A big, physical downfield threat with a wide catch radius, Marshall has amassed 64 receptions for 828 yards and eight touchdowns with two different quarterbacks chucking him passes this season. The most similar threat with which the Rams have dealt in recent memory is Houston Texans veteran Andre Johnson, who caught seven of his eight targets for 88 yards against St. Louis in Week 6.
St. Louis can't allow that kind of conversion rate to Marshall, who has been targeted between 10 and 13 times in each of his past five appearances and averages 10.3 targets per game.
When the Rams gave up 88 yards to Johnson, they were in the process of blowing Houston out. The same goes for 130 yards on seven catches (also eight targets) afforded to Indianapolis Colts sophomore T.Y. Hilton in Week 10.
Having that sort of cushion—they won each game by 25 points—allows defensive coordinator Tim Walton to direct the defensive backs to sit in the soft zones that he loves so much. They prevent big plays (for the most part), but they're conducive to allowing a high completion percentage to patient offenses.
Chicago is more than willing to let its receivers chew up some YAC, which will help quarterback Josh McCown move the ball downfield. St. Louis has to take Marshall away as best it can (he caught a season-low four passes for 42 yards on 10 targets in Week 11 against the Baltimore Ravens) and force Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte to beat them as receivers.
Alec Ogletree has played better in coverage lately, performing fewer red-zone errors that made him a mismatch against opponents' ancillary targets. A tight end hasn't scored a touchdown against St. Louis since Vernon Davis did it in Week 4.
That means a tight end hasn't scored since Jo-Lonn Dunbar returned to the squad.
Given that St. Louis hasn't surrendered 50 yards to a tight end position group since Week 3—and that was the only time it occurred this year—Bennett shouldn't be expected to explode in Week 12.
Now, the Rams run defense has been a major problem off and on all year, but last week all Indianapolis Colts not named Andrew Luck combined for exactly one rushing yard against St. Louis.
Forte will average more than that per carry. His lowest yards per carry mark this season is 1.9. St. Louis can contain him in the running game by keeping the integrity of the front seven, but he has ripped off three runs of 50 yards or more this year nonetheless.
When Chris Long's D-line isn't battling with his brother Kyle's O-line in the trenches, St. Louis will still be looking for ways to get Tavon Austin the football. He took both of his receptions to the house before the Rams' bye, totaling 138 yards.
Astonishingly, he was only on the field for 15 offensive snaps and received just three targets. The Rams saw some strong play from the rookie in limited action, but the Rams offense could run even better if he were on the field more; he scored on a 98-yard punt return and totaled 314 all-purpose yards, too. His outburst is sure to draw more defensive attention going forward, which should free his teammates up to do what they do.
Meanwhile, Chicago is allowing 4.5 yards per carry. Zac Stacy is averaging 4.2 yards per tote. St. Louis has decided that giving him 26-plus carries per game is the right thing to do three games ago, and—323 rushing yards and three touchdowns later—he looks every bit like an emerging star at tailback.
If the Rams want to roll into the playoffs, they'll probably need to keep feeding the rookie 20 times per week. Since his rise to stardom started midway through the season, adding 20 carries per game for the rest of the year would put the rookie at one shy of 250 rushing attempts.
The climb back to .500 continues.
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