PFW executive editor and resident Packers expert Dan Arkush presents the third of five key matchups this week in advance of the Packers' Week Six game this Sunday against the Rams at Lambeau Field.
Rams OTs Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith vs. Packers OLBs Clay Matthews, Eric Walden and Frank Zombo
The disappointing Rams have given up more sacks per game than any team in the league (4.75), and the subpar play of Smith and Saffold at the tackle spots has become a major concern. Rams QB Sam Bradford, who was the coolest of customers as a rookie last season, has looked like David Carr in his most shell-shocked state with the Texans the past couple games.
Smith, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, has gotten more heat than Saffold — Smith was benched for his poor play in Week Three — but Saffold, who was surprisingly good as a rookie last year protecting Bradford's blind side, actually has been worse this season than Smith.
Smith has gotten beaten routinely off the edge. He is a better-than-average run blocker, but he just doesn't seem to move well enough laterally. As for Saffold, daily team observers are actually rather mystified by his decline this season and believe a drop in confidence might be his biggest problem. They maintain that Saffold has all the tools and is a good bet to eventually bust out of what looks like a bona fide sophomore slump. He keeps his feet moving on blocks, which makes it tougher for defenders to disengage. Competitive and physical, Saffold gets low in his stance and fires out into a defender with leverage and good pop when he's on his game.
Starting Packers OLBs Matthews and Walden each had three knockdowns in the win vs. Atlanta last week, but they have combined for only two sacks between them in the first five games. Matthews, who continues to deal with a nagging thigh injury, has been getting excellent pressure lately despite his low sack total. Walden, who plays with a real nasty streak, is coming off his best effort of the year against Atlanta.
The hope is that Zombo could add a spark in the pass-rush department in what likely will be his first action of the season Sunday after missing the first five games with a fractured shoulder blade. Zombo came back from a prolonged knee injury late last the season to register the Packers' only sack in the Super Bowl and proved early on last season that the game is not too big for him.