NFL Nation: Three things: Indy-St. Louis 2011

Three things: Colts-Rams

August, 13, 2011
8/13/11
1:28
PM ET
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason opener for the Colts against the Rams in St. Louis, where kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

The quarterbacks will have a big opportunity starting tonight to vie for the great job of working as Peyton Manning's backup. Manning has not yet returned from May neck surgery. Curtis Painter has gotten strong reviews for his progress, and the team likes Dan Orlovsky. Can they run an efficient offense and string together any drives after failing to do much in the scrimmage last week?

Local undrafted running backs Chad Spann and Darren Evans are roster long shots. But they will likely get plenty of action against the Rams and those carries will give the team a chance to evaluate them and see if they should be in the running for a fourth slot behind Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Delone Carter.

Pat McAfee has said he expects to put roughly 80 percent of his kickoffs deep enough that they won’t be returned. Playing inside the Edward Jones Dome, does the Colts' kickoff coverage unit get any work? Or do we see the beginning of an era where not being good at it won’t matter nearly as much?

Three things: Rams-Colts

August, 13, 2011
8/13/11
1:00
PM ET
Three things to watch for in the St. Louis Rams' preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET:

1. A Rams victory: The Colts are 4-22 in the preseason since 2005, and now they're playing without Peyton Manning. The Colts have been a star-reliant team without as much depth through their roster. That makes it tougher for them to hold up over four quarters in games featuring backup players so prominently. The Rams' depth has been improving steadily. So, while preseason outcomes generally do not matter much, this game could be an exception. The Rams should control it most of the way. They have gone 6-2 in preseason games under coach Steve Spagnuolo.

2. Signs of separation at receiver. The Rams come into this game with 12 wide receivers on their roster and only a general idea how the top five or six will shake out. Donnie Avery and fourth-round choice Greg Salas aren't expected to play. Both are resting injuries. Mardy Gilyard also could miss the game. We know where Danny Amendola stands as the slot receiver. The Rams will be looking for Brandon Gibson to build upon a promising start to camp. They need free-agent addition Mike Sims-Walker to earn a prominent role in the offense. Sims-Walker had 14 touchdown receptions for Jacksonville over the past two seasons. No wide receiver has more than five scoring receptions for the Rams over the same span. New coordinator Josh McDaniels likes taller receivers. Nine of the 12 receivers on the roster are at least 6-foot-1. Will any come up big before the regular season?

3. New blood at linebacker. Mainstay James Laurinaitis will not play. He's resting a strained pectoral muscle. Free-agent addition Ben Leber will also sit out. He signed with the team late in the week. Zac Diles and Brady Poppinga are two linebackers to watch. Both are veterans and Poppinga is an older one (he turns 32 next month). Another veteran, Na'il Diggs, hung around on the roster even after Leber's addition. He turned 33 last month. While the Rams have new blood at linebacker, it's not young blood. Getting through this game without new injuries at the position will be important. Poppinga and Diggs missed a combined 14 games to injury last season.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22
WEEKLY LEADERS