Rams must choose their poison vs. Pats

13 hours ago • BY JIM THOMAS

LONDON • A future Hall of Famer at quarterback and multiple weapons at the skill positions. Sound familiar? It should.

For the second week in a row, that's the challenge facing the young Rams defensive unit.

"It's very similar in the fact that you've got two very prolific offenses that run right through the quarterback," said Rams assistant head coach Dave McGinnis. "But they also have different modus operandi in the way they work."

Last week, it was Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' receiver corps. This week, it's New England QB Tom Brady and the Patriots' posse of skill-position players.

"The (multiple) weapons are similar," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "I think with Aaron, you're worried about him improvising; it's really hard to disrupt that. With Tom, you worry about he's so smart. So if you don't do a good job disguising and making things look all the same, he's gonna tear you apart."

Rodgers obviously is more mobile than Brady, and can gain first downs or at least keep plays alive with his legs. Brady has some escapability, but no one will confuse him for a scrambler.

"He's not the fastest guy in the world, we know that," Laurinaitis said. "If you make him move around and be uncomfortable, you've got a better chance."

If you don't? Well, best of luck.

"Everybody knows how Tom is as passer," defensive end Chris Long said. "And we'll just to deal with that."

This year that translates into a completion percentage of 65.3, plus 2,104 yards passing, 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

While Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood contains more deep threats, the Brady bunch relies much more on tight ends. Fortunately for the Rams, one-half of the Patriots' two-headed monster there — Aaron Hernandez — has been ruled out of Sunday's game becausse of continuing ankle problems.

The fact that Brady has "only" 12 TD passes this season, a low total for him, hints at another way the Patriots' M.O. is different than Green Bay.

"They can run the football," cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. "Green Bay just did it for the window dressing. New England can really run the football, which sets up play-action for them as a team."

Many of the best Patriots teams under coach Bill Belichick were tilted heavily to the passing game. Not this group. New England runs the ball effectively and runs it often.

The Patriots rank fifth in the NFL in rushing offense and have scored 10 rushing touchdowns, third-best in the league. In addition, they have 248 carries, which ties them with Houston for most rushing attempts.

"They've got over 75 more rush attempts than the league average right now," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "And that shows you how many plays they're getting off. So there's obvious reasons that they're first in the National Football League in offense."

There's no bell cow in the New England backfield like Arian Foster of the Texans. The Patriots are using a committee system, although second-year pro Stevan Ridley has the biggest workload with 135 carries for 589 yards. That's a 4.4-yard average per carry. Ridley has had some fumbling issues, but he's patient, sets up his blockers well and displays good cutback ability.

A knee injury will keep undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden (43-234, 5.4) out of the lineup for the second week in a row. But Shane Vereen, like Ridley a 2011 draft pick, got his first start of the season last week against the New York Jets and averaged 6.1 yards a crack on eight carries.

Last but not least is diminutive Danny Woodhead (46-161, 3.5). The 5-8 role player can be hard to see by defenders coming out of the backfield as he maneuvers behind his big blockers. Woodhead may be the best receiver of the bunch as well.

So the Rams, who have allowed only 45 rushing yards a game and 2.2 yards per carry over their past three contests, are facing the biggest challenge of the season in terms of a balanced offense.

"You hope you can make the Patriots one-dimensional because they run the football really well," Laurinaitis said. "But even doing that, you're putting the ball in the hands of one of the best in the game's history."

That would be Brady and the passing game. That's the dilemma. Load up against the run, and Brady can torch you through the air. Lay back in coverage, and the running game could get going. Which opens up the play-action, and helps the passing game.

"They're playing as a group probably as good as they've ever played, in my opinion," Fisher said. "That's over the years, with the weapons that he has now... And he's playing at a much faster pace than they have. So it creates problems — puts a lot of pressure on the defense. We're going to have to obviously slow that pace down a little bit."