Denver Broncos Week 11 Preview: St. Louis

The (7-2) Broncos will travel to take on the (3-6) Rams on Sunday. MHH Lead Analyst, Chad Jensen, previews the game.

Know Your Enemy

The St. Louis Rams might be the best 3-6 team in the NFL right now. That might sound like an underhanded compliment, but in reality, they're better than their record reflects. The Denver Broncos will have their hands full on Sunday, particularly with the Rams defense.

Some might call it a blessing in disguise, but the reality is that when the Rams lost Sam Bradford for the season, it set them back. He might never live up to the billing of a 1st overall pick, but he is easily the best QB the Rams have. Losing him has stung.

When Bradford went down, Jeff Fisher turned to the journeyman, Shaun Hill. But then he got hurt and before they knew it, the Rams were down to their 3rd string QB. That'll suck all the momentum out of your season.

But Austin Davis has exceeded expectations, pulling out two gutsy wins, beating the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. He's tossed 12 touchdowns, to only 9 interceptions, in 9 games. Respectable numbers for an inexperienced gunslinger.

Notwithstanding this, Fisher has reportedly decided to go with the veteran, Hill, over Davis this week vs the Broncos.

Offense

It wasn't too long ago that Shaun Hill was considered to be one of, if not the best backup QB in the NFL. Because of this reputation, it was expected that the Rams might not miss a beat when they lost Bradford. However, it has not played out that way.

After starting off the season as the Rams starter, Hill was injured in week 1 and Davis was subsequently plugged in. Fisher chose to stick with the 2nd-year signal caller from Southern Mississippi, even after Hill had fully recovered.

For whatever reason, Fisher believes that starting Hill vs the Broncos gives the Rams the best chance to win. He could be right. The Rams will have to go blow-for-blow with Peyton Manning and the high-flying Broncos offense, and maybe Hill is best suited for that approach.

Hill's best statistical season came in 2010 with the Detroit Lions. When Matthew Stafford went down, Hill played in 11 games, going 257/416 for 2,686 yards, 16 TDs and 12 INTs. This was the season that built Hill's reputation as a backup. It made him some money.

It's been a while since Hill last played with live bullets. The Broncos defense could be in for a good day, provided they're able to consistently pressure him. Hill is not the most mobile QB in the league.

The Rams offense currently ranks 30th in the league in total yards, and 18th in points per game with 18.1. Fisher has kept his cards very close to the vest, deploying his offense in a very conservative way. He likes to rely on ball control and defense to win games.

In the off-season, the Rams signed former troubled Tennessee Titans wide receiver, Kenny Britt, which many considered to be a prime opportunity for him to resurrect his career. But the star in the passing game has not been Britt, but rather Brian Quick.

Quick started off the season with a bang, catching 25 passes, for 375 yards and 3 TDs, but he was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in their week 8 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sadly, Bradford isn't the Rams only recent high draft choice to under-perform. Tavon Austin, drafted 8th overall last season, has been inconsistent and unable to find a role in the offense. On the season, he only has 17 receptions for 154 yards. The fact that he's also only averaging 2.75 targets per game tells the tale.

But he can be explosive with the ball in his hands. The Rams will likely try to take advantage of the Broncos aggression in rushing the passer with some quick screens to Austin. Chris Harris, Jr and company will have to be on high alert.

Jared Cook, also a former Titan, is one of the league's better pass-catching tight ends, but his numbers have suffered because of inconsistent QB play. The Broncos have struggled to guard the TE thus far and the Rams surely know it.

As the team's leading receiver, Brian Schottenheimer will try to get Cook involved in the offense early and often. If the Broncos run their nickel with 3 safeties again, someone, likely T.J. Ward, has to limit Cook's ability to produce down-field.

In the running game, last year's surprise breakout player, Zac Stacy, has been largely ineffectual in 2014. He has only rushed for 257 yards and 1 TD, averaging 3.9 yards per carry (YPC), the same average he had as a rookie in 2013.

The Rams bolstered their running back depth in the draft last May by selecting Auburn's Tre Mason. He leads the team in rushing with 270 yards and 1 TD. He and Stacy have primarily carried the load thus far.

