Despite another mark in the loss column, there was plenty to take away from the bout between the Rams and the Packers on Saturday. Sam Bradford was confident and accurate in his opening two drives. The secondary was impressive, while the second-team linebacker unit was not. Johnny Hekker was back to All-Pro punting form. However, for the most part, the preseason is about analyzing “fringe talent,” the players battling for rank on the depth chart or, in most cases, merely for any spot on the final 53-man roster.
As we mentioned in our last installation of the series, the “numbers” at the end of these preseason games can be somewhat misleading. Snap counts, the caliber of surrounding talent, and the level of competition are constantly in flux throughout the game, making direct comparisons between players difficult, if not impossible, without a trained eye and more advanced metrics.
With that in mind, we turn our attention to Pro Football Focus, one of the most reputable sites for advanced statistics and players grading in the NFL. Like with any semi-subjective form of analysis, the experts at the site are certainly not “prefect” in their weekly evaluations of players. However, taken with a grain of salt, their grades are about as close to “fair and objective” as you’ll find anywhere in the world of NFL personnel analysis.
So, using their Week 2 evaluations as a reasonable metric for performance, how did some of the “key” St. Louis Rams fair against the Packers?
Top “Skill” Player- Sam Bradford (+2.0)
If this were the case every week during the regular season, we doubt anyone would complain. In his first game back since his ACL tear, Bradford went 9 of 12 passing for 101 yards, including a pin-point touchdown throw to Lance Kendricks in the redzone. He would grade out as the 6th-best passer in the league among quarterbacks with at least 20 offensive snaps in Week 2, recording an impressively-high 127.4 QB rating.
Alex Bayer was second on the list, putting together his second-consecutive strong preseason performance. After leading all Rams receivers in catches and yards last week, Bayer made his mark against Green Bay as a run blocker. In fact, Bayer was the highest graded tight end in the NFL in Week 2, with a +2.4 run blocking grade (+1.7 overall).
Top Offensive Lineman- Travis Bond (+2.7)
Looking down the offensive line depth chart, it certainly appears as if there is more talent in the interior than on the outside. Among those battling for snaps is ex-Carolina Panther, Travis Bond, who graded out as the top overall offensive player on the Rams in Week 2 of the preseason. In 41 offensive snaps, Bond did not allow a single quarterback pressure. More impressively, he graded out +1.7 as a run blocker, paving the way for some solid runs later in the game.
With St. Louis’ starting guards (Saffold and Robinson) likely to be the first in line, should something happen to one of the offensive tackles, depth on the interior will be extremely important. Travis Bond and Davin Joseph, another free agent pickup, could prove to be valuable assets during the regular season.
Top Defensive Lineman- Ethan Westbrooks (+4.1)
Once again, Ethan Westbrooks was the toast of the St. Louis Rams defensive line, marking the second week in a row he has stood out among players on arguably the most talented unit in the NFL. In 38 defensive snaps, Westbrooks managed three pressures (including one sack, as well as another pressure that led to a sack), three tackles, and three defensive stops.
Not only has he been the top defensive end on the St. Louis Rams, he is currently graded as the top 4-3 defensive end (+7.8) and the second-best overall player for the entire preseason, thus far, trailing only Tampa Bay defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy (+11.1). Eugene Sims and Michael Sam were also impressive against the Packers, but no one has shined quite like Westbrooks.
Top “Back-7″ Player- Greg Reid (+1.3)
With dynamo Mizzou cornerback, EJ Gaines, getting some extra rest on the sidelines, players like Marcus Roberson, Greg Reid, and Brandon McGee saw plenty of extra reps on Saturday. Reid graded out tops among those players, allowing only one reception on three targets in his 23 total pass coverage snaps. On top of allowed only two yards in coverage, Reid also managed three tackles and two defensive stops, attributing to his enormously-high (+1.1) grade versus the run.
With EJ Gaines seemingly earning his spot on the roster last week, Reid will have to continue to perform at his peak if he wants to unseat incumbent cornerback, McGee, and fend off another undrafted talent, Roberson, for one of the handful of spots behind Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson on the depth chart.