The St. Louis Rams came into Carolina a different team than only three weeks ago. The San Francisco loss was a heavy blow, but the surged back against Jacksonville and Houston for back to back wins. Playing the Panthers today, the Rams looked like they were about to explode emotionally. Chris Long was ejected, after a VERY dubious call by the referees. In a multiple player melee - started by Carolina's Steve Smith - they pick Long on whom to focus their more than slanted wrath.
But lots of things happened before Long's exit from the game. Less than a minute into the game, a tipped pass by Sam Bradford was intercepted and returned for a touch down. Once again, the Rams found themselves in a hole to start a game. Then assorted screw ups emerged, with Jake Long tripping a player, negating a long touchdown pass to Tavon Austin. Austin himself contributed a fumble, stopping another Rams' drive. All this happened in the first half. In the second half, the Rams began to have trouble - once again - with defending the run. DeAngelo Williams began to gash the Rams for good gains. That's when the game unraveled, as Long's exit seemed to energize the Panthers.
This is just my opinion, but Steve Smith is a pure punk. While I accept the Rams' young players need to learn how to control themselves against mouthy idiots, the idea Smith could have free, unchecked rein to instigate multiple skirmishes - and not be flagged by officials - is beyond ludicrous. I'll give Smith credit for taking advantage of the Rams' lack of discipline, but it's a part of the game I've never respected. Guys like Cortland Finnegan and DeAngelo Hall join Smith in being some of the biggest offenders. In a way, I feel a bit hypocritical too. Last season, when Finnegan caused a certain Washington Redskins' receiver to lose his cool at a key moment, I cheered his gamesmanship. I guess what-goes-around, comes-around, eh?
Here's my take on a few individuals and facets of the game today :
The referees: They were hacks, if not down right bent during the entire game. If the NFL doesn't downgrade this crew, there's something seriously wrong. They blew calls, and allowed the game to come unhinged after a brawl in the second half. During the fight, they should've taken a player from each team and ejected them. Instead, they picked a single player - Chris Long - and eject him for throwing a punch. That there were any number of Panther players throwing punches didn't seem to matter. When Sam Bradford was injured on a legal sideline hit, the referees paid no attention to the tackler celebrating he'd injured a player and gloating about it on the Rams' side of the field. They were more than willing to throw a flag on Harvey Dahl, who didn't appreciate anyone acting like a smug idiot. If I had a choice between this crew, and the replacement refs from not so long ago, I'd take the replacements...
Brian Quick looked better than he has all season. He had a key drop late in the game and a stupid penalty, but on the whole he showed me more fire than I've seen so far from the second year receiver. I still don't like how he basket catches at times, but I loved how he exhibited his ability to stretch the field. I think he's shown enough to be tagged with more playing time, and a few over the middle routes, especially in the red zone. He's 6'5", so I'm thinking "jump ball"?
Brian Schottenheimer's red zone play calling was odd at best. His one pass call to Zac Stacy out of the backfield was the only play that seemed well thought out. What's more, even though his and Jeff Fisher's desire to establish the run is at the top of their list, the pass patterns designed to augment the offense were tailored to what Carolina does best? When they allowed Bradford chances to throw deeper, the offense worked. You may disagree with me, but this team has the tools, talent and ability to tax defenses in far more ways than they have this season. With small, fast receivers, and superb tight ends, where are the middle of the field seam passes?
The people calling Tavon Austin a bust need to get a life. I'm sorry, but even in this terrible game, I saw flashes of what this young player can be. Has anyone noticed how many different positions on the field Austin has been put into? I have, and whether in the slot, or on the outside, Austin is garnering attention from opposing secondaries far in excess of his statistics. There's a reason for this, and every defensive coordinator the Rams have, or are about to face knows this: The kid can flat out fly!
Janoris Jenkins had his worst game of the season thus far. Up till now, Jenkins has been beyond good, even when whoever's been creating the defensive schemes has him play 8 yards off the opposing receiver. Today, Jenkins got worked by Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. On a few plays, he was faked out of his proverbial jock strap, getting badly beaten off the line. Everyone has a bad game now and then, so I give Jenkins a pass today.