But Benjamin Cunningham has also seen his share of carries. Fantasy owners hate it, but the Rams backfield is the quintessential running back by committee. The Rams are only averaging 97.4 rushing yards per game, good for 22nd in the NFL. Their prospects do not improve with the Broncos 1st-ranked rush defense coming to town.

The Rams have some big, talented guys on their offensive line. The player to spotlight in particular, is Greg Robinson, the #2 overall pick of the 2014 draft. He started out the season playing left guard and mostly did a good job. But when left tackle, Jake Long went down in week 8 vs the Chiefs, the team plugged Robinson in at LT the next week, where he was destined to go from the moment he was drafted.

On the season, Robinson has earned a -2.3 overall grade at LT via ProFootballFocus. Although he allowed 2 sacks at LG earlier in the season, he's yet to surrender one at LT. He will have his hands full with the wiley veteran, DeMarcus Ware. Robinson hasn't faced a pass rusher of Ware's ilk yet.

Currently, the Rams highest rated offensive lineman via PFF is Roger Saffold with a -2.0 cumulative grade. The former right tackle has spent all of his snaps this year at either right or left guard; mostly left. But when your highest graded O-lineman is currently in the red, it doesn't say much about your unit as a whole.

Center, Scott Wells (-16.2), right guard, Davin Joseph (-12.5) and right tackle, Joe Barksdale (-3.1) make up the rest of the Rams offensive line. Barksdale has surrendered 4 sacks and 24 hurries this year, which mean that Von Miller is foaming at the mouth for this matchup.

It can be easily deduced by this unit's collective PFF grades that the Rams have struggled to protect their QB. They've allowed 30 sacks thus far. And they're obviously not doing a great job in run blocking either.

I don't see the Rams having much success vs the Broncos defense. With how efficient the Broncos have been at stopping the run and rendering the opposition one-dimensional, the Rams aren't suited to keep up with Manning and company in scoring points.

Defense

The Rams selected defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, 13th overall in the draft last May. In the pre-draft process, I felt that Donald would be the best defensive player from this draft class, when evaluated retrospectively 5 years down the road. That includes Jadeveon Clowney.

Donald has lived up to that billing thus far. On the season, he has 3 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss (TFL). This has earned him a +22.0 overall grade via PFF, which ranks 2nd among all DT/NT in the NFL. The kid is a stud.

And the Rams have needed him badly this year, as they lost one of their key players on the defensive line, Chris Long. Long was hurt in week 1 and has missed every game since. He notched 8.5 sacks in 2013, as he and Robert Quinn dominated rushing the passer.

The team hopes that Long can begin to practice again this week, but there's no chance that he'll play vs the Broncos. His replacement at LDE, William Hayes, has played admirably in Long's stead. Although he only has 2 sacks under his belt, he has pressured the QB 24 times, earning a respectable +6.2 overall grade via PFF.

The Broncos retooled offensive line will have their hands full on Sunday. Especially with Donald and Quinn. Quinn was an absolute beast in 2013, notching 19 sacks and just missing the sack crown, which Robert Mathis took (19.5). Quinn has been productive this year, but not quite as prolific.

He currently leads the Rams with 6 sacks. The Broncos LT, Ryan Clady, has not faced a one-on-one test thus far, like he will on Sunday with Quinn. This will be a key matchup that could determine the fate of the game.

The Rams feature two tackle machines at linebacker in James Laurinaitis (-7.4) and Alec Ogletree (-5.8). They have combined for 107 tackles thus far. They are two speedy LBs and can create havoc in the passing game.

They have excelled in coverage, but they have yet to face a test as stiff as the Broncos will provide. TE, Julius Thomas, finally broke out of his semi-slump last week, with 6 receptions for 63 yards and 2 TDs. Offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, opined before last week's game that he plans on featuring Thomas more consistently moving forward. These two LBs will be the Rams first line of defense in stopping him.

