Oct 5, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) and St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis (9) gather on the field after game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Rams, 34-28. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Another week, another heart-wrenching loss for the St. Louis Rams and their loyal fan base. While Austin Davis and Co. did put on an impressive showing on the road in Philadelphia, the comeback bid came up short in the end. Once again, boneheaded penalties, ill-timed mental mistakes, and turnovers were the difference in the game. Without wasting anymore time, here are our quick thoughts on yesterday’s performance.
1. After two brilliant weeks of offensive game planning, Brian Schottenheimer appears to have “out-thought” himself during the Bye Week. Austin Davis opened the first series with three consecutive pass attempts; a precursor to the play-calling for much of the opening half.
However, much like against Minnesota, Jeff Fisher (likely) let his opinion of the offense be known in the locker room at the half, and the St. Louis Rams re-established the run to start the third quarter. Not only did Benny Cunningham look like the best running back on the field, it helped further open up the passing game for Davis, who took full advantage in the near comeback.
2. Once again, the three-headed monster of Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, and Trey Watts looked potent, when used correctly. The trio managed 95 yards on 20 attempts, good for 4.7 yards per carries. However, as with any monster, the “ugly side” did rear its head on Sunday, with Stacy fumbling the football, which was recovered by the Eagles and returned to the St. Louis 24 yard line. That would lead to the Eagles only points of the second half, which would ultimately be the deciding score in the game.
Sadly, Zac Stacy injured his calf on the play and did not return to the field. We’ll have to wait to gauge the genuineness of the injury this week, as it may have been a precautionary holdout given the score at the time.
3. The St. Louis Rams continue to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year, despite seemingly being unable to “hit home” in the backfield. Nick Foles was pressured on roughly 31% of this attempts yesterday, which led to several opportunities for turnovers. However, the lack of sacks in Sack City has been of some concern to Gregg Williams and Jeff Fisher, having recorded only one through the opening quarter of the season. Perhaps, the absence of Chris Long is playing a more significant role than initially anticipated?
4. However, the “pressure only” pass rush was not all doom and gloom on Sunday. EJ Gaines stole the defensive show with his performance in coverage on Sunday, regularly facing off against his fellow Mizzou alum, Jeremy Maclin. Gaines did allow five catches in 54 yards, but also managed a brilliant interception on perfect coverage down the field. Juxtaposing his performance with Lamarcus Joyner, you would have to believe Gaines has jumped the second-rounder on the depth chart. It should be interesting to see how the Rams handle their overabundance of talent at the cornerback position when Trumaine Johnson returns from injury.
5. Speaking of rookies, Aaron Donald returned to top form on Sunday, after a disappointing (i.e. average) performance against the Dallas Cowboys. Donald graded out tops among Rams defenders versus the Philadelphia Eagles, including managing three quarterback disruptions on only 17 pass rushing attempts. Despite being “behind” by a week of grades, Donald still ranks Top 5 among defensive tackles, and should be in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year if he continues to be a menace in opposing backfields.
6. Keeping on that same rookie tract, Ethan Westbrooks was finally given an opportunity to show his wares on Sunday. The undrafted free agent that made headlines for beating out Michael Sam for the final defensive end spot recorded three hurries, three tackles, and two defensive stops in only 27 defensive snaps. Interestingly enough, Westbrooks seems to have jumped Eugene Sims in the rotation, and saw more time on the field than both Aaron Donald and Alex Carrington.
7. However, it would be tad biased to focus only on the positives without highlighting the negatives from Sunday. Once again, the safeties and cornerbacks had a major breakdown in communication that led to an easy touchdown lob. Lamarcus Joyner, on top of being part of that mishap, also struggled mightily in coverage, including a costly defensive pass interference call. As previously mentioned, it would not be surprising to see EJ Gaines jump Joyner on the depth chart when Trumaine Johnson returns.
8. Staying with the negatives, the interior of the St. Louis Rams offensive line needs to be altered. Whether that be Greg Robinson, Tim Barnes, or Barrett “Mr. Fragile” Jones, the Rams can simply not afford to let Davin Joseph and Scott Wells ruin Austin Davis. The duo combined to allow 33% of the total pressures on Sunday and, worse, recorded the two lowest run blocking grades of the game. While we aren’t saying that the Wells and Joseph need to “go home,” they simply can’t stay in the starting lineup for much longer if they Rams want to progress as an offensive unit. That may mean systematically working Robinson and one of the soon-to-be starting centers onto the field slowly over the next couple of weeks…
9. Ray Ray Armstrong. Chase Reynolds. Dumb penalties.
10. Typically, we reserve the final thought for the special teamers. However, that is because those units are, on most occasions, the shining light of the three major units. That was not the case on Sunday…
Instead, we’ll give the last thought to Austin Davis, who put up an impressive stat line in the Rams valiant attempt to come back after falling into a three score deficit. The newly named started threw for 375 yards against a respectable Eagles secondary, including three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also led all quarterbacks in 20+ yard attempts, connecting on four for 127 yards. Davis was also impressive on the final drive of the game, despite the ill-timed delay of game penalty. After connecting on a jumpball throw to Brian Quick, Davis would hit Austin Pettis on back-to-back throws; one was blatantly dropped, the other was catchable, but slipped through his grasp. The Rams hopes would end in a turnover on downs, trailing by a mere six points with time left on the clock. However, the onus goes on the receivers for that failed drive, not the signal caller.
However, despite the valiant comeback in the second half, we shouldn’t ignore the offensive failures that led to that large deficit. The Rams opening five drives of the game culminated in a total of 52 yards, including a fumble that would negate the EJ Gaines interception. In fact, Davis went 3-for-9 to start the game, with two of those completions being dump downs to Zac Stacy. While pressure was certainly an issue early on, Davis was holding the ball for far too long to start the game, taking, on average, 2.92 seconds from the time of the snap to the time of release (second-longest in Week 5). With a more balanced attack, some better protection, and playing against the softer Philadelphia coverage in the second half, Austin was able to settle in and truly take over the game. However, as tempting as it might be to take the final stat line to the bank, we should consider both the good and the bad from Davis on Sunday.