Under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the St. Louis Rams have installed a spread offense that utilizes multiple-receiver sets. As its name suggests, the offense is designed to spread out the defense and create open passing lanes.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, in his first year under Schottenheimer, has thrived in the new system. He struggled last season under former OC Josh McDaniels, yet after two weeks this year, he ranks third in the league in passer rating (112.4) and completion percentage (71.7). This West-coast style of offense calls for quick passes and easy completions, a system that so far fits Bradford like a glove.
His favorite target so far has been receiver Danny Amendola, who caught 15 passes last week against the Washington Redskins. Through two weeks, Amendola ranks first in the NFL in receptions (20), second in targets (25) and third in receiving yardage (230).
The connection between Bradford and Amendola has been a huge boost to the Rams' passing attack, which ranks 18th in the league so far, up from 30th last season.
If the Chicago Bears are to keep the St. Louis' offense in check this Sunday at Soldier Field, they'll need to stop Amendola. Let's go to the coaches tape and outline this challenge.
Here you have a four-receiver set with Bradford under center and Amendola (blue) in the left slot. At the snap, the Redskins blitz the nickel corner. Amendola reads the blitz and runs a hot route left. He makes the easy catch and then breaks a tackle for a nice gain – although he eventually ends up fumbling the ball on this play.
Here the Rams use trips right with Amendola in the right wing. Both outside receivers clear out the right zone. Amendola runs a read route, starting inside and quickly breaking back outside. Using his quickness and ability to change directions, he makes the catch against press coverage and even draws a pass interference penalty.
Here again is a four-receiver set with Amendola bunched on the right edge.
At the snap, the outside receiver runs a drag pattern, briefly occupying Washington's linebacker. Amendola runs an angle route back into the area vacated by the linebacker.
Amendola's quick cut leaves the nickel corner in his wake. Bradford throws a pass right on the money, before the linebacker can recover. The play goes for a 15-yard gain.
Even on the 1-yard line, the Rams use a spread formation. Bradford is under center with Amendola slot left. At the snap, the tight end runs an out pattern, taking the cornerback with him. Amendola then runs a three-yard hitch.
The Redskins actually double Amendola on this play, yet his head fake on a quick out buckles the knees of both the safety and the linebacker. He then breaks back to his QB and sits. Bradford just has to dump it over his linemen for the easy touchdown.
Outside of Amendola, the Rams don't have a ton of talent at the wide receiver position. So he absolutely needs to be the focus of Chicago's pass defense.
The Bears typically like to play in a two-deep shell, relying on the back seven to be sound tacklers after the catch. Yet with Amendola – a player who can easily create separation out of the slot and the quickness to make defenders miss in open space – the goal should be to stop him from catching the ball in the first place.
That responsibility will likely fall on nickelback D.J. Moore, who led the team in interceptions (4) last year. Moore is a solid cover corner with good speed and man-cover ability. He's been spotty through the first two games this season, having already allowed a touchdown – after not allowing a single TD in 2011. Opposing quarterbacks have a 123.4 passer rating when throwing at Moore, the highest QB rating of all Chicago's corners.
Another option might be to swing Moore out wide and let Tim Jennings trail Amendola. Jennings is playing at a very high level and leads the league in interceptions (3). Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of just 19.7 when throwing at Jennings. Right now, he's easily the best cornerback on the roster. Why not let him use his physicality to press and trail Amendola?
Whether it's Moore, Jennings, Kelvin Hayden or Charles Tillman, the underneath corner is going to need additional help over the top. Safety rotations and linebacker drop zones must have Amendola as the focus on every play. If you can take him out of the game, the Rams' passing attack will struggle.
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.