By Christina Rivers

After two very different weeks in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be on the road in week three in a non-conference game against the St. Louis Rams who are coming off of a loss to the Washington Redskins. In week one, the Rams surprised the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks, but struggled to put points on the scoreboard and had a stagnant offense for the better part of the game against Washington, losing by a score of 24-10. St. Louis has a matching win/loss record with Pittsburgh at 1-1 on the season.

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Rams on Offense

The Rams, led by quarterback Nick Foles, were only able to muster 67 yards on the ground and 213 yards of total offense against the Redskins. All around, the unit struggled to convert critical third downs and only successfully did so on two of the 12 they faced. “I think it just comes down to, we just didn’t execute,” Foles said following the game. “They out-executed us in third down. And that’s a big play during the game, is keeping those plays alive.” Foles’ performance on Sunday has many experts concerned that he does not stack up well against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Foles completed 17 of 32 passes for 150 yards. His favorite target this season has been tight end Jared Cook, who once again led the Rams in receiving on Sunday with five catches for 47 yards. On the season, Cook has a team-high ten receptions for 127 yards but has yet to score a touchdown. Only two receivers on the Rams roster have touchdown catches under their belts in 2015: Kenny Britt and Lance Kendricks.

On the ground, it has been receiver Tavon Austin putting together the most rushing yards instead of running backs Benny Cunningham or Tre Mason. Austin has 57 yards on eight carries in two games and a touchdown. The Rams are averaging only 71.5 yards rushing per-game versus opponents (153.0), which could be why the offense has been stalling and unable to convert and extend drives. It was something head coach Jeff Fisher expressed concern over. Right guard Rodger Saffold said, “We all have to be on the same page and we were just off maybe a little here, a little there…and we can’t have that. It’s too tiring on your defense.”

Rams on Defense

Along the defensive line, the Rams were able to pair defensive tackle Aaron Donald and end Chris Long for a split sack early and Long later split a sack with tackle Nick Fairley. Donald has had two solid games for St. Louis with 14 combined tackles and leads the team in sacks with 2.5. Defensive end Robert Quinn has 2.0 sacks on the season and came up with a key play Sunday when he popped the ball out of the hands of Redskins running back Matt Jones, his teammate recovering. The Rams’ ability to get a good push against opposing offensive lines has allowed them to be disruptive at times, but the Steelers have put an offensive line together in 2015 that has kept Roethlisberger upright and unhurried for the most part. “We’ve got to put this one behind us and get ready to move on to Pittsburgh,” Quinn said. “The results are what they are today, and all we can do is control next week’s game and we’ll try to take it from there.”

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The Rams aren’t particularly tight in the defensive backfield and watched the Redskins convert half (8-of-16) of their third-down opportunities. On a key Washington drive, quarterback Kirk Cousins was able to convert three-of-three and chew up nearly seven minutes of the game clock in the fourth quarter . Without backside coverage, the already struggling run defense couldn’t get the offense back onto the field to score. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson has the Rams’ lone interception on the season. This defense was able to stick with the Seahawks, but against a Steelers offense that is performing in the top five in the league, they have a lot of questions to answer.

Rams Players to Watch

On defense, St. Louis is led by outside linebacker Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis in tackles with 13 and eight (solo) respectively. As the Steelers’ offensive line handles the rush, it may be necessary for tight ends Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth as well as running backs Le’Veon Bell and DeMarco Murray to keep Ogletree and Laurinaitis out of Roethlisberger’s face on passing plays. Bell and Murray will see both of those players as they hit the line in the running game as well.

On offense, the Rams seem to rise and fall based on the play of Foles. With Foles favoring his two tight ends in the passing game, the Steelers are likely to utilize a stack 4-3 on defense that helped them keep the 49ers from turning a three-tight end set into a weapon that hurt them. Keeping Foles contained and in the pocket will be key. Foles already has a rushing touchdown this season and will break loose if he can elude defensive rushers in a collapsing pocket.

Outlook

The Rams look to be a hot-and-cold team at this point in the season and the win over Seattle in week one may have been a bit of a fluke. With both a low-scoring offense and a defense that can’t flip the field, St. Louis has its hands full in week three against a Pittsburgh team that got the performance out of their young defense they’ve been waiting for and an offense that looked ready to score at will against the 49ers. With Bell back in the offensive backfield, the running game is likely to improve even more, putting added pressure on the run-stopping abilities of their defense.  The Steelers are highly favored to take this competition and move to 2-1 on the season.

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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.