What an incredible start to the season for the St. Louis Rams and the NFC West. The Rams were cellar-dwellers of the NFC last season, as they finished 2-14. So, everyone knew a house cleaning was in order after a stretch of 15-65 after five seasons.
Head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have already shown that their 60 percent roster turnover was a definite step in the right direction. Offseason additions like Cortland Finnegan and Matthew Mulligan are already paying off. Seventh-round draft selection Daryl Richardson has become a solid No. 2 behind Steven Jackson, even though some were hoping second-round pick Isaiah Pead would fill that row.
A Week 1 letdown in the final minutes didn't stop St. Louis from bouncing back in Week 2 against the electric RGII. The game went down to the wire again, yet the defense held strong and Sam Bradford took a knee to seal the Rams' first win of the season. It was the first time they had won a home opener since Scott Linehan was head coach in 2006.
Their Week 3 opponent is the 1-1 Chicago Bears. The Bears opened the season with a big win at home against rookie Andrew Luck, but things got ugly at Lambeau the following week. Jay Cutler was bumping around his offensive lineman because of their poor blocking, and his interceptions became the norm by game's end.
The Rams defense has had plenty of interception opportunities through the first two games, so look for those same complex defensive schemes to be thrown at Cutler. Currently, No. 6 isn't handling the pressure well. According to Pro Football Focus, he is 9-of-23 passing for 167 yards while under duress.
By winning this week on the road, St. Louis can match its win output from last year.
With that, let's take a look at what kind of gameplan it will need deploy if it wants to knock off the Chicago Bears.
When the Rams Are on Offense
After a slow start, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer finally had the running game cranked up in Week 2. And to everyone's surprise, the running game was kicked up a notch when Daryl Richardson replaced Jackson at the end of the first half.
For you conspiracy theorists, I will let you continue to believe he was benched because of his post-run temper tantrum on the goal line. But face it, he really was injured. Hence the reason why he didn't practice yesterday, and as far as Sunday goes, his status is still up in the air.
Statistically, the Bears defense is currently ranked as the ninth-best team at stopping the run, which means Sam Bradford and the Rams wideouts will be relied upon heavily again this week. Last week, the Redskins played a lot of man-to-man with a single high safety, yet Chicago's defense functions much differently under Lovie Smith.
Smith's cover 2 scheme is still their bread and butter. But is age hindering the overall effectiveness of the scheme?
Above in the screenshot, you can see what area of the field is open the most against a cover 2. As Jordy Nelson runs a deep in-route, the middle of the field is his playground. Chicago's safeties are a good 25 yards off of the ball. By the time one of the safeties reacts to the play design, it's too late, as Aaron Rodgers is already in the process of throwing a dart.
And even though the Redskins didn't play a lot of zone, Bradford carved it up when they threw it at him. When running a zone defense, pressure becomes your best friend, and when you don't get that pressure, it makes for a very long afternoon.
Both Brandon Gibson and No. 8 recognize the zone right away, so what does Gibson do? He just runs a little zone-beater and sits down in the soft spot. As Bradford releases, he makes his way back to the ball and makes the catch with ease for a 19-yard gain.
Beating the cover 2 can be that easy, but St. Louis will need its offensive line to keep up the solid play. Despite the fact injuries have kept mounting, it's only given up a total of 22 quarterback hurries. It would be amazing to see what a healthy unit with continuity could do for the Rams offense.
When the Rams Are on Defense
Defensively, I'm still yearning to see more of a pass rush from Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Don't get me wrong, Long is doing his usual thing, as he has already amassed 11 hurries and two quarterback hits.
However, Quinn may have the sack numbers, yet his consistency just isn't there. When comparing his numbers to Long, you see that he only has one other pressure outside of the two sacks. Trent Williams is a very good left tackle who will probably become an All-Pro someday, but that's no excuse considering he is a first-rounder as well.
By the sounds of things, running back Matt Forte is going to be inactive, so it will be another week of Michael Bush pounding the rock. Last week, Bush filled in when Forte left with an ankle sprain. His performance wasn't overwhelming, but he managed to hover around that four yards per carry mark.
St. Louis has had trouble stopping the run, as it has given up 259 yards rushing through the first two weeks. Some of that has to do with RGIII being RGIII, but to give up over 80 yards rushing to a Lions team that is on their third and fourth team backs shows there is room for improvement.
So, priority No. 1 will be to stop the ground attack.
Make the Bears become a pass-first team by loading the box the way Green Bay did. If I'm St. Louis, I know what I'm getting with Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins; let them man up on the outside. When Cutler has good protection, he will kill you, but from what I've seen, he won't be killing anyone with his arm.
Don't be surprised if Finnegan gets yet another pick and Quinn has his coming-out party of the 2012 season against J'Marcus Webb. Even though former 49ers offensive lineman Chilo Rachal is replacing Chris Spencer at left guard, it won't help stop the bleeding. Webb is the one that truly needs to go.
Coach Fisher and the Rams game-planned well for the Redskins on both sides of the ball. I'm expecting that same kind of preparation, as I picked them to win for the second straight week in a row.
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