Aug 8, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Daryl Richardson (26) runs the ball in the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Thoughts On The St. Louis Rams Loss Versus Cleveland Browns


 

At 8:00 PM ET yesterday, the NFL season officially began, as the St. Louis Rams squared off against the Cleveland Browns. Being the first preseason matchup of the season, we expected to see plenty of players in the rotation, some bland play-calling, and watch the starters ride the bench after a couple of offensive series. To some, that would be a boring game. To others, it was a unique opportunity to watch some “lesser known” players on the field; some that might even make their way onto the 53-man roster at the end of August. Keeping in mind that is still the preseason, here are Ramblin’ Fan’s quick thoughts on the Thursday’s game:

 

1. The young “stars” appeared to come out a little over-zealous to start the game, there were several missed assignments on defense, a couple of drops on catch-able throws, and some visible signs of “thinking,” instead of merely going out and playing football. That’s completely fine. It is the preseason. These guy are hitting the field for the first time in their career.

 

2. With Sam Bradford in the game, the offense appeared to move pretty efficiently, even leading the young Rams’ squad 45 yards down the field on the opening drive before Isaiah Pead put the ball on the ground. St. Louis second drive was cut short prematurely, with “drops” by both Austin Pettis and Tavon Austin on, what appeared to be, catch-able throws from Bradford. The 1st-team’s third drive started with a bang, with Bradford hitting Chris Givens deep on a 59-yard completion, followed shortly by a 3-yarder to Givens in the endzone. Three offensive series is not enough to gauge the offense, especially with obviously scripted, “vanilla” playcalling from the sideline. However, it was certainly not a bad start to the “Bradford-Era” in St. Louis.

 

3. Both the St. Louis Rams and the Cleveland Browns appeared to be heading into the game with few-to-no significant injuries on the roster. That ended in the first quarter, when Rodger Saffold landed awkwardly on his left arm while blocking the Browns’ new-acquired Paul Kruger. Rodger would not return to the game, instead coming out at halftime in street clothes sporting a black sling. According to Jeff Fisher at halftime, “Rodger is going to be OK. He’s going to be all right. X-rays were negative so he’ll be all right. He’s going to be a little sore but he’ll be OK.” However, following the game, he did mention that Saffold would likely miss some undisclosed amount of time with the injury. If “general soreness” keeps Saffold out playing in the next handful of preseason games, the St. Louis Rams will be more than happy. We can only hope that it doesn’t linger into the regular season.

 

4. Switching to the defense, there was certainly room for improvement on the 1st-team unit. However, in their defense, the play-calling appeared to be heavily scripted; not necessarily reading the defense and adjusting accordingly. Every third down brought in the nickel package, there was little-to-no man coverage or bump-and-run at the line of scrimmage, there were no exotic blitzes. However, as a silver lining, the St. Louis Rams were successful in their first red-zone defensive stand, holding the Cleveland Browns to a field goal after the opposing team had moved to 1st and Goal at the STL 8 yard line.

After the “switch sides” at the end of the 1st quarter, nearly all of the Rams’ starters were sent the bench, including all of the notable players in the front-seven. Brandon Weeden would throw for their first touchdown of the game that opening play, but it was primarily against the 2nd-team defense. Overall, the defense looked a bit “out-of-sorts,” but that comes with the territory of transiting new, young players into the starting lineup. Expect for the 1st-teamers to put on more of a show next Sunday in their preseason bout with the Green Bay Packers.

 

5. Of the starters, Chris Givens and Sam Bradford looked the most comfortable on the field. Givens, in particular, was obviously the most dominant player in the game, averaging 27.3 yards on three receptions. Here is the breakdown of those catches:

  1. 20-yard catch on 3rd and 7 (first down)
  2. 59-yard catch on 2nd and 7 (first down)
  3. 3-yard catch on on 3rd and Goal (touchdown)

Bradford was obviously looking for Givens in “do-or-die” situations, and Givens answered the phone whenever he was called upon. If this is any indication of how the regular season will play out, Givens could truly “break into the league” with a monster sophomore season.

 

6. On a negative note, Isaiah Pead appeared to be thinking too much when he was on the field… again. Last season, Pead verbalized his frustration with having to battle for reps and expressed the difficultly in overcoming the mental aspect of the game. That showed on Thursday, with Pead fumbling the football on his first rushing attempt of the season, ending the St. Louis Rams’ opening drive. After his fumble, Pead was noticeably shaken, standing isolated on the sideline with his helmet firmly fixed on his head. He would later show that same “mis-thinking” on kick return, waffling between kneeling or running out the kickoff. If he wants to rip the starting job away from Daryl Richardson, Pead will need to show more than he did on Thursday.

