Rams-Chargers Game Day: 3 Big Questions

As we discussed in my guest spot in yesterday’s Turf Show Radio (thanks for having me on, guys!), the Rams face a tough task this week in trying to bounce back from their “perfect storm” loss against the Lions. After getting beat — soundly — in all three phases of the game on the road, the Rams return home with an identical 2-3 record as their AFC West opponents, but face a tough road to redemption versus one of the top offenses and top defenses in the NFL’s statistical rankings. Annheuser-Busch and KMOV TV chipped in enough last-minute tickets to guarantee that Rams fans at the dome and at home will get to see their team’s response. Three big questions linger as we await kickoff…

Who will bring the Rams’ swagger back on defense?

Early on in training camp, it seemed as though Chris Long established a much stronger personality on the defense than he had in previous years. He was blowing up offensive linemen, scrapping and jawing the whole way, and making this defense his defense.

And through the first five games, few players have worked harder on an every down basis than Long, racking up a team-high in quarterback pressures and creating lanes for Fred Robbins, James Hall, and George Selvie to ring up sacks. If the Rams D were playing hockey, he would be leading the team in assists. But rarely has he been able to celebrate any statistical reward for his hard work. While Hall and Selvie will be lining up against the Chargers’ newly returned (and re-signed) LT Marcus McNeill, Long will be facing off against

Also needing — desperately — to make a big play is Oshiomogho Atogwe. Like McNeill and Vincent Jackson in San Diego, Atogwe suffered through a long and tumultuous offseason thanks to the collapse of the collective bargaining agreement and a sudden new restriction on his free agency in his fifth year as a pro. The Rams and Atogwe got their deal done in relatively quiet manner, but since then Atogwe’s play has been whisper-quiet as well. One forced fumble and two passes knocked down in five games … hardly the big play machine that the team needs him to be. This week he will face off against elite competition in TE Antonio Gates, and will have to step up his game in a big way.

Can the Rams regain their timing on offense?

More was wrong with the offense than just the loss of WR Mark Clayton last week. The Lions completely destroyed the Rams’ offensive timing with a combination of blazing speed rushes by Kyle Vandenbosch and power up front by Ndamukong Suh, and an almost supernatural ability to sniff out when the Rams were trying to set up their screen plays. (Considering how close the Rams’ offense is under Shurmur and the kind of attack that Scott Linehan wanted to use, it’s possible that Linehan could have been feeding play calls to Jim Schwartz and the Lions’ D.) Bradford’s timing and patience was noticeably off in the second half, as the young player tried to force balls into too-tight areas, and put more mustard on his throws than many of his receivers were expecting.

Only Amendola has established a firm chemistry with his young QB, and more responsibility than ever lies on Brandon Gibson and Laurent Robinson to become more consistent with their speed off the line, their placement in routes, and their timing with their QB. The return of safety nets Billy Bajema and Michael Hoomanawanui bring more wildcards into the mix, as does the Rams’ newest wide receiver….

What impact will Danario Alexander have in his first game?

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Alexander’s well-documented knee surgeries and subsequent muscle weakness might have involved a little bit of smoke and mirrors by Devaney and company, maneuvering the obviously talented player through waivers to the Rams’ practice squad, and then trying to keep other teams from potentially poaching the young impact player.

Alexander’s promotion to the 53-man roster in the wake of Clayton’s injury might look like desperation, or “going cheap,” but in reality only a very few people have seen what Alexander is capable of on the football field in the last several months, and all of them reside at One Rams Way. The fact that he is active today means that the team thinks he has a real chance of contributing. Like Clayton before him, he has had less than a full week of practice with Sam Bradford… unlike Clayton, however, the kid is an ultra-raw rookie.

The Rams have an opportunity to re-establish an identity today, to defend the Dome and create positive momentum again. These three questions will have to be answered along the way.