Monday Night Football St. Louis Rams: 6-Pack for Success Against N.Y. Giants
As St. Louis prepares to travel to New York to face the Giants on Monday Night Football, the Rams must succeed in six key areas to come back to Missouri with a win and some momentum before facing the Baltimore Ravens at the Edward Jones Dome on September 25.
In week one versus the Philadelphia Eagles, known by some as the "dream team," St. Louis walked off the field with a 31-13 loss.
The outcome could have been much different if:
-Lance Kendricks catches a wide open pass near the goal line that would have almost certainly ended in a touchdown. Net result: -4.
-Billy Bajema does not false start on 2nd and goal from the one-yard line. Net result: -4.
-Sam Bradford does not fumble the ball that ended in a touchdown for Philadelphia. Net result: -10 to -14.
-Josh Brown makes the 47-yard field goal that he missed: Net result: -3.
Those four plays alone resulted in -21 to -25.
Those plays only told part of the story, however. The Rams accumulated six drops and nine penalties against the Eagles. Both areas must be cleaned up to find success Monday night at New York.
Furthermore, St. Louis failed to contain Michael Vick on several occasions.
The Rams failed to keep the Eagles from going deep in the passing game.
Finally, Steven Jackson went down for the day after two runs.
Although backup runner Cadillac Williams played terrific, he is no Steven Jackson. The Rams clearly missed his leadership, energy, and the attention he demands from the opponents' defense.
Looking back, the game could have had a different outcome.
I gave five keys for the Rams to come up with a win versus Philly in week 1.
1. Contain Michael Vick: Major fail. Vick ran for 98 yards rushing and the Rams failed to maintain the right edge on one occasion allowing Vick to convert on a key third and 18 play with his feet.
2. Keep the Eagles from getting deep: Fail. DeSean Jackson beat Ron Bartell over the top for a big play early in the game, and ended up with six catches for 120 yards and a touchdown.
3. Experienced Josh McDaniels versus new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo: Mixed review. Castillo had not coached defense at any level since 1995. McDaniels is known as one of the better offensive coordinators in the game.
The Rams only managed to put up 13-points, however, on the day. The results could have been much different if not for a half dozen drops, a missed field goal, a fumble in the red zone, and a false start on second and goal at the one.
4. Attack the middle of the field: Mixed review. The Rams did a good job of attacking the middle, the problem was–they couldn't catch the ball. Lance Kendicks, Greg Salas, Brandon Gibson, and the sure-handed Danny Amendola all dropped balls in the middle of the field. The plan and execution were fine but without the catches it was all for nought.
5. Run, run, run. Pass. The Rams ran for 154 yards against the Eagles. Even after Steven Jackson went down after just two carries, St. Louis ran well. Cadillac Williams, the Rams backup running back, ran for 9-yards and filled in admirably.
Out of five keys, the Rams passed in only one area and left the field with a loss to open the season.
In looking ahead to the Monday night matchup in New York, I believe there are six areas that the Rams must successfully scratch off their to-do list to come home to St. Louis from the Big Apple victorious.
Keep Bradford Clean
Sam Bradford was sacked five times and hit or hurried on several other occasions. He eventually left the game early with a finger injury on his throwing hand.
All of Rams nation held its' collective breath until getting word that Bradford was going to be okay.
If the Rams are going to be successful on Monday night, the Rams must give Bradford more time to throw. Furthermore, St. Louis cannot dig deeper into the playoffs and successfully run longer developing routes like a stop and go, deep ins, and go routes.
Furthermore, with Bradford already banged up, the Rams need to keep him upright and healthy. It may be difficult to survive the game, let alone the season, if the hits continue at the pace accrued versus the Eagles.
For the most part, the offensive line did a poor job in pass protection in week 1. That absolutely must improve dramatically in week 2, particularly at the tackle spots, where both Roger Saffold and Jason Smith struggled.
Stop the Run
New York boasts one of the best running back tandems in the NFL.
In 2010, Ahmad Bradshaw gained 1,235 rushing yards on 4.5 yards per carry and scored eight times. Brandon Jacobs ran for 823 yards at 5.6 yards per rush and found the end zone on nine occasions.
Combined, they ran for 2,058 yards and scored 17 touchdowns.
To beat the Giants in New York, the Rams must slow down this terrific tandem and keep the ground game in check.
St. Louis has been particularly vulnerable to misdirections, counters, and cutbacks over the last couple of years. The same was the case against the Eagles.
The Rams must maintain gap integrity along the defensive line and play disciplined against the running game. The defense must seal the edge and not allow the Giants talented runners to bounce runs outside. St. Louis' veteran outside linebackers Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga, among others, must play disciplined football.
Attack Giants Corners
If you thought the Rams had endured the worst rash of injuries to cornerbacks in the NFL, you might well be wrong.
St. Louis already lost incumbent starter Ron Bartell and nickel back Jerome Murphy for the year. That's a tough pill to swallow.
But you won't find any sympathy for the Rams from New York.
No, the Giants have actually fared worse.
Starting corner Terrell Thomas suffered an ACL injury and went down for the season. Brian Witherspoon also incurred a season ending ACL injury. Bruce Johnson endured an Achilles injury and thus also lost his 2011 season. Finally, first round round rookie corner Prince Amukamara broke his foot and is expected to be out until sometime in October.
