The Los Angeles Rams are now 3-1 with the Cardinals and Panthers both 1-3. The world has now seen seven rookies and/or first-time starters play for five teams -- the Browns, Eagles, Patriots, Cowboys, and Broncos -- and have all won. Meanwhile, the Rams continue to sit the number one overall pick, QB Jared Goff.
It's official, nothing in the world makes sense anymore...
Yet here we are, speaking of the Rams after four weeks as one of the winning-est teams in the NFL this season. It hasn't been pretty but it has worked thus far. The Rams are 3-1 for the first time in ten years. And here's how they did it:
- Rams QB Case Keenum is setting himself up for a helluva pay day this offseason. No, he won't break the bank as one of the highest paid QB's in the NFL as a franchise signal caller, but he is proving to be one of the better stopgap QB's in the NFL. If he continues to play like he has, and show the undeniable leadership he has shown, that will be enough to get him top back-up money. He could cash in on a Eagles QB Chase Daniel-caliber deal. The errant throws are there, but not often enough to burn the house down. He doesn't have the arm to be a long term answer, however, he plays smart, tough, good enough football. He has the mental make up you want your QB to have and it's evident through all four of his starts this season. His confidence is riding high. He made two plays that will standout to most watching. Those two plays are his 32-yard run, and the Houdini act he pulled out of the Cardinals' ass to complete a 24-yard completion to TE Lance Kendricks. Sadly, both were wiped out by stupid penalties committed by OT Greg Robinson. However, the THREE plays that stand out to me are the missed throws, two of which would have gone to WR Tavon Austin, and one to WR Brian Quick. The two to Austin both would have gone for big gains of at least 20 yards if not more considering he was in a lot of open space. The other throw to Quick was an underthrow, which allowed the corner to break up the pass, on fourth and five. The most interesting part of these plays is all three are plays in which Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson was beat by the receiver. You don't beat that guy that much often, so when you do, you have to make it count.
- The offensive line has done a really nice job with pass protection through the first four weeks. The Cardinals have a really nice pass rush working in their favor, and for most of the afternoon the Rams held them in check. Aside from two sacks from edge rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, Keenum was only touched three times on 34 drop backs. Robinson might have played his worst game of the season for the Rams, but oddly enough, outside of the two penalties, and the sack allowed to Jones, he was very good on about 47 of the other 52 snaps he played. However, his mistakes were costly enough that they killed 56 yards between two plays -- deep in the opponents territory -- and led to a fumble and turnover.
- Rams RB Todd Gurley is becoming his own worst enemy. You can see him in every post-game interview pouting and looking all sad -- whether the team wins or loses -- because he is not getting the big time gains he wants. However, I mentioned in last weeks recap he was not seeing the holes, and he is running without patience to set up the blocks. This was the case again against the Cardinals. By my count he missed four gaping holes that had he seen and hit surely at the very least all would have gotten him 10-20 yard gains. There is one play that stood out more then the others to me. It's because the Cardinals ran the exact same play, to the exact same side, with the exact same looks, and had different results.
I received a message from one TST reader that asked me to show what I meant about his lack of vision and patience, so here you go...
As you can see in the footage above, the Rams run a stretch to the right of the formation against another stacked box with eight defenders. The play is blocked unbelievably well. The offensive line moves the entire front side of the defensive line 3-4 yards off the ball. On the backside, C Tim Barnes and LG Rodger Saffold chop down the defenders. As you can see it creates a hole that is about five yards wide. If Gurley slows down (patience) and looks about a yard to his left (vision), there is a good chance he's still running today. Instead he just barrels into the back of his linemen for no reason whatsoever.
Here we see the Cardinals run the exact same play and get the exact same hole, but the result is much different. RB Chris Johnson slows down as he presses the hole, looks to his left about a yard, sees the opening hits it and falls into the end zone. It is literally the exact same. And the Cardinals ran it again two drives later with David Johnson. The result was a 31-yard gain, his longest of the day.
I get it. Gurley is a helluva talent and a damn good back, but without patience and vision you're only average at best. Add a stacked box, and you're mediocre. Rams fans, try not to forget that for nine seasons straight, no running back in the NFL saw more stacked boxes than RB Steven Jackson. But due to his vision and patience -- coupled with his superstar talents -- he ran for over 1,000 yards in each of those seasons regardless.
