The Packers head to St. Louis to take on the Rams this Sunday. Both teams are 3-3 and seem to match up evenly on paper. Let’s take a look at the key matchups this game will bring.
Rams CB Cortland Finnegan vs. Packers WR Jordy Nelson/Randall Cobb
Finnegan has been a good free agent pick up for the Rams and is reunited with Jeff Fisher, who was Finnegan’s head coach in Tennessee. According to ProFootballFocus, Finnegan has been targeted 40 times this season and averages just 8.8 yards/catch.
I have Finnegan matched up on both Nelson and Cobb because Finnegan is likely move over to the slot in the Rams’ nickel package. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers passed just 29 times in last year’s game so depending on how many 4-5 wide sets the Pack use will determine who Finnegan lines up on.
In last season’s matchup between these teams, Nelson had just 2 catches but the most memorable was a 93 yard catch and run on a slant for a TD. Of course, St. Louis didn’t have Finnegan or this same quality secondary. Whoever Finnegan is blanketing will definitely be earning every ball caught.
With the Rams secondary needing to respect Nelson, Cobb and James Jones, one of the three should put up some good numbers. My bet is on Cobb as it’s just plain dumb to leave Nelson one on one, even against the trusty Finnegan. The Rams can only offer so much help over the top so they will have to pick their poison.
Packers OLB Clay Matthews vs. Rams LT Joe Barksdale
It was noted via Twitter on Friday that Rams LT Wayne Hunter has not practiced at all this week and is doubtful to play on Sunday. Hunter was already in to replace the injured Roger Saffold who was the Rams’ opening day starter at left tackle.
Getting the start in Hunters’ absence would be Barksdale. Barksdale was just recently awarded to the Rams after being waived by Oakland in late September. He is a backup tackle at best and only has to come in and face one of the best pass rushers in Matthews. With the Rams extremely thin at left tackle, they are forced to play Barksdale despite the fact that he has virtually zero experience on the left side.
Matthews has eight sacks on the year and is performing much more like the player we saw in 2010. He has been disruptive against the run and playing with an extremely high motor. I won’t be surprised to see St. Louis rolling QB Sam Bradford to his right to avoid Matthews as CM3 is surely going to be in the backfield a time or two on Sunday.
If Matthews is doubled up and can’t get to Bradford, whoever is left to beat their man one-on-one, should.
Rams QB Sam Bradford vs. Packers secondary
Bradfordwas 29 of 45 for 328 yards in last year’s matchup and finished the game despite suffering a high ankle sprain. He has been adequate this year so far with six TD passes to five INT’s.
With top WR Danny Amendola out, the Rams are thin at the position. They will need a lights out performance from their WR’s to allowBradfordto make plays on the move. I expect Bradford to feel the pressure due to a depleted offensive line, and give the Packers at least one or two good chances at plucking one away. I predicted a score on defense in the prediction post and it likely comes from the secondary.
Green Bay will be without starting CB Sam Shields. Rookie Casey Hayward will fill in for Shields opposite Tramon Williams. While you always want your starters to play, Hayward is actually posting better numbers than Shields. Hayward leads the Packers with three interceptions on the season. He is also among the league leaders in passes defensed. Last week after intercepting a pass late in the game vs. Houston, Haywardwisely slid to the ground to give himself up and secure the possession. It was a veteran-type play by an extremely young player and one who has been the Pack’s best rookie so far in 2012.
With the Rams dinged up at WR, look for Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers to get creative in blitzing his DB’s. S Charles Woodson is most likely to get after the passer as this has been his role and specialty as a DB over the past few seasons.
Rams DE Chris Long vs. Packers RT Bryan Bulaga
Long has 4 sacks this season and isSt. Louis’ best pass rusher. He catches Bulaga during a period where he has been inconsistent. After rebounding from a tough rookie year in 2011, Bulaga has struggled a bit this year. Long has a quick burst and he will be past Bulaga in a flash if BB displays any bad footwork.
If Bulaga is struggling early on, expect to seeGreen Bayslide help to his side either via the back or RG Josh Sitton. It’s safe to say that if they can keep Long at bay, they should offer Rodgers time to make plays.
St. Louis may test this side of the line by stunting and running their blitz this direction. The Pack will likely have to give up some pass catchers to ensure adequate protection on passing downs.
Rams RB Steven Jackson vs. Packers defense
In last year’s meeting,Jacksonhad 18 carries for 96 yards. The Packers are giving up just over 100 yards/game this season. With the Rams a bit slim at WR, expect them to try and establishJacksonearly on. Green Bayhas struggled with bigger backs this season and they still haven’t convinced me that they have shored up the tackling issues that plagued them last year and early this year.
If the Packer secondary can cover straight up, they will be able to cheat their front 7 against the run and key onJackson. ILB Brad Jones will likely fill in for the injured DJ Smith and will need to be sound in his gaps and in tackling. DE Jerel Worthy will need to continue his stout play against the run as well.
The secondary will also play a role in run support and they have been adequate in that capacity. S Morgan Burnett has improved in run support as has CB Tramon Williams now that he’s past the injured shoulder from last season.
Stop Jackson and the Packers likely make it a very long day for Bradford and the Rams.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: