The St. Louis Rams presented their fans with an interesting question to consider following their Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Is it better to have had a huge lead and lost, or better to have never lead at all? The first half of the Rams game was remeniscent of last seasons Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts games. The Rams offense was clicking and the defense was a fierce, turnover causing, point scoring machine. Then "The Snap" happened and it was pretty much all downhill from there. Elsewhere in the NFC West the Seattle Seahawks managed to outlast the Denver Broncos in an Overtime thriller, in spite of the defenses inability to slow Manning and Co. in the 2nd half. The Arizona Cardinals became the first team in the division to notch a win within the division, taking down the San Francisco 49ers to extend their NFC West best record to 3-0. After three weeks the Cardinals are at the top with the Seahawks (2-1) in second, followed by the Rams and 49ers (both 1-2) tied for last.
The Cardinals have gotten the season off to a good start, sitting at 3-0 and atop the division standings. The Cardinals have also managed to collect 2 of those 3 wins with Drew Stanton filling in for the injured Carson Palmer. The Cardinals got solid contributions from all 3 phases to come back from a 14-6 halftime deficit, as well as a little help from the 49ers in the form of costly penalties. Of the Cardinals 24 first downs 7 of them came via penalty as the 49ers were penalized 9 times for 107 yards. Young receivers Michael Floyd and John Brown each had big days for the Cardinals. Floyd pulled in 5 receptions for 114 yards while Brown had 4 receptions for 52 yards and 2 TDs. After allowing the 49ers to score touchdowns on their first two possessions the Cardinals defense also tightened the screws, holding the 49ers scoreless over the final 35 minutes of the game. Part of the credit for that effort goes to the Special Teams unit as Tommy Kelly blocked a FG in the 4th quarter.
The Cardinals will take their undefeated record and division lead into the Bye week. The team should be able to get a little bit healthier with the extra time off, although you have to wonder if they didn't wish they had a later bye so they could continue with this momentum. Following the Bye week they will hit the road to take on the Denver Broncos.
San Francisco 49ers
"Every week is the same thing," Boldin said. "You send the tape in and the NFL reports back that `we made a mistake' but at the same time (that) is costing us games. At some point, they need to be held accountable." While Rams fans everywhere can surely relate to this frustration, it is somewhat surprising to see an NFL player call out the League like this. The 49ers can complain about officiating all they want, and quite frankly the NFL has a major problem with its officiating, but no matter how poor the officiating was the NFL wont do anything about it in 2014. The 49ers are dealing with the absence of several key players as Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Anthony Davis and Tramaine Brock all missed the game against the Cardinals (on top of the absence of All-World LB Navarro Bowman). When checking the box score you see the 49ers rushed the ball a mere 24 times (13 by Colin Kaepernick), while having Kaepernick attempt 37 passes. So the team ran a total of 62 plays (Kaepernick was sacked once) and Kap was the primary on 51 of them (thats 82.25% for those stat hounds out there). For a team built to run the ball and play tough defense this seems like a strange gameplan.
The 49ers will play their next two games at home, as they first play host to the 3-0 Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles high powered offense should prove a good test for the suddenly vulnerable 49ers defense, while the Eagles defense could provide some room for the 49ers offense to find a groove. Prior to the start of the 2014 season I would have circled this as a marquee matchup, but as of yet the 49ers have been disappointing to say the least. They did manage to hold a large early game lead against the Cowboys in Week 1 for their only win, but the 4 Cowboys turnovers (including 3 "Bad Romo" INTs) and winning the turnover margin 4-0 should have larger margin of victory than 11 points. Of course the 49ers disapointing is anything but disappointing to Rams fans, so carry on boys!
