Introductions are lame. I have to try and think of something interesting to write here that doesn't really say anything so that I leave all the high quality content you expect of me in the body. It's probably my least favorite aspect of these previews. So screw this, and let's get into the preview.
Breakdown of the home opener after the fold.
For game-specific info, check out the SBN event page for this game. For Redskins news leading up the game, check out Acme Packing Company.
St. Louis Rams, 0-2, 4th - NFC West
Green Bay Packers, 1-1, t-2nd - NFC North
Parentheses include NFL rankings in that area. Statistics taken from ESPN & FootballOutsiders.
STL pass - 32/64, 50% (31st), 145 yds/gm (31st), 1 TD, 0 int, 69.5 rat, -11.4% pDVOA (29th)
GB pass D - 32/59, 54.2%, 217 yds/gm, 4 TD, 6 int (t-1st), 62.9 rat, -42.7% pdDVOA (2nd)
This is a very strong, ball hawk defense led by the strength of their CB corps: Charles Woodson, Al Harris, Will Blackmon and Tramon Williams. Sadly, the Rams' offense has scored as many points as Green Bay's defense.
The reality of this matchup is that Bulger is going to have to work around these guys. That means more underneath play trying to work into the LBs through the air or going over the top and trying to link up with either Laurent Robinson or Donnie Avery against the Pack's safeties. In fact, this might be the best opportunity the Rams have had at going deep with some of the chaos at the back of the Packers' D. Nick Collins is a solid FS, but he's dealing with a chest injury that might hold him out of Sunday's contest. On the other side, the SS position is up in the air. Atari Bigby started in week 1, but was injured soon after and he's out for another two weeks. That injury pushed Aaron Rouse into action, but Rouse was cut...yesterday. The Packers went out and signed former Colt Matt Giordano, but he'll still have to compete with with Jarrett Bush and Derrick Martin for the starting gig. If we don't go after the SS with some deep passes, expect me to call out the coaching in the game thread early.
STL run - 19.5 rsh/gm, 101.5 yds/gm (20th), 5.2 yds/carry (5th), 0 TD, -3.5% rDVOA (18th)
GB run D - 32.5 rsh/gm, 118.5 yds/gm (18th), 3.6 yds/carry, 1 TD, -9.7% rdDVOA (14th)
The statistics speak for themselves from a Rams' standpoint: 5th in yards per carry, but 20th in yards per game. With so many truncated drives, the Rams aren't getting the ball to Steven Jackson nearly enough. One might argue that his explosiveness in terms of YPC might drop if he were used more, but I'd be willing to see his yards per drop if his total yards jumped. Defensive fatigue is a statistic that isn't measured but has a huge impact.
Defensively, Green Bay boasts an enviable 3-4 LB group anchored by the trio of ILBs A.J. Hawk & Nick Barnett, and LOLB Aaron Kampman. It'll be a great matchup to see what Steven Jackson can do at the second level, He should get enough help again from the O-line to be effective. I'd just like to see him be effective more often.
STL O-line - 4 sacks allowed/game (t-18th), 5.2% ASR (Adj. Sack Rate) (16th)
GB D-line - 4 sacks/game (t-12th), 6.0% ASR (12th)
To put Green Bay's sack total in perspective, half of those sacks have come from OLBs (Brandon Chillar and rookie Clay Matthews). Still, the nature of the 3-4 means that OLBs play a significant role in the pass rush, so this becomes a bit of a hybrid section since the Rams' O-line will have to deal with a NT, two 3-4 DEs and whichever blitzing defenders come on any given play. It will require a bit more awareness, but the Rams' O-line should be up to the task. The real question mark going into this battle will be Adam Goldberg and how different he will be from Jason Smith. He'll have to deal with some combination of Johnny Jolly (great name) and Kampman mostly.
GB pass - 19/26, 73.1% (5th), 187 yds/gm, 2 TD, 0 int, 87.0 rat, 20.4% pDVOA (18th)
STL pass D - 48/72, 66.7%, 258 yds/gm (25th), 3 TD, 2 int, 90.1 rat, 25.8% pdDVOA (24th)
Green Bay's yard total is skewed by the 73 yards incurred by 10 sacks, but they still should be factored in. Unlike Bulger last week, Aaron Rodgers, in week 1, tossed a TD to win at home against Chicago. Granted, it was a 50-yard TD which negated the need for an Elway-like "drive", but it was a game-winning TD nonetheless, that obscured an otherwise Bulgerish game - 16 for 27, 134 yds., 0 TDs. Last week, Cincinnati was able to pressure Rodgers all game with 6 sacks (5 by Antwan Odom alone) and 4 knockdowns which kept him off base all game. Greg Jennings didn't log a single reception. This should be the template for Sunday.
