- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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ST. LOUIS -- Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans features plenty of intriguing matchups. Here are three to keep an eye on when the teams kickoff at 1 p.m. ET at Reliant Stadium.
The Rams offensive line vs. Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt
There’s simply no way to narrow down a matchup against Watt because Houston has no problem moving him all over the defense to create different looks and mismatches.
Watt is a terror no matter where he lines up but adding the unknown to it makes blocking him all the more problematic.
“[He’s] so athletic, extremely high motor,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He plays all kinds of different gaps. He doesn’t always play where he’s supposed to play, but he’s so athletic he just makes plays from trying hard.”
The Texans have used Watt inside a bit more this year than in years past which could mean a long day at the office for guards Chris Williams and Harvey Dahl (and Shelley Smith?) and center Scott Wells.
The first order of business for the Rams is locating Watt but then they must find a way to keep him at bay. Expect plenty of double-teams and when the Rams get their hands on him, they must be sure to do what they can to keep him from getting his arms up and knocking down passes.
Of course, Houston also deploys the underrated Antonio Smith who causes many problems on his own.
Brown has been hobbled by a toe injury almost all season and was unable to practice fully all week. That ailment has kept him from being his usual, dominant self.
Quinn is having his best season, creating pressure off the edge and showing noticeable improvement against the run.
A potential marquee matchup may be hampered by Brown’s injury but that means Quinn has an opportunity to wreak some havoc of his own.
Against Jacksonville last week, Quinn showed the ability to impact a game without getting sacks. His speed should create problems for a gimpy Brown.
Despite all the talk about quarterback Matt Schaub this week, Houston’s offense still centers on its ability to run the ball effectively. With the strong two-headed monster of Arian Foster and Ben Tate combined with a zone blocking scheme that requires maximum discipline, the Rams will get a test much different than the powerful, downhill attacks they get with the likes of Seattle and San Francisco.
Playing that duo and that scheme can be tricky and it’s imperative for the Rams linebackers to not only be assignment sound but also show the ability to shed blockers.
“We have got to be able to play off blocks well,” Laurinaitis said. “They are going to try to stretch your defense to try to walk your line one way and cut backside and hit that cutback run game. As long as we stay on our feet and play with our hands well, you definitely have to be in your gap but sometimes you have got to be able to get off your block and go make a play. That’s going to be especially evident this week.”
That hasn’t exactly been an area of strength for the Rams' linebackers this season, particularly the rookie Ogletree. If Houston doesn’t keep the Rams in nickel packages, Dunbar could be helpful but one would think the Texans may spread things out a little bit and then come with the run against the Rams’ sub packages.
Regardless of personnel, it’s important for the Rams linebackers to be active and physical against any blocker that comes their way to keep Foster and Tate from piling up the yards.