Jets vs. Rams: 10 Keys to the Game for St. Louis
The Rams knocked out 49ers QB Alex Smith in the first half.
The Rams put together two impressive scoring drives in running out to an early 14-0 lead.
The Rams had a 10-point lead over San Francisco entering the fourth quarter.
The Rams were the better team on the field last Sunday, against an opponent that was hardly a slouch.
At 3-5-1, the Rams are in an awkward position within the NFC West. They are only one loss behind the idle Seattle Seahawks (6-4) for the final playoff spot in the conference.
This weekend's matchup against the New York Jets (3-6) is a must win for the Rams. In fact it's the most winnable game left on the team's schedule.
These are the 10 keys the Rams need to follow to hold serve at home and defeat an inferior opponent.
All right, it's probably unfair to expect the Rams to be flag free on Sunday against the Jets. But there cannot be a repeat of the mind-numbing mistakes we saw against the 49ers.
That means no delay of game penalties on field goals, particularly those of the game-winning kind.
That means no illegal formation penalties. Everybody go to your spot.
That means no blocking the opponent in the back on kickoff and punt returns. In fact, let's not block anyone in the side or any part of the body that the officials can associate with the back.
All of this should go without saying. Yet, I feel compelled to say it.
This is a key every week in the NFL. But it's even more important this week against the Jets.
The Jets are coming into St. Louis on a three-game losing streak.
The Jets' last win was in Week 6 against the Indianapolis Colts. It was a 35-9 thrashing of a very good Colts team that has yet to lose a game since.
Want to take a guess when the last time the Jets went through a game without a turnover? Yep, against the Colts.
Since that win, the Jets have turned the ball over seven times in those three games.
The Rams must force multiple turnovers against this Jets offense.
The Jets offense offers a balanced turnover buffet, mixing nine interceptions this year with eight fumbles.
The Rams got the ball on the ground last week against the 49ers, forcing four fumbles. They failed, however, to recover any of them.
The Jets have shown to be an explosive offense when they don't turn the ball over (averaging 31 points in games with less than two turnovers) and an anemic one when they do (11.7 points in games with two or more turnovers).
Which offense will the Rams defense turn the Jets into?
The Rams' pass rush begins and ends with the captain of the team's defensive line, Chris Long.
It might seem as if Long has been relatively quiet in recent games. Long's sack last week against San Francisco was only his fifth sack of the season and his first since the Miami game in Week 6.
You would, however, be wrong about Long.
Long is among the most effective pass-rushers in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus's Pass Rushing Productivity statistic, Long ranks seventh in the league in terms of sacks, hits and hurries a rusher earns on his pass rushes.
What's surprises me are the number of pass rushes Long has been in for the Rams. His 304 pash-rush snaps are more than Clay Matthews (291), Aldon Smith (271) and DeMarcus Ware (233). It's even more than the NFL's most effective pash-rusher, Von Miller (260).
The Rams have leaned on Long as much as any team has on a defensive end, and Long has returned the favor by getting to the quarterback as often as almost anyone else in the league.
It feels like Long is primed for a huge game this weekend.
Letting Sanchez Be Sanchez
If Chris Long has the breakout game of the season, as I suspect he is due for, it will be in no small measure because Mark Sanchez has been a terrible quarterback for the Jets.
Terrible, however, doesn't even begin to describe Sanchez's quarterbacking.
Sanchez's QB rating is 70.4 for the season. That's an outstanding number for a quarterback's completion percentage, but it's a terrible number to be attached to your rating.
Sanchez's QB rating ranks 30th overall out of 33 qualifying passers. It's worse than other legendary modern-day passers such as Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill and Kevin Kolb.
Sanchez is averaging just 6.33 yards per passing attempt this season. That's ranks 29th among NFL QBs.
If we haven't already hit rock bottom, Sanchez is completing a whopping 52 percent of his passes this season. No one in the NFL is worse.
It is true; Sanchez does make the Jets offense go. He makes it go nowhere.
Four times this season Sanchez has thrown for less than 140 yards in a game. Shockingly, one of those was in the win over the Colts, when Sanchez threw for 82 yards on 18 passes.
The Rams just need to make sure Sanchez plays up to his talent.
Sanchez Being Sanchez, Part 2
The Rams have it almost too easy this week going up against Mark Sanchez.
If the Rams can't rattle Sanchez and make him a non-factor in this game, they will be in trouble.
As detailed by Pro Football Focus, Mark Sanchez is a terrible quarterback, from accuracy to handling the pressure.
Under PFF's grading system, Sanchez ranks as the 32nd most accurate quarterback out of 34 qualifiers.
If you give the benefit to the passer by treating drops as completions (as, in theory, they are no fault of the QB), PFF shows that Sanchez is even less accurate. He ranks last (34th) among all NFL quarterbacks in PFF's adjusted accuracy percentage.
If the Rams can get any type of pressure on Sanchez, he will surely fold, as he is also PFF's lowest-ranked quarterback in accuracy when under pressure.
