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Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Rams

10.27.12 at 11:25 am ET
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Brandon Spikes will lead the New England run defense against Steven Jackson. (AP)

Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s Patriots-Rams game:

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Linebacker Brandon Spikes against running back Steven Jackson: The Patriots have done well when it comes to slowing opposing running backs over the course of the first seven games — the Patriots are eighth in the league in run defense, allowing an average of 86 rushing yards per game. Sunday marked the fourth straight game in which New England has held an opponent under four yards per carry, and New England has held premiere backs like Chris Johnson (11 carries, four yards vs. Patriots), Fred Jackson (13 carries, 29 yards), Willis McGahee, (14 carries, 51 yards) and Marshawn Lynch (15 carries, 41 yards) well under their season averages. A quintessential big back, Jackson (101 carries, 380 yards this year) will get his chance to go up against Spikes and the rest of New England’s run defense. According to our pals at Pro Football Focus, Spikes has been the Patriots’ best run defender: through seven games, his grade against the run of +10.4 is not only best on the team, but second among all inside linebackers in the NFL. (NaVorro Bowman of the 49ers is tops at +11.)

2. Wide receiver Wes Welker against defensive back Cortland Finnegan: With Aaron Hernandez apparently sitting this one out and Rob Gronkowski continuing to be dogged by bumps and bruises, look for Welker to be one of the central elements of New England’s passing game against on Sunday against the Rams. Meanwhile, Finnegan is the centerpiece of an improved, aggressive St. Louis secondary, and is their best defender when it comes to pass coverage over the first seven games. (PFF has him at +5.9 in coverage.) He’s tied for the team lead with fellow corner Janoris Jenkins when it comes to pass breakups (they both have seven), and leads the team with three picks. A physical presence at slot corner, look for the 5-foot-10, 188-pound Finnegan to try and get handsy with Welker.

3. Left tackle Nate Solder against edge rusher Robert Quinn: The Rams have some very talented young pass rushers, and Quinn is probably their best. (Although Chris Long isn’t a chump coming off the other edge either.) He had seven sacks through the first seven games over the course of the season, and his speed and quick hands make him a difficult defender to block. Solder is one of three offensive players who have taken every snap through the first seven games for the Patriots, and while there have been some stumbles — including a subpar performance against the Seahawks — he’s done well enough to receive a passing grade over the first half of the season. He’ll have his plate full on Sunday against Quinn, who’s graded out at +6.6 over the course of his first seven games this year. (Expect lots of help at both left and right tackle by an extra tight end, either Daniel Fells or Michael Hoomanawanui.)

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: Wide receiver Chris Givens: The rookie out of Wake Forest isn’t the Rams’ best receiver, but he’s the one who will likely present some of the toughest matchup challenges for the Patriots. The speedy receiver has 10 catches for 270 yards on the season, and has now posted four straight games where he’s had at least one catch of 50 yards or more. Considering New England’s proclivity for giving up the deep ball (38 pass plays of 20 yards or more), Givens’ skills are not lost on Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

5. By the numbers: The Patriots have scored 159 points in the first three quarters this season, second most in the league; the Rams have about half that total — 80 points in the first 45 minutes of games. However, in the last three weeks, New England has been outscored 34-6 in the fourth quarter, while St. Louis has outscored it opposition 29-13 in the final 15 minutes of regulation. (via STATS)

6. Quote from an opposing scout regarding this Sunday: “Ultimately, there are three things for the Patriots to keep in mind on Sunday: The Rams’ offensive line is a winnable matchup for New England. Neutralize the rushing abilities of Long and Quinn — the tackles have to protect the edge. And watch for the inside-outside ability of the two backs: with Jackson and Richardson, they have a nice complementary element.” (For more from our scout’s take, click HERE.)

7. Patriots fans should be worried about….. what else? The Rams passing game and the New England pass defense. Sam Bradford isn’t one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he will likely be missing out on his favorite target in Danny Amendola. But the Patriots have yielded at least 290 yards passing the last five weeks, and there’s little reason to think Bradford can’t hit for 290 yards against New England. And with the move of Ras-I Dowling to injured reserve and with the assumption Devin McCourty will be back at safety again (because Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory are out), that leaves New England thin at corner with just Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore and Marquice Cole.

8. Rams fans should be worried about…. the struggles of the St. Louis offensive line. The Rams o-line has really had a hard time staying healthy over the first seven games of the season — left tackle Joe Barksdale and left guard Shelley Smith, both career backups, were making their first career NFL starts last week against the Packers. St. Louis has yielded 21 sacks through seven games (third-worst in the league), and while they’re not exactly facing the second coming of the Fearsome Foursome, both defensive end Chandler Jones (eight quarterback hits, five sacks) and defensive end/linebacker Rob Ninkovich (five quarterback hits, four sacks, four forced fumbles) should be able to generate good pressure against the Rams’ offensive line.

9. One more thing: The Belichick-Jeff Fisher matchup goes all the way back to 1994 when Belichick was coaching the Browns and Fisher had just taken over as interim coach of the Oilers. They picked up again in 2002 when Belichick was with the Patriots and Fisher had moved with the Oilers from Houston to Tennessee and became the Titans. These are two coaches with very familiar coaching styles, who know each other pretty well. Because Fisher only has seven games as head coach with St. Louis, it wouldn’t be a surprise to me to find out that Belichick and the Patriots had watched some film of Fisher’s old Titans’ teams and their tendencies in preparation for Sunday’s game.

(And another thing: Walt Coleman is scheduled to work the game. Yes, that Walt Coleman.)

10. Prediction:

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