- The Rams receivers looked the best they have looked in years. They took advantage of the stacked boxes by catching the ball and picking up huge gains. Because everyone is so heavily stacked within five yards of the line of scrimmage. If the receivers catch the ball they have a ton of running room. But the issue has been catching the ball. Well yesterday they did just that, and it resulted in a nine yard per attempt average for Keenum. Austin was about a quarter of an inch from beating Peterson for about 45 yards, they call it a game of inches for a reason. Quick, made the two biggest plays of the game on the other hand. He only had two receptions, but they were the difference in the game. Then there's WR Kenny Britt. He had -- yet again -- another solid outing. Britt hauled in four receptions for 82 yards. He was only thrown to four times, making him perfect on the day. After four weeks, Britt is on pace for 72 rec and 1124 yards. If you recall from HBO Hard Knocks, at one point in the stands, Keenum's wife is speaking with her friend and she mentions Keenum worked out a lot in the off season with Britt. It looks like they've formed a chemistry, and its paying off.
- The defensive line was able to do what they have always done -- in recent years -- against the Cardinals and that's make life hell for the QB. It's actually becoming a bit unsafe for Cardinal QB's to play the Rams, as each of the last three seasons, the Rams have knocked the starter out of the game. DL Aaron Donald finally got his sack. In fact he got one and a half, as he and DE Eugene Sims split one. Now if you notice, I labeled Donald as a DL as opposed to DT. That is because the man is proving the can play anywhere. Due to the ankle injury which held DE William Hayes out, Donald played a lot of DE. He excelled here as well, and it is actually where he got both of his sacks. DE Robert Quinn was inches away from a four sack game. The refs missed blatant holding by the tackle in all four instances, as he did whatever he could to keep Quinn from making the play. The Rams depth on the line is often talked about but even so, I don't believe people truly understand how deep they are. Reserve DT Dominique Easley and DEs Ethan Westbrooks and Matt Longacre were exceptional. They applied pressure regularly and all played the run at or near All-Pro levels.
- This in my opinion was LB Alec Ogletree's best game. I called him out for being undisciplined last week. Well this week it was the exact opposite. He was exceptional and constantly in the right place at the right time. However, it was LB/S Mark Barron that was the guy that was handling business all over the field. His interception with just under two min left should have sealed the deal, but poor play calling on the offensive side gave the ball back to the Cardinals for another opportunity. He won't get credit for it, but he was the cause of two tackles for loss, just by forcing the ball carrier into the pile. Barron played a near flawless game, and he deserves to be recognized for it.
- The secondary had their best game of the season. Oddly enough, that didn't happen until the second half when CB E.J. Gaines no longer left the field. Why he did not start and why he only play a few snaps is beyond me. CBs Troy Hill and Coty Sensabaugh should never see the field again -- outside of special teams -- even if there is an injury. It took Hill getting toasted three times on one drive, which ended with Hill giving up a touchdown to WR Michael Floyd to remove him from the lineup. I can't help but wonder if they even score if Gaines is on the field the entire time. But aside from good coverage, the best part of Gaines' return is his tackling. He made the plays that Sensabaugh and Hill have only dreamed of. Filling and sealing the edge on runs correctly, and making timely hits in the pass game. Welcome back E.J. CB Trumaine Johnson easily played his best game of the year. He had six pass deflections and an interception. However, the second interception which was reversed should have stood. He got one foot down, and toe tapped with the other before the foot went out of bounds. Last I checked, the toe tap still counted as in bounds. The hit of the day went to SS T.J. McDonald. He blew up Floyd forcing an important in-completion and making Flyod hit the ground so hard that he did a front flip after impact. I have never seen that happen after hitting the ground.
- Coaching was good in this game. For the second week in a row, OC Rob Boras called a really good game. He realizes teams aren't going to stop stacking the box until the Rams prove their pass game is dangerous. Well they did just that against Arizona. The box will likely still be stacked next week, but if they can have success passing for another game or two, things will surely loosen up. His best coaching decision was throwing the ball to Gurley. While Gurley is without question having issues running the ball on his own, he's still a dynamite talent, and getting him in the open field has to always be apart of the game plan. Boras did however, call three straight boneheaded plays with less than two min left. You know they are selling out against the run. You only need one first down and the game is over, why not just call a simple play-action boot, get Keenum on the edge and hit a receiver in the flat or ten yard out. It worked for you on three other occasions in the same game.
HC Jeff Fisher needs to be fired for those horrible challenges. He wasted two timeouts in a tight game, where if not for the interceptions late, the Rams could have very well needed them. However, he won't be fired. And do you want to know why? Because the Los Angeles Rams are 3-1 for the first time in 10 years with a backup QB on his watch.
Fisherball is here to stay...