Another week, another step closer to the official offseason and the 2014 NFL Draft. However, for those not quite ready for the football season to be over, there was plenty of “eye candy” this past weekend. While the St. Louis Rams may still be watching the games from their couches, it does not mean that there weren’t some valuable lessons and key notes that could be drawn from those games. So, without wasting anymore time on the intro, here are our five takeaways from the divisional round of the 2014 NFL Playoffs.
1. Eric Decker has got to be looking more and more appealing in free agency for a team like the St. Louis Rams. His two catches for 32 yards were nothing spectacular, but his versatility and use on special teams in a key role show the breadth of his skill set. As long as Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas are on the roster, Decker will never get the recognition, or the touches, that he merits within the offense. He would certainly get plenty of looks in a St. Louis Rams uniform.
2. Keenan Allen again put on a show for the San Diego Chargers, which may have just iced his candidacy for Offensive Rookie of the Year. This past April, the dreaded “red flags” sent him plummeting out of the first round and into the waiting hands of the receiver-needy Chargers. While the St. Louis Rams haven’t had that kind of instant success from their picks over the last couple of seasons, Allen’s performance should show that not all “top tier” players have to be Top 10 draftees. We’ll all have a close eye on Stedman Bailey next season!
3. Spent the entire New England-Indianapolis Colts game watching for Robert Mathis to make an “impact” on the final outcome. He finished the game with one sack and three tackles, as the Patriots and LeGarrette Blount steamrolled over the Colts defense, on way to a 43-22 blowout victory. Games like these show why players like Robert Quinn, J.J. Watt, and even Luke Kuechly should earn higher consideration for the Defensive Player of the Year than a mere pass rushing specialist.
4. The San Francisco 49ers-Carolina Panthers game could be used as another talking point for Robert Quinn in the battle for the honorary defensive award. Despite putting up 10 (combined) tackles, two tackles for a loss, and a sack, Luke Kuechly still could not make a defining impact against Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers offense that had been struggling for most of the season.
Regardless of your measuring stick for the Defensive Player of the Year award, most in St. Louis will be happy that the last two remaining viable candidates were knocked out of the playoffs before they could have a “Heisman moment” on the big stage. Some will point at players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, or Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, but the mere presence of another worthy candidate on the same roster will likely push them out of consideration. Now it is all up to the voters… #RQDPOY
5. Is it really any surprise that two teams from the NFC West are going to be battling to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl? For those in St. Louis lamenting the “lack of progression,” in terms of wins, just remember that one-fourth of the Rams schedule is against the two best teams in the NFC… and another one-eighth is against the 10-4 Arizona Cardinals in the toughest division in the NFL. Do you think the Rams would be in the playoffs if they were in the AFC South? Yes. How about the NFC East? Yes. How about any conference in the AFC? Maybe, with at least a realistic shot at the Wild Card. Not that any of this should ease the frustration in St. Louis, especially after nearly a decade of being essentially non-existent in the NFL. However, there should be some “curve” when viewing the progress of the Rams, understanding that they are being evaluated with a much more “demanding” measuring stick.