By: Christopher Price
November 07, 2004

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For the Patriots, everything seems set up to go wrong.

They are facing a powerful offensive team on the road, coming off a bye week. St. Louis is a team that's 4-0 after its week off over the last four years, beating opponents by a combined score of 156-57 in that time. Toss in the fact that New England will be heading into Sunday's game without either of its starting cornerbacks -- against one of the best offenses in the game -- and you appear to have a recipe for disaster.

But there is hope. In recent weeks, the Rams' defense has flat out stunk. Since defensive coordinator Lovie Smith left to take over the Bears at the end of last season, St. Louis has had trouble holding back a stiff breeze. Through seven games this season, they are allowing 359 total yards per game, 28th in the NFL, and 230 passing yards per game, 23rd in the league.

In particular, they've appeared especially vulnerable to the big play. In their loss against Miami two weeks ago, the Rams gave up touchdown plays of 42 and 71 yards against the Dolphins -- not the most powerful offense in the league -- on the way to a 31-14 loss in Miami. In that game, the Dolphins also used a bit of trickery, using wide receiver Marty Booker to throw a 48-yard pass to Chris Chambers. Two weeks before that against Seattle, the Seahawks got a 41-yard run from Shaun Alexander and a 56-yard touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck in an overtime loss to St. Louis.

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said the disparity isn't all that great, and you can chalk most of it up to the fact that the Rams have been forced to do some shuffling in the secondary because of injury. (Sound familiar, Pats fans?)

"It is one here and one there,” Belichick said. "I know some of it has been in the passing game [where] they have had a couple of injuries there in the secondary and they have been shuffling those corners around a little bit with [Travis] Fisher. So [DeJuan] Groce is playing over there. They had to juggle around their sub defense a little bit, so there is a little bit of that.”

If the Patriots have Corey Dillon at anywhere close to 100 percent -- he is listed as questionable with a thigh injury -- the Rams will have to guard against the threat Dillon and his 637 yards and his 4.9 yards per carry average bring to the field. If Dillon is used (even as a decoy in play-action) against St. Louis, that would allow the New England receivers to gain single coverage, which would allow quarterback Tom Brady to stretch the field. Freed up, Brady could swing for the fences like he did earlier in the year against Buffalo (four pass plays of 30 yards or more, including a 44-yard strike to David Givens) and Indianapolis (seven pass plays 20 yards or more, including a 25-yarder to David Patten).

Small wonder the Patriots' speed guys were licking their chops at the possibility of getting on the fast track at the Edward Jones Dome this Sunday.

"Anytime as a speed guy you get to play on turf, you think ‘This is going to be a fast game,'” Patten said. "There's some excitement.”

There's very little excitement on the part of Brady, who says that despite the subpar numbers, he sees nothing but trouble when he looks at the St. Louis defense, mentioning defensive backs Aeneas Williams and Adam Archuleta in particular.

"They have an excellent defense that is very fast. They are very disruptive,” Brady said. "We have our hands full. We are going to do everything we can to try to give our defense some help in terms of trying to stay on the field. They make it tough, though.”

Christopher Price covers the Patriots for Boston Metro and He can be reached at [email protected].