Scouting Report: Slot man Danny Amendola makes Rams offense go
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The Minnesota Vikings will try to keep their playoff hopes alive again on Sunday, when they visit St. Louis. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down tape from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Rams in his weekly scouting report:
The Rams remain in the playoff hunt at 6-6-1 because of what they are capable of, despite regular blips along the way. They like to run with three wide receivers and move the ball through the air but need to be able to generate a legitimate running game to be at their best. The Rams look transformed when they have slot WR Danny Amendola on the field, allowing them to move the chains seemingly at will as he works the intermediate and short zones in a defense, giving QB Sam Bradford a dramatically higher comfort level.
On defense, this team resembles closely coach Jeff Fisher's teams from Tennessee, relying on its front four to generate pass rush and playing coverage behind that. The Rams will get a little creative with their coverages, but it has cost them in the past few weeks, with total busts allowing players to run free and unable to match the right number of defenders to receivers. They will occasionally blitz linebackers, and they have been playing extremely soft coverage over the past few weeks, gifting teams first downs if they are prepared to throw to hot routes quickly underneath.
The relationship between Bradford and Amendola is what makes the Rams offense tick. Amendola missed last week's win over the Bills but is expected to be back for this one, and he makes a huge difference to the offense. This season, Amendola is catching 72.9% of passes thrown his way, a clear five percent better than any other receiver on the team. Bradford has a passer rating of 100.8 when throwing Amendola's way, while his overall rating is just 81.7, and St. Louis is dramatically more efficient at converting third downs when Amendola is on the field, sustaining drives and keeping the offense moving down the field. Assuming Amendola plays, he is the first target the Vikings need to work to lock down, forcing Bradford to go elsewhere with the football.
The Rams' top draft pick, DT Michael Brockers, has recently exploded into form, as if having an epiphany that he is simply bigger and stronger than most of the people tasked with blocking him. Against the Bills, he abused the interior and created havoc inside, disrupting both the pass and run game. On the season, Brockers has just five sacks, four hits and eight hurries, but they have come against top opposition, and four of those sacks have come in the past five weeks. If he shows up in the same form as he left the last game, the Vikings have a major task on their hands to contain him on the inside and do so without diverting resources from a pair of dangerous rush ends on the outside.
In the offseason, the Rams made a point of signing CB Cortland Finnegan to bring an aggression and attitude to a defense that was searching around for an identity. Finnegan sets the tone for the unit, making a nuisance of himself by patrolling the slot, getting involved in the run game and making things more physical and chippy than most receivers are comfortable with. He has yet to allow a touchdown this season while picking off three passes and deflecting another three and is allowing just 9.6 yards per reception despite being thrown at 92 times. He is also closing in on 100 tackles for the season, underlining the point that, whatever happens in the game, he will be a factor in it.
• For a player who was supposed to have robotic accuracy as a prospect, Bradford's accuracy percentage (completion percentage adjusted for drops by receivers) of 71.7% ranks just 18th in the league.
• HB Steven Jackson has forced just 19 missed tackles this year on 238 touches.
• Only Lance Moore and Victor Cruz have gained more yards per route run amongst primarily slot receivers this season than Amendola. He has gained 2.42 yards for every route he has run from the slot.
• CB Janoris Jenkins may have made plenty of splash plays in his rookie year, but he also leads all corners with 18 missed tackles.
• Of the 219 total pressures recorded by the Rams defense this season, 111 have come from starting DEs Robert Quinn and Chris Long.