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Rams-Eagles: Quarter by Quarter Review

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Has any team in the NFL been as Jekyll and Hyde as the St. Louis Rams in 2014? Let's take a look at the Eagles game for rapid reactions quarter by quarter.

Evan Habeeb

Having NFL Sunday Ticket and a DVR sure sounded like a good idea prior to the 2014 season.  The offseason hype surrounding the St. Louis Rams was at a fever pitch, with plenty predicting them to challenge for a playoff spot behind a fierce pass rush.  The season ending injury to QB Sam Bradford during the preseason helped quiet those expectations a little, but there were still those who were predicting big things from the Rams D.  After all the Rams power running game and ferocious defense allowed them to steal wins following Bradford's injury in 2013, so it should work as well or even better in 2014, right?

So far in 2014 we have yet to see anything that resembles the gameplan we all anticipated.  Yes the emergence of Austin Davis as a gunslinger willing to take chances downfield has been a pleasant surprise, and Brian Quick has also flashed through the first quarter of the season, but this team needs to be more committed to the run.  Imagine how much more effective the Davis to Quick connection would be if the running backs were allowed to get into a groove, opening up the play action passing game?  The Rams have had stretches of games where they look like the worst team in the NFL, and stretches where they appear to be among the best.  The past two weeks have been glaring examples of both extremes, against the Dallas Cowboys building and subsequently blowing a 21 point lead, and against the Philadelphia Eagles struggling for 3 quarters before falling just short of one of the NFL's all-time great comebacks.

So when I sat down to watch the game the morning after, I decided to take a look at the game quarter by quarter.  To just jot down the notes that came to mind while watching the game knowing the final outcome.  I didn't break down every play using the All-22 footage, no this isn't that type of breakdown.  This is a look at what sticks out the most, what things are most obvious about the Rams in regard to their Jekyll and Hyde nature.

First Quarter

Have the Rams gotten off to a worse start in recent memory than against the Eagles?  They came out in a formation that made me smile, 3 tight ends and it appeared as if they were going to finally establish the Zac Attack.  Then they threw three consecutive plays and unceremoniously went three and out.  While the offensive line struggled most of the day, the first possession wasn't really their fault.  Austin Davis was wildly inaccurate while having fairly decent protection, not great, but good enough protection to make his poor throws head scratching.  The blocked punt TD was just icing on the cake for one of the worst opening drives you will likely ever see.  Once the Rams offensive line did start to break down, it was the interior of the line to blame.  Davin Joseph continues to get beat on nearly every play, how he is in front of Greg Robinson is beyond me.  The rest of the o-line appeared to be performing ok, with runs off Long/Saffold having regular success.  Mistakes and penalties abounded in the first quarter, as the Rams racked up 4 penalties in the first alone. The Rams defensive line was getting decent pressure on Foles with a couple of near sacks, but the secondary bailed out the Eagles offense time and again with boneheaded penalties.

Second Quarter

The Rams defense was very lucky on the LeSean McCoy fumble recovery.  The interception by EJ Gaines was a thing of beauty, Gaines continues to show he may have been the steal of the 2014 draft.  Rams defense did a good job to hold Eagles to a pair of FGs and keep the game manageable early.  How the Rams go with an empty backfield on 3rd and goal is beyond me, did they learn nothing from last seasons Monday Night game?  While Austin Davis really started to warm up during the second half of the second quarter, the Rams defense was trending in the opposite direction.  The final 3 minutes of the second quarter was a brutal stretch for the Rams D, as they offered little resistance to the Eagles 2 minute drill.  Janoris Jenkins getting beat by Riley Cooper one on one has to be emberassing, just saying.  The TD Pass that Austin Davis threw to Brian Quick was very nice, Davis did a great job of extending the play while Quick did a good job recognizing his QB was on the move and working his way back to the ball.

