Rams vs Titans: What to Watch For

Super Bowl XXXIV Preview
There’s no shortage of history between these two teams.

New team, same quarterback. That’s the story this week as Matt Hasselbeck and his new team, the Tennessee Titans, come to town for a preseason matchup. Tennessee comes in with a new head coach in Mike Munchak, as well as new offensive coordinators, and several new players on both sides of the ball.

The Rams and Titans do have some history with each other. In addition to the Greatest Show on Turf era Rams winning the Superbowl over the Titans, the two teams, for years, scrimmaged against each other in the preseason.  The Titans have always been a very physical team, and that doesn’t figure to change under former offensive lineman Coach Munchak.

The Rams will look this week to build upon an impressive win over the Indianapolis Colts in preseason week one. Both the Rams offense and defense can show some consistency by coming out strong in this contest, where the starters for both teams figure to play into the second quarter. As always, there are three things we need to look for in this game.

Three Things to Watch For:

The Walking Wounded

Donnie Avery and Danario Alexander are the two Rams wide receivers with the biggest injury concerns. Both have been held out of practice recently due to some injury concerns. Avery is coming back this season from a torn ACL suffered during the 2010 preseason, and just resumed practicing this week after some concerns with restrains resulting from overcoming the ACL injury. Danario Alexander, at the ripe old age of 23, has had 5 operations on his knees. This past week he was held out of practice due to some swelling and fluid on his knees.

This is a game where both of these receivers need to step in and produce. The logjam at receiver has been well documented, so any chance that these receivers have to flash needs to be taken advantage of. With about 8 realistic options vying for 6 spots, someone needs to step up. Both receivers have had a slow start to camp, but have come on as of late. Let’s see what they do tonight against the Titans.

Offense Part II

Against the Colts, the Rams put up 33 points. Last year they only scored over 30 points one time. The Rams did this with an offense that looked like a hybrid of last year’s dink and dunk, and the spread style that Coach Josh McDaniels is known for (three and four wide receiver sets). Several Ram fans last week were looking for the kind of shots downfield that McDaniels often took while he was the head coach in Denver. I encourage these fans to stay tuned. With more camp and practice time under their belt, and another week in the offense, I would look for more of those shots down field against the Titans. All indications from camp this past week that I’ve read are that it seems the team has instilled a “phase two” of the offense, which includes taking several shots downfield. Hopefully we’ll see that tonight.

Who’s on Third?

With the injury to Jerome Murphy, who is likely out for the season, the running for the nickel and dime corner positions is wide open. Who will join incumbent starters Bradley Fletcher and Ron Bartell when the defense matches up against three and four receiver sets? Last week, the team’s defensive backs were a little beat up, with Bartell and Al Harris not playing.

This week, they are all healthy and will be suited up for the game. While the defense won’t have to deal with Kenny Britt who is out with an injury, the Titans do present a solid receiving corps featuring former Mizzou standout Justin Gage, Nate Washington, and second year receiver Damian Williams from the University of Southern California. Add to that a strong running back corps that is effective catching the ball out of the backfield (sans Pro Bowler Chris Johnson, who is holding out in a contract dispute).

After Bartell, Fletcher, and Harris, I’m not really sure the Rams know what they have at the position. Undrafted rookie free agent Dionte Dinkins has had a very strong camp, and my guess is he’d make the team. Justin King saw extensive play last week, but in the past has been inconsistent and has to show he can stay healthy. Someone from this group needs to step up and establish themselves.

Prediction: As with last week, I’m not going to predict a winner for a preseason game. What we need to see overall in this game is the offense taking it to the next level, and showing that they have a firm grasp on the McDaniels system.