Young teams like the St. Louis Rams have problems week to week adjusting to the next opponent. That's an immutable fact, not unlike gravity, or even the more proven theorem depicting the "half-life" of Cheetos as being over 1000 years. Some things can't be changed, and I said some time ago I thought this newest incarnation of the Rams would be sort of hit and miss each week. Let's face it, there's a lot to take in for a young team. NFL offenses are complex, and Rams players not only have to learn what they did wrong each week and improve, they also have to plan for the next game too...
When the Green Bay offense suddenly awoke against Houston this past weekend, the Rams added to their herculean task of preparing for this Sunday. While the defensive secondary has been close to stellar, Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins aren't going to be enough to stem the tide of an Aaron Rodgers led passing onslaught.
While some tout the Rams defensive line as one of the keys to a victory against Green Bay, others think players like Jenkins and Finnegan will be the heroes of the day. Still another group may think it's the Rams offensive line NOT failing - giving Sam Bradford time to throw and un-crushed by Clay Matthews - is what will seal the deal. Every fan has their own opinion on who will be important Sunday, but I'm thinking in another direction.
No, it won't be a guy named Zuerlein. It will be the play of two players who fill specific defensive packages for the Rams. One is a rookie, another is a player who's battled injuries the past couple years. I'm talking about Bradley Fletcher and Trumaine Johnson, and how they play this week will decide what happens against Green Bay.
Since being drafted by the Rams in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Fletcher has been both a potential star at his position, and decried as an injury riddled mistake. He came into his own in 2010, and his four interceptions that year were one of the few bright spots for a team drowning in losses. Injuries began to hamper him, and knee surgeries limited his play through the entire 2011 season. When the Rams paid huge money for Finnegan in the 2012 off season, and then drafted two corner backs in April of 2012, the writing seemed to be written on the wall for Fletcher. Bradley earned his way onto the team's roster - not as a starter - but as a nickle package alternative.
Trumaine Johnson came to the Rams with their third round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Marred by potential personal conduct red flags before the draft, the University of Montana product slid on draft day. The Rams snatched him up, and most fans put an asterisk next to his name while they waited for him to self-implode off the field. It never happened. Kudos to a Rams scouting staff, who looked into Johnson's past and found he wasn't the gamble other teams thought he was at the time. His only glitch being a time where he over slept and missed a flight to Rams training camp. He's played well in certain situations as a rookie, and he's fighting his impulse to deliver the brain jarring hits he made in college for which he was famed.
These two young players - one 26 years old, the other 22 - aren't starters for the highly touted St. Louis Rams defense this year, but they have become integral to the unit's success. Coming in on passing downs, or simply to rest Jenkins or Finnegan, these two players have given the Rams position depth at corner back this franchise has never had before now.
In the upcoming game against the Green bay Packers, they hold the keys to the "win" kingdom. With the Packers incorporating three, sometimes four wide receivers at a time, these two player will get more work than they have all season long. They be the ones covering Randle Cobb, or James Jones. Maybe they'll be moved in to cover versatile tight end Jermichael Finley on plays too? Whatever happens, when the Aaron Rodgers passes start to hit the proverbial fan, these two guys will be called on to fix the problem. They'll be the fire brigade who will try and keep the Rams house from burning down...
So if you're looking for "Keys to Victory" or "Players to Watch" for the Rams this Sunday, stop looking at the guys who grab all the headlines. The pressure on these two players Sunday will be HUGE. I guarantee they will be heroes or villains by the end of the game. If they play well, I'm not sure anyone will really notice. They'll return to the sidelines the following week, and wait for their names to be called once again. Because, you see, there will always be fires to put out this season for the Rams, and it's why having these two players means more to the Rams than most fans will ever know...