Upon Further Review - Notes on St. Louis Rams Preseason Game 3

You know by now the Rams broke out their new Offense against the Patriots, and if you saw the game you're probably still pretty euphoric over it.  There were a lot of things in this game to see: Bradford starts, Bradford tears the Patriots apart, Donnie Avery emerges with 2 big catches, Donnie Avery tears his knee apart, and the Tight End that I wanted so badly in the draft showed us he actually was drafted in one Mike Hoomanawanui. Uh oh, indeed.

Those are the obvious things that the ball-following camera showed you, but there are other things away from the ball that maybe you didn't see. I took a good look at the "tape" and I'll cover a few of the players for you: just find a name you're interested in and check his game. 

Jason Smith is a beast run blocker. Say what you will about him getting injured and losing the the starting LT job, this guy is still a run blocking beast.  He finishes blocks as well as anyone the Rams have on the O-line.  I watched him last year and it was the same thing: he will run his man out, and play to the whistle on every play. If his guy goes to the ground, he finds someone else to pound. He will mostly follow the play as it moves downfield, too.  I really like this pick, even though...

Rodger Saffold looks like a better pass blocking LT than Jason Smith. His footwork is really slick, and it only takes watching him on a few plays to see he's a natural LT. The guy moves so well and shifts his wieght so smoothly for someone his size, I think they really got a good one here in the 2nd round. He looks like a more natural pass blocker than Jason Smith, although both of them look to me like they are going to be very good.

Let's take a minute to remember that different teams have different grades on players in the draft. Saffold was the 5th LT taken (R'Skins T.Williams, S'hawks R.Okung, 49ers A.Davs, Packers B.Bulaga). Its entirely possibly the difference between Saffold, who was an outstanding LT in college, and those other 4 guys turns out to be negligible. Getting an Okung would have meant not getting a Bradford. All in all, I am extremely pleased with Devaney's strategic choices in where he drafted key positions like OT, QB, MLB, etc..

Jacob Bell looked quick on his pulls, showed good footwork in space. His blocking still lacks the aggression needed out of a starting Guard, though. On one play inside the 5 yard line, with the Rams threatening to punch the ball in for a TD, Bell ran 5 feet to his right and simply fell on the ground. Usually linemen like run blocking because they can take the fight to their opponent instead of backing up to defend, and in this case he really had a chance -- if he wanted it -- to crush his man. The guy he was supposed to block got caught in the traffic and the play ended up coming play back because of holding by Adam Goldberg, but that really doesn't have anything to do with how Bell played. I've seen enough isolated gametape on him over the last 2 years to know his game very well, and it is what it is: good enough to get by for now, but ultimately he is eating much more salary than he should.

 Michael Hoomanawanui looks like an exceptional player, and I'm not talking about his ability to catch. His hands were never in question, going back to high school. What the ball-following camera didn't focus on last night was that he is a very willing blocker and was fighting hard on every blocking assignment. Please don't underestimate how important it is for the TE to be able to block. This could very well be the difference between who starts on this team. Having one guy that can stay on the field for every play is extremely valuable, and I can't even tell you how important it would be for Bradford to have a reliable young TE to check down to. Well, sure I saw a lot of it for yourself last night. Hoomawanui showed the ability to get open and make plays, which was something that he didn't show in college (simply because they didn't use him like that) and so those questions are now answered.  He clearly made the most of his opportunities. I made the comment last night that we may be seeing Uh Oh passing Fells on the depth chart. No hate for Daniel Fells, but I hope that turns out to be the case.

Kenneth Darby showed a nice ability to run through holes but lacked patience and failed to follow his blocks on occasion, which considerably shortened a couple of plays. Darby made a strong case to be Jackson's backup but the lack of patience is a little worrisome because he should have the ability ingrained by now -- it's not a scheme thing, it's an instinct thing. His blew one long run by running past the linemen that had gotten out in front of him to block, and he ran right into the defender. Simply following the block would have meant many more yards on that play. In the end, his longest run was just 8 yards and the O-line can't be blamed for that. 

Chris Ogbonnaya looked just ok. His blitz pickups were holding him back last year (and so far this year) and he semeed to do just fine blocking last night. Unfortunately, his running was very average and he has yet to put it all together. I don't think he did anything to make a case for passing Darby on the depth chart, which surprised me. I thought he would be the guy who really had a chance to make something happen last night but it was just another game for Chris.  We will definitely see more of him in game 4, so that fight aint over.

