Sep 21, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis (9) attempts a pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. The Dallas Cowboys defeat the St. Louis Rams 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
The loss to the Minnesota Vikings was brutal to watch, but the St. Louis Rams heartbreaking meltdown yesterday was truly gut-wrenching. After being up 21-0 early in the game, the Cowboys appeared to flip a switch midway through the second quarter, and the Rams were never able to recover. While it may seem like all gloom-and-doom in Rams Nation this morning, particularly with an extra week to stew on the loss, there were certainly some positives that could be pulled from the game yesterday. We’ll look at the best and worst from Sunday in our quick thoughts.
1. Looking back at the pre-game predictions from around the league, the vast majority of analysts framed this game to be a “no-contest” type of scrum. Yet, with 0:56 left on the clock, the St. Louis Rams had an opportunity to either tie or win the ball game with a scoring drive. In fact, the Rams held the lead from the opening possess all the way to the 6:13 mark in the final quarter, before an ill-timed interception tossed the game into the dumpster. While, at the end of the day, it is disappointing to see St. Louis fall in their face after a convincing first half showing. However, it is promising, if nothing else, that the team was able to hang 31 points after managing only 25 combined in the opening two games.
2. Once again, penalties were an issue for the young St. Louis squad. However, at least in the most crucial cases, the Rams got hosed by the officials, including two calls that completely changed the complexion of the game on Sunday. The “roughing the pasers” call on Eugene Sims that involved gently tapping Tony Romo on the shoulder erased a three-and-out and handed the Cowboys a field goal before halftime. An even stranger call, which is nonsensical to even imagine, was termed “defensive holding” on Eugene Sims, despite the fact that Sims actually recorded a sack on the play. Had the penalty not been called, the situation would have been 3rd and 21 with 2:31 left in the game with the Rams still having two of their timeouts, plus the 2-minute warning. But, it was called. The Rams were forced to use all of their timeouts and weren’t able to use the warning. Unacceptable.
3. On a positive note, the St. Louis Rams offensive line looked outstanding on Sunday, keeping Austin Davis clean for a majority of the game, and opening massive holes for the trio of Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, and Trey Watts. In fact, the four of the five highest graded players on the St. Louis offense on Sunday were blockers, including Joe Barksdale, Jake Long, Rodger Saffold, and Lance Kendrick (56% of snaps blocking). However, for the third week in a row, Davin Joseph graded out among the worst on the team, personally allowing one-third of all the pressures on Sunday; an impressive feat. It would not be surprising to see Greg Robinson in the starting lineup when the Rams suit up against Philadelphia in a couple of weeks.
4. In terms of the skill positions, it was nice to see Brian Quick continue his string of solid performances on Sunday. Although he finished with only two catches, one went for a 51 yard touchdown. He also, for the first time this season, drew coverage from the Cowboys secondary, freeing up Kenny Britt and Jared Cook to have their way down the field. The starting trio would finish the game with 14 catches for 206 yards. Surprisingly, Stedman Bailey did not see much time on the field (10 total snaps). However, with the run game, at times, appearing unstoppable, it isn’t surprising that Schottenheimer opted for size on the outside.
5. Speaking of other “surprises,” it wouldn’t be fair to gloss over the Jared Cook incident on the sideline. After mishandling a would-be touchdown throw, Cook was filmed shoving Austin Davis on the sideline in frustration. However, as he eluded to in his comments following the game, it wasn’t specifically directed at Davis, but, rather, was an act of frustration towards whoever happened to be in his way as he stormed down the sideline. While shoving player is never “acceptable,” particularly when it is your quarterback, it wouldn’t be the first time that emotions have boiled over in the NFL. However, this is the first time that I can remember a player actively seeking to address the situation after the game and apologize for his actions.
6. Defensively, there were far fewer players to praise. The pass rush for the St. Louis Rams was essentially non-existent; granted, every legitimate hit on the quarterback seemed to draw a flag. The deep secondary was pathetic in coverage, particularly Rodney McLeod, who was rightfully charged with allowing the long Dez Bryant touchdown. Even Aaron Donald only managed one defensive stop, after putting together two Top 5 stat lines in the opening two weeks of the regular season. Going 50/50, positive/negative on the defensive side of the football will not get the Rams many wins this year.
7. That does mean, however, that 50% of the defense did show up on Sunday. Surprisingly, that appeared to be the Rams second-level defenders, with Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis combining for 18 tackles, four defensive stops, and only one missed tackle. William Hayes and Kendall Langford also posted solid grades versus the run, tying for the top overall defensive rating on the team, according to Pro Football Focus.
8. The real star of the show for the St. Louis Rams was Janoris Jenkins, who essentially shut down his defender for the third week in a row. After allowing only three catches for 18 yards against Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, he faced off on Sunday against Dez Bryant and allowing only four catches for 18 total yards, including his first interception and defensive touchdown of the season. To top it off, he also managed the third-most tackles on Sunday, and tied for the most defensive stops.
For those keeping count this season, Jenkins has allowed only 11 catches for 72 total yards (6.5 yard average; 2nd-lowest in the NFL), allowed zero catches over 15 yards, allowed zero touchdowns, and has one interception and one defensive touchdown.
9. For once, special teams were not particularly impressive on Sunday; although, to some extent, that was a good thing. Johnny Hekker only attempted one punt against the Cowboys, which sailed a mere 24 yards before being hauled in at the Dallas 18 yard line. Greg Zuerlein attempted only one field goal, nailing a chip shot from less than 30 yards away. The only real downside was Chris Givens, who started off the game “do not return under any circumstances” mode, before switching to “lackadaisical, half-jogging out of the end zone” mode. Presumably, Givens is back on kick return in an attempt to utilize his speed and boost his confidence. Obviously, neither of those are happening. Trey Watts, Tre Mason, Lamarcus Joyner, or literally anyone else with return experience should be back there when the Rams kickoff against the Philadelphia Eagles.
10. Austin Davis once again takes the final thought of the day, after another gutsy performance in this second NFL start. Davis would finish the day going 30 of 42 passing for 327 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, the Rams managed five 60+ yard drives during the game, with three resulting in touchdowns, one easily stalling easily within field goal range, and another ending with a should-have-been touchdown that got dropped in the end zone by Jared Cook. However, it wasn’t all rainbow and unicorns, with Davis throwing two critical interception late in the 4th quarter, including an ill-advised attempt under extreme duress that resulted in an easy six points for the Dallas defense. Those night-and-day moments left most after the game shrugging their shoulders on how to evaluate the young, potentially-rising signal caller. Jeff Fisher has already pointed to Shaun Hill as the starter in Week 5, which, at the end of the day, might be the only opinion the truly matters…