Most of the attention on the sixth NFL regular season game to be played at Wembley, will be on star New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his counterpart, youthful St. Louis Rams passer, Sam Bradford.
However, six periphery figures bear watching once the two teams take the Wembley field this Sunday . These are players that fly under-the-radar, but still play an important role for their respective team.
1. Kyle Love, DT, New England Patriots
Man mountain Vince Wilfork draws most of the attention on the Patriots defense. But his younger partner, Kyle Love, is no less important.
The 6’1″, 315-pound 25-year-old joins Wilfork to provide a formidable mass of humanity at the heart of New England’s 4-3 defense. Love won’t make as many highlight reel-worthy plays as Wilfork, but he will certainly occupy blockers and disrupt the running game.
The Patriots defense is built to stop the run and star Rams’ running back Steven Jackson won’t find much joy between the tackles with Love plugging the middle.
2. Daryl Richardson, RB, St. Louis Rams
If they can’t work the middle in the running game, the Rams may be wise to let Jackson’s understudy, Daryl Richardson, use his speed to attack the edges. The seventh-round rookie has emerged as a useful change of pace alternative to Jackson’s bruising power.
He beat out competition from second-round draft pick Isaiah Pead and has already contributed 282 rushing yards. Richardson is averaging an impressive 5.1 yards per carry and if the Rams can free him on the outside, he has the quickness to outrun New England’s heavy front seven.
3. Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots
Although Jackson usually dominates for the Rams, the most impressive runner at Wembley could turn out to be New England youngster Stevan Ridley. The second-year pro has emerged as a productive rusher this season, finally giving the Patriots true balance on offense.
Ridley had rushed for 589 yards and four touchdowns so far this season and when he runs well, the Patriots win. The Rams have some talented pass rushers and if they don’t want them simply teeing off on Brady, the Patriots must establish Ridley on the ground.
4. Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is the face of the Rams defense, but young defensive end Robert Quinn is becoming the unit’s most prolific playmaker. Playing in just his second season, Quinn is a cat-quick rush end who specialises in beating blockers around the edge.
His speed and long arms make him a threat to any quarterback and Quinn has already collected seven sacks this season. Look for number 94 to try and provide consistent pressure on Brady’s blindside and harass him in the pocket.
5. Devin McCourty, CB, New England Patriots
Highlighting any player from the Patriots leaky secondary is a risky business. But in young cornerback Devin McCourty, they at least have a player who can get his hands on the ball.
McCourty has 11 interceptions in his young career, including two thefts already this season. He takes plenty of risks in coverage, but his gambling is often rewarded.
The Patriots play a lot of zone and off-coverage techniques and that lets McCourty keep his eyes on the quarterback and spy his intentions. If the Rams hope to beat the Patriots, they will need to stay error-free. With McCourty roaming the secondary, Bradford will have to be very careful when he puts the ball in the air.
6. Brandon Gibson, WR, St. Louis Rams
Since Danny Amendola went down with injury against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5, Brandon Gibson has become Bradford’s favourite target. The young wideout has 25 receptions for 335 yards and two touchdowns.
His 13.4 yard average, proves Gibson is the one big-play threat in the Rams passing game. He has also shown a knack for making some acrobatic catches along the sideline.
The Patriots have a glaring weakness when it comes to defending the deep pass, specifically their safeties, who struggle to cover the deep zones. If the Rams are going to exploit this weakness they will need to use Gibson to stretch the field.
While Brady, Bradford, Jackson and Wilfork will draw most of the focus, be sure to still keep an eye out to see which of these hidden stars manages to shine at Wembley.
image: © herkie