The gateway to the season?
I do not mean to say that should the following go awry the season is lost, even though I discovered there is a 75 percent mathematical chance they will not make the playoffs if they start 0-1. I merely suggest there is an excellent chance the Big Red Bridge currently under construction might hinge on the strengths and weaknesses of the St. Louis Rams.
If you want to know how much the pass protection has improved from 2012, play the Rams. The Rams were tied for first in the league for sacks (52) in 2012. The Rams defense is the classic, quintessential pressure defense, bringing edge rushers like Chris Long and Robert Quinn in multiple blitz packages and schemes.
It won't take us long to figure out how much help Levi Brown might need or whether or not Paul Fanaika is going to be able to hold up against quick, athletic 3-techniques or how the running backs will do in protection.
If you want to know how much better the rushing attack will be for Big Red, play the Rams. They have a light, athletic front seven that is very aggressive; they run well laterally but holding up at the point of attack is where they have struggled. The Rams were tied for 22nd with the Cardinals in average yards/carry allowed (4.3). And we all know how Ray Horton's defense struggled against the run last year.
The Cards had better be able to run the ball well inside the tackles, perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. This is not a strength of the Rams and Bruce Arians' offense is built on rushing the football. He uses so much play-action to throw the ball down the field and depends on that play-action to be effective. Any failure to rush it well enough to keep the defense honest makes success more difficult for Carson Palmer.
If you want to know how well Carson Palmer has assimilated BA's offense and understands how to beat the blitz, play the Rams. Jeff Fisher has his fingerprints all over this defense and even though Tim Walton is the new defensive coordinator in St. Louis, Palmer can expect complex blitz packages and fire zones. It's one of the reasons why the Rams were so good at rushing the passer last year. They can manufacture pressure if need be and then trump that pressure by having pass rushers that are just better than the guy trying to block them. Put the two together and you have the makings of a firestorm.
This game is going to tell us a lot about this offense going forward, where it needs to improve and where it has improved. And it all starts beneath an arch -- the Gateway City, indeed.
Ron Wolfley, Co-host of Doug & Wolf