It was mostly a group of Baltimore second stringers on the field to start the game last night, and Sam Bradford made them look like it too. Bradford easily moved the ball down field to score a TD taking just over five minutes to unquestionably announce that the starting job in week 1 belongs to him.
As for the Rams win to finish the preseason 3-1, take it with a grain of salt. All but 7 of their 27 points came from the backup units where the story was as much about trying to iron our the depth chart as it was running the playbook. That said, I think the Rams coaches deserve some credit for the way the second and third teams executed. Let's go back to Bradford and the starters first.
Last night marked just the second time that the Rams starting five offensive linemen played together. It looked like they've been playing together for weeks though. Bradford never saw real pressure and completed all six of this throws. As they moved down the field, the offense converted all three third downs, one conversion came via Baltimore penalty, and none of the three third downs was longer than 3 yards. All this without Steven Jackson on the field. The only troubling thing about the opening drive was that each of Kenneth Darby's rushing attempts went for no gain. Mike Karney had the fourth rushing attempt out of 10 plays and converted a third down with his lone carry. Though Darby's running improved, including a sweet 29-yard run on the second possession, it was a glaring reminder that the Rams lack an adequate solution behind Steven Jackson.
As far as Sam Bradford goes, two plays stand out. On the first snap of the game, Bradford executed a beautiful rollout screen pass, something I think we'll be seeing a lot of this year, getting the ball to TE Daniel Fells for 9 yards. The play was so well executed it almost appeared to be in slow motion as I watched it. Just a few plays later, on first-and-10 at the Baltimore 40-yard-line, Bradford made an uncharacteristically poor throw, which would have been a decent one for other QBs, hitting Danny Amendola for a 36-yard deep strike that the receiver was able to grab out of the air and come down in-bounds to put the Rams in the red zone.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams starting defense, working the entire first quarter, held the Ravens second team to just 19 yards on two possessions. Fred Robbins put his stamp on the game getting through the line to make two stops for a loss, one on third-and-1 that forced the Ravens to punt.
It was a short night for the first team against second team competition. Both the offense and defense executed flawlessly, as they should have against a second team. From the beginning one of the key things for the Rams this year was growth in the system, players understanding their roles and the playbook and how the unit functions as a whole. Improvement on that front, it was said, would automatically produce better results. That has certainly looked to be true in the preseason, with a little help from some key additions representing experience, Robbins, and pure talent, Bradford.
Final roster cuts are due Saturday, so let's take a quick scan of how the position battles played out last night.
Both Keith Null and Thaddeus Lewis had a great night, and I think the decision will come down to what kind of youngster they want back there. Null gives them a classic pocket passer, while Lewis is a more mobile quarterback who can work on the run. In fact, Lewis reminds me of Kyle Boller just a little bit, with slightly more accuracy and a much better head for the game.
Null had the Rams only turnover, an INT on a pass that Brandon Gibson bobbled, which gave Baltimore their first seven points.
I have no idea how this one turns out. Experience might be a deciding factor, but the Rams have that with backup A.J. Feeley, which means they could keep Lewis to give them a little different look. Fans overwhelmingly picked Lewis for the job yesterday.
You know, stat-wise Darby didn't look too bad. He averaged over five yards on 6 six carries, but 29 of his 39 yards came on one breakaway run. The fact that he failed to roll up any rushing yards with the first team is a big concern. Ogbonnaya looked like he's looked all through the preseason, which is to say his running never really impressed. Both he and Darby looked fine catching passes out of the backfield. Keith Toston runs hard and that might get him a job as a third running back, but against starting defenses he might looked overmatched.
Like most TSTers, I still think the Rams will find their backup RB answer as teams trim their rosters. Starting for the Redskins, Willie Parker had a decent night and is a player to watch if the Redskins cut him.
Brandon Gibson had a mandate to impress in this game, with the Rams needing solid performances from their receivers with Avery out of action. Gibson looked sharp, mostly, catching 4 passes (5 really, except a penalty negated one), but he did commit a false start penalty and bobbled Null's pass for an INT.
Keenan Burton probably did not make the final cut with another quiet game.
On the other hand, undrafted rookies Brandon McRae and Dominique Curry played well with the second and third team units. Curry can block very well and his special teams play might just earn him a spot on the final roster.
Unless the Rams chose to keep 4 tight ends and 5 receivers, I can't imagine that Daniel Fells will make the cut. I liked what we saw from Fendi Onobun, and I would really like to see him make the cut. It should be obvious that Michael Hoomanawanui, aka Illinois Mike, should be the Rams starting TE.
Once again Jermelle Cudjo made the case for this year's surprise undrafted free agent defensive lineman. Of course, if the Rams keep just 8 DL, the odds won't be in his favor since Robbins, Gary Gibson, Clifton Ryan and Darrell Scott have the four DT spots locked down in all likelihood.
At DE, George Selvie solidified his spot with a nice pass breakup that led to Chris Chamberlain's INT to end the first half. Selvie looks like he'll round out a group of DEs with Chris Long, James Hall and a fourth spot that looks like a wild card right now.
That's all for now. We'll be back with a complete look at the roster with cuts looming.