Wembley game: New England Patriots @ St Louis Rams
The sixth game the NFL has held at Wembley stadium sees the AFC-East-leading, New England Patriots return to Wembley to visit the first time attendees and ‘home’ team, the St Louis Rams, in what should be a spectacle.
UK fans, buoyed by the recent news that 2013 will feature not one, but two games on our side of the pond, get to see how Jeff Fisher’s much improved Rams side fare against last year’s AFC champions, and Super Bowl runners up, Bill Belichick’s Patriots.
Since the first International Series game at Wembley in 2007 the win has alternately gone to first the away side and then then the home side. If this run is to continue, the Rams need to win. St Louis will hope to benefit from arriving in London earlier than the Patriots and will essentially transfer their franchise into the training centre at Arsenal football club.
Sam Bradford will be looking to find new targets in the end zone. Number one receiver and mooted summer Patriots target, Danny Amendola is out with a shoulder injury and will be sorely missed. Brandon Gibson will be looked to as the new primary go-to guy.
Bradford has looked more like the player the Rams drafted this season, after a disappointing 2011. The 2010 No.1 overall draft pick has over 1,500 passing yards and seven passing touchdowns so far this season.
St Louis’ offensive co-ordinator Brian Schottenheimer will be hoping that Steven Jackson’s recent decline in production is not the beginning of the end, running backs are notorious for declining sharply. Jackson has been getting some yardage but has only one touchdown this season so far.
Rookie kicker Greg “The Leg” Zuerluin has been in fine form nailing 85% of his field goal attempts, even kicking one astonishing 60 yarder.
Defensive end Chris Long has four sacks for the year so far and will be looking to add to that tally by beating Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer to get to Brady.
Cortland Finnegan has three interceptions so far this season for the Rams, but not one of those has come since the end of September, don’t be surprised if this changes against the Patriots. Rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins is likely to play, but the franchise will be hoping he has a better game than he did against Rogers et al.
This Rams, although currently at 3-4 for wins and losses are a different side from the one that finished joint bottom of the league last year. They are a young team and tough to boot.
First year defensive tackle Michael Brockers is now starting to show why he was drafted and Robert Quinn, the second year defensive end out of North Carolina is having a good year, with increased numbers on his rookie year and leading the Rams in sacks with seven.
12th year veteran Tom Brady will once more be the centre cog in the Patriot’s offensive machine. At times this season Brady has looked his imperious best, at others though he has looked below par. The Pats will have most of Brady’s weapons available and this, along with the potential for the no-huddle offence means Tom should be as dangerous as ever, the Rams’ cornerbacks will have to be on their toes.
Wes Welker will look to put up another game of a 100+ receiving yards to add to the six games already this season. Welker is currently on course for another season of over 1500 receiving yards this year, he has 688 so far and he leads the Patriots with 54 receptions.
Former Ram, Brandon Lloyd didn’t have a great game against the New York Jets on Sunday and will be looking to bounce back against his old team’s secondary in London.
Second year running back Stevan Ridley is having a break-out season this year and leads the way for the Patriots with 589 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Rookie Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen have both contributed too.
New England will be pleased to have both of their young star tight ends back on the field. Rob Gronkowski will be hoping to match his two touchdown performance at the Gillette Stadium. The athletic No. 87 looks to be back to approaching his best, he leads the Patriots scoring with five touchdowns. Aaron Hernandez still seems to be feeling his recent injury and will be hoping for an improvement this week. Daniel Fells could also feature in some of Josh McDaniel’s three tight end sets, which will give the Rams defensive backs potential mismatches and could open up space in the slot for Welker to exploit.
Much like Zuerlein for the Rams, Stephen Gostkowski scored a couple of key field goals against the Jets, the longest of which was 48 yards, the same distance as Adam Vinatieri’s game winning field goal against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Run defence has been strong for New England this season, the pass defence and pass rush in particular has not been so great although the team has managed to sack the opposing quarterbacks 15 times. Rob Ninkovich came up with a big play against the Jets and will be looking to get to Sam Bradford as he has got to quarterbacks all season. Ninkovich’s four sacks put him only one behind Chandler Jones in the sack race and he showed great awareness in getting the ball loose from Mark Sanchez on Sunday and then coming up with the turnover.
Four rookies saw playing time on the defensive side of the ball against the Jets Cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Safety Tavon Wilson, Linebacker Dont’a Hightower and Defensive End/ Outside Linebacker Chandler Jones all played a part on Sunday, with Dennard intercepting Mark Sanchez in his first career start for the Pats.
Devin McCourty had a 104 yd kick return last week, but most people remember his fumble late in the fourth quarter. The cornerback turned safety will have to be more secure this week, as he is a key to the defence performing well.
Don’t be surprised to see this game come down to the kicking of either Zuirluin or Gostkowski. Both teams will go for it, that’s for sure. We should see some points and I for one will lap up the experience regardless of the result, though I am rooting for the Patriots.