The Rams have had extra time to prepare after a Week 5, Thursday night, home win against Arizona in which they lost their top receiver to injury and quarterback Sam Bradford completed just seven passes. It might be a steep challenge to get to seven completions this week against a stout defense that may be even better than the one St Louis played last week.
On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins have seen steady improvement out of their first-year quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, who’s shown stability in the face of pressure and a willingness to throw down field and into tight windows, something that we don’t often see from rookies — well, not efficiently at least.
In anticipation of what should be a competitive inter-conference clash, let’s take a look at a few matchups to watch, including the right tackle battle on both sides.
Chris Long vs. Jonathan Martin
It’s safe to say Miami right tackle Jonathan Martin hasn’t had the start to the 2012 season that he was hoping for. He’s given up 18 pressures — only six offensive tackles have given up more — and has struggled in the run game with a grade of -5.5 through five games, good for fourth worst among tackles. But maybe improvement is on the way? Against the Bengals, he was solid in pass protection, held his own against Robert Geathers and allowed just two pressures to Carlos Dunlap.
Now comes the enormous challenge of blocking Chris Long, who’s looking to follow up his best game of the season. Last week he was in the face of Kevin Kolb all game, and victimized Bobby Massie en route to nine quarterback disruptions. Through five games, Long has 34 pressures in 175 rushes and his Pass Rush Productivity rating of 15.0 is second highest among 4-3 ends.
Watching Martin in pass protection, he’s had trouble with powerful rushers like J.J. Watt, and clearly needs to get stronger — it’s easy to see how this also limits him in run blocking. He also needs to improve his hand usage and technique as he struggles to lock on to rushers. The Dolphins might want to dedicate extra blockers to help Martin in obvious passing situations or Long could have another big game. Although he isn’t a power-rusher, Long plays with good leverage and is excellent at using his hands and will continuously fight to disengage.
If the tackle does struggle, don’t count the Dolphins out, as their rookie quarterback has shown he can handle pressure –Tannehill has a league-high 84.6% Accuracy Percentage under pressure.
Cameron Wake vs. Barry Richardson
On the other side, we have another mismatch of right tackle against left defensive end. While Chris Long was practically living in the Arizona backfield last week, Cameron Wake had a big game of his own against the Bengals. He ended that game with two sacks and six hurries, and in Week 4 Wake was even more dominant than Long against Massie. His 42 QB disruptions lead all defensive players, and against the Rams he’ll get to feast on Barry Richardson, who’s matched his Dolphin counterpart’s 18 allowed pressures, though he’s graded much worse in pass protection at -8.1.
Richardson has been beaten in a variety of ways on the edge, giving up pressures to the inside, outside, and from bull rushes. And Wake has shown the ability to get to the quarterback in a number of ways himself, using different moves and beating opponents with both speed and power. This could get ugly for Bradford and the Rams if they can’t contain arguably the most fearsome pass rusher in the NFL today.
Rams Sans Amendola
It was a tough break for the Rams when receiver Danny Amendola went down with an injury last week against Arizona. He was the Rams’ top-graded receiver at +5.6 and had accounted for close to one-third of Bradford’s targets, with 47. How will St Louis fare without the player who was the clear focal point of the passing game? The onus will primarily fall on Chris Givens and Brandon Gibson, who’ve played the most snaps on the season of any other Rams receivers. Gibson (+3.5 receiving) has been solid, catching 13 of 20 passes with two touchdowns, but Bradford has been intercepted twice throwing in his direction. He’s not limited to a certain part of the field either, with his targets almost equally distributed in direction and depth. The less impressive of the two, Givens, has dropped two passes and is only catching 26.7% of passes thrown his way. However, with an average of 28 yards on his four receptions, he offers Bradford more of a deep threat.
Someone else will need to make up for Amendola’s slot production, as Gibson and Givens have combined for just 20 snaps there. Steve Smith has received the most snaps among the remaining Rams receivers, but has been inactive for the last two games. Perhaps it’s time for rookie Brian Quick to step up. After playing only six snaps through the first three games, Quick has received 26 in the past two, though he only has one catch in five targets on the season.
The receivers will have to get open against a talented secondary that, with all four starters having coverage grades of at least +2.0, has played well and limited Andy Dalton to just 5.4 YPA in Week 5. Sean Smith and Richard Marshall usually man the outside (although it’s unlikely Marshall will play) with Smith often tracking the other team’s top WR. These two get their hands on a lot of balls, combining for three interceptions and another eight pass defenses this season. Miami is just as capable at safety, with three interceptions from Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones.
Of course, with the challenge of blocking Cameron Wake, the Rams will likely opt to run the ball quite a bit with Steven Jackson. Interestingly, the Rams direct 60% of their runs to the right of center, the side where Wake lines up the vast majority of snaps.