1. On the Run
THE SITUATION: Last week against Tennessee, the Raiders repeatedly found ways to bottle up electric Titans running back Chris Johnson for the better part of the first three quarters.
But Tennessee stubbornly refused to stop trying to run and eventually Johnson and the Titans took advantage to the tune of 205 rushing yards.
The Rams, meanwhile, found themselves in a variety of two-minute drills and didn’t get to balance the run and pass as much as they would have liked.
This week, getting the ball in the hands of running back Steven Jackson will be as much of a priority as it always is. Jackson says, though, that the run and pass have to work in conjunction and the Rams will attempt to do that against the Raiders.
“As you watched the game, through the course of the game, for the most part they kept their Tennessee running game contained,” Jackson said. “As the game wore on, you could tell they used play action to loosen them up. They got them to back off and then that’s when the running game opened up for them. But they were committed and they were really patient with the running game and allow for the full four quarters of the game to wear down the defense so that the big plays would happen later on.”
Jackson and the Rams will need to find some of those big plays to pull out a road victory.
THE ANSWER: The Rams established the run early as Jackson gashed the Raiders running and catching. But in the second half, Oakland loaded up to slow Jackson and succeeded. He finished with 75 yards on 19 carries.
2. Stopping the Run
THE SITUATION: On the other side of the coin, the Raiders fared much better with their running game last week against the Titans. Led by Darren McFadden, the Raiders rolled up 135 yards on the ground, fifth best in the NFL.
The Rams, meanwhile, were excellent against the run save for one devastating drive. On that drive, Arizona gashed the Rams for 75 yards on four carries. On the Cardinals’ 17 other carries, they muster just 37 yards, an average of 2.1 yards per attempt.
This week, with McFadden playing well and complementary back Michael Bush looking like he’ll return to the lineup, Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole wants to see his defense do a better job of maintaining consistency and eliminating those big runs.
“They’re two good running backs that have breakaway speed, particularly the McFadden kid,” Flajole said. “So we’ve got to do a good job of keeping them bottled in and setting edges on the perimeter. That hurt us a little bit last week on a couple of plays. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”
If the Rams can limit the running game again, they can force Oakland into becoming more one-dimensional and ratchet up the pressure on quarterback Jason Campbell.
THE ANSWER: McFadden ran hard and fast and found success on the edges again as he posted 145 yards on 30 carries.
3. Asomugha Avoidance
THE SITUATION: While the Jets’ Darrelle Revis gets most of the notoriety as the league’s top shutdown cornerback, it’s Oakland’s Nnamdi Asomugha who is the highest paid and perhaps still most underappreciated cover man.
Asomugha cuts an imposing figure at 6’2, 210 pounds and possesses the speed and strength to shut down an entire half of the field in the passing game.
For rookie quarterback
“He’s one of those tall, long-armed DBs that press a lot,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “When you watch their tape, it’s obvious that they say, ‘OK, he’s going to take one guy out of it and we’re going to play defense 10-on-10.’ That’s a luxury. That’s a compliment to him. He’s a good player.”
In order for the Rams to be able to run the ball, they’ll have to find ways to throw the ball off of play action. That means that Clayton will have to find ways to get open and the receivers not matched up against Asomugha will have to find success.
THE ANSWER: Asomugha was his usual self, slowing the Rams passing game. Most of the team’s success went away from the Raiders stud corner. Clayton had both Rams touchdowns but neither came at the expense of Asomugha.
4. Pressure Packed
THE SITUATION: The Rams spent a good portion of the opener against Arizona getting after quarterback Derek Anderson via the blitz as well as pressure from the front four.
That gave Rams fans a good look at the type of personality Spagnuolo and Flajole what their defense to be. An aggressive approach bent on getting after opposing signal callers.
“Every week’s a new adventure,” Flajole said. “We do have an aggressive mindset. I think that’s something that’s been instilled from the head coach. To say do you pressure more or less than you did the week before, I think it really depends on the circumstances and who we’re playing. This crew that we’re playing this week presents some of their own unique problems. I’d like to say that we’re aggressive. To say do we pressure as much or blitz as much as we did the week before, I don’t know that right now. I mean I do know that, but that will be our little secret. Every week’s different. This quarterback can move around a little bit, so sometimes if you blitz him and you give him a rush lane and he can take it and he can make you pay with his feet.”
On their end, Oakland allowed four sacks last week against the Titans and have some linemen on the injury report this week including guard Robert Gallery.
For the Rams to come away with a win, they’ll need to again get pressure on Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell, force mistakes and come up with sacks.
THE ANSWER: The Rams brought it early and often against the Raiders and came up with a pair of sacks and a quarterback hit but Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski’s athleticism limited the damage and allowed the Raiders to keep plays alive.
5. Miller Time
THE SITUATION: The Raiders have long been known for building their team, particularly their offense around speed. They make it a point to draft and sign speedy receivers with flashy 40-yard dash times.
But the top target in their passing game isn’t a 4.2 wideout. Rather, it’s a big tight end who has, of course, good speed.
Last year, Zach Miller became the first tight end to lead the team in receiving in back to back seasons since Todd Christensen in 1982.
Miller is a walking matchup problem at 6’5, 255 pounds. He had four catches for 42 yards last week and has developed a strong rapport with Campbell already.
“He’s a productive player,” Flajole said. “Their quarterback has a lot of confidence in him. We’ll have our hands full. You’ve got to pay attention to the wide out, you’ve got to pay attention to the tight end, you’ve got to pay attention to the backs. So we’ve got our hands full. The Miller kid is a very capable tight end and I think there is a real chemistry between him and the quarterback right now.”
The Rams will look at covering Miller a variety of different ways, employing safeties and linebackers. But it’s particularly important to keep an eye on Miller at all times because he’ll likely be Campbell’s top target when the pressure comes.
THE ANSWER: Miller wasn’t a major factor, finishing with three catehes for 49 yards but the Raiders outside receivers found more success in part because Miller was drawing so much attention up the seam.