St. Louis Rams vs. Miami Dolphins: Rams Week 4 Game Preview
This is the last week that NFL fans will be forced to sit through watered-down football. A week from now, teams will strap on the pads for Week 1 of the regular season, and the excitement can finally begin.
For the Rams, the arrival of the regular season is bittersweet. The team lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford last week to yet another season-ending knee injury, so while the Week 1 optimism is still present among fans, it's not nearly as strong as it was just days ago.
Luckily for the Rams, football is not a one-man sport. St. Louis has a loaded roster and talent capable of carrying the team in Bradford's absence.
This final preseason game will give the Rams one more chance to jell and adjust to the post-Bradford era before the season begins, making this exhibition an important one for St. Louis.
Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Week 3 Recap
It's hard to remember anything from St. Louis' Week 3 preseason contest other than the injury to Bradford—he was injured on a very mild collision with a Browns defensive lineman, which resulted in a torn ACL.
What makes it more memorable is the deja vu.
Bradford tore his ACL against the Carolina Panthers last October and was forced to miss the remainder of the 2013 season. He undoubtedly sacrificed numerous hours rehabbing and getting ready for the upcoming season, so it's a devastating blow for Bradford to have to endure the same injury twice within the same calendar year.
Losing a starting quarterback obviously trumps everything, but Bradford's injury wasn't the only scare from that game.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson had a frightening knee injury and had to be carted off the field. Miraculously, he merely suffered a sprained MCL and will be back before midseason.
Guard Rodger Saffold, as well as defensive linemen Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers, also went down with injuries and did not return to the game, but none of the injuries were serious.
However, if you look past the injuries, the Rams had a very encouraging showing on the football field.
The run game was excellent. Benny Cunningham ran with the first-team offense and had 32 yards on six carries. Undrafted rookie Trey Watts stole the show in the second half with 36 yards on nine carries, including a nice 12-yard touchdown run.
Wide receiver Brian Quick showed up for a second week in a row. He had three catches for 41 yards on the first drive, including two key first-down grabs, and he added a six-yard touchdown grab later in the game. Kenny Britt made his presence known as well—he had two receptions of 30-plus yards.
At quarterback, Austin Davis returned to the old gunslinger form that we witnessed from him during his rookie year. He had 198 yards and two touchdown passes.
On defense, the Rams limited Cleveland's leading rusher to 17 yards. The longest pass for the Browns in the game was for a mere 17 yards, and the Rams were in the backfield all day.
The solid play hardly makes up for the loss of Bradford, but at least it's something.
News and Notes
Shaun Hill Will Be Under Center in 2014
For those hoping that the Rams will pull a desperation move and overpay for a mediocre quarterback, such as Mark Sanchez or Kirk Cousins, don't get your hopes up.
The Rams signed veteran Shaun Hill in the offseason because he's an extremely reliable backup, and that's why head coach Jeff Fisher declared that "Shaun's our guy," per Pro Football Talk.
Hill is not the most exciting or glamorous option at quarterback, and he's not a long-term solution. No one denies that. But he's the best option right now.
No quarterback in the NFL is more familiar with the current Rams receivers. If the Rams brought in outside help, it would take weeks for that quarterback to adjust, and there's no guarantee he'd be any better than Hill.
Not to mention, the Rams are a defensive team that plays with a run-first mentality. As long as Hill can complete the basic throws, there's no reason to believe that he can't be as good as anyone else out there who's available.
Is Trey Watts Safe?
Nick Wagoner of ESPN recently declared running back Trey Watts as a player to watch as final cuts near.
Watts, an undrafted rookie out of Tulsa, has always been considered a long shot when it comes to making the final roster, but he has been terrific this preseason. He produced 67 total yards against Cleveland in Week 3 and 27 against Green Bay the week before.
In fact, it wouldn't be totally unfair to say that he's been outplaying rookie Tre Mason, who cost the Rams a lofty third-round selection.
At this point, considering the Rams are a run-first team, it would be hard to justify handing Watts a pink slip. Expect his name to appear on the final roster.
All injuries are according to ESPN. Check back closer to kickoff for a more up-to-date list.
- LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (Undisclosed), Probable
- DT Michael Brockers (Ankle), Probable
- CB Trumaine Johnson (Knee), Questionable
- WR Kenny Britt (Undisclosed), Probable
Matchups to Watch
Shaun Hill and the Quarterback Situation
It would be nice for Shaun Hill and the St. Louis receivers to get some practice against real competition before entering Week 1. On the other hand, it would be disastrous if the Rams lost two starting quarterbacks before the start of the season.
It's unlikely that Fisher and the Rams will completely shy away and deny Hill valuable reps, regardless of the injury risk. But just in case, expect Hill to only play a series or two before exiting the game.
Ethan Westbrooks vs. Michael Sam
Rookies Ethan Westbrooks and Michael Sam have been battling for the final spot on the defensive line since the beginning of camp, but this game will be the last chance for one of these players to shine.
It's perfectly possible that the Rams will figure out a way to keep both players on the roster, but that's not a guarantee. As a result, both players need a big game in order to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
If either player is cut, there's a good chance that he will be signed to the practice squad, as both players are eligible.
Zac Stacy vs. Benny Cunningham
Zac Stacy was the unquestioned starter heading into training camp, but the running back situation has become foggy and uncertain.
It was Benny Cunningham who took reps with the first-team offense last week, not Stacy. In fact, Stacy has averaged just 1.6 yards per attempt the last two weeks, which certainly doesn't help his argument.
It's possible that the coaches are still completely sold on Stacy and simply plugging in Cunningham as an experiment. But still, keep an eye on the position.
It's hard to predict preseason games in general, let alone preseason games where one team is gun shy about playing its starting quarterback.
It's possible the Rams will air it out when Hill is in the game, providing him with as many reps as possible with the receivers. However, it's even more likely that the Rams will keep the ball on the ground in order to protect Hill from the Miami pass rush.
The early part of the game will feature mostly run plays for St. Louis, but the majority of the game will have Austin Davis under center, and the team will have no fear of allowing him to air it out. In fact, it will be encouraged. The Rams want as much tape on Davis as possible given the current quarterback situation.
Davis' late-game heroics will lead the Rams to victory.
Prediction: Rams 23, Dolphins 14