1. Battling Brady
New England QB Tom Brady remains one of the best in the league and will almost certainly go down as one of the best to ever play.
This season, his numbers are still outstanding but below the video game like performance he put on in 2011.
Teams have long since given up on trying to put the clamps on Brady, knowing full well that the best they can do is limit his damage. To do that, the Rams will have to generate a pass rush on the strength of their front four.
Brady shreds teams that consistently blitz and the Rams have not been a blitz heavy team most of the season.
That means the onus falls on ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long and their cohorts to get to Brady and force him to throw under duress. Even then, it’s likely he’ll still post some strong numbers but if they can at least keep the touchdown totals down, it will give the Rams a chance.
“He’s one of the centerpieces of their team, a future Hall of Famer,” Quinn said. “You can’t completely stop him but if we can slow him down and give our offense as many opportunities as possible to stay on the field and score points, I think we can have a good day out there.”
2. Dynamic Duo
A big part of Brady’s success is the two-headed tight end monster the Patriots have in the form of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Gronkowski is the big, strong, powerful force of nature that has been nearly unstoppable in the red zone since he came into the league two years ago. Hernandez is the fast, versatile type of tight end that has almost become a hybrid of tight end, receiver, fullback and even running back.
The Rams have done a solid job for the most part against tight ends this year but no team can match the combination the Patriots put forth. Hernandez has battled an ankle injury for most of the season and missed some practice time this week and he has actually been ruled out for this game, a big break for the Rams.
Meanwhile, the job of slowing Gronkowski and making New England make plays on the boundary falls to a group of linebackers and safeties that to this point has kept most tight ends in check.
Still, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will almost certainly look to get his tight ends involved early and often.
“They present a lot of matchup problems with their size and speed,” safetyQuintin Mikell said. “Hernandez basically plays receiver, he runs great routes, has very good speed and he’s a big guy that breaks a lot of tackles so he’s a huge threat. Then, of course, Gronk is huge and he’s fast in his own right. They create some things but we are going to do some different things and move around and basically play our game and hopefully we can minimize the big plays.”
3. Turnover Turnaround
At the beginning of the season, the Rams defense feasted on opposing quarterbacks by generating turnovers upon turnovers, namely interceptions.
But lately, the takeaway well has gone dry and the Rams have not had a single turnover go their way in the past two games. It’s no coincidence they’ve lost each of those contests as they haven’t won the turnover battle.
New England doesn’t have much of a penchant for giving the ball away but the best way to slow Brady and Co. is to limit the number of possessions they get. The best way to do that is via the turnover.
While the Rams have grabbed their share of interceptions, they do have a statistical anomaly that figures to shift their way eventually: fumbles. The Rams have only forced one fumble all season, that’s forced, not just recovered.
“It’s a little weird,” Mikell said. “That’s never really happened before that I can remember. It is like that sometimes, I can remember teams where we didn’t get any picks and all of a sudden we popped up with a whole bunch. Fumbles have always been there but this is the first time experiencing that so hopefully that will change this week.”
Getting some takeaways and winning the turnover battle is always a priority but it’s even more important against an elite offense like New England.
Perhaps the area the Patriots have struggled the most this season is pass defense as they just haven’t been able to find the right mix in the secondary despite spending plenty of high draft choices on defensive backs.
What that group does do well, though, can make things awfully difficult on a quarterback who might look into the secondary and think there are some openings.
“They’re good at holding disguises,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “They don’t blitz a lot but what they do well is the guys on the back end hold things. They are not going to tip their hand before the snap. Part of my job this week is going to be seeing things after the snap, see what they are doing because they are good at disguising what they do.”
In other words, Bradford has to be able to go through his progressions and be willing to take a check down if it’s there. The temptation against a New England secondary that has struggled is to force the ball down the field. Those shots will be there but Bradford will have to choose his spots wisely in order for the Rams offense to succeed in keeping the Patriots potent offense off the field.
5. On the Run
While the Patriots have found themselves susceptible to the pass this season, they’ve also established a pretty dominant front seven that makes it difficult for opponents to run the ball against them.
