NFL Preview - St. Louis (5-6-1) at Buffalo (5-7)|
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The St. Louis Rams' second winning streak of the season has
the club thinking it could make a run at a playoff spot.
The Rams look to continue that push on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills hoping
for their first three-game winning streak in six seasons.
St. Louis has won consecutive games for the first time since a pair of home
wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 30 and Oct. 4.
The Rams snapped a five-game winless drought (0-4-1) with a road win at
Arizona on Nov. 25 before avenging a Week 10 tie with the San Francisco 49ers
with a 16-13 overtime win over the Niners this past Sunday.
Much like the earlier tilt in San Francisco, which ended in a 24-24 deadlock,
both kickers missed field goal attempts in overtime before Greg Zuerlein
connected on a 54-yard try with 26 seconds left in the extra frame. The rookie
kicker had forced overtime with a field goal conversion from 53 yards out as
time expired in the fourth.
The victory kept St. Louis' hopes of a wild card spot alive and it is no
coincidence that both of its winning streaks this season have come at the
expense of fellow NFC West residents. The Rams are 4-0-1 against their
division this season and that could help them in their chase of the Seattle
Seahawks, who currently hold the second of two wild card spots in the
"You build yourself to compete in the division. We still have a lot of work
ahead. It's good that guys have confidence against good division opponents,"
noted St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher.
Quarterback Sam Bradford threw for 221 yards, running back Steven Jackson ran
for just 48 yards on 21 carries but caught another five passes for 69 yards
and wide receiver Chris Givens hauled in a game-high 11 passes.
In addition to Zuerlein, the defense accounted for the rest of the scoring
with a safety and two-yard fumble return for a score by cornerback Janoris
St. Louis will try to continue its playoff push by notching its longest
winning streak since ending the 2006 campaign with three victories in a row,
but can't look past a Buffalo squad also hoping to reach the postseason.
The 5-7 Bills sit two games out of a wild card spot following a 34-18 victory
on Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars, just Buffalo's second win in six
The Bills, though, turned in a well-rounded performance, getting a season-high
232 yards rushing, three total touchdowns from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick
and an excellent effort from a defense that limited the Jaguars to 236 net
yards of offense.
"Some good things happened, all around. That's why we won the ballgame," said
Buffalo coach Chan Gailey.
Fitzpatrick, a former Rams draft pick, completed only 9-of-17 pass attempts
for 112 yards in sloppy conditions, but threw touchdown passes to Stevie
Johnson and Scott Chandler in addition to logging his first rushing touchdown
since Nov. 29, 2009.
Fred Jackson ran for a season-high 109 yards on 25 carries and C.J. Spiller
got the ball an additional 14 times on the ground, posting 77 yards and a
Buffalo's defense, meanwhile, had four sacks and held Jacksonville to just 50
The Bills lead the all-time series with the Rams 6-4 and have won each of the
past two encounters. They logged a road victory in the most recent meeting in
St. Louis during the 2008 season and haven't hosted the Rams since a 37-17
victory in 2004.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Rams did not force a turnover during their five-game winless stretch, but
have been turning opponent mistakes into points during their consecutive wins.
Jenkins had two of four St. Louis interceptions in the win over the Cardinals
and returned both for touchdowns. Fisher, though, wanted some fumbles to start
going his team's way and the rookie corner obliged by pouncing on a 49er loose
ball and taking it the short distance to the end zone.
Jenkins also teamed with linebacker James Laurinaitis to force an intentional
grounding call on San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the end zone
that resulted in a safety.
St. Louis has a plus-4 turnover differential over its winning streak and is
now at minus-2 for the season.
Of course, the Rams would love for their offense to put up more points this
weekend and rank just 28th in the NFL with 18.4 points per game. The continued
growth of first-year wideout Givens could pad that number.
Givens began the season as a one-dimensional deep threat, but was a target of
Bradford's last weekend at any spot on the field. He turned his career-high 11
catches into 92 yards and made a big six-yard catch in overtime on third down
to move the chains.
"He's come a long way and I've said it every week, I think he's gotten better
each week. I think he showed it today," Bradford noted after Sunday's win.
The Bills still need to focus on Givens down the field as he is averaging 16.9
yards per catch this season. He becomes even more dangerous if Danny Amendola
can play through a foot injury that held him out of the Niners game.
The Rams' offense has also benefited from having Zuerlein as a safety net. The
kicker is 7-for-11 from 50 yards or deeper this season and is one successful
kick shy from that distance in matching Morten Anderson and Jason Hanson for
the NFL single-season record.
The Bills are hoping to keep their balance going this weekend. They rank
fourth in the NFL with 147.9 rushing yards per game and just 26th through the
air (198.5 YPG), but Fitzgerald still made the most of his chances last
Fred Jackson came into the season with a contract extension, but injuries have
slowed him down and Spiller has filled in very well. The latter leads the
Bills with 907 yards on 137 rush attempts with five touchdowns, while Jackson
has 423 yards on 106 carries with three scores.
Both have also helped Fitzpatrick in the passing game with a combined 62
receptions and having both healthy will be key for any type of playoff push.
"All I can do is go out and make plays when my number is called," said
Fred Jackson, who is coming off his first 100-yard rushing game since last
November. "You know things aren't always going to go the way we wanted them
too. It's an up and down game. So hopefully we can just keep making plays like
we did today and take all the other things out of it."
Buffalo's run defense is starting to round into form. Though the club still
ranks 30th in the league in that department, the Bills have held an opponent
under 90 yards rushing in three straight games for the first time since Nov.
30-Dec. 14, 2003.
Gailey's club will have some injuries to overcome this weekend as center Eric
Wood is expected to miss at least two weeks -- and possibly the rest of the
season -- due to a partially-torn MCL, while starting right guard Chris
Hairston could also miss this game with a right foot ailment.
Johnson, who left the win over the Jaguars with a tight hamstring, said he
expects to play in this game. He'll try to add to his team-leading 55
receptions and 705 yards.
The Rams haven't been setting the world on fire with their offense and may
struggle getting into their groove against a Bills defense that is starting to
put it together.
Buffalo's effort versus Jacksonville, in which it got to the quarterback and
knocked the ball loose on a number of occasions, is what it envisioned when
the club signed defensive end Mario Williams and Rams veteran Steven Jackson
could be headed for a long day versus this clicking unit.
"We have got some guys running downhill and everybody has been in the right
spot," said Gailey. "We have got guys playing the cutback. We have got guys
filling the front side hole. Everybody is being a lot more consistent about
filling the correct gap. If I had to say there is one thing, that is the one
thing. We are playing a lot more physical now than we were a month and a half
That will put the pressure on Bradford and a step forward in his chemistry
with Givens would go a long way in opening up the field for the Bills defense,
which ranks 13th against the pass.
St. Louis' steady defense bailed the offense out last weekend but the Rams
might not get as lucky in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bills 23, Rams 17
12/06 12:56:30 ET