In three days (Thurs. Aug. 26th), the Rams will travel to Foxboro, to take on the New England Patriots. Starting QB AJ Feeley will be held out of the game with a thumb injury, giving #1 overall draft pick QB Sam Bradford a chance to earn the starting job for week 1, against the Arizona Cardinals (Sept. 12th).
Starting against the New England Patriots will be one hell of a test for Bradford. The third preseason game, is the game where teams typically play their starters more than the other preseason games. It is considered the "dress-rehearsal" preseason game. It will be very challenging for Bradford to go against the Patriots' 1st-string players. Lets just say that the Pats' roster is pretty loaded.
So let's compare...
QB: Like I said, Bradford will start, and he will probably play over two full quarters. Bradford looked sharp against Minnesota when he had a chance to throw; but he struggled against Cleveland, almost throwing two picks, and he had a pass tipped; although, he was hurt by dropped passes from the rainy weather. But hopefully, Bradford will have the luxury of Steven Jackson, for at least part of the game. Jackson will take some pressure of Bradford, and might create 'one-on-one' match-up's, if the opposing 'D' stacks eight men in the box to stop Jackson.
QB Keith Null will probably play in over half of the 3rd quarter, and into the 4th quarter. Rookie QB Thad Lewis will probably finish the 4th quarter.
The Patriots will start their star QB Tom Brady. Brady had a decent year in '09, but most of his stats came from three games (Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay), and Brady was wild at times. However, he was recovering from knee surgery, and he was adjusting to a new offensive coordinator. Brady will likely be better than he was in '09, but probably won't have the stats he had in '07.
We will also see the Patriots' back-up QB Brian Hoyer for a good quarter. Hoyer is inexperienced (2nd year), but has been solid in his limited playing time in '09. Their #3 QB, Zac Robinson (7th round, 2010), will finish the game for the Patriots. Robinson is still trying to establish himself.
RB: The Rams' running game will be solid, as long as Steven Jackson is in the game. But even though starters play the most in the 3rd preseason game, it's still not known how much Jackson will play. The Rams' offense will depend almost solely on Jackson this season, so risking injury seems foolish.
Other than Jackson, the Rams have nothing at RB. Chris Ogbonnaya has played terrible in his first two preseason games. He is averaging just over 1 yard per carry between the last two games. He has been somewhat of a threat as a receiver, but still not very dangerous at all. Kenneth Darby was able to move the ball last week, but still averaged under 3 yards per carry; and rookie Keith Toston averaged less than 2 yards per carry. The Rams desperately need a back-up RB for Jackson, because as soon as Jackson leaves the game, the offense will be very one-dimensional.
The Patriots' running game will be solid. They have five backs, and operate by a "RB by committee" approach. Laurence Maroney is probably their primary back, Fred Taylor is their veteran #2 back, Sammy Morris is the third, and Kevin Faulk is their 3rd down receiving back. Third-year RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis figures to be the 5th RB they will keep on their roster. Having four RB's that will see the field on a regular basis, means that their RB's will stay fresh the whole game. Their 'multiple RB' strategy could very well wear down our defense.
WR: Denario Alexander just signed, but it is unknown where he will fit into the game plan. Laurent Robinson, Donnie Avery, and Danny Amendola will be the starters. Alexander would be a nice presence, given that our WR's were over-powered against the Browns, and they failed to get decent separation. Hopefully they will have better hands this week, if there is no rain. Also, Mardy Gilyard made his debut Saturday, though he was a non-factor at WR (but he carried the ball as a kick-returner); Gilyard will, hopefully, get a better look Thursday.
Last year the Patriots had very little behind Randy Moss and Wes Welker; and that could have been potentially problematic, considering the possibility of injury (Welker was placed on IR in '09). Welker has returned from his injury, but it is unknown how much he will play on Thursday; he only played six snaps against Atlanta. But, both Moss and Welker will be active Thursday, for at least a portion of the game.
Rams fans will not get to see the Patriots' WR Torry Holt, as he is now on the IR. But other WR's to watch for are: Julian Edelman, who was an adequate replacement for Welker in the slot at the end of the '09 season; and Brandon Tate, a second-year WR who is physical, making him ideal for the outside.
It is also worth mentioning that the Patriots have a solid TE core. Veteran Alge Crumpler leads the way- he's a decent receiving TE, and former pro-bowler. Rookie 2nd round pick Rob Gronkowski has flashed some promise as a blocker; and rookie Aaron Hernandez has shown a play making ability as a receiving threat. So given their TE's, and star WR's, the Patriots certainly have some weapons at Brady's disposal.
Offensive Line: The Rams' o-line had an awful first game against the Vikings. But they improved against the Browns. Our interior line will have their work cut out for them, while facing the monstrous pro-bowl NT Vince Wilfork.
The return of starting LG Jacob Bell helped last week. Jason Smith also improved a little bit, and hopefully he can improve a little more each week. Roger Saffold continues to look like a lock for the LT spot. Center Jason Brown had a holding penalty against Cleveland, but he has been solid for us so far. Adam Goldberg will likely start at RG. It will be nice to see our starting o-line play together for a second week in a row; they need to play with each other if they want gel, and gain experience.