 

7. Moving away from the “starting” unit, the St. Louis Rams’ coaching staff had their hand’s full attempting to work in some of the “fringe” prospects on the roster. The one defense player that stuck out was Ray Ray Armstrong, the Rams’ undrafted rookie, who converted from safety to outside linebacker. Armstrong appeared to have his nose in on every snap, playing sideline-to-sideline and translating his aggressiveness into three tackles. With very little quality depth at the outside linebacker position, Armstrong was likely a strong favorite to make the 53-man roster prior to this game. If he continues to play aggressively, and effectively, we will undoubtedly see his name on the depth chart in September.

 

8. On the offense, Benny Cunningham was the most impressive of the lesser-known Rams, seeing a bulk of the reps in the second half of the game. Cunningham took 5 rushes for 20 yards, dragging Browns’ defensemen on every carry. He was also solid in his one kick return attempt, taking the ball out of the endzone for a 36-yard return to start the Rams in excellent field position. With Steven Jackson out of the equation, the St. Louis Rams are likely to keep four running backs on the roster. If Benny Cunningham can continue to play at this level, it is certainly possible that he could jump Terrance Ganaway on the depth chart; or, if nothing else, earn a spot on the practice squad.

 

9. Greg “the Leg” Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker appear to be in mid-season form already, with both posting some impressive numbers on special teams. Hekker averaged 55.7 yards per attempt on his punts, including landing a “retrievable” ball inside the opposing 5-yard line and bombing a 60+ yarder. During warmups, Hekker nailed three consecutive “coffin corner” punts from beyond mid-field, each of which would have likely rolled out somewhere inside the 5- to 10-yard marker.

Zuerlein was… well, himself. The Rams’ kicking phenom booted two attempts from 50+ yards, nailing both with ease, including one from 54 yards and another from 55 yards. If there were any stadium that represents the polar-opposite of a “dome,” it would be the field in Cleveland, with lakefront winds gusting through the stadium without a moment’s notice. If “the Leg” can make these types of kicks on the Browns’ home grass, he can make them in any stadium in the National Football League.

 

10. Remember Rams Nation, it is just the preseason! We would have all loved to see Tavon Austin and Jared Cook get some more reps with in the offense, we would have loved to see Chris Givens or Tavon Austin returning kickoffs, we would have loved to see the Rams “send the house” on defense, we would have loved our starters on the field for the goal line stand to start the 2nd quarter…. but, we didn’t! Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams coaching staff obviously have a plan for this preseason. Let’s just sit back, relax, and enjoy the fact that football has officially started again.

 

Bonus: Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey were also impressive in their time on the field Thursday. They have obviously been soaking in knowledge imparted on them by Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and it showed on the field…

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  • bluenotebacker

    I give Pead essentially 1 more chance to show he can compete otherwise I’m sending him packing. It’s just not working out for him in STL. Richardson WAY ahead and Cunningham/Stacy both appear better suited to the backup job.

    • Nathan Kearns

      Wouldn’t count Pead out just yet. He should see significantly more carries as the preseason continues, which will give him a chance to shake this “mental” problem he has going on. Stacy could certainly snag the backup spot, but I don’t want to throw Pead in the trash after one preseason game. Thanks for commenting

      • bluenotebacker

        Totally hear you about it being early, but Pead’s already had a season to acclimate himself, and while he certainly couldn’t get in a ton of work while SJ39 was here, you’d think he’d of picked up more than he has. Physical mistakes (fumbles) aren’t why I see him punching his own ticket out, it’s the mental part of the game that I hear the talking heads on radio etc discussing that I feel like he should’ve been able to get a grip on already. Yes, very much an armchair analyst here, lol.

        • Nathan Kearns

          I can assure you that I am merely playing Devil’s advocate, as I am certainly not on the Pead bandwagon. But, in his defense, his rookie offseason was marred by the ridiculous University of Cincinnati academic calendar, then exacerbated by the Rookie Symposium.

          I think more snaps in the preseason is what he needs, and less time on kickoff. The more “naturally” he can play the game, the sooner his mind will “shut off” and allow him to play! -Armchair Psychologist

          • bluenotebacker

            Great point- I was overlooking the whole deal about him coming in late because of school. I liked him right away when they drafted him and I’m antsy to see him do well. Be nice if the Rams had a super tough decision because all those kids were running well.

          • Beer O’Clock

            I find it interesting that everyone notes Pead coming in late because of his school’s graduation requirements, but no one notes that in July of that year he was busted for smoking pot.

            It seems to me that if Pead had his hands on the playbook instead of the bong, he would have easily overcome missing spring OTAs. Several other players had the same graduation requirement and it didn’t affect their rookie season.

