Sunday, September 27, 2015

Scouting report : Steelers vs. Rams.

September 27, 2015 12:00 AM

Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Rams quarterback Nick Foles, left, and receiver Kenny Britt celebrate their touchdown connection last week against Washington.

By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Steelers have the ball …

Key performers: DT Aaron Donald, DE Robert Quinn, DE Chris Long, LB Alec Ogletree, LB James Laurinaitis, CB Janoris Jenkins

Who’s hot: The defensive line features five No. 1 draft picks — Donald, Quinn, Long, Michael Brockers and Nick Fairley — and they are most effective when they get opponents in typical pass-rush situations. Since the start of the 2012 season, they have 145 sacks, second most in the league behind Buffalo (147).

What’s been working: Ogletree had 18 tackles against the Redskins, the most by a Rams player since London Fletcher had 21 versus the 49ers in 2001, and leads the team with 29. He has developed into a productive outside linebacker who ranks second in the league in forced fumbles since 2013 (10). Quinn, his teammate, is first with 13.

Game plan: The Rams will try to pressure Ben Roethlisberger, who wasn’t sacked by the 49ers and did a good job getting rid of the ball quick. He will need to do more of that against the pressure supplied by the Rams’ defensive front. Because of their upfield pursuit, the Rams will leave themselves open to long runs by Le’Veon Bell.

Keep an eye on: Right OLB Akeem Ayers has been slowed by injury and appeared for just nine plays against the Seahawks. So the Rams will use former Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron off the bench and employ him like a linebacker in their nickel defense.

When Rams have the ball …

Key performers: QB Nick Foles, RB Todd Gurley, WR Tavon Austin, WR Kenny Britt, TE Jared Cook, RT Greg Robinson

Who’s hot: Nick Foles completed eight passes of 20 yards or longer in his debut against the Seattle defense, the most by a Rams quarterback since Marc Bulger had 11 against the Steelers in 2003. However, it was just the opposite in the loss to Redskins when the Rams had just 213 yards offense and only one play longer than 16 yards.

What’s been working: The Rams have tried to get their running game working by drafting five running backs in the past four years, including Todd Gurley of Georgia with the 10th overall pick this year. But Gurley has been hurt and yet to play for the Rams. Tavon Austin has 57 yards on eight plays.

Game plan: Jeff Fisher-coached teams ideally like to be power running teams, but the Rams are very young on the offensive line. They start two rookies — G Jamon Brown and RT Rob Hevenstein — and left tackle Greg Robinson was the No. 2 player in the draft in 2014. Their offensive line has a combined 76 career starts, fewest in the league. The Steelers, even without Maurkice Pouncey, have 200.

Keep an eye on: Jared Cook is a big target (6-5, 254) who can get downfield. He leads the team with 10 catches. But they will also use TE Lance Kendricks, who has a 37-yard touchdown among his three catches.


This is a good and productive unit for the Rams. Yes, they gave up a 57-yard punt return for touchdown to Seattle’s Tyler Lockett in the first quarter of the opener. But Austin is one of the most dangerous returners in the league and had a 75-yard punt return for touchdown against the Seahawks. K Greg Zuerlein has a strong leg and has 14 career field goals of 50+ yards, including as 52-yarder against Washington. Punter Johnny Hekker’s net average of 40.7 yards — he averages 47.5 yards total — is testament to the coverage. But keep this in mind: Fisher loves trick plays on special teams and Hekker is a good passer.

To win, the Rams must ...

1. Swarm the B’s. They have to have success against Brown, Bell and Ben and slow an offense that averages 458.5 yards per game.

2. Blast Ben. Roethlisberger had five completions of 35 yards or longer against the 49ers, the most by an NFL QB in 10 years.

3. Pile up the plays. Opponents have run 44 more plays than the Rams, the largest disparity in the league. St. Louis is last in the league in plays per game.

To win, the Steelers must ...

1. Hit Britt. Kenny Britt had the only play longer than 16 yards against the Redskins — a 40-yard touchdown — and averages 20.3 yards on four catches.

2. Foil Foles. Nick Foles had the highest passer rating (115.8) by a Rams quarterback in a season opener in 23 years in his most recent outing at home.

3. Trump Donald. The Redskins trapped the former Pitt and Penn Hills star several times and had runs of 25, 35 and 39 yards last week.

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