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Rams v. Cowboys grades

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When I first graded a Rams performance (given against the Giants here), it was so we could get a feel as to where we needed to draft, specifically LB vs. OT. Today, it's just to congratulate the entire team for playing the way we knew they could from day 1.

When Haslett took over the team, I wrote a piece called "The season begins again." If you scroll down to the bottom, you catch one of my constant rants - not playing Donnie Avery enough. If you draft the first WR in the entire NFL draft, you need to get him on the field in week 1. Granted he was injured in the preseason, but when he healed up, Linehan still kept him sidelined. A catch to set up the game winner in Washington and today's tone-setting opening TD later, and Avery will have a bandwagon coming if he doesn't already. Enough. Grades being handed out....now.

QB: A-

I was one of the few around here who were defending Bulger at the beginning of the season for one reason: when he has time, he's one of the best QB's in the game. Yes, at the beginning of the season when he was constantly under pressure and throwing off of his back foot, as Van noted here just minutes ago, he was horrible. His timing was off, and he seemed unsure. Today was Pro-Bowl stuff. The toss to Avery floated in perfectly; he almost hit him again minutes later. I'll let that one slide and assume Marc thought Donnie was warmed up and running at Usain Bolt speed. If you question this grade, look at the other side. Brad Johnson threw behind people all day. 3 interceptions for Johnson, none for Bulger. A fumble for Johnson, none for Bulger. And Bulger was sacked twice more than Johnson. 14 completions, 19 attempts. Bulger led the way you expect a leader to today.

HB: A

Dear Jim Haslett,

Steven Jackson is a horse in a man-suit. Please let him run more. Sincerely, 3k.

P.S. You're good at coaching and stuff.

I wrote in the game thread at halftime that Jackson needed to see the ball early in the third to put this one away. On his second run, SJ sprinted down the sideline for 56 yards and the dagger TD. Sexy stuff. And btw, his first touchdown was vintage SJ. Shoulder-hip separation, physical evasion, wonderful finish to a nice run.

WR: C+

Oddly, I thought this was the weakest unit today, especially considering the opening burst. Holt ended up with just 3 catches for 51 yards, while Donnie Avery (breakout game?) had 5 for 65, including the TD and the aforementioned near miss. With all the drama/injuries to the Cowboys secondary, I thought Bulger could have gone for more. To be fair, he might have if Jackson hadn't been so productive and if the Cowboys had kept the game closer. Nevertheless, it was good to see Donnie Avery show the speed I've been craving since we drafted him. Note to Coach Linehan for your next assignment, wherever it is: if you draft/recruit the top WR in the draft/nation, play his ass. Seriously. You were playing Drew Bennett / Dane Looker / Dante Hall, why?

O-line: B+

Despite the 5 sacks, this was the best performance by the O-line this year imo. The TD run by Jackson didn't require his talents: the play call and the blocking were textbook. And yes, DeMarcus Ware did rack up 3 sacks, but get real. He's DeMarcus Ware. He tied the record today for consecutive games with a sack. And keep in mind, this unit was missing Old-lando Pace. In spite of the sacks, if they play like today (creating lanes for Jackson and giving Bulger time to analyze the field), the Rams have an exciting final 10 games coming.

D-line: B-

The Cowboys O-line is a wacky one. On paper, they're one of the strongest in the NFL. Last weekend's overtime loss to Arizona showed the holes: they lack athleticism. I thought the Rams did a decent job of flashing underneath the the Cowboys and bothering Brad Johnson, upsetting his timing. I would have liked to have seen Chris Long get another sack, but hey, I'll take what we got today from here out without a single complaint.

LB: B+

Phenomenal pass defense, average run defense. Pisa was a hoss today. His coverage combined with Brad Johnson's underthrow gave Atogwe an incredibly easy pick in the 3rd. With the lead we had, the Cowboys were forced to throw, and the LB corps was phenomenal in doing their part. This grade could have been lower (but not much) for run defense, but the Cowboys only ran Barber 18 times to Jackson's 25. Keep in mind Barber broke a 35-yarder early. Damn, we played well today.

CB/S: A

I thought about giving the secondary an A+, but I have to leave them something to work towards. Bartell was awesome, Atogwe shined, and Corey Chavous found the fumble. How good were we? Terrell Owens - 2 catches, 31 yards. Patrick Crayton - 3 catches, 30 yards. Roy Williams, the savior of the Cowboys passing offense - uh, no thanks.

ST: N/A

Look, we've had to rely on Josh Brown to be the lone bright spot on this team too much this season. Today, with the offensive and defensive units performing like they were, the special teams were in the way. There's a reason why you don't usually know other teams punters: you're not supposed to. Special teams are the plays in between football. Today, the Rams were good enough that Josh could relax and Donnie Jones could earn his paycheck the way he was supposed to: comfortably. Extra points to Haslett for the pooch punt from the FG formation. It kept the Cowboys back an inch when a punt formation could have been, well, blocked like the Cowboys OT punt last weekend. As stlcardinalsfang said in the game thread:

that’s smart. not sexy, but smart.

Which is more than good enough for me.

Overall: A+

Don't argue. Just enjoy it. This will be a fun week for us. Don't ruin it.

RAMS WIN!!!!