Rams just fine with tough preseason slate

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A three-game schedule featuring Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and the defending Super Bowl champions would normally be enough to make any team cringe.

Unless, of course, that trio of consecutive games didn’t count. Such is the case for the Rams, who will play the second of those preseason games Saturday night in Denver against Manning & Co.

Because that murderer’s row is on the exhibition slate rather than the regular-season schedule, the Rams actually view the opportunity to play teams widely considered Super Bowl favorites as a net gain.

“It should, it absolutely should,” end Chris Long said. “Obviously, neither team is going to be throwing everything they’ve got at the other team but certainly for everybody, it’s going to be beneficial to have seen two of the best quarterbacks in the game and then next week after that depending on how much [Joe] Flacco we see, I don’t know about that, he’s a heck of a player too. It’s important to get that work and it helps us out a lot.”

The Rams opened the preseason in Cleveland against a team that seemed to plan for the game a bit more than most do for an exhibition opener. Last week, the Rams hosted Rodgers and the Packers, and although Green Bay didn’t have many of its top players active, it didn’t hesitate to throw in some wrinkles that the Rams would see more of in the preseason.

Rodgers’ ability to use play-action was particularly effective and useful for the Rams' defense. Projected rookie starters Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald got an important lesson on discipline and maintaining assignments at linebacker and safety, respectively.

Tight ends have been an early headache for the Rams' defense, in no small part because linebackers and safeties have been out of position or blown assignments. Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron had a 30-yard catch in the opener, and last week Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley posted four catches for 78 yards in less than a half.

It won’t get any easier this week against Manning and the Broncos. The third preseason game is generally viewed as the one bearing the most striking resemblance to a regular-season game. That means Manning and his group could play into the third quarter and will likely have some offensive game plan in place.

“Yeah, that’s a huge challenge,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “The guy is brilliant. He’s a machine. He studies the game extremely hard. I have the utmost respect for him. He’s one of those guys you have to hold your look because if you tell him what you’re in, he’s going to figure it out and get that ball out before you can touch him.”

Laurinaitis recalled playing Manning during his rookie season in 2009, when Manning was still with Indianapolis, and marveling at how quick the quarterback would get rid of the ball.

“He got that ball out so fast it was frustrating,” Laurinaitis said. “He doesn’t like to get hit very often and he’s so smart that you can blitz him coming free, and if someone touches him he’s getting the ball out. It will be a great test for our young guys and old guys alike, everybody. It’s a good test to be facing a future Hall of Famer.”

The Rams' offense should be challenged plenty as well. Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton didn’t hesitate to blitz regularly in the first preseason game and the Packers did the same, oftentimes with a loaded run box to force the Rams to max protect.

Denver linebacker Von Miller is still eligible to play and could view playing the Rams as an opportunity to take out some frustration for his six-game suspension. How much Miller plays is unknown, though his first-team repetitions decreased on the heels of the suspension.

The Rams will get an additional conditioning test in Denver as they adjust to the altitude.

Earlier this week, Rams coach Jeff Fisher indicated his starters would play into the third quarter. After disappointing performances in the first two games, the Rams won’t stray too far from their simplistic preseason approach, but they will look to have a bit more success than they did against Cleveland and Green Bay.

Regardless, playing Manning and the Broncos on the road should provide another strong preseason test.

“I think it’s great,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “Obviously, you want to face the best each week. You want to face someone that’s going to make you better. I feel like all of the defenses that we’ve seen have made us better, and we’re just looking to improve each week, to go out and play a clean game, execute what’s in the game plan and really try to limit the penalties.”