NFL Preview - Indianapolis (5-0) at St. Louis (0-6)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The St. Louis Rams need a win. The Indianapolis Colts, who will visit the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday afternoon, would seem to be one of the least likely candidates in the NFL to deliver that type of aid.
The Colts will invade the Gateway City as one of four remaining unbeaten NFL teams, along with the Vikings, Broncos, and Saints, and Jim Caldwell's team hasn't exactly been winning games by the skin of its teeth.
Prior to a well-deserved Week 6 bye, the Colts polished off consecutive blowouts of the Cardinals (31-10), Seahawks (34-17), and Titans (31-9), with the work of their esteemed quarterback ranking as the main storyline in the streak.
Peyton Manning has posted five consecutive 300-yard games to start the season, and can tie an NFL-record for consecutive 300-yard outings with a similar performance this week. Rich Gannon (Raiders, 2002), Kurt Warner (Rams, 2000), and Steve Young (49ers, 1998) are the previous men to put up six straight 300- yard games.
Indianapolis is No. 1 in league passing offense (326 yards per game) and completion percentage (73.5) as Week 6 begins, and the team has allowed an NFL-low-tying two sacks, along with the Atlanta Falcons.
As if that wasn't scary enough, the Colts have been receiving a strong effort from their defense as well. Indy has allowed an NFL-low two touchdown passes and a league-low-tying six total touchdowns on the year, and the defensive unit could get an additional boost on Sunday in the person of star safety Bob Sanders.
Sanders, the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has missed the first five games after recovering from knee surgery, but will have a chance to make his debut on Sunday.
Based on the way the Rams have played offensively and otherwise, Sanders' presence could be seen as a case of piling on.
St. Louis, one of three remaining winless teams along with the Buccaneers, and Titans, is last in NFL scoring offense (9.0 points per game), is one of three NFL teams without a rushing touchdown (Buffalo, Kansas City) and has lost an NFL-high-tying nine fumbles on the year.
The Rams scored a season-high 20 points in Jacksonville last week and came close to notching the first win of the Steve Spagnuolo era, but could not hold on to a late lead and fell, 23-20, in overtime.
The club has now lost 16 straight dating back to last season, and is 5-33 in its last 38 games dating back to 2007.
The Colts have a 22-17-2 lead in the all-time series with the Rams, including a 45-28 home win when the clubs last met, in a Monday night affair during the 2005 season. St. Louis won the previous matchup, a 42-17 triumph at the Edward Jones Dome in 2001. The Colts are 0-1 against the Rams in St. Louis, are 0-3 in series road games since the then-Baltimore Colts defeated the then-Los Angeles Rams in southern California in 1969, and last won in the Gateway City when the then-Baltimore Colts defeated the Cardinals there in 1978.
The Colts' Jim Caldwell and Rams' Steve Spagnuolo will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Manning's (1645 passing yards, 12 TD, 4 INT) early-season dominance has meant big numbers, and high acclaim, for his four most frequent downfield targets. No. 1 wideout Reggie Wayne (32 receptions, 4 TD) and tight end Dallas Clark (35 receptions, 2 TD) are the familiar faces in that group, while rookie Austin Collie (20 receptions, 3 TD) and fellow youngster Pierre Garcon (11 receptions, 2 TD) are the new sets of hands on the scene. Clark went for nine catches and 77 yards in the most recent win, over the Titans, while Collie had a breakout outing with eight catches for a game-high 97 yards and two touchdowns out of the slot. The running game has been less effective, and in turn is relied upon less heavily, though running backs Joseph Addai (210 rushing yards, 26 receptions, 4 TD) and Donald Brown (154 rushing yards, 2 TD) have combined for six touchdowns and Addai has been a regular pass-catching target out of the backfield. Despite struggling to open holes for the running game (3.3 yards per carry), the Indy o-line has done a typically effective job of protecting the quick-firing Manning.
