Steve Spagnuolo must love to play the New England Patriots. Led by rookie QB Sam Bradford, the St. Louis Rams dismantled the New England Patriots through the first half of their preseason game. Massachusetts is kind of homefield of advantage for Spags though. Bradford stole the show, but the night wasn't without a down note as Donnie Avery suffered what has been described as a severe knee injury.
Bradford, the o-line, an excellent first-team defensive performance and lots more below the jump.
The game started in true Rams fashion as Brandon Tate broke through the Rams kick off unit for an easy seven points. Someone rewrote the script for owner Stan Kroenke on the sidelines with his new prize. Steven Jackson and Sam Bradford marched their team down the field with ten plays and tied the score with a TD pass to TE Michael Hoomanawanui, who probably earned a starting job with his play tonight.
Bradford deserves all the press he'll get after tonight. He looked great. Guided missile-like accuracy was on display for all the world to behold. More impressive than that was how he looked commanding the line of scrimmage. Bradford boomed out adjustments at the line with all the authority of Patton. Not once did the Patriots defense throw him of his stride. However, it is still early, and it's important not to let preseason play create a fever pitch and the first overall pick still had some rookie moments. But to hell with that, it feels pretty good to be a Rams fan right now. All that suffering, all those wasted Sundays...maybe we've done our penance.
Further circumstantial evidence that fate may have finally changed its opinion of the Rams: they got a few breaks tonight, like an intentional grounding call that was overruled. And a Pats squad that was a little too jumpy. The Rams got some breaks. I repeat, the Rams got some breaks tonight.
The offensive line deserves a heap of credit themselves. Despite more than a few different looks from the NE defense, they held up quite well. Rodger Saffold could be the second second-round steal in a row for the Rams. Jason Smith played with a fire in his belly too. The backs chipped in with good pass protection as well.
I couldn't help but wonder if the wide receivers played up to their ability or if Sam Bradford bumped them up a notch. The answer is probably a little bit of both. There were a couple throws from Bradford that should have been caught. Donnie Avery finally showed us all a glimpse of the receiver we've been hoping he would be. And then the Rams were brought back to the ground when Avery's knee buckled as he went down on the turf. Spagnuolo called it "severe," which gives you lots of pause. I can't imagine a scenario in which Avery will be back any time soon. The rest of the Rams receivers will have to step up and fill the void. Except, who else among the receivers on this team can give them that speedy deep threat that was Avery?
Michael Hoomanawanui. What can you say about his night? In the spring practices after the Rams drafted him there was talk about his hands. The man whose name you can spell better than you think you can indeed showed fine hands tonight as well as an ability to exploit certain mismatches. Daniel Fells may have lost the starting TE job and Billy Bajema might not make the final roster cuts in September based on the Illinois rookie's play so far this month.
We haven't even talked about the defense. They played very well tonight, but most impressive is that the Rams defense, starters and depth guys, held NE to just 28 yards on 11 attempts. The starting unit's run defense was especially notable, and the whole unit kept the Patriots to just one first down through the entire second half.
Do not be deceived by Tom Brady's total stat line. Two of his three TDs came in the second half, one in the fourth quarter, against the Rams second and third team defenders.
Fred Robbins picked up a sack and the defensive line did a good job getting pressure on Brady. It should be pointed out that Chris Long set up that Robbins sack as well. And who was starting at DE on the other side of Long, with George Selvie, James Hall and Victor Adeyanju out tonight?
Through the first half, the Rams starting secondary came up with big plays to prevent New England from moving the chains. Credit the starting duo of Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher. Their work together made the Rams secondary look legitimate for the first time in a long time. Remember when we thought Fakhir Brown was our second best cornerback? Players looked natural in the scheme and knew their roles. That has been pointed out as one factor that could make the Rams defense better this season, and though it's still the preseason it looked like that holds true.
After the first half, the Rams sent their second and third team players into the game, and though they did not hold against Tom Brady and the NE starters, they deserve some credit. Depth at linebacker seems to be a real strength for the team, with Bobby Carpenter and David Vobora behind the starting three. Chamberlain had a decent night too.
The third string gave the Rams their first rushing TD of the preseason when Keith Toston punched it in on a 2-yard carry in the fourth quarter. Former Duke standout (a term usually reserved for their basketball players...and occasionally la cross) Thaddeus Lewis may have outplayed Keith Null for the third QB spot with his 11-for-14, 1 TD, 1 INT night. Both of those players will probably get plenty of playing time next week, so stay tuned to see how that battle unfolds.
I don't want to overstate things. This was a preseason game, and the Rams finished the preseason with three wins last year. However, the results tonight were very encouraging for a young team that's been clawing its way back from the bottom. When the regular season starts on Sep. 12, reality will get a different, harder, but tonight made it clear that this team can compete with Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson on the field at the same time.