St. Louis Rams vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Complete Week 8 Preview

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVOctober 24, 2014

St. Louis Rams vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Complete Week 8 Preview

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    The St. Louis Rams (2-4) will take on interstate-rival the Kansas City Chiefs (3-3) in an interconference regular-season matchup that occurs just once every four years. 

    The Rams are coming off a refreshing victory over the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, and the team will attempt to take its newfound confidence into Arrowhead Stadium and spark a winning streak. 

    The Chiefs got off to an 0-2 start this season, but they have won three out of their last four games and appear to be back on track. With one of the more hostile environments in all of football at its disposal, Kansas City will attempt to overwhelm the Rams and send them back to St. Louis with a demoralizing loss. 

    There are historical factors working for and against the Rams in this game. On one hand, Jeff Fisher is a perfect 4-0 against Andy Reid as a head coach. On the other, the Rams have lost their last five games against the Chiefs and have not defeated Kansas City in the regular season since relocating to St. Louis in 1995. 

    Nothing would please Rams fans more than a resounding defeat over the Chiefs, as it would be the first in St. Louis history. 

    This article will preview the upcoming game by providing the latest headlines, outlining the key matchups, making predictions and more. 

    Also, be sure to stop by on game day for our live blog, which will provide live comments and analysis throughout the game. 

Week 7 Recap

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    The Rams secured a much-needed 28-26 win over NFC West rival the Seattle Seahawks—a inspiring win that snapped St. Louis' three-game losing streak. 

    The win required special teams trickery and some lucky breaks, and those plays got the most attention on the highlight reels, but make no mistake—the Rams outplayed Seattle in nearly every aspect and deserved the win. 

    After recording just one total sack in the first five games, the Rams defensive line finally had its breakout performance and rocked Russell Wilson with three sacks. The St. Louis defense also held Marshawn Lynch to just 53 yards on 18 carries—his second-lowest rushing total of the 2014 season. 

    Additionally, the St. Louis backs combined for over 100 rushing yards against a Seattle run defense that ranked in the top-five prior to the game. Rams back Tre Mason produced 85 yards and a score on just 18 carries. 

    The Rams dominated the line of scrimmage, and it's unfortunate that the national media is focusing less on that and more on Rams gimmickry—the implication being that deception won the game for St. Louis rather that strong, at times dominant, play by Rams' offensive and defensive lines.

    That said, the special teams play still made an important statement. The misdirection on the punt return and the gutsy call on the fake punt at the end of the game made clear the desperate nature of the Rams situation and that this is a team willing to do whatever is necessary to win, no matter how bold or risky. 

    Though the Rams will resort to these tactics if needed, continuing to limit penalties—St. Louis had just two against Seattle—and controlling the line of scrimmage will ensure that the Rams will win plenty of games this season.

News and Notes

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Rams Cut Ties with Receiver Austin Pettis

    The Rams released wide receiver Austin Pettis following the team's win over Seattle for missing a team meeting, per Fox Sports

    The news came as a total surprise for most Rams fans.

    Pettis was hardly a key player on offense, but he's been a solid role player since being drafted in the third round in 2011. He had back-to-back years with four touchdowns and over 30 catches, and he had a clutch fourth-quarter reception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this season that helped the Rams secure their first win of the season.

    This comes just two weeks after the Rams released linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong, who was let go for drawing too many penalties, per NBC Sports

    It appears no one is safe at Rams Park. After his team's slow start to the season, Jeff Fisher is cracking down on nonsense in an attempt to mold a more disciplined unit. 

    Rams Will Continue the Committee Approach at Running Back

    If you picked up Tre Mason in your fantasy league in an effort to salvage your running back situation, you probably shouldn't get your hopes up. According to NFL.com, the Rams will stick with the "hot-hand approach" at the position, so there's no guarantee his high number of touches will continue. 

    Mason was inactive for the first four games, but the rookie got his first taste of action against the San Francisco 49ers, against whom he picked up 52 yards on just six touches. He continued that trend against Seattle with 85 rushing yards. 

    Mason is averaging 5.4 yards per carry over the last two weeks, despite facing two of the most ferocious run defenses in the league. With that kind of production, he'll undoubtedly see a generous number of carries against Kansas City, but that could change as soon as his numbers drop. 

    The Rams have two other capable backs on the roster in Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham, so there's no telling who will be getting the bulk of the carries two or three weeks from now. 

    Brett Favre Praises Austin Davis

    Although it's too early to label Austin Davis as St. Louis' future at quarterback, it's not too early to give him some praise for his increasingly solid play—and that's exactly what Davis got from former great Brett Favre, according to ESPN:

    "Not to sound off my rocker, but (Davis)—in my mind—can be the next Tom Brady or Kurt Warner. (Brian) Hoyer as well."

    Obviously, being compared to great quarterbacks by a great quarterback is surely an honor for Davis, but he still has a ways to go before the comparison truly becomes valid.

    Davis could go on to become a successful long-term quarterback in this league, or, he could fade away and be remembered as a flash in the pan. His story is still in the early stages of construction. 

    Either way, the young quarterback is beginning to draw attention. Now, it's time to see how he handles it. 

Injury Report

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The following injury report is from the official website of the St. Louis Rams. Check the injury reports closer to kickoff for a more up-to-date list. 

