Three things to watch in Rams-Colts matchup

ST. LOUIS — It wasn’t that long ago that the St. Louis Rams had won two straight games, were sitting at .500 and quarterback Sam Bradford was on pace for the best season of his four-year career.

But in the past three weeks, the Rams have lost Bradford to a season-ending knee injury and then lost at Carolina and at home against Seattle and Tennessee. The season has turned and not for the better.

There are positives, like the continued strong play of Robert Quinn and the emergence of Zac Stacy, but St. Louis appears inevitably headed toward its seventh straight losing season.

Here are three things to watch as the Rams (3-6) head to Indianapolis (6-2) on Sunday:

Rams fans get first look at Luck
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Let’s have some fun with stats, shall we.

Quarterback A has completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 1,845 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions, with a passer rating of 91.5.

Quarterback B has completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 1,687 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, with a passer rating of 90.9.

Now, which one is Andrew Luck and which one is Sam Bradford?

Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft, is universally regarded as one of the bright young stars of the NFL, an undisputed franchise quarterback that many organizations would build around if given the opportunity.

Quarterback A is Luck, who ranks 12th in the NFL in passer rating and ranks 25th in completion percentage, which trails the likes of Christian Ponder, Terrelle Pryor, Chad Henne and Mike Glennon.

In two seasons Luck is 17-7 as a starter, including 6-2 in 2013, and has completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 6,219 yards, 36 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, with a passer rating of 80.9.

Bradford is 18-30-1 as a starter since being picked No. 1 overall back in the 2010 Draft. He’s completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 11,065 yards, 59 touchdowns and 38 interceptions, with a passer rating of 79.3.

Where is Tavon Austin?!?
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin went into last week’s game against the Titans as the Rams’ leading receiver with 31 catches.

But the first-round draft pick from West Virginia did not record a catch for the first time in nine games. The Rams did get him the ball on a sweep in which he ran for six yards, but his one touch on offense matched a season low he set in Houston four weeks earlier.  

Austin had 18 catches in the first three games but has had just 13 in six games since. His 31 catches are tied for 59th in the NFL but his 207 yards receiving are tied for 127th — with Browns running back and former Rams draft pick Chris Ogbonnaya — and his 6.68 yards per catch rank 140th.

Houston rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a first-round draft pick out of Clemson, also has 31 catches but he has 470 yards receiving, an average of 15.2 yards per catch.

The Rams invested in Austin by trading up in the draft to get him and they’ve seen flashes of his playmaking ability in the return game. Now they need to get him more involved in the offense to see what the 22-year-old is capable of.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano raved about Austin on Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.

“You’ve got a dynamic returner in Tavon Austin that’s one of the best and going to be, arguably, maybe one of the best ever to play that position,” Pagano said. “He’s a game wrecker. He’s a game breaker. I know the numbers are a little bit skewed because of penalties and things like that, but he’s one of the most dynamic guys. When we watched him coming out, it’s obvious why the Rams took him where they took him. The guy literally can wreck a game for you, not only on offense as a receiver, and no matter how he gets the ball and gets it in his hands, he’s a threat to score from anywhere.”

Stacy running wild
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Stacy, the rookie running back, has emerged as the primary weapon on offense for the Rams after back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances.

In five starts, Stacy has rushed for 471 yards on 102 carries, an average of 4.6 yards per carry, and scored two touchdowns. The fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt has accounted for 562 total yards in those five games.

He ranks second among rookies behind Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy (596 yards) in rushing, ranks 10th in the NFC and 18th in the NFL.

“You’ve got a young back that’s emerging as a top flight No. 1 runner in this league,” Pagano said.

Quarterback Kellen Clemens has shown in his first two starts in place of Bradford that he can move the offense down the field. Stacy’s emergence has helped the Rams find some balance offensively. Clemens threw for 210 yards and a touchdown against the Titans.

The Colts are 27th in the NFL in rushing yards against, allowing 124.9 per game. The Rams, meanwhile, are 28th and have allowed 125.2 per game.
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