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Friday, November 26, 2004

Game Preview: Rams @ Packers

by Thomas Pyc
PackerChatters Staff

The recent history of the games between the Packers (6-4) and Rams (5-5) has gone in favor of St. Louis. Those two matchups took place on an artificial surface in St. Louis and as most Packer fans know, domes and turf are not an ideal setting for Green Bay victories. This Monday night, however, Lambeau field and its all natural surface will play host to the Rams and their fans. Packer nation has already started to smile.

There are still remnants of the team once known as the Greatest Show on Turf but certain ingredients of that Super Bowl team have departed. The coach (Dick Vermeil), the quarterback (Kurt Warner) and a significant amount of the defense have moved on to other teams. Fortunately for the Rams a dynamic group of receivers, a solid running game and an aggressive playcalling coach have allowed the team to remain competitive this season.

Both teams are built to be successful in their respective venues. The St. Louis show relies on agility and speed to score points and keep the opponent guessing. In contrast, the Packers have been put together and coached to run the ball down the opponent’s throat while thermometers across the nation drop. A cold weather kicker and a durable quarterback are only a few more key elements to the Green Bay scheme that allow the team to thrive as the season gets into the last few months. With these contrasting builds and styles of each team something is bound to give.

The Rams’ offense vs. the Packers’ defense

Rams’ coach Mike Martz designs the entire offense and calls all the plays. This unit currently ranks 6th in yards and 11th in points, a little bit off from previous seasons but dangerous nonetheless. The strength of the St. Louis offense is at the receiver position where Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are a threat to score at any moment. Both are fast with great hands and possess the ability to make acrobatic catches look easy. The backfield used to be all Marshall Faulk’s but he is now splitting time with rookie Steven Jackson. The weakness of this unit can be found up front in the offensive line. The Rams are trying to get by with third stringers and both left guard and right tackle. Rams’ quarterback, Marc Bulger, has cut down on his bad throws recently and has show toughness while in the pocket.

There’s a good chance that Bulger’s toughness will be tested again this Monday because the Packers’ defensive line has started to pick up the pace over the team’s five game win streak by registering 13 sacks during that time span. Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has 4 sacks over the last three games but KGB plays predominantly in front of the left tackle and this week it is a mountain otherwise known as Orlando Pace (6-7, 325). KGB has the speed to get around Pace but he might be exploited in the running game. Last week the Texans tried to go after Al Harris and the Packer secondary but Harris stayed solid in his technique and played a solid game. To the surprise of most Packer fans, the Texans did not go after rookie cornerback Ahmad Carroll as much as previous teams. Ahmad should not expect the same type of behavior out of Martz’s offense.

The advantage of this matchup falls to the Rams due to history and ability at the key positions. But the Packers defense (19th in yards) finally has some players showing signs of life, particularly defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt and weakside linebacker Na’il Diggs. If the natural surface at Lambeau field can slow down the Rams’ offense the Packers should be able to take advantage of weak links up front and present problems for Mike Martz and company.

The Packers’ offense vs. the Rams’ defense

On one miserable afternoon Brett Favre managed to throw a record amount of interceptions against St. Louis in the playoffs. The Rams used a defensive scheme that did not involve pressure but patience. The defensive line of the Rams would attempt to sit back in the passing lanes and try to tip the passes that Favre was delivering. The plan was brilliant as six interceptions were thrown and the Rams came out of the contest victorious. This time the Rams’ defense (28th in yards allowed, 27th in points) is going to have to come up with a similar innovative approach to overcome this unit’s deficiencies. Defensive end Leonard Little is the teams best pass rusher but without a significant compliment on the rest of the line it is tough for him to get significant pressure for an entire game. The linebackers and the secondary for the Rams are both subpar units and have played better on their home turf. But the defensive unit might have an inside track on that previously mentioned innovative approach due to the recent signing of former Packer safety and cornerback Antuan Edwards. Edwards was released from Miami a few weeks back after being drafted in the first round by Green Bay. It would not be too far fetched to expect the Rams’ coaching staff to try and get every piece of information out of Edwards as possible before Monday night.

Currently there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Packers rushing attack which the offense (3rd in yards) has thrived on over the past few seasons. Running backs Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Nick Luchey are all hampered by injuries but none of them have been ruled out for Monday night. Not to fear Packer fans, because the three time MVP is still the heart and soul of the Packer offense and he showed that he still can carry this team when needed last week in Houston. Favre and his receiving corps have to be licking their chops at the Rams’ secondary which is a little banged up and contains two cornerbacks that stand just under 5-10. Wide receiver Javon Walker should be able to exploit the size of the Rams’ secondary but if St. Louis decides to double and triple team Walker, Favre should not have a problem finding other opportunities. Despite only putting 16 points on the board last Sunday the Packers should not have a problem returning to their previous scoring marks of 38, 41, 28, and 34 points during their current winning streaks.

The advantage of this matchup definitely falls in favor of the Packers despite having some injuries in the backfield. Whether its Ahman Green, Tony Fischer, Najeh Davenport or recently signed James Jackson behind the Packers stellar offensive line the running attack should still be potent enough to keep the Rams honest and prevent them from focusing solely on the Favre and the receivers.

Key Matchups

Ahmad Carroll vs. Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce – While Al Harris continues to disprove skeptics with his outstanding technique-driven style of shutdown, it will be up to Ahmad Carroll to avoid being over exposed in the passing game. As a rookie, Carroll is going to get picked on and a few letdowns are expected but the Packers cannot afford to let his experience keep the Rams in the game.

The Rams’ Offensive Line vs. The Packers Defensive Line –
With KGB starting to turn it on, the Rams will have to pay him extra attention. So with two third stringers and the man to man matchup KGB’s attention will create for the other linemen, someone will have to step up and take advantage of the opportunity.

The Packers’ rushing attack vs. the Rams’ defense – In order to maintain the balanced threat that the Packers offense thrives off of, they need to prove that they can run the ball with whomever is the recepient of the handoff.

The Bottom Line

I do not like to make outright predictions in this day and age of parity in the NFL, but with momentum on the Packers’ side as well as the bitter taste that they have from the previous two matchups, Green Bay should dominate this game.

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