The St Louis Rams took to the field in their second pre-season game, this time in a 21-7 defeat to the Green Bay Packers. While the result may have been largely meaningless, this represented another opportunity to evaluate the squad, particularly with some key players returning to the team following absences in the first pre-season game against the Saints.
What I liked…
Sam Bradford The Rams’ starting quarterback saw his first action since his ACL injury, 300 days ago. Bradford played two series and, as Jeff Fisher predicted, was still on the field into the second quarter as he worked towards regaining confidence in match conditions. Number 8 gave a very encouraging performance, throwing for just over one hundred yards with a completion percentage of 75% on twelve passes. The first series saw Bradford throw a number of the short, check-down passes that have frustrated Rams fans for so long, but his second possession saw him take some risks, including a 41-yard pass to Brian Quick, and a downfield effort to the same receiver that drew an interference penalty. The touchdown pass to Lance Kendricks was also threaded with striking accuracy against close coverage. Bradford showed both poise and confidence, with some of his passes exhibiting the kind of zip that requires lower-body strength. This is promising given Bradford’s recovery, and he seemed unfazed by a low hit. This is the kind of Bradford that the Rams need under center, and this game will have served to reassure both Rams fans and the quarterback himself that his comeback could be a successful one.
Ethan Westbrooks Michael Sam’s closest rival for a roster spot had a busy day working with the second unit. Westbrooks seemed dominant in the defensive line, applying considerable pressure to the opposing quarterbacks, notching up four tackles and one sack. Westbrooks showed an ability to contend with second-string backups and adds depth to an already overwhelming d-line. For his part, Sam also had a good game, posting his first sack, albeit against weaker opposition. If it does come down to a choice between these two, it is a reflection of the quality of the roster at the position.
Lamarcus Joyner With Janoris Jenkins out again through injury, the secondary is in desperate need of some leadership. While Trumaine Johnson, Mo Alexander, Cody Davis and T. J. McDonald all had good games, it was Joyner who emerged as the aggressive leader of the unit. Joyner was involved in many plays and led the team with five solo tackles, while also forcing a fumble. The defensive back is currently upstaging most of his fellow rookies, including the two first-rounders. Greg Robinson had a solid game, especially once he moved into the guard position, and Aaron Donald’s contribution did not make the stat sheet but manifested itself through keeping opposing linemen busy, but Joyner is making big plays and demonstrating the heart that this backfield so sorely needs.
What I Did Not Like
The Run-blocking The run game needs to be an essential part of this offense, and its success was evident last season. The indications in last night’s game, though, were not encouraging, especially as far as the starting unit is concerned. Zac Stacy averaged one yard per carry, and the run game was not a factor in any of the team’s offensive successes in the first half of the game. The offensive line is still missing Jake Long and Roger Saffold, but it is worrying that the current combination is exerting such little leverage to create holes for the running backs. The Rams’ success this season hinges on an effective running game – Bradford’s arm cannot consistently win games on its own – but no-one is going to run anywhere if that blocking does not improve.
The Linebackers I was going to label this ‘The Back 7’, but, as already mentioned, some individuals in the secondary, had decent games. The same, though, cannot be said for the linebacking corps. Aaron Rodgers gashed the starters through short, quick passes in their areas of responsibility. This meant that the D-line had no time to apply pressure, and the linebackers seemed overawed with their assignments. Tackling was marginally better than last week, but there was simply too much space in the middle. As poorly as the starters performed, the backups were even worse, and this brings to light one of the more serious concerns heading into the offseason: the lack of depth at linebacker. James Laurinaitis’ return should improve things as Jo-Lonn Dunbar moves to his usual position on the outside but, even so, there are few options further down the depth chart, with Ray Ray Armstrong in particular struggling to match his assignments.
The patchiness on offense Short runs, errant throws, sacks conceded, penalties…the Rams’ second half performance on the offensive side of the ball was downright poor. Shaun Hill failed to even come close to his performance last week, while both Garrett Gilbert and Austin Davis also struggled. None of the backup quarterbacks led a scoring drive against second, third and even fourth string opponents. The problems seemed to be in cohesion, with the offense looking like a disparate crew of walk-ons (which, to be fair, some of them are). Players like Alex Bayer and Austin Franklin saw little involvement this week, and the offensive philosophy seemed stale. Of course, the starters were far more effective on offense, but this is perhaps a measure of how rusty the entire roster still is.
Some other thoughts and observations…
Tre Mason is the most talented rusher on the roster, but his pass protection is abysmal…Isaiah Pead might be out for the season with a leg injury – is his miserable time in St Louis done?…Lance Kendricks could be the most under-valued player in the team…these long misses cannot be doing Greg The Leg’s confidence a great deal of good…Gregg Williams’ defense is looking decidedly soft…