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NFL Preview - Tennessee (3-4) at St. Louis (3-5)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - If anyone knows the value of a few extra feet, it's the St. Louis Rams and their coach Jeff Fisher.
That was precisely the distance by which the Rams fell short of a season- defining victory on Monday night, when four downs inside the Seattle 5-yard line went for naught in what instead wound up as a frustrating 14-9 loss at the Edward Jones Dome.
It's admittedly been a while, but it was also roughly the same distance by which the Rams clinched the lone world championship in franchise history, by beating their Week 9 opposition -- the Tennessee Titans, who were mentored by Fisher at the time -- in Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
St. Louis enters this year's matchup trying to salvage some positives from Monday's disappointment.
The Rams held Seattle to just 38 total yards in the first half and just 135 overall, bettering its previous best effort of the season, in a Week 7 loss at Carolina, by nearly 150 yards.
Defensive end Robert Quinn sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson three times to boost his conference-best total for the season to 10. He's the second Rams player to reach that number by the season's halfway point and the first to hit double-digits at all since Kevin Greene in 1988.
"He's phenomenal," said fellow end Eugene Sims. "He's got the speed. He's got the inside move. He's got the power. He's one of the best, if not the best. He's something like a superhero."
Quinn and Co. are being leaned on especially heavily in the absence of starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who was lost for the season after injuring his left knee against Carolina. His replacement, ex-New York Jets castoff Kellen Clemens, connected on 15-of-31 passes against Seattle for 158 yards and a pair of interceptions, and got the team within striking distance at the end.
The rally was snuffed when Daryl Richardson was stopped on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line and Clemens misfired on a fourth-down throw to Brian Quick as time expired.
"He managed the game well," Fisher said. "He handled things. He settled down,"
Fisher will face the Titans for the first time since ending a 17-year run with them in 2010.
Clemens is listed as probable for this week with a right shoulder injury, while Richardson is iffy with a foot problem. Also questionable is running back Zac Stacy, who had 134 yards against the Seahawks before leaving with an ankle injury. Guard Harvey Dahl is out after knee surgery.
Stacy's presence is particularly important against the Titans, who are 24th in the league at stopping the run.
"Coach Fisher, he loves that physical type of runner and that's one thing that we all emphasize in the running back room," Stacy said. "We want to bring that physicality out there on the field."
Coming back from an injury is also on the mind of Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker, who'd missed two games with hip and knee problems before returning for the Titans' 31-17 loss to San Francisco in Week 7.
Tennessee was off last week, which gave Locker another few days to get back to his old self.
"He can get that rhythm going that we felt we were getting in on offense that kind of got stripped from us," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "We've got to get in it fast because we have to win some games. If he can do that this week and get some help from his buddies, we can get ourselves going here."
Locker has 1,047 yards, eight touchdowns and a 61.8 completion percentage in his limited duty this far and had led Tennessee to a 3-1 record before the injuries. In three games since he was dinged up, the Titans have averaged less than 16 points per game and plunged to 27th in the league in total offense. They scored 24.5 per game in the opening four.
Running back Chris Johnson averaged 85.3 yards in his first three games this season, but has managed less than 28 per game since. The Rams allow 116.1 yards rushing per week, 23rd in the league.
"The little details are what's killing us," Locker said. "If you watch all our games, we've moved the football. We've done a good job moving the football getting first downs. But we've had some drives stall out, especially early on."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Go For a Run.
The Titans ran the ball well through the season's first three weeks, which, coincidentally, was the most prolonged success for the team thus far in 2013. Now that big back Shonn Greene has returned to health after injuring his shoulder, he and stalwart Johnson could find holes in a defensive unit that's allowed more than 116 ground yards per game.
Defense with a Twist. The Rams found particular success last week by mixing things up against an injury depleted Seattle offensive line. And while the Titans aren't beaten up to the level that the Seahawks were, they remain vulnerable. If St. Louis can fluster a still rusty Locker with myriad blitzes from different schemes, it might have a chance to limit the Titans enough for Clemens to muster just enough.
There's a case to be made for the Rams to win the game. Their defense was stout last week. The Titans are traveling with a QB who's not been fully healthy since September.
Fisher probably has at least some motivation to beat a former employer. But ultimately, it comes down to Clemens, who's precisely 4-9 in his career as an NFL starter -- with the last win coming in 2009. Enough said.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Titans 23, Rams 17
10/31 14:57:57 ET
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