The Rams must win this game against the New York Jets at home. On the road, I could live with a loss, but at home, we must win. The “must” part is not arising from a fantasy that we are a far superior team to the Jets. There are no teams in this league that we outclass by a large margin. Instead, the “must” part of the win comes from how well this games sets up for the Rams.
We are at home, which Vegas considers a huge advantage. The Jets are in a perpetual state of disarray (due to their coaches’ complete lack of discipline), but this week has been a ship-wreck for the Jets as they are having loyalty and teamwork issues. Anonymous source has been added to the roster, and he has been active this week.
Furthermore, I can’t think of a defense that I would prefer to face in the NFL other than the Jets from a strength weakness standpoint. The Jets are strong against the pass and weak against the run. The strength against the pass comes from pressure and an ability to shut down stars. That strength actually is a weakness against us.
It is tough to pressure the Rams as Sam Bradford is at the top of the league in his ability to get rid of the ball quickly. According to Bernie Miklasz on 101 ESPN, before the San Francisco game, Sam Bradford was getting rid of the ball in 2.61 seconds on average. I forget where he got the stat, but the source had used a stop watch to time every throw this year. Bradford’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly minimizes the Jets ability to pressure him.
Furthermore, the Rams lack of any star receiver on offense. It a twisted way, this helps us in this game. It makes it difficult for the Jets to focus on anyone. This takes away another advantage the Jets typically have on defense.
Against the run, the Jets are 30th in the league allowing 4.4 yards per attempt and 145 yards a game. The Rams strength on offense is their well-rounded ability to run the ball. The Rams can wear you down because they have three running backs that can play. In theory, they could run the ball on every play and still have a fresh running back. They also have an ability to run behind the guards, inside the tackles, or outside the tackles.
Last week proved that the Rams will continue to run the ball even if they are not having tremendous success. Steven Jackson had 29 runs last week and only 101 total yards. That 3.5 yard average would scare no one, but 3.5 yards 29 times at least causes fatigue.
For the record, the two teams worse behind the Jets in ability to stop the run are Buffalo and New Orleans. I still prefer to face the Jets. Both the Bills and Saints are improving the last two weeks and both have an offense that could present problems for the Rams.
This leads to the other factor I like about this matchup. The Jets are the only team in the NFL with a worse receiver core than the Rams, especially with Holmes out. Who on this team do you fear and say, “Boy, the Rams must stop him”?
Moreover, the Jets’ quarterback is a mental wreck. He has never had to earn anything in his football career and it shows. He was given the starting job at USC. He left before he should have (according to his own coach), and yet he was still handed the job in New York. They won despite him for a few years. Now that he has to do something to help his team win, he is failing in every way. I am not suggesting that Mark Sanchez has no skills. I am not a sage enough talent evaluator to disagree with all of the life-long scouts who suggested Sanchez was worthy of a first round pick. From time to time, you can see the skills. However, Sanchez can’t put it all together, and I believe it arises from a lack of mental strength. His inaccuracy, especially in the red zone, is astonishing.
Finally, the Jets have shown a commitment to run the ball, but they have not had tremendous success. The Rams have shown an ability to control the run against anyone, so I am not concerned.
Here are the factors that I believe will lead to a Rams win.
1. 30+ Touches for RBs
This may become a standard part of my preview because it seems so obvious. Steven Jackson needs carries to have any ability to wear the other team down. Also, part of his value comes from his presence alone. Teams still focus on him, which helps the passing game. Therefore, Steven Jackson needs 15 to 20 rushes per game, and I would prefer numbers closer to 20 than 15.
At the same time, Richardson offers us very little value with only 5 touches a game. If he can get the ball 10 times a game (pass or run), he brings a real threat for an explosive play, which we need on offense. No matter how many times Jackson gets the ball, he offers almost no threat for an explosive play. He hasn’t had a run longer than 50 yards in three years, and his longest run in that time frame led to a torn muscle. This year his longest run is 23 yards and his longest catch is 22 yards. I love Steven Jackson, but he is definitely on the downward side of the bell curve. Therefore, we need to give Richardson a chance to break a big play, which means he needs carries. I also would like to see Pead continue to play and gain experience. We can’t give up on him yet.
2. SPECIAL TEAMS AND TURNOVERS
We can’t give up big plays on special teams. I honestly do not expect the Jets to score more than 20 points on offense alone. Therefore, we need to ensure they get nothing big from special teams, and make the offense work. As always, we need to win the turnover battle. The statistics prove that the number one stat for wins and losses in the NFL is turnover ratio. If we win that stat, we will win this game.
I am not asking for anything special from our special teams. I doubt we will see any fakes this week after two fake punts last week. I also doubt we will see a big return on punt return or kickoff return. Why? Well, what have you seen so far that makes you think we have an explosion coming on either?
I think we now know what we have on defense. We are not safe at safety. In fact, much of our defense appears to be a safeguard to protect our safeties. I can see no other explanation for out tendency to abandon the middle of the field and run backwards to the sticks on long downs other than downright fear that anything that gets past the linebackers may not end until the endzone. I have seen this all year, and I now call it the linebacker trot. It is annoying, but it is also one of the reasons we get off the field on third down.
We should be comfortable that our defensive tackles will plug up the middle of the line and that our ends will get pressure. We know that Dunbar and Laurinaitis will pile up tackles. Otherwise, there are some obvious holes in our defense which most teams will exploit.
We do a horrible job of actually covering the running back out of the backfield. Yes, we get there quickly after the catch, but we rarely put someone on the RB. With the linebacker trot, the middle of the field is almost always exposed on long downs, which means there is an obvious safe place to throw the ball. With some well planned blocks thereafter, we are susceptible to some big plays on long downs. Even without the big play, we almost guarantee a completion on second and long or third and long to someone over the middle.
We also have a young corner who thinks he knows everything and anticipates plays. He is obviously susceptible to a double move and everyone in the NFL knows it.
All of these strengths and weakness lead to a bend don’t break defense that eventually wins the third down battle and gets off the field. If not, when the field gets compressed in the red zone, we do not have to fear our safeties, and we allow our playmakers to make plays. I do not expect to see anything different today. The one problem with our defense is a lack of pressure leads to an exposure of our safeties (meaning they actually have to do their job) and the potential for deep throws. Thus, the key for the Rams is getting pressure on the quarterback in whatever manner necessary. Without pressure our entire defense falls apart.
4. James Laurinaitis
I am giving him his own paragraph because I keep seeing comments about his down year. For everyone out there, James Laurinaitis is now 4th in the entire NFL in tackles. I hear some suggest that tackles do not mean anything. Notwithstanding the lunacy of that statement, I will note that the following three players lead the Rams in tackles, James Laurinaitis, Cortland Finnegan and Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Also, for those of you wanting him to get more tackles behind the line and at the line, please explain to me how that happens when we line him up deeper than the six in front of him, and he is often asked to run backwards rather than forwards. My point is this. Before you complain about what Laurinaitis doesn’t do, you might want to consider what he is being asked to do.