Monster defensive tackle Vince Wilfork leads the charge for a group that is eighth in the league in run defense, allowing 86 yards per contest. With the likes of Wilfork taking on blockers and linebacker Jerod Mayo, the league’s leading tackle so far, cleaning up behind him, the Patriots are actually tied for second in fewest yards allowed per rushing attempt at just 3.3.
The Rams have already proved that a dominant statistical performance heading into their games by a run defense doesn’t mean they’ll shy away from pounding away in the run game.
Backs Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson have formed a strong one-two punch and had great success against a stout Miami run defense that was first in the league in run defense before meeting the Rams.
Still, it will be a challenge for Jackson and his running mates to find space against the Patriots oversized front.
“They have a very impressive front seven, led by Vince Wilfork, of course,” Jackson said. “I think their front seven is very stout. They do a good job of two-gapping. It makes it really hard on running backs to get a clean read on what they want to do. Their linebackers do a very good job of disengaging blockers once they make contact with a fullback or offensive lineman. The thing is for me to trust my eyes and just be really aggressive.”
LONDON – Strolling through a sporting goods store near Walt Disney World in Orlando in 1995, 8-year old Paul Clarke decided he wanted to buy a hat.The young Clarke didn’t have a preference on the team represented on the hat and eventually opted for the one that had the design he liked best. The cap was one of the newly minted St. Louis Rams, soon after the team had relocated from Los Angeles.
Upon returning home to Oxford, England, Clarke started paying more attention to the NFL within the next couple of years. When he decided he wanted to devote his loyalties to a NFL team, the choice was literally right on top of his head.
“I figured I had a Rams hat, might as well support them,” Clarke said. “I supported them and then they won the Super Bowl which was great and I got into it more and more, especially in the last eight years, I follow the draft, look at the players, research who they are, I know every player on the roster.”
On Saturday afternoon in historic Trafalgar Square, Clarke was joined by many of his international Rams fan brethren for the league’s NFL Fan Rally. The Rams, including coach Jeff Fisher and players such as quarterbackSam Bradford, running back Steven Jackson, receiverDanny Amendola, guard Harvey Dahl, end Chris Long, linebackerJames Laurinaitis, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, linebackerMario Haggan and fullback Brit Miller took to the stage, answered questions and basked in the admiration of a group of Rams fans here that had waited a long time to see their favorite team up close.
Clarke lined up at around 10 a.m., waiting in two separate hour-long lines to claim his spot in the first row in front of the stage. But he was far from the only devoted Rams fan in the crowd on Saturday morning and attending Sunday’s game against the Patriots at Wembley Stadium.
Daniel Whale, of Greenwich, which is in the southeast part of London, made the trip to get a look at the team he’s been following since the 2004 season, which is actually the last time the Rams went to the postseason.
Whale became a fan of the Rams in a quite unconventional way.
“I couldn’t find my television remote at the time but the television was on Seahawks and Rams so I found myself a bit interested in it,” Whale said. “I wasn’t much into the sport at the time but I liked the athleticism and the plays they would come up with. The Rams went on to win that game and then play Atlanta. After the win, I thought “I’m going to see where this goes.’ They didn’t pull through but it was fun so I’ve been a Rams fan ever since then.”
Pete Mackley, of Southampton in London, had a much simpler explanation for how he quite literally got hooked on the blue and gold.
“Years ago American football became big at our school in 88, 89, and we all chose our teams,” Mackley said. “I chose the Rams about 23 years ago. I loved the kit (uniform) and Eric Dickerson.”
Of course, international Rams fans here to see their team this weekend aren’t limited to just natives of Great Britain. With the Rams playing abroad for the first time since the start of the International Series, the opportunity is there for fans all over Europe to make a much shorter trip to see their team.
Quentin Jansen, of the Netherlands, hopped on a train and rode the four hours to town for the weekend and found himself thrilled at the chance to see favorites such as Bradford and Amendola.
Even in the Netherlands, Zuerlein-mania has taken hold.
“They had a certain appeal to me,” Jansen said. “I like Sam Bradford obviously, Danny Amendola as well and Greg the Leg, of course kicking 60-yard field goals. I have a good feeling (about the game). I’m sure that Greg will kick a game-winning and record-breaking field goal.”