The Rams saving grace has been their defense. And they are excellent at all 3 levels. However, Fisher must have felt that they could use some help at safety, because he orchestrated a trade, right before the deadline, that brought Mark Barron to St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As a former 1st round pick, Barron somewhat underachieved in Tampa. A lot of that had to do with the team's lack of competitiveness and ineffectual coaching. But if Jeff Fisher is good at anything, it's getting the most out of his players on defense. Barron is likely on the brink of a career resurrection in St. Louis.

T.J. McDonald, the Rams strong safety, leads the team in tackles with 58 combined. He started out the season somewhat inconsistently, but over the last two weeks, he's improved dramatically, earning a +2.7 and +4.3 overall grade, respectively, via PFF. He and Barron have a bright future together.

Arguably, the biggest surprise on defense for the Rams thus far has been rookie cornerback, E.J. Gaines. Drafted in the 6th round out of Missouri, the 5'10, 195lb Gaines has been a stud, locking down the left side of the field.

With a +6.6 cumulative grade, he is PFF's 11th highest rated CB. Not bad for a late-round rookie. He has teamed up with Janoris Jenkins (-1.9) to be one of the league's best young CB duos. But like their teammates at LB, they haven't experienced anything quite like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders yet.

Overall, this young Rams defense is one of the best and most talented in the league. They are a force to be reckoned with. Frankly, I'm not sure that the Broncos offensive line is up for the challenge of dealing with Donald, Quinn and company in the trenches. But how they're able to handle the Rams D-line, will likely determine the outcome of this game.

Prediction

Broncos 31 Rams 16

As usual, Brandon Perna has his own take on what the final score will be.

Chad Jensen is the Publisher and Lead Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @CJ_Broncos and on Google+.

Follow MileHighHuddle on Twitter @MileHighHuddle and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and discounted Broncos tickets.

Brandon Perna is the Director of Video Content for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonPerna and YouTube.

Next Story:

Film Room: Game On The Line


Mile High Huddle Top Stories

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Offense

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It wasn't too long ago that Shaun Hill was considered to be one of, if not the best backup QB in the NFL. Because of this reputation, it was expected that the Rams might not miss a beat when they lost Bradford. However, it has not played out that way. \r\n

After starting off the season as the Rams starter, Hill was injured in week 1 and Davis was subsequently plugged in. Fisher chose to stick with the 2nd-year signal caller from Southern Mississippi, even after Hill had fully recovered. \r\n

For whatever reason, Fisher believes that starting Hill vs the Broncos gives the Rams the best chance to win. He could be right. The Rams will have to go blow-for-blow with Peyton Manning and the high-flying Broncos offense, and maybe Hill is best suited for that approach. \r\n

Hill's best statistical season came in 2010 with the Detroit Lions. When Matthew Stafford went down, Hill played in 11 games, going 257/416 for 2,686 yards, 16 TDs and 12 INTs. This was the season that built Hill's reputation as a backup. It made him some money. \r\n

It's been a while since Hill last played with live bullets. The Broncos defense could be in for a good day, provided they're able to consistently pressure him. Hill is not the most mobile QB in the league. \r\n

The Rams offense currently ranks 30th in the league in total yards, and 18th in points per game with 18.1. Fisher has kept his cards very close to the vest, deploying his offense in a very conservative way. He likes to rely on ball control and defense to win games. \r\n

In the off-season, the Rams signed former troubled Tennessee Titans wide receiver, Kenny Britt, which many considered to be a prime opportunity for him to resurrect his career. But the star in the passing game has not been Britt, but rather Brian Quick. \r\n

Quick started off the season with a bang, catching 25 passes, for 375 yards and 3 TDs, but he was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in their week 8 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. \r\n

Sadly, Bradford isn't the Rams only recent high draft choice to under-perform. Tavon Austin, drafted 8th overall last season, has been inconsistent and unable to find a role in the offense. On the season, he only has 17 receptions for 154 yards. The fact that he's also only averaging 2.75 targets per game tells the tale. \r\n

But he can be explosive with the ball in his hands. The Rams will likely try to take advantage of the Broncos aggression in rushing the passer with some quick screens to Austin. Chris Harris, Jr and company will have to be on high alert. \r\n

