The Ravens’ wound-licking from the beating they took in Nashville finally comes to an end Sunday. Unfortunately for them, they find themselves facing a fellow wounded animal of a team in the winless St. Louis Rams. St. Louis nearly won the NFC West in 2010, and had hoped to take the next step in 2011; the next step being of course, not only winning the division, but doing it with a winning record (7-9 earned the Seahawks a home playoff game last season). They find themselves desperate for a win coming off a short week in which they fell in New York to the Giants by a score of 28-16.
Those of us that watched that Monday night contest saw a Rams team with some strengths that look to potentially match up quite favorably for them with many of the weaknesses the Ravens displayed in Nashville. Second-year quarterback Sam Bradford – lucky him – has a head coach and offensive coordinator who actually trust him to run a hurry-up offense, and St. Louis has moved the ball extremely effectively between the 20’s through two games, but have been undone by some red zone woes.
Bradford lost his favorite target in week 1, when wide receiver Danny Amendola went out for at least another week or two with a dislocated elbow. They may also be operating without stud running back Steven Jackson, who has also been out since opening day. Jackson was limited in practice on Thursday. Even without Amendola, the Rams have had some guys step up, as four other wideouts have caught passes from Bradford (this, of course, more than doubles the number of WRs that Joe Flacco has connected with so far). Brandon Gibson and Mike Sims-Walker combined for 10 catches at the Meadowlands, while Danario Alexander is the team’s main deep threat, averaging over 40 yards on 3 receptions.
Even with that group of no-names, the Rams may have some degree of success against the depleted Ravens’ secondary. Dominique Foxworth is quickly becoming 2011’s version of Frank Walker or Fabian Washington, as his surgically repaired knee is still causing him pain and has rendered him largely uneffective. John Harbaugh hinted that Foxworth may get a rest this week, in the hopes of healing up more. This does no favors for the Ravens, who are already without Jimmy Smith. Chris Carr says that he hopes to play Sunday, but how many plays will he be out there before his injured quad flares up again? Cary Williams was toasted in Tennessee, and will need to bounce back quickly. Lardarius Webb has been the team’s best CB through two games, and rookie Chykie Brown may see his first NFL action against the Rams.
Long story short, the Rams will test the Ravens through the air. Bradford doesn’t possess the quick release that Matt Hasselbeck used so effectively, but you can bet getting the ball out on time will factor heavily into St. Louis’ game plan after watching film on the purple and black. Hitting the young quarterback early and often will go a long way toward coming out of the Edward Jones Dome with a victory. Watching Monday’s game, once the Giants were able to get in Bradford’s face, they slowed the former greatest show on turf considerably.
One tactic the Ravens won’t be able to use to slow the hurry-up is the ol’ “fake an injury” formation. With the Giants doing so extremely blatantly on Monday, this issue has become the overblown story of the young season. The refs will undoubtedly be on high alert for such shenanigans in all games this week, but especially the one in St. Louis.
When the Ravens have the ball, they will look to reestablish the power running game that had so much success against Pittsburgh before sputtering in week 2. The Rams allowed 236 and 119 yards rushing, respectively, in their first two games, and they couldn’t stop the Giants at all late in the game Monday even when everybody in the stadium knew they were going to run the ball. Philadelphia’s Lesean McCoy gave them fits all afternoon, and his skill set very closely matches that of one Ray Rice. The Ravens’ best offensive play a week ago was the screen pass to Rice, but for some reason they only ran it once.
Hey Cam – RUN IT UNTIL THEY PROVE THEY CAN STOP IT!
The Rams have a high-pressure pass defense, and they racked up three sacks in each game so far. They blitz from all over the place, and the Ravens’ O-line will need to rebound and – like the rest of the team – play more like they did against Pittsburgh than like they did against the Titans, or Joe will be running for his life all afternoon yet again. Lee Evans could miss the game, which means the young wideouts – Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams – will need to grow up quick and finally make a contribution to the team.
Basically, if you have Ray Rice on your fantasy team, feel good about starting him Sunday. If you have Flacco or any of the Ravens’ wideouts…you’d probably be well served looking for better options.
These two teams haven’t met since the “Battle of the Backups” game back in 2007, a 22-3 Ravens win. I don’t see this one being nearly as much of a laugher, but the Ravens should rebound and get to 2-1. A more efficient red zone offense from the good guys propels them to the victory.
Ravens 20 Rams 13