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Friday, August 26, 2011
Three things: Rams-Chiefs

By Mike Sando

Three things to watch for in the St. Louis Rams' preseason road game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday night at 8 p.m. ET:

1. Run defense: Coach Steve Spagnuolo blamed "gap integrity" for the Rams' generous run defense against Tennessee last week. He will be looking for improvement in this game. Veteran linebackers Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga are joining James Laurinaitis in the starting lineup for the first time since signing with the team this summer. I would expect them to remain in the lineup, most likely, for the regular season. It's important for them to get some time together in game situations before the regular-season opener against Philadelphia. Poppinga, 31, missed 10 games to a knee injury while with Green Bay last season. He started 15 games in 2007 and has subsequently seen his totals decline each season (12 in 2008, three in 2009 and one last season). The Rams held up well against Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles last season until allowing an 80-yard run. Kansas City led the NFL in rushing yards, so this should be a good test while the starters are on the field.

2. Offensive consistency. The Rams opened their most recent preseason game with an 83-yard touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Brandon Gibson. The starters went to sleep on offense from that point forward. Steven Jackson found little room to run. Bradford took some big hits. The Rams will be looking for more consistency in this game. Their starting offensive line will be back together with left guard Jacob Bell's expected return from injury. Getting that group some time together will be welcome for the Rams.

3. Wide receiver competition. There should be time for Rams coaches to work backup receivers into the rotation while the starting offense is still on the field. Donnie Avery, Mardy Gilyard and Danario Alexander are the ones most likely fighting for a roster spot at this time, in my view. Avery and Gilyard appear to have the best chance in part because Alexander's chronic knee problems raise questions about his ability to hold up over time. Avery and Gilyard also made more of their opportunities in the game against Tennessee. Both need to play well, however, because the team could always bring back Mark Clayton once Clayton's surgically repaired knee has healed sufficiently.