Jared Cook, also a former Titan, is one of the league's better pass-catching tight ends, but his numbers have suffered because of inconsistent QB play. The Broncos have struggled to guard the TE thus far and the Rams surely know it. \r\n

As the team's leading receiver, Brian Schottenheimer will try to get Cook involved in the offense early and often. If the Broncos run their nickel with 3 safeties again, someone, likely T.J. Ward, has to limit Cook's ability to produce down-field. \r\n

In the running game, last year's surprise breakout player, Zac Stacy, has been largely ineffectual in 2014. He has only rushed for 257 yards and 1 TD, averaging 3.9 yards per carry (YPC), the same average he had as a rookie in 2013.\r\n

The Rams bolstered their running back depth in the draft last May by selecting Auburn's Tre Mason. He leads the team in rushing with 270 yards and 1 TD. He and Stacy have primarily carried the load thus far. \r\n

But Benjamin Cunningham has also seen his share of carries. Fantasy owners hate it, but the Rams backfield is the quintessential running back by committee. The Rams are only averaging 97.4 rushing yards per game, good for 22nd in the NFL. Their prospects do not improve with the Broncos 1st-ranked rush defense coming to town. \r\n

The Rams have some big, talented guys on their offensive line. The player to spotlight in particular, is Greg Robinson, the #2 overall pick of the 2014 draft. He started out the season playing left guard and mostly did a good job. But when left tackle, Jake Long went down in week 8 vs the Chiefs, the team plugged Robinson in at LT the next week, where he was destined to go from the moment he was drafted. \r\n

On the season, Robinson has earned a -2.3 overall grade at LT via ProFootballFocus. Although he allowed 2 sacks at LG earlier in the season, he's yet to surrender one at LT. He will have his hands full with the wiley veteran, DeMarcus Ware. Robinson hasn't faced a pass rusher of Ware's ilk yet. \r\n

Currently, the Rams highest rated offensive lineman via PFF is Roger Saffold with a -2.0 cumulative grade. The former right tackle has spent all of his snaps this year at either right or left guard; mostly left. But when your highest graded O-lineman is currently in the red, it doesn't say much about your unit as a whole. \r\n

Center, Scott Wells (-16.2), right guard, Davin Joseph (-12.5) and right tackle, Joe Barksdale (-3.1) make up the rest of the Rams offensive line. Barksdale has surrendered 4 sacks and 24 hurries this year, which mean that Von Miller is foaming at the mouth for this matchup. \r\n

It can be easily deduced by this unit's collective PFF grades that the Rams have struggled to protect their QB. They've allowed 30 sacks thus far. And they're obviously not doing a great job in run blocking either. \r\n

I don't see the Rams having much success vs the Broncos defense. With how efficient the Broncos have been at stopping the run and rendering the opposition one-dimensional, the Rams aren't suited to keep up with Manning and company in scoring points. \r\n

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Defense

\r\n

\r\n

The Rams selected defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, 13th overall in the draft last May. In the pre-draft process, I felt that Donald would be the best defensive player from this draft class, when evaluated retrospectively 5 years down the road. That includes Jadeveon Clowney. \r\n

Donald has lived up to that billing thus far. On the season, he has 3 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss (TFL). This has earned him a +22.0 overall grade via PFF, which ranks 2nd among all DT/NT in the NFL. The kid is a stud. \r\n

And the Rams have needed him badly this year, as they lost one of their key players on the defensive line, Chris Long. Long was hurt in week 1 and has missed every game since. He notched 8.5 sacks in 2013, as he and Robert Quinn dominated rushing the passer. \r\n

The team hopes that Long can begin to practice again this week, but there's no chance that he'll play vs the Broncos. His replacement at LDE, William Hayes, has played admirably in Long's stead. Although he only has 2 sacks under his belt, he has pressured the QB 24 times, earning a respectable +6.2 overall grade via PFF. \r\n

The Broncos retooled offensive line will have their hands full on Sunday. Especially with Donald and Quinn. Quinn was an absolute beast in 2013, notching 19 sacks and just missing the sack crown, which Robert Mathis took (19.5). Quinn has been productive this year, but not quite as prolific. \r\n

