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Saturday, November 9, 2013
Rams-Colts: Matchup breakdown

By Nick Wagoner

ST. LOUIS -- Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts has plenty of intriguing matchups. Here are three to keep an eye on.

Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins vs. Indianapolis receiver T.Y. Hilton

Jenkins
With star receiver Reggie Wayne lost for the season to a knee injury, the Colts have been forced to look elsewhere for a top receiving target. Quarterback Andrew Luck won’t hesitate to spread the ball around, but it’s Hilton who has clearly emerged as his primary target.

Hilton had three touchdown catches in a win against Houston last week, and he leads the Colts with 533 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

“You’ve got to make sure you’re aware of him and what’s going on with him at all times, because he’s the go-to guy,” Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. “He’s the guy that, he was making catches even when Reggie was there, but now he’s really been the go-to guy. They’re moving him around, putting him in different spots on the field so you can’t just zero in on him and know exactly where he’s going to be in line. And like I said, the guy’s crafty, so he’s definitely a threat.”

The Rams haven’t had much success slowing down receivers who are clearly their team’s top threat this season. Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon are among those who have had big days against the Rams' secondary.

Likewise, the Rams haven’t opted to shadow any receivers this season, so the onus of slowing Hilton figures to fall on more than just Jenkins. Whether it’s Jenkins, Cortland Finnegan, Trumaine Johnson or someone else, the Rams must find a way to make someone other than Hilton beat them.

Rams tight ends and tackles vs. Indianapolis pass-rusher Robert Mathis

Dwight Freeney is gone, but the Colts’ pass rush remains strong behind the yeoman’s work of Mathis.

Mathis
Long overshadowed by his pass-rushing partner in crime, Mathis has stepped to the forefront as the engine driving the Indianapolis defense. His 11.5 sacks lead the league and are the most by a Colt through the first eight games of a season, two better than Freeney’s previous record set in 2009.

Playing a position the Colts refer to simply as “Rush” linebacker, Mathis moves around and finds the spots where he can do the most damage. That means the job of protecting quarterback Kellen Clemens from Mathis falls on everyone, not just tackles Jake Long and Joe Barksdale.

That includes tight ends such as Mike McNeill, who is likely to be pressed into duty with Lance Kendricks recovering from a fractured finger.

“Certainly, Indianapolis has some good pass-rushers,” Clemens said. “Obviously, Mathis leads the way. But, I’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys, and we’ll do some things to probably help out a little bit.”

Look for the Rams to help out a lot bit when it comes to Mathis.

Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford vs. Indianapolis left guard Hugh Thornton

Clayborn
Langford
A rookie out of Illinois, Thornton has struggled with consistency, particularly as a pass-protector.

The Colts have been solid in protecting Luck on the edge, which should be a tough task to continue against Rams ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, but Langford is coming off one of his best games and should have a favorable matchup against Thornton.

Langford had a pair of sacks last week, and though some of that damage is the result of strong edge rushing and his cleaning up after, he still showed a knack for being disruptive in the middle.

Luck’s ability to run and escape pressure often comes up the middle, so the chance for Langford and fellow tackle Michael Brockers to slow that train also exists.

“When he’s coming head-on up the middle, he’s a big body coming at you, so sometimes he’ll catch DBs and most of the time, when he’s getting tackled you can see he’s falling forward,” Walton said of Luck. “There are not a lot of times that he’s actually carrying the football as he’s getting knocked back.”