After allowing the St. Louis Rams tie with the San Francisco 49ers to marinate for a solid 2.5 days, the feelings is still… well, it still sucks. It is Wednesday, and the page must be turned on Week 10 and focused on the New York Jets game this coming Sunday. There are several good signs for the Rams heading into the game, most notably that the rest of the NFC West has hung 62 points on the Jets and only allowed 7 in return. But, for now, lets look at some sign of progression internally within the Rams organization.
The return of Rodger Saffold and the potential return of Scott Wells should be a welcome sight for all to see, unless you live in New York. In Saffold’s first start since suffering a knee injury after the Detroit game, the line looking markedly better opening up holes for Steven Jackson, allowing his first 100+ yard rushing performance of the season against the 49ers’ top ranked run defense. More impressively, the offensive line gave up only 2 sacks on Sam Bradford, one coming in overtime play. Saffold was the gem of the line, not allowing a sack, quarterback hit, or pressure on any of his 45 pass blocks in the game. Both sacks were tagged on Shelley Smith, who, in fairness, was getting visibly held by the interior defensive linemen of the 9ers.
Off of that, there are some clear signs that our very own franchise quarterback is beginning to break out of his shell. Bradford went 26 of 39 passing on Sunday for 275 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He relied heavily on the return of Danny Amendola, targeting the young star on 30.7% of his passing attempts. Regardless of who the passes were to, Bradford converted on 43.7% of third down tries. More importantly, he went 7 for 8 on the final drive of the 4th quarter, passing for 52 yards and a touchdown that put the St. Louis Rams up by 3 points with 1:09 left in regulation.
Even without Givens, the wide receivers were able to connect with Bradford for enough to put the Rams in position to win at the end of the game. However, it was not just the return of Amendola that has given Bradford his recent confidence. Lance Kendricks has quietly emerged from the mediocrity he was displaying at the beginning of the season. After starting off in the first 5 games of the season with 10 receptions for 88 yards, Kendricks has caught 13 passes for 125 yards in the last 4 games (if you count the New England meltdown as a game). Combining his production with that of Amendola’s and the field-opening speed of Chris Givens, the Rams’ 2011 second rounder could see his catches continue to increase as the season progresses.
Jumping to the defensive side of the ball, all eyes have to be focused on Michael Brockers, returning against the Arizona Cardinals from injury. Since being touted as “fully recovered” in Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers, Brockers has recorded 9 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, and 2.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus also has Brockers tied in the 20th slot for Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) among interior defensive linemen. According to their numbers, the Rams 2012 first rounder has recorded 11 pressures on 154 snaps, which is good enough for a 5.8 PRP. Not too shabby considering Pro Bowlers like Vince Wilfork (2.9) and B.J. Raji (2.3), and fellow rookie Jerel Worthy (1.9) are all anchoring the bottom of that list.
Tightening the lens on the Rams outlook to this weekend, it is clear how these players’ progressions will effect the game against the New York Jets, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Mark Sanchez has already been sacks 21 times this season, after being sacks only 26 times in 2009 and 27 times in 2010. Clearly the massive amount of pressure he is getting from opposing teams is effecting his ability to find the open receiver, if there even is one. The St. Louis Rams defensive line has contributed 19.5 out of the defenses 26 sacks this season, including 8.5 from Robert Quinn and 5.0 from Chris Long. Brockers already has infinitely more sacks than the players that filled in for him while he was injured, with Conrath, Heard, and Cudjo recording zero sacks in the opening 5 games of the season. His added presence in the middle could spell a ton of trouble for offensive lines down the road, especially ones like the New York Jets that have allowed significant hits on their quarterback all season.