He currently leads the Rams with 6 sacks. The Broncos LT, Ryan Clady, has not faced a one-on-one test thus far, like he will on Sunday with Quinn. This will be a key matchup that could determine the fate of the game. \r\n

The Rams feature two tackle machines at linebacker in James Laurinaitis (-7.4) and Alec Ogletree (-5.8). They have combined for 107 tackles thus far. They are two speedy LBs and can create havoc in the passing game. \r\n

They have excelled in coverage, but they have yet to face a test as stiff as the Broncos will provide. TE, Julius Thomas, finally broke out of his semi-slump last week, with 6 receptions for 63 yards and 2 TDs. Offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, opined before last week's game that he plans on featuring Thomas more consistently moving forward. These two LBs will be the Rams first line of defense in stopping him. \r\n

The Rams saving grace has been their defense. And they are excellent at all 3 levels. However, Fisher must have felt that they could use some help at safety, because he orchestrated a trade, right before the deadline, that brought Mark Barron to St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. \r\n

As a former 1st round pick, Barron somewhat underachieved in Tampa. A lot of that had to do with the team's lack of competitiveness and ineffectual coaching. But if Jeff Fisher is good at anything, it's getting the most out of his players on defense. Barron is likely on the brink of a career resurrection in St. Louis. \r\n

T.J. McDonald, the Rams strong safety, leads the team in tackles with 58 combined. He started out the season somewhat inconsistently, but over the last two weeks, he's improved dramatically, earning a +2.7 and +4.3 overall grade, respectively, via PFF. He and Barron have a bright future together. \r\n

Arguably, the biggest surprise on defense for the Rams thus far has been rookie cornerback, E.J. Gaines. Drafted in the 6th round out of Missouri, the 5'10, 195lb Gaines has been a stud, locking down the left side of the field. \r\n

With a +6.6 cumulative grade, he is PFF's 11th highest rated CB. Not bad for a late-round rookie. He has teamed up with Janoris Jenkins (-1.9) to be one of the league's best young CB duos. But like their teammates at LB, they haven't experienced anything quite like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders yet. \r\n

Overall, this young Rams defense is one of the best and most talented in the league. They are a force to be reckoned with. Frankly, I'm not sure that the Broncos offensive line is up for the challenge of dealing with Donald, Quinn and company in the trenches. But how they're able to handle the Rams D-line, will likely determine the outcome of this game. \r\n

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Prediction

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Broncos 31 Rams 16\r\n

As usual, Brandon Perna has his own take on what the final score will be.\r\n

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Chad Jensen is the Publisher and Lead Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @CJ_Broncos and on Google+.\r\n

Follow MileHighHuddle on Twitter @MileHighHuddle and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and discounted Broncos tickets.\r\n

Brandon Perna is the Director of Video Content for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonPerna and YouTube.\r\n

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See what Broncos fans are saying here

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Film Room: Game On The Line
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","mobileBody":"

The St. Louis Rams might be the best 3-6 team in the NFL right now. That might sound like an underhanded compliment, but in reality, they're better than their record reflects. The Denver Broncos will have their hands full on Sunday, particularly with the Rams defense.

Some might call it a blessing in disguise, but the reality is that when the Rams lost Sam Bradford for the season, it set them back. He might never live up to the billing of a 1st overall pick, but he is easily the best QB the Rams have. Losing him has stung.

When Bradford went down, Jeff Fisher turned to the journeyman, Shaun Hill. But then he got hurt and before they knew it, the Rams were down to their 3rd string QB. That'll suck all the momentum out of your season.

But Austin Davis has exceeded expectations, pulling out two gutsy wins, beating the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. He's tossed 12 touchdowns, to only 9 interceptions, in 9 games. Respectable numbers for an inexperienced gunslinger.

Notwithstanding this, Fisher has reportedly decided to go with the veteran, Hill, over Davis this week vs the Broncos.

Fisher changes mind. Will start Shaun Hill vs Denver at QB

— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) November 12, 2014

It wasn't too long ago that Shaun Hill was considered to be one of, if not best backup QB in the NFL. Because of this reputation, it was expected that the Rams might not miss a beat when they lost Bradford. However, it has not played out that way.

