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No drugs, just good football

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Update [2007-12-14 14:49:15 by VanRam]: Bulger will start this weekend and Frerotte will back him up.

Well, at least none of the Rams players were named in the Mitchell Report, huh? Fakhir Brown might have been, but he forgot his meeting with investigators...(rim shot) oh! Hey!

Ah good old football, where the performance enhancing drugs issue is handled quickly and swiftly. Here's a Friday morning water cooler item for you: why are perceptions about PED use in the NFL so different than in Major League Baseball? Is it because players come from college where testing and penalties are in place, on the surface anyway? I was talking about this with someone yesterday, and I just can't wrap my head around why there are such different perceptions.

Regardless, I don't think all the performance enhancing drugs in the world are going to give the Rams any more advantage over the Packers this Sunday. I'm mostly a realist. However, sticking your fantasy sports cash into an IRA rather than a kegerator is kind of a boring way to go through life, so I can suspend that sometimes stilted personal quality when it comes to being a fan.

The Rams, above all, must play ERROR FREE football this week. There's a close parallel to this week's game in the heartbreaking loss against Seattle in week 12. Seattle's offense, especially the pass-centric one that Holmgren implemented as the season went on, is very similar to Green Bay's. The Packers' main advantage over Seattle is their running game headlined by the emergence of previously unheard of Ryan Grant.

Grant was pulled after a measly 29 carries in last week's win over the Raiders, with GB Coach Mike McCarthy telling Grant that he intended to keep him fresh for the postseason. The Packers, duh, are assured postseason play, and will continue using their starters this week as they look to clinch the first round bye. That means the Rams defenders will have to play better against the run than they did last week against Cincinnati; not an unreasonable goal given that, despite the overall rankings, they've been solid against the run this season. In fact, the Rams biggest weakness against the run has been letting the long runs go by. Per Football Outsiders, 22% of rushing yards against the Rams have come on runs of 10 yards or more past the line of scrimmage; they rank 26th in league on that stat. But the other run defense stats look much better. To wit: on the "percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown" 53% have been successful, 4th best number in the league; our stuffed numbers, "percentage of runs that result in (on first down) zero or negative gain or (on second through fourth down) less than one-fourth the yards needed for another first down" look good as well, with just 28% of the plays in those situations being successful, 6th best in the league. Compare those numbers to last year where the Rams were in the bottom third in all three departments.

The Packers have a solid o-line; no small thanks to super sub Jason Spitz. Running, however, is their weakness, relative weakness I should say. The blitz will be key for the Rams defense, for holding Farve in check as well as stopping the run. The Packers use each running lane pretty evenly, so I'd look for some eight-man box situations and Atogwe to get some work coming up the middle as well.

The Green Bay o-line is tops in the league in pass protection, but the Cowboys had success pressuring Farve with a 3-4 setup, not unlike the one featuring Witherspoon on the edge we've seen from Haslett lately, the same one that worked so well against Hasselbeck in the first half of the week 12 game. It goes without saying that the d-backs will have to play their best football against Farve and his receivers.

The Packers defense has really emerged this season, but their run defense has been much better than their pass defense, not that it's bad by any means though. There is this encouraging news on this front from the Packers blog Acme Packing Company:

The Packers pass defense keeps slipping as the season goes on. Only CB Charles Woodson has been solid this season while everyone else has struggled at some point (or multiple points).

So, if Bulger comes back, make throws to whoever isn't covered by Woodson, duh. That will likely be Bruce since, they'll put their best on Holt, especially if Bulger's back.

Bulger's status won't be determined until after practice today. Linehan also seems to be keeping the same o-line together despite Romberg's availability for the game.  

Preview with the Packers blogger from Acme Packing Company coming tomorrow.