3TFO: Rams @ Colts, Week 10
At an even 3-3, things were looking up for the Rams before losing Sam Bradford to a torn ACL in Week 7. Things haven’t been quite as rosy since, losing three straight since the day their young signal caller went down. That was a real shame too, as Bradford was on pace for career bests in nearly every statistical category. Making the playoffs in the NFC West was always going to be a tough prospect, but with career backup Kellen Clemens under center, the Rams may just have to write off the year and hope that their other players make some notable progress. Especially considering that four of their last six games will be against opponents with winning records.
The Colts, meanwhile, look to have the inside track at their first division title since Peyton Manning left town. With a 2-0 record in division and two opportunities to knock down the Titans, Indianapolis has to be pleased with the season so far. Andrew Luck has done a lot to mask the injury issues faced by this offense, and with a favorable schedule ahead, it could be smooth sailing until January. Complacency might be their toughest foe. Despite wins against Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco, the Colts have had some trouble with winnable games, most recently their comeback win against the ailing Texans. Here are three things to key on for this game.
Rookie Running Attack
Without their starting quarterback, it’s only logical that there’s additional pressure on the running game to step up. The offseason departure of long time workhorse back Steven Jackson gave Daryl Richardson the opportunity to shine. Richardson hasn’t done a whole lot for the offense though. He’s only forced five missed tackles on his 69 carries, a large part of why he’s only managed 3.1 yards per carry. Enter Zac Stacy, a fifth round rookie. He didn’t see meaningful playing time until Week 5, but Stacy grabbed the starting spot and hasn’t looked back. With 22 forced missed tackles in five weeks, the Rams seem to have found Jackson’s replacement. Add to that a very healthy 4.6 yards per carry, and the quarterback situation doesn’t appear quite as crippling.
With the 27th ranked rushing defense, Indianapolis may have trouble slowing down a bruising back like Stacy. After a middling 2012 campaign in his first season with the Colts, Cory Redding has been much improved in year two. He hasn’t made a lot of splash plays, recording only six stops in run defense, but the 32 year old lineman has shown he still has what it takes to disrupt running plays and allow his teammates to clean up. Fellow free agent acquisition Ricky Jean-Francois has also been an asset in run support- he has the third most stops on the defensive line despite missing two games with an injured groin.
Always known as a prominent pass rusher you can’t help but feel that Robert Mathis never really escaped the shadow of Dwight Freeney. With Freeney having moved on to San Diego, Mathis faced the prospect of seeing more attention with the dynamic threat opposite him no longer a factor. Fast forward to the present, and the loss of Freeney seems to have launched Mathis into the spotlight. He leads all players with 11.5 sacks (by the NFL’s tally), with three forced fumbles thrown in for good measure. His Pass Rushing Productivity of 12.3 is seventh of 39 players (incidentally one spot below Freeney). Rushing mostly off the defensive right, the Rams must contain him and protect Clemens’ blindside, especially considering Mathis’ penchant for creating turnovers.
Offensive line has long been a week spot for the Rams, because of injury or poor personnel choices, but the addition of Jake Long has seen the unit to climb to new heights. Long has been every bit the franchise left tackle St. Louis signed him to be, earning a +19.2 grade over nine games. His pass protection may be down a bit compared with his first few years in the NFL, but Long is by no means a liability in that department. When Mathis flips sides, he’s likely to see Rodger Saffold at right tackle, though he’s been spelled by Joe Barksdale recently. Regardless of who has played, the duo has been great in pass protection as of late, combining to allow just seven total pressures over the last five games.
Will Luck get time to throw?
Mathis may lead the league in sacks, but the Rams’ own Robert Quinn is hot on his tail. He’s shown flashes against overmatched tackles in years past, but it wasn’t until this season that he started terrorizing offensive linemen on a regular basis. Only once this year was he held without a hit or a sack, and on four occasions he’s tallied six or more total pressures. Opposite him, Chris Long has been productive too, as the tandem has recorded 56% of the Rams’ total pressure on the year.
The Colts must be thankful that these guys line up almost exclusively outside, as their two best linemen are their tackles, Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus. The third year man Castonzo has allowed 26 pressures for a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 93.5 (39th of 59) but he’s mostly kept his quarterback clean, only allowing five of those pressures to be hits or sacks. He’ll be tested with Quinn this week, while Cherilus must face off against Long. Cherilus has been the model of consistency since arriving from Detroit this offseason. He’s held the opposition to two or fewer pressures five times this year and has only surrendered two sacks, a figure that’s sure to be tested on Sunday.