It's been a long time since the Colts walked into the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis to take on the Rams. The last time they played there was 2001, a season where the Colts won only 6 games and the Rams were well on their way to their second Super Bowl appearance in three years. Since then, both franchises have gone in opposite directions. The Rams had (roughly) a two or three year run of dominance, with an offense dubbed "The Greatest Show on Turf." With players like Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Marshall Faulk on the roster, this was a team people feared to play.
Today, none of those players remain.
The Rams are 0-6 and searching for an identity under new head coach Steve Spanuolo, the man who crafted the devastating New York Giants defenses in 2007 and 2008. They have young prospects like Stephen Jackson, Chris Long, and rookie offensive tackle Jason Smith. This is not a team devoid of talent, despite their current record.
And it is very encouraging that Colts coach Jim Caldwell is not letting the Colts players get lulled into thinking this is some kind of "easy" game. Practices immediately following the bye were physical, fast, and designed to get the team sharp quickly. Indeed, Caldwell said he wanted the group to jump back into action "with both feet," not cruise their way back into activity.
These practices are also for getting players who have battled injuries back into the fold.
The big news we've heard so far this week is Bob Sanders is now off the injury list and is practicing. Yay. Yippee. Whoppedy-Do.
As with all things related to Bob Sanders, if I see him out on the field in a Colts uniform on Sunday, great. But, I'm not holding my breath. Right now, I consider Bob Sanders the back-up strong safety. Nothing more. Nothing less. I would not be surprised if Sanders doesn't play this week even though he is not on the injury list. It's just how it is with Bob, and I'm sick of the guessing game as to will he, won't he?
More important than Bob returning is the return of corners Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson.
Kelvin is not listed on the injury report, which is a big plus! He's been battling a hamstring pull since pre-season, and a healthy Kelvin Hayden is much more vital to the success of the Colts than a healthy Bob Sanders. Almost as important is the health of Marlin Jackson. It is concerning that
the same knee he blew out last year Marlin's other knee (not the one he injured last year) is causing him problems this year. He had an MRI on the knee recently which, according to the Indianapolis Star, showed good healing. The issue for Marlin is he is not expected back until (at least) November 8th against the Houston Texans.
This means more of everyone's favorite whiping boy: Tim Jennings.
To make matters even more dicey, Jennings has a calf injury. I personally do not dog Jennings the way many others do. He is a solid back-up corner who provides consistent, hard effort on every play. He tackles well, fights in tight coverage, and can at times come up with a big play (like against the Steelers last year, or against the Titans two weeks ago).
The problem for Jennings is that, right now, rookies Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers are better than him.
The Rams will likely try to shove their workhorse Stephen Jackson right down Indy's throat. As Jim Caldwell stated this week, the Rams have gotten better and better each week they have played. This is not the same team the Seahawks shutout in Week One 28-0. They are learning how to sustain drives. Their problem of late is they are turning the football over in the redzone, something they did three times against the Vikings. And really, last week they should have won against the Jaguars, and while we love to make fun of the Glitter Cats, they really aren't that bad of a team. So, for the Rams to play them that tough shows they are an improving team that cannot be under-estimated.
On offense, Charlie Johnson returns to the starting lineup at left tackle. The key for the "O" is the play of the right side of the offensive line. It's been dreadful. Mike Pollak has had two weeks to clean up his sloppy play. If he can't improve at this point, I don't want to see him starting. Give the job to Kyle DeVan, and let Pollak rot on the bench for all I care.
Currently, the Colts are 30th in the league running the ball, despite an entire off-season and five regular seasons games of work fixing this issue. We know the problem is not the backs. Joseph Addai has played very well and Donald Brown is a stud. Offensive line play absolutely must improve in the running game or this team might as well not even try making the playoffs. You all know how I say "This is a passing league," and it is. You have to throw to get to the playoffs. Once there, you have to run.
If the Colts want to sustain their dominance in the regular season and have it carry over into any sort of possible playoff run, they absolutely must start running the ball more effectively. If the Colts cannot gain over 100 rushing yards against St. Louis' #26th rushing defense, it's time to start pressing the panic button by benching certain players, namely Pollak and possibly right tackle Ryan Diem. Struggling to run against the Cardinals (ranked #1 against the run), Titans (#10), and Dolphins (#3) is understandable. They focus on shutting down the run moreso than the pass. An inability to run against the Rams is not acceptable, and heads should roll if they cannot pile up yardage.
For more pre-game coverage, head over to Turf Show Times, SB Nation's Rams blog, for some fun conversation about the game.