After starting off the season as the Rams starter, Hill was injured in week 1 and Davis was subsequently plugged in. Fisher chose to stick with the 2nd-year signal caller from Southern Mississippi, even after Hill had fully recovered.

For whatever reason, Fisher believes that starting Hill vs the Broncos gives the Rams the best chance to win. He could be right. The Rams will have to go blow-for-blow with Peyton Manning and the high-flying Broncos offense, and maybe Hill is best suited for that approach.

Hill's best statistical season came in 2010 with the Detroit Lions. When Matthew Stafford went down, Hill played in 11 games, going 257/416 for 2,686 yards, 16 TDs and 12 INTs. This was the season that built Hill's reputation as a backup. It made him some money.

It's been a while since Hill last played with live bullets. The Broncos defense could be in for a good day, provided they're able to consistently pressure him. Hill is not the most mobile QB in the league.

The Rams offense currently ranks 30th in the league in total yards, and 18th in points per game with 18.1. Fisher has kept his cards very close to the vest, deploying his offense in a very conservative way. He likes to rely on ball control and defense to win games.

In the off-season, the Rams signed former troubled Tennessee Titans wide receiver, Kenny Britt, which many considered to be a prime opportunity for him to resurrect his career. But the star in the passing game has not been Britt, but rather Brian Quick.

Quick started off the season with a bang, catching 25 passes, for 375 yards and 3 TDs, but he was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in their week 8 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sadly, Bradford isn't the Rams only recent high draft choice to under-perform. Tavon Austin, drafted 8th overall last season, has been inconsistent and unable to find a role in the offense. On the season, he only has 17 receptions for 154 yards. The fact that he's also only averaging 2.75 targets per game tells the tale.

But he can be explosive with the ball in his hands. The Rams will likely try to take advantage of the Broncos aggression in rushing the passer with some quick screens to Austin. Chris Harris, Jr and company will have to be on high alert.

Jared Cook, also a former Titan, is one of the league's better pass-catching tight ends, but his numbers have suffered because of inconsistent QB play. The Broncos have struggled to guard the TE thus far and the Rams surely know it.

As the team's leading receiver, Brian Schottenheimer will try to get Cook involved in the offense early and often. If the Broncos run their nickel with 3 safeties again, someone, likely T.J. Ward, has to limit Cook's ability to produce down-field.

In the running game, last year's surprise breakout player, Zac Stacy, has been largely ineffectual in 2014. He has only rushed for 257 yards and 1 TD, averaging 3.9 yards per carry (YPC), the same average he had as a rookie in 2013.

The Rams bolstered their running back depth in the draft last May by selecting Auburn's Tre Mason. He leads the team in rushing with 270 yards and 1 TD. He and Stacy have primarily carried the load thus far.

But Benjamin Cunningham has also seen his share of carries. Fantasy owners hate it, but the Rams backfield is the quintessential running back by committee. The Rams are only averaging 97.4 rushing yards per game, good for 22nd in the NFL. Their prospects do not improve with the Broncos 1st-ranked rush defense coming to town.

The Rams have some big, talented guys on their offensive line. The player to spotlight in particular, is Greg Robinson, the #2 overall pick of the 2014 draft. He started out the season playing left guard and mostly did a good job. But when left tackle, Jake Long went down in week 8 vs the Chiefs, the team plugged Robinson in at LT the next week, where he was destined to go from the moment he was drafted.

On the season, Robinson has earned a overall grade at LT via ProFootballFocus. Although he allowed 2 sacks at LG earlier in the season, he's yet to surrender one at LT. He will have his hands full with the wiley veteran, DeMarcus Ware. Robinson hasn't faced a pass rusher of Ware's ilk yet.

Currently, the Rams highest rated offensive lineman via PFF is Roger Saffold with a cumulative grade. The former right tackle has spent all of his snaps this year at either right or left guard; mostly left. But when your highest graded O-lineman is currently in the red, it doesn't say much about your unit as a whole.

