That was embarrassing. Luckily for the St. Louis Rams, there were a handful of other teams around the league that will likely steal the headlines away from the Dallas Cowboys. Still, even in defeat there are lessons that can be learned from the team’s play on the field. We’ll try our best to objectively extract those learning opportunities, right here in Ramblin’ Fan’s quick thoughts on the game.
1. Aside from turnovers, the easiest statistic that you can use to gauge a team’s success is their 3rd-down efficiency. The St. Louis Rams converted 7.6% of their attempts, gaining only 17 first downs throughout the entire game. Worse, they only converted half of their six 4th-down attempts. Dropped passes, poor blocking, and errant playing calling all contributed to that poor percentage. Hopefully, all three to those can be fixed on this short week.
2. Jeff Fisher is known for taking chances and making tough play calls in order to gain an edge against his opponent. However, there is a time and a place for those types of “moments,” and the opening drive of the game is not one of those times. The failed Johnny Hekker fake-punt handed the ball to the Dallas Cowboys at the DAL 39 yard line, which would eventually lead to a 61-yard touchdown drive. With Hekker’s abilities, the St. Louis Rams could have pinned the Dallas Cowboys deep in their own territory, potentially forcing a quick 3-and-out, or maybe even pressing Romo into a poor decision. Sometimes that “they’ll never expect it” mentality can backfire… and it certainly did on Sunday.
3. Speaking of the opening drive for Dallas, what happened to Cortland Finnegan? One could easily argue that Dez Bryant should have been flagged for offensive pass interference, with his arms fully extending at the top of his route, forcing Finnegan to the ground. However, single coverage on the outside, where the defensive player is giving up four inches to the receiver is likely not the matchup you want… ever. With a well-thrown pass, that is going to be a touchdown nine times out of ten.
4. On the topic of coverage, what exactly are the St. Louis Rams doing with this defense? It appeared as though Tim Walton and the Rams coaching staff planned on forcing the Dallas Cowboys to win the game on the ground, then made no adjustment to slow it. For a majority of the first half, DeMarco Murray ran at-will, leading to his 175 yard performance on the ground. That number is not entirely surprising, considering there were sometimes only five or six players “in the box,” with the Rams continued to run this “soft zone” coverage in the secondary. In fairness, St. Louis did only allow 38 receiving yards for Dez Bryant. However, allotting all of your resources to stopping one, single player doesn’t work in the NFL.
5. On a positive note, sort of, it was made obvious on Sunday just how valuable Daryl Richardson is to the St. Louis Rams offense. Through the opening two weeks of the regular season, Richardson converted a first down on 23% of this rushing attempts and 20% of this receptions. Contrary to the box score statistics, Isaiah Pead did not fill that role this week, and, as a result, Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams offense gained a net total of 2 yards in the opening half against the Dallas Cowboys. Richardson will likely not practice this week, which will, hopefully, give his foot enough time to heal before the Thursday Night Football bout.
6. Not sure what happened in Dallas, but the St. Louis Rams receivers were obviously star-struck in “Jerry World.” Aside from a severe lack of production after the catch, the receiving corps must have caught a case of the “dropsies” on the flight down, giving Sam Bradford no relief from the devastating Dallas pass rush. Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey, Jared Cook, and Tavon Austin all dropped would-be first down throws. They will need to find a cure to that quickly…
7. DeMarcus Ware vs. Jake Long was supposed to be a “battle for the ages,” but ended up being a TKO in the opening round. Ware recorded 6 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, and 2 sacks on the night, obviously being a regular presence in the St. Louis Rams backfield. Thanks to the film crew at Fox Sports, everyone watching the game got to see Jake Long get pancaked on a number of occasions, unable to deal with the DeMarcus Ware speed/bull rush. However, all of the blame cannot be put on the offensive line. Prior to the start of the game on Sunday, Sam Bradford ranked 4th in the league in passing attempts that took 2.6 seconds or longer to get off. The three players above him on that list has been sacked a combined 29 times in just two weeks. There is a reason for that…
8. Tim Walton needs to acclimate to his new defensive coordinator position,; quickly. When you replace Craig Dahl with T.J. McDonald and Rocky McIntosh with Alec Ogletree, there should not be a regression in the defense. Period.
9. It was jokingly mentioned last week that the St. Louis Rams should “club cast” their punt returners hands, so that they literally could not be called for a holding penalty. The special teams coaching staff may want to take that into consideration this week, after Tavon Austin’s punt return touchdown was called back on two penalties; one for holding, and one for a “blindside block” by T.J. McDonald. Not sure exactly what the NFL expected McDonald to do on that play… announce that he is about to make a block… force the defensive trailer to use his peripheral vision… maybe, just stop and allow the coverage team to tackle Austin? Good hit, Mr. McDonald. Good hit.
10. If you want to end these quick thoughts on a positive note, just take a step back and look at the greater NFC picture. There were eight games play this week where an AFC team took on an NFC opponent. The AFC finished Sunday with a 7-1 record in those games, including wins by the Cleveland Browns (vs. Vikings), Carolina Panthers (vs. Giants), and Indianapolis Colts (vs. 49ers). Even with a 1-2 record, the St. Louis Rams are sitting 10th overall in the NFC. More importantly, they are currently 2nd in the NFC West, courtesy of the 49ers’ and Cardinals’ 0-1 record within the division.
Realistically, most projected the St. Louis Rams with a 2-2 record heading into Week 5, with likely victories over the Cardinals and Cowboys. That record can obviously still be accomplished with a win over San Francisco on Thursday Night Football, with the added bonus of earning a 2-0 record within the NFC West. The injury to Patrick Willis, the indefinite leave of absence from Aldon Smith, and the apparent turmoil between some veteran players and Jim Harbaugh should certainly help the St. Louis Rams’ cause.
Help cheer on the Rams against the defending NFC Champion 49ers by grabbing Rams tickets and heading out to the Thursday night showdown.