Wrapping up the last of the three questions series (here are the other two, how we'll play against the Jets LBs and how our run defense will look), we turn our attention to the Rams defensive backs and ask:
How will the Rams defensive backs fare against the Jets?
The Jets have a QB battle and a relatively unproven group of receivers behind Jericho Cotchery, add to the equation a decimated offense line (for tonight at least) and it's reasonable to expect the Rams group of defensive backs to have a good night.
To some extent this will depend on what happens up front. We can expect the Rams defensive front to blitz some tonight. The Jets may be a run-first team, but they're trying to evaluate two potential starter in quarterbacks in Mark Sanchez and Kellen Clemens, which means they'll have to call some passing plays. In front of their two QBs, the Jets three best run blockers on the sideline tonight, the Jets still have LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, an excellent pass blocker but middling against the run. Because of those factors, I think they might be passing more tonight than usual as they gauge the QBs and the backup linemen. And that means Spagnuolo and Flajole will want to get a look at their pass rushers.
If the pass rush is going well up front, then we should see more than a few balls thrown in distress and off-target. Combine that with the Jets shaky receiver situation and it's not unreasonable to expect a few pickoffs from handsy vets like Atogwe and Bartell or hungry young guys trying to make a case to be included on the roster, especially when they're playing against the Jets 3rd string QB in the second half and the bottom half of the depth chart.
Besides playing the ball, I'll be interested to see this new, physical style of man coverage that Spagnuolo et al have installed. Corners will be jamming guys at the line and shadowing them very tightly as they run into their routes. This style of play is going to be particularly important since the front seven will be rushing more often, leaving the corners and safeties on their own with receivers.
Players to watch:
Tye Hill - This is fairly obvious since he's playing for the rest of career. I don't necessarily expect to see Hill finish the game with a couple INTs or anything like that. However, if he's going to make a case for his job and relevance he has to respond well to the more physical style of play and look like he knows his assignments. Remember before he got hurt last season how lost, totally confused he look at times? The first step toward getting his career back on track is overcoming that.
Quincy Butler - Can he start making the case that he's more than this year's training camp MVP?
Oshiomogho Atogwe - We already know he's good; he doesn't have to prove that anymore. OJ has to silence all criticisms of his coverage ability this year to break through to elite status. That will be especially important in this defensive scheme. The Rams also want Atogwe to become a leader for this team. That's hard to quantify, but you'll know it when you see it.
I'll have an open thread up for the game tonight, which starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.