Oct 5, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; St. Louis Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines (33) intercepts pass intended for Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (18) during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
While many in Rams Nation are tired of playing the “Silver Linings” game followed moral victories (i.e. losses), it is important to point out that it is not all doom and gloom on the St. Louis Rams. While there were certainly some horrendous individual performances that contributed to the loss to the Eagles, there were just as many impactful performances that helped the Rams nearly come back from a three score deficit.
With that in mind, we turn our attention to Pro Football Focus, one of the most reputable sites for advanced statistics and player grading in the NFL.
Like with any semi-subjective form of analysis, the experts at the site are certainly not “perfect” 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 5 evaluations as a reasonable metric for performance, how did some of the “key” St. Louis Rams units fair against the Eagles?
Top “Skill Positions” Player – Brian Quick (+2.1)
This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has watched “Quickie” over the last couple of weeks. The third-year, breakout receiver has regularly led the Rams in receiving yards and catches, but, for the first time, was able to find the endzone on multiple occasions on Sunday. Quick caught 5-of-9 targets for 87 yards, including an impressively-high 4.4 yards after the catch. He was also the focal point of the offense at the most crucial moment of the game, catching a jumpball from Austin Davis to start the Rams final drive. His presence on the field freed up Austin Pettis on the next couple of plays… but we won’t talk about that.
Benny Cunningham was next on the list, taking the reins from Zac Stacy late in the game, and rushing seven times for 47 yards, good for a 6.7 yards per carry average. Despite a miserable play-calling start from Brian Schottenheimer, the trio of Stacy, Cunningham, and Watts appears the be very effective. Hopefully, they will continue to be used.
Top Offensive Lineman – Joe Barksdale (+2.1)
At this point, we might as well starting calling this section the “Top Offensive Lineman Not Named Joe.” The seemingly impenetrable right tackle has been the only consistent presence on the offensive line this year, leading to his 2nd overall grade among offensive tackles in the NFL this season (tops among right tackles). In 291 snaps, Barksdale has only allowed three hits and five hurried throws, despite Austin Davis attempting 98 throws in the last two games. Rams need to seal up Barksdale’s contract quick, fast, and in a hurry.
Top Defensive Lineman – Aaron Donald (+3.9)
Almost as predictable as Joe Barksdale graded out tops among the offensive linemen has been Aaron Donald leading the defensive linemen. Once against, Donald takes the prize in Week 5, recording two hits, one hurried throw, and one tackle in only 26 defensive snaps. However, the real “surprise” of the defensive line might have been Ethan Westbrooks (+1.4), who recorded three hurries and two defensive stops in only 27 defensive snaps. Not only did he jump Eugene Sims in the the rotation, but he was extremely successful in that limited time on the field. That will be something to keep an eye on going forward.
Top “Back-Seven” Player – EJ Gaines (+3.8)
Anyone that watched the game on Sunday saw the former Mizzou standout take over the show, defensively, highlighted by his beautiful interception on the Eagles top receiver, Jeremy Maclin. Gaines may have allowed 54 yards in coverage, but shadowed his fellow alum for much of the game on the outside. His performance on Sunday was so impressive that Jeff Fisher on Monday would not commit to Trumaine Johnson automatically regaining his starting role on the outside when he returns from injury. Feels nice to finally have a surplus of talent in the defensive backfield.