WR Torry Holt and the Rams' passing attack has opponents spinning again
The St. Louis Rams played host to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday and, as usual, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had an advance scout on hand to witness the team's next opponent in action. That's fortunate, because the scout was able to come back to Tampa with this insider tip:
The Rams have a good passing game.
Okay, we're not being patronizing. You, I, the scorched Minnesota Vikings – everybody knows that St. Louis can throw the ball as well as or better than any team in the league. It's number-one ranking on the passing yardage chart is a pretty good clue to that effect.
The Bucs' scout, of course, went into much more detail than that, delivering a 50-plus page scouting report to the Tampa Bay coaching staff on Monday. The advance man maintains notes and charts on every opposing player, starters and reserves, and has some very specific observations concerning the Rams.
We can't be privy to all of those observations, but we were allowed to pick his brain on Monday. Here are a few of his thoughts, beginning with that vaunted Rams' air attack.
· As others have noted, QB Kurt Warner was in a rhythm on Sunday against the Vikings. He completed his first 11 passes and, says our scout, they weren't all screens and short passes. The first throw picked up 27 yards, the second 36. And those receivers weren't just getting separation from the Vikings' defensive backs, they were wide open. Part of the reason was Warner's protection, which was excellent on Sunday. Our scout indicated that he had 'all the time in the world' to throw the ball, which is a recipe for disaster against Warner. If you can't get in his face and hit him from time to time, said the advance man, Warner will pick you apart.
· Warner took mostly three and five-step drops against the Vikings to get the ball off quickly, but his offensive line did a solid job as well. By our scout's estimation, the Rams have three very solid blockers in Orlando Pace, Tom Nutten and Adam Timmerman. The slightly weaker links could be center Andy McCollum and right tackle Ryan Tucker. At times, Tucker can be effectively bull-rushed, said the scout, and he can also be beat with quick moves. Still, both of those players have played well enough to win in recent weeks. Our scout actually believes that the Rams have a fine offensive tackle in rookie backup John St. Clair. St. Clair, who was drafted as a center but has been moved outside, is an athlete in the mold of Orlando Pace. He has good punch and really good feet. St. Clair isn't likely to play against Tampa Bay…he was inactive last Sunday.
· Another Ram that isn't starting but could have an impact on the game is TE Ernie Conwell. Conwell, in fact, should be the starting tight end for the Rams in our scout's estimation, as he is a good athlete with fine hands and decent speeds who runs precision routes and is a better blocker than starter Roland Williams. Though he doesn't open the games, Conwell is involved in the offense. In fact, our scout reports that the Rams use some different formations to get Conwell the ball, even running him on a reverse. On that play, Conwell lines up as a fullback, then goes in motion and ends up as a 'wing' off one edge of the offensive line. When the ball is snapped, the guard on that side 'pulls' to the other side, and Conwell comes back to take a handoff and run around to that same side. The Rams also use a similar formation to throw a screen pass to Conwell.
· Linebacker London Fletcher got a lot of attention from the broadcasters during Sunday's game, and he is only too happy to draw attention to himself. However, while Fletcher might be a show-boater, he is a big-time playmaker, according to our scout. He is a little undersized by NFL standards, but he gets off blocks very easily and has good speed to flow with the play to the outside corner. He also just has a knack for locating the football. When Minnesota tried to run its patented screen pass to RB Robert Smith, which has worked fabulously most of the season, Fletcher came off a block and caught Smith in the backfield for a nine-yard loss.
· In preparation for his scouting trip, our advance man watched several recent games' worth of film on the Rams. Though he didn't see much to recommend the Rams' defensive line on tape, the scout saw a different unit in person. The St. Louis defensive line appeared to pick up its intensity significantly last Sunday and was a constant source of pressure on Minnesota QB Daunte Culpepper. There wasn't a particular standout in the group, just a line that played very effectively as a unit.
· CB Todd Lyght may have taken some criticism earlier this season as the Rams' defensive struggled, but he is playing well now, said our scout. Against the Vikings, St. Louis had to play a lot of nickel defensive packages, and in that alignment, Lyght covers the slot receiver. It's a good assignment for Lyght, who uses his hands well, is a good tackler and has decent speed. In this formation, Lyght is kind of like another outside linebacker.
And we did mention that Rams passing attack, right?