This is the week where we remind ourselves that this is a preseason for the opposite reasons we did the same last week. The St. Louis Rams made an 83-yard statement to start the game. Unfortunately, what should have been a tone setting play, looked more like an off-note as the first half unfolded and the Tennessee Titans outplayed the Rams starters.
Sam Bradford and the handful of starters left on the field at the end of the half, packed it in down by a score of 16-7. Like I said above, this was a preseason game. When the Rams get back to practice, they will have a list of things to work on before next week's game against the Chiefs and the start of the regular season.
Let's review the starters after the jump.
After dominating the Colts last week, the Rams offense line struggled against the Titans. Blitz pickup was particularly troublesome. Usually forgotten in August play, teams have blitzed with a purpose through this preseason, and Titans were relentless. Credit the Tennessee defense; they did a good job disguising their blitzes and making late changes that the Rams couldn't keep up with before the snap. Bradford was sacked once and pressured constantly. Hell, the Rams got a real scare late in the half when a low hit made it look like a serious ankle injury was preordained. Clearly, the line missed Jacob Bell, but that's not the only reason they missed so many blitz pickups. It was a collective effort that even indicts Sam Bradford for not picking up pre-snap reads.
Run blocking in the first half was nothing like last week either. The holes weren't as wide in the middle and Jackson had little room on the outside.
Speaking of Steven Jackson, he looked rusty himself, lacking the burst and power you've come to expect from him, or at least did until last season. Has time finally caught up to him? No, probably not; I'm just in preseason worry wart mode. He didn't have much room to work, and his presence on the field did force the defense to react. What did trouble me is that, like last season, Jackson just didn't seem to be able to pick up yards after contact, something that used to be a given. Cadillac Williams did run much better, more purposefully, but the Titans didn't have all their starters in at that point.
On defense, there was more rust to see. The first team outside linebackers, which won't be the first team starting outside linebackers (Na'il Diggs and Bryan Kehl) when the season starts. They played poorly, misreading plays. They got fooled on Jamie Harper's 46-yard run, and if Chris Johnson had been playing, the score would have been much more lopsided. Fortunately, things improve when Leber and Poppinga came into the game.
I don't know if they purposefully dialed back the pass rush - they usually do in the preseason - but they didn't get much pressure. Then again, the Titans ran the ball with ease and they didn't really need to.
On the plus side...
The play action pass is going to be a feature of this offense, as it should be. It worked beautifully on the first play of the game. Tennessee bit on fake to Jackson, and Bradford threw a bomb to Brandon Gibson for an easy score. Really, despite their struggles, it was a sign that this offense can be good, they just need to knock the rust off before the game count.
If the first team defense reminded you a little of last year's group, there's a reason for that: it mostly was. The weak play of the starting outside linebackers aside, the unit still made key stops, holding Tennessee to field goals on two drives that could have been touchdowns, including a nice 3rd-and-1 stop on the Titans' first possession.
The second team linebackers played well, and should be in the mix with the starters this week. That will make the defense a much better unit.
Play behind the front seven was generally pretty solid. There were a couple times where the safeties probably got caught freelancing, but for the most part, the troubles stemmed from the linebackers.
Individual player notes
- Sam Bradford - Not a bad night, but he must have had flashbacks to last season when his receivers just couldn't get open and his line was letting him get pressured. He probably should have seen Cortland Finnegan's blitz, the one that almost got him injured.
- Mike Sims-Walker - He might be looking for first team reps this week after letting a well-thrown Bradford pass get intercepted. Late out of his break, he stumbled and fumbled the ball that resulted in a Titans INT and easy score. On his next target, he fell, resulting in a blown third down. He did finally make one nice catch. Clearly, the guy has some rust after not playing much this week because of injury.
- Lance Kendricks & Brandon Gibson - Both look like the go-to weapons for this offense. Solid game.
- Donnie Avery - It's going to be hard to argue that he doesn't deserve some reps with the first team. His second half TD grab was a beauty.
- Bryan Kehl - Somtimes a nice week of practice doesn't translate to a good game.
- Na'il Diggs - This guy won't be with the team when the season starts.
- Justin King - He just can't put it all together. An ugly missed tackle might send the Rams to the waiver wire with more urgency.
- James Laurinaitis - Do not put sub par players on the outside of this guy. No wonder we haven't seen fully what he's capable of in the NFL.
- Darian Stewart - The coaches weren't lying when they said they had high hopes for this kid; however, he was just okay working with the ones. A missed tackle on Jamie Harper's 46-yard run stands out.
- Mardy Gilyard - A gritty guy, but he failed to show much in return duty...other than moxie.
- Adam Goldberg - He took some reps as the first team left tackle, after Rodger Saffold was removed out of precaution, and was the same old Goldberg.
- Renardo Foster - A bad penalty in the second half and so-so blocking in the first half...the Rams ran exclusively to the right when he and the backups were working on the left side.
What about you, what did you see that needs work? That worked well? Which players stood out? What lineup decisions would you make for next week?