In August, Rams watchers threw out the number six with all the certainty of the children's counting vampire. Six wins were the benchmark for the 2010 St. Louis Rams, if not the best, the most realistic scenario for their season. Well, the Rams have arrived.
Before getting to far ahead of ourselves, it needs to be said that things could go totally wrong and Spagnuolo's team doesn't pick up another win. Would, dear fan, be happy with that? Of course not. Expectations have changed dramatically. Today, the Rams beat a struggling Arizona Cardinals, a team so beleaguered they used three different quarterbacks. And it wasn't exactly a pretty win, but it was a win.
The Rams loss to the Cardinals in week one didn't look dramatically different than today's game, except that the Rams found a way to win, something they failed to do in the season opener. Let's recap today's game through the lens of that week one loss. It sheds some light on just how far the Rams have come since then.
Sam Bradford - Bradford's growth as a player has been phenomenal. Last week, he threw for 300+ yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs, becoming the first rookie QB since John Elway to accomplish that. Bradford didn't achieve the same results this week. However, he didn't force things to the same results as he did in week 1, when he threw 3 INTs (one was a garbage time end-of-game Hail Mary). He also ran the no huddle offense with aplomb, making it the most effective formation in the Rams bag of tricks. That wasn't an option 13 weeks ago.
Better blitzing - The Rams saw a weak QB and they took advantage of it this week to the tune of 4 sacks, 6 hits and no telling how many hurries. Flajole's defense applied pressure in week 1 too, but not to the same effect. In addition to the pass rush numbers, the Rams also had a whopping 8 tackles for a loss, 5 of which came from the safeties.
Secondary - After watching the start of the game, I wasn't optimistic. The Cardinals marched down the field right away, rolling up 109 yards on just two first quarter possessions. In week one, the Rams got burned continually by Steve Breaston who was deadly effective working from the slot, catching passing just behind the Rams' defensive front. This week, there were more and more defensive packages featuring five defensive backs, in addition to the regular nickel package. That helped compensate for the tender underbelly of the Rams defense: outside linebacker. Yes, better teams than Arizona will burn the Rams in those same situations, but the move made all the sense in the world against Arizona. And credit much tighter play from the defensive backs not named Ron Bartell, who was excellent in week 1. The safeties in particular really had a big game for the Rams. One more stat to throw out at you: the Rams had 8 PD, 2 from Bartell and 2 from Butler and all by the secondary; they had just 3 in week 1.
Steven Jackson - No, Steven Jackson is as good this week as he was at the beginning of the season; however, this week, he was much more effective. In fact, the game ball really has to go to Jackson, who carried the Rams to the win this week. But enough hyperbole. In the season's first week, Jackson ran the ball 13 times in the second half, but only picked up just 34 yards. This week, Jackson ran the ball 18 times for 56 yards in the second half, scoring the Rams' only TD of the game. The Rams found a way to make the running game work, a recipe that included a little of Arizona's defense, an effective enough passing game that helped spread the field and the sheer will power of Steven Jackson. In the third quarter, the Rams had a time of possession advantage of 12 minutes to 3 minutes. Together, they converted third downs when they needed to (after converting just one in the first half) and controlled the game.
Other random notes...
- How about Fred Robbins? In week 1 he had a sack, a hit on the QB and 2 tackles for a loss. This week, he had 2 sacks, 1 QB hit and a tackle for a loss.
- Danario Alexander still has some work to do. His routes weren't as sharp and he caught just 2 passes despite being targeted 7 times.
- Safety blitz, safety blitz, if they don't blitz then they ain't no friends of mine. No seriously, the wacky blitz packages were in full force today. Dahl and Atogwe had 2 of the Rams' 4 sacks.
- Amendola was targeted just twice, catching 1 pass for a big third down conversion on the Rams TD drive. He had a great day in the return game, with a 39-yard punt return and an average of 26 yards on 3 kick returns.
- Mardy Gilyard was on the inactive list. Look at this season as more of an internship for the rookie wide receiver. He'll have his chance when minicamp kicks off in the spring.
- Ugliness in the red zone as well as third down for the Rams offense today, after having made real progress in the red zone this year.
- Toughness, word of the day. Jason Smith, Ron Bartell and Billy Bajema all returned to the action despite leaving at various points with injuries.
- This was only the second time this season Bradford has not thrown a TD pass, the loss at Detroit being the other.
- I thought Vobora was alright, but the Rams have not solved their OLB issue.
- Steven Jackson needs 15 more yards to get to 1,000 rushing yards on the season. This will be his sixth consecutive 1,000+ yard season.