It may have been the most important gif of the Rams' five-game run en route to their first winning record since 2006. It was ninety-three games in the waiting, and while the early results of the Jeff Fisher era are impressive, the road ahead looks like this:
With Sam Bradford's most reliable and important target sidelined, the offensive response would be crucial. Let's dig into the data.
First, here's all 34 offensive plays and penalties after Danny left the game, not including punts and the kneeldowns at the end of the game. Result colors indicate gains of more than 2 yards (green), 0-2 yards (yellow) and any negative plays or turnovers (red).
|2||1||10||3:31||STL 30||I off wk (te l, 2 wrs bal)||run||Richardson||+7|
|2||2||3||2:56||STL 37||I off str (te r, 2 wrs l)||run||Richardson||+.5|
|2||3||2.5||2:12||STL 37.5||ace (te r, 2 wrs l, wr r)||pass||N/A - sack||-11|
|3||1||10||13:20||STL 36||I off str (te l, 2 wrs bal)||pass||Givens (hitch)||inc|
|3||2||10||13:15||STL 36||shotgun (rb l, te r, 2 wrs l, wr r)||pass||Givens (drag)||inc|
|3||3||10||13:11||STL 36||shotgun (rb r, 3 wrs l, wr r)||N/A||N/A - false start, B. Richardson||-5|
|3||3||15||13:11||STL 31||shotgun (rb r, te l (H), 2 wrs l, wr r)||pass||Bradford (scramble) - offsetting penalties||0|
|3||3||15||12:44||STL 31||shotgun (rb r, te l (H), 2 wrs l, wr r)||pass||Givens (go)||inc|
|3||1||10||11:15||STL 43||I (te r, wr l, wr r)||run||Jackson||+7|
|3||2||3||10:41||50||ace (2 tes bal, 2 wrs bal)||run||Jackson||+4.5|
|3||1||10||10:04||ARI 45.5||ace (2 tes bal, 2 wrs bal)||run||Jackson||+10.5|
|3||1||10||9:28||ARI 34||ace (2tes r, wr r, wr l)||run||Jackson||+5|
|3||2||5||8:45||ARI 29||ace (te l, 2 wrs l, wr r)||run||Richardson||+4|
|3||3||1||8:04||ARI 25||ace (2 tes r, 2 wrs l)||run||Richardson||+5|
|3||1||10||7:23||ARI 20||ace (2 tes bal, 2 wrs bal)||run||Richardson||+4.5|
|3||2||5.5||6:43||ARI 15.5||ace (2 tes r, 2 wrs l)||pass||Richardson (screen)||inc|
|3||3||6||6:39||ARI 15.5||shotgun (rb r, 3 wrs l, wr r)||pass||Quick (corner) - INT, P. Peterson||TO|
|3||1||10||2:19||STL 11||ace (te r, 2 wrs r, wr l)||pass||Gibson (go)||inc|
|3||2||10||2:12||STL 11||I off wk (te r, 2 wrs bal)||run||Richardson||+16|
|3||1||10||1:34||STL 27||I off str (te l, 2 wrs bal)||run||Richardson||+4.5|
|3||2||5.5||0:59||STL 31.5||ace (te r, 2 wrs r, wr l)||run||Richardson||-3.5|
|3||3||9||0:18||STL 28||shotgun (rb l, 3 wrs r, wr l)||pass||Gibson (inside slant)||+9|
|4||1||10||15:00||STL 37||ace (2 tes l, 2 wrs bal)||run||Richardson||+1|
|4||2||9||14:19||STL 38||ace (2 tes r, 2 wrs bal)||run||Jackson||+12|
|4||1||10||13:47||50||ace (2 tes bal, 2 wrs bal)||run||Jackson||+8|
|4||2||2||13:07||ARI 42||I off wk (te l, 2 wrs bal)||run||Jackson||+.5|
|4||3||1.5||12:26||ARI 41.5||ace (te l, 2 wrs l, wr r)||pass||Gibson - illegal use of hands (H. Dahl)||-10|
|4||3||11.5||12:18||STL 48.5||shotgun (rb r, te l, 2 wrs l, wr r)||pass||Givens (go)||+51.5 - TD|
|4||1||10||5:25||STL 3||ace (2 tes r, te l, wr r)||run||Jackson||0|
|4||2||10||4:46||STL 3||ace (2 tes r, te l, wr r)||run||Jackson||+7|
|4||3||3||4:07||STL 10||I (2 tes l, wr r)||run||Jackson||-1.5|
|4||1||10||2:09||STL 20||ace (2 tes r, te l, wr r)||run||Jackson||0|
|4||2||10||2:05||STL 20||I (2 tes bal, wr l)||run||Jackson||-3|
|4||3||13||1:59||STL 17||ace (te r, 2 wrs r, wr l)||run||Richardson||+2|
The primary takeaway? The Rams turned to the running game. Part of that was the Rams trying to kill clock in the fourth quarter, in which they ran the ball 10 times and passed just twice, one of which was called back. If you take that off the board, that's a 10:1 run to pass ratio.