 Keith Toston-- hold the phone on Keith Toston.  We haven't seen nearly enough to think he can play at the level of Darby and Ogbonnaya. I know 12 rushes for 41 yards and a TD has some of you wondering why he isn't RB2 or RB3 but this guy has a long way to go before he's a trustworthy blocker and runner. If you're licking your chops thinking they have a budding start on the bench, I would urge you to have patience here. You may see the undrafted FA in game 4 of the preseason and never again.

Sam Bradford looked crisp on his passes, but so what? You already knew he had a reputation for putting the ball on target.  Here's where Bradford really shined: his footwork, his ability to feel pressure and move away from it in the pocket was first rate. That bought him a little more time and made it possible for him to go through his checkdowns, which he did very well.  His decision making was also very good, showing a nice feel for when to throw a bullet into a receiver, when to dump off to his TE or slot WR, and when to throw it away. This kid knew exactly where his recievers were going to be and showed the ability to calmly go through his progressions until he found someone to throw to. Its these things that separate him from any other recent Rams QB not named Kurt Warner. I noted in the scrimmage game his footwork looked very impressive and it was on full display last night.  While the depth chart at TE and RB2 still needs to be decided, you saw the change at QB1 happen right before your eyes last night.  No way he doesn't start, and he earned it outright with a strong performance in virtually every aspect of the game.

Sam also looked to have a very strong arm and quick delivery. He was given a lot of underneath choices, and was blitzed frequently. When the rush was on, he was able to get rid of the ball with a quick but smooth throwing motion. He was also firing the ball nice and hard into his target, whether it was the middle of the field or the tougher out routes. When he was able to step into his throws, he could get it downfield with relative ease. Being able to step into the pass is something else that his footwork allowed him to do while being blitzed and is a very big deal.  If a QB can't step into the pass, bad things happen, and not just incompletions but INT's and injuries too. He looked very good getting the ball out.

I say Bradford looked good in virtually every aspect because he does have some work to do. His handoffs -- no, this is not a joke -- need work. His fakes needs work. Running out after the handoff to keep the LB's attention needs work.  I know you think this is nitpicking, but it's not. The greatest I've ever seen in this particular part of the QB job is Peyton Manning, who looks like he still has the ball on the run out, 2 seconds after he's gotten rid out if. This fakery serves to keep the LB from jumping the RB like a CB jumps a route, and helps the running game succeed. This skill will come, you wouldn't expect a spread Offense QB to be real good at that, and truthfully most QBs are not that believable when they run out after a handoff. But to be elite he will need to keep the LBs attention for a little longer. He's very obviously a smart, well schooled QB and I have no doubt he'll get this down by next year.

A quick note about Chris Long: He is unquestionably stronger than he was last year.  I watched his play very closely last year and in this game, and there is no doubt he is much stronger now. At times last year he was run out of the box by a TE. Last night I saw him throw an OT out of his way on more than one occasion. He may never be a sack machine without plenty of support in the middle of the D line, but he is going to have a much faster start and much better season this time around, that much is clear.

Just a word about the Patriots keeping their starters in. I don't mean to be a buzz kill, but it was obvious they took the game way too lightly. It was very clear by the interviews with Belichick  that he left them in there to punish them more than to beat the Rams. This was supposed to be their dress rehearsal and he was rightly pissed that they came out flat because they thought they had a walkover. His mindset was "We were supposed to play like we wanted to win. Since you haven't done that, we will continue throughout this game as if it was real....all the way through." This very thing has happened to every team from pee-wee's to pro's, and every coach has done the same thing to a team that came out uninspired against an opponent they didn't take seriously. This attitude is very, very hard to turn around once you've started a game that way and the result is it made them look worse than they are, and the Rams look better than they are. Look, this is still just the preseason folks.  Every play is important in it's own right but the game as a whole, and "beating" them means absolutely nothing in real life.

Be happy!  Be relieved.  Be inspired. Be hopeful. I am all those things.  But please, be realistic and keep the context in mind.

 (* Due to time constraints I can't get all the players that I'm looking at, in the detail I'd like to.)

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