A Week 9 bye couldn't have come at a better time for the St. Louis Rams. They are currently on a three-game losing streak that has pushed them into last place in the NFC West. Ever since wide receiver Danny Amendola left the Rams' Week 5 game against the Cardinals, St. Louis' offense hasn't been the same.
Fortunately for Jeff Fisher, Amendola should be back in the lineup this week against the San Francisco 49ers. For the second game in a row the Rams will be playing away from the Edward Jones Dome, so any type of good news heading into Week 10 is a plus.
Not to mention San Francisco is practically unbeatable at home under Jim Harbaugh. He's 10-2 at home not including the playoffs and 11-3 including the playoffs. His club is coming off of a bye as well, so it will be important for St. Louis to play a perfect game of football on Sunday afternoon.
With that, let's take a look at just where Coach Fisher's team stands at the halfway point.
Through eight games, nothing has been better than the Rams secondary. They have done a complete 180 since the end of 2011. No longer do names like Ron Bartell, Al Harris, Josh Gordy and Rod Hood roam the sidelines. Fisher and general manager Les Snead overhauled the secondary in a big way this past offseason.
Cortland Finnegan came over from Tennessee to join his old head coach. Janoris Jenkins was a highly touted pick that was drafted in the second round and Trumaine Johnson was the 65th pick in the 2012 draft. Bradley Fletcher was the only Spagnuolo holdover that has proved himself worthy of playing time.
According to Pro Football Focus, Fletcher is the ninth-best cover corner in the NFL, Finnegan is the 11th best and Johnson is the 29th best. The only player who has had a few hiccups along the way is Jenkins.
His physical style of play stands for itself and he has already proved that he belongs in the league with a couple standout games, yet opposing quarterbacks are relentlessly going after him. He has already been thrown at 60 times this season—of those 60 targets, quarterbacks have completed 39 passes for 481 yards and five touchdowns.
Only Aaron Williams of the Buffalo Bills has given up more touchdowns, but Jenkins is still a rookie who gets tested more often than not. Look for him to get better as the season goes—he will continue to progress and learn from the veteran Finnegan.
By digging deeper into the numbers we get a better sense of where St. Louis' secondary is at right now. They are a middle-of-the-road pass defense that is allowing 237.5 yards per game, but by looking at the quarterbacks they've squared off against it's really not that bad.
Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are all good quarterbacks who can light up the scoreboard in a hurry. The 2011 Rams gave up 12 pass plays of 40 yards plus—that won't be happening under Fisher's much-improved pass defense.
As impressed as I have been with St. Louis in terms of run blocking, the same can't be said about its ability to protect quarterback Sam Bradford. He has been sacked 22 times this year, hit 27 more times and hurried 52 other times.
However, this shouldn't come as a surprise considering offensive line coach Paul Bordeau has had to play musical chairs upfront due to injury. Right now the Rams only have two players on the offensive line who have started all eight games.
Right guard Harvey Dahl and right tackle Barry Richardson are the only two linemen who have avoided the injury bug. Scott Wells' backup, Robert Turner, has actually been the most efficient and consistent pass-blocking offensive lineman on St. Louis' roster.
He has only surrendered a total of three quarterback hurries all season long. At one point during the season he had a stretch where he didn't allow a sack, hit or hurry in five consecutive games. Unfortunately, no one else seems to be playing at that high of a level.
The biggest culprit has been Richardson as he has accounted for 24 of St. Louis' 101 pressures allowed. It will be interesting to see what Coach Fisher does when Rodger Saffold returns. Saffold has been practicing some this week, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him maybe play this weekend.
Do the Rams leave Joe Barksdale at left tackle when Saffold returns and move him to right tackle? Or does Barksdale head to the bench? Only time will tell, yet one thing is for sure—the best thing they could do is send Richardson to the bench.
Rising: Chris Givens
Brandon Gibson has done some nice things on the outside, but Chris Givens has been Bradford's favorite target with No. 16 out. He set a rookie record last week by catching at least one 50-yard pass in five straight games. Look for his numbers to go up even more when Amendola returns.
Falling: Steve Smith
Steve Smith has absolutely nothing left. He can't seem to get open and his grasp of the offense seems weak. I almost thought about putting Brian Quick here, but I realized he's a rookie. Smith is making more money, and I thought the Rams would have leaned on him a little bit more than they have.
Rising: Robert Quinn
What a season the second-year player out of North Carolina has had. He's already up to seven sacks, and according to PFF, he's the 14th-best pass-rushing 4-3 defensive end. To go along with his seven sacks, he has tallied seven quarterback hits and 17 quarterback hurries. Quinn and Chris Long will make a nice combo for years to come.
Falling: James Laurinaitis
What has happened to James Laurinaitis this year? There isn't one area of his game that has impressed many this season. He has taken a step back against the run, in pass coverage and his tackling skills are down. Through eight games his missed tackle numbers were higher than they were all of last year.
The Outlook Heading Into Week 10
Heading into San Francisco against one of the toughest teams in the league won't be easy. The 49ers are just as rested as the Rams are and they sport the best rushing attack in all of football. Frank Gore is having one of the best seasons of his career at age 29. St. Louis is up against 168.8 yards per game on the ground this week.
Their only hope will be to get out in front early. Greg Roman has abandoned the run a couple of times this season when they've fallen behind. They will also need to keep an eye on Vernon Davis running up the seam. Coach Fisher's defense hasn't defended the tight end that well this season, so look for the 49ers to try and get him involved early on.
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