The St. Louis Rams are now 0-2 in the preseason, losing to both the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers in less-than-admirable fashion. However, while we all want to come out as the victor, the preseason is much more about getting tape on players, not necessarily playing an offensive and defensive chess match with the opponent. So, even in defeat, the St. Louis Rams can take plenty away from with Week 2 performance. Here are Ramblin’ Fan’s quick thoughts on the loss last night…
1. Despite how the box score reads on Isaiah Pead, he ran the ball very effectively as the “starting” running back last night. In the opening quarter, Pead never lost yardage as a result of “poor running” or indecisiveness. In fact, Pead appeared to have taken a chapter out of the Daryl Richardson handbook, hitting the holes hard, reacting as the play developed, as opposed to attempting to proactively envision the blocks. In the first half, Pead rushed for: 11 yards, 3 yards, 2 yards, -6 yards(missed assignment on the blitzing safety), -2 yards (face mask penalty on Clay Matthews), 1 yard, 2 yards, -1 yards, 2 yards. While those numbers aren’t overly impressive, the average run play is only “designed” to pick up 3 to 4 yards on the carry. Even more impressive than Pead’s lack of dancing with the football was his body of work in the passing game. Pead caught his only target of the game, which converted a 2nd and 10 into a first down. More impressively, Pead was “the key” to the Chris Givens’ 57 yard catch, stonewalling the blitzing Brad Jones to give Sam Bradford just enough time to launch the football down the field. He may not have taken any significant step towards catching Daryl Richardson, but he certainly showed that he isn’t necessarily the spot-light shy, timid runner that he had displayed in the past.
2. Sam Bradford looked good again last night, very good. The “vanilla” play-calling has made it extremely difficult to accurately gauge either the passing or running game so far this preseason, but some of the nuggets that we have seen have been impressive. The box score for the Rams’ signal caller will read 8 of 12 passing for 156 yards, but that does not paint the entire picture of the game. Much like the game against the Cleveland Browns, Bradford was “on target” on every single throw against the Packers. His first incompletion was slightly over the head of Tavon Austin in the red-zone, but appeared to be well within the catching radius of a “typical” receiver. Bradford’s second came on a bullet to Chris Givens, who failed to haul in the football; although it did appear to be pass interference, with the defended draped all over Givens prior to the ball touching his hands. Even the last incompletion was on a long-ball to Tavon Austin, giving his receiver the opportunity to “win” the ball in the air.
Looking away from the negatives, Bradford made two “elite” throws in this game that signal he is ready for the “next step.” In the opening quarter, Daryl Richardson ran a wheel route around the end, with the receiver setting a “pick” on the outside linebacker. Bradford lofted the ball overtop of the approaching defender, hitting Richardson in-stride, leading to a 24 yard catch-and-run. The second, of course, was the 57 yard bomb to Chris Givens. At the start of last season, Givens and Bradford weren’t on the “same page,” consistently missing on the deep ball. Last night, Bradford stepped up into the pocket, with the Packers’ Brad Jones barreling up the middle, trusted his running back to make the block, and slung a perfect ball to his receiver. Both of those are “elite” throws in the NFL, and Bradford executed them to perfection.
3. Tavon Austin got his first action with the football, but showed a little bit of rookie jitters. On his first catch, Austin found the soft spot in the zone, sat down, and made the catch. However, instead of planting and turning up the field, he danced with the football; something that will not work in at the NFL level. His next taste of action would be on 4th down, first curling at the right hash, then dragging his way in front of the linebackers and making the catch. However, Austin failed maintain depth in his route, which forced a turnover-on-downs after coming down with the catch a yard short of the first down marker. Quarterbacks are going to trust their receivers to run to the appropriate depth on the field; anything short of the first down marker is a useless route on fourth down…
However, on a brighter note, it appeared as though Austin was open on nearly every play, and showed excellent football awareness in his “sit downs” against zone coverage. For some receivers, it can take years to understand the concept of finding the soft spot in one coverage. Conversely, players like Danny Amendola and Wes Welker both made a name for themselves relying heavily on that one skill. With Austin’s quickness and apparent “Football I.Q.,” it is easy to see why there is so much hype surrounding him this season.
4. Tavon Austin wasn’t the only “newbie” to make his first reception in the golden horns. Jared Cook finally joined the party, taking us for a journey with a 37 yard catch-and-run that took the Rams into the redzone. If Givens, Austin, and Cook can make these “standard, basic” plays electrifying on the field, imagine how they will look with a little bit of offensive creativity thrown in by Brian Schottenheimer.
5. The St. Louis Rams defense looked about as holey as the Packers fans’ headgear last night, leaving massive openings in zone coverage and missing countless tackles, especially on the outside in the open field. Darian Stewart and Trumaine Johnson appeared to be the main culprits last night, but T.J. McDonald, Janoris Jenkins, and several other defensive players certainly joined the party. If you want to look at this in a positive light, the defensive backs were making good breaks on the football, and were regularly getting to the offensive player prior to any significant gains after the catch. However, if the Rams’ are going to repeat their missed tackle performance from 2012, St. Louis will never break into the Top 10 in the NFL; or the Top 15, for that matter.
6. However, outside of the missed tackles, the St. Louis Rams were relatively efficient on the defensive side of the football, especially in the red zone. The two names that stuck out the most are William Hayes and Robert Quinn, who were both completely dominant on the defensive line last night. Hayes “one tackle” does not exemplify that number of “disruptions” he made in the backfield. However, Quinn’s contributions were much more obvious, raking in 3 tackles in the opening half, including the lone sack on Aaron Rodgers.
7. On the fringe player front, Ray Ray Armstrong had another impressive performance with the 2nd- and 3rd-team defense. His jersey was in every screen shot at the end of every play, including a big pass deflection on a pass rush and a stonewall tackle in the open field. Cody Davis was also a “regular” name heard from the announcers’ booth, tallying four tackles, including one tackle for a loss. Both players are making strong cases for the final 53-man roster.
In the offense, Andrew Helmick made his rookie debut, having been sidelined for the last couple of weeks with an hamstring injury. Helmick had a beautiful 30 yard catch-and-run, and likely could have had another mid-range catch had the quarterback got the ball anywhere in his area code.
8. Prior to the start of the game, Jeff Fisher mentioned that his goals for the game were to cut down on turnovers, eliminate penalties, and end offensive drives with touchdowns instead of field goals. If those were the criteria for the game, the St. Louis Rams just got handed an “F” grade. Kellen Clemens played right into Bernie Kosar’s hands, throwing two interceptions, one of which unfathomably horrible, being placed nowhere near a Rams’ receiver. On top of that, Sam Bradford lost a snap at the goal line, which gave the Rams three turnovers on the night; not good. They also committed nine penalties, including three for “illegal formation”; a call that cost the St. Louis Rams a win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10 last season. Lastly, the Rams didn’t put points on the board until the very end of the 4th quarter, despite being in the red zone twice with the 1st-team offense.
9. Despite all of the negativity that is bound to be aimed at the Rams’ Week 2 performance, the fact remains that it is still the preseason. The St. Louis Rams are an extremely young team, still working out kinks on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football. Missed tackles and pre-snap penalties are obviously parts of the game that can be drastically improved with time and practice. Trust that the coaching staff with use this tape as a “learning experience” that will help these young players continue to improve as we head towards the start of the regular season.
10. Two weeks down, still no significant injuries. We can ALL be thankful for that!