Scouting the Enemy: St. Louis Rams

Sam Bradford has won the Rams more games this year than in the previous two combined.
Sam Bradford has won the Rams more games this year than in the previous two combined. /

The St. Louis Rams come calling on Sunday in what will hopefully be a winnable home game for the Buccaneers. I’m sure if you had told the executives at Fox during the preseason that they would have a solid week seven match-up between the Rams and the Bucs they’d think you were being sarcastic. But the NFL is a league of parity and no two teams better represent that this season than the Rams and the Bucs.

The Rams are a surprising 3-3 this season after picking up just three wins in all of the previous two seasons. This year’s Rams team has played surprisingly well, even in their losses, having nearly eked out a couple of other close wins along the way. They may be rebuilding, but this team can win now if you’re not vigilant and don’t play a smart game.

Sam Bradford

This kid is the real deal. Sam Bradford is one of the most impressive rookies I’ve seen in the NFL in an extremely long time. He’s got all the tools and I love his mental make-up. You take a guy who missed most of last year with injuries, draft him first overall, put him on the worst team in football and then ask him to throw 55 passes in his very first NFL game and normally that’s the equation for an epic mess. Not for Sam Bradford.

Now a quick aside, I don’t know what logic propels a coach to throw 55 times in his first game with a rookie QB, but Steve Spagnuolo did just that. Facing the Arizona Cardinals, a playoff team from a year ago the Rams asked Bradford to hurl it 55 times in his first game. The final score was 17-13, so not like it was a shoot out. If anything though, that should give you an idea of the level of confidence the Rams have in Bradford.

All he’s done is go 3-3 on a young team with some holes in it, his stats aren’t going to bowl you over, but as a rookie on a team with no legitimate receiving threats, he’s putting on a heck of a debut season. The greatest rookie debut of any QB in league history was undoubtedly Dan Marino‘s. Marino went 7-2 in 9 starts on his way to 2,210 yards, 20 TD’s and just 6 picks. He started the pro bowl that year.

The benefit Marino had though was that he took over a team which had lost in the Superbowl just a year earlier. That team had plenty of weapons. Bradford’s numbers would look a lot better with some talent around him too. I’m not saying he’s going to be Marino, but he’s one of the only rookies since Marino who seems to bring that kind of moxie to the offense at such an early stage.

Steven Jackson

Steven Jackson has quietly ground out a very good NFL career in St. Louis. It started with a lot of fanfare but the last few years things have been about as tough as they get. St. Louis has lost a lot of games over the past few years and Steven Jackson has thanklessly taken a ton of carries, a ton of hits and a cruel amount of punishment, without ever complaining.

Steven Jackson consistently makes his yards with eight or sometimes even nine in the box.
Steven Jackson consistently makes his yards with eight or sometimes even nine in the box. /

For the last three seasons the Rams have had one weapon, Jackson, and to his credit he was going to get his yards no matter what. The problem has been he’s usually the only one getting the yards, he’s the one the defenses are gunning for and he really better hope the new CBA has good retirement benefits for ex-players or that he’s hung on to a lot of his money because I can’t imagine his body holding up for long once his playing days finally end.

That’s not to knock Steven Jackson at all, he’s essentially been one of the league’s top three backs for his entire career. But behind terrible lines and without the threat of a passing attack recently, his numbers have suffered for obvious reasons. If anything, Jackson’s 7 year NFL career has had an almost tragic tinge to it. A great player whose best years were spent being battered into a bad line on a bad team. Barry Sanders finally just quit in the same circumstances. Steven Jackson is what Ricky Williams would have become if he hadn’t gone on a hiatus. A battered back.

That said, Steven Jackson probably goes for 200 on Sunday. The Bucs can’t stop the run and Jackson is still every bit as talented as he was when he was drafted out of Oregon State (in spite of being a blunt force instrument for the Rams for the past 7 years). And now St. Louis is beginning to prove they can throw the ball too. Despite the newfound ability to pass though, Jackson should be priority number one for the Bucs on Sunday. If anyone beats them, it should be Sam Bradford because Steven Jackson can, and will, if given the chance.

The Rams Defense

Former USF Bulls standout George Selvie is developing nicely for the Rams in his rookie year.
Former USF Bulls standout George Selvie is developing nicely for the Rams in his rookie year. /

Defensively the Rams are another team in the middle of the proverbial pack. They aren’t exceptional at stopping the run or the pass, but they tend to play the run better. Their defensive line is arguably the strength of the unit. On the year, through six games St. Louis has notched 17 sacks (compared to a measly four out of Tampa) led by veteran defensive end James Hall who has posted six already.

The Bucs are really going to have their hands full with this line. They’ve proven they can get after the passer with Chris Long and George Selvie also playing well and outside linebacker Larry Grant accounting for a couple of sacks on the season as well. The Rams are 14th in the league stopping the run, but will face a Bucs squad which truly struggles in that phase of the game. If St. Louis can shutdown the Bucs run game and force Josh Freeman into third and long frequently, they’ll have plenty of chances to pin their ears back and improve on their sack totals.

Through the air the Rams are much more vulnerable, they rank just 20th against the pass and have picked off just five balls in six games. OJ Atogwe is the standout in the secondary at free safety, most quarterbacks will try not to throw his way too often, but the rest of the unit should give Freeman and the Bucs passing attack ample chances to strike.

I’ll have a game preview with predictions coming up soon.