ST. LOUIS --The St. Louis Rams' greatest upset threat might require success on the ground … against a unit that is the league's best through 10 weeks.
Denver's run defense has passed every test since Seattle's Marshawn Lynch crossed into the south end zone at CenturyLink Field with the game-winning touchdown in overtime of the Week 3 rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII.
But the Rams come into this game with a ground game that has found some explosion with the insertion of rookie Tre' Mason at running back.
"He's running hard like a mad man," said Broncos safety Rahim Moore.
In the five games Mason has played, he has a 4.3-yards-per-carry average -- more than Zac Stacy (3.9) or Benny Cunningham (3.9), and has four runs of at least 20 yards -- longer than any carries by Stacy or Cunningham this year.
"He's an explosive back, obviously a guy that you watched last year in college football make a lot of plays, and watching him on film this year, he's the same type of back," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "He's explosive, you know he runs hard. He's a cutback runner, he finds the holes. So we'll have to stay on our gaps and be gap-sound, and make them one-dimensional and force the quarterback to beat us."
That has been the Broncos' equation each week: take one phase of the offense and eliminate it.
But the question for the Rams is whether they will try and control the pace on the ground, or show confidence in 34-year-old Shaun Hill to spread his wings and spread out the defense. Much of the Rams' passing success to date this season has come with their tight ends, particularly the team's leading receiver, Jared Cook.
BACK ON 'THE HILL'
After Austin Davis threw five interceptions in the last three games, including two in last week's loss at Arizona, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher pulled the plug on the second-year quarterback this week and re-inserted Hill, the Week 1 starter replaced Sam Bradford after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament for the second time in 10 months.
Little should change about the Rams' style their offensive style; neither Davis nor Hill are scramblers. But Hill's experience might help him avoid some of the mistakes that plagued Davis as teams accumulated film and began scheming to his weaknesses. Davis accounted for three giveaways in the fourth quarter last week as the Rams frittered away a 14-10 lead at Arizona.
With the seasoned Hill taking the snaps, the Rams might be inclined to take more calculated risks than with Davis, whose miscues piled up in recent weeks.
Broncos Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase was on the 49ers' staff in 2008, when Hill started eight games. He led San Francisco to a 5-3 record as starter, including wins in four of the last five to conclude the season.
"[Hill] is a smart guy, tough (and) accurate," Gase said. "He always found a way to move the ball and he found ways to win. When I was there and we were struggling, he came in and took over and we won some games and I think Mike Singletary got (the head coaching) job in big part because he led that team at the end of the season and he did a great job."
He'll need do to another great job if the Rams are to pull off a third win over a Super Bowl contender in the last month.
- Yards per game: 310.2, 29th
- Yards per play: 5.07, 26th
- Giveaways: 16, T-19th
- First-down rate: One every 3.49 plays, 14th
- Third-down conversion rate: 37.96 percent, 23rd
- Yards per game: 212.8, 26th
- Yards per pass play: 5.84, 27th
- Sack rate: One per 10.93 pass plays, 30th
- Touchdown rate: One every 27.33 pass plays, 24th
- Quarterback hurry rate (per ProFootballFocus.com): One per 3.69 pass plays, 28th
- First-down rate: One per 2.98 pass plays, 16th
- Drop rate (per STATS, Inc.): One per 17.18 opportunities, 7th
- Yards after catch per reception (per STATS, Inc.): 5.26, 8th
- Yards per game: 97.4, 21st
- Yards per rush: 3.93, 22nd
- First-down rate: One every 4.65 carries, 15th
- Touchdown rate: One every 44.60 carries, 22nd