It wasn't a win, but it was tantalizingly close for the St Louis Rams as they made a strong showing against the Washington Redskins, a 10 point favorite. You can break down the game, slice it up anyway you want. There were a number of factors contributing to the final score, but, for me, it all came down to the last two minutes of the game. And when was the last time you could say that about the Rams?
Of course, fans of sloppy play still had plenty to appreciate.
After a sloppy effort last in their opener against the Seahawks, the Rams offense came out and immediately established a rhythm, which stalled out when Donnie Avery dropped a first down pass. It wasn't the last time Avery, last season's rookie hero, would be a ball-and-chain for the Rams as he dropped another first down pass on the Rams very last possession of a 9-7 game.
The defense kept it competitive, defining bend but don't break in the process. The Redskins had more than 360 yards in offense, two-thirds of that through the air, but managed just three field goals because of timely stops by the Rams. The stats deceive. Washington QB Jason Campbell got most of his passing yards because the Rams lacked an effective pass rush. The defensive line was a problem all day, except when it wasn't. And when it wasn't, it made timely plays, like sacking Campbell in the fourth quarter and very nearly getting a safety.
Steven Jackson finished the game with 104 yards on just 17 carries, 58 of those yards coming on a run that ended with a Donnie Avery illegal block. Pat Shurmur stuck with the run. In the early going, it looked like the run might be in for a long day. DT Albert Haynesworth made things difficult in the middle, to sat the least. However, a nice block by RIchie Incognito, no doubt fearing exile to the bench, to keep Fletcher off Jackson created the near-game changing moment on Jackson's 58-yard run. They kept grinding it out to keep the run in the arsenal. That decision saved the screen pass and generally helped to keep the field open for the offense.
The game was still well within reach at the start of the fourth quarter. Marc Bulger and the Rams grinding it out from their own 25 in a drive spanning the last two quarters of the game. Jackson ran through the left side for a first down to get the ball to the Redskins 15-yard-line. Should have had three at least, right? No, a third down conversion was fumbled by none other than Donnie Avery, to totally keep the Rams off the board. I'm going to go ahead and call that the play that sunk the Rams. You can probably find another play or two and argue the point, but the Rams played a much better football game, signaling that there might be more enjoyable football in St. Louis this year.
- I still like what I saw from James Laurinaitis. His missed tackle on Portis that allowed Washington to convert their first 4th down attempt late in the game reminded me he was a still a rookie.
- The defensive line is weak; however, the run defense is, overall, better because of much better play from the linebackers. They did get some pressure, certainly at times when it mattered, but still let Campbell go about his work with too much ease.
- Campbell's passing numbers conceal the strong play from the secondary (again, not perfect). Campbell had too much time too often to complete some solid passes that might not have happened with more pressure coming up front. They were better against the run.
- Pickups LaJuan Ramsey and Gary Gibson are our two best defensive tackles. That allows teams to concentrate on Chris Long (who was solid today).
- I liked the way the Rams finally stepped up and took Cooley out of the equation, mostly. He had 6 catches in the first half, but just one after that. That's a positive sign.
- On the other side of the ball, Marc Bulger looks much better than he has the past two years. Not the Bulger of 2006, but he doesn't have those kind of receivers either.
- Keenan Burton stepped up in the nick of time. He could have been written off with a poor outing today.
- Nobody expected Donnie Avery to be the league's best WR, but this kind of play in simply inexcusable. He had costly ball control issues to go with a dumb couple of penalties. If he doesn't botch all those things, it's a different ball game.
- At times I caught myself doing the Marge Simpson groan of disapproval at the offensive line, but Washington has a good defensive front. Containing an obviously fired up Albert Haynesworth is no small task. Bulger was pressured too much early in the game and sacked once late, but it could have been much, much worse. They still have some things to work on. They should be better than this.
- Keep an eye on the Jason Smith situation.
- We need someone who can return kicks. Desperately.
All in all, I'd say it was a positive outing for the Rams. At least it was interesting until the end. (If I'm a Redskins fan, I'm worried right now). Then again, as head coach Steve Spagnuolo said after the game:
"There are no moral victories in football."
That says it all.