I think if there's any intel worth taking away in terms of what we'll see for the majority of Sunday's game in Miami, it's in the third quarter. The Rams got things started with two runs using Daryl Richardson, but gave up a key sack on third down on a double linebacker blitz. It was their only possession before halftime, which is a good thing as it gave the coaching staff the opportunity to use the halftime break to scheme things in Amendola's absence.
That makes the first second half possession even more confusing.
On first down, the Rams came out in the I, looking like they would continue to rely on the ground game early in the series. Not so. As Sam dropped back, he saw the Cardinals in man coverage. He quickly looked outside and saw Chris Givens had Greg Toler badly beat on the hitch, but he slipped nearly making the catch anyway. It was a good route, and if Givens stays up, would have been an easy catch. On second down, Bradford was forced to make a quick throw due to pressure from Daryl Washington; it was Jackson's assignment to pick up any blitz heat, but he was slow to get to Bradford's right side. Bradford smartly went to Givens who was on the drag underneath, but didn't look the ball in for the catch, nearly resulting in an interception by Paris Lenon. I think this is a play we'll see this weekend - here's the diagram:
If the Rams can develop the run early, this is a good play to force the linebackers to deal with a levels play that combines Givens' speed with Kendricks dropping behind them.
To return to that series...it ended sloppily. Barry Richardson picked up a false start before Bradford nearly scrambled for a first down. The play would be wiped out due to offsetting penalties including a hold by Barry Richardson. A disjointed incompletion on the next play would close the drive as Givens never found space on the line to run his go route. Strange then that the Rams would come out of halftime and pass the ball three times consecutively, all three to Chris Givens though on 3rd and 15, a run wouldn't have made any sense.
On the next series with great field position, the Rams ran the ball seven times in a row. Jackson and Daryl Richardson were moving the ball as the offensive line was getting good push at the point of attack. On second down, the pressure forced Sam to throw it to the ground near Richardson as a throwaway. Third down was the Peterson interception in the corner of the end zone. I thought it was a good play call and given that it was to Brian Quick, a useful early barometer.
Brian Quick is going to be the guy Sam just tosses the ball to in one-on-one situations to go up and make a play. Against lesser corners than Patrick Peterson, he might do just that. But as a barometer play to see where Quick was at, I liked the call. Quick just didn't get it done.
You can see the rest of the offense was ground heavy with 13 runs and four passes. The Rams took that possession from late in the third quarter nearly three minutes into the fourth finishing it off with a beautiful go route by Chris Givens that resulted in his first touchdown in the NFL. In the final two possessions, the offensive line was dominated. Credit to that Cardinals defense for stepping up when both teams knew the Rams were sticking to the run and winning that battle.
So what to take away?
The key here is that the Rams were only up a touchdown when Amendola left, so it's not as if the Rams were protecting a huge lead. Relying on the talent at RB, playing off of Givens speed, the miscellany that is Brandon Gibson's output - that's something that isn't going to change. The question now is what other aspects of the offense develop in Amendola's absence.
Lance Kendricks is potentially in a make or break situation. He was targeted just twice on Thursday with one catch. If he doesn't find a way to be more productive while Amendola's on the mend this season, I don't know that he ever will be. I don't think that's necessarily the case with Brian Quick. He's got a longer leash as a Les Snead pick, and the Rams certainly understand his development is going to take time. That aside, he also has an opportunity to contribute more now.
This is something I'll refer to after the Dolphins game to compare, but look at the running and passing target breakdown from the game after Amendola got hurt minus the Barry Richardson false start:
|Run||22||12 - Steven Jackson|
|10 - Daryl Richardson|
|Pass||11||4 - Chris Givens|
|3 - Brandon Gibson|
|1 - Brian Quick|
|1 - Daryl Richardson|
|1 - scramble|
|1 - sack|
It's a small sample size in the passing game, so I don't know that there are sweeping generalizations to take away. I'd like to see Steven Jackson used a bit more on designed screens, especially given the strength of Miami's rushing defense. Looking beyond the Dolphins, the Rams have the Packers and Patriots left before the bye. Neither has shown an ability to shut down opponents' passing offenses, unlike the Rams. So getting Sam Bradford and this passing offense on track quickly is going to be vital for this three-game stretch.
Weeks from now, we might be making the case that figuring out how to operate that passing offense without Amendola was the key element that determined the Rams' season as a whole. For now, let's hope that if that's the case, we're looking back fondly instead of in disgust.