The pressure should force Rodgers to try to make things happen on his own, which should have Ron Bartell, James Butler and especially Oshiomogho Atogwe salivating. It should also give us a great look at Jonathan Wade and Justin King who will find themselves against either Donald Driver or Jennings - a simple matchup by no means. Still, if the last two weeks were any indication, the Rams should be able to hold Rodgers to an agreeable finish by Rams fans' standards.
GB run - 20 rsh/gm, 82.5 yds/gm (23rd), 4.1 yds/carry (16th), 2 TD, 15.6% rDVOA (9th)
STL run D - 67 rsh/gm (t-4th), 146 yds/gm, 4.4 yds/carry (21st), 1 TD, -1.5% rdDVOA (20th)
Ryan Grant looks like a shadow of the running back who terrorized defenses as a rookie in 2007 and showed promise by performing with a target on his head in 2008. You have to hope he doesn't come into this game motivated to prove his first two games were a fluke (a la Donnie Avery), because he's still as talented as he was the last two years. This should be a good test for our LBs now that they don't have a premier receiving TE to deal with. Neither Jermichael Finley nor Donald Lee will be huge receiving threats, though the two did combine for 8 catches and 84 yards against Cincinnati, though that was partly because Greg Jennings wasn't a factor. That being said, the LBs should be able to handle the TEs enough that they can focus on holding Ryan Grant to a third straight disappointing performance.
GB O-line - 3 sacks allowed/game (t-18th)
STL D-line - 0 sack/game (t-29th)
This is where the Rams will either beat the Packers or beat themselves. Green Bay's offensive line has been more sieve-ic than civic this season, averaging 5 sacks against per game. This should continue to be a less than stellar line as long as Chad Clifton is out, which includes Sunday and may extend to Green Bay's divisional contest with Minnesota.
Bear in mind, though, this recipe includes 1 part Packer O-line, and 1 part Rams D-line. The Rams have been ineffective in getting pressure to the QB. If St. Louis wants to hold the Driver-Jennings duo to a manageable result, a pass rush is a necessity. Cincinatti did it by relying on their RDE. Chicago did it with their entire D-line and some blitz packages. As a Rams fan, I can honestly say I don't give a damn how we approach it, but we have to get at Aaron Rodgers early and often.
In light of Van's recent mini-diatribe on the circle jerk that is ESPN, this week's top 3 storylines brought to you by ESPN's favorite stories of 2009:
1.) Brett Favre is back: He is, and this is annoying, almost as annoying as seeing Bulger sit in the pocket for 5 seconds without throwing the ball. The pass protection he's gotten has been leagues better than the past two seasons, but now that he's got it, what can he do with it? Thus far not much. And that is annoying as hell, or as I tend to say, Favreing as hell.
2.) Michael Vick is back: The classic redemption story played through the eyes of a ghetto Adonis whose disdain for dogs broke him and remade him again. I get it. He went from being a stud to a villain who is now on his way to role model. Why? Because ESPN made sure it molded the caricature of Michael Vick at every step, the same way Spagnuolo is molding his team with every game. We saw it in week 1 with the NFL readiness of rookies like Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis. We saw it in week 2 with the reform of Richie Incognito. We'll see it soon in the rebirth of Donnie Avery. Spags is to the Rams what ESPN is to Vick - a constant source of promotion and energy.
3.) ESPN is back: There's nothing ESPN loves to remind you of more than something that's coming on ESPN. You didn't have to watch Monday Night Football before, really. You could if you wanted to. But now? You have to. Everybody does. Don't be that asshole; watch it. Why the difference? Because it's on ESPN. They ignored soccer from the day they turned on the cameras in Bristol. They mocked it as the pussy sport, the sport Americas don't like for good reason. Then around 2007, they started promoting it more and more. Why? They had rights to the World Cup and were aggressively pursuing rights to the English Premier League and the Spanish league (La Liga) which they finally accrued for this season. So now, you should be classy enough to like soccer. Don't be that neanderthal from west Texas who still doesn't accept soccer for what it is. It's somewhat like TST. We pound memes into people's heads. Last year, it was "we should be playing better." Now, it's "we will be playing better." And one day, hopefully one day soon, it will be " we are playing better." It's going to come, and it's going to be on....like another ESPN show with blowhard pundits who spend less time digesting sports' importance and more time regurgitating it.