The New England Patriots weren’t pretty last Sunday, but they were able to survive a tough divisional game against the New York Jets 29-26 in overtime. The defense gave up a ton of yards, but it was Rob Ninkovich’s sack and forced fumble in overtime that sealed the victory. Now, without tight end Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots will make a trip across the pond for an international football game against a tough defensive opponent. Will the Patriots find a way to close out games consistently starting this week especially with their bye coming up next week?
The St. Louis Rams have undergone a culture change under new head coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher’s team is 3-4, but has struggled to score on offense with quarterback Sam Bradford. They only average about 19 points per game and 315 total yards a game (28th in the NFL). Their defense has a lot of good, young players like defensive end Chris Long (4 sacks) and linebacker James Laurinaitis (team leading 69 tackles). However, their claim to fame is in the secondary with former Titan cornerback Cortland Finnegan and rookie 2nd round pick Janoris Jenkins.
With that being said, here are my keys for this London matchup:
1. He Givens and They Take Away?: We saw last week that Mark Sanchez was able to throw for over 300+ yards against this inefficient Patriots’ secondary. The defensive backfield took another hit this week as the Pats’ lost Ras-I Dowling for the season with a thigh injury. Now, the Rams are not known for their success in the pass game, but they may get their best receiver, Danny Amendola for this game after missing three games due to a shoulder injury.
However, I want to focus on another young receiver. His name is Chris Givens. Givens was a 4th round pick this season by St. Louis out of Wake Forest. He has great speed which can be utilized especially in this matchup. New England’s secondary is vulnerable for the big play, which Givens has made a lot of. He has one 50+ yard reception in each of the last 3 games. This includes his game last week against the Packers where he had three catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. Givens and Brandon Gibson could cause nightmares for the Patriots even if Amendola does not play Sunday.
2. Flagging Finnegan: In the open, I talked about Cortland Finnegan and his impact on the secondary. He has a tendency to pester opponents’ wide receivers and draw penalties. That is his main role considering he has not had an interception since Week 3. If the Patriots cannot give in to his behavior, this could lead to New England extending some drives and getting second chances for touchdowns. I don’t expect the Patriots to have many personal foul penalties this week, but that could be a factor that gets overlooked.
3. Getting Buried In The Ground: Over the last few years, the St. Louis Rams have watched their star running back Steven Jackson going into a gradual decline. This year, Jackson has only averaged just a hair under four yards per carry. Also, Jackson hasn’t carried the ball 20+ times since the opener against Detroit. To win this game, the Rams will need balance with their offense. To do that, Jeff Fisher is going to call on his rookie 7th round pick Daryl Richardson (5.2 yards per carry) to make the down and distance manageable for Sam Bradford. Also, he will look to keep Tom Brady and the Pats’ offense off the field.
This game is going to be a close one up well into the 4th quarter. The time change and the lack of Aaron Hernandez for the Patriots will produce a lack of rhythm with the offense. Without Hernandez, do the Pats go back to more carries on the ground with Ridley, Vereen, and Woodhead or will Brady take more deep shots downfield to ex-Ram Brandon Lloyd?
This is a Rams team that will hang in the game because of its defense! However, this is the same Ram team that got torched by Aaron Rodgers last week. St. Louis will have success on offense, but they will settle for field goals in the red zone with their rookie sensation Greg Zuerlein. Unfortunately, it will be one touchdown too few for the Rams as the Patriots will find a way to survive against a team that is 0-3 away from home.
PATRIOTS 28 RAMS 23