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Scouting report

Butting heads

By Jim McBride
Globe Staff / October 26, 2008
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St. Louis Rams (2-4) at New England Patriots (4-2) 1 p.m., Channel 25. Line: Patriots by 7 1/2

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

Life is good when you can rush for 257 yards in a game. The Patriots had their best rushing attack in years against the abysmal Broncos last Monday, and with any luck, they could eclipse 200 yards again Sunday against a porous Ram defense. A lot depends on the health of Sammy Morris (knee) and LaMont Jordan (calf). Morris is running with reckless abandon, blowing past some defenders and bowling over others. Jordan is a bruiser who can wear defenders down with his thick thighs and big shoulders. Kevin Faulk may have to carry a larger-than-usual load Sunday but he's usually up to the task. The compact Faulk has tremendous instincts and burst. Sunday could also mark BenJarvus Green-Ellis's coming-out party. The undrafted rookie has good size (5 feet 11 inches, 225 pounds) and showed good vision and quickness against the Broncos. He's like Faulk, only bigger. Green-Ellis was tough and productive at Ole Miss, rushing for more than 2,100 yards in two seasons - no easy task in the rough-and-tumble SEC. The return of right tackle Stephen Neal helped boost the ground game. With the inside trio of Neal, Logan Mankins, and Dan Koppen back working together, New England's rushing attack should be more formidable for the duration. Nose tackle Clifton Ryan (he's big and quick) and middle linebacker Will Witherspoon (he's smart and quick) are St. Louis's best run defenders.

EDGE: Patriots

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

Lost in the success of the Patriots' rushing output vs. the Broncos was the cool play of Matt Cassel. The QB looked confident and poised, throwing three touchdown passes. New England's new balanced attack prevents teams from blitzing Cassel into submission. He still takes too long to decipher defenses, and needs to make quicker decisions because he'll face some pressure Sunday from defensive ends Leonard Little and Chris Long. Little is quick off the snap and will pursue until the whistle blows. Howie's kid is an excellent athlete with good instincts. Randy Moss could be in for another big day as he matches up favorably against St. Louis's corners. Fakhir Brown has good strength and loves to jam receivers. He lacks speed, however, and will bite on double moves. Ron Bartell has excellent size (6-1, 209) and decent cover skills but not an aggressive nature. Wes Welker's quickness and toughness make him particularly hard to stop. Tight end Benjamin Watson needs to build off his best game of the season. Watson can be a beast over the middle because he's quick enough to gain separation from linebackers and is too powerful for safeties to stop. Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is a ballhawk, while strong safety Corey Chavous is a former cornerback who delivers big hits.

EDGE: Patriots

WHEN THE RAMS RUN

Steven Jackson has a strained right quadriceps but is expected to play Sunday, and that's huge for the Rams. Jackson is one of the most productive players in the NFL. He has an elite combination of size, power, and speed. The 6-foot-2-inch, 231-pound mobile monster has the rare ability to adjust his style depending on how defenses are attacking him. He has the size and muscle to bang between the tackles and seems to thrive and get stronger the more he gets hit. He also has tremendous quickness and change-of-direction ability. Jackson has the speed to turn the corner and bolt down the sideline, leaving a trail of would-be tacklers in his wake. Because of his receiving skills, Jackson rarely gets a breather, but he has great endurance and plays just as hard in the fourth quarter as he did in the first. Backup Travis Minor doesn't get many chances to make an impact, but if Jackson isn't up to speed, the veteran scatback will need to use his quickness and acceleration to keep the defense honest. The left side of the Rams line features athletic guard Jacob Bell and massive tackle Orlando Pace. Bell has good speed and excels at pulling. Pace (6-7, 325) is not as dominating as he once was but can still overwhelm most defenders with his quickness, strength, and bulk. New England run stuffers Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, and Richard Seymour need to shoot gaps and get some hits on Jackson.

EDGE: Rams

WHEN THE RAMS PASS

Quarterback Marc Bulger has been re-energized since coach Scott Linehan was fired. The 6-foot-3-inch, 215-pound Bulger is an extremely accurate passer, particularly on short and intermediate routes. He lacks arm strength, so his accuracy suffers on the deep ball. Bulger has a nice touch on passes and leads his receivers well. Bulger's top target has always been Torry Holt. An extremely explosive receiver, Holt has excellent hands and the innate ability to always appear open. Holt will become skittish when the going gets rough, and nobody is happier that Rodney Harrison won't be on the field Sunday. Rookie Donnie Avery has blinding speed and makes lots of his yardage after the catch. Dante Hall has great speed but has inconsistent hands and can be muscled off the ball. Tight ends Joe Klopfenstein (decent hands) and Anthony Becht (virtually zero receiving skills) are solid blockers. Steven Jackson is a big key in the passing game. He has very soft hands and gets up the field quickly after taking screens and dump-offs. Orlando Pace, Jacob Bell, and center Nick Leckey (he's athletic but lacks strength) will have trouble keeping New England's resurgent pass rushers from getting to Bulger. Look for the disruptive duo of Adalius Thomas and Mike Vrabel to blitz often to try to rattle the QB.

EDGE: Patriots

PREDICTION: Patriots 24, Rams 20

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