Center, Scott Wells (), right guard, Davin Joseph () and right tackle, Joe Barksdale () make up the rest of the Rams offensive line. Barksdale has surrendered 4 sacks and 24 hurries this year, which mean that Von Miller is foaming at the mouth for this matchup.

It can be easily deduced by this unit's collective PFF grades that the Rams have struggled to protect their QB. They've allowed 30 sacks thus far. And they're obviously not doing a great job in run blocking either.

I don't see the Rams having much success vs the Broncos defense. With how efficient the Broncos have been at stopping the run and rendering the opposition one-dimensional, the Rams aren't suited to keep up with Manning and company in scoring points.

The Rams selected defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, 13th overall in the draft last May. In the pre-draft process, I felt that Donald would be the best defensive player from this draft class, when evaluated retrospectively 5 years down the road. That includes Jadeveon Clowney.

Donald has lived up to that billing thus far. On the season, he has 3 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss (TFL). This has earned him a overall grade via PFF, which ranks 2nd among all DT/NT in the NFL. The kid is a stud.

And the Rams have needed him badly this year, as they lost one of their key players on the defensive line, Chris Long. Long was hurt in week 1 and has missed every game since. He notched 8.5 sacks in 2013, as he and Robert Quinn dominated rushing the passer.

The team hopes that Long can begin to practice again this week, but there's no chance that he'll play vs the Broncos. His replacement at LDE, William Hayes, has played admirably in Long's stead. Although he only has 2 sacks under his belt, he has pressured the QB 24 times, earning a respectable overall grade via PFF.

The Broncos retooled offensive line will have their hands full on Sunday. Especially with Donald and Quinn. Quinn was an absolute beast in 2013, notching 19 sacks and just missing the sack crown, which Robert Mathis took (19.5). Quinn has been productive this year, but not quite as prolific.

He currently leads the Rams with 6 sacks. The Broncos LT, Ryan Clady, has not faced a one-on-one test thus far, like he will on Sunday with Quinn. This will be a key matchup that could determine the fate of the game.

The Rams feature two tackle machines at linebacker in James Laurinaitis () and Alec Ogletree (). They have combined for 107 tackles thus far. They are two speedy LBs and can create havoc in the passing game.

They have excelled in coverage, but they have yet to face a test as stiff as the Broncos will provide. TE, Julius Thomas, finally broke out of his semi-slump last week, with 6 receptions for 63 yards and 2 TDs. Offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, opined before last week's game that he plans on featuring Thomas more consistently moving forward. These two LBs will be the Rams first line of defense in stopping him.

The Rams saving grace has been their defense. And they are excellent at all 3 levels. However, Fisher must have felt that they could use some help at safety, because he orchestrated a trade, right before the deadline, that brought Mark Barron to St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As a former 1st round pick, Barron somewhat underachieved in Tampa. A lot of that had to do with the team's lack of competitiveness and ineffectual coaching. But if Jeff Fisher is good at anything, it's getting the most out of his players on defense. Barron is likely on the brink of a career resurrection in St. Louis.

T.J. McDonald, the Rams strong safety, leads the team in tackles with 58 combined. He started out the season somewhat inconsistently, but over the last two weeks, he's improved dramatically, earning a and overall grade, respectively, via PFF. He and Barron have a bright future together.

Arguably, the biggest surprise on defense for the Rams thus far has been rookie cornerback, E.J. Gaines. Drafted in the 6th round out of Missouri, the 5'10, 195lb Gaines has been a stud, locking down the left side of the field.

With a cumulative grade, he is PFF's 11th highest rated CB. Not bad for a late-round rookie. He has teamed up with Janoris Jenkins () to be one of the league's best young CB duos. But like their teammates at LB, they haven't experienced anything quite like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders yet.

Overall, this young Rams defense is one of the best and most talented in the league. They are a force to be reckoned with. Frankly, I'm not sure that the Broncos offensive line is up for the challenge of dealing with Donald, Quinn and company in the trenches. But how they're able to handle the Rams D-line, will likely determine the outcome of this game.

Broncos 31 Rams 16

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Film Room: Game On The Line [MEDIA:1427304]

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