Not sure exactly how to frame what happened last night on Monday Night Football. You win some, you lose some… and then you have games last night that leave you completely dumbfounded. If nothing else, the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams put up an impressive defensive show for a national audience, with the game coming down to a 4th and short with mere seconds left on the clock. Anyways, we’ll try to short through the good and the bad in our quick thoughts…
1. It is difficult to truly wrap your head around the St. Louis Rams loss last night. They “won” offensively, they certainly “won” defensively, and they “won” on special teams. It appears the only places they did win were on the final scoreboard and in the turnover department. In that end, the latter are all that matter.
Kellen Clemens airmailed two easy interceptions to the Seattle Seahawks, the second of those leading an easy 26-yard touchdown drive for the ‘Hawks opening score of the game. Some, including Jeff Fisher, pinned those mis-throws on Jared Cook and Austin Pettis. However, it is ultimately the quarterback’s responsibility to find the “open man” and put the football where it needs to be. That did not happen for much of last night.
2. Jared Cook has targeted six times last night by Kellen Clemens, resulting in three catches, one dropped pass on a would-have-been 1st down, and one interception. The St. Louis Rams backup quarterback situation is likely not going to get any better this season, and if the Rams want to win anymore games this year, the key offensive players on the Rams are going to need to step up.
3. Most in Rams Nation won’t want to hear this, but overall, Brian Schottenheimer was excellent in playcalling for a majority of the game. The oft-criticized offensive coordinator was creative with his run calls, found ways to get his receivers open against the Seahawks’ vaulted secondary, and put the game on Zac Stacy’s large, muscular shoulder… until the last play.
Sadly, we will never know what possessed Schottenheimer to motion Stacy out of the backfield and go with an empty-back formation in the redzone on the last play of the game.
4. Switching out of the negativity, there was obviously some “moral victories” that could be extracted for this performance. First and foremost, Zac Stacy appears to be the “real deal” at running back, shredding the previously 5th-ranked Seahawks’ rush defense (according to Pro Football Focus) for 134 yards, averaging a genuine 5.2 yards per carry. For the fourth-consecutive week (i.e. since he has been the starter), Stacy will grade out among the Top 10 running backs in the NFL. He is averaging 4.6 yards per carry on the season (6th among RB with 50+ attempts), 2.8 yards after contact (4th), and has force 15 missed tackles (T-9th).
5. Tim Walton pitched a helluva game on Monday Night, holding the Seahawks to only 14 points on 11 offensive drives. Seattle gained only seven total first downs, 135 total yards, and allowed nearly as many sacks as pass completions. For the first time this season, Walton chose to stack the box and allow his cornerbacks to man-up the receivers on the outside. He put together a solid gameplan, and the defense stuck with it to near perfection.
Walton is a rookie defensive coordinator coaching a defense with seven players who have three or fewer seasons in the NFL: two rookie starters (Alec Ogltree, and including T.J. McDonald), four sophomore starters (Michael Brockers, Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins, Rodney McLeod), and one third-year starter (Robert Quinn). As Walton grows in this defense and with these players, the St. Louis Rams could turn into one of the best defensive units in the NFL. That will likely happen sooner, rather than later.
6. If Robert Quinn’s Week 8 performance did not cement his place in the Pro Bowl this season, I am not sure what he needs to do to make it. Currently, Quinn is 4th overall in the NFL in sacks, and, according to Pro Football Focus, has the highest pass rusher grade in the NFL, with J.J. Watt and Jason Hatcher at a distant 2nd and 3rd. Not only does he have double-digit sacks and 44 quarterback pressures halfway through the season, Quinn also ranks 10th among 4-3 defensive ends in run stoppage, which was fully on display last night. There is absolutely no reason that Robert Quinn should not receive an invitation this season. None. Period.
With that in mind, make sure that you go out and cast your vote for Robert Quinn. You can fill out any many applications as you want, so make sure to make your voice heard: http://www.nfl.com/probowl
7. Change over to the other side of the line, and you have Jake Long starting to return to his Pro Bowl form. In fact, against the Seattle “dominating defensive end rotation,” Long did not allow a single sack, hit on the quarterback, or hurry in his 80 offensive snaps. In arguably his toughest matchup of the season, Long posted his best pass blocking and run blocking grades of the year. In fact, his Monday Night display resulted in the highest overall grade of any offensive linemen, at any position, in Week 8.
Chris Williams and Shelley Smith also had a solid week, ranking 15th and 20th, respectively, among guards during Week 8. The St. Louis Rams have been testing both players on the left side of the line this season, but Smith saw a little extra time on Monday with Harvey Dahl leaving the game for some time.
8. Darian Stewart and Rodney McLeod quietly had a solid outing for the St. Louis Rams, allowing only one total reception for six yards. Granted, the safety duo spent a majority of the time stacking the box, with Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins manning their islands on the outside. However, you perform the responsibilities that you are asked by the defensive coordinator. Both did that on Monday night. Hopefully, we will see a lot more of this style of defense, and a lot less of whatever was happening in Week 1 trough Week 4.
9. Greg “the Leg” and Johnny Hekker again put together a brilliant special teams performance. Yes, Zuerlein did miss high and right (yes, I did say “high”) on his 50-yarder that could have set up the winning field goal on the final drive of the game. However, none of us are psychic… or fortune tellers… so there is no telling how the rest of the game would have played out had he made the attempt. Zuerlein did nail his other kicks, and did not allow anything significant on kickoff, booming all four attempts out of the back of the endzone for touchbacks. Johnny Hekker put on another punting clinic, averaging 45.0 yards per kick, and landing two inside the opposing 20-yard line. More impressively, the coverage team allowed only 9 yards on two returns, bringing the season total up to a mind-blowingly low 40 total return yards on 43 punts.
10. If you follow me on Twitter (@nkearns12), you have likely seen my dissatisfaction with the babying of Dez Bryant by the national media, and his unapologetic reaction to his outburst on the field and on the sideline. Yesterday, most watching the game, including myself, completely ripped apart Golden Tate for his antics on the long touchdown reception. I was always raised to forgive those who took responsibility for the actions and were man- (or woman-) enough to admit their mistake and grow from the experience. After that game, Golden Tate could have bloviated about the Seahawks win or taken the Steve Smith approach (i.e. making excuses for his action and they blatantly threatening harm on another human being). Instead, he used his national, post- game air time to apologize for his actions and, more importantly, show some understanding of the repercussions of his actions on the players around him and on the organization, as a whole. Cudos to you, Mr. Tate.
Also, wanted to give a special shoutout to all of the “experts,” analysts, pundits, and fans that completely disrespected the St. Louis Rams’ coaching staff, defense, and the rest of the offensive unit this week leading up to the Rams-Saehawks game. Hope your condescending, damning words taste good! Go Rams.