When the St. Louis Rams last took the field against the Indianapolis Colts, we listed off four “key” matchups that would likely determine the overall outcome of the game. Not-so-coincidentally, the Rams “won” three of those major battles, and ultimately ended up winning the war against the Colts, blowing out one of the top AFC teams by 30 points. While football is still the “ultimate team sport,” there is a reason that some players make exponentially more than some of their counterparts.
This Sunday, there will only be a handful of “game changers” on the field for both teams, especially with both the Rams and Bears banking on their backup quarterbacks to pull out the victory. So, where are the key matchups on the field this weekend, and who has the advantage?
Robert Quinn vs. Jermon Bushrod
Bushrod made a name for himself in New Orleans, passing blocking for Drew Brees in the Saints’ high-flying offense. However, the former fourth-rounder has always struggled against speed rushers in the NFL, especially those who possess quickness and the ability to bull rush on the outside. In fact, that concern forced many to suggest that he would be better suited as an interior lineman or right tackle coming out of college, especially being somewhat “undersized” for a left tackle in the NFL.
Quinn and Bushrod have faced off against each other before, back in Week 8 of the 2011-2012 season. Robert Quinn registered 1 sacks, 2 hits on the quarterback, and 2 hurried throws… and that was in his rookie season as a non-starting, rotational defensive end.
Fast forward to today, and Robert Quinn is the top rated 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, with 12 sacks, 44 other quarterback pressures, and 28 defensive stops on the season. Meanwhile, Jermon Bushrod is ranked 62nd out of 76 offensive tackles in pass blocking this season, and sports one of the lowing pass blocking efficiency figures in the NFL. Not surprising, his best games have come against the non-existent Giants’ and Packers’ pass rushes. If he cannot stop Robert Quinn, Josh McCown is going to be seeing a lot of No.94 on Sunday.
Advantage: St. Louis Rams
Brandon Marshall vs. Janoris Jenkins and/or Trumaine Johnson
Last year, Janoris Jenkins was a monster against Brandon Marshall in coverage, allowing only one catch on three targets for a mere nine receiving yards. Consequently, Marshall would end the day with 71 yards on nine targets with no touchdowns. However, this season, the Bears’ lone offensive star is ranked No.1 among wide receivers in the NFL, albeit with the majority of his “highlight” performances coming against the less-than-stellar secondaries in Detroit, Green Bay, New York, and Minnesota. Based on how Tim Walton has schemed so far this season, both Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson will likely attempt to handle Marshall in coverage, with Johnson seeing the bulk of the time in man-to-man coverage (if possible). Against the Houston Texans, Johnson was the “main man” against Andre Johnson, and allowed only one catch for 11 yards against the currently No.2 ranked wide receiver.
Brandon Marshall will likely have the “advantage” over either cornerback on any given play. However, with a “backup” throwing the football and two defensive ends likely to be living in the backfield on Sunday, Marshall may not be able to get much going on Sunday.
Advantage: Chicago Bears
Zac Stacy vs. Chicago Bears’ Run Defense
The common thread in the Rams “success” since Week 5 has been the running ability of Zac Stacy. Moreover, since the injury to Sam Bradford, the entire offensive gameplan has essentially been throw on the massive shoulders of Stacy, averaging 26 carries per game since Kellen Clemens took over under center. So far, his worst statistical game of the season came against the Indianapolis Colts, where he still manage 68 yards from scrimmage and scored as many touchdowns as the entire Colts’ offense. Not bad…
Meanwhile, the Bears’ defense has been atrocious against the run this season, allowing the 3rd-most total rushing yards, 6th-highest yards per carry average, and the 5th-most rushing touchdowns this season. To make matters worse, LB Lance Briggs has been ruled out for the game on Sunday and DT Stephen Paea didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday of this week. If Zac Stacy can run the ball with ease, Brian Schottenheimer has shown that he is more than willing to take the ball out of the hands of Kellen Clemens. The only way to beat this “new,” Bradford-less Rams’ team is to force turnovers, which are significantly less likely if Clemens is handing the ball off instead of throwing it.
Advantage: St. Louis Rams
Rams’ Special Teams vs. Bears’ Special Teams
In both “blowout” wins this season, the St. Louis Rams have made some big plays on special teams. Against the Houston Texans, the kickoff team put the “nail in the coffin,” forcing a fumble and returning it for a touchdown. Two weeks ago, against the Colts, Tavon Austin took over the game, returning a punt 98-yards for a touchdown. This week, it will be Devin Hester vs. Tavon Austin in the return game.
However, this one might be more about the punters and kickers than anything else. Despite booting 53 punts this season, Johnny Hekker and the punting unit have allowed on 73 total return yards this season, easily leading the NFL with 3.17 average allowed yards per punt return. Robbie Gould and Greg Zuerlein are pretty much “on-par” in terms of their field goal kicking, but there is no question that Zuerlein has the stronger leg. As a result, 46.4% of Gould’s kickoffs have been returned this season, compared to only 36.7% for Zuerlein. Moreover, the Bears’ are one of the few teams have that allowed a kick return touchdown this season, which may be good news for Tavon Austin and the St. Louis Rams.
Advantage: St. Louis Rams