Entering week three of the 2012 NFL season the St. Louis Rams are building buzz. What looked like an easy win on the schedule for the Chicago Bears has turned into a potential knife fight for the monsters of the midway. Sam Bradford and company come to town owning a .500 record, encapsulating a promising performance in a loss to the Detroit Lions, followed by a very impressive come from behind win during the home opener over the visiting Washington Redskins.
If the Rams follow up the win over the Redskins with a similar performance in Chicago, they could very quickly become the talk of the NFL world.
The path to victory follows after the jump.
Sam Bradford -vs- Jay Cutler
With only two games played, Sam Bradford is on a trajectory to have a career year. Extrapolating from just these two weeks, Bradford could be in the neighborhood of 4,100 yards and 32 touchdowns. Of course in the real world, we can't expect that Sam does that well. Who knows if the injury bug will strike either him or his receivers; and despite their best efforts, the team is going to have a game or two where they are held to a few field goals and under 200 yards passing. Regardless of that, if you had told me that Sam and the supporting cast of receivers were going to do this well just two weeks into the season, I would have told you to take off your rose colored glasses.
On the flip side, Jay Cutler and his under-performing offense are an enigma. Yes, the team has offensive line woes, but Cutler hasn't had a solid line since his first few years in Denver. He is an athletic quarterback- who excels out of the bootleg- he should be performing better. So far this year Cutler has a disappointing 51.6% completion rate, three touchdowns, and a staggering five interceptions. The reasoning for the disappointment goes further than Jay Cutler. In the off season, the Bears traded for marquee wide-out Brandon Marshall. Marshall has been literally shut down so far, with only one touchdown to his credit, and a mere 143 yards. To contrast those numbers, Danny Amendola put up 160 yards and a TD just last week against Washington.
Sam Bradford must outperform Jay Cutler. Bradford is more that capable of picking apart the Chicago defense, whose strengths will be more apparent in stopping the running game of St. Louis. Julius Peppers will be a factor in the pass rush, but like we saw against the Redskins, the game plan called for more three and five step drops by Bradford. Given just enough time in the pocket, Sam should be able to avoid the sack by getting the ball out quickly. Jay Cutler on the other hand, will be harassed all day by defensive ends, Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Corners Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins will maul the Chicago number one and two all day long, forcing Cutler to go to the slot and tight ends more often.
If Steven Jackson is at full strength, and Daryl Richardson can continue his excellent supporting performance, the Rams should be able to run just enough to keep Chicago's defense honest off of play action. Chicago will be starting Michael Bush over the injured Matt Forte. Bush is more than capable of being an every down back- as he showed last season- sitting in for the injured Darren McFadden in Oakland, where he rushed for 977 yards. The Rams haven't done a great job of making the running game a non-factor. The injuries to the line, coupled with facing two teams with dangerous passing attacks in consecutive weeks hasn't helped matters. This week against Chicago however, the Rams can take a similar approach to the game-plan against Detroit in week one. The Rams held Megatron in check nearly all afternoon, focusing more on shutting down the passing game than the run. Unlike Detroit, the Bears have a more potent and aggressive back in Michael Bush. The front four have to maintain their gaps better during run plays, which will force the run to the outside, allowing the Ram linebackers to make plays on the edge.
The Rams Defense Must Play Their Game
With all of the fallout over RGIII complaining about the way the defense played, the Rams must remain focused on playing aggressive, hardcore football. The coaching staff will have undoubtedly changed nothing in their approach to game preparation, but the young players are just as susceptible to outside influences as any 21-26 year old in America today. After all, this is the age of mass media, Twitter, Facebook, and the like. Despite all the assurances that the players aren't paying much attention to the hype of the RGIII complain-a-thon, the Rams will have seen and heard plenty this week. The importance of that not getting in their heads and being able to play instinctively cannot be understated. The youngest team in professional football must stay the course, and continue to follow Cortland Finnegan's aggressive influence. After all, we know how Jay Cutler seems to fold under constant pressure. For the Rams to be victorious this Sunday, Mr. Grumpy Pants must be their target, a target that once marginalized, will cause the rest of the monsters to shrink down to size.
Thanks for the read, and GO RAMS!