EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders kick off the preseason Friday night at O.co Stadium in Oakland. Kickoff is set for 10 p.m. ET. Here are three things to watch as the exhibition slate gets underway.
1. Will penalty problems persist?: Just last week, Rams coach Jeff Fisher went out of his way to point out that his team had done a good job of avoiding penalties in practice during training camp. The next night at the team's annual scrimmage, the penalty issues of recent seasons popped up. In the time since, flags have been fairly abundant, especially the pre-snap variety. Since Fisher arrived in St. Louis, the Rams have struggled with penalties in the preseason with Fisher saying that they'd be cleaned up during the season. It hasn't happened.
The Rams had 122 accepted penalties in 2014, third-most in the NFL. Their 59 offensive penalties were also third most and their 1,139 penalty yards were the most in the NFL. In three seasons under Fisher, the Rams have accumulated 375 penalties for 3,126 penalty yards, both of which are the most in the league over that period.
That hidden yardage has been difficult for the Rams to overcome, especially on offense. It's probably unwise to expect it to change dramatically this season but Fisher has called it a point of emphasis and if the Rams aren't responding, that doesn't bode well moving forward.
2. First look at Foles: New Rams quarterback Nick Foles isn't likely to play more than a series or two and when he's in, the Rams probably won't ask him to throw it around much. One of the team's top priorities this preseason is protecting Foles and ensuring he gets to the regular season healthy.
Still, getting a look at Foles in a game setting for the first time will offer a little glimpse of what could be in store for the season. When Foles does throw it, expect the ball to come out quick in the Rams' west coast style.
It's been tough sledding for Foles and the offense in training camp but the Rams believe that having Foles & Co. battling the team's loaded defense should help the offense when it faces other opponents. It doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things but it wouldn't be bad for the group's confidence to put together a good drive or two before Foles calls it a night.
3. Injuries into opportunity: The Rams have a handful of players dealing with a variety of injury issues though none of them appear too serious. But those ailments will likely keep players like cornerback E.J. Gaines, running back Tre Mason, end Chris Long and others out of this game. That should create plenty of chances for others to step in and make a strong impression. Some players worth monitoring include cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Imoan Claiborne, end Martin Ifedi and running back Malcolm Brown. The bottom half of the roster won't lack for playing time so this game should offer a prime chance to begin making a case for roster spots.