Thursday, October 25, 2012
Three-point stance: St. Louis Rams
By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information
The Patriots are in London for the second time in the six seasons the NFL has played a regular-season game overseas. The Patriots' first trip, in 2009, was successful, a 35-7 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers featuring plenty of highlights. The Patriots scored three touchdowns of at least 30 yards in length, all by players no longer with the team (Sam Aiken, Ben Watson and Brandon Meriweather).
Only 14 players are still with the team who played in that win, and this year’s opponent will likely be a little tougher than that Buccaneers team. The 3-4 Rams have already surpassed last year’s two-win record, including victories over the Seahawks and Cardinals. The Patriots are looking to avoid starting 0-3 against the NFC West before Week 15 brings the 49ers to Foxborough. Here are three areas to watch for on Sunday:
1. Look out for "Big-play" Richardson:Steven Jackson has been the primary back in St. Louis since 2005, posting seven straight 1,000-yard seasons and accounting for 72.9 percent of St. Louis’ rushing yards from 2005 until last season. When the Rams used a second-round pick on Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead, it seemed a clear signal that Jackson was no longer St. Louis’ only option rushing the ball. While that has held true, it hasn’t been Pead but rookie seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson getting the extra touches. In the last two weeks, Richardson has outgained Jackson on fewer rushes and flashed big-play ability with a 44-yard rush in Week 6 against the Dolphins. Richardson’s 5.1-yards-per-rush average ranks fifth among qualified running backs this season, and his emergence has let the Rams ease Jackson’s workload.
2. Rams can defend the pass: The Rams’ pass defense has been very effective this season, thanks in no small part to the additions of cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan. Jenkins is tied for the league lead with nine passes defended, breaking up seven passes in addition to his two interceptions. Finnegan, who was signed from the Titans in the offseason, is tied for fourth in the league with three interceptions through seven games. Their arrival is a major reason why the Rams’ defense ranks third in the league with 5.6 yards allowed per attempt on passes outside the numbers. The Rams are more vulnerable inside the numbers, ranking 27th with a 71.1 completion percentage allowed, but quarterbacks have to get the pass off. The Rams have 21 sacks, tied for fifth-most in the league. A year after posting five sacks in his rookie campaign, Robert Quinn has seven sacks through seven games and trails only J.J. Watt and Clay Matthews. Quinn and teammate Chris Long have combined for six sacks in the last three weeks.
3. Bradford can be had:Sam Bradford is improving slowly under center for the Rams, but improving nonetheless. Bradford’s completion percentage, yards per attempt and Total QBR against four or fewer pass rushers all have improved this season. The third-year quarterback just needs time -- the Rams’ offensive line has struggled to keep Bradford upright. Bradford has been sacked 14 times with four or fewer rushers, a total that trails only Aaron Rodgers. Bradford has been sacked every 10.6 dropbacks against standard pressure, the worst total in the league. How bad is the Rams’ offensive line situation? Wayne Hunter has improved their results. The Rams have allowed a Bradford sack every 12.8 dropbacks with Hunter on the field and once every 9.4 dropbacks with him on the sideline.