After nearly seven months of patiently waiting, the St. Louis Rams finally dawned the pads against a real NFL opponent last night. In a losing 26-24 effort against the New Orleans Saints, the Rams certainly got plenty of tape for this upcoming week, with a number of highly impressive moments, as well as some less-than-memorable ones. As Jeff Fisher has eluded to on a number of occasions, the “gameplan” for each of the preseason games it fairly basic, designed specifically to try out some different look on offense and defense, while trying out different rotations of players. With that in mind, our reactions should be taken with a grain of salt, since preseason action typically does not foreshadow regular season play (i.e. 2008 Detroit Lions went 4-0 in preseason, then 0-16 in the regular season). Here are our quick thoughts on the game last night:
1) The most obvious thought is that the St. Louis Rams had better hope that James Laurinaitis is healthy by the start of the regular season. In some extended time at middle linebacker, both Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Ray Ray Armstrong looked completely lost, at times. They failed to shed blockers, appeared to get lost in traffic, and were adequate, at best, in coverage. To be fair, the defensive line was not giving much help, and Ray Ray did make a string of solid plays on the goal line. However, Mark Ingram shouldn’t average over 10.0 yards per carry in a preseason game. Period.
2) On a more positive note, EJ Gaines looked magnificent in his time on the field. The former Mizzou Tiger was credited with four solo tackles and two assisted tackles, and nearly forced two fumbles in the secondary. Marcus Roberson and Greg Reid, the other players fighting for a spot in the crowded secondary, both played well enough to not be noticed. Gaines stole the show.
3) Speaking of stealing the show, it was nice to see Chris Long snag an interception on his lone defensive series. In a sideline interview with St. Louis Rams reporter, Casey Phillips, Long attempted to downplay his individual effort on the play, instead harkening back to the defensive unit as a whole. However, for the fans, who only get to see the stars for a handful of snaps, it was nice to see one of the Rams’ defensive leaders make a impactful play early in the game.
4) Aaron Donald was also impressive in his rookie debut, becoming a regular in the New Orleans Saints backfield. While his name might not show up on the stats sheet, his impact was certainly felt. At times, Donald did struggle against the run, often seeing two blockers force him out of his gap. However, with some added reps on the interior, and the return of Michael Brockers, that will hopefully not be an issue once the regular season rolls around.
5) Surprisingly, the secondary might have been the bright spot of the St. Louis Rams defense on Friday night. Not only did they keep the majority of the Saints’ throws in front of them, they were also forced to pick up the slack for the linebackers versus the run. With Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson out, it was a pleasant surprise to see the extremely young backend hold their own against some of New Orleans first- and second-tier receivers.
6) On offense, the star of the show might have been Alex Bayer. The undrafted rookie tight end out of Bowling Green has regularly impressed at Rams Camp, but truly shined on the field against the New Orleans Saints. On top of being, arguably, the best run blocking tight end on the roster, Bayer showed his wares as a receiver on Friday, leading the Rams with five receptions for 71 yards. If he continues to show out during the preseason, it wouldn’t be unthinkable for him to jump Justice Cunningham on the depth chart and make the Rams 53-man roster as the fourth tight end/fullback.
7) If last night is any indication, the St. Louis Rams are set in the offensive backfield. Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, and Tre Mason all played well in their time on the field, each putting at least one “wow” moment on tape. However, Tre Mason might have been the most impressive of the group, albeit against the back end of the Saints roster, leading the team with 15 carries for 51 yards. Mason also had an outstanding blitz pickup on a pass rushing linebacker early in the game; an aspect of the running back position that many were concerned about on Draft Day. In all, it appears as if the St. Louis Rams are currently spoiled in their backfield with talent. They’ll need it this year…
8) Shaun Hill was fantastic in his time with the first-team unit (if you can call it that). Despite limited chances to throw the football, Hill took full advantage in his seven attempts, completing five for 82 yards and two touchdowns. His back-shoulder throw to Stedman Bailey in the endzone was a work of art, and displayed confidence in his receiver that we can only hope Sam Bradford shares once he’s on the field.
9) Greg Robinson saw plenty of snap at left guard and left tackle, and did not appear to struggle too mightily in pass protection. Robinson would likely have been tagged with an allowed sack against Garrett Gilbert, but that appeared to be more of a miscommunication between Robinson and center, Tim Barnes. After moving to the outside, there was little mention of Robinson, which, for an offensive linemen, is typically a good sign.
10) Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein both appeared to be knocking off some rust against the Saints. Legatron was a mere 1-for-3 on field goal attempts, and Hekker botched his final punt off the side of his foot, which traveled a mere 35 yards before bouncing out of bounds. However, some of that could be pinned on Jake McQuaide not being in at long snapper on any of those three plays. Either way, it is only the preseason. Nothing to see here.
Tags: St. Louis Rams