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The St. Louis Rams won't be earning much praise from national sports media following their win over the Arizona Cardinals last night. Let's face it, though we may have some NFL fans scratching their heads - and they may even impressed with the Rams defense - there's a ways to go before memories of this team's last 6 years begins to fade from the collective national consciousness. But for Rams fans, today isn't so much about what others may think, is it?
The nationally televised game Thursday night offered a feast for starving Rams fans. While the defense played just shy of lights-out, the offense had quite a few hiccups. The offensive line was the brightest spot for the Rams offense, and once again I'd be tossing a game ball to o-line coach Paul Boudreau. The Arizona defense is a solid unit, make no mistake about it. The offensive line, a patchwork quilt filled with cast offs and even recently cut players, performed extremely well for the second straight week against a top 5 NFL defense.
The injury list makes it hard for some to see the Rams as anything other than a week to week phenom. The potential loss of Danny Amendola wasn't lost by the NFL media, and its mention is being given more column inches than a Rams defense that tallied nine - 9 - quarterback sacks on the Cardinals' Kevin Kolb. Much is being made of Sam Bradford's completion "dry spell" during the game... This is the same national media that decried the Rams inability to score an offensive touchdown last week, but as I recall Sam did throw two touchdown passes last night, didn't he?
What I'm trying to say here is, don't go pitching a nutty that the Rams aren't getting any love in the media. It isn't going to happen, not now - not ever. In the unlikely event the Rams rip through Miami, Green Bay and New England for wins, they'll still be bottom of page seven news, right next to the crop report and Viagra Ads. Why this is, I have no idea. It could trace its lineage back to some affront made by past regimes or owner, but in the broad scheme it really doesn't matter. The Rams have known they'll have to earn respect, just like they'll have to earn every win this season. Players will tire of being asked about what Jeff Fisher means to this team, but they'll answer the questions respectfully. The players will not roll their eyes at tosh spouted by the Skip Bayless-es of the world when they act like the great plays made by them were flukes. Right now - according to the media - the Rams are a team made up of two kickers and a head coach. But a fire has been lit here in St. Louis, and though they are only the merest embers to some, Rams fans can feel the warmth, can't you?
Let's take a quick look - unless less it's too late for quick after my wanton rambles - at five evaluations of the players and coaches for the Rams after last night's game.
The pass rushing duo of Robert Quinn and Chris Long is fast becoming one of the best in the NFL. Much has been made of the fact the Rams defense had only tallied six sack before last night's game. When the national media screws their heads back on, they'll realize rushing the passer wasn't really at the top of the things the Rams need to improve upon. Defending the run was at the top of their list since teams have tallied more than a few yards against the unit so far this year. Both Long and Quinn played well against the run last night, so much so that I'd mark this facet of their individual games being more important than the 4 sacks the duo tallied against the Cardinals.
The Rams defensive tackles have made HUGE improvements against the run. The return of Michael Brockers from injury has definitely helped in plugging the gaps, and Kendall Langford has earned his free agent contract. Jermelle Cudjo has proved why both Jeff Fisher and Steve Spagnuolo have kept their faith in him, and his previously unknown mean streak came out last night when he tried to rip Kevin Kolb's head off. While it's true it earned him a 15 yard penalty for "Bad tackle! Bad", his performance showed me the Rams coaching staff has been focusing on getting quarterback pressure from the middle of the defensive line. This portion of the defense - that had my stomach gurgling last year - is now emerging as a solid strength.
The offensive line still has a ways to go, but who isn't impressed by how well they've done in the last two games? Seriously, last night should have been a sack contest with both defenses going for double digits totals. Instead, this unit, which feature two tackles - who were summarily run out of New York and Kansas City - virtually nixed two of the best defensive ends in the business -Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. Harvey Dahl is my favorite offensive lineman for the Rams. He had a penalty for illegal use of the hands last night that I truly admired. Daryl Washington was about to have a free shot at Sam Bradford off of a blitz. Dahl reached out with his left arm and shove a hand in his face to slow him down, while he maintained the block on another Cardinal defensive tackle. Harvey, I'll take that penalty any day, any time.
The Rams receivers did catch two touchdown passes, but the number of drops has to be concerning. Chris Givens, the speedy rookie out of Wake Forrest, drop two passes, killing a drive. Lance Kendricks may have an excuse for dropping passes, since he's been working with the offensive line to bolster pass protection - not catch passes. He almost looks shocked when he catches a pass? Brandon Gibson shows he has talent, but after a few years of watching his peaks and valleys I'm not sold just yet. The biggest receiving asset on the team - Danny Amendola - even dropped a few passes, though they would have been spectacular catches had he made them. Brian Quick showed why he isn't seeing many snaps, giving way to Patrick Peterson in the endzone for an interception instead of fighting for the ball. This unit is still a work in progress, and the Rams receivers coach Ray Sherman needs to dial it up a bit.
Sam Bradford is only as good, as the people around him are great. He has all the quarterback tools - strong arm, leadership, and height. But he seems to have sold himself on limiting what he can do. Sam has shown he can throw touch passes, but there are times when I wonder about his ability to control his velocity? The dropped pass by Givens on a short crossing route should have been caught, but if Sam takes just a tad off that throw, I say Givens catches it. He was under pressure, so Sam's throw reflected urgency, but the line between great and simply good quarterbacks is a fine one. The ability to add and remove pass speed is key to moving into the elite group with the likes of Brady, Rodgers and Manning.