Manning will be going up against a Rams defense that ranks just 27th in NFL passing defense (252 yards per game), but got a nice pass-rushing effort from its front four in last week's near-miss against Jacksonville. Ends Leonard Little (14 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT) and James Hall (19 tackles, 3 sacks) both had sacks of David Garrard in the game, and Little nearly posted the game- winning score when he intercepted a Garrard pass and took it 36 yards for a touchdown with fewer than five minutes to play. Of greater importance this week will be the work of a secondary forced to contend with all of the Colts' pass- catchers. Cornerbacks Jonathan Wade (13 tackles), Ron Bartell (28 tackles), and Bradley Fletcher (18 tackles) all figure to spend a great deal of time on the field, with safeties Oshiomogho Atogwe (40 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack) and Craig Dahl (19 tackles, 1 sack) counted on for effectiveness behind them. Atogwe had a game-high 10 tackles against the Jaguars last week. The Rams are 26th in the league against the run (132.5 yards per game) and could have things somewhat tougher there after starting linebacker Will Witherspoon was dealt to the Eagles earlier in the week. Paris Lenon (10 tackles) will slide to the weak side in Witherspoon's absence, with Larry Grant (6 tackles, 1 sack) now starting on the strong side next to middle man James Laurinaitis (45 tackles, 2 INT).
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
The silver lining for the Rams in their loss to the Jaguars last Sunday was the play of former Pro Bowl quarterback Marc Bulger (640 passing yards, 3 TD, 1 INT), who returned to the lineup after missing two starts with a shoulder injury and had his best day of the year. Bulger completed 22-of-34 passes for 213 yards with a touchdown and a pick in the game, throwing a TD pass to Donnie Avery (19 receptions, 2 TD) and also showing decent downfield chemistry with wideouts Keenan Burton (17 receptions) and Danny Amendola (9 receptions) along with tight end Randy McMichael (16 receptions). Avery could miss Sunday's game with a hip problem, meaning Burton, Amendola, and newly-acquired ex-Eagles wideout Brandon Gibson could have to pick up the slack. Gibson, Philadelphia's sixth-round pick out of Washington State this past April, has yet to be active for a meaningful NFL game but had eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. The key to keeping the ball out of Manning's hands this week could be the rushing exploits of Steven Jackson (501 rushing yards, 20 receptions), who has been doing a decent job while working behind a deficient St. Louis line. Jackson rushed 16 times for 50 yards against the Jags last week, but logged team-highs with six catches for 78 yards out of the backfield.
Protecting Bulger will be critical to the Rams' offensive success on Sunday, and that directive will be easier said than done with Dwight Freeney (11 tackles, 6 sacks) and Robert Mathis (18 tackles, 4.5 sacks) doing the rushing. Freeney has at least one sack in each of the Colts' first five games, and Mathis is just two games removed from a two-and-a-half sack, two-forced fumble day against the Seahawks' Seneca Wallace. An underrated, and to this point Sanders-less, secondary has done a nice job so far this season, with Antoine Bethea (34 tackles, 2 INT) and Melvin Bullitt (22 tackles) both making a number of big plays. Rookie corners Jerraud Powers (22 tackles) and Jacob Lacey (19 tackles) have also played an expanded role. The Colts are an adequate 14th in the league against the run (103.2 yards per game), and will have a chance to improve that number with Sanders in the fold. That said, Indy will be without starting defensive tackle Ed Johnson, who was surprisingly released from the team last week, and will need DT starters Daniel Muir (7 tackles) and Eric Foster (11 tackles) to help pick up the slack. Clint Session (31 tackles) and Gary Brackett (23 tackles) have been the club's top tackling linebackers.
Owners of Manning are very glad that the future Hall-of-Famer is back from the bye, and it would be surprising if the signal-caller isn't able to go over 300 yards again. That means top targets Wayne, Clark, Collie, and Garcon are also great plays, and running backs Addai and Brown should get enough touches near the goal line to make them worthy of starting status as well. Don't hesitate either to use the Colts defense or kicker Matt Stover, who both project to put up plenty of points here.
It will be tough to sit Steven Jackson if you own him, but there isn't another Ram worth using against a Colts defense that has played well during 2009 to date.
Not so long ago, Rams/Colts would have been considered a marquee NFL matchup. In 2009, it should be considered an unfair one. St. Louis is woefully unprepared to deal with Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis attack, and lacks the offensive efficiency to keep the football out of his hands. This one will be over by halftime, if not sooner.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 47, Rams 14
10/22 13:51:39 ET