That noise? That was a collective sigh of release coming from Rams fans.
After a game in which the starters really struggled for both units, the St. Louis Rams come out with a strong, sharp performance to win their second preseason game. Sharp, except for the special teams, who allowed a punt return TD right off the bat and an unusual two missed field goals from Josh Brown.
But the special teams weren't the big story here. The starters owned the evening, with both the offense and defense combining to score three first half touchdowns. We'll have more reaction tomorrow, but for now, some of the highpoints...
A well played game by the defense
The Bengals first offensive drive ended almost as quickly as it started, with James Butler coming for a sack on the Bengals first snap. That was followed by an OJ Atogwe forced fumble recovered by Lauinaitis, as the Rams again brought pressure. The blitz is alive in St. Louis! Flajole and Spags didn't show much in the way of pass rush in the last two games, but they gave fans the red meat they wanted tonight as the defense recorded six sacks in all. They also recorded four tackles for a loss.
In the first quarter the Rams defense allowed just 21 yards, only 11 yards rushing. Their first drive of the second quarter ended with a fumble and James Butler's TD. For the entire first half, the defense allowed a mere 57 yards rushing in the first half. Cincinnati did better with the pass, with most of those yards coming on two plays that went for more than 20 yards.
Oh, and the tackling. Blue shirts swarmed to the ball, got wrapped up and brought guys down. They even had some nice ball stripping on display.
Had we seen this defense last week, I think Atlanta would have still been successful running the ball, but not nearly as successful. The secondary is still not without issues. Jonathan Wade is our second best corner right now.
The first team offense had a good night too
Spagnuolo wasn't kidding when he said we would see more from Steven Jackson. The Rams starting RB carried the ball five times...doubling the number of carries he's had this season. The running game was much better than last week, though in the end they averaged just 3.3 yards on 31 carries. Total stats are always a little wonky in preseason though. Continuing with something we talked about on TSR last night, the passing game looked surprisingly sharp. Quick, short throws moved the ball downfield effectively, and they threw out of the shotgun more often than not with Boller. The TEs and RBs were involved, and Boller saved his bacon by scrambling a couple times.
Something that will surely come as surprise: the Rams converted 2 of 3 red zone attempts.
The offensive line allowed no sacks. None. First, second or third team. That's impressive. All the tackles looked pretty good blocking against the pass. Watching streaming on the web, it was hard to see when different players went into the game on the line, but I did see Jason Smith make a couple of nice blocks in pass pro. Any readers have insight on how he looked blocking for the run? Was he lower in his stance? The middle of line did a nice job opening lanes too. Gado had nice gaps in front of him on their second drive, eventually leading to his 16-yard TD.
Player notes, after the jump...
Bulger, Avery, Bell and Carriker all sat out with their various injuries.
Let's start with the guys feeling the most heat coming into this game...
Chris Long - Had a good night. He got penetration and was able to get his hands up and deflect a pass. He consistently brought pressure, along with the rest of the defense.
Tye Hill - I'll go to my video quality sucked excuse for Hill, but I didn't see much to impress. Of course, didn't see any big whiffs either. That's a small victory for Hill.
Kyle Boller - He completed 70% of his passes, made quick drops and the ball out. A couple of smart scrambles bailed him out tonight too.
Jason Smith - As I said above, it was tough to see Smith's work when he was on the field. I did see some more nice pass blocking, which contributed to the Rams success working out of the shotgun so often tonight. As far as run blocking goes, what did you see?
The Rams had some real standout performances too, including...
James Laurinaitis - Yeah, I like which MLB we drafted in the second round this year. He was sharp reading the plays coming at him, and generally looked pretty polished in his game. Someone said it in the comments, and I have to agree: this kid could be something special. And, hey, it's just nice to have a real MLB for a change.
James Butler - Where was he NOT on the field? A sack and a fumble recovered for a TD, you can't ask for a better night than that. The Rams should be glad they signed him. He also made a few tackles on plays that otherwise might have done some damage.
Sakmon Gado - He reinserted himself into the second spot on the depth chart...and owes the offensive line a steak dinner. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry with a rushing TD and a receiving TD.
The Middle of the Offensive Line - Brown, Cogs, Setterstrom and Greco moved bodies and kept paper tigers out of the backfield. Remember, this Bengals defense was the among the top third in the league last year, despite their 4-12 season.
Continuing their strong preseason play...
James Hall - He's the best guy on the defense right now. Tonight, he tackled Cedric Benson for a 4-yard loss, forced an incompletion and made a nice stop to thwart the first Cincy drive of the second half.
Laurent Robinson - You knew someone would emerge from this group of unheralded receivers, and Robinson looks like he could make a nice #2 across from Avery.
Larry Grant - Grant had a sack, playing with the first team. He looked strong and quick out there, and could make a case for serious playing time.
David Vobora - Vobora got time with the starters too, and generally had a decent night.
Quincy Butler - Hadn't seen much out of Butler in the games, until a nice play for an INT tonight.
And a few guys having a rough night included...
Keith Null - Sorry Null fans. He'll get lots of time to make his case next week. Berlin didn't do much himself to make the race any clearer.
Kenneth Darby - Just doesn't hit the holes with much umph on runs. But here's a question: which RB is the third best right now?
Josh Brown - What the...? His golden leg was anything but. Surely it's just the preseason.
That list is by means all-inclusive. Who did we leave out?