Mass hysteria fell over Rams Nation following the blowout loss to the Colts in Week 1. Since then, the waters have calmed enough for most of us to realize that it is still preseason. So what should be expected in Week 2? Well, as far as coaching trends go in preseason, Week 1 is typically the rough starting point, were the “vanilla offense” and “vanilla defense” are most prominent, limited time for most of the starters, and, as we saw last week, a ton of rotational substitutions in key “battle” positions. The sure-fire starters will typically see one or two full series, while superstars (think, Steven Jackson) will see 5-10 plays. Week 2 and Week 3 usually involve a somewhat expanded playbook and more playing time on the field. Usually, you will see the starting units playing up until halftime. Aug. 28 marks the deadline for teams to cut their roster to 80 players. Lastly, Week 4 usually is make-or-break week for the fringe players and a rest period for the starters, as Aug. 31 is the leagues deadline for the 53-player roster cuts. So what should be looking for this week? Here are some things to keep an eye on
1. If the starting offense can put the ball in the endzone:
Sam Bradford and Co. should see vastly more playing time than they did in Week 1. When Jackson was in the game, the offense looked to be running pretty smoothly. Had it not been for a costly false start penalty on Barry Richardson and an wide pass attempt on 4th Down, the 1st Quarter scoreboard would have looked drastically different. The Rams, and Jackson, are excepting to stay on get their chances in the red zone. “So I’m pretty sure Coach [Fisher] will keep us out there a little longer to make sure we get in the groove of things. We’ll hopefully be in the red zone and be able to work on some of the red-zone package,” Jackson said on Thursday. This sediment was echoed by Fisher, ”Play everybody, just maybe a series more, depending on flow.” Even Bradford was optimistic, “This week, it would be nice to put a couple of drives together and put points on the board.” Seems like we all are wanting the same things, some solid drives and some points on the board.
2. Expect more of the “vanilla offensive,” but maybe with a couple of sprinkles:
If you were looking for anything more than the dink-and-dunk, run-first style of offense we saw last week than this game may not be for you. We will more than likely be looking at play calling similar to what we say in the opening drive against the Colts. “We may add a few more things, yeah, but we’re still going to be somewhat conservative,” said Fisher of the plan going into tonight’s game against the Chiefs. I would suspect we will see them open up the passing game a little more, and look for Bradford to take more 5-step drops this game than in Week 1.
3. Who will be getting the first-team reps at wide receiver:
In Week 1 we saw mixed results from our crowded wide receiving corps. Steve Smith and Austin Pettis looked good on the outside, catching a couple of balls from Bradford in the opening drives. Kendricks had a big catch over the middle, ending with him stiff arming a would-be tackler to the ground before being wrestled down. Givens showed off his speed, streaking up the middle and was targeted with a couple of poorly thrown deep passes, but there has never been a category for “almost” receptions. Who will stand out this week? Brian Quick dominated practice this week, exhibiting the skills that made the Rams jump on him so early in the draft. ”Wow, it looked like the lightbulb came on today for him,” Sam Bradford said following Thursday’s indoor practice. “He had a great practice, made a lot of tough catches in practice.” Coach Fisher was equally impressed jokingly claiming, “He thought he was back at App State in his indoor facility, I think, because that’s what he did at his workout. So maybe he’s an indoor guy.” Last week, Quick recorded only one catch in his underwhelming debute. Look for Quick to get some extra reps with the first team this week, and if those extra snaps translate into more catches. Jim Thomas (@jthom1) tweeted the Gibson was held out of 11-on-11 drill in their final practice and Danario Alexander is still sidelined with soft-tissue injuries, which could spell more playing time for some of the younger players. Alongside Quick, expect to see more of Pettis, Givens, and Salas. Ramlin’ Fan’s own, Brandon Folson, reported the new addition of Brandyn Harvey and Charles Gilbert to the roster, marking even more receivers to the watch-list for tonight’s game.
4. How will the Rams’ secondary look:
We all watched as NFL pundits around the league drooled over Andrew Luck’s performance last week. Regardless of your feelings on his first “pass” resulting in a touchdown, Luck made a number of good plays. Most notably, we watched his second touchdown pass fall effortless through blown Cover 2 coverage from Craig Dahl. Dahl saw a majority of the first team reps in Week 1 and throughout practice this week with Darian Stewart sidelined with, you guessed it, a soft tissue injury (hamstring). He is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis and could see some time on the field this week against the Chiefs. Also missing from the Colts game was Bradley Fletcher, held out due to a lingering rib injury. Unlike Stewart, do not expect to see Fletcher on the field until the season opener against Detroit. Also absent from the game, although not due to injury, was Matt Daniels, the UDFA out of Duke that received high praised from Fisher during OTAs earlier in the offseason. He saw some time the the second and third units, but look for him to get a shot with the first team, maybe towards the end of the 2nd Quarter. Negatives aside, we did see some good things from from Janoris Jenkins and Quintin Mikell. Jenkins showed off the skills that have had ESPN’s Adam Schefter exulting him as having “pro bowl potential.” Jenkins jumped the route on a quick out from Luck and almost saw the first pick-6 of his career, but, instead, watched the ball squeak through his fingers into the hands of the receiver. Look for Jenkins to continue to show flashes of this potential in this game, especially going against the struggling Matt Cassel.
5. Can the Rams continue their progression in stopping the run game:
The Rams allowed 116 yards on 32 rushes against the Colts, allowing a modest 3.6 yards per carry. This is a significant improvement over last year, where the Rams single handedly shot DeMarco Murray into Dallas Cowboys stardom with a franchise record 253 yards, including a 91 yard touchdown. Last week, the Chief’s Peyton Hillis destroyed the Cardinals in his limited playing time, with 4 carries for 41 yards. Add in Jamal Charles and we could be seeing one the elite running back duos for the 2012 season. Much like the Rams, the Chiefs offense will rely heavily on the run, so we will get a better glimpse at what our new defensive acquisitions can true do against the run. Look for James Laurinaitis to have more than a single tackle in this game!