For Reme Leemner, who traveled from Germany and arrived at the rally wearing a blue and white Kurt Warner jersey, his Rams fandom traces quite simply to the heyday of Warner and his band of play making brothers in the Greatest Show on Turf.
Leemner believes that having the Rams playing in nearby London provides a great opportunity for all international Rams fans to show what they’ve got.
“It’s very good,” Leemner said. “I think it’s a good opportunity to show that there are a lot of us fans outside of the USA and UK like for me in Germany to see the Rams live in a game.”
With Rams fans from all over the world showing up on Saturday morning, it was also important to note the presence of the devoted and loyal fans from back in St. Louis, fans such as long time season ticket holders Chris and Meg Brooks.
The Brooks’ arrived in London on Friday and went to visit some local sites, specifically some of the sites from the Olympic games. They make it a point to travel to an away game each season and though London was the obvious choice this year, Chris Brooks made it a point to emphasize that he and his wife don’t miss home games.
“We have season tickets and we’ve never missed a home game,” Brooks said. “And this is a home game so we had to come.”
As for their fellow Rams fans here and other countries abroad, following the Rams from afar is a labor of love that has gotten a bit easier over the years. Many of them cited the advancement of social media where they can follow the Rams, their players and the media covering them via Twitter and Facebook.
All of the foreign Rams fans also mentioned the advancement of the television packages available in Europe, which allows them to watch every game live after purchasing special sports packages.
And with a general lack of media coverage of American football in general, all of them use the Internet to keep up with the team as much as possible.
“I can now see all the games and obviously things like the articles and videos posted on stlouisrams.com and training updates and press conferences, it’s a lot easier,” Clarke said. “I don’t miss anything really even being so far away.” (Editor’s Note: Flattery will get you everywhere)
On Sunday, for the first time, die hard fans such as Clarke, Leemner, Mackley, Jansen and Whale will get their chance to see their favorite team play live and in person. It’s an experience many years in the making, one that maybe fans in the States could take for granted.
Judging by their enthusiasm on Saturday afternoon, Sunday will be a very special day not only for the players on the field but those cheering them on in the stands.
“I have waited 23 years to see them live,” Mackley said. “It’s going to be a big, big day for me and I am real excited. I have been to London a few times to watch the games and I was thinking ‘maybe one day,’ and when I heard the news last year, I thought that’s it. I’m a happy man.”
Rams Look to Make Statement in London
Posted Oct 26, 2012
Nick WagonerSenior Writer
LONDON – Aside from all of the hoopla and possible distractions that go with playing a game abroad, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and his team see Sunday’s matchup against the Patriots as much more than a chance to grow the game and the Rams brand internationally.
First and foremost, Fisher wants fans all over the world to see something about the organization that might not carry much cache because of its struggles in recent years.
“It’s an opportunity for us to spread the word I’d like to say that maybe the Rams are back,” Fisher said. “That was the thing that’s exciting for us. Now, of course we have to play well but the entire organization starting with Mr. Kroenke, our owner, Kevin Demoff and everybody is excited to be here.”
What Sunday’s kickoff at Wembley Stadium here in London exemplifies is a chance for the Rams to take center stage and make a lasting impression on the NFL that they are no longer a pushover on the schedule.
Considering the setup: playing in front of a huge crowd in one of the world’s most well known stadiums against a New England Patriots team that is perhaps the best known American football team in the world and its cadre of stars, the Rams certainly have a golden opportunity to make a statement.
“Absolutely,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “It’s a big stage, big opportunity. Obviously, playing over here, it’s going to be broadcast all over the world and we are playing the Patriots, one of, if not the most well known team in the league. They’ve been one of the best for quite a while now so I think this is definitely a big opportunity for us.”
Entering the game at 3-4 and with a bye week coming up, the Rams also have a chance to get their record back to .500 before having a week off. Getting to 4-4 with a chance to get key players like receiver Danny Amendola and left tackle Rodger Saffold back from injury after the bye would put the Rams in prime position to make a run in the season’s second half.
