After a long night’s sleep, some of the burn from the last second loss may have finally gone away. The St. Louis Rams heart breaker last night was wrenching for fans, but showed some significant improvement from last season, especially at some of the questionable positions.
The play calling in the first half was reminiscent of Pat Shurmur, with run on first, run on second, pass on third and long. What happened to the hurry up offense that the Rams used so effectively in the preseason? What happened to the massive holes that the front five were opening for Jackson? It is the regular season, and the team is clearly easing their way into the latter pages of the playbook.
Schottenheimer only dialed up 25 pass attempts for Bradford against the Lions, although a handful were out of necessity because of the numerous false start penalties and the unnecessary roughness call against Brandon Gibson. When they were in reasonable first down distance, Bradford played well, if not predictable. Only three wide receivers caught a pass on Sunday, with 76.4% of catches coming from Amendola and Gibson on the outside, and Jackson out of the backfield. The team was the opposite of dynamic, getting only the yards needed to move the chains on third down, with only one pass longer than 20 yards, which was the toss to Gibson for the touchdown. However, they were able to convert for 10 first downs through the air, meaning that 58.8% of Bradford’s completions resulted in a fresh set of downs.
The second half did open it up a little more, with an impressive, clock-controlling final drive that led to a Zuerlein field goal. This type of drive is the kind we should except during the regular season, once the offensive linemen have, hopefully, gotten the false start jitters out of their system. However, when the defense gives hands you the ball twice off interceptions (and scores off another), you have got to get more points on the board than a couple of field goals
The holes were just not there yesterday, but give credit to Schottenheimer for sticking with the running game. The cohesiveness on the front five was definitely ailing with the loss of Scott Wells in the first half, and exacerbated by shuffling Turner from guard to center, and throwing Watkins into the mix. Granted, the Lions front seven are a tough matchup, especially with predictable play calling that allows the defense to stack the box with 8 or 9 players. Excuses aside, Jackson ran for a mere 53 yards on 21 carries, good for 2.5 a pop. There were no signs of relief in sight, with Richardson being the only back up to spot Jackson. Richardson saw 2 carries for 20 yards, including the game-long 11 yarder, with some impressively strong running. The only other play to attempt a rush was Danny Amendola, who tried a reverse with limited success.
The running game is a staple in the offense, the centerpiece of the Schottenheimer system. Jackson and the offensive line will have to perform better in the future, if nothing else, to help set up the passing attack. Failure to get yards on first and second downs forces the Rams into an obvious passing situation on third, which makes it extremely hard on Bradford and the young receiving core. However, we all know that Jackson will get his yards, and with the insertion of the Watkins, who is a run blocking specialist, there should be some much larger holes against the Redskins in Week 2.
Michael Brocker’s tweeting from the sideline described the St. Louis Rams defense perfectly in the first half, “Bend but don’t break St. Louis Rams.” They did just that, bending as far as possible before snagging three interceptions, including one by Cortland Finnegan for a touchdown. However, the interceptions may be deceiving statistic when taken in context of the entire game.
The Rams gave up 23 first downs on passes from Stafford, on way to allowing 346 yards through the air with 66.6% pass completion percentage. Granted, the Lions are a pass first (and second and third) type of offensive, but it is virtually impossible to keep points off the board while allowing that many first downs. This is arguably the most dynamic offensive in the NFL, with several quick, play makers at wide receiver, and big, powerful tight ends that love to catch the ball; and, oh yea, Calvin Johnson. However, the Rams picked their poison by focusing their attention on “shutting down” Johnson, allowing Nate Burleson and the two tight ends to combine for 16 receptions for 176 yards.
Overall, holding Matthew Stafford to a single touchdown and a 69.4 quarterback rating is a solid day for most, especially considering the youth of the secondary and the talent of the Lions passing offense. The defense dominated the first three quarters, forcing three interceptions and a handful of punts, even with the Rams offense stalling on nearly every drive. However, when the game was on the line, blown assignments led to a quick, long drive and allowed Kevin Smith the go-ahead touchdown catch for the win.
This was a matchup of one of the worst rushing offenses versus rushing defenses from 2011. In the grand scheme of things, the Rams held their own, only allowing 5 first downs off the rush. Aside from a 19 yard slip up, the Rams allowed only 3.5 yards per carry from Kevin Smith. However, when it counted, Laurinaitis failed to plug the hole in the first half, leading to a Lions rushing touchdown by Joique Bell, which, at that point, was the first time the Rams had not caused a turnover in the redzone. Kevin Smith is their third man on the depth chart, typically behind Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure. Injuries pushed up into the starting roll and he performed well.
It is hard to measure the Rams rush defense success through such a limited sample, but it looks as if they have improved. Overall, there were limited missed tackles, but Robert Quinn got pinned on a number of plays during the first half that allowed either a run or dump pass to get around the edge for extra yards. The middle of the line seemed fine, but the lack of quickness at the outside linebacker position and the undersized cornerbacks could be a problem against more elite rushing attacks.
At first blush, the special teams unit looks to have been the best group of the bunch, especially considering the play of Greg Zuerlein. The field goal unit was impressive, going a perfect 3 out of 3, including two from 40+ yards. Zuerlein also booted the ball well on kickoff, with Detroit only returning one “real” kickoff for 18 yards (the other was a squib, returned for a one yard gain).
However, the real problem came in punt coverage and our own return game. Johnny Hekker averaged 37.6 yards per punt, which is not bad considering the field position, but the coverage unit allowed Detroit’s Stefan Logan to average 10 yards per return, including a 21 yarder that set Stafford up with amazing field position. The coverage units were slow down the field, and Hekker did not get enough hang time on several of the punts. Hekker even had trouble hanging onto his first snap, dropping the ball before picking up the lucky bounce and booming it down the field.
The return game was nonexistent, bringing back only one kickoff for 24 yard and one punt for 6 yards. Hansen is a top-tier kicker playing in a dome, so was doubtful there would be many returns. However, the offense will need as much help as possible to get points on the board. You can always keep in the back of your mind that Zuerlein can make it anywhere inside 60 yards, and maybe outside of it. So, a solid return can mean points regardless of offensive production, or lack there of.
Grade: A for kicking, C for returning and coverage