          • Nathan Kearns

            No doubt, I think it is a culmination of him being a 2nd-rounder, him getting the invite to the Rookie Show-Off Parade, AND the school schedule that gives the general public this impression of a “mental case” brought on by being behind the curve and having enormous pressure to perform.

          • Rams

            I would like to see Ganaway switch to fullback. I hope Pead improves would hate to get rid of Ganaway or Cunningham for Pead not to work out. I think all our backs have a lot of upside.

          • http://www.cnsqonline.com cesarnoel

            If Rams keeps 4 RB’s it would be a toss up between Ganaway and Pead for the final spot.

          • johnforamerica

            Yeah, because clearly if you smoke pot (or even get caught with it) then fuck something up over the course of the next year, it’s without doubt because of the pot.

            Correlation != Causation, and plenty of people can handle pot just as well as others handle a couple of beers. Get your head out of your ass.

          • http://www.cnsqonline.com cesarnoel

            Agreed. Drugs will slow down your ability to pickup the playbook. If Pead can’t make it even as a good kick returner then If I were Snead, I’d starting looking for some trade partners for his services for at least a 3rd round or a combination or 4th and 5th rounds.

          • Arnett Counts

            Ahh, Nathan…I see you believe in, “the sports gene” and “chunking”….10,000 hours to become an expert, cutting the frontal lobe of the brain off & such…..My thinking is, we may lose Benny Cunningham if we try and let him clear waivers….Plus, I’d like to see what Gannaway brings to the table. My personal preference would be to keep Benny, Terrance, & Isiah…..as D. Rich’s backups…oops, I forgot about Stacy…..Welp, let them battle and the best 4 wins….Richardson-Cunningham-Stacy-Pead…sorry Gannaway, but I hear your pass-pro sucks…….

          • Nathan Kearns

            Well, Richardson and Pead are locked onto the roster, as is Stacy, as a 2013 draftee…

            That leaves Benny Cunningham vs. Terrance Ganaway for the last slot on the 53-man roster, assuming the St. Louis Rams choose to keep four running backs. Cunningham certainly has brought more to the table at this point, especially as a viable special teams contributor. However, Ganaway may have the upper-hand, being brought in by Brian Schottenheimer from New York.

            Based on play alone, Cunningham would obviously have the edge, considering Ganaway was a pre-game scratch. However, I would wait until Aug. 31 before counting him out!

    • ricdram

      “SCENARIO” : MJD is hurt @ the
      Jaguars. What if we traded PEAD
      to the Jags for a 1st round pick.
      Then we keep 4. (#1)Richardson,
      (#2)Zac Stacy (#3)Cunningham,
      (#4)Gannaway.Chase Reynolds
      to the PS.The Jags aren’t too
      good. That 1st rd. pick could be
      a HIGH PICK. Sorry guys for a
      minute I thought I was L.Snead.
      Regardless, what do YOU think?
      I like this move “personally” cause I like RBs #1 through #4
      BEST ! What do YOU think ?

      • Nathan Kearns

        Well, in theory, that would be an awesome trade. However, I don’t know how you are going to convince the Jacksonville Jaguars to trade away a first-rounder in exchange for an underperforming late-second round pick from 2012

        • ricdram

          Ok Nathan. I will sweeten the pot for the Jags by tossing in Roger Saffold who does not PLAY for the Rams anyway.
          ‘ MASH UNIT ” is
          not gonna play 16 games for us this year.He’s making our Insurance
          rates go up !

      • http://www.cnsqonline.com cesarnoel

        I doubt the Jags would part with a 1st round pick. Pead would command at least 2nd or 3rd round pick.

        • ricdram

          You are right Cesarnoel.(I really don’t want to trade Pead.) I was venting. Pead seems to be the only young gun who is not “on board “. He needs to step up .

          • http://www.cnsqonline.com cesarnoel

            I’d rather push with the trade for a 3rd round pick or a OL/OT

          • ricdram

            Or we can wait a
            little longer. I’d hate for a 2nd Fisher pick to be a bust(Rok 1st).
            3 preseason games to go.

          • http://www.cnsqonline.com cesarnoel

            I’d give Pead at least the PreSeason to prove himself. Anyways the final RB spot is a toss up between Pead and Ganaway since Cunningham is being projected as a better kick returner and has been doing great so far.

          • ricdram

            I like Bennies POWER. I’ve yet to see Gannaway
            play.

  • Rams

    Was a good game to see things needed for improvement. I hope they give a little more of the playbook at them in the next two games. Run Run Pass the whole game and the Browns still struggled on defense. They also played way to much zone would really like to see the db’s closer to the line at some point. I understand the not wanting to get injured but when they get to twos and threes they should do more blitzing and tight man coverage.

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