Packers vs. Rams: 3 Key Matchups to Watch for St. Louis
Last week proved to be an utter disappointment for head coach Jeff Fisher's team. They controlled the clock and moved the ball on offense with ease, yet they weren't able to convert all those yards into points. But by Friday it is time to let go of the "what ifs" and "almosts" of last week.
Focusing on Green Bay should be the only task at hand. With the way the Packers handled the Texans Sunday night, it's going to take a monumental effort from St. Louis. However, the Rams are hosting the game, so the home field advantage factor is in their favor.
They are currently 3-0 at the Edward Jones Dome.
This will be the Packers third game away from home in the last three weeks. Currently, their road record is 1-1. The road trip started with a late game loss to the Colts, and when everyone counted them out in Week 2 they showed the national media the sky was indeed not falling on them. A 42-24 score over an undefeated team is indicative that they are indeed doing just fine.
With that, let's take a look at the three most intriguing matchups going into Sunday.
Joe Barksdale vs. Clay Matthews
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch just tweeted out moments ago that left tackle Wayne Hunter missed practice again today with an ailing back. So it looks like second-year tackle Joe Barksdale will get the green light for Sunday's game.
Barksdale didn't make any starts for Oakland last year, but he did log 156 snaps in spot duty. The Raiders primarily played him at right tackle and left guard last year. Even though right tackle is his natural position the Rams are forced to play him at left tackle because of injury.
His experience on the left side runs thin considering he was on the right side all throughout his college career.
During his brief appearances last season, Pro Football Focus had him graded out at negative-4.5. Barksdale allowed four quarterback hits and two hurries in 11 games. PFF had him down as a worse pass-blocker than run-blocker. That means bad news for Sam Bradford and good news for St. Louis' backfield.
Unfortunately for Barksdale, Clay Matthews is on pace to break the single-season sack record. Through the first six games of the season, Matthews has registered eight quarterback sacks, six quarterback hits and 17 quarterback hurries.
His eight sacks are tops in the NFC right now and his six hits also lead the NFL at his position. There's nothing like making your first ever career start against one of the best pass-rushing outside linebackers in the game.
Barksdale will need all the help he can get Sunday afternoon. I fully expect the Rams to deploy multiple two tight end sets. If St. Louis wants to keep Bradford upright, they will need to chip Matthews with both a tight end and a running back.
Leaving the young left tackle one-on-one against an All-Pro player would be just plain stupid. There will be times where he will have to be on an island with him, but more often than not he will receive help one way or another.
Sam Bradford vs. Green Bay's Secondary
After a fine 315-yard performance last week, No. 8 will be looking for back-to-back 300 yard games for the first time in his career. And this week may just prove to be the week where he gets the job done. The last time Bradford played Green Bay, he threw for 328 yards on 29 completions.
Yet the 328-yard game is a mere afterthought to Rams fans. The only thing they remember from that game was Bradford's high ankle sprain. The same ankle sprain that caused him to miss a total of six games last season.
At times he tried to play through the pain, but you could tell that he wasn't the same player. Injuries of that magnitude tend to have a lingering effect, just as it had on Bradford. He has sworn up and down that he has no ill effects, but even Coach Fisher said high ankle sprains can often take up to a full calendar year to heal.
In terms of stopping St. Louis' quarterback, the Packers secondary is hoping to pick up right where they left off. They intercepted Houston's quarterbacks three times and held them under 250 yards passing. The three-interception effort helped bring their interception total up to eight for the year.
Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Jerron McMillian are all having very good seasons, yet no one is having a better year than Casey Hayward is in coverage. Being a rookie means nothing to Hayward. He is currently the third-highest rated cover corner in the NFL behind Richard Sherman and Devin McCourty.
When throwing at Hayward, opposing quarterbacks only have a quarterback rating of 18.4 and they are completing a measly 47.4 percent of their passes. He has been targeted 19 times this year—only allowing nine completions for 75 yards.
Impressive numbers considering he wasn't even a first day selection in this years draft. With Shields out this week, look for Hayward to make his first career start at right cornerback.
St. Louis' Secondary vs. Aaron Rodgers
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers started the season off rather slowly. Through his first three games of the season he has only averaged 248 yards per game with a 3-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio. Fortunately for Green Bay, all it took was the teams "fluke" loss in Seattle to get things headed in the right direction.
Over the last three games Rodgers has done a complete 180. He has thrown 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Not to mention his yards per game is 50 yards higher than what is was during the first three weeks of the season.
In last week's game against Houston, his six-touchdown performance was one of the most incredible displays of accuracy I had seen in sometime. Six different receivers caught passes from No. 12 and three different receivers caught touchdown passes. Jordy Nelson led the way with a career-high three touchdown catches of his own.
However, Rodgers hasn't ran into a secondary like St. Louis' since Week 3 against the Seahawks. Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins and Bradley Fletcher all make up one of the best secondaries in the league.
Even though Jenkins and Fletcher each had a couple of hiccups last week, I expect them to bounce back to their top level of play this week at home.
Fletcher and Finnegan are in the top 15 of overall cornerback play in the NFL, according to PFF.
They have both excelled in coverage to no one's surprise, yet they have both excelled against the run as well. Especially over the past three weeks. It just goes to show that it really has taken all hands on deck to see improvement in the run game.
If St. Louis wants a shot at keeping this one close, the secondary will have to play its best game of the year.
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