by Kent Sterling
The St. Louis Rams appear to be a typically mediocre team. Since 2004, the level of misery they have heaped upon the fans of that river town is beyond measure. The worst five-year run (15-65) in the history of the NFL was followed by 2012’s 7-8-1 effort, and they appeared to be a team on the come.
Not quite. The Rams are 3-6, and appear to be in line for yet another top ten spot in the NFL Draft. In fact, with the Washington Redskins 3-6 record after last night’s collapse against the Vikings, the Rams could have two top ten picks.
Rolling into Indianapolis this weekend buried in the midst of a three-game losing streak, the youngest team in the NFL is still trying to figure out who and what it is.
Losing franchise quarterback Sam Bradford to a torn ACL in Carolina three weeks ago hasn’t helped matters, but the Rams were flawed before that. Bradford has been a disappointment, and while Kellen Clemens isn’t very good at holding on to the ball, the chasm in talent between Bradford and Clemens is not exactly like what the Colts saw in Dan Orlofsky when Peyton Manning sat out the 2011 season.
But don’t sleep on the Rams. There is a lot of talent on the field, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Third-year defensive end Robert Quinn is an edge rushing beast, Janoris Jenkins is capable of making plays (last year, he scored four touchdowns on interception returns – only one from tying for overall team lead in TDs), and OLB Alec Ogletree is learning on the job while making both great and terrible plays.
This is not the walkover Colts fans see. Given their first half gauntlet, it would be nice to have a game to enjoy as a no-sweat contest, but they will have to wait for the season ender against the truly brutal Jacksonville Jaguars for a walkover.
Here are the five things the Colts need to do to leave Lucas Oil Stadium 7-2:
The Colts must help left tackle Anthony Castonzo keep Quinn from getting to Andrew Luck. Quinn has the second highest grade in the NFL on profootballfocus.com for defensive players, behind J.J. Watt. Colts fans will remember Dwight Freeney as a young man getting the corner against Ravens LT Jonathan Ogden. That is exactly what’s possible Sunday. Quinn can get rolling and cause Freeney-esque havoc.
Take a lead and keep it. That seems a pretty elementary way to win a game, but if somehow the Rams get a lead and the Colts are forced to throw, the Rams talented pass rush will be unleashed, and that will not be a good thing for Andrew Luck.
Stop Zac Stacy. The fifth round pick out of Vanderbilt has been very productive the last two weeks, running for 134 and 127 yards. He’s not quite as thick as Trent Richardson, but he’s quicker to the hole. The Colts run defense is ranked 27th, so expect the Rams game plan to include a whole lot of Stacy. If the Rams are forced to turn the game over to Clemens, the Colts will have turnover opportunities. In 14 career starts, Clemens has thrown 15 picks, and fumbled 14 times – four in two starts this year alone.
Control Tavon Austin on punt returns. Austin appears to have some pedestrian numbers as a returner (26 for 123, averaging 4.7 yards), but a couple he has broken have come back because of penalties. He’s explosive and can cause mayhem if not respected. The Colts won’t want to rely upon sledgehammer/punter Pat McAfee to stop Austin.
Attack Cortland Finnegan and the safeties. The Rams weakness on defense is is in the secondary. Finnegan is either dinged up or feeling the effects of a career filled with launching himself at ball carriers. Whatever the cause, he’s not playing well. How bad are the safeties? Former Colt Matt Giordano has gotten two starts back there. There was a reason the Colts let him walk. They still exist.
The Rams are really young, athletic, and undisciplined. They tend to err at exactly the wrong time, and they aren’t very good in the red zone. In just over 2 1/2 games, Clemens is 4-10 for 24 yards, and one touchdown. On the ground, the Rams have a total of two TDs – both came last Sunday against the Titans.
No, the Rams aren’t very good, and the Colts should win, but at some point the switch will flip for the Rams, and they are going to find themselves. It’s unlikely to come this week, but when it does, the Rams are going to start winning games in bunches for Jeff Fisher.
Colts fans will recall that a cornered Jeff Fisher is a dangerous Jeff Fisher. A loss virtually assures another unsuccessful season in St. Louis, so expect the unexpected.
The Colts are favored by 9 1/2. I’ll take the Rams to cover but lose. Colts win 20-13.