St. Louis Rams -- Detroit Lions Preview: Week 5

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St. Louis Rams -- Detroit Lions Preview: Week 5
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Stephen Jackson, the soul of the Rams offense.

The St. Louis Rams come to Detroit for an interesting Week 5 matchup. The Rams have a 2-2 record, which is good enough to put them in a three-way tie atop the NFC West.

The Rams are the only NFC West team who has scored more points (77) than they have given up (52). St. Louis got off to a rocky start this season with mystifying losses at home to Arizona (17-13) and at Oakland (16-14).

The Rams then put a surprise whipping on the Redskins (30-16) and drubbed the Seahawks (20-3). Both wins came at home.

 

Offense

 

The Rams, like the Lions, are a rebuilding team that has a young franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, the first overall selection in the 2010 draft.

To be honest, the Rams are a year or two ahead of the Lions in the process, especially on offense.

Bradford has an interesting set of stats: 158 pass attempts with 92 completions for 944 yards. Bradford has thrown six picks, and has been sacked 10 times. Bradford’s passer rating stands at 72.3. However, these numbers came against inferior teams.

The Rams run out of the “I” formation and love throwing screen passes out of that set. Watching film on the Rams offense, they pass out of an empty backfield set, and spread the field.

Bradford’s primary weapons are running backs Stephen Jackson and Ken Darby. Jackson has been hobbled by a groin injury and is a day-to-day decision. Of the Rams total of 110 running plays, Jackson has carried the ball 73 times for 284 yards (3.9 yard average). The drop-off with Ken Darby is noticeable. Darby has 19 carries for 52 yards (2.7 yard average).

The Rams distribute the ball in the passing game to WR Mark Clayton (22 catches for 300 yards and two scores), WR Danny Amendola (21 catches for 208 yards), RB Stephen Jackson (12 catches for 116 yards), and TE Daniel Fells (11 catches for 108 yards and one TD).

This will be an easier test for the Detroit secondary considering the talent that they have faced in their previous games, especially if Stephen Jackson is out of the Rams lineup.

Once again, the Lions defensive front will be called upon to stop the run, and put Bradford under pressure. The Rams offensive line has done a credible job of limiting pressure on Bradford, who uses his feet well to avoid the rush. Bradford has rushed only three times.

The Lions front four is probably the toughest that the Rams have faced, and will be a key factor in this game. The Rams offensive tackles are LOT Rodger Saffold, the 33rd overall pick in the 2010 draft, and veteran ROT Jason Smith.

Saffold and Smith employ a technique that locks them up on the defensive ends and carries them deep into the backfield where they are effectively taken out of the play.

This opens up the screens on the edge, but also opens up blitzing lanes. I would hope that the Lions dial up some zone blitzes to keep those offensive tackles honest.

The Lions secondary can double cover Clayton, and keep tabs on Amendola and Jackson. If the Lions secondary can play a complete game (for once), they should create some opportunities.

 

Defense

 

The Rams defense is fuelled by a University of Michigan product, RDE James Hall. Hall has recorded four sacks and has forced three fumbles.

As a team, the Rams have gotten nine sacks.

Just as it was with Julius Peppers, and Clay Mathews, Hall will require special attention from Lions tight ends. Hall is the most difficult player that Gosder Cherilus has had to deal with, and this is one mismatch that I don’t like one bit.

The Rams play the 4-3 defense, the first that the Lions have played against since Week-1 in Chicago. The difference here is that the Rams linebackers are extremely active. MLB is James Laurinaitis leads the Rams with 26 tackles, and has a sack. LOLB Na’il Diggs has 13 tackles and one forced fumble. ROLB Larry Grant has 12 tackles and has forced a fumble.

The Rams don’t blitz very much, and seem to be satisfied with controlling the line of scrimmage. That may change this week, as the Rams defensive backs are a little banged up.

Strong safety Craig Dahl (20 tackles) anchors a solid set of defensive backs. Free safety O.J. Atogwe (remember him?) has a thigh injury, but is likely to start. Atogwe has recorded 19 tackles and one forced fumble.

The Lions offense will have to make the Rams pay on the ground. The Rams defense has given up an average of 4.6 yards per rush and have to view Jahvid Best as a nightmare in Honolulu Blue.

Shaun Hill has to end the string of red zone interceptions (three) that have doomed the Lions in two straight games.

I am not ready for Matt Stafford to return, and I hope that the Lions hold him out until after the Week 6 bye.

Hill’s stats line is as colorful as Bradford’s: 161 attempts. 97 completions. 991 yards. Hill has thrown seven interceptions (four in the red zone), and has been sacked seven times. Hill’s passer rating is 70.2.

The Lions found Calvin Johnson in Green Bay for two touchdowns. Once again, Johnson will have to carry the bulk of the big plays that will be needed for a Lions success.

The Lions tight ends will continue to pile up yards and move the chains. One of them will have the unenviable duty of spying James Hall, who might as well join the Lions huddle. He spends that much time in the backfield.

Will the return of Nate Burleson be a difference maker? Considering his ankle injury, I’d be happy to see him as a possession receiver. He has to be an upgrade over Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams.

 

Special Teams

 

The Lions have found a return specialist in Stephan Logan who has been very good (other than that muffed punt). The Lions special teams have been much improved this year, and I am hopeful that they can continue to grow.

 

Conclusions

Both teams must feel very confident in the outcome. The Lions have completed a brutal stretch of three divisional games on the road plus a home thriller against the Mike Vick-led Eagles.

Lions opponents are a combined 9-6, while the Rams opponents are 7-9.

The Rams are the easiest game of the year for the Lions.

The Rams must feel that the Lions are equally beatable. After all, Matt Stafford is on the shelf, Hill has been average, and the Lions defensive back seven has been lit up with regularity.

The fact that the Rams schedule has been bottom feeders, mostly, should work in the Lions favor.

I’d like to put this one in the win column, but it will take a lot for me to buy into the Lions being a three-point favorite.

They have to prove it.

 

Mike Sudds is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.  Mike is also an analyst and correspondent for DraftTek.com.

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