This offseason, the St. Louis Rams desperately needed to retool their offense.
Thus far in the preseason, they've had games where they've been able to prove that they are new and improved; they've also had games that haven't presented such positive signs of progress. Which version will we see against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday?
When you're looking to work out the kinks in your offense, the Ravens aren't exactly the team you want to be playing. They're 2-1 in the preseason and are coming off a 48-17 annihilation of the Jaguars, and if they can keep that momentum rolling through the final exhibition matchup, the Rams will be in trouble.
Here's where and when you can catch the action.
Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Mo.
When: Thursday, August 30 at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: NFL Red Zone
Listen: WBAL 1090 AM or Baltimore's 98 Rock in Baltimore, 101.1 FM WXOS in St. Louis
Live Stream: NFL.com
What's At Stake?
Not very much. It's the fourth preseason game, so you have to figure that the most important players aren't going to be getting much playing time. The first priority is going to be keeping everyone healthy for the regular season openers.
These two teams, however, are heading into the regular season on opposite trajectories, so although they may not have a lot to prove in their fourth and final exhibition game, they have everything to prove when the real thing begins—so there's no reason to risk the all-important players for this one.
The Ravens' 2011 season ended in devastating fashion in the AFC Championship, when Billy Cundiff's potentially game-tying missed field goal allowed the Patriots to escape into the Super Bowl. Incidentally, the Pro Bowl kicker was cut by the Ravens over the weekend.
The Rams, meanwhile, had the second-worst offense in the league in 2011 and are desperately looking for some way to avoid finishing dead last in the NFC West. And they'll have to do it without 2011 leading receiver Brandon Lloyd, who defected to the Patriots.
Key Injuries: Ravens (via CBSSports.com)
TE Ed Dickson (shoulder) is questionable for Thursday's game.
LB Sergio Kindle (shoulder) is questionable for Thursday's game.
DB Corey Graham (head) is questionable for Thursday's game.
TE Dennis Pitta (hand) is doubtful for Thursday's game.
**LB Terrell Suggs was placed on the PUP list on Monday and now must miss at least the first six games of the season. According to ESPN.com, though, he is expected to miss at least the first half of the season.
Key Injuries: Rams (via CBSSports.com)
WR Austin Pettis (suspension) is not eligible to return until Week 3.
Fantasy Prospect to Watch: Ravens WR Torrey Smith
The Ravens haven't yet indicated who's playing and who's sitting for Thursday's game, but we can expect that most of the players who will be making a difference for your fantasy team this season are going to be limited against the Rams.
Smith could see a couple of snaps this week, and if he does, it will give him a chance to prove even further that this is the year he's poised to break out. The 2011 second-round draft pick had a very solid rookie year in which he started 14 games for the Ravens and accumulated 880 total yards and seven touchdowns with just one fumble.
In the Ravens' 48-17 win over Jacksonville last week, Smith led all receivers with eight receptions for 103 yards. He's already looking like a pretty solid fantasy sleeper, so even if he doesn't play this week, he's worth serious consideration.
What They're Saying
The fact that the Ravens just cut the scapegoat of their disappointing 2011 playoff run, kicker Billy Cundiff is eating up all of the headlines in Baltimore.
That, and the fact that it didn't seem to be a tough decision at all, since he was upstaged by rookie Justin Tucker throughout the preseason.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh refused to lend any credence to the idea that last season's postseason struggles had any bearing on the decision to cut the kicker. He told USA Today's Robert Klemko:
We brought Billy back. If it had been [a factor] he wouldn't be back. Billy kicked well. He'll definitely be the kicker somewhere else. I think he deserves a lot of credit.
Meanwhile, the Rams are making headlines because of their most recent trade, in which they dealt former first-round draft pick Jason Smith to the Jets in exchange for right tackle Wayne Hunter.
According to ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, the Rams' eagerness to make the move could be attributed to the fact that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer worked with the Jets from 2006-11 and appreciated Hunter's play.
Cimini also reports that the move came of no surprise to Hunter, who was demoted by the Jets just prior to being moved.
Baltimore Player to Watch
In April, Terrell Suggs suffered a partial Achilles tear that is expected to keep him out of commission for at least half of the 2012 season. Though it was first reported that he sustained the injury playing basketball, the linebacker told ESPN (via the Sporting News) that he hurt himself during a conditioning test.
Regardless, he's not going to be around for a long time—which means that if this ferocious defense is going to stay ferocious, someone is going to have to replace his production until he's able to go again. And that player could be Paul Kruger, who's entering his fourth season with the Ravens and has only made one career start.
He did, however, get into all 16 games last season, registering two pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, 14 tackles and 5.5 sacks. If this isn't his time to shine, there will never be such a time.
St. Louis Player(s) to Watch
Losing Brandon Lloyd was a blow to the Rams' passing offense, which was already one of the most dismal in the league in 2011. Last season, in just 11 games with the Rams, Lloyd established himself as the team leader in receptions, with 51 for 683 yards and five touchdowns.
His tenure with St. Louis was short, but he'll still be difficult to replace—and that is why the impacts of rookie wideouts Brian Quick and Chris Givens will be so significant. They may not be at the top of the depth chart now, but according to head coach Jeff Fisher, they could get there. On Monday, Fisher told the Post-Dispatch's Bryan Burwell:
Yes, there's a chance I'll move them up. I'd like to see Quick and Givens up there, but they're all young receivers. You take, for example, [WR] Steve Smith's case. He hasn't really had an opportunity to work with Sam. So we'll play as many as we can earlier in the game and with the numbers down, they'll be playing throughout the game.
No matter who it is, one of these wide receivers is going to have to step up big time if this offense has any hope of succeeding in 2012.
Prediction: Ravens Win
Even without the big names on the roster, this doesn't bode to be a difficult victory for the Ravens to come by. The Rams offense still looks like it's struggling, and without its starters, it's hard to believe that it is going to be able to get the job done against Baltimore's defense—even if the top guns are sitting.
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