The St. