ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Thursday at 6 p.m. the Rams will take the field for the final time in exhibition play when the Ravens come to town. Usually these games are filled with a lot of emotion because it’s the last chance for a lot of guys to show the coaches they deserve to be on the final 53-man roster.
It’s the difference between having a job in the NFL and not having one. And I don’t have to tell you the financial implications of such a thing.
Jeff Fisher said he plans on having the starters play the entire 1st half and, possibly, into the 3rd quarter. This will give them a feel of getting on the field more extensively...much like a starting pitcher in baseball who begins spring training throwing only 40 pitches and works his way up to 100.
Having said that, here are the key areas to keep and eye on Thursday as the Rams work their way towards their first regular season opponent, Detroit, on September 9th.
Offensive Line protection
I really hate to sound repetitive. Nothing bugs me more than just harping on the same thing over and over and over and over and over again. But sometimes, you just have to because the topic in question is that critical. In the Rams’ case, the offensive line indirectly could determine the success or failure of this season. This is a quarterback’s league. You either have one or you don’t. We’ll get to Sam Bradford in a bit, but it doesn’t matter how well or poorly he plays if he’s getting knocked on his back two seconds after the ball is snapped. Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have already given up on 2009 1st round pick Jason Smith by jettisoning him to New York for another disappointing tackle in Wayne Hunter. Don’t think for a second that Barry Richardson played so well in training camp that he stole the starting right tackle job away from Smith. On the contrary, he won it by default because Smith struggled so much. Throw in the fact this team didn’t address the offensive line in the offseason except for signing center Scott Wells and you’ve got largely the same group you had last year. Thursday night, the Ravens are going to treat things like a regular season game for a bit as they get ready for their first real game. This will be a good test for the Rams O-Line in trying to keep Bradford on his feet, therefore giving him the optimal chance at success.
Having said all of that above, it’s time for Bradford to stand a little taller in the pocket and not be as gun shy as he’s shown recently. I know full well it’s impossible to put yourself in his position. One where it’s gotten to the point that he probably just expects to get hit every time he drops back to pass. However, Bradford knew what he was signing up for when he decided to play quarterback in the NFL. QB’s get hit. It happens. Defenses predicate an entire game plan around hitting the quarterback and making him jumpy. If they succeed, that’s when you turn into Marc Bulger and throw everything off your back foot because it’s just a habit. Bradford cannot let defenses succeed in that. He’s got to show toughness to the point where it doesn’t matter how many times he gets knocked down, he’s able to get right back up in that pocket on the next play and deliver a strike. The offensive line plays a large role in this, sure, but Bradford has to take equal responsibility.
Secondary learning from mistakes
Last Saturday’s game against the Cowboys was about as bad as it gets for a secondary. I mean, c’mon. 198 yards passing for Tony Romo. In the 1st quarter! Janoris Jenkins and company got beat repeatedly down the field. And the fact they missed tackles, too, just made things even worse. I asked Jeff Fisher the other day how those guys back there were going to respond and he said they just had to have a short memory. Sounds a lot like a relief pitcher in baseball who has a bad outing and has to forget about it the next day. It makes sense. You can’t let one game’s failures carry over to the next one. But it’s easier said than done. You don’t think the Ravens saw what the Cowboys did to the Rams? You don’t think, if they were really trying to win this game, they wouldn’t go right back to that same strategy? Okay, let’s say they don’t because it’s just a preseason game. You don’t think the Lions saw what the Cowboys did? Because they’ll definitely attack the Rams’ secondary down the field. And they’ll do it with the best wide receiver in football, Calvin Johnson, on September 9th. Janoris Jenkins told me a lot of the problems in Dallas were the result of miscommunication...something that’s easily fixable. We’ll see soon enough how fixable they really are. Because they’ll be tested deep again. It’s only a matter of time.