What this should tell the Rams coaches is that they need to prepare just as much for the Jets backup QB, Tim Tebow, being under center at some point during the game.
They can't get caught off guard like last week when the 49ers had to sub Colin Kaepernick in for the concussed Alex Smith.
Stop the Running Game
Last week against San Francisco, it was simple. Keep the 49ers under 100 yards and you win. The Rams did just that (for four quarters), but came away with a tie. I guess I should have said "not lose" instead of win.
With the Jets, the running game is a little more Jekyll and Hyde.
There have been moments of perfection (Week 5: 252 yards; Week 1: 118 yards), but there have been even more struggles. Three times the Jets offense has failed to rush for 85 yards in a game (all losses).
The magic number for the Jets is 93 rushing yards. In each of their three wins, they've rushed for that many yards or more.
However, for the Rams it should be more about limiting the large, momentum-shifting gains.
In the Jets victory over Indianapolis, I counted three runs by Shonn Greene that went for 16 yards or more. That's not including any of his three touchdown rushes.
The Rams can't allow Greene to break off multiple big gains on the ground. Last week, the Rams held Frank Gore in check for the most part. But once Gore broke off the 20-yard touchdown run, it changed the complexion of the game, gave the 49ers the lead late in the fourth quarter and put the Rams into near panic mode.
The team doesn't need to go through that again.
Involve Amendola Even More
Now that we know Danny Amendola is fully recovered from his injured SC joint, as evidenced by his 11-catch, 102-yard effort last week in San Francisco, the Rams need to involve him even more in the team's offensive game plan.
Sure, Amendola is "just" a slot receiver. But if we've learned anything from watching Victor Cruz and Wes Welker over the years, it's that sometimes your slot receiver can be your No. 1 receiver.
Before last week's performance, Amendola was one of the most productive receivers in the slot position.
Pro Football Focus calculated that Amendola averaged 2.33 yards per route run in the slot position. That was third best in the NFL, behind only the aforementioned Cruz and Welker.
Amendola is more effective in the slot position than many other great slot receivers, such as Reggie Wayne (2.13), Santana Moss (1.65) and Percy Harvin (1.58).
The Rams offense is a shell of itself without Amendola. When Amendola was out of the lineup, the Rams averaged 13.7 points per game.
With Amendola on the field, the Rams average 20 points per game. That total includes the Arizona game, which Amendola missed a big part of because of the injury.
The disparity in the Rams offense with and without Amendola is worth as much as a touchdown per game. The Rams offense simply does not function without him.
Run. The. Ball.
I said last week that Steven Jackson would come ready to play against the 49ers.
Jackson heard the calls for him to be traded and he ran with a chip so big on his shoulder, there wasn't even enough room for his helmet.
Jackson hushed the doubters (for now) with 127 yards from scrimmage on 31 touches.
The Jets defense should allow Jackson even more gains this week.
The Jets are giving up the third-most rushing yards per game to opponents (145). Having already been gouged for over 1,300 yards this season, the Jets run defense is on pace for allowing more than 2,300 yards this season.
Not even Eric Dickerson put up the kind of single-season numbers that your 2012 New York Jets defense are allowing on the ground.
C.J. Spiller put up 169 yards earlier on them this year. Arian Foster took the Jets for over 150. The Dolphins, 49ers and Patriots all used two-headed rushing attacks to rack up triple-digit yard totals on the Jets.
If Shane Vereen, Daniel Thomas and Kendall Hunter can run up and down the field against the Jets, Jackson and Daryl Richardson should have a field day.
I've been hard on Laurinaitis this season. It's not without good reason, but I still feel uncomfortable because I believe he's one of the best MLBs in the game.
I expected Laurinaitis to take that next step in his game. Instead of solely being a tackling machine, I thought he would add the extra element to his game where he can start causing turnovers.
The tackle-strip. The interception. The fumble recovery.
Any or all of the above would be fine.
Instead, Laurinaitis is arguably regressing in the one area he's supposed to be dominant in: the tackle.
Bernie Miklasz (via STLToday.com) cites from the subscribers-only page of Pro Football Focus that Laurinaitis ranks 26th out of 35 inside linebackers in tackling efficiency, among those who have played at least 50 percent of team’s snaps.
That is unacceptable. There are not 25 better MLBs in the NFL over Laurinaitis.
Have an Attitude
Remember when the Rams were the nastiest team in the league?
Remember when the Rams baited the opponent into making a mistake that would cost their team points?
Remember when the Rams played with confidence and a swagger?
It seems like so long ago. The Rams need that back.
Cortland Finnegan needs to go out and smack a few of the Jets wideouts. James Laurinaitis needs to rough it up with any Jets tailback that dares to rush past the defensive linemen.
The Rams need to win both the physical and mental games with the Jets.
That's because this Jets team is weak. They've lost three games in a row. Rex Ryan's control of the team is fading with every new fan yelling Tebow's name.
It's time for the Rams to put the Jets in their place.