Key Matchups: St Louis Rams at San Diego Chargers


Week 12 of the NFL season sees the St Louis Rams take the long trip out west to face the 6-4 San Diego Chargers who have suffered only one of their four defeats at Qualcomm Stadium. However, when you consider that San Diego are 2-3 in their last five and with both of those victories coming against a pretty poor Oakland Raiders team, it is arguable that Mike McCoy’s men are somewhat flattered by their overall record. The Rams will be confident, having been one defensive mix-up away from a complete shut-out of Peyton Manning and the Broncos last weekend. If St Louis are to leave California with a second consecutive win against the AFC West they will need to come out on top of the following key one-on-one matchups.

Kenny Britt vs Eric Weddle

Currently the leading tackler in San Diego’s 8th ranked defence, Weddle is currently the highest graded player on the entire Chargers roster according to Pro Football Focus at +15.9. Weddle has missed only three tackles this season (tied for 8th among 83 safeties in the league) and the number of yards after catch he allows has been in single figures in all but two fixtures so far. On the opposite side of the ball will be the Rams’ Kenny Britt, who last week looked like a true number one wide receiver with four receptions for 128 yards, including the 63-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter. When Brian Quick went down in week 8, many predicted then starting quarterback Austin Davis would rely heavily on Britt as his preferred receiver. Not so – through weeks 9 and 10 Britt was targeted a total of 9 times (16% of Davis’ passes thrown), compared to seven (24% of Hill’s passes) in week 11 alone. While Jared Cook remains the Rams leading receiver, Britt is only 22 yards off the pace and will be expected to overtake the tight end sooner rather than later if Shaun Hill continues as he did last week. Whoever gets the best of the Britt / Weddle matchup will go a long way to determining whether the Rams are able to make big gains on offence.

Aaron Donald vs Chris Watt

Having moved from guard to center due to a season-ending injury to starter Doug Legursky, rookie Chris Watt is reported to have performed well on the Chargers offensive line. Drafted in the third round at number 89 overall, Watt appears to have the sort of versatility coaches love, allowing him to change roles along the line when required to do so. Despite a negative grading of -2.8 on PFF, Watt still scores higher than any other Chargers offensive lineman, allowing only one sack on Philip Rivers so far. Hoping to make a big impact in that particular column will be another product of the 2014 draft class, Aaron Donald. Second only to Robert Quinn in the Rams’ sack count and a top candidate for defensive rookie of the year, Donald has firmly cemented his place on the defensive line. Will Watt continue to make the San Diego center position his own and keep Donald in check, or will the Rams defensive tackle give Watt a day to forget? We will find out on Sunday.

Tre Mason vs Jarret Johnson

On the subject of impressive rookies, the Rams’ Tre Mason has comfortably overtaken Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham to earn himself the starting position at running back. With St Louis schedule getting generally less daunting on paper over the remaining fixtures, it is difficult to imagine that last week’s 113-yard performance will be the last time Mason reaches three figures this season. It is worth pointing out that San Diego’s defence against the run (11th in the league) is poorer than their overall position of 8th. The Chargers’ highest graded run stopper on Pro Football Focus is linebacker Jarret Johnson, currently at +5.9, comfortably ahead of any of his colleagues on the defensive line. Averaging 4.2 yards per carry, Mason has already demonstrated a consistent ability to spot a gap, break through the line and get to the second level. It is at this point that the key battle will take place and the Chargers will look to Johnson to prevent Mason from getting any further. While Shaun Hill looked more reliable than Austin Davis in the passing game last week in terms of decision-making and not turning the ball over, it is likely the Rams will still look to Mason to play a big role this weekend. If Mason can get past Johnson and keep the first down count ticking over, St Louis should be able to get into scoring positions more often than not.