I watched the Rams game against the Buccaneers to get an idea of what’s going on with them this year. Limited scoring on offense and a 0-3 record doesn’t jibe with all that talent on offense. Until you throw the injuries in, especially on the offensive line.
Rams offense vs. Cowboys defense
Before reviewing the Rams offense, you have to talk about their injuries. They’re missing Orlando Pace, Richie Incognito and now Mark Setterstrom off the offensive line. Their whole right side of the line is re-configured and they only have two of their projected starters left. Steven Jackson is out with a groin tear and Marc Bulger has broken ribs and a bruised knee. In other words, these guys are not the offensive machine we’re used to from St. Louis.
Against the Bucs, they ran the ball a lot. They wanted to protect Bulger from getting hit. When the Rams run the ball, they run it between the tackles. At least that’s what they did in this game with Steven Jackson. I’m not sure if the plan will be the same with rookie Brain Leonard starting in his place, I’m guessing it will. The offensive line is a power blocking, straight-ahead unit that doesn’t spend a lot of time pulling linemen and blocking down, they just go right at you. They also ran a lot of draws up the middle. It was a classic power-running game last week. They were fairly successful against the Bucs, but they never got any big plays out of the running game. They had to work hard for every yard. Without Jackson, the run game shouldn’t be as good this week. Although Leonard is a capable receiver out of the backfield and they will probably try to take advantage of that on short passes to supplement the running game.
Usually, you can count on the Rams to throw the ball and throw it deep. With Torry Holt and Issac Bruce along with Drew Bennett, the position is a strength. They also added TE Randy McMichael. The problem is Bulger is hurting and the line can’t protect him long enough for the receivers to get deep into their routes. The Rams abandoned the vertical passing game against the Bucs and relied on short and the occasional intermediate pass to help the running game. They threw 5 to 6 hitch and bubble screen passes to the WR’s, hit the backs out of the backfield, and every once in a while threw over 10 yards to Holt over the middle. Everything was 3-step drops, 5-steps at the max, and Bulger was getting rid of the ball quickly. He averaged 4.5 yards per attempt, that’s anemic. Unless they can figure out a way to protect Bulger and allow the receivers to get deeper into their patterns, the Cowboys should be able to defend them.
The defense needs to be sure tacklers so short passes like hitches don’t turn into 20-yard gains. The front seven probably wants to pinch down towards the middle until the Rams prove they can get outside in the run game. Most of all, they need to attack Marc Bulger and make his afternoon miserable. He’s not moving well, he’s already uncomfortable, go for the kill and hit him as many times as possible. He uncharacteristically threw three bad interceptions last week. His game is off.
Rams defense vs. Cowboys offense
Tampa Bay was able to run on the Rams defense. They had three different backs who took turns gaining yards and scoring touchdowns. The defense up front was a quick group, but they wore down and will probably have problems with the Cowboys huge line in the running game. The left side of the Rams defense was particularly vulnerable to the run and the Bucs exploited it. They ran the exact same run play twice to that side and scored two touchdowns on it.
In the passing game, they were actually getting a good bit of pressure on Jeff Garcia, but Garcia was doing a poor-man’s imitation of Romo back there, moving around in the pocket and then completing passes. As I watched the game I saw Romo back there doing those same things and making even better plays. They do have guys that can cause some trouble, Leonard Little was active in the backfield but they just couldn’t close the deal on Garcia. They are not an overly-aggressive defense and didn’t blitz all that often, but they did it effectively a few times. Tampa Bay didn’t throw the ball all that much in the game but was OK when doing it. Without the sacks and with Garcia extending plays, the secondary had problems in coverage.
The Rams are really struggling on offense right now. They’ll be without their main running back and will be depending on a rookie against a good Dallas run defense. Their offensive line is patchwork and their QB is hurting. Good tackling and an aggressive pass rush should do the trick for the Cowboys.
On offense, the Cowboys can stick with their regular game plan of establishing the run and using play-action passes off that to beat the secondary. Unless the line breaks down in pass protection, Romo should be able to make yards in the passing game.