For the first time since 2006, the St. Louis Rams have started off the season with a win. In fact, the Rams win over the Cardinals technically slots them atop the NFC West, being the only team with a victory within the division. Last night was a bit of a circus, with plenty of lead changes, dramatic turnovers, and a game-winning two-minute drill capping off the final score of the game. Obviously, there is plenty to discuss, so, without further stalling, here are Ramblin’ Fan’s quick thoughts on the game…
1. We won! …but, the St. Louis Rams will certainly not continue to win making the mistakes they made last night. In fact, the opening two drives of the night were “ruined” by the Rams two biggest offseason signings. First, Jake Long forced the Rams into a 1st and 20 situation, uncharacteristically “holding” the defensive end. On the next drive, Jared Cook made a 47 yard catch-and-run, but failed to keep the ball high-and-tight, and was stripped at the goal line by the trailing Tyrann Mathieu. At the end of the night, St. Louis would have committed 7 penalties for 59 yards. However, several of those penalties, if not all of them, were unnecessary, and allowed the Cardinals to stay in the game.
2. Aside from the opening fumble, Jared Cook was obviously the player to game. In his St. Louis Rams debut, he finished the night with 7 catches for 141 yards, including 2 touchdowns. With Chris Givens on the outside, Tavon Austin and Jared Cook are capable of having massive games every week. Patrick Peterson, widely considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league, was draped on Givens the entire night. That leaves the underneath coverage responsibilities to undersized safeties and not-fast-enough outside linebackers. Cook should be in for a good year…
3. Daryl Richardson was fantastic in his “debut” as the starter for the St. Louis Rams, as well. The box score will show an underwhelming 63 yard performance, averaging a little over 3.0 yards per carry. However, you had to have watched him run to truly appreciate his effectiveness. Richardson was the personification of consistency, gaining yards on 84% of this rushing attempts throughout the game. Here are those attempts in numeric form: +6 yards, +6, +4, +1, +10, +3, +3, +2, +2, -3, +3, +9, no gain, +3, +1, +2, +5, +5, -2. You will be hard-pressed to find another running back regularly gaining positive yards out of the backfield at that high of a percentage.
4. Sam Bradford may have shocked the world with his performance as well, completing 71% of his attempts for nearly 300 yards, including 2 touchdowns. Had Jared Cook held onto the football, we would be looking at a 300+ yard, 3 touchdown game from Bradford; putting him on par with nearly any quarterback from this past weekend. The Rams’ signal caller looked comfortable in the pocket, avoided the pass rush, made good decisions with the football, and, most importantly, did not turn the ball over… kind of. The fault of the batted-ball interception on the goal line should be split evenly between Bradford and the offensive lineman who failed to “punch the gut” and keep the defenders hand out of the passing lane. Aside from that one play, Bradford could chalk his performance up in the “nearly perfect” category.
5. Switching over to the defense… come on, Tim Walton! The new defensive coordinator turned up the heat in the second half of the game, and allowed Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins to finally play some man-to-man, press coverage. As a result, in the 4th quarter, the Cardinals faltered on all four of their drives. If Carson Palmer has time, he will find Larry Fitzgerald and get him the ball on every snap. The Rams’ pass rush and coverage abilities are linked, hand-in-hand, and if the Rams plan on being successful this year, they will need to get in-tune way before the second half.
6. Robert Quinn is making an early case for himself as the first-annual Deacon Jones award recipient. If this 3 sack, 2 forced fumble opening performance is any indication of how the season will go, the St. Louis Rams could very well be taking home the hardware in it’s inaugural season.
7. Aside from an idiotic, unnecessary roughness penalty on special teams, William Hayes showed why the Rams made it a priority to re-sign him this offseason. Hayes’ “official” stat line will give him 3 tackles for a loss and 1 sack, but his presence on the defensive line was obvious throughout the game. If teams want to double-team Michael Brockers and Chris Long all game, then Robert Quinn and William Hayes are going to figureheads in the opposing offensive backfield all season.
8. Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald were impressive in their debuts last night, not allowing any over-the-top throws or breakthrough rushing attempts. In fact, the longest play of the night came on a circus catch from Michael Floyd, who was defended well by Cortland Finnegan in man-to-man coverage. The young safety duo combined for 10 tackles and 1 pass deflection. It appears, for now, that the youth in the secondary will not be a problem.
9. Speaking of Cortland Finnegan, the Rams $50 million man had a rough outing last night, or, at least, it will appear that way. However, it wasn’t that bad, especially considering that it was Larry Fitzgerald making the tough, over-the-shoulder catches in the endzone. A well-thrown football can usually beat great coverage, even on an elite cornerback who’s in good position. Do not be disheartened by last night’s performance…
10. Greg “the Leg” Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker came to play last night in the dome, and could easily make a case for the MVPs of the game. Hekker was phenomenal in the punting game, landing one ball inside the 20, and another at the 1 yard line… or, at least, it should have been downed there, if Mike McNeill had done his job correctly. The punting unit complete took Patrick Peterson out of the game, allowing only one return for a net gain of +1 yards. Zuerlein was perfect though, hitting all four his field goal attempts on the night. In a fitting tribute to his performance, he ended the game with a 48-yarder, sending the Rams into Week 2 with a 1-0 record.