There's no such thing as a cupcake game in the NFL, but the St. Louis Rams get the closest thing to it when they take on the winless Jacksonville Jaguars this weekend. After dropping three straight, the Rams desperately need a win if they have any remaining shot to keep pace in the brutal NFC West. A loss to the Jaguars could all but end their playoff hopes.
Meet the Rams
After jumping out of the gates with a win over the Cardinals, the Rams have crashed back to earth with three consecutive losses, and are reeling after 35-11 beat down by the 49ers last Thursday. At first glance, Sam Bradford's passing numbers are pretty good -- 1,093 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. However, he's completed 55.6 percent of his passes in the three losses. Much more concerning is the Rams' running game, which ranks dead last in the league. Daryl Richardson, who was supposed to replace Pro Bowler Steven Jackson as the feature back, is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.
The Rams are nearly as bad at stopping the run, allowing a little more than 133 yards per game. They gave up an appalling 219 rushing yards to Frank Gore and company last week, a performance that defensive end Chris Long called "disgusting." One of the defensive bright spots has been Long's position-mate, Robert Quinn, who has piled up five sacks.
Meet the Jaguars
If the Rams think they have problems, taking a look at the Jaguars' season should make them feel better. The Jags are ranked last in the league in both total offense and scoring, and are just one rung above the Rams in the rushing department. Maurice Jones-Drew is off to his worst start as a pro, as injuries and an ineffective offensive line have kept him to just 138 yards and one touchdown. Blaine Gabbert has been battling injuries himself, but has hardly looked like the quarterback of the future when he has been on the field -- the team has scored a combined five points in his two starts. Things won't get any easier after left tackle Eugene Monroe was traded to the Ravens earlier this week.
Only the Giants and Eagles are giving up more points per game than Jacksonville, though with the offense's ineptitude and tendency for turnovers, the Jags' D isn't getting much help. If the Rams' running game is ever going to get going, it will be against a unit that allows an average of 165 rushing yards per game, though that number is a bit skewed considering teams are spending most of the second half winding clock on the ground after jumping out to big leads.
Local Takes: Rams
Ryan Van Bibber of Turf Show Times explains that the Rams' rushing woes stem from a lack of commitment to running the ball.
Of course... running the ball just hasn't been a priority for the Rams so far this season. Playing from behind is part of that, but running ball has never been a priority. In the first and second quarter of all four games this season, the Rams have just 40 rushing attempts compared to 78 passing attempts.
Local Takes: Jaguars
Alfie Crow at Big Cat Country explains that the team's secondary is one of its few strengths.
Evans and Cyprien as a pair didn't look overmatched on defense. While they for sure had some blown coverages and errors, they also prevented some big plays down the field. Eric Stoner is going to have something on the safeties in this week's Film Room installment, but one particular play I remember was when Evans came flying across in the endzone to break up what looked like a sure touchdown pass.
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From our fan confidence poll last week: 50% give Rams coaches an F; 36% give them a D http://t.co/Sk0rLQC18z— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) October 2, 2013
The #Jaguars are out of the game by halftime, so teams just run the ball the whole second half.— Big Cat Country (@BigCatCountry) October 3, 2013
@jthom1 - Rams beat writer
@ryanohalloran - Jaguars beat writer
Gus said more max protection is option with shuffled offensive line. Started doing more seven man protections against Colts— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) October 2, 2013
The Rams' playoff hopes are already looking pretty dim with Seattle and San Francisco looming at the top of the NFC West, but any chance for a turnaround will likely end with a loss to Jacksonville. With that motivation, Sam Bradford and the offense should be able to get back on track and jump out to an early lead, though their inability to run out the game on the ground leaves them susceptible to a comeback. That is, assuming the Jags had the weapons to pull one off. Big threat receiver Justin Blackmon's return from a four-game suspension gives them a shot, but it won't be enough in the end.
Final: Rams 28, Jaguars 10
There are not too many times you see a team on a three-game skid open as heavy favorites, but this is one of them. The spread has the Rams up by 11½ points, according to Oddsshark.com.