All in all, the New York secondary is a mess.
Although Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels played it close to the vest versus the NFL's best trio of corners last week against Philadelphia, that same approach will not be acceptable in attacking the decimated Giants secondary.
Starting wideouts Mike Sims-Walker and Brandon Gibson should be able to take advantage of the Giants corners and make plays down the field.
Although Danny Amendola will be out with an injury this week, his rookie slot replacement, Greg Salas, should be able to make some plays over the middle for the Rams.
With the injury to Amendola, Danario Alexander looks to be activated this week after being inactive in week 1 versus the Eagles. Look for the Rams to send Alexander deep a time or two to test the Giants over the top.
The Giants help the Washington Redskins to less than three yards per carry in week one. With that said, it could be tougher sledding in the run game this week than last against the Eagles.
To succeed in New York, especially when considering the Giants tough run defense, St. Louis must do some serious damage with the passing game in the Big Apple.
Incorporate the New England 2 Tight End Attack
In the offseason, Josh McDaniels made it clear that he wanted to utilize a two tight end attack.
He wanted to put second round rookie Lance Kendricks and former university of Illinois standout Michael Hoomanawanui on the field together in various situations.
However, Hoomanawanui was out with a calf injury in week one. He is on track to return this week, however, so McDaniels' desired two tight end deployments will begin.
As Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported,
"McDaniels wants to make use of two tight-end sets and is excited by the thought of putting Kendricks and Hoomanawanui on the field at the same time to exploit mismatches and create space for the outside receivers."
As Michael Hoomanawanui stated, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“The proof is there...What New England's done with their tight ends, hopefully we can do that this year."
The New England Patriots got 87 receptions and 16 touchdowns from young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last season. New offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, formerly the OC of the Patriots, reportedly plans to use his tight ends similarly to the Patriots of 2010.
Having Hoomanawanui back will allow McDaniels to further diversify his offense and keep defensive coordinators guessing.
Although Kendricks had a couple of costly drops last week, perhaps due to some rookie jitters, he impressed everyone in camp and preseason. He has shown an innate ability to attain separation and make big plays, including touchdowns, in the passing game.
Hoomanawanui is a big target and a potent addition to the passing attack. He was productive catching the football last season and scored three touchdowns in that rookie season. He is also a solid blocker in the run game. He will add size, talent, and options to the Rams and Josh McDaniels' offense.
Look for the Rams to begin implementing the two tight end sets with various formations this week.
It will allow the offense to create more plays in the passing game and the return of Hoomanawanui will provide Bradford with a big target through the air.
Put Eli Manning on His Back
St. Louis sacked Michael Vick three times in week one. However, they would have likely had several other sacks if they were facing any other quarterback. If they had been facing, say, Eli Manning, they could have potentially amassed a half dozen.
With the Rams losing two of its' top three corners, (Ron Bartell and Jerome Murphy) to injury, it is even more imperitive that the Rams generate a consistent pass rush to assist the secondary this week.
The remaining corners are unlikely to be able to consistently maintain coverage as long as a fully stocked secondary would have been able to.
With that said, the Rams cannot afford to let Manning sit back and potentially pick apart the Rams secondary. St. Louis will need to generate consistent pressure, hopefully with the front four, to aid the corners and thus ultimately succeed defensively.
If necessary, look for the Rams to throw all sorts of blitz packages at Manning in an attempt to generate rushed and potentially errant throws as well as a few sacks.
The Rams unit of defensive backs will consist of Bradley Fletcher, Justin King, Al Harris, and Tim Atchison.
Bradley Fletcher will be fine. Although he suffered a toe injury in week one, he is said to be ready to roll for Monday night. Fletcher has been impressive in coverage and appears to be a star in the making.
Justin King has been inconsistent. He struggled at times in the preseason and more importantly in the regular season opener versus the Eagles. He must raise his level of play after the loss of Bartell.
Al Harris is a terrific press coverage corner. If he can stay healthy, he should be solid. However, Harris is now 36 and has struggled with injuries of late. In 2009, his knee injury was thought to be career threatening. It was not, but it will be imperative that he remain healthy for the Rams.
Finally, Baylor rookie Tim Atchison will make his NFL debut. He showed some good potential in the preseason and possesses the size, 6'1, that Steve Spagnuolo loves in his corners. However, he is raw and he is obviously a question mark at this point.
Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is expected to return this week. However, New York's receiving corps is not of the same caliber as the Eagles.
If the Rams can generate some pressure Monday night, the Rams should be able to keep New York's passing game under control.
Minimize Week 1 Mistakes
As was touched on in the introductory slide, the Rams hurt themselves far too often versus the Eagles.
St. Louis committed nine penalties and dropped six passes in the week one defeat.
The offensive line did a poor job, for the most part, in protecting Sam Bradford.
The defense failed to play disciplined against the run in the second half and did not maintain their run gap assignments on various instances.
Each of these need to be improved upon in week two for the Rams to return to St. Louis with a 1-1 record and some positive momentum before playing two consecutive home games at the Edward Jones Dome.
Shane Gray is a passionate St. Louis Rams fan and covers the Rams year round. To check out the rest of his work, go here: http://bleacherreport.com/users/582932-shane-gray.