The St Louis Rams’ first pre-season game is now consigned to the history books while eager fans, invigorated after their enforced long hibernation from football, try to decipher what all that went down in the Ed Jones Dome means for the upcoming regular season. Obviously, we are all fully aware that this is the pre-season and need to proceed with caution, but seeing the Rams finally take the field now gives us an opportunity to make some judgements…
What I Liked…
Shaun Hill If the Rams’ new backup quarterback wanted to gain the confidence of Rams Nation, he has made a good start. The veteran – starting in place of Sam Bradford – led two scoring drives, throwing for 84 yards, completing 5 passes in 7 attempts (71%). Those are solid numbers for the first game of the pre-season and demonstrated that Hill could even be an upgrade on Kellen Clemens should circumstances require his services. Hopefully, though, they will not
Receivers The much-maligned Rams receiving corps had an impressive game, posting three touchdowns and 238 yards. What I found particularly encouraging, however, were the big plays. Five different receivers (Austin Pettis, Stedman Bailey, Emory Blake and tight ends Jared Cook and Alex Bayer) all caught passes for over 20 yards, in some cases amid difficult circumstances. These were not always down on the quarterback, but on significant effort from the catcher. The distribution was also promising – no less than 12 players caught a pass. Yes, this was against typically soft pre-season coverage, but, in the past, Rams receivers have struggled, even in this context.
Tre Mason The rookie’s numbers were not gaudy (51 yards on 15 attempts) but he displayed an array of flashy moves at every opportunity, even when those ended in no gain. His 20-yard run in the fourth quarter was a good example of what a nifty back Mason can be. With better (i.e. not third-string) blockers in front of him, Mason could use these skills to be an excellent complement to Zac Stacy, which is precisely what he was drafted to do.
What I Did Not Like
Run defense The Rams’ defensive line is a formidable pass-rushing force, but this will be of little value if opponents can just run the ball through them. Mark Ingram averaged over ten yards per carry, and the Rams cannot afford to be gashed like this…again! Yes, we can make the usual pre-season disclaimers: many of these yards were gained against second- and third-string players, and key run-stopping components like James Laurinaitis and Michael Brockers did not play at all, but this has been a perennial problem for the Rams and it is discouraging to see it rearing its ugly head so early on.
Poor tackling And, speaking of perennial problems! This goes hand-in-hand with the problem raised above, but the Rams AGAIN struggled to tackle effectively. Lead culprit was possibly Ray Ray Armstrong, who demonstrated that there is such as thing as trying too hard. Armstrong was all over the field, but was rarely efficient in doing so. Others were guilty of key missed tackles too (Cody Davis, E. J. Gaines – though the latter did have a good game) but this fundamental problem needs to improve.
Garrett Gilbert When Gilbert was drafted by the Rams, some commentators even identified him as a late-round, long-term project who could, eventually, unseat Sam Bradford (much in the style of Marc Bulger). On the basis of Friday’s performance, however, these predictions are way off. Gilbert was jumpy, even for a quarterback making his first appearance in the NFL. He both over-threw and under-threw passes and, on some occasions, held onto the ball far too long. Gilbert was clearly outclassed by his closest rival Austin Davis, and a year in the practice squad beckons should performances not improve over the next few weeks.