Somewhere on the internet yesterday, in all its unvetted glory, I read the lede of an article that spent three sentences of the most literal language possible reminding me that the key for the St. Louis Rams this week is to score more points than the Detroit Lions. The "dark and stormy night" of football prose.
Everyone knows that the Detroit Lions can score points in bunches. Last season, Matthew Stafford and the offense averaged 29.6 points per game and an average of more than 35 points in their 10 wins. Yes, the Rams defense needs to keep Stafford et al in check, in as much as they can. The supporting clause that would have elevated the offending opener from fourth-grade to freshman research paper would have pointed out the importance of keeping the Lions from jumping out to a sizable lead in the first half of the game.
If the Rams start the second half of the game with a relatively small margin on the scoreboard, a small margin either way, that keep Steven Jackson in the game. Look no further than the hated San Francisco 49ers for an example. They were team that stopped Detroit's 5-0 parade through the season last year.
San Fran took a 12-10 lead into the locker room at the half. Having a lead helps, but even if that score were flipped, it would still allow a team to run the ball. The 49ers finished that game with 203 yards on 29 rushes.
The weakest spot on Detroit's defense was playing the run. Jim Schwartz likes to play his front four out of a wide 9, and they get aggressive and get caught because they were vulnerable to misdirection plays. From there, it flows like the aforementioned introduction. Run the ball effectively, and back off the defense to make Sam Bradford's passes more effective.
Robert Quinn and Chris Long line up very well against the Lions' offensive tackles, and the pass rush will be important. Four man rushes that can consistently get to the quarterback leave more defenders working in coverage to keep the Lions' passing game in check.
Watch the cornerbacks. Calvin Johnson has few weaknesses, but when corners get physical with him at the line of scrimmage it can keep him in check, to some extent. Not only does it throw Megatron off his routes, it also thwarts the timing of the Lions' offense.
That said, you cannot overlook the Lions' penchant for late comebacks last season. Stafford and his crew had four fourth-quarter comebacks. Taking away their big play potential is the only way to stop that.
None of this will be easy. The Lions are favored by a touchdown for a reason. St. Louis is fielding a young team, complete with 17 rookies on the roster, and Jeff Fisher has a gigantic task in getting them dialed in and focused. One mistake, and the Lions can open an insurmountable lead.