo themselves (see: 2011 offense). I don't like when they don't adjust to reality (see: 2011 defense). That's why I like the new Rams.
That being said, if that next 7-step drop waiting for Chris Givens to get behind the defense ends up with a huge sack on Sam or a turnover (a distinct possibility on Sunday), it might be time to stop testing the limits. Against the Packers, the Rams have to overload on the pass. Don't get wrapped up in the running game. Play their strength.
Don't be stupid. Stupid lasts two weeks on CBS. Not stupid lasts years.