The Patriots have some solid players on their o-line, but no one that dominates. Their line is not as dominating as the Cleveland o-line (that featured Joe Thomas and Alex Mack), but is still pretty serviceable. Matt Light is their LT- Light is old, but solid; and he is certainly not dominate. Dan Connolly is their LG, he is filling in for Logan Mankins (contract hold-out); Connolly has shown promise in training camp, but has yet to prove himself. Center Dan Koppen is a weak spot, he is an aging veteran that struggles against strong DT's. Stephen Neal is the RG- Neal is old, and also has a long injury history. RT Sebastian Vollmer is a bright spot on their line; Vollmer is inexperienced, but he has convinced Pats fans that he is the long-term answer at LT.
The way our d-line has been playing, it is not out of the question to expect our 'front four' to create havoc. The Patriots' o-line seems like it is one of their weaker spots. Our defense must take advantage, and put Brady under pressure.
Defensive Line: If Chris Long is looking for a break-out year, and wants to be a star, then the Pats are the type of team he needs to show something against. Rookie DE George Selvie was held out of the Cleveland game with a leg injury, and he will not play Thursday. Selvie has been very impressive, as a 7th round pick he has already earned a place with the 1st team 'D' on passing downs, so his presence will be missed. DT Fred Robbins had a sack and a forced fumble Saturday; so with the Pats' weak spot at Center, he will have an opportunity to create some damage.
Our d-line has been very good at stopping the run so far; but their pass rushing has been inconsistent. It will be interesting to see if how they will do against the run Thursday; since the Pats have four RB's that will keep each other fresh.
The Patriots d-line will be a challenge, especially since our team does not see a whole lot of 3-4 defenses. Wilfork will be the biggest challenge, he can occupy multiple blockers, and create pressure. Veteran Gerard Warren has had an above average, yet consistent, career; he does not dominate, but he is a solid player. Veteran Mike Wright will be the starting right-side DE, he is solid against the run, and has some pass rushing ability, as he recorder 5 sacks in '09. Second year player Ron Brace (2nd round pick, 2009) had a disappointing rookie campaign, but he looks to be an improved player overall in his second year. Former Rams' DT Damione Lewis will add depth for the Patriots, as well as Brandon Deadrick, and Myron Pryor.
LB: MLB James Laurinaitis will obviously be our star LB Thursday. But surprisingly, not far behind is OLB Larry Grant. Grant has had a phenomenal camp, and preseason. Na'il Diggs will be our third LB. Just like the d-line, it will be interesting to see what this group (that has been good against the run) can do against multiple RB's. I would also like to see this group get involved in the pass-rush some more.
Tully Banta-Cain, and Derrick Burgess, will likely start at DE/OLB for the Patriots. Banta-Cain is a solid force, he had 10 sacks in '09, and might cause problems for our o-line that has been struggling to pick up the blitz. Derrick Burgess is not the same caliber pass-rusher that Banta-Cain is (at least not anymore), he is a solid player overall, but he is suspect because of his age. Rookie DE/OLB Jermaine Cunningham will be out of the game due to injury.
Inside linebacker's for the Pats are led by third year player Jerod Mayo. Mayo had a sophomore slump, due to a knee injury; but he will likely bounce back to his rookie-star form. Rookie Brandon Spikes will be their other starter. Mayo and Spikes will be backed-up by Gary Guyton.
DB: Ron Bartell, our leading CB, was carted off the practice field Tuesday with an ankle injury. Bartell was also dinged up in the Cleveland game- the incidents are likely related. He will might be held out of the game Thursday, just to be on the safe side. Bradley Fletcher will likely be one of the starters; and Jerome Murphy, and Quincy Butler will likely get a decent amount of snaps at the other CB position. OJ Atogwe will start at FS; and Craig Dahl, who led the team in tackles last week (6), will start at SS.
Probably the most promising rookie so far for that Patriots this season, has to be Devin McCourty. McCourty was not the flashiest pick when he was drafted, but he has turned some heads in Foxboro. Leigh Bodden was a solid starter for New England last season, and he will be the other starter, opposite McCourty. Darius Butler will be #3 CB. The Patriots have one of the best FS in the league in Brandon Meriweather; and second year SS Patrick Chung was somewhat quiet his rookie year, but is looking to establish himself as a hard hitting SS in his sophomore year.
We have had some poor play out of our defensive backfield these past two games. There was some poor tackling against Cleveland, and opposing WR's have been making it look easy. The defensive front has to get some pressure to help out, but our d-backs have to be more aggressive. The Patriots have a far superior defensive backfield, and it will be interesting to see how Bradford, and our WR's, play against them.
OVERALL: If the Rams want a chance at winning this game, then they have to attack the Patriots' weak point- their offensive line. This will be a huge test for our d-line, because they need to learn how to apply consistent pressure. And our DB's have to be physical enough to make plays, if Brady makes a mistake.
This will be a huge challenge for Bradford, but if he has a good game, then you can bet on him being a starter week 1. Bradford needs to take advantage when Steven Jackson is in the game. Jackson will move to ball, and keep pressure off of him, but Bradford has to do his part.
The Rams are a young team that needs to develop some form of confidence. If they have a rock-solid game against a team as good as the Patriots, then that could go a long way in giving our players some swagger that they definitely need.