Raiders vs Rams: Previewing St. Louis' Preseason Week 1 Matchup

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVAugust 13, 2015

Raiders vs Rams: Previewing St. Louis' Preseason Week 1 Matchup

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    The long wait for football will end on Friday, August 14, as the St. Louis Rams take on the Oakland Raiders for Week 1 of the NFL preseason. 

    Exhibition football is a far cry from regular-season action, but that's not to say it lacks importance. The preseason will help prepare the starters for the gruelling 17-week stretch that lies ahead. Not only that, but it puts the low-level fringe players under the spotlight and allows the team to identify the hidden gems. 

    The intensity odometer will be low, but football is football, and this will be our first taste of action after eight long months. 

    Typically, the first preseason game will produce about one quarter of high-level play between the starters. The first-team offense and defense will play a few drives each—just enough to give the starters a taste of blood—before being yanked. 

    The two St. Louis superstars—Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn—will likely appear for just one series, as it'd be foolish to risk the season by exposing them to injury. 

    After the first quarter, the backups will take the wheel. This gives the low-level players some much needed reps and allows the roster battles to play out against a real opponent. 

    Regardless of the muted action, this game will still be an exciting display for all St. Louis fans. 

    In order to prepare you for the evening, this article will break down the latest headlines and key matchups, while also providing predictions and more. 

    Location: O.co Coliseum, Oakland, CA

    Time: 10 p.m. ET

    TV: KTVI Fox (St. Louis Local)

News and Notes

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Greg Robinson Ready for Blindside Duties

    When the Rams used the No. 2 overall pick on Greg Robinson in 2014, it was pretty much understood he'd be raw in his rookie year. In his final year with Auburn in 2013, the offense was almost exclusively a rushing attack, so it was only logical to assume Robinson would struggle with pass protection. 

    According to Fox Sports (via the Associated Press), Robinson's comfort with the speed of the game has improved. 

    "It's still not perfect, but I'm not expecting that," Robinson said. "I really would say it's slowed down a lot and I'm able to use my eyes better and just use my feet altogether, so there's not much thinking."

    Additionally, Robinson has become somewhat of a mentor for the many rookie offensive linemen in St. Louis. He helps them out when he can. 

    "It's just simple stuff," Robinson said. "They're smart guys and I feel like they're a little bit more advanced than I was when I came in last year."

    It might seem odd the Rams are depending on a raw second-year player for veteran leadership, but the team has no choice. Robinson and Rodger Saffold are the only starters returning from 2014, so they'll be the two players St. Louis leans on to carry that unit. 

    Robinson certainly has the physical tools to excel. It's just a matter of him overcoming the steep learning curve and finding comfort. 

    Nick Foles Locked Up Through 2017

    According to Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com, the Rams reached an extension with quarterback Nick Foles that's worth $14 million in guaranteed money and locks him up at least through the 2016 season. The contract extends through 2017, but that year is voidable based on his performance. 

    It's not a long-term deal, but it has certain advantages for both sides. 

    If Foles excels in the upcoming the season, the Rams will not have to scramble to secure their new franchise quarterback. It assures them that Foles can't hold their feet to the fire if he explodes onto the scene with a big year. 

    For Foles, the contract allows him freedom if he happens to break out over the next two seasons. Two successful seasons should void the final year, which will open up the possibility of a larger contract in the near future. 

Latest Injury News

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    These are the latest players mentioned in the injury reports from Rams beat writer Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    S Mark Barron (Knee)

    According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mark Barron is slowly easing into football in an effort to protect the same knee he had surgery on several years back. 

    Barron states in the article he's not sure if he'll be playing against Oakland on Friday night, but he wants to play it smart. 

    “The preseason means different things for different players,’’ the 25-year-old Barron said. “It’s important to get out there because you want to play and try to get better. But you also want to be smart about it, especially if you’re not ready physically.’’

    CB Trumaine Johnson (Soft Tissue)

    Trumaine Johnson was mentioned in Thomas' August 10 injury report on Twitter. His status for Friday should be questionable. 

    RB Isaiah Pead (Soft Tissue)

    Isaiah Pead was mentioned in Thomas' August 10 injury reports on Twitter. His status for Friday should be questionable as well. 

    DE Chris Long (Back)

    According to the official Rams website, Chris Long has missed some training camp time with a back injury. The issue has lingered throughout camp, so expect the Rams to take it easy with Long on Friday. If he plays, his snaps will be limited. 

    CB E.J. Gaines (Foot)

    Thomas tweeted on Monday, August 10, that Gaines missed practice with a foot injury and the Rams are still awaiting test results. His status is likely doubtful for Friday's game. 

    CB Brandon McGee (Foot)

    In the same tweet that mentioned Gaines, Thomas pointed out Brandon McGee was also absent with a foot injury. 

