When St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said earlier in the week he'd be adding a few things to the game plan against Cleveland Saturday, I'm pretty sure "injuries" wasn't on the list. Starting players began dropping like flies in the first quarter. In fact, on one play alone, three Rams found themselves on the turf...
The injury to Sam Bradford sounds like it's not a re-injury of his rebuilt knee, and instead a hyper-extension. The thing that got me most on the play where he was injured was the look of shock, mixed with pain, on Bradford's face. Though the hit he took on the play itself didn't look hard from my available angles while watching the game, it was enough to send a ripple of worry through the Rams fan world. I wonder just how many fans uttered choice adjectives, and a "You've got to be kidding me!" as their shoulders sank? I know I did, but I did it again and again as more players fell during what was the best showing for the Rams thus far in the 2014 preseason.
Injuries aside, the Rams showed they're growing up as a team. It's undeniable that there's talent on this St. Louis squad. Sure, they were playing against Cleveland, but I can't help but be impressed with how well the team did in light of how many players fell. Questions about just how well this team will do against stronger opponents are for another day. What I saw was a team with position depth, which to me is the most undervalued trait by most fans. When Jeff Fisher makes the cuts to get down to 75 player, it won't be hard. What will be tough though, is when the Rams have to choose who makes their 53-man final roster. I think the 22 players released won't be looking for work long. There's some serious talent the other 31 NFL teams will be dying to grab.
The Rams running back crew is absolutely stellar. In the 33-14 drubbing of the Browns, St. Louis amassed 472 yards in total offense with a constantly shifting, mixed bag of players. Rams' running backs averaged 4.2 yards per carry, none of whom have more than a year of NFL experience.
The statistic which really blew me away though, was the Rams' third down conversion rate. In 2013, they rank #27 on third down. Saturday night, they converted almost at will (12 of 19), and some of them were from at least 10+ yards. They moved the "sticks", and controlled the ball for 39:27 minutes, to Cleveland's horrible 20:33.
When starting corner back Trumaine Johnson went down to what looked like a devastating injury, a group of rookies swarmed to fill the void, and did so in an amazing fashion. The Rams' safety worries looked distant, with TJ McDonald and crew doing the best I've seen in years. If there was a position giving me worries, it was at linebacker. The team misses Jame Laurinaitis in a big way, but his absence highlighted just how thin the Rams are at middle and outside linebacker. I'm not getting a warm and fuzzy feeling from Ray Ray Armstrong or Darren Bates. Armstrong lacks control, seemingly playing with his hair on fire. He misses assignments, and it looks like the game hasn't slowed down enough for him to use his intriguing athletic skill set. Bates does "OK" against the run, but has trouble in pass coverage.
Take the injuries out of the Rams' contest against the Browns, and St. Louis fans would be ecstatic this morning. But we can't take them out, can we? Looming large is the start of the regular season, and the question of whether this team will have to answer the bell with a back up quarterback and corner back. Defensive tackles Kendall Langford and Michael Brocker are banged up too, let alone guard Rodger Saffold.
Yet - for today - I'll take my glass half full, thank you. The St. Louis team I watched Saturday night showed be growth, talent, and the ability to beat any team they play in 2014...
What part of the Rams performance Saturday night impressed, or worried, you the most?