    Rams Injury Report

    C Tim Barnes (Shoulder): Did Not Participate

    WR Kenny Britt (Ankle): Full Participation 

    RB Benny Cunningham (Knee): Limited Participation

    LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (Toe): Limited Participation

    DE William Hayes (Illness): Full Participation 

    CB Janoris Jenkins (Knee): Did Not Participate

    CB Trumaine Johnson (Knee): Limited Participation

    S T.J. McDonald (Concussion): Limited Participation

    CB Brandon McGee (Foot): Limited Participation

    OL Rodger Saffold (Knee): Full Participation

    DL Ethan Westbrooks (Hand): Full Participation 

X-Factors and Matchups

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    Rams Defense vs. Jamaal Charles

    The Chiefs boast the No. 3-ranked rushing attack in all of football, averaging over 140 yards per game. The always dynamic Jamaal Charles makes those gaudy numbers possible. 

    In fact, the Kansas City is so dependent on Charles that the team is 3-0 when he breaks 100 yards from scrimmage and 0-2 when he falls short. 

    The Rams defense gave up a 100 or more yards to a rusher in each of the first three games of this season but have since tightened up against the run. Lynch was a total non-factor during the Seattle game in Week 7, and the Rams held Frank Gore to just 38 rushing yards the week before. 

    With a dual-threat backfield that features Charles and Knile Davis, the Chiefs have a more diverse running game than either San Francisco or Seattle. However, if the Rams can step up to the challenge and shutdown Kansas City's ground attack, it'll likely neutralize the Kansas City offense. 

    Rams Defensive Line vs. Alex Smith

    The protection for Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has been suspect, and the veteran quarterback will be sacked over 40 times this season if the current pace continues. That's going to be a major problem for Kansas City against St. Louis' ultra-talented defensive line. 

    The Rams' pass rush got off to an extremely slow start to the 2014 season, but the defensive line woke up last week in Seattle and took down Wilson three times. As we saw in 2013, Robert Quinn and the St. Louis line can absolutely dominate a game when hitting on all cylinders. 

    If the Rams can rattle Smith and force some questionable throws, it'll be a major advantage for St. Louis. The Chiefs are 0-2 this season when Smith coughs up a pick. 

    Rams Run Game vs. Chiefs Run Defense

    As mentioned, the St. Louis running game has experienced quite a boost thanks to the arrival of rookie Tre Mason, but he's not the only first-year player on St. Louis' offense who is making a major impact in that area.

    Offensive lineman Greg Robinson was drafted No. 2 overall by the Rams due to his dominance as a run blocker. Robinson watched the first four games from the sidelines—presumably because he's raw and was not totally prepared—but he's in the lineup now and making a difference in the ground game. 

    These two rookies made it possible for the Rams to average 4.12 yards per carry over the last two weeks against San Francisco and Seattle, two of the best run defenses in all football.

    If the Rams are moving the chains against dominate run defenses, there's no reason to believe the same won't happen against Kansas City's mediocre 18th-ranked run defense.

    The Chiefs run defense has allowed over 117 rushing yards per game even though the team has faced just two teams this season with a top-15 rushing offense—the Miami Dolphins (fourth) and San Francisco 49ers (11th). 

    To put that in perspective, the Rams rank 28th in run defense and have allowed 145 yards per game, but five of the six teams St. Louis has faced this year own a top-15 rushing offense, and three of those teams rank in the top 10. Kansas City will be the fourth team with a top-10 rushing offense that St. Louis has faced in seven games this year. 

    The run defense is a weak spot in Kansas City. If the Rams can exploit that, it will allow them to control the tempo and dominate in time of possession.  

Prediction

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    St. Louis' modest 2-4 record is misleading, and that's going to become clearer as the season progresses. The Rams are not a team that's going to end the year with a top-10 draft pick. 

    One thing being overlooked is the fact that St. Louis could easily have three or four wins at this point. In fact, that should be the case. 

    The Rams got off to a roaring 21-0 first-half lead over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3. A monumental second-half choke job lost the game for St. Louis, and there's no excuse for that. But the Rams still demonstrated the potential necessary to beat a Dallas team that has been arguably the best in the league this year. 

    The Rams made another inspiring effort against the equally competitive Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles led the game 34-7 at one point, but three consecutive touchdowns by the Rams made it a one-score game. The Rams nearly made a last-minute drive to win it, but a few dropped passes lost the game. 

    St. Louis also secured a 14-0 first-quarter lead over the tough San Francisco 49ers. Once again, the Rams failed to play consistently for all four quarters and lost the game, but the Rams showed that they can be competitive. 

    The win against Seattle was a statement. The young Rams players are slowly proving that they can be consistent. The talent is there, and the only thing holding back St. Louis playing consistent football for four quarters.

    But that will change as the season goes on. 

    The Rams have faced better teams than the Chiefs this season, and they've been competitive against those teams. 

    St. Louis is tightening up against the run. LeSean McCoy's 81-yard performance in Week 5 is the highest rushing total by an opposing back in the last three games, and that's not a good omen for a Chiefs team that depends so heavily on the run. 

    If the Rams can contain the run, as they've been doing the past three weeks, the Chiefs will be in trouble. 

    Not to mention, the talented St. Louis defensive line is starting to come alive. The unit's three-sack performance against Seattle could be the start of an avalanche, which could spell trouble for a Kansas City offensive line that has allowed Alex Smith to be the sixth-most sacked quarterback in the NFL

    The Rams have not been rolling over for anyone, despite their four losses this season. The Chiefs are about to discover that. 

    History does not favor the Rams, given their five consecutive regular-season losses against Kansas City, but expect St. Louis to end that streak this Sunday. 

    It won't be a landslide for either team, but the Rams have what it takes to come out on top. It all depends on which version of the Rams shows up. 

    Prediction: Rams 27, Chiefs 24

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