Dec 9, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) gets sacked by St. Louis Rams free safety Quintin Mikell (27) and defensive end Robert Quinn (94) during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Rams beat the Bills 15-12. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Four weeks ago, the St. Louis Rams were being mentioned alongside the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders, teams at the bottom of the league that were likely to be picking in the Top 10 in April. Now, the Rams have won three straight games for the first time since 2006, and are right in the thick of the playoff hunt in the NFC. The win over Buffalo was ugly, but no one in St. Louis will be complaining about how pretty a victory is on Sunday. Still, there were some areas for improvement, and some areas that were improved. Here are Ramblin’ Fans quick thoughts on the game:
1. Sam Bradford need to be playing every quarter like it is the 4th, because he looked as good as any quarterback in the waning minutes of the game in Buffalo. In fact, ESPN’s Mike Sando tweeted earlier this morning that Bradford trails only Peyton Manning in 4th quarter QBR, which is exception considering he is above “elite” signal callers, like Brady and Rodgers. However, before than, Bradford looked pretty mediocre with the ball in this hands, which might be putting it lightly. Mike Martz complained the entire game that there was no separation in the secondary, so not all the blame can go on Bradford. Still, the St. Louis Rams should not have to “come from behind” against the Bills.
2. I have personally never been on the C.J. Spiller bandwagon. Fred Jackson is the back that the Bills use in short yardage, between-the-tackle run plays, while Spiller got the sweeps and off-tackle run in pass-or-run situations. Yes, averaging 6.6 yards per carry for 100+ attempts is impressive, but it is not “elite” or Pro Bowl material, especially when you aren’t handling the “tough” runs. The Rams defense held Spiller to only 37 yards on 7 rushing attempts, and with Fred Jackson hurt, the rest of the league will get to watch Spiller’s YPR average sink back into normal range. It is rough being a “feature back” in the NFL, just ask Steven Jackson…
3. Speaking of Jackson, his relentless running is, if anything, what will get the Rams into the playoffs this season. Although 19 attempts for 64 yards does not look like an impressive day, his hard style of running wore down the interior of the line and allowed Bradford to use play action later in the game to find players open down the field. A good running back can run the ball effectively, put up big yards, and get first downs. A great running back can do all of that, but, more importantly, can draw the attention of the defense and open up the passing game. That is what Jackson did by the 4th quarter on Sunday.
4. Brandon Gibson might be the most infuriating player on the St. Louis Rams roster. The hot-or-cold wide receiver has been M.I.A for the past 4-6 weeks, then pops up out of no where and snags 6 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. Bradford was impressive on the Rams last drive of the game, but none of that happens without Gibson playing some phenomenal football against an above average secondary. Also, give credit to Austin Pettis for his circus catch on 4th and 1…
5. Janoris Jenkins is going to have to learn to attack the outside shoulder when he is keeping contain on a player. As the edge man, Jenkins went inside on Spiller in the second half, allowing him to break it the outside for an important Bills’ first down. Luckily, the defense was able to hold, but against Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, or Marshawn Lynch, that type of play will quickly turn into a touchdown. Jenkins made the same mistake last week on a near-sack against Colin Kaepernick…
6. Having Austin Pettis on punt return is nerve racking, especially since he loves to catch the ball extremely deep in STL territory. I can understand why you wouldn’t want to risk Givens getting hurt on punt return, but with field position being such a problem, you would expect the Rams to put much more of a playmaker back deep returning.
7. As much as Johnny Hekker deserves to get ripped for his performances in the last two games, his clutch scoop and punt might have been one of the pivotal moments in the game. Yes, the snap was perfect! However, his awareness to chase the ball and launch it to midfield was astonishing. Most punters would have simply jumped on the ball, which would have handed the football to Buffalo already well within field goal range. Easily the most not-clutch and clutch special teams play of the day.
8. Michael Brockers will not get any looks for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but I cannot imagine any first-year defenseman that could have possibly had more influence than the big, run-stuffing defensive tackle. Brockers’ 4 sacks on the season are not mind-blowing, but considering he sat out the first quarter of the season nursing an ankle injury, and was not “full strength” until about midway through the year, his numbers are fairly impressive. However, his individual numbers cannot fully paint the picture of his influence on the team. The St. Louis rush defense is now one of the more potent in the league, exemplified by the shutting down of Frank Gore, twice, and, now C.J. Spiller. The Rams will be truly tested in the next three games, but Brockers’ presence in the middle of field is something that no player on the Rams roster can replicate.
9. Shout out to the one-time St. Louis Ram, and now starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The kid played his heart out for the Blue and Gold when he was the third stringer behind Marc Bulger in the “dark ages” of the Rams organization. He was a trooper out there on Sunday, taking 4 sacks and 11 hits during a well fought game. Not many players from that era in St. Louis football history are still playing in the league today, so props to him for finding a home and getting that big contract.
10. Originally, my St. Louis Rams’ draft “wish list” consisted of University of Alabama guard, Chance Warmack, and LSU safety, Eric Reid, in the first round. After watching the team on Sunday, there is no way that the Rams could pass on one of the “top” wide receivers in the draft. Granted, there are no Top 10, must-have wide outs in this years draft. However, the Rams wouldn’t be able to grab one of those guys anyways, assuming the team does not flame out at the end of the season. Justin Hunter (UT) and Keenan Allen (Cal) are both first round talents with good size and speed, with the added bonus of having played against some NFL-caliber talent. They should also both be available in the 15-20 range of the first round. There are few “elite” wide receiver available in 2013 free agency, aside from Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings. If you think that the Rams will be the only one clambering for their services, you are sadly mistaken. The money the Rams do have should go to extending current player contracts and filling some of the much larger holes on the team, particularly safety, guard, and outside linebacker.