Yesterday, I put together a game plan for the Seattle Seahawks as they traveled to St. Louis. Now, it's time for me to put up a plan for the Rams as they are set to defend their home turf for the second time this season.
Coach Fisher's Rams are coming off of a brutal defeat to the Bears in Week 3. The offense never seized the opportunity to get anything going, especially in the run game. This was baffling to me considering they actually ran the ball pretty well in first down situations, yet as soon as they got down, they just gave up on the ground game.
Steven Jackson was a warrior and played through a groin injury that appeared to hamper him all game long, and rookie running back Daryl Richardson was invisible after a strong Week 2 performance. So it's hard to say just exactly what St. Louis was trying to do.
The offensive line was put in bad situations all game long as the Rams wide receivers failed to get separation from the Bears' cornerbacks.
This forced quarterback Sam Bradford to hold onto the ball way too long. There were times when he would have the ball in his hands for a good four or five seconds. In the NFL, a quarterback who is trying to utilize the quick passing game should have the ball out in two seconds.
But what was Bradford supposed to do? He should have thrown the ball away; there's nothing worse than taking a sack and putting your team in an even bigger hole.
St. Louis will need their offense to step up in a big way on Sunday afternoon. Seattle's defense is coming off one of the biggest wins in recent years, and they are touting the fourth-best defense in the NFL. Through the first three games of the season, they have only allowed 39 points.
To get their first win against an NFC West opponent, they are going to have to have quite the game plan on both offense and defense. Let's see what we can draw up as our formula for success.
When the Rams Are on Offense
Even though the Rams have been wildly unsuccessful against the Seahawks in recent years, there is still reason for hope. In the last meeting between these two teams, Seattle pulled off the victory at home. But that doesn't mean St. Louis wasn't strong in one area of its attack.
As a team the Rams' offense rushed for 114 yards. It may not seem like an astronomical number, however, very few teams were successful in running the ball against a Seahawks defense that only allowed 3.8 yards per carry.
So I'm suggesting in their first matchup of this season, Brian Schottenheimer's offense deploys that same tactic.
Jackson's status for Sunday is up in the air because of that nagging groin injury, but Richardson is a full go, and so is Isaiah Pead.
Richardson has looked strong when given chances to succeed, a far cry from Pead, but if No. 39 can't go they don't have any other choice. Running the football is key to keeping Gus Bradley's defense at bay.
If Schottenheimer only dials up pass plays, it's going to be a long day against a pass rush that just smothered Aaron Rodgers a few nights ago. Teams are only averaging 19 rushing attempts a game against the Seahawks' defense, the third-lowest total in the league, so there's no question a team needs to be consistent and wear them down.
After reviewing the tape from the last three weeks, I noticed the St. Louis offense hasn't been running many inside slant, zone or wham plays.
So I went back and looked at the tape of the Seahawks game from last year, and sure enough the two longest runs in the Week 14 defeat were a wham play and a slant play.
This particular play above in the screenshot is a slant play. If you're not familiar with a slant play in the run game, it's a fairly easy concept to grasp. All it means is that the offensive line slants their blocking angles one way or another. For example, on this particular first-down run, they slant their blocking to the left.
Seattle's defensive line has been making inside moves to the right to try and get upfield, so to counteract that they make sure to block down that same direction. By blocking down, it gives the defensive linemen a free release into the backfield. By the time Jackson hits the hole, they have no chance at getting him because a backside blocker is coming to seal them off.
I know this type of blocking isn't Schottenheimer's forte, but right now it wouldn't hurt to try to catch them off guard by doing it.
Regardless, St. Louis' game plan on offense needs to include the running game. In their two losses this season, they've only had a combined 136 yards rushing. In the team's Week 2 victory, they had 151 yards rushing alone.
For the Rams to score points, they have to take pressure off of Bradford and the offensive line. The offensive linemen can't be on their heels all day in pass protection; it just doesn't do them any good, especially when the wideouts have trouble getting open.
A balanced attack is going to be the only thing that works on Sunday. Some teams can get away with being pass-heavy, but the Rams aren't there yet offensively. There are too many holes left to fill before their offensive becomes one-dimensional.
When the Rams Are on Defense
Coach Fisher's defense has been the surprisingly strong unit for this team through the first three weeks of the season. According to the great crew at Pro Football Focus, the Rams have the 12th-best coverage grade out of any team. Compare that to last year when Steve Spagnuolo's defense had the 12th-worst coverage grade.
The additions of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins have given opposing quarterbacks fits. Not to mention the return of Bradley Fletcher is probably one of the most underrated aspects of the secondary's high level of play.
When quarterbacks target either Finnegan, Jenkins or Fletcher. their quarterback rating is an abysmal 59.3.
Unfortunately, I don't expect Coach Carroll to open up the passing game anymore than he has to. He knows just how good this Rams secondary has become, so he will stick with what he knows best and that's riding Marshawn Lynch until the final whistle.
Since joining the Seahawks midway through the 2010 season, Lynch has rushed for a total of 278 yards in three games against St. Louis. His biggest game was that Week 14 beat down on Monday Night Football. He ran for 115 yards on 23 carries and punched it into the end zone once.
To stop Lynch, the Rams are going to have to use a game plan similar to the one they used in Week 1 against the Lions. Fisher's defense played a lot of different-looking fronts that would often have eight or nine men in the box. Not only would the box be loaded, but they would blitz multiple players from one side.
Look at the screenshot above. You can see they are expecting the run as they have brought the safety down close to the line of scrimmage in anticipation. They also decided that they were going to blitz him and the outside linebacker, Jo-Lonn Dunbar. By overloading the edge, it allowed one of them to shoot into the backfield untouched.
Sure enough, Detroit tried to seal off Quintin Mikell on the edge, and it allowed Dunbar to shoot the A-gap to make the tackle in the backfield for a loss.
Run blitzing can sometimes get you burned if the run is called away from the gap your defense is blitzing. That's why it's important that a defense is very selective as to when and how often these calls are made.
Seattle's running game has really looked very strong the past two weeks, so it will definitely be an uphill challenge. If St. Louis does shut them down, they will have a really strong shot at beating the Seahawks. Shutting down the run game will force the 'Hawks into pass mode, and so far that is something they haven't had to do except for the controversial Hail Mary.
Don't be surprised if this is one of those games that ends up being 10-7 either way, as I don't see many points being scored.
Nevertheless, NFC West showdowns are always chippy, hard-fought battles.