September 9, 2012, The Rams open their season on the road against The Detroit Lions. The purpose of this post is to examine how The Rams can defeat The Lions. Most folks have The Lions winning this game without breaking much of a sweat. I can understand why:
Matthew Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards and 41 TD's.
Calvin Johnson caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards, and 16 TD's.
Brandon Pettigrew caught 83 passes for 777 yards, and 5 TD's from the TE position.
Tony Scheffler added 6 TD's from the TE position.
Titus Young is a potent deep threat. He caught 48 passes for 607 yards, and 6 TD's in his rookie debut.
This prolific passing attack, will be tremendously difficult to contend with. Almost sixty percent of their offense is generated through the air. The running game is almost a non-factor. No Lion running back ran for 400 yards. The ground game accounted for only nine TD's for the entire 2011 season. This fact does not seem to effect this pass-happy machine. Calvin Johnson has lined-up in different spots. This creates another headache for defensive coordinators. This internal mismatch draws defenders inside, leaving opportunities for single coverge on the outside. Titus Young and Ryan Broyles(If healthy), can exploit this opportunity for big plays downfield. The Lion defense still has question marks in the secondary. Their linebackers are fast and aggressive. This gets them into trouble. At times they can be over zealous, which leads them to over-run plays. The front-four with Suh, can fall into the over zealous category as well, that can lead to penalties in addition to missed plays.
For these reasons, I believe that the key to beating the Lions is containing their offense. After the break I will offer my opinions of how The Rams defense will achieve this task against one of the best passing offenses of today.
1. Pressure From The Front Four
The Achilles' Heel of the Detroit offense is the offensive line. Jefff Backus their OLT, is coming back from a biceps injury. Backus moves well but can be forced back into the QB. His short arms may prove detrimental going against Robert Quinn. Rookie Riley Reiff may start at ORT. An athletic big man, Reiff is talented. His drawback is short arms and inexperience. Chris Long should take the young man to task.
Interior pressure, with the adiitions of Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford, should pay huge dividends. Both are over 6'5, with long arms which they can use to impede the QB's vision and knock the ball down.ORG Stephen Peterson can fold with the bull rush. Stafford has a strong arm and a quick release. However, is not very athletic. If the play breaks down, he does not have the ability to beat you with his legs. Pressure from the front-four will be critical for The Rams. Effective pressure and continually hitting Stafford, can result in the ball coming out hurriedly, tip balls, and INT's.
The linebackers will benefit from the pressure of the front-four. It will allow them to make plays without being continuously impeded by huge offensive lineman. Laurinaitis has great instincts and coverage ability. The new OLB's will bring speed and experience to make plays.
2. Physical Man Coverage
The Lions offense operates primarily with the spread attack. The CB's will have to step up and press. They must be aggressive and physical. The Rams have done a nice job of acquiring defensive backs that fit this mold:
Cortland Finnegan plays with physical tenacity and psycholigal intelligence. Finnegan has a gift for getting under an opponents skin. He sometimes wins before the battle begins. Sun Tzu would be proud. These skills allow him to disrupt the rythm and timing of the QB.
Janoris Jenkins has a lot of the same qualities as Finnegan and brings more speed. Jenkins has deceptively long arms and ball-skills to create INT's.
The CB's also have the ability to tackle effectively. This ability can limit big gains after the catch, and limit long runs by the offensive backfield. The speed and athleticism of the defense will present more of a challenge to the Lion passing game than many suspect. I think The Rams start the season with a win on the road at Detroit.