Key Matchups: St Louis Rams vs Oakland Raiders


It’s probably not being too disrespectful to the Oakland Raiders to suggest that when the fixtures were confirmed for the 2014 season, the home tie against the Californian side was probably one of those the St Louis Rams would have considered a likely win. Regrettably, this win (if indeed it turns out to be that) will be too late to assist the Rams in a meaningful playoff push, however that is not to say that fans will not celebrate a good performance and a big win. As below-par as the Raiders have looked for much of this year, they do have some talent on the roster that St Louis will need to watch out for. For the Rams to claim a fifth victory of the season, here is this week’s selection of the key one-on-one matchups.

Darren McFadden vs Aaron Donald

One of Oakland’s biggest offensive threats, McFadden is one of only three running backs selected in the top ten overall in the last seven drafts, taken at number 4 in 2008. Oakland’s rushing attack ranks only 24th in the league, with the team having scored only four touchdowns on the ground all season so far, not helped by an offensive line which fairs poorly in run blocking with only center Stefen Wisniewski grading positively on Pro Football Focus in that particular category. McFadden is by far the most relied upon running back with 125 carries so far, compared to the next highest (veteran Maurice Jones-Drew) with 36 attempts. Despite the strength of the Rams defensive front St Louis still rank only 17th in the league against the run, giving up 115.8 yards per game and a total of rushing 10 touchdowns. Oakland will undoubtedly look to McFadden to keep heavily involved in the game, and Donald will be among those looking to prevent him getting down the field. The Rams rookie is currently the league’s second highest graded defensive tackle on Pro Football Focus at +25.7, and tied joint-first in the league for tackles-for-loss with 15. If Donald can remain effective against the run, McFadden will face a long and frustrating afternoon.

Tavon Austin vs Ray-Ray Armstrong

The Raiders linebacker is, of course, well known to Rams fans having joined the roster in St Louis in 2013 as a rookie undrafted free agent. Armstrong featured in all 16 sixteen games during the last campaign and continued in the early weeks of 2014, only to be cut after the week 5 defeat by the Eagles. Armstrong will arguably be the visiting player with the greatest motivation on Sunday, as he seeks to prove a point against his former team by helping his new franchise to what would be only their second victory of the year. Hoping to rub salt in Armstrong’s wounds will be Tavon Austin, who last week scored a belated first touchdown of a season that many hoped would see the second year receiver feature far more than has actually transpired. Austin has accumulated less than 300 combined yards on offense all season (175 passing and 120 on the ground), with a total of only 99 yards after the catch in the receiving column. For a receiver selected specifically for his breathtaking speed and his ability to sprint past opposing defenders, this last stat is particularly disappointing. That said, last week’s defeat to San Diego saw Austin with three carries, three catches and a long-awaited glimmer of hope that there is a small spark of creativity from Brian Schottenheimer in terms of how Austin is used. Ray-Ray Armstrong will be very aware of Austin’s speed and potential, as well as having a better understanding than most of his team-mates about how the Rams offense is put together. If Schottenheimer does have a few new tricks up his sleeve and puts Austin to good use, he has the pace to burn past Armstrong and add to his touchdown tally.

Derek Carr vs Robert Quinn

Though projected as a first-rounder prior to the 2014 NFL draft, Carr fell into the round two and was only the fourth quarterback selected this spring. Carr does rate higher than any of the three signal callers picked ahead of him – although this is not great claim when you see Carr has a current quarterback rating of just 76.7, listed 30th in the league ahead of Bridgewater (31st), Bortles (32rd) and Manziel (keeping the bench warm for Brian Hoyer). The receiving corps has not helped – Oakland has every single wide receiver and tight end with a negative grading on PFF. As above, the poor offensive line is also a big problem for the Raiders. Despite the lack of support around him, Carr has managed to rack up 14 touchdown passes this season, just one below Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Matthew Stafford all of whom are established quarterbacks of teams with an above .500 record this year. Leading the charge against Carr will again be Robert Quinn. At home against Carr and the Raiders, Quinn will be looking to snap his streak of 2 games without registering a sack. As the final series of the Chargers game demonstrated painfully, the Rams have not been anything like consistent enough in finishing drives, ranking 21st in the league with a little under 52% of red zone possessions being converted into touchdowns. The pressure is therefore on the defence from the start to pressurise the quarterback, get off the field and keep the target points total as low as possible for Shaun Hill. If Quinn finds top form on Sunday, he can do exactly that.