Third Quarter

Amazingly the Eagles first punt of the game came in the 3rd quarter, sure the Rams defense had "forced" a pair of turnovers in the first half but that is still a bad sign.  Jake Long had one of the worst plays I have seen in 2014 on the fumble recovery for a TD.  He essentially escorts the defender to the QB for the strip sack, and then swats the ball into the end zone where the Eagles recover for the TD.  TJ McDonald shows that while he has improved in 2014, still a liability in coverage against an above average tight end.  Austin Davis did a great job of fielding a bad shotgun snap, but then he didn't set his feet and scan the field, he just launched a prayer downfield.  The Zac Stacy fumble was unacceptable, while a decent play by the defender he has to expect contact in that situation and protect the football better.  Rams offensive line seemed to find its groove late in the 3rd quarter, providing both good run and pass blocking.  The Cunningham TD run is a good example of a very well blocked play, and excellent vision and footwork by the back.

Fourth Quarter

The officials throw a very questionable flag at the 13:18 mark against Janoris Jenkins, while contact was certainly made it was initiated right at about the 5 yard mark and was initiated by the offensive player.  The Rams defense gets very lucky yet again with the Foles fumble.  The TD pass to Kenny Britt was a thing of beauty, nice to see Davis extend the play and then the receiver pay it off by fighting for the ball.  Joyner flashed some in this game, both good and bad, just as he has all season.  The backshoulder TD pass to Brian Quick was another incredible play by Davis, beautiful execution and it showed the chemistry those two developed this offseason.  The Eagles prevent defense was absolutely atrocious.  The drop Austin Pettis had on 2nd down during the final drive was unbelievable, but the 3rd down "drop" would have been an incredible catch and also doesn't give defender enough credit for good play.  The 4th down play was clearly a miscommunication as Quick broke inside based on coverage while Davis threw outside.  Hard to tell who was right in that situation, but Jared Cook did flash wide open for a first down on that play as well so at the very least it was a questionable decision by Davis.

Overall Thoughts

The thing that sticks out the most about the Rams defense (aside from the back breaking penalties), is they don't force enough 3 and outs.  For a defense with Top 10 aspirations during the preseason, they sure don't do enough to get off the field.  Two of the defenses three turnovers were just plain luck, sure they happened to be in the right place to recover the fumbles, but they weren't great defensive plays either.  The Rams front four has generated some pass rush, but hasn't generated any statistics.  Far too often the Rams don't get into favorable pass rush situations (3rd and long), and have squandered the precious few they have with 3 man rushes.  The young secondary continues to impress 95% of the time, but those miscommunications leading to wide open TDs quickly erase all the good feelings.

On offense it is clear the interior of the line is the teams biggest weakness, with Davin Joseph getting beaten on nearly every play.  The Rams are not committed to the running game, probably the biggest surprise of the offense in 2014.  Austin Davis continues to play fairly well, but it isn't all roses for the young signal caller.  He continues to take chances and sometimes they pay off, the odds will catch up to him eventually and the Rams can't afford to have him turning the ball over at a high rate.

Special teams was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day.  They started the game off in the worst way possible, and really never did much to recover from it.  They also sprinkled some big penalties into the return game to keep field position in Philadelphia's favor.

Bottom line?  The St. Louis Rams continue to beat themselves.  The penalties and mistakes contribute to their inability to get wins.  With another 10 penalties for 82 yards and 3 turnovers on the game (all of which lead directly to 21 points), the errors become harder and harder to swallow.  Coming off a bye the team should have been as well prepared as ever, and yet the way the team started the game was as sloppy as ever.  Yes the Rams are a young team, but the talent is finally there.  Perhaps that is why this season is more frustrating than any I can remember in recent history.  Unlike the 2006 through 2011 teams that managed to set the bar incredibly low in St. Louis, this team actually has top end talent and an experienced coaching staff.  Yet the experienced coaching staff seems more like the problem than the solution following a 1-3 start.

In true Jekyll and Hyde fashion I believe the Rams can win or lose every single game left on their 2014 schedule.  That may sound crazy, but if they could attain a little more consistency this team can compete with any.  Unfortunately the team has shown no signs of the ability to be consistent.

Thanks for reading and as always, Go Rams!!!