SERIES: 10th regular-season meeting. Rams lead, 5-4, and won the last regular-season meeting in New England, 24-17, in 2001. In the post-season that year, the Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, 20-17. The Patriots won in St. Louis, 40-22, in 2004.
PREDICTION: Patriots 20-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Rams might not know until game day whether RB Steven Jackson will be able to play or if they'll have to turn to a committee of Antonio Pittman, Travis Minor and Kenneth Darby, who have a combined nine carries this season. QB Marc Bulger said the game plan won't change, but it's a critical difference because the passing game still isn't producing much. The Patriots' secondary will have a new look with S James Sanders taking over Rodney Harrison's role of playing closer to the line and Brandon Meriweather now in the starting lineup. ... Despite two strong games since interim coach Jim Haslett took over, the Rams are still allowing 161.5 rushing yards per game. The Patriots found a successful formula last weekend, rushing for 257 yards to make life much easier on QB Matt Cassel. New England can't expect the same production Sunday, but the plan should be similar. Cassel has shown he can be an efficient passer when kept out of long passing situations.
KEY INJURIES: Rams: Jackson (bruised quadriceps) called himself day-to-day; LT Orlando Pace (quadriceps) should start. Patriots: Harrison (torn quadriceps) is out for the season; RB LaMont Jordan (calf) should play; RB Sammy Morris (knee) is uncertain.
FAST FACTS: Rams S Oshiomogho Atogwe has nine interceptions in his past 14 games. ... The Patriots are 11-1 at home in October since 2003.
--RB Steven Jackson did limited work in individual drills, and did nothing in team segments during practice Thursday. Said coach Jim Haslett, "We'll see how he is tomorrow (Friday) and if he can do some things tomorrow, we'll just take it day-to-day here. You ask him, he'll tell you, but he looks better to me."
--DT Adam Carriker missed practice Thursday because of an ankle injury. Coach Jim Haslett said Carriker is "iffy" to play in Sunday's game against New England. Added Haslett, "He wants to play. I know it's a lot better today, but I don't know if it will be good enough."
--WR Derek Stanley, who suffered a concussion against Dallas, was cleared to practice and play Thursday, and did some work with the first unit. Said coach Jim Haslett, "We'll see how he is tomorrow and decide on what we're going to do with him in the game."
--DE Victor Adeyanju is expected to get some snaps inside at tackle Sunday if DT Adam Carriker is unable to play.
--LT Orlando Pace had another practice without problems and is expected to start Sunday after missing the Dallas game because of a quadriceps injury. "Last week wasn't looking good," Pace said. "But now it feels a lot better."
--The news on the injury front remains bleak as RB Sammy Morris did not participate in Thursday's practice due to a knee injury. Morris wasn't on the field for Wednesday's walkthrough either, so the chances of him playing remain slim.
--Likewise, RB LaMont Jordan also missed practice despite Bill Belichick's optimism regarding the running back's recent progress. Jordan hasn't played in three weeks and will be needed if Sammy Morris is unable to suit up Sunday against the Rams.
--CB Lewis Sanders also missed Thursday's practice with a hamstring injury and would be a tough loss to absorb since he has recently enjoyed an expanded role in New England's nickel packages.
--RT Nick Kaczur missed Thursday's practice with an ankle injury and his status remains in doubt for the second week in a row. Mark LeVoir started in his place Monday and played reasonably well against Denver's struggling defensive line.
--DE Jarvis Green missed practice Thursday with an ankle injury and is in danger of missing his second consecutive game after getting hurt out West against San Diego. Green's absence would move Mike Wright up the depth chart as the fourth lineman.
When the Rams defeated the Cowboys Sunday without left tackle Orlando Pace, that might have been as much of a confidence builder as anything that could have happened to a team that began the season 0-4 and had experienced a huge amount of injuries during the 2007 3-13 season.
Speaking of how the team played with Adam Goldberg replacing Pace, coach Jim Haslett said, "I thought Adam did a nice job in his spot, so it makes you as a coach have some confidence that guys can step in and fulfill their role and do a good job."
