While the St. Louis Rams may be missing their franchise quarterback Sam Bradford thanks to a season-ending knee injury, their defense has been more than willing to pick up the slack.
In the Rams’ Week 10 road victory over the Indianapolis Colts, they displayed some great speed on their defensive line, excellent tackling in the open field, and most importantly, they varied up their looks on blitzes to such a degree that the Colts’ offensive line had a tough time knowing which gaps to protect and which blitzers to block.
As a result, the Rams held the Colts to only 18 rushing yards in the game, and also racked up an excellent 10-for-12 record in stopping Andrew Luck and company on third down. It was an exquisite performance by a talented and fast defense, and the Bears could learn some lessons from a couple of key sequences in that game.
The first one came early in the game when the Rams ended up scoring a defensive touchdown thanks to some great pressure from their talented corps of defensive ends. On that play, Robert Quinn easily shed his block, and came off the edge with a head full of steam. Before Luck could even get through his first read, Quinn hit him for a sack, and then Chris Long, who also had gotten past the right tackle, scooped up the ball and ran it in 45 yards for the score.
That kind of speed off the edge isn’t all the Rams can use to get to the quarterback. On a play in the second quarter, Luck dropped back on a pass, and then chaos ensued. Two Rams linebackers blitzed immediately on the play, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar held back just beyond the line of scrimmage for a second before pouring through the B-gap and hitting Luck as he released a pass. That kind of trickery is always tough for an offense to figure out, and with a loud crowd in St. Louis on Sunday, the Bears’ line might have a tough time hearing any changes to their blocking schemes at the line of scrimmage to compensate for the various looks they’ll get.
Finally, the Rams’ aggressiveness doesn’t stop when the opposing offense gets into the red zone. On a key third quarter possession for the Colts, they drove the ball down to the St. Louis 1-yard line and looked like they were in prime position to score. After a slightly overthrown ball on first down, Long did a great job on second down of using a spin move to get through the C-gap, and he got a nice reward for his play, as Luck was rolling out on a play-action pass to the strong side of the formation. Long tackled him for the sack, and gave the Rams some extra cushion.
On the next couple of plays, the Rams’ speed and open-field tackling were on full display. Rodney McLeod broke up a pass to the weak side of the field. On the next play, cornerback Cortland Finnegan showed great awareness when he broke off his coverage and tackled Luck after a five-yard gain on a quarterback keeper. Finally, James Laurinaitis made, arguably, the play of the game when he stopped Luck just short of the goal line on fourth down, and the Rams took over on downs.
With Josh McCown under center, the Bears will look to beat this kind of speed with various tricks, but when push comes to shove, it will be a tough assignment, and it will be one of the more intriguing elements of Sunday’s game.