As Pack Shoot for 12 in a Row, Here are Ten Things That We Need to See on SundayPosted:Oct 14th, 2011 2:17 pm
Yes, it's the gimmiest gimme on the schedule, but the St. Louis Rams are coming to town to try to win a football game and the Packers need to be sharp, attend to business and move to 6-0. We all thought the Dolphins were a gimme on last season's home slate and we know how that turned out.
That said, the Packers are an entirely different team from a year ago. They play with confidence, intelligence and mostly, surgical precision. Come back from 14 down on the road against a conference heavyweight without your starting tackles? No problem.
So here come the 0-4 Rams. If not for the Eagles, Jets and Chiefs, they would be the biggest disappointment of the season. Coming off a 7-9 season where they just missed the playoffs, St. Louis was seen as a team on the rise: I had them winning the rotten NFC West. But a few things happened along the way this season, starting with the hiring of head coach flameout Josh McDaniels as the new offensive coordinator. Sam Bradford has struggled in the new offense. He has weak receivers, a lousy offensive line and his great running back Steven Jackson has been banged up.
The Packers are favored by 15--a number you don't see often in the NFL. They will win this game. Here are 10 things we need to see:
1. This is the game where the pass rush needs to wake up and make its presence felt. Bradford is getting killed. He's been sacked 12 times in his last two games. 12! They're coming off their bye, so they may have figured some things out, but they're allowing a sack every 8.2 passes. The Pack needs to continue the trend. They benched right tackle Jason Smith, the second pick in the draft two years ago. Their left tackle Roger Saffold isn't much better. This unit is the main reason the team is 0-4.
2. Contain Steven Jackson. After being slowed with a quad, he's back to 100% and will be fed early and often to keep the dogs off Stafford. The Pack's defensive game plan revolves around Jackson, who always has big games against them. When healthy he's a top 5 running back and he's the only real offensive threat the team has. The Packers did a nice job against Michael Turner last Sunday (after the first two drives). If Jackson can't find room to run, Bradford will be a sitting duck. And along those lines...
3. Jump out to a quick lead. Grabbing a two touchdown lead will force McDaniels to abandon the run and go to the air. The Rams receivers give the Bears a run for their money in awfulness. It didn't help that they lost Danny Amendola (85 catches last year) in the opener. They brought in former Jag Mike Sims-Walker but he's yet to show anything. Their other top guys are Brandon Gibson (slow) and Danario Alexander (five knee surgeries). Put it this way: Randall Cobb would be a starter for the Rams. Wisconsin fans will enjoy watching former Badger Lance Kendricks, a second round pick who could become a star in this offense.
4. The Packer tackles. Marshall Newhouse gets his second start at left tackle and will face veteran James Hall and maybe rookie Robert Quinn. I'm already a little nervous about his matchup next week against red hot Jared Allen at the Dome, but Newhouse has proven to be a quick study and a capable replacement. I'm not sure if Bulaga or Sherrod will start at RT. My hunch is they'll see if they can give Bulaga one more week to get healthy, but we'll see.
5. Hi Al. Here's all you have to know about the Rams secondary: Al Harris is a starter. The Packer fan favorite and soon to be 37 year old is starting by default. The Rams have lost their top three corners for the season. Harris and Rod Hood, the starters, weren't even on the roster a month ago. Another former Packer, Josh Gordy, may serve as the nickel back. Talk about mismatches: Aaron Rodgers should be able to play pitch and catch on Sunday.
6. The Rams can't stop the run either. Both Ryan Grant and James Starks should put up big numbers on Sunday. The thing about the Rams is they're old: the fifth oldest team in the NFL when the season started. Defensive end Chris Long is the only starter on the line under 32. Their DTs are not getting any pass rush and are getting pushed around.
7. Hi Brady. The former Packer linebacker has landed with the Rams, along with former Viking Ben Leber, but it looks like both guys' best days are behind them. The leader of this unit is unquestionably James Laurinaitis, the Wayzata kid and former Buckeye star. He's a Pro Bowler in waiting and is the leader of the defense.
8. Continue to spread the ball around on offense. The attention that Mike McCarthy's reaction to the Donald Driver's question this week is amusing. If you believe Driver or the Packers are concerned about how many balls he is getting, you haven't been paying attention. One week it's Jennings, another it's Finley, last week it was James Jones. When your QB can find 12 different guys in one game, you know the offense is humming and as long as everyone stays healthy, the passing offense should be getting minimal scrutiny.
9. Stats for Clay Matthews. He continues to rest all week and it may take the bye week to get that quad feeling right, but against this opponent, at home, you'd like to see the Claymaker deliver a multi-sack game.
10. Health. Let's come out of this one clean and healthy and get set to take on the Queens in the Dome next Sunday.
It seems too obvious, but I can't imagine a letdown this week. Pack 42 Rams 10.