We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.
INSIDE THE RAMS' OFFENSE
The Rams offense is called by a familiar face: Brian Schottenheimer, the former New York Jets offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer, who now runs the 28th-ranked offense in the league, moved to St. Louis after the Jets looked to go in a different direction offensively. Although he's in a different city now, Schottenheimer's offense hasn't changed a whole lot.
St. Louis has been utilizing a lot of 11 (1 back, 1 tight end) and 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends) personnel and utilizing both under center and shotgun snaps with quarterback Sam Bradford with a 45:55 run-pass ratio. Bradford is one of the league's most talented quarterback, but if you watched his footwork or perused his statistics, you'd never guess so.
Bradford possesses a strong and accurate arm that enables him to make throws all over the field. However, he has had a lot of issues stepping through his throws and transferring his weight, which has come as a result of the endless beating he's taken in the pocket because of his porous offensive line.
To offset the struggles of the offensive line and Bradford, Schottenheimer has integrated more three- and five-step drop-backs to get the ball out of his quarterback's hand quickly. A multitude of short passing concepts have been used with these drop-backs, such as All-Hitches, Slant/Flat and Schottenheimer's favorite, Double Slants, which often appears in the red zone, from 2x2 and 3x1 sets. Bradford is still taking a beating in the pocket however, despite Schottenheimer's tactics, which also include five and six (check-release from Steven Jackson) man protection.
When not passing the ball, the Rams are relying on veteran Steven Jackson and newcomer Daryl Richardson to do damage on the ground with the "inside" and "outside" zone concepts along with the "lead" concept.
INSIDE THE RAMS' DEFENSE
While the offense is struggling, the defense is having success. They are giving up 20 points per game, which ranks them ninth in the NFL. They are also one of the league's best in getting after the quarterback and possess a young and talented secondary that includes popular second-round pick Janoris Jenkins.
The 4-3 is the front seven of choice for the Rams and it is led by the very impressive front four, most notably defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Long is one of the league leaders in pass rush by constantly applying pressures and racking up 4 sacks thus far. He's a different kind of rusher than Robert Quinn, however, as Quinn is more of a speed rusher that will win on the outside, as evidenced by his 7 sacks this season.
Moreover, when faced with multiple receiver sets, the Rams' 4-3 personnel grouping changes to a 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 (nickel) personnel, with star veteran corner Cortland Finnegan moving to the slot position while rookie corners Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins man the outsides.
Both cornerbacks on the outsides are still learning their position and can sometimes have issues with technique or patience in letting routes develop, thus becoming too aggressive and getting beaten. They can be seen playing man or zone coverage when the Rams go to Cover-1 (Man-Free) or Cover 2 (a soft-2) or Cover 3 concepts.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Patriots run defense vs. Rams run offense - The Rams will likely to look to run the ball. They will want to lean on it if they can so it is easier for Bradford to throw the ball vertically, particularly off of play action. Because of that, the Patriots run defense will once again have to step up and shut the opposition down. It is vital to do because it not only makes the Rams one dimensional, forcing them to rely on their passing game but it will allow more chances for hits on Bradford and force them into third and long, which they have been very poor at executing this season.
Rams DEs vs. Patriots OTs - The Rams will line up their defensive ends wide and allow them to charge up-field, especially weak-side end Robert Quinn. As noted earlier, Quinn is very dangerous off the edge because of his speed, but he also has very good flexibility and can flatten around the edge. He will be a tough task for Nate Solder. On the other side, Chris Long is relentless, a strong and very smart pass rusher who will surely work all 60 minutes.
Rams vertical passing - Whether its Chris Givens or Brian Quick, St. Louis will try to throw the ball vertically. They’ve had many explosive plays vertically this season and they've come in different ways. Givens has taken a screen to the house and caught a vertical pass while Quick has been targeted (sometimes with little success) off of play action.
Rams' A-gap pressure and illusion - The Patriots interior offensive linemen are going to have to come up big in identifying when the Rams are blitzing or not because they will most certainly see various looks of interior pressure. The Rams have had some success using A-gap linebacker pressure ("Cross-Dogs") and showing the illusion of it, both of which are very difficult to deal with. Both create one on one matchups for the defensive ends on the outsides because of the interior offensive linemen occupied with protecting their quarterback up the middle.
Rams bracket coverage - One of the things I noticed while studying Rams tape is that they rotate their safeties at the snap to get into their desired coverage. By doing this, they don't tip-off their intentions before the snap. When they rotate their safeties, to Cover 1 (Man-Free) for instance, the strong safety coming downhill will form one half of bracket (double) coverage on a slot receiver while a linebacker forms the other half. Combined, the safety and linebacker end up creating an inside-out double coverage on the receiver. The Rams did this against the Packers, using it against tight end Jermichael Finley and slot receiver Randall Cobb. We may or may not see it again, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for.