The St. Louis Rams on Sunday will look to establish the run early and maintain a consistent running attack throughout the game, no different than the first four games. Steven Jackson ran wild the last time he faced the Lions. With Jackson still rehabbing a strained groin, look for the young Jim Schwartz defense to stack eight men in the box, not only to slow down and attack SJ39, but to apply pressure to the pocket and throw SAM Bradford’s rhythm off.
This game will be won in the trenches, both the Lions defensive line and the Rams offensive lines will have a war on Sunday. The Rams offensive line has allowed Bradford enough time to settle and make a lot of good throws on every down, and the unit has been very productive on 2nd and short as well as 3rd and long. The high pressure defensive front of the Lions is big, athletic, powerful and fast with a non-stop motor creating havoc on every play. They stack eight in the box, and dare you to throw the ball, which works in the Rams favor at times.
Let me break down the term “eight in the box”. The 4-3 defense starts with the front four defensive linemen and three linebackers, considered the frame of the defense or the “Box”. Depending on the offensive gaps (distance between the offensive linemen as they align across the offensive formation), the defensive Box could get stretched out laterally. The linebackers generally align five yards off the LOS (line of scrimmage). In a 4-3 defense the standard front or total number of players in the Box is seven. Depending on field position, down and distance most if not all Defensive Coordinators look to apply more pressure by adding another defender in the Box to blitz or stop the run. If the defense is facing a highly run dominated offense, this defensive player most likely a safety will play what is called a Bandit position. The Bandit is a hybrid under sized linebacker, or a hard nose strong safety that has multiple talents and can handle a lot of responsibility. Must have athletic ability to cover and explosive tackling skills, to come down hill and stop the run. The defender most likely to walk down in the NFL and College football is the strong safety. Working his way to the strength or strong side of the offensive formation, he either times his approach with a creeping cat like movement towards the LOS and then explodes with good timing and anticipation when blitzing. On other situations he is stacked as the EMLOS (end man on line of scrimmage) like a linebacker or stacked on the same level as the other linebackers giving the defense a 4-4 look.
This defender tends to be a special player with skill set to blitz, drop in flat, man coverage or seek and destroy tackler. Due to the superior athleticism of NFL players, it is not uncommon for the Box safety/Bandit to drop and provide deep coverage, giving the QB a pre-snap read and then relocate.
The Rams must unleash SJ39 early and often, and protect Sam Bradford throughout the contest. It all starts upfront in the trenches with the big boys, and it will end there as well. Despite being a well coached group, Rams fans better hope the offensive line is up for the challenge in front of them.