To get there, though, the Rams will have to overcome a number of challenges that will make leaving London with a victory an extremely difficult task.
First and foremost, the Rams will have to ensure they don’t become distracted by the many non-football related activities and possibilities that being in a place like London can throw at them.
Fisher made it a point to bring his team across the pond early in the week so it would have time to adjust to the time change and recover from jet lag. On the same token, it also exposed his team to possible distractions for a longer period of time though that was minimized a bit by spending the first few days at The Grove Hotel, which is on the outskirts of town and somewhat isolated.
Although his team is full of young players still maturing and growing, Fisher had the utmost confidence that the positives of an early arrival would far outweigh any possible outside distractions.
“They know it’s business trip,” Fisher said. “They know the reason we’re here. There will be some time for them and there’s some things I think they are looking forward to doing but this is a young football team that knows how to prepare, knows how to practice and knows how to study and has their priorities in order.”
On the other side, New England coach Bill Belichick took the opposite approach. Comparing the trip across the ocean to a trip to the west coast, the Patriots didn’t leave the United States until Thursday night, arriving on Friday morning.
Rams safety Quintin Mikell thinks that could provide the Rams an early advantage but also is quick to point out that his team can’t think in terms of any leg up it might have from something as trivial as travel.
“I think it makes a big difference,” Mikell said. “Obviously we haven’t experienced it so coming over here a couple days early, the way we felt the first couple days is the way New England might feel when they get here. They’re going to feel a little sluggish. We’ve all still got to play the game but it’s a little added advantage for us. Of course, being here a little longer there are more distractions here for us but we have done a good job of minimizing that.”
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is also pleased to have already gotten past the jet lag and travel but isn’t so convinced it gives his team any kind of advantage. Instead, he believes a game like this comes down to far more basic football basics.
“There are different theories on it,” Laurinaitis said. “I think what it comes down to is who is going to be prepared better and just who makes more plays on Sunday. I think for us I am glad we came over early just going through the whole process and the airport travel and all that stuff, I’m glad we got that done and can put it behind us. So now that we are here, we are just focusing on football and we’ll see.”
A big part of that focus for the Rams is taking strides in the areas that have kept them out of the win column the past couple of weeks and the four times this year they have lost. That means creating more turnovers on defense and perhaps most important finishing drives with touchdowns instead of field goals.
In facing the high-octane Patriots offense led by quarterback Tom Brady, 3’s won’t get you very far. It’s something that Bradford has emphasized to his teammates all week.
“That’s our goal,” Bradford said. “Anytime we have the opportunity to score touchdowns this week, we have to. We can’t settle for field goals. That’s something that’s hurt us the past couple weeks. When you go up against an offense that’s as explosive as the Patriots, points come at a premium and we have to score as many as possible.”
Putting a finer point on it, running back Steven Jackson said it’s imperative to maximize each possession by moving the ball and keeping Brady and Co. on the sidelines. It’s cliché but in games such as this, the best defense can often be a good, grind it out offense.
“We’re going to have a very tough challenge on Sunday,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to make sure that we help our defense out and once we get into the red zone, we’ve got to put up touchdowns. We’ve got to take advantage of chewing up the clock, as well, because their offense can put up points at any given time. Particularly on offense, we’ve got to make sure that we carry our weight.”
It’s been a long time since the Rams have found themselves in a game in which they can take center stage. Earlier this season, they made a strong impression on the nation with a nationally televised Thursday night victory against Arizona at the Edward Jones Dome.
But Sunday’s contest will increase the brightness of the spotlight and give the Rams the chance to announce to the world that not only is their future chock full of potential but that maybe, just maybe the future is already here.
For the team’s longest tenured member, that opportunity has been almost a decade in the making.
“For the last nine seasons, I’ve taken great pride in being a St. Louis Ram,” Jackson said.
“There’s been a lot of history, particularly at the running back spot, that I’ve been able to carry on. I want to continue to do so. Now, we’re here outside of U.S. borders, and we want to show our fans globally what we’re building and what we’re doing in St. Louis.”
Nick Wagoner Senior Writer