The St. Louis Rams (4-7) will take on the Oakland Raiders (1-10) for a second consecutive matchup against a West Coast team, but this time the Rams will have home-field advantage. This article will preview the contest and outline St. Louis' ideal game plan.
The Raiders are still a joke in the NFL, but unfortunately for the Rams, the joke's not quite as funny as it was a month ago.
Oakland is coming off a 24-20 victory over the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs—a team St. Louis lost to by 27 points—and while that's Oakland's only win this year, the Raiders also had an admirable showing against the San Diego Chargers the week before.
St. Louis has a talented defense, but it didn't contain San Diego nearly as well as the Raiders defense. Here's what the top offensive playmakers for the Chargers did against the Raiders compared to the Rams:
|San Diego Offense Versus Oakland and St. Louis|
|Team||Philip Rivers||Ryan Mathews||Keenan Allen|
|Oakland||22/34, 193 Yds, 1 TD||15 Carries, 70 Yds||8 Catches, 63 Yds|
|St. Louis||29/35, 291 Yds, 1 TD, 1 INT||12 Carries, 105 Yds, 1 TD||6 Catches, 104 Yds, 1 TD|
Not to mention, as tough as St. Louis has been on defense, the Raiders are right there with the Rams. St. Louis ranks 19th overall on defense (366.7 yards per game), and Oakland ranks 18th (360.5).
However, one area where the Rams clearly win is the pass rush. The Rams rank 22nd in the league with 22 sacks—a number that would be much higher if not for a painfully slow start—and the Raiders rank dead last with just 12.
Here's how the two teams match up overall on defense:
Offensively, both teams are very inept.
Derek Carr—Oakland's rookie starting quarterback—has been excellent and deserves to be in the Rookie of the Year discussion (even if he loses out to Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins). The rookie struggled with picks early in the year, but Carr now has back-to-back games without an interception. He has been able to cut back on mistakes and play effectively despite being stuck on a painfully below-average team.
As for the run game, Oakland has owned the worst rushing offense for pretty much the entire season, but the sudden emergence of Latavius Murray should concern the Rams.
Murray barely touched the ball throughout the first 10 weeks, but now, over the last two games, he has 155 rushing yards in just eight carries and has found the end zone twice.
The Raiders have been dead in the water when it comes to running the ball, but Murray could give that unit a jump-start just in time for the Rams.
Here's a look at how the offensive yards are divided up between these two offenses:
While the Raiders have been a better team as of late, there's no truly dominate unit the Rams have to watch out for, and that's a major bonus.
Stopping the run is of the utmost importance. The Rams struggled to contain Ryan Mathews last week, but considering the other capable rushing offenses St. Louis has faced recently—San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City—shutting down an Oakland rushing attack that ranks last in the NFL should be a very doable task.
Of course, if the Rams can stop the run, that makes Oakland one-dimensional. If the Raiders turn into a pass-only offense, that's a green light for the Rams to unleash their explosive pass rush—which is practically a death sentence for a rookie quarterback who has been sacked more than once in just three games this year.
That's why the Raiders have the worst record in the league. Opposing defenses stop the run, and that puts all the pressure on the rookie Carr. If the Rams can follow that formula, this should honestly be a pretty simple win, regardless of Oakland's recent competitiveness.
On offense, the Rams will be facing a capable Raiders defense. It does no good to underestimate the Oakland defense—it's a good unit with some rising stars. But luckily, the Rams do not need quarterback Shaun Hill and the offense to do anything heroic. Manage the game, pick up yards in chunks on the ground and score on occasion. That's it.
It's a pretty simple game plan. Unless the Rams completely fail at stopping the run and unless Hill tries to do too much and coughs up turnovers (see the Chargers game), St. Louis should have this game in the bag.
Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams' game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or by following him on Twitter.