Figuring out what to watch for in a preseason game, beyond the usual position battles, is always kind of tough since you're going to see around 80 players for each team on the field throughout all four quarters of play. It's always the bottom fourth of the roster always ends up looking great on the stat sheet too, or so it seems. Anyway, all that aside, I have three big questions on my mind as I watch the St. Louis Rams take on the New York Jets tomorrow night. The first question is:
How well do the Rams play against the Jets elite group of linebackers
Sure, Kris Jenkins will sit this one out and that helps both the run and pass protection immensely as Jenkins is a one man wrecking crew capable of destroying pockets and stuffing runners with regularity. Jenkins or not, the Jets have an impressive group of linebackers with Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas on the outside and David Harris and Bart Scott on the inside. That won't exactly make running easy, at least not for the first quarter or so that those guys play. Alex Barron and the other Rams tackles face a tall order keeping Bulger on his feet against those OLBs.
Stating the obvious, the offensive line and other blockers brought in this year, like FB Mike Karney and TE Billy Bajema, will have to be sharp. Besides that, this is a good early test for the West Coast offense. The Jets will be looking for the Rams to test their offensive line and the Steven Jackson-oriented offense. This gives Pat Shurmur a great way to start using the passing play pages of his West Coast offense, using those short, quick drops from the QB to makes throws to TEs and WRs behind the defensive front. The quick part of this will be key too, since Rex Ryan runs an aggressive defense that won't sit idle once the snap is made.
Players to keep an eye on (aside from, you know, everyone):
Keenan Burton - He's the man of hour with Avery on the sidelines. Touted for his physical style of play and ability to make catches in the crowded middle, he'll get a chance to shine against some great defenders.
Marc Bulger - How well does he know the playbook? Bulger and his receivers will have to work quick to make passes against the Jets rush and keep the field open for Steven Jackson.
Alex Barron - Is he ready for the blindside? We'll know soon enough because the Jets will be sending some fearsome OLBs against the passer.
Daniel Fells and the other TEs - These guys are going to matched up against the Jets linebacker all night, and they'll be expected to make catches. Fells is out for the team's third TE roster spot. He's looked good in the offseason after impressing down the stretch last year.
I'll post the other two questions after lunch.