Key Matchups

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Derek Carr vs. the St. Louis Defensive Line

    The prized gem for Oakland is Derek Carr, while the gem of St. Louis is undoubtedly the defensive line. The early portion of this game will be a face-off between both parties. 

    The Raiders are hoping Carr can build on his impressive rookie year by taking that next step towards quarterback stardom. If that happens, the Raiders will certainly climb out of the NFL cellar and grow into a competitive team. 

    For the Rams, their ticket to the postseason rests on the defensive line. St. Louis possesses the most talented and ferocious 4-3 line in football. If the group plays to its potential, opposing offenses won't stand a chance. 

    And that will be the key to this game. 

    Will Carr click with his receivers and show us why he's a rising quarterback in this league? Or, will the vicious St. Louis line tear him to shreds? 

    The St. Louis Offensive Line vs. Khalil Mack and Justin Tuck

    For the St. Louis offense, it's all about surviving behind an inexperienced offensive line. Things could get ugly up front.

    As mentioned in a previous slide, Robinson and Saffold are the only starers returning from 2014. The Rams will be fielding a first-year starter at center—either Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones or Demetrius Rhaney—and two rookie starters at right guard and right tackle.

    For those young starters on the St. Louis line, this preseason matchup will provide an excellent first test.

    Khalil Mack and Justin Tuck combined to make a nice pass-rushing duo for Oakland last season. The two combined for nine sacks, 21 quarterback hits and 59 quarterback hurries. 

    Facing two respectable pass-rushers such as Tuck and Mack should help prepare the offensive line for its Week-1 showdown with Seattle

Matchup X-Factors

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Nick Foles' Comfort with the Receivers

    Let's face it. This is the primary reason many Rams fans are tuning in this Friday—possibly the only reason. 

    Everyone wants to see what the new quarterback looks like in horns. 

    For the past two seasons, the lack of a true starting quarterback has weighed down the Rams and prevented them from truly competing within the division. With the addition of Foles, fans are hoping the team finally has a reliable quarterback capable of leading a semi-competent offense. 

    One of the primary X-factors in this game is Foles' rhythm and comfort with the receivers. Everyone knows the Rams can play defense and they're built to run the ball. But can they air it out like any self-respecting team in the 21st century? 

    That's the question that will affect this game and possibly the entire season.

    Will the Secondary Weigh Down the Defense? 

    As you might have noticed two slides ago, the St. Louis defensive backs are getting pretty dinged up, particularly the corners. There's no serious injury we've been made aware of at this time, but it's likely Gaines, Johnson and McGee will limited this Friday and possibly sidelined completely. 

    Janoris Jenkins will be healthy, but the coaches will probably limit his snaps, as he's viewed as a blue-chip player. That leaves Lamarcus Joyner and Marcus Roberson as the primary guys. 

    The Raiders might expose St. Louis' banged up secondary with a heavy passing attack that relies on quick routes. This strategy will also handcuff the St. Louis pass rush, as even a monster like Donald needs a couple of seconds to sack a quarterback. 

    The secondary injuries are likely not a regular-season concern, at least not yet, but it could be a factor on Friday. 

    Austin Davis Will Get His Shot

    Austin Davis' fourth-quarter meltdowns were hard to watch last season, but there's no denying he's a fun player to watch when he's on. He buys time with his feet, makes the risky throws and plays with a certain energy that seems to rub off on his teammates. 

    Davis is too erratic to be counted on as a starter, but he still has a shot at unseating Case Keenum for the backup job. He'll likely get at least a full quarter to himself in Friday's game, so it'll be an opportunity to show he still belongs in this league.

    The outcome of this game will strongly depend on which version of Davis we'll see.

    If it's the high-energy Davis—the guy who extends plays and creates magic—the Rams will be in good shape. If it's the nervous Davis who's prone to turnovers, the Raiders will capitalize and gain an advantage.   

    The preseason opener will give us a better idea of who will be the No. 2 quarterback in 2015. 

Prediction: Rams 20, Raiders 17

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    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    This game isn't about the score or the winner. Instead, it serves two simple purposes: a chance for the starters to get a taste of live action and a chance for the backups to duke it out for a roster spot. 

    For the fans, it's a chance to finally see the team after a unbearably long hiatus. It's a fraction of the regular-season excitement, but it's still something to follow until the real action begins. 

    Even if this game is meaningless, it's easy to see the Rams pulling off the win. 

    What many don't realize is the Rams not only have a great starting defense, but the backups are pretty darn impressive as well. 

    Backup defensive ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims could likely start for many teams, as could No. 3 defensive tackle Nick Fairley. The entire front seven is stacked with better-than-average backups, which means the Raiders will be facing tough defense play for all four quarters. 

    It's true the St. Louis offense is far less impressive, which is why it will be a relatively low-scoring affair. In the end, the St. Louis defense and special teams will win the battle for field position, allowing the Rams to come out ahead by one field goal. 

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