Even in a “meaningless” preseason finale, it is nice to see the St. Louis Rams pull out a victory, hopefully as a sign of things to come. The game last night was certainly not pretty, with countless penalties, sloppy offensive play from both teams, and Kellen Clemens licking blood off of his top lip after broke his nose early in the game. However, as with any preseason game, there was plenty to “take away,” especially from the second- and third-team squads. Here are Ramblin’ Fan’s quick thoughts on the game last night.
1. First and foremost, how would you perceive a stat line that read, simply: 17 for 123 yards. Good, right? Those figures were the penalty totals from last night for the St. Louis Rams alone, most of those coming on either blatant holding calls or during pre-snap. Naturally, with only 5 to 7 “starters” seeing any meaningful reps in the game, there are going to be some mental errors. In fact, Jeff Fisher was pretty candid with his comments after halftime, proclaiming, in response to a question about the shear amount of flag throw in the opening half, “… most of the players making those penalties won’t be here next week.” That’s life in the NFL!
2. In the battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot, Kellen Clemens appeared to take a step forward last night, going 13 of 18 passing for 188 yards, even finishing a scoring drive with a broken, bleeding nose. Austin Davis played much worse than his stat line would suggest, regularly overthrowing receivers, and relying heavily on the “dump down” and screen game to make his completions; hence, the 3.8 yard average. However, no player completely jumped off the page last night. As a result, the St. Louis Rams will likely keep both players on the roster into Week 1, and likely maintain both players throughout the regular season, assuming no position gets devastated by injury.
3. Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy both came to play last night, and got plenty of opportunities to display their talent for the coaching staff. Cunningham, playing primarily with and against fringe players, took 8 carries for 76 yards, averaging 9.5 yards per attempt during an outstanding night. Stacy was equally impressive, much more so than his “total yards” would indicate. On 11 rushing attempts, Stacy never lost yardage, always being tackled “falling forward” and pushing the pile. Here are his attempts last night: +4 yards, +2, +4, +5, +6, +2, +5, +4, no gain, +4, +1 (touchdown). There is nothing “wow” about those number, but there is nothing more valuable than a running back who can regularly, and consistently, gain positive yards on every touch. His performance last night could very well give him some momentum heading into the regular season, with sights on the No.2 running back spot, presumably held by Isaiah Pead.
4. Speaking of dominating the back-ups, Brian Quick was a man playing among boys last night, catching 5 of his 6 targets for 60 yards. He also forced a pass interference call in the endzone, which led to the 1 yard rushing touchdown from Zac Stacy on 1st and goal. Even the holding call on Quick later in the game appears to be a case of a “quick trigger finger” from the officiating staff. Overall, Quick should some obvious signs of progression last night. That’s a good thing.
Mike McNeill was also impressive as the lone “starting-caliber” tight end on the St. Louis Rams side of the ball. The presumed No.3 tight end/fullback made two excellent catch-and-runs during the game, including one play with a Tavon Austin-like cut in the open field. He was equally impressive in pass coverage, as well as blocking out of the backfield on run plays. McNeill was likely never in danger of being released, but, if he was on the cusp, he certainly “earned” a place on the 53-man roster last night.
5. Speaking of players closing their case for the 53-man roster, Gerald Rivers, Ray Ray Armstrong, and Matt Daniels excelled in their “final interview” with the team. Rivers “officially” finished with 6 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, and 1 sack. Armstrong was in on nearly every play, both in the passing and run game, and laid the biggest hit of the night. Matt Daniels finished the night with 3 tackles, 2 pass deflection, 1 interceptions, and devastating special teams hit on kickoff. If you are an UDFA, this is how you make your mark with an NFL organization. Jeff Fisher and Les Snead cannot possibly let these talents walk… (GIF courtesy of Daniel Doelling, writer at TurfShowTimes.com)
6. Ignoring the fact that the Baltimore Raven left all of their competent players back in Baltimore, there were a handful of other noteworthy performances and plays from the night. Mason Brodine had a solid, scoop-and-run on a fumble recovery, showing a surprising burst while running the football. Drew Thomas capped off the game with an interception, sealing the final score and making a case for himself for the final roster. Janoris Jenkins, in only a handful of snaps, was able to demonstrate “perfect” man-to-man coverage, something that Tim Walton rarely allowed him to do all preseason. Tavon Austin showed his superiority and unguardability off the line of scrimmage, catching all three of his targets early in the game.
7. Speaking of Tavon Austin… and Brian Quick… and Isaiah Pead, we all hope that the St. Louis Rams got this fumbling nonsense out of their system last night. Each player coughed up the football on their first “touch,” starting on the very first play of the game; the opening kickoff return. Word on the street is that Steve Spagnuolo greased up the Rams’ footballs before the game. Let’s stick with that! But, just in case that conspiracy theory is wrong, the Rams had better be practicing ball security this week at practice. No team can win fumbling the football three times in the opening half…
8. Outside of the play on the field, GM Les Snead might have made the “play of the night” by accidentally announcing that Rodney McLeod would be the starting free safety for the St. Louis Rams against the Arizona Cardinals
9. Chris Williams was also “officially” announced as the starter last night, and played well in limited snaps on the make-shift starting offensive line. Shelley Smith was not so impressive though, missing a couple of assignments, as well as jumping offsides later in the game. Williams’ size on the left side of the offensive line should make life significantly easier for Daryl Richardson running the football.
10. All in all, it was a good preseason for the St. Louis Rams. The young players on the team got to “get their feet wet” against NFL competition. Sam Bradford get to play with his new toys. Young players got their oppotunity to shine on the field and make the final roster. Most importantly, the Rams suffered no significant injuries, and should, in fact, be in better health heading in the regular season, with Lance Kendicks returning to the field.