We should get a good long look at the Rams first teamers tonight, according to Linehan who says they might even play into the third quarter. Steven Jackson is expected to get some playing time tonight as well; although, Leonard will still be the primary runner against Oakland tonight.
More than anything, the job of Bulger and Co will be putting fears to rest by playing well in the red zone, scoring, and preventing turnovers. Niners QB Alex Smith put up good numbers against the Raiders last week, passing for over 100 yards, completing 8 of 12 throws. In the first quarter, with the bulk of each team's starters on the field, SF scored on all three of their drives, two field goals and a TD. The TD came about as the result of an Andrew Walter INT and SF needed just two plays and 35 seconds to score. The Rams shut out the Raiders 20-0 in week 15 last season, so that fact combined with division rival San Francisco's performance against Oakland last week have established some reasonable expectations for the Rams offense to at put up points and lead at the half.
On the other side of the ball, we're all looking for a couple of key things.
- Better tackling - no more arm tackles and feeble attempts to bring the ball carriers down like last week. We want red meat, rough and tumble hits, or at least as rough and tumble as advisable in the preseason.
- Turnovers - Without a doubt losing the turnover battle last week was one of the more disappointing aspects of the game. Fortunately, forcing turnovers can be practiced and practiced and practiced. Oakland fumbled 4 times, without losing the ball, and threw a key INT in the first quarter. Walter threw two INTs in last year's match up too. We definitely want to see a turnover. One quick side note about turnovers: You see players lots of times more worried about stripping the ball than making a good tackle. With lots of younger players in key roles on our defense all working on assignments and coverage that may explain some of the missing turnovers as players concentrated more on the playbook and execution. I didn't see the game, so I don't know though. Of course some of the crappy arm tackling counters that theory a bit.
- Defensive line - Big surprise to see this item on the list, huh? Last season the Rams held Oakland to just 57 total yards rushing. Last week, however, Oakland had a solid ground game. LaMont Jordan pounded the ball down field on with 8 carries for 40+ yards on the Raiders' third drive of the first quarter (bleeding into the second quarter) and scored a TD. Five of the eight rushes came on the left side, three at left tackle and two at left end. Another run, technically up the middle, came behind the left guard. Throughout the game Oakland play callers favored the left side, not sure if they were exploiting a weak spot on SF's d-line or just building on the strength of a by all accounts improved offensive line. Left tackle Barry Sims, a 6'5" 300 lbs Utah man, is back after missing some time last year with injury.
As a matter of fact, there's lots of enthusiasm for Oakland's line so far this summer. The first team has yet to allow a sack, after being the league's worst line for pass protection last year (league high 72 sacks). So it's not just the run defense that's going to get tested tonight.
- Defensive backfield - we have to see better play from the d-backs tonight. After looking lost at times last week, these guys have really taken a beating from fans and the press.
The first official round of roster cuts are coming Tuesday. Depending on how things go tonight, it'll be interesting to see who's available and if the Rams add anyone for the d-line and backfield as teams make their coming rounds of roster cuts.
Be sure to check out Silver and Black Pride for the Raider fans' view of the world - always an interesting one!
Stock up on caffeine, the game starts at 9 p.m.