Yesterday was a tough day for RamsNation, watching the Rams play nearly identical to the way they did against Detroit in Week 1 of the regular season. The defense essentially shut down the Chicago Bears for the first three quarters, but after staying on the field nearly twice as long as the offense (aside from the final, time wasting drives of the Bears) were beat up and worn down by the end. The game was messy, but there were some positives to pull from the game, especially if you compare performances to the Washington Redskins matchup. Here are 5 observations from the game:
1. The St. Louis Rams cannot win any game unless they are running the ball consistently
St. Louis ran only 15 run plays against the Bears, seemingly as a result of Chicago’s monster front seven getting a big push on our makeshift offensive line. However, it wasn’t like the backfield was playing Chris Johnson-esque! Jackson and Richardson both broke a run off for 10+ yards, typically off the left side of the time following Brit Miller. If the Rams want to win, they need to remain balanced as an offense, regardless of how successful the run game was been throughout the game. Schotty reverted back to his predictable play calling, which is going to get eaten up veteran defensive players like Julius Pepper and Brian Urlacher, not to mention the defensive-minded head coach, Lovie Smith. Look for that to change next week against the Seattle Seahawks, which are equally as tough defensively.
2. Our secondary is really, really solid
At the end of the game, the box score is not going to fully show how dominant the Rams defense played against the Chicago Bears. The Bears first 10 points were the direct result of completely idiotic, individual mistakes by the Rams special teams and defense (Why do you need to demolish a punter? Compensating for something?). Either way, Brandon Marshall was a non-factor for a majority of the game, although he did play much better late after the defense had been worn down as a result of the offenses ineptitude. Cutler ended the night with 17 of 31 passing for 183 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception. The secondary single handedly kept the Rams in the game, forcing the Bears to punt 4 times, kick 3 field goals, and causing the single turnover.
3. The run defense has not improved very much from last year
The Bears should have been the team hurting in the run game, with Matt Forte on the inactive list, but that was not the case on Sunday. Michael Bush and Kahlil Bell steamrolled the St. Louis front seven for first down after first down. The backs did not put up huge totals, but anyone watching the game saw the inability by linebackers to wrap up and bring the carriers down. Jo-Lonn Dunbar could not fight off a block to save his life, and secondary had a hard time stopping the powerful running of the 245 lbs. Michael Bush. They never gave up the “big run,” which is an improvement over last year, but they are giving up costly runs, giving extra yards after first contact and allowing costly first downs. Michael Brockers likely return next week should vastly improve the interior defensive line, which in turn should keep the opposing linemen out of the second level.
4. Bradford and Amendola need some help in the passing game
Anyone who thought the Amendola would repeat his performance from last week was sadly mistaken, although he did wrangle in 5 catches for 66 yards. However, this week the Bears were able to slow down Amendola and cover the rest of the St. Louis receiving core, something Washington has trouble with a week ago. Bradford only passed for 152 yards, but I am not pinning that total solely on his arm. Players were dropping passes all over the field, including the long ball to Gibson that would have likely pushing the Rams to a mere 7-10 deficit in the first quarter. Instead, Gibson drops the pass and Bradford takes a long sack on third down to knock St. Louis out of field goal range. Givens looked terrified on the field, especially on his first reception, where he essentially grabbed the ball and froze in place waiting to get pin-balled by the Bears secondary. Quick was listed as inactive, while Pettis and Smith seemed to be invisible on the field.
Some will blame the offensive linemen for the poor performance, but that wouldn’t really be fair to a group that, for the most part, over-performed against arguably the best defensive line in the NFL. Bradford had plenty of time in the backfield to get throws out, but repeatedly held the ball for 4+ seconds on a 3 step drop, which is never a good idea. Of the six sacks tallied on the Bears’ defensive stats sheet, the offensive line should only take credit for about half, with Bradford unnecessarily eating the ball a solid three times on pass plays. Israel Idonije pulled down the quarterback 2.5 times Sunday against the Rams, which is unacceptable against even the worst passing game and the worst offensive line. Idonije has averaged 2.3 sacks per season overly the last 9 years, but topped that total in a single game against the Rams… unacceptable.
5. Aside from Janoris Jenkins, Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein were the best pick-ups from the 2012 draft
Defensive secondary aside, the special teams unit may help compensate for the lack of offensive production in a couple of games this year. Johnny Hekker was the ace of the game for the St. Louis Rams, completely controlling the St. Louis punting and Chicago return game. Hekker averaged 46.5 yards per punt, including a 56 yarder. More importantly he was able to eliminate the “Devin Hester factor” by repeatedly booting the ball for significant yardage, but landing it out of bounds. Aside from a 19 yard return late in the game, Hester was limited to 5.0 yards per return, and only got his hands on half of the 6 punts from Hekker.
Greg Zuerlein also impressed, finally nailing his first kick from 50+ yards. Thanks to a Lovie Smith “icing” time out before halftime, Jeff Fisher allowed Zuerlein to go out an attempt one from 56 yards with under 30 seconds left. He boomed the kick through the uprights, with plenty of distance to spare. With the addition of a 46 yarder in the second half, Zuerlein is now 8 for 8 on field goal tried this year. More impressively, 5 of those fields goals are from distance of 40 yards or longer, which leads the NFL so far this season.