We are just one more day and a wake up from turning on the tube and watching the St. Louis Rams take on the Detroit Lions. For many fans this will be an extraordinary moment. There is something oh so sweet about the sound of the ball being kicked off for the first time. The flash bulbs fire off like so many stars, while the crowd roars in primal anticipation of the first hit, the first tackle, the first kick-off return for a touchdown. The players on the field feed off of this building energy. After all the preparation, and long days spent sweating in the Missouri heat, the Rams are finally getting down to the real business of football. And therein lies one of the keys to the path to victory. A path fraught with the challenge of fighting against the most basic human urge, that of self-preservation.
As anyone who has played the game of football at any level can tell you, there is nothing like stepping onto the field for that first real game. To hell with practice, scrimmages, and preseason games. This is the real-deal-Holyfield folks! The plays count, the cameras are live and in Techno-color, and the time to audition is over. The Rams will have prepared their rookies as much as possible up to this point. It will be up to the players to control those nerves, and the coaching staff to help them through their first real game of the season. If the rookies who get the opportunity to play on Sunday can overcome the urge to run off the field and call mommy, or choke back the feeling of wanting to hurl their lunch in the huddle, the Rams will be one step closer to victory.
The Detroit Lions will win this game if they can pass the ball freely while running the ball effectively. Shutting down either facet of the game will lead to victory. The easiest route for the Rams will be to allow Calvin Johnson to have his day, (just not a record setting one) while making the run game a non factor. Kevin Smith will be carrying the rock for the Lions. This is a great break for the Rams, as Smith is still getting back into form, which by NFL standards was never that great anyway. The toughest test for the Rams will be their defensive line depth. Injuries to several of the big men means less rotation throughout drives. Anyone who watched the first game of the season on Wednesday between the Giants and Cowboys saw how tired the Giant's line was by the start of the 4th quarter. Let's hope our trench-men are better conditioned and can get off the field quicker on Sunday. By shutting down the run, the Lions will be forced to pass more often, which will give Chris Long and Robert Quinn more opportunities for big plays in the backfield. Although a great athlete, Matthew Stafford is just as susceptible to being sacked as any other quarterback.
Picking on the Secondary:
The Lions are hurting on defense, particularly in the secondary. If cornerback Drayton Florence sees significant playing time, he should be tested early and often by Sam Bradford and the wide receiver corps. The former 2nd round pick isn't exactly a shutdown corner. He does have 17 interceptions to his credit since his debut in 2003, but don't let an average of 1.8 grabs per year scare you Sam! John Wendling will be on the field as well. Wendling's lone interception shouldn't scare Bradford either. He isn't a tackler either, with only 83 tackles and 22 assists since 2007. If Brandon Gibson, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, and above all, Danny Amendola, can get in some one-on-one situations with these two, Bradford could have a good day slinging the pigskin.
Running the Right Way:
Of all the things to watch for on Sunday, observe how often the Rams run to the right side of the field. Tackle Barry Richardson and guard Harvey Dahl should provide a good push, along with center Scott Wells. The pressure is going to be great on Sam with the likes of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamukong Suh on the other side of the line. The best thing for Bradford will be the volume of snaps handed off to the running backs. If the defensive line can be caught looking for the run, the passing game will open up. Detroit was next to last in the NFL in run defense last season, allowing an absurd 5 yards per carry. The Lions return all eight players in the defensive line rotation from last year, but don't let that fool you. The Lions absolutely destroyed offenses on 3rd and 4th downs with 1 yard or less to go in 2011. With the seasoned line and all of the starting linebackers pushing against the Rams running game, it could be a long day, or Steven Jackson could have one heck of a game. If the secondary gets involved in run support, things could get ugly for St. Louis. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz had this to say in regard to the lack of run support from the secondary and how they must improve over last year:
"Our improvement needs to be in limiting long runs. We were fine as far as the run game went except for the long runs. There was way too many of those big chunks. We have to do a better job of plugging stuff up front, but more importantly, tackling, or being in the right spots, in our secondary. That's where those averages went way up in the run game."
Schwartz is dead on with long runs, as the team gave up runs of 20 yards or more 16 times last year, with six of those going for 40 yards or more.
Red Zone Offense:
Even if the Rams can establish the run and keep the Lions prolific offense off the field, they must capitalize on chances in the red zone to win. 2010's blow out at the hands of the Lions saw Steven run for 114 yards with a long of 17. The Rams only managed six points that day, mainly due to a failure to either get into the red zone or score when in the zone. Here is a great recycled article from 3k about this very issue last season from mid October. If the Rams can at least get to 50% success in the red zone on Sunday they might have a chance. The Rams have tight end Lance Kendricks big body to use inside the 20. Expect to see him get some looks over the middle if the Rams manage to get within 5 to 10 yards from the goal line.
Simply put, the Rams rookie running backs must produce when called upon to give Jackson a breather. Jackson won't be pulled out much, but when he is, Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead must pass block and get a few yards when given the ball. I wouldn't be surprised to see Richardson and Pead perform well, as neither back wants to be the #3 guy.
As always thank for the read, and GO RAMS!