With another less-than-ideal weather situation brewing, the winner between the Buffalo Bills and the St. Louis Rams will likely have a better day running and stopping the run.
On a sloppy day last Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills piled up 232 rushing yards - 186 of those from running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller - against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 34-18 win. Jacksonville, meanwhile, rushed for only 50 yards, and found themselves trailing by three scores late in the fourth quarter as a result.
Tomorrow is supposed to be a similar weather day to last week, when a persistent rain and 50 degree temperature made the game-day experience, aside from the on-field result, a thoroughly miserable affair. Tomorrow's forecast? It'll be cooler - 40 degrees or so - and while the rain may not be present to start the day, it'll threaten the later the game drags on.
Buffalo enters the game with the NFL's fourth-best rushing attack, averaging 147.9 yards per game on the ground. They are, however, going through some fairly drastic changes along their offensive line thanks to key injuries at center and right tackle. The Rams counter with the No. 13-ranked run defense - and despite the fact that they've surrendered 100 or more rushing yards in four of their last five contests, there's a catch to that statistic, says Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times.
"Two of those games were against the 49ers, and it was Colin Kaepernick who was doing the significant damage on the ground," McAtee told me this week. "In the first Niners game, their backs ran 24 times for 112 yards; in the rematch, they went 27 times for just 64 yards. In the two games in between the Niners bookends, Jets backs carried the ball 33 times for just 120 yards, while the Cardinals' trio ran 21 times for 60 yards. Honestly, the Rams defense is wildly improved from last year - which was impossible not to do, as their 2011 run defense was abysmal."
The Rams, meanwhile, have the 13th-best running game in the NFL despite issues along the offensive line. That's a testament to their own running back duo of Steven Jackson and Daryl Washington - and that pairing could present a problem for a Bills run defense that, despite a strong surge since the bye week, still ranks No. 30 in the league.
Buffalo is currently on a three-game streak in which they've held opponents (Miami, Indianapolis and Jacksonville) to under 100 rushing yards. Here's the problem, though: none of those teams are very good at running the ball. Miami (No. 17) and Indianapolis (No. 18) are very average in that department, while the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew has left the Jags with the NFL's worst rushing attack. There is something to be said, however, for the fact that the Bills contained two Top 10 rushing attacks in Houston (No. 6, 118 yards in Week 9) and New England (No. 8, 117 yards) since the bye week, as well.
The battle in the trenches is always important, and we've already discussed why it's particularly intriguing between the Bills and Rams from the angle of passing the football. When it comes to tomorrow's game, however, the team that performs better in the battle of rushing attacks may be far more relevant to the final score.