NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 2 NO at STL W2W4

W2W4: St. Louis Rams

August, 8, 2014
8/08/14
12:00
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints open the preseason Friday night at the Edward Jones Dome. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. Here are three things to watch for from the Rams' end:


1. An aggressive defensive approach? The preseason opener doubles as the first opportunity to see the highly-anticipated Rams' defense under the guidance of coordinator Gregg Williams. To add to the intrigue, Williams is facing his former team, the Saints. Reunions happen all the time in the NFL but rarely do they come with the hard feelings that apparently still exist between Williams and the Saints. Williams, of course, was part of the Saints' staff and the supposed ringleader of the bounty scandal which resulted in his yearlong suspension and similar punishments for Saints coach Sean Payton and assistant Joe Vitt. Williams is known for his aggressive, exotic blitzes and while it normally is common procedure to hold back on those things in the preseason, Williams is anything but conventional. He undoubtedly has plenty of schemes he'd like his charges to work on in the preseason, but it'll be worth keeping an eye on the defensive approach to see if Williams goes a little above and beyond the usual vanilla preseason tactics.

2. Sorting out the running backs: It doesn't look like there's much competition for the Rams' starting running back job as Zac Stacy has been largely handling those duties in camp. But the Rams have some things to figure out behind Stacy and coach Jeff Fisher said earlier this week he'd like to get each back about a half-dozen carries in this game. Benny Cunningham is the leader in the clubhouse to be Stacy's primary backup, but preseason games present prime opportunities for players to make moves up the depth chart, especially at this position. Cunningham has been sharp in practice, but rookie Tre Mason has also had some good work, especially this week. Isaiah Pead and Chase Reynolds also remain in the mix. Each back will get his chance to make an early statement as the Rams work through building their depth chart at the position.

3. First glance at Sam: Rookie defensive end Michael Sam has had his share of ups and downs in training camp, starting off strong and leveling off of late. But Sam figures to get an extended opportunity to make a good impression Friday night. The Rams, under Fisher, have rarely played their starters much in the first preseason game and with valuable backup end William Hayes still working back from offseason surgeries, Sam should get a lot of snaps. It's expected Sam will work at left end on defense but also keep an eye out for him on special teams, particularly on the return units where coach John Fassel believes Sam has major potential. Of course, Sam is going to get plenty of competition for a roster spot so the other backup ends are also worth watching, especially undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks.

W2W4: New Orleans Saints

August, 8, 2014
8/08/14
12:00
PM ET
The New Orleans Saints (0-0) and St. Louis Rams (0-0) open the preseason tonight at the Edward Jones Dome.

1. Griffin audition: This game will be lacking star power at quarterback, with New Orleans' Drew Brees and St. Louis' Sam Bradford both expected to watch from the sideline. (Brees hasn’t been officially ruled out but will almost certainly sit as he rests an oblique strain). But that’s OK, because at this stage of the preseason, the Saints' quarterback most worth watching is second-year pro Ryan Griffin. So far, Griffin has looked great in training camp, showing poise and polish. But if the 6-foot-5, 206-pounder wants to beat out veteran Luke McCown for the Saints’ backup job, these preseason games will be the auditions that matter most. ... The Saints have obviously been high on Griffin’s potential since they signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane last year. In fact, they blocked Griffin from being signed by this very Rams team off their practice squad last season when Bradford was first injured.

2. Bringing the heat: This game won't be lacking star power when it comes to pass-rushers. Guys like the Saints' Junior Galette, Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks and St. Louis' Robert Quinn, Chris Long and highly touted rookie tackle Aaron Donald should all be on display (for parts of the first quarter, at least). And you just know they are all champing at the bit to finally hit a quarterback at full speed. So even if there wasn’t any history between the Saints and Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the pass-rushers would be the most fascinating players to watch tonight. But when you add in the Williams intrigue (he has been known to blitz relentlessly in preseason openers before), it’s must-see TV. It is probably a wise time for the Saints to sit Brees, especially since Saints guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs might also be held out with injuries.

3. Cooks' growing legend: Somehow, Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks has managed to keep topping himself throughout training camp, making dynamic plays on an almost-daily basis. So it will be fascinating to see if his legend continues to grow in his preseason debut. We already knew about Cooks’ blazing speed -- which he has demonstrated often during training camp, especially when he burns defensive backs with sharp cuts in the open field. But the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder has also shown an ability to go up and win jump balls and reel in back-shoulder catches, among other highlights. ... St. Louis has a similar dynamic playmaker in second-year receiver Tavon Austin. So it will be interesting to see if the Saints' defense can corral him.

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