Jared Cook and Jeff Fisher will welcome their old team, the Tennessee Titans, to the Edward Jones Dome in Week 9. Expect the big tight end to be featured against his former teammates—if not because of any personal motivation, then because the St. Louis Rams have no business asking quarterback Kellen Clemens to throw too far downfield.
He threw not one, but two perplexingly horrendous interceptions against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. Before you think to yourself “Well, the Seahawks are a top-three NFL defense. Of course Clemens threw two picks,” watch them again.
The first one was a gross overthrow up the left sideline, hauled in by Bruce Irvin, the recently-suspended second-year player who moved to linebacker just this offseason. Clemens threw from a clean pocket, but gave his biggest target—the aforementioned Cook—no chance to grab the toss.
Protection was strong again during Clemens’ second interception, and it’s a bit more difficult to determine why Richard Sherman found a football between Nos. 2 and 5 on his jersey. On one hand, Austin Pettis fell down and was on his knees by the time the rock hit Sherman in the chest. On the other, the ball was off-target and needed more velocity.
Clemens put a few positives on tape before the throw, including making the right reads in a few instances. He just has to improve his accuracy. Until that happens, St. Louis needs to dial up more short passes—screens, crossing routes, even shallower curls and the like—and attack the deep sideline on play-action to minimize risk of turnovers.
Throwing shorter balls gives the defense less time to produce turnovers. Zac Stacy showed enough for the Titans to have to respect the run, so the play-action game should be very effective, if Stacy plays. He rushed 26 times for 134 yards (5.2 yards per rush) against the Seahawks and currently owns a 4.6 yards-per-carry average on the year.
Tennessee has surrendered seven rushing scores and 4.1 yards-per-rushing attempt to running backs. St. Louis has yet to score a rushing touchdown in 2013, but that could change against the Titans.
Clemens is averaging more yards per rush (5.5) than per pass attempt (5.06) thus far this season. Getting him on some rollouts would be a positive thing, as well.
Chris Johnson hasn’t provided the same threat to opponents this season as in years past. With just one big run of more than 20 yards, a 3.2 yards per carry average and no touchdowns on the ground, Tennessee’s leading rusher is leaving a lot to be desired.
The Rams are allowing 4.3 yards per carry, largely because of poor tackling. Again, St. Louis’ defensive backs have to focus on wrapping up so that Johnson and Nate Washington don’t make huge plays as receivers running after the catch. Washington already has a 77-yard catch-and-jog to his credit this season. Johnson, a 66-yarder.
The Rams may have to keep tabs on Jake Locker as a rusher, too: In five games, he’s run 18 times for 127 yards, eight first downs and a touchdown. Locker averages 7.1 yards per carry over his career (67 rushes).
Conversely, St. Louis is allowing 3.05 yards per carry this season to opposing quarterbacks. That’s phenomenal considering that it has faced three of the NFL’s top seven rushers at the position: Colin Kaepernick (three carries for 11 yards in Week 4), Cam Newton (10 for 26 in Week 7) and Russell Wilson (three for 16 in Week 8).
With a track record of making running signal-callers one dimensional, St. Louis can focus on Tennessee’s improved passer as a distributor. Locker threw 10 touchdowns and 11 picks on 314 attempts last season. In 152 passes this year, he has thrown eight scoring strikes and just one interception.
The Titans’ leading receiver, Kendall Wright, has caught five or more passes in each of his last six games. Maybe St. Louis matches up the rangy Trumaine Johnson on Wright unless Tennessee frequently deploys the 6’4” rookie Justin Hunter.
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