A potentially scary matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers awaits the St. Louis Rams at home on Sunday.
Here’s a look at five things to watch as the Rams try to post their second straight win at the Edward Jones Dome this season (noon: TV-KMOV Channel 4; Radio-WXOS-FM 101.1):
1. Will Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley make his NFL debut?
Gurley got plenty of reps with the first-team offense this week and it’s to the point where it would almost be a bit surprising if he didn’t play Sunday against the Steelers. A Rams offense that ranks 31st out of 32 NFl teams in total offense, 31st in first downs per game and 26th in rushing is in desperate need of a spark. Gurley, if he gets blocking support up front, could be that weapon to improve the ground game.
2. After being manhandled by the Redskins’ run game last week, how will the Rams’ defense fare against the much better ground attack of the Steelers?
The Rams surrendered 182 yards rushing to the Redkins in a 24-10 loss last week, including 123 to rookie Matt Jones. Now the Steelers come to town with star back Le’Veon Bell returning from a two-game suspension to join a backfield that already includes the NFL’s second-leading rusher in DeAngelo Williams (204 yards, three touchdowns). The Rams cannot be too aggressive on their pass rush or risk getting caught upfield as they did frequently against Washington. Better assignment football and shedding blocks quickly will also be keys.
3. Let’s say the Rams improve their run defense. Will they also be able to contain Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a scary receiving corps headed up by all-world Antonio Brown and danger Darrius Heyward-Bey?
Brown had nine catches for 195 yards last week in the Steelers’ win over the 49ers and set a new franchise record by reaching 400 career receptions in only 72 games. He can beat defenders short, deep and everywhere in between and the Rams cannot afford to give him a lot of room. The Rams’ pass rush can’t just be happy with getting to the 6-foot-5, 2400-pound Roethlisberger, they need to bring him down. No easy task. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in the first two games for the first time in his career and through two games has thrown for 720 yards and four TDs.
4. Can the Rams’ receivers exploit a potentially suspect Steelers defensive secondary?
Quarterback Nick Foles enjoyed some success in the season-opening win while utilizing his big tight ends, but the Rams don’t seem to have a go-to wide receiver. Brian Quick looked like he was the guy in 2014 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Quick has been inactive the first two weeks, leaving tight end Jared Cook (10 catches, 132 yards) and running back Benny Cunningham (eight catches, 104 yards) as the top targets of a receiving group that needs more production.
5. Who will have the home-field advantage Sunday, the Rams or the Steelers?
This is the Steelers’ first visit to the Edward Jones Dome since Dec. 20, 2007, a 41-24 victory. The Steelers’ fans don’t just historically travel well, they may try to pack the place. Plenty of Seahawks fans made their way into the dome in the season opener and with apathy returning following a loss to the Redskins, expect a loud group of Steelers fans wearing black and gold.