Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers v. Rams, Part II

Can the Rams do to the Chargers what they did to the Broncos? Does Shaun Hill have what it takes to exploit San Diego's secondary? What must St. Louis do to win back-to-back games for the first time this season? To answer these and other questions, we turn to our Scout.com team experts, Nate Latsch and Michael Lombardo.

Nate Latsch is a reporter for GridironGateway.com. Michael Lombardo is the publisher of SDBoltReport.com. To check out the first installment of this series -- where we talk all about the health of Philip Rivers, the return of Ryan Mathews and the odds of the Bolts starting up another winning streak -- click here.

Michael Lombardo: The Rams just did the Chargers a huge favor by knocking off the AFC West leaders, the Denver Broncos. How did St. Louis manage to hold Manning & Co. to just seven points?

Nate Latsch: The Rams played well defensively, obviously, but needed a total team effort.

The running game racked up 131 yards on 33 carries (4.0 ypc). The offense did not turn the ball over after having five turnovers in the previous two games, including three in the fourth quarter a week earlier in Arizona. Those two factors helped St. Louis win the time of possession battle, 35:50 to 24:10.

Special teams were also a significant factor.

The Broncos' average starting field position was at their own 18-yard line. They had 13 possessions and their best starting field position was at their own 25. Punter Johnny Hekker, who was Pro Bowl selection a year ago, put four of his six punts inside the 20-yard line.

Defensively, the Rams did a little bit of everything.

They gave up only one big play -- the long touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders -- but were able to sack Manning twice and intercept him twice, by linebacker Alec Ogletree and cornerback Trumaine Johnson. They limited Denver to a season-low 28 yards rushing -- the same total the Rams limited the Cardinals to a week earlier -- and made the Broncos offense one-dimensional.

St. Louis was really stingy defensively on third and fourth down. Denver converted just four of 15 attempts on third and fourth down (26.7 percent). The Broncos entered the game converting 44.9 percent of their third-down attempts and 28.6 percent on fourth down.

James Laurinaitis said afterward that one of the keys was the Rams' tackling in open-field situations, which kept the Broncos from turning short gains into potentially game-breaking bigger plays.

So, yeah, a lot of different factors contributed to them slowing down one of the top offenses in the NFL. It was an almost flawless all-around game for the Rams.

ML: In its last five games, St. Louis has posted wins over the Seahawks, 49ers and Broncos. At the same time, the team has yet to win two games in a row. How do you explain the peaks and valleys of this young team?

NL: It's strange to say, but the Rams are 4-6 right now but honestly could be 8-2 with a couple breaks here and there.

They got blown out by the Vikings 34-6 in the season opener and then by the Chiefs 34-7 four weeks ago. Even in those games, they were within striking distance at halftime before collapsing in the second half.

The Rams led the Cowboys and Cardinals in the fourth quarter. They led the 49ers at halftime in their first meeting before San Francisco pulled away after halftime. They lost by six points in Philadelphia but rallied from a big deficit and had the ball late with a chance for a go-ahead score.

St. Louis has a young team, like you mentioned, but it's also a team that has been hit hard by injuries.

Quarterback Sam Bradford was lost for the season with an ACL injury in the preseason. They lost starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson for seven games with an MCL injury. They lost veteran defensive end and team leader Chris Long to an ankle injury in the season opener and he has yet to return. Then they lost left tackle Jake Long and their best wide receiver, Brian Quick, to season-ending injuries.

They've been hit hard but they've still played very well at times. They've now won three of their last four games, but should have won four of those. They led Arizona 14-10 in the fourth quarter but lost 31-14 after giving up a long touchdown pass and then two defensive returns for touchdowns.

ML: I was surprised to see the Rams switch from Austin Davis back to Shaun Hill. I didn't like the move for the same reason I didn't like Buffalo's move from E.J. Manuel to Kyle Orton: why pull the plug on a young quarterback in favor of a low-ceiling veteran unless you are a potential contender? Do the Rams believe they can sneak into the playoffs? If not, why switch now?

NL: Davis has had some very good moments this season, but he has been plagued by some bad mistakes that have made the difference in a couple games.

He had four of his nine interceptions returned for touchdowns and also had two of his fumbles returned for scores. So while he had thrown 12 touchdown passes, some of his mistakes accounted for six touchdowns for Rams' opponents.

His last two starts, against San Francisco and Arizona, were by far his worst performances. He had a season-low 44.6 quarterback rating against the 49ers, in a game the Rams won, and then finished with a 62.6 rating in the loss at Arizona. He had two touchdown passes and four interceptions in those games.

Davis was clearly affected by the pressure defenses were putting on him and he was struggling to be able to look downfield for his open receivers.

The Rams were hoping that Hill would provide a calming presence to the offense and not make the costly mistakes that Davis had. We saw that in the win over the Broncos. He made smart decisions about where to go with the football and was able to move the team down the field.

ML: What will the Rams do about the quarterback position this offseason? Will they target a free agent like Brian Hoyer, Michael Vick or Ryan Mallett? Or will they look for one early in the draft? What should they do?

NL: FOX's Howie Long said at halftime of the Cardinals game two weeks ago that when the Rams get some direction at the quarterback position, it's just a matter of time before they take the next step and are the dominant team in the NFC West.

Those are strong words from the Hall of Famer, who watches the Rams very closely and knows the team well because of his son, Chris. Now, how the Rams get to that point is anybody's guess.

St. Louis planned to address the QB position in this year's draft, but after reportedly considering trading back into the first round to pick Johnny Manziel, the Rams didn't take a quarterback until they selected SMU's Garrett Gilbert in the sixth round. I'm not convinced that Manziel will be a difference-making QB in the NFL, but the Rams have definitely hurt themselves by not addressing the position in the draft after picking Bradford.

Bradford has one year remaining on his rich rookie contract, but has a salary cap hit of $16.58 million for next season and will be coming off back-to-back season-ending ACL injuries.

Releasing Bradford would free up some money to pursue a free agent at that position, but will there be any guys out there who can come in and make a difference? They probably won't be in position to draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, either.

I could see them bringing back Bradford on a restructured low-risk deal, bringing back Davis and then drafting a QB early (first or second round) and having those guys compete for the starting job. I know this answer will infuriate Rams fans, but I could see this scenario playing out.

ML: What are the two or three things the Rams must do really well in San Diego in order to secure their third road win of the season?

The Rams have been outstanding defensively the past three games and that needs to continue against Philip Rivers & Co. They need to continue to be stingy in the run game and, like they did against the Cardinals and Broncos, try to make the Chargers as one-dimensional as they can. Then Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald will have more opportunities to get pressure on Rivers.

The Rams will look to establish the run with rookie third-rounder Tre Mason, who had a career-high 113 yards rushing against Denver's top-ranked rushing defense. It's basic old-school football -- running the ball and playing good defense -- but that's how this Rams team was built to play.

The other obvious thing, like every game, is winning the turnover battle. The Rams have three turnovers in their four victories and have 13 turnovers in their six losses.



Talk all about the Bolts-Rams game in the Chargers boards or the Rams boards.



Follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him: natelatsch@gmail.com


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