Quarterback Case Keenum replaces Nick Foles at quarterback this week for a St. Louis Rams team trying to find a quick end to a two-game losing streak. The Rams (4-5) will be facing a tough defense in a hostile setting on the road against the 2-7 Baltimore Ravens (noon Sunday; TV-Fox Channel 2; Radio-WXOS-FM 101.1).
Here are five key areas to watch:
1. How will Case Keenum fare in his first Rams start this season?
The good thing is Keenum is familiar with the Ravens’ defense. He collected one of his two NFL wins against them last season while playing for the Houston Texans in a 25-13 victory. Keenum’s mobility helped him make and extend plays, something the Rams are hoping he provides after Foles’ struggles led to the QB switch. Look for the Rams to establish the run with Todd Gurley and ease Keenum into the offense, but he needs to develop some quick chemistry with his receivers. Keenum will try to apply jumper cables to a Rams’ offense that ranks 32nd (last) in the NFL in passing offense (178.7 yards per game), 31st in overall offense (309 yards per game) and 30th in scoring (18.4 points per game).
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2. After being on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, will Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley resume his 100-yard rushing days again?
After running for more than 100 yards in each of his first four NFL starts, Gurley’s performance dipped the last two weeks in losses to the Vikings and Bears. He remains one of the NFL’s top rushers with 709 yards and five TDs, but had 89 yards against the Vikings and then was given only 12 carries last week (for 45 yards) against the Bears. Gurley seems to get better with more workand this might be just the game to get his train rolling again, especially since he remains the best offensive option on a team that struggles to score points.
3. This isn’t the Ravens defense of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but it’s still pretty good. What’s the best way for the Rams to attack it?
The Ravens’ defense, led by linebackers Elvis Dumerville, Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosely, is especially strong against the run but not so much against the pass. Baltimore ranks 10th in the NFL against the run and sixth in average yards per carry (3.8-yard average). Teams have enjoyed some success against the Ravens’ secondary, but the Rams’ passing attack hasn’t scared anyone for some time. One possible remedy is to work Keenum in with a short passing attack featuring a lot of targets for Baltimore native Tavon Austin (he starred at nearby Dunbar High), Kenny Britt, tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks and veteran third-down specialist Wes Welker. A successful rushing day by Gurley can only enhance the Rams’ chances.
4. How will an extremely banged up Rams offensive line hold up against the Ravens?
The Rams are missing four injured players who started on the offensive line this season — Jamon Brown (lower leg fracture), Rodger Saffold (shoulder surgery), Darrell Williams (dislocated wrist) and now right tackle Rob Havenstein. Havenstein (calf/Achilles) is listed as doubtful and the Rams are in plug-and-play mode on the line, turning to rookies Andrew Donnal and Cody Wichmann and possibly rookie Isaiah Battle for help. Even though healthy, second-year left tackle Greg Robinson continues to experience issues with pass protection and holding penalties. Look for the Ravens to try to exploit the Rams’ O-line wherever possible.
5. Can the Rams defense rebound from a rare sub-standard performance last week in the 37-13 home loss against the Bears?
Defensive end Chris Long, out since the Packers game Oct. 11 with a knee injury, is trending toward a possible return. Defensive end Robert Quinn was limited to only 14 snaps against the Bears because of a hip injury. The Rams’ Aaron Donald-led pass rush has produced 29 sacks. The Bears caught the Rams napping several times, especially on passes to tight ends, and there were uncharacteristic missed tackles and other mistakes. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (2,492 yards, 13 TDs, 10 interceptions) has five 300-yard passing games this season. Five Ravens receivers have 23 or more catches.