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

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterOctober 25, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 26:  Sam Bradford #8 of the St. Louis Rams looks to pass in the first half against the New England Patriots on August 26, 2010 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Even though the Rams are listed as the home team in London, we all know it's a little unfair that they only have seven home games at the Edward Jones Dome. Squaring off against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots is never an easy task—add in a neutral site and the odds are stacked against you.

Not to mention the fact that head coach Jeff Fisher has never had success against Coach Belichick. His all-time record against him is an atrocious 1-4. The last time these two coaches went head to head, Fisher's Tennessee Titans laid an absolute egg on the road. A 59-0 score had to make Fisher very uneasy.

However, he is now leading a charge of young men who have proven they are building their own identity. St. Louis is no longer viewed as a pushover—they have been instilled with a sense of toughness and a so-called mean streak. Both of those characteristics come from their head coach. 

Let's take a look at which matchups will effect the NFL's youngest team.


Joe Barksdale vs. Chandler Jones

For the second week in a row, St. Louis' new left tackle will have his hands full. Last week, Joe Barksdale had his hands full against the best pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker in the league. This week, he will have his hands full against an up-and-coming elite pass-rusher.

I was so surprised with his play last week that I'm not fully convinced he can keep it up on a weekly basis. Allowing one sack, one hit and one quarterback hurry may not seem like an astonishing accomplishment, but against Clay Matthews, that's by all means a success.

Matthews is averaging 4.85 pressures per game—which is just slightly above Chandler Jones' mark of four pressures per game. No rookie defensive end has more sacks, hits or hurries than Jones. Even at age 22, he is showing he can hang with any left tackle in the game.

On the other hand, Barksdale is just trying to show that he belongs and that his third-round selection was warranted. The Oakland Raiders didn't believe he even belonged on their team after one bad year in the black hole. In all fairness, I'm not sure why a team like the Raiders would let go of a player they know practically nothing about.

As they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure. For a team that has been marred with injuries along the offensive line, Barksdale has been more than just a treasure for the Rams.

One area where St. Louis could have an advantage would be in the run game. Jones has struggled against the run for the last three weeks in a row. And right now, Barksdale's biggest asset is his run-blocking ability.

Last week against Green Bay, the Rams averaged four yards per carry when running off his backside. If you were to combine the runs inside and outside of the left tackle, St. Louis averaged 5.45 yards per carry. Left guard Shelley Smith definitely had a lot to do with the success along the left side of the line.

Without question, Jones and Kyle Love will give it their all against Barksdale and Smith.


Chris Givens vs. Kyle Arrington

Out of 98 cornerbacks, Pro Football Focus currently has Kyle Arrington as the fifth-worst cover corner in the NFL. Through seven games, only four other cornerbacks have allowed more receiving yards. Coming into Week 8, Arrington has allowed 451 yards, 29 catches on 36 targets and four touchdowns.

Opposing quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 155.8 when throwing into his coverage—the highest mark in the league. If his coverage skills even improved just a little bit, he would actually be an above-average defensive back. He plays the run well and he is virtually penalty-free.

Nonetheless, Arrington's awful coverage skills are good news for rookie wide receiver Chris Givens. As I mentioned last week in my matchup article, Givens has been a surprise contributor to the Rams. Everyone had an idea of what he could do as a deep threat, yet a lot of people weren't sure as to what type of contribution he would have right away.

For the fifth game in a row, Givens will be looking to catch a pass of 50 yards or more. He has caught passes of 52, 51, 65 and 56 yards—all in consecutive games. The Rams have been searching for a deep threat ever since Kevin Curtis left town, and it finally appears like they have found their man.

Aside from the stats, Givens does something else. He forces safeties out of the box. Teams have grown accustomed to loading the box and stuffing St. Louis' run game. It's amazing what a legitimate deep threat can do for a run game. Fans shouldn't be surprised that the Rams are averaging 4.2 yards per carry, because blocking seven defenders is much easier than blocking eight or nine.

Will the Pats leave Arrington one on one with the speedster, or will they make sure to have deep safety help? Regardless, something has to give. Expect a heavy dose of Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson if New England does indeed play with seven defenders in the box.


Chris Long vs. Sebastian Vollmer

The third and final matchup to watch out for is the most intriguing one. Last week against the Packers, defensive end Chris Long laid an absolute egg. For the first time since Week 1 of the 2009 season, he didn't record a single quarterback pressure. Not one lousy sack, quarterback hit or hurry.

Surprising, to say the least, considering Bryan Bulaga is at the bottom half of the league in terms of pass-blocking efficiency—which begs the question: How in the world did Long get stonewalled? Not to discredit Bulaga and his ability, it just came as a surprise.

This week doesn't get easier, that's for sure. Sebastian Vollmer will be lining up across from No. 91. Vollmer is on pace for a career year this season. He has always been a stud when given the opportunity, yet injuries have really hurt his playing time—especially the past couple of seasons.

These two guys have never squared off against each other, but I guarantee it will be a fun battle until the end. Vollmer rarely gives up any type of pressure. He has only allowed sack, one hit and 11 hurries. There's definitely a reason as to why PFF has him as the best right tackle in football. 

The biggest leg up will come in the run game. Even though Long has slowly started playing the run better, he is still well below average. And Vollmer's No. 1 strength is moving defensive ends like they are on ice skates. When rushing behind the big right tackle, running back Stevan Ridley is averaging 4.2 yards per carry.

Long may indeed have a leg up in pass-rushing situations, but Vollmer definitely has the leg up in the run game. There's plenty of excitement to go around come Sunday. and I know it may not be the sexiest matchup, but watch out for this one. It may prove to be a game-changer.


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