Rams vs Chiefs: What to Watch For

The Rams trip to Kansas City brings about the third, and most important preseason game for the St. Louis Rams who face the Chiefs. In this match up of cross-state rivals with the Governor’s Cup on the line, we should see starters for both teams playing well into the third-quarter. This will give us a chance to see how both teams adjust on the fly to what the other team is doing for an extended period of time. 

The Kansas City Chiefs look to again have one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL this year, with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones taking handoffs, while importing Le’Ron McClain in free agency to be the lead blocker. The Chiefs defense fields one of the premier pass rushers in the game in Tamba Hali, who plays outside linebacker in their 3-4 defensive formation. In the secondary is ball hawk and playmaker Eric Berry, a second year safety who had four interceptions last year. 

So far this preseason, the Rams have had a dominating performance against the Colts, and a game in which they were dominated at the point of attack against the Titans, where they were able to squeeze out a victory on a field goal as time expired. Which team shows up this week? Last week we saw the Titans fourth, fifth, and sixth running backs have a field day against our defense. We saw the physical Titans defense consistently in the Rams backfield, and the Titans offensive line consistently moving Rams defenders off the line of scrimmage. Hopefully some adjustments have been made during this past week to better prepare the team against a strong Chiefs rushing attack. 

As always, there are three things we need to look for in this game. 

Three Things to Watch For:

Charles in Charge
Last year the Chiefs lead the NFL in rushing. Their rushing attack was lead by Jamaal Charles, who ran for 1,467 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. The Rams experienced this first-hand last year in week 15, when Charles burned them for 126 yards, averaging 11.5 per carry. 

Last week, the Titans were able to run at will on the Rams defense. Look this week for an improved run defense with Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga stepping in at the outside linebacker positions. The run defense was an area of concern last year, and is supposed to be improved this year with the additions of defensive tackles Justin Bannan, Daniel Muir, and  outside linebacker Zach Diles,in addition to Leber and Poppinga. 

If the Rams defense is to take a step forward this year, the run defense has to improve. The Chiefs provide the perfect litmus test. 

The Blind Side
Last week’s match up against the Titans saw Hank Fraley starting at left guard in place of Jacob Bell, and Adam Goldberg replacing Roger Saffold who went out of the game with a back injury. The Titans abused the left side of the line with these replacements in the game. In addition to base packages, they sent several different exotic blitzes at the Rams. This week, the Rams face a different problem: a 3-4 defense that features Tamba Hali, one of the top young pass rushers in the game. Hali was second in the NFL last year with 14.5 sacks. 

This week should see Bell and Saffold returning man the blind side, but overall the Rams have to improve on their pass protection and blitz pickup in order to give Sam Bradford time to work. With the new McDaniels offense, Sam needs more time because receivers are running farther downfield. Being able to block effectively is imperative in the success of this team. This week the team needs to show marked improvement upon last week’s showing.

Where to Run?
So far this season, the Rams running game has been subpar. The addition of guard Harvey Dahl was supposed to infuse some life into a lacking running game, but we have yet to really see that so far this preseason. The bottom line: the Rams need to get Steven Jackson going. In order to do this, they have to open holes better than they did last week against the Titans. Rams blockers have to get to the second level and get a hat on linebackers in order to give the running backs room to work. 

There are already questions about Steven Jackson slowing down in his age 28 season. People say he’s lost a step. People say he’s wasted his prime years on bad teams. A strong performance against the Chiefs would be a step towards proving these doubters wrong. The Rams imported Carnell Williams and Jerious Norwood to strengthen the backfield depth, while offering Jackson better alternatives to give him a breather during the game. However, Jackson is still the “Bell Cow.” The retooled offensive line needs to give him room to work.

As usual, I’m not going to predict a “winner” for a preseason game. Overall, we need to see a prepared Rams team that comes out and shows the consistency it didn’t show on offense against the Titans. The Chiefs are going to take this game seriously, and I would expect the Rams to do the same.