Rams vs. Dolphins: 3 Key Matchups to Watch for St. Louis

Tyson Langland@TysonNFLNFC West Lead WriterOctober 12, 2012

ST. LOUIS, MO. - NOVEMBER 30:  Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams rushes against the Miami Dolphins at the Edward Jones Dome on November 30, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The St. Louis Rams have already surpassed their win total from 2011, and for the first time since Week 13 of the 2010 season, they've won back-to-back games. Arizona was their latest foe.

The Cardinals entered Edward Jones Dome undefeated, but they left defeated after Robert Quinn and the defensive line had a party on quarterback Kevin Kolb's face.

Can St. Louis use its pass rush for the second week in a row to take down the 2-3 Miami Dolphins? Yes, they can, although it will be a lot harder than it was last week. The Dolphins' offensive line is a lot more stout than Arizona's poor excuse for an offensive line. Mike Pouncey is arguably the best center in the game and Jake Long is, Jake Long.

With line play on both offense and defense being the focal point of this game, let's take a look at which matchups will matter the most on Sunday.


Three Key Matchups

Barry Richardson vs. Cameron Wake

Right now, Miami defensive end Cameron Wake is playing like a man possessed. Through the first five games of the season there isn't anyone who is rushing the passer as well as he is. He already has eight quarterback sacks, eight quarterback hits and and 26 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus

It's amazing that he already has 42 total pressures heading into Week 6. That's more than half of his 2011 total (81). Miami mostly played a 3-4 with some use of a four-man line in pass-rushing situations. Since the Dolphins switched over to the 4-3 full-time, Wake has been unstoppable. That isn't a surprise, considering he registered quite a few sacks with his hand in the ground even before the switch.

Speed on the edge is Wake's strong suit—the exact same thing Rams right tackle Barry Richardson struggles with. PFF has Richardson as one of the worst pass-blocking offensive tackles in the game. He is currently the fifth-worst rated tackle in terms of pass-blocking efficiency. He's allowing a quarterback pressure once every nine snaps when Sam Bradford drops back. Thankfully, he's not a total lost cause.

Richardson's play in the run game helps offset some of his futility. The Rams are averaging 4.0 yards per carry when running off his backside. Wake doesn't play the run the same way he rushes the passer, so to help keep his pass-rushing ability at bay, they will need to run the ball right at him. That's the only way you can expect No. 79 to be productive. If Richardson is back on his heels all day, it will be a long afternoon. 


Chris Givens vs. Sean Smith

The clavicle injury to wide receiver Danny Amendola may prove to be the biggest test for St. Louis. How are the Rams going to combat his loss? He was Bradford's safety valve. Ever since arriving to St. Louis, Amendola and Bradford have developed a rare chemistry. Unfortunately, there's no wishing him back and the show much go on. It's hard to envision just how his snaps will be replaced, but surprisingly, I think there is one kid who can do it.

Rookie wide receiver Chris Givens looks like the go-to guy. Fellow rookie Brian Quick has had a hard time finding the field for whatever reason, but Givens, a fourth-rounder, has made the most of every opportunity. In consecutive weeks, he has caught passes of 50-plus yards. In Week 4, he caught a 52-yard bomb. In Week 5, he caught a 51-yard strike from Bradford.

However, this week will be a new test against one of the best cover corners in the league. Sean Smith has been shutting down every wideout he crosses paths with. Through the first five games of the season, he picked off two passes and opposing quarterbacks have a QB rating of 66.5 when targeting him. Out of any cornerback who has played at least 75 percent of his teams defensive snaps, no corner has been thrown at more than Smith. 

I'm not sure why quarterbacks are throwing at him nine times a game, but his coverage is holding up just fine. He has only allowed 22 completions on 46 targets. Givens will have an uphill battle come Sunday, yet it wouldn't be far fetched to think he could get deep on Smith. Smith has already allowed three touchdowns this season. 


Chris Long vs. Jonathan Martin

Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin hasn't had a bad year up until this point. But he hasn't had a good year either and has been about average. His run-blocking ability could use some work, considering Miami is only averaging 2.3 yards per carry when running off him. Yet this week's test won't be in the run game. Martin will be tested against one of the best left defensive ends in the game. 

There's no doubt Chris Long will try to work over the rookie right tackle. Even though he only registered one sack, Long is coming off of a very productive game against another rookie right tackle, Bobbie Massie. He finished the Week 5 contest with a total of nine quarterback pressures, so he's hoping for a repeat performance in Week 6. 

Here's how Long beat Massie most of the night. Like Wake, his speed rush is absolutely incredible. In the top photo, look at the way he starts the play. He is down in his frog-like stance, and then as soon as the ball is snapped, he leaps out of it and remains low until he gets around the corner. As an offensive tackle, you need to learn to stay low, but you can see Long plays so fast. Sloppy technique will get you beat every time. 

Given the fact St. Louis is one of the worst teams at stopping the run, it may be in its best interest to be run-heavy come Sunday. The defensive end opposite of Long is no slouch either. Robert Quinn is just as effective at making a quarterback's life an absolute nightmare.


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