Now, Haslett and the Rams are preparing for Sunday's game against New England with the possibility that running back Steven Jackson won't play and it doesn't seem to faze them. Antonio Pittman, Travis Minor and, perhaps Kenneth Darby, would be available at Jackson's spot.
The same is true at defensive tackle, where Adam Carriker might not be able to play. If that happens, La'Roi Glover will get more snaps, while ends James Hall and Victor Adeyanju would see some time inside.
Asked about a team having a mindset that injuries can't bring them down, Haslett said, "Well, it should be; that's how this league works. You're going to play guys, people get hurt, other guys have to step in and step up and play. I said before, it doesn't really make a difference. I mean it does make a difference, but that's why you have 53 guys on your team. If you don't think they're good enough then they shouldn't be here.
"Guys will step in if for some reason Jack (Steven Jackson) can't go, Pittman will step in and do a great job with Travis and Ken so that's just how it is. If Adam can't go, Victor will get work inside and Glover will go back to starting and we'll be fine."
Haslett also understands that sometimes it's better to hold a player out, rather than risk losing them for even longer.
"Me personally, I'm going to err on the side of caution to do what is best for him and do what is best for the team in the long run," Haslett said. "That's what I did with Derek Stanley and all of these other guys. Being an ex-player and being in those shoes, I understand exactly what everyone is going through, so I think I can shed a little light on that from that standpoint."
The loss of Rodney Harrison is bad enough. Now the New England Patriots must find a way to survive without a depleted running game too.
"I don't think it's about surviving," said fullback Heath Evans, who might enjoy a spike in playing time in the next few weeks. "I think it's about guys taking their opportunities when they get them and having fun with it."
The guys he's talking about are Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan, Kevin Faulk and perhaps undrafted rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who made a positive impression Monday night with 65 yards on 13 carries in the second half.
The Patriots need all the help they can get with Laurence Maroney out for the season and Morris and Jordan nursing leg injuries. Jordan hasn't played since hurting his calf against the 49ers while Morris is currently dealing with a knee injury sustained in Monday's win over the Broncos. Their futures are uncertain, meaning other players may be asked to shoulder the load Sunday against St. Louis.
"The running back position, yes, it's physically demanding, but when you look at the offensive line and you look at the coaching job this staff has done time to time when we've lost key players," Evans said. "Other guys have stepped in that maybe no one has heard of and we really seem not to miss a beat and win games everyone expected us to lose."
Evans should know, because he filled in when Corey Dillon sprained his ankle in 2005 and had a big day against the Miami Dolphins with 84 rushing yards.
"I think it's the nature of this team (being) coached extremely well where you see other teams not be able to fill those gaps," Evans said. "I'm sure we haven't always been perfect at it. Obviously, when I got here it would've been a lot better to have Corey Dillon in there than me, but at the same time this goes back to coaching -- making players prepared for what they're going to be asked to do."
The Patriots have confidence in whoever runs the ball.
"The guys wouldn't be here if they couldn't do the job," Faulk said. "That's why they're here. We've got to play football."
Even if it's with Green-Ellis, an undrafted free agent who spent the entire season on the practice squad until the Patriots activated him prior to their game against Denver.
"We ask a lot of our running backs offensively -- in the running game, in the passing game, in pass protection," head coach Bill Belichick said. "A lot of things can change for them by formation and sometimes even at the line of scrimmage when we go from one play to another or change the protection from one thing to another.
"He's handled all of those well from Day 1 even though he hasn't gotten a lot of practice. There have been a lot of people in front of him, but when he's had the opportunity he's shown that he's on top of it and he's been productive for us with the ball in his hands."
Meriweather The Key To The Secondary Now
Patriots - Rams: Key Matchups (in)
Patriots Insider Report: Audio (5 mins)
Rams Really Need Jackson To Play
Poore's Picks: Week Eight
Heathy Running Backs An Issue For Patriots (in)
Holt Previews Patriots (in)
Friday Coach Haslett Press Conference (in)
Pittman, Minor, & Carriker Talk Friday
Hot Topic: Brady's Injury Career Threatening