When the 2011 schedule came out for the St. Louis Rams it appeared that the first half of the schedule was going to be an absolute killer. Three games right off the bat against traditionally strong teams is not the way to start a season. Many thought that if the team could just take one of those against the Eagles, Giants or Ravens then the Rams would be just fine. Now that the Rams are actually living through that part of their schedule, the thinking appears pretty sound. The Rams lost the first two and now desperately need a win to avoid falling to 0-3 and face a Baltimore Ravens team on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome that has people scratching their heads.
The Ravens went out and destroyed the defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers in Week One and then went out and laid a complete egg against the mediocre Tennessee Titans. The Rams meanwhile have looked horribly sloppy in their first two games and are going to need to play much better if they are going to start winning games. Which Ravens team will show up and will the “good” Rams team show up, are the main questions on Sunday. Here is a look on what to watch for in Sunday’s game.
When the Rams have the ball
The Ravens as always have one of the top run defenses in the league. Last week they pretty much shut down Tennessee Titans All-World Running Back Chris Johnson. If that wasn’t enough for the Rams, they have big problems at the running back position. Steven Jackson will most likely not play and backup Cadillac Williams has been hurting for most of the week. Williams is expected to play, but if something were to happen to him then Jerious Norwood becomes the number one and free agent pickup Quinn Porter becomes number two. Not exactly the way the Rams would like to face the Ravens.
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed continue their Hall of Fame careers in the Ravens defense. Even though both may not be as fast as they were five years ago, they both are so far superior to most everyone else in the NFL at their positions. They will do everything they can to trick Sam Bradford at the line. The defensive line is anchored by Haloti Ngata who was hand-picked by Lewis to continue their greatness on the defensive line. Ngata, who received a new contract this week, has been everything the Ravens could have wanted at the position.
The Ravens continue to get to the quarterback, already registering four sacks this season. Terrell Suggs leads the way with three for Baltimore. Both the Giants and Eagles were able to reach Sam Bradford and the Ravens I am sure are planning the same thing. Bradford has truly struggled against the blitz, so the Rams offensive line is going to have to have their best day of the season on Sunday if the Rams are to win.
The one area on the defense that the Rams could exploit is on the edges of the secondary. The Ravens cornerbacks are not very good. Last week Matt Hasselbeck and Kenny Britt of the Titans absolutely lit Ladarius Webb and Cary Williams up. The Rams are going to have to get a big week from their wide receivers and the coaching staff is going to have to unleash Danario Alexander if the Rams are going to have any shot.
This game is begging for the Rams to go deep and for Alexander to have a big game. I still don’t know what the Rams coaching staff is waiting for with Alexander, but there are no more excuses. Alexander may not be able to play 50-60 snaps a week, but there is no excuse for him not to be targeted more than a couple of times on Sunday.
When the Ravens have the ball
The Ravens biggest weapon is running back Ray Rice. Much like Marshall Faulk was for the Rams, Rice is the engine that drives the offense. He is a very good running back and is excellent catching the ball out of the backfield. While Rice is not in the same class as Faulk, he is dangerous for every Rams defender and is week in and week out the number one target of opposing defenses. Shut down Rice and your chances of winning are significantly higher.
At quarterback Joe Flacco remains steady, but has not looked spectacular through the first two weeks. Flacco has only completed 52% of his passes this season and has a very average 82 quarterback rating. The Ravens don’t ask Flacco to throw for 400 yards a week to win football games, but they do want better performance out of the position. With the Rams cornerback issues you can expect Flacco to try to exploit Justin King who will be the target each and every week until he actually stops someone or the Rams move in a new direction at the position.
Flacco’s main weapon is Anquan Boldin, who the Rams definitely remember from his Arizona Cardinals days. Boldin has 7 catches for 120 yards this season and will be the main target. The Ravens signed former Buffalo Bills receiver Lee Evans to compliment Boldin, but Evans will be out against the Rams on Sunday with an ankle injury.
The Ravens also dumped long time tight end Todd Heap during the offseason and are now using Ed Dickson at the position. Dickson has become a favorite target for Flacco and without Evans he could create problems for the Rams defense.
Ultimately the Rams are going to have to figure out a way to stop Rice and the Ravens running attack. The Rams simply have not been good enough against the run and the Ravens would love nothing more than to run the ball right down the Rams throats. With two big tackles in Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie, the Ravens will make sure that they test the Rams front seven.
The Rams are a mess in the return game right now with the injury to Danny Amendola. Third Round Pick Austin Pettis, who has never even suited up in a NFL game, will most likely get the call on punt returns today. That is a scary thought. On kickoffs, the Rams were reluctant to use Jerious Norwood last week, because of the injury situations so it might be more Quinn Porter this week. Porter looked shaky against the Giants so it will be interesting to see where the Rams head this week.
The Ravens are hurting in this area too. David Reed was handling the return duties, but is injured so the Ravens are also doing things by committee. Ladarius Webb and Vonta Leach are among the players now trying to handle kickoffs and punts.
Billy Cundiff is the Ravens kicker and he has been perfect thus far in 2011. Cundiff is an average kicker at best. Meanwhile Sam Koch handles the punts and he has been nothing more than average in 2011.
The Rams absolutely have to have this game and playing at home is a huge benefit. The problem is though that they are coming off of a short week and are banged up. If that wasn’t enough the Ravens are angry after losing at Tennessee. Those things don’t add up well for the Rams. The only thing that gives you some hope is that Vegas thinks more highly of the Rams then I think most people who look at this game do. The Ravens are only four point favorites and I think most people who look at this game see something completely different. When that happens, the unlikely team somehow comes out with a win. That would be good for the Rams.
Unfortunately I don’t see it that way. I don’t think the Rams have enough and I think the Ravens are really good. Ravens 20 Rams 7.
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