Week 3. Suddenly the St. Louis Rams are a competitive team, despite injuries, despite roster concerns, in two games the Rams have proven that they can compete with any team in the NFL. This week is a tougher test, arguably their toughest yet, on the road against a Chicago team with a loaded defense and a mercurial offense that can go from zero to sixty in one wrinkle of Jay Cutler's furrowed brow.
After the jump, the keys to the game for the Rams.
Protect the quarterback
Sam Bradford looks different this season, and that's a good thing. Trent Dilfer said it best on Friday, one of the few coherent thoughts to emerge from his Destro-like head in years:
#filmstudy Sam Bradford After two games showing dramatic improvement w/footwork, pocket management & decision making. QBCoach=Frank Cignetti— Trent Dilfer (@TDESPN) September 21, 2012
The offensive is ailing, but has did well last week dotted with replacement players. Expect to see tight ends helping out Wayne Hunter on the left side, and Daryl Richardson's ability is pass protection is another, albeit less heralded, reason he's on the field more these days.
Bradford is going to get touched a few times. He has responded well to what pressure he has faced, and the three step drops and quick, decisive passes are a big help too. If the line can keep the harassment to a minimum, it should be more than enough for Bradford to get a rhythm going.
Run the ball well
Easier said than done against a tough Bears front seven. You know Brian Schottenheimer's game plan will run the ball, and this is so obvious, it's hardly worth mentioning. But the balance will help keep the Bears defense honest, keeping them from putting five defensive backs on the field to shut down the receivers.
Win the special teams battle
Yes, there's the obvious matchup against Devin Hester, who can change a game with a single kick return. This will be good test for the rookie Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein, a master's course in ball placement. Greg the Leg will also go from two games indoors to one of the toughest fields in the league for kickers ... and it's supposed to be windy Sunday in Chicago, surprise.
Good field position is more important, and more realistic, than a home run return, though that could help too. Speaking of which, I wonder if we'll see any trick plays on special teams? The Packers burned the Bears with a fake field goal for a touchdown last week.
Harass Jay Cutler
This one is obvious, and the matchup between the Rams defensive ends, Chris Long and Robert Quinn, could be the real difference maker in this game. Chicago is one sack away from a meltdown. More to the point, Cutler's body language goes from confident to broken faster than anyone else in the league. If the secondary can keep the receivers covered, the pressure on Cutler could send the Bears' offense spiraling.
Stop the run
No team is allowing more yards per carry than the Rams defense with opposing runners averaging 5.5 yards per carry against them. Part of that has to do with RGIII, who was effective when he ran the ball last week. Jay Cutler isn't going to do that, but Michael Bush will see more than his fair share of carries as the Bears look to reduce pressure on their pass protectors.
Bush's power style will be a big test for the middle of the Rams defensive line, a unit still without Michael Brockers. Chicago is switching out guard Chris Spencer with Clio Rachal, which should give them a little more power up front.
The Bears have also been using Devin Hester out of the backfield in practice this week, a la Percy Harvin. That adds that speed element to the offense, and means the linebackers will have to be keenly aware of any misdirection plays, lest they get burned.
Those are the big issues, but ny no means the only thing on the Rams' plate this week. The secondary has been outstanding through two games, the corners in particular. Safety play improved against Washington and has to be even better this week.