Thursday, August 29, 2013
What to watch: Rams-Ravens
By Nick Wagoner
Five things to watch for in Thursday night's Rams preseason finale against Baltimore. The Rams and Ravens kickoff at 8 p.m. ET at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
1. Backup quarterback quandary. Austin Davis and Kellen Clemens have taken turns throughout the preseason and training camp working as the No. 2 quarterback behind starter Sam Bradford. Neither had done much in either setting to give Rams fans peace of mind should anything happen to Bradford, but for now, the Rams would probably settle for some clarity on which should win the job. If pattern holds, Clemens will get first crack at the opportunity against Baltimore, and Davis will get his share of work. Bradford isn't expected to play much, if at all.
2. Sitting starters. Rams coach Jeff Fisher has long been a proponent of a gradual build for his starters during the preseason, traditionally playing his starters longer in the final preseason game than other teams. He's hinted this week that he won't follow that pattern as strictly as he has in the past. There will probably be a few projected starters -- rookies such as linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald -- who will get some extended work, but don't expect to see much of veterans like Bradford, end Chris Long and others.
3. Coming out healthy. The Rams have watched as NFC West foes Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco have been plagued by serious injuries to key contributors in the offseason and preseason games. To this point, luck has been on the Rams' side save for an injury to third tight end Cory Harkey in last week's game against Denver. Harkey's injury isn't supposed to keep him out long, though, and the Rams have managed to make it through the buildup to the preseason without any long-term injuries to any of their starters. In this same game against this same opponent last year, defensive tackle Michael Brockers suffered a high ankle sprain that slowed him for much of the season. Should they opt to protect their key starters Thursday night, they could make it through without any issues and find themselves in a good spot come week one against Arizona.
4. Last chance. Yesterday, we covered six players with a chance to win roster spots in this game. But let's not limit ourselves to those players. Fisher said this week that jobs are there to be won in this final preseason contest. Assuming a number of young players get a chance to play in lieu of the starters, this will be a category for any who stand out and make a strong final case to win a roster spot.
5. Running in place. The Rams have struggled to generate much in the run game throughout the preseason, an area Fisher said they must improve but that he's not concerned about. Green Bay and Denver loaded the run box and made it difficult for the Rams to get anything going on the ground the past two games. Even if the Rams were being purposefully simplistic schematically, the lack of production in the run game is a concern. If nothing else, the Rams haven't had enough evidence to delineate the order of backs behind Daryl Richardson. Tonight would be a good time for Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham to plead their cases for spots in the running back rotation.