The Seahawks managed to escape their week 3 Super Bowl Rematch with a victory in overtime. Heading into halftime up 17-3, it looked like the rematch was going to be a regular season version of the Super Bowl Blowout. The Broncos running game really never got on track, mustering a measly 36 yards on 20 carries for an anemic 1.8 yards per carry average. While the first 3 quarters all seemed to go Seattle's way, the fourth quarter is where Peyton Manning and the Broncos came to life. If you have the NFL Game Rewind service you should do yourself a favor and watch the 4th quarter. The Broncos somehow managed to force overtime in spite of the fact Manning threw an INT with just under 3 minutes left in the game, which lead to a 20-12 deficit with no timeouts and just 59 seconds on the clock. There are two things that can be learned from that final game tying drive and the game winning drive the Seahawks put together in overtime. First of all this is not the 2013 Seahawks defense, allowing a team to go 80 yards in just 41 seconds without any timeouts likely doesn't happen to the 2013 defense. The fact it happened at home also adds to the bewilderment, even if it was against Peyton Manning. Second thing we learned is the offense was able to rebound from a disappointing second half and put the game away in overtime. Manning did mention the emphasis the NFL overtime rules put on winning the coin toss, to me that screams Kansas City Tiebreaker style rule change in the future!
The Seahawks will hit the road in week 4 to take on the red hot Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins. Sure the Redskins are only 1-2, but Cousins is 52-81 for 677 yards with 5 TDs and 1 INT for a passer rating of 105.8. For a Seahawks team that has been much closer to average on the road under Pete Carroll, a Redskins team with growing confidence could pose more of a threat than you might think.
St. Louis Rams
Why bother doing a recap? I am a glutton for punishment that is why, how else could you explain a person being a fan of both the Idaho Vandals AND the St. Louis Rams over the past decade! Of course as an Idaho Alum I really have no choice, and also no real expectations for success on the gridiron. As a Rams fan though, I was really buying into the preseason hype surrounding this team and especially the defense. My biggest concern was the young secondary, could they be good enough not to leave their incredibely talented front 7 high and dry? Well so far this season it appears the secondary is carrying this defense (save some miscommunication errors), while the front 7 struggles to show the dominance we all expected in 2014. Early in the game against the Cowboys the Rams offense and defense were both clicking, jumping out to a 21-0 lead following big plays on both sides of the ball. Yet in spite of holding a huge lead, and playing at home, the Rams defense failed to record a single sack. Yes plenty of that has to do with the questionable officiating, both in terms missed offensive holding and phantom defensive holding calls, but officiating aside this was supposed to be Sack City right? I wrote an article this offseason about Gregg Williams and the Rams defense, while the primary focus of that article was concern over the young secondary there also was a hint of concern regarding Williams himself. Williams has never had a defensive line like this, he has always manufactured pressure with exotic fronts and blitzes. After watching the Rams defense the first 3 weeks it appears the exotic defenses may be causing more problems for the Rams than their opponents. Perhaps halfway through the season the players will become more familiar and the defense will really start to click, but if it doesn't happen sooner than later the Rams could already be facing 1-7 or 2-6. Aside from Williams there are plenty of other questions about this team, like what happened to the power running team we all expected? Zac Stacy averaged over 5 yards per carry against the Cowboys, yet only toted the rock 12 times!!! He also looks much improved in the receiving/screen game. Sure there is a backfield by committee approach, but the Rams ran 72 total plays with only 30 of them being runs. A self professed power running team that builds a 21 point lead should finish with 40 runs and 30 passes, not the other way around!
The Rams will head into their Bye week with a sour taste in their mouth, which pretty much seems like standard operating procedure at Rams Park over the past decade. Not all is dark and dreary, in spite of the fact the Rams have fallen to 1-2 during the soft part of their schedule there are some positives. EJ Gaines has been a pleasant surprise to me, he provides solid depth moving forward. Janoris Jenkins seems to be flourishing under Gregg Williams, while he hasn't been perfect, the way he baited Romo into that Pick-6 was a thing of beauty. Brian Quick has been very impressive thus far, that 51 yard TD was made possible because he beat Claiborne quickly and decisively. Austin Davis is more than capable of winning games with this team, especially if the defense we all expected in 2014 would show up for 4 quarters. Aaron Donald has been as advertised and maybe better, if you haven't had a "Holy Crap, Aaron Donald!!!!" moment you just haven't been paying attention.
Thanks for reading and as always, Go Rams!!