The first half of this game along with the first half from the Thursday Night Football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the two best halves of football Case Keenum has played for the Rams.
He finished the first half 9/14 for 159 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t terribly worse in the second half going 9/16 for 107 yards and a second TD to finish the game 18/30, 266 with two huge TDs to WR Brian Quick (WUT). And were it not for two penalties bringing him back, his two huge scrambles would have made things look even better. Despite the flags, the impact they had on the Cardinals’ defense, much like the impact of San Francisco 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert’s escape runs in Week 1 had on the Rams’ defense, was noticeable.
Look...I know. #itsnottoddgurleysfault. But at some point, we’re going to have to ask some very, very uncomfortable questions. And that point is coming soon, especially if the Rams can’t hold up to the growing expectations borne by the 3-1 start. Had we gotten off to the more familiar sub-.500 start, we’d probably be asking those questions with much more disdain.
But this is 2016 Todd Gurley at the quarter pole:
We’ll re-visit this later this week, but let’s just marvel at that for now. That’s Todd Gurley’s first four games of 2016, the reigning OROY and the once-in-a-generation RB according to Rams HC Jeff Fisher.
Consider this a warning.
Kenny Britt remains a solid intermediate valve for Case Keenum and has turned into his most reliable target.
Brian Quick caught two touchdowns yesterday.
Yesterday was...acceptable. It was functional. It worked. I’m still not sure how, but it did.
If there’s a concern here, it’s that Tavon Austin, much like his more hyped compatriot Gurley, is producing very, very little for the Rams offense this year. A little more than a month ago, Austin signed a contract extension locking him up through the 2021 season with $30m guaranteed. Since then in the first four weeks, he’s averaging 4 receptions, 8.75 targets and 39.75 yards per game. He scored one touchdown, the late turnabout in Tampa Bay. That vaunted versatility he offers in the rushing game? It’s compiled 24 yards in six rushes coming nowhere close the end zone. And while his 47-yard return (and the 15-yard face mask it drew) yesterday set up the winning touchdown to Quick, he’s totaled 112 yards on 10 punt returns. That’s not a top 10 average even after yesterday’s breakout. His 7 fair catches are tied for fifth in the NFL though.
So while the performance from the unit was well above par, there’s a very significant (and expensive) worry here.
Lance Kendricks had his second solid game as a release valve for Keenum. Against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2, Kendricks had four catches for 61 yards. Yesterday, he logged five catches for 62 yards. It’s the inconsistency that hurts. In Week 1, he had just two catches for 15 yards. Against Tampa in Week 3, he got blanked out across the board.
So while we wait for rookie TE Tyler Higbee to grow into the NFL, the question is one of which Kendricks we’ll get week-to-week.
The Week 2 & Week 4 Kendricks is plenty to keep the offense afloat.
I didn’t think the Rams did an absolute horrible job in pass blocking on its own, but the penalties were just...well, they nearly cost the Rams this win.
And while Gurley’s output didn’t show much in the run, the Cardinals were constantly attacking things up front with overwhelming numbers. If there’s a main criticism in the run blocking game, it’s one of timing and scheme and not necessarily one on the line. It’s just not possible to regularly block more defenders than linemen when you’re running up the middle.
The Rams’ defensive line is so hard to grade because if you did so on a curve, they’d have to absolutely excel damn near every play every game.
They nearly did so yesterday.
With DE Robert Quinn injured mid-game and DE William Hayes ruled out from an ankle injury the week prior, the Rams’ defensive front looked none the worse. They constantly harassed QB Carson Palmer until an injury forced him out of the game, a familiar sight between these two teams in years past.
Also, need to check Aaron Donald. Quite positive he’s a Host in Westworld.
The Rams’ middle men made it work again yesterday. Outside of Cardinals RB David Johnson’s 31-yard burst, the Rams’ linebackers did a fine job of keeping him bottled up. In the passing game, Mark Barron had one of his best games as a Ram capped off with a huge interception.
Reminiscent of the Week 11 win over a Peyton Manning-quarterbacked Denver Broncos team in 2014, the Rams’ secondary yesterday was very, very, very, very good. They miss the A+ mark due to the drive just before halftime that tied up the game at 10.
Other than that eight-play sequence, the secondary was at their best. CB Trumaine Johnson had the kind of performance that not only validates the Rams’ decision to tag him instead of former CB1 Janoris Jenkins but suggests they need to sincerely engage contract terms with him sooner rather than later. For CB E.J. Gaines to return to his first regular season action since Christmas Eve 2014 and have the performance he did was remarkable. Lamarcus Joyner continues to force opponents to scheme around him. And the safety play between T.J. McDonald and Maurice Alexander was top notch. If you need a line to explain how good this unit was yesterday, Cody Davis matched the mark.
That’s just incredible.
Both P Johnny Hekker and K Greg Zuerlein have been faultless in 2016. Given the razor-thin margins for the Rams’ three wins, their performances deserve even more weight and praise.
Coverage units remain, well, perfect. Andre Ellington had nowhere to go on his two kick returns and John Brown had even less in the punt return game.
Throw in Tavon’s big punt return and there’s a fair argument to be made that special teams made the difference yesterday moreso than the two Brian Quick touchdowns.
Jeff Fisher uses his challenges worse than any other head coach in the NFL.
The penalties the Rams rack up continue to not only hamper their production, especially when they have the ball, but can single-handedly take down their entire offense.
The playcalling, especially in the running game, remains ineffective for long stretches. And were it not for some baffling defensive miscues from the Cardinals, the offense could have well suffered from the coaching standpoint first and foremost.
But in spite of all of this week in, week out...the Rams keep winning. Fisherball is working. Just barely, but it’s working.
As long as that’s the case, Fisher’s grade ultimately won’t matter much.