This weekend the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams travel across the Atlantic Ocean to face off in the NFL’s annual London game. The Rams arrived in London Tuesday morning with the Patriots staying back to use their own practice facilities. They’ll arrive in London Friday morning.
While the Rams are in the middle of a rebuilding process, they are a much improved team this year with new head coach Jeff Fisher. Last year the Rams finished 2-14 which put them at the bottom of the NFC. This season they’ve already surpassed last season’s win total as they sit at 3-4.
The Rams offense is the main reason they’re currently no better than 3-4. While they have a franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, they have a weak offensive line in front of him and no solid receivers for him to throw to. Their main receiver this season was Danny Amendola but he is injured. The weak offensive line will be welcoming for Patriots defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Jones continues to play solid in his rookie year and Ninkovich is coming off a great game against the New York Jets.
On the plus side for the Rams offense they do have a solid running game. In addition to All-Pro Steven Jackson, the Rams have added rookie Daryl Richardson who is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Like the Patriots, the Rams will use a duel tight end formation. They will often use Matthew Mulligan as a blocking tight end and Lance Kendrick as a receiving tight end.
The Rams defense could cause trouble for the Patriots Sunday. The Rams defensive line has been very strong this season. Robert Quinn already has seven sacks and Chris Long has 4 sacks. These duos of first round picks combined for 18 sacks last season and have already combined for 11 sacks through the first seven games of this season. They are joined on the Rams defensive line by this year’s first round pick, defensive tackle Michael Brockers. After a slow start due to injury, Brockers is now making his presence felt recording a sack against the Green Bay Packers last week and is creating more opportunity for his fellow linemen.
The job of defending All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski will be James Laurinaitis. A second round pick in 2009, Laurinaitis has continued to improve and has become one of the fastest rising linebackers in the league. His presence around Gronkowski will force plays to be made by Aaron Hernandez who has just recently come back from an injury which kept him out for three weeks.
The other defensive strength for the Rams is at cornerback. Over the offseason the Rams signed Pro Bowler Cortland Finnegan and drafted Janoris Jenkins. Finnegan has been a tough cornerback throughout his career and Jenkins was widely considered one of the top defensive backs in this draft class. These are two tough corners that will challenge the Patriots physically and will make it tough for them to create big plays down field.
The Rams are rebuilding but will certainly test the Patriots Sunday. They’ve used the draft to their advantage by selecting very talented players who are now making a difference. The addition of Fisher, who has long been highly regarded in the league, as head coach has only improved this squad. While the Patriots should improve to 5-3 after this game, they will have to display a strong performance to come away with a victory.