By Jeff Joniak
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Kyle Long reminded right tackle Jordan Mills not to do anything to get under his brother’s skin during Sunday’s game in St. Louis. Chris Long doesn’t need to be provoked. He did in Carolina Oct. 20 and was ejected for throwing a punch. I loved the response from Mills when asked about Long: “Same here, he doesn’t want to get under my skin. On the field I turn into a different person. I’m all smiles and nice and then once I get in the game, one word flashes by me and I’m gone after that. I think we play the same way. We like to get after it. We play with tenacity. He likes to finish and get after the quarterback. I like to finish and put people in the ground like every lineman in the league, so it’s going to be a great battle.”
I like the confidence in the rookie. He will have a battle on his hands. Chris Long gets off the snap as fast as any defensive lineman in the game, and he will be on his home surface with a loud crowd. Hard counts and cadence adjustments could be used by Josh McCown to make Long pay for jumping the snap. Seventeen times in his career — including four times this season — Long has been flagged for defensive off-sides penalties, encroachment, or a neutral-zone infraction.
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Nickel defender Isaiah Frey should be able to play Sunday, despite a broken bone on the top of his right hand. He practiced with a cast today, but with no contact. Frey’s biggest challenge, I would imagine, would be catching the ball if it’s thrown his way. Frey is a big part of the defense playing 65 of the 78 snaps against the Ravens. Typically, the Rams like to run speedy rookie Tavon Austin out of the slot, which in most cases will be Frey’s assignment. According to Pro Football Focus, 84 percent of Austin’s routes have been run out of the slot. However, he’s caught less than 60 percent of the balls thrown to him out of the slot including five drops. Frey knows what’s coming, noting Austin’s blazing 40(4.28) at the combine in February. Much like Marc Trestman discussed Wednesday, the best way Frey knows how to defeat speed is technique, and it begins with making sure Austin doesn’t get a free release off the line of scrimmage. Austin is the Rams’ second most targeted wide receiver with 51, one behind Chris Givens. Only four of those throws came on “deep” throws. This is a catch-and-run receiver who the Rams try to get in space and let him run away from defenders.
Eben Britton consistently is getting snaps as an extra blocker. I would imagine he will line up to help out the tackles again Sunday, given the quality of Chris Long and Robert Quinn on the edges of the Rams’ defense. For the season, Britton has taken 19 percent of the offensive snaps. When I asked him about the key to his role, aside from the obvious task of blocking, he is there to help on blitz pickup, double team blocks and in the run game, adding an extra “professional” blocker to give them someone who has been groomed to block, unlike a standard tight end. No offensive lineman gets more publicity, because every time Britton enters the lineup he gets “announced” by the referee as an eligible receiver. He’s run two routes, and the day might come when he catches one. Britton said he has “good” hands, and he does work at it in practice when there’s a little down time.
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There are 362 documented sets of brothers who have played pro football, according to Pro Football Hall of Fame. Nineteen sets of players are active on NFL rosters this season, including Kyle and Chris Long of the Bears and Rams, respectively. Unable to invest the time to find out how often or if brothers battled in the trenches like these two will on Sunday, I quickly scanned the list and noted the late Hall of Fame guard Gene Upshaw battled defensive end Marvin Upshaw in the ‘60s and ‘70s as divisional foes in the Raiders-Chiefs rivalry.