Ravens vs. Rams: What to Watch for in Preseason Week 4

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterAugust 29, 2012

ST LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 25:  Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams carries the ball upfield during the game against the Baltimore Ravens on September 25, 2011 at the Edward Jones Dome in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As the end of the preseason draws near, teams like the St. Louis Rams and Baltimore Ravens no longer have to worry about meaningless games and meaningless injuries.

St. Louis has been one of the luckier teams this preseason on the injury front, which is good news for Rams fans, considering last year seemed like an injury nightmare that never stopped. As Baltimore rolls into town Thursday night, they will be looking to make it through one more game unscathed.

In the fourth preseason game, the starters typically either don't play at all, or they only see a series or two. It sounds like running back Steven Jackson will get some work, according to our friends over at Turf Show Times:

Steven Jackson will get some work in this week's game Fisher said

— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) August 28, 2012

It's wise to rest the starters with the regular season opener just a little over a week away. Plus, Thursday night's game will allow the young players to showcase their talents one last time before final cuts on Friday. 

Here are three things to watch for as mediocrity rules the Edward Jones Dome on Thursday. 


Left Guard Position Battle

Currently, Quinn Ojinnaka sits atop the depth chart at left guard, but that doesn't mean Rok Watkins won't be named the starter after this week's game. Ojinnaka has had a tenuous grasp on the position ever since Watkins was drafted in the fifth round out of South Carolina.

Watkins has been a favorite of Jeff Fisher, even after reporting to training camp out of shape. So, it's no surprise that he will be given every opportunity to win the starting job. The rookie has impressed in his limited preseason action and, frankly, he could have already locked down the starting job if he wouldn't have reported to camp out of shape.

The biggest thing to like about Watkins is his mobility, despite his large frame. 

Against the Chiefs, he showed off his ability as a pulling guard, as you can see in the video above. It's hard to remember who the last dominant guard was in St. Louis, let alone a pulling guard. If Rok comes to play Thursday night, it will be interesting to see how things shake out when the official depth chart is released.


Backup Running Back

With the backup running back position more valuable than ever in today's NFL, the Rams are looking to add their first impact player behind Steven Jackson since Brian Leonard had 303 rushing yards in 2007. 

St. Louis has had surprise production from seventh-round draft selection Daryl Richardson during the preseason. Many thought Isaiah Pead would be the back who made the biggest impact, yet he has struggled early on. 

Pead's biggest struggles are attributable to being overly aggressive. He often fails to hit the correct running lane because he's trying to make too much happen on his own, rather than taking what the defense gives him. Here's what coach Fisher had to say about Pead's struggles:

Unfortunately for him, there's been a couple missed assignments up front or a stunt that we didn't anticipate. He just really hasn't been given an opportunity to hit a crease and show what he can do. The game did slow down a little bit for him after Week 1. I think from a run skill standpoint, all you have to do is look at those two kickoff returns and you'll get a sense of what he can do in the open field.

Right now I like Richardson over Pead because of Richardson's superior ability to hit the hole and finish his runs. 

Against Dallas, Richardson did just that. A four-yard run doesn't seem big, but pay attention to the way he hits the crease and finishes strong. He didn't try to make anything spectacular happen—he simply ran where he was supposed to and relied on his vision to get past the first down marker. 


Rookie Wide Receivers

Brian Quick and Chris Givens have both flashed their big-play ability at times since arriving in St. Louis, yet that playmaking ability hasn't shown up consistently on game day. Quick was a second-round pick out of Appalachian State who many thought would come in immediately and make an impact because of his size and speed. 

So far, the small-school product is ahead of where the Rams thought he would be at this point. That's surprising, considering some have been knocking his on-field production during the preseason. I always like to remind folks that it's just preseason and when drafting a player from a small school, it's kind of an unwritten rule that you expect him to take longer to develop.

Fisher echoed this sentiment during Monday's press conference:

I'm very confident that Quick knows what to do and how to do it and will only get better. ... He's done a good job. He's actually, probably from a stats standpoint, a little bit ahead of where we thought he would be at this point, which is good. 

Rookie wide receivers rarely make a huge impact right away and there are very few who have the smarts to catch on and beat skilled defensive backs from the get-go. 

It appears as if Quick will get a chance to work with quarterback Sam Bradford against the Ravens, so we'll see if they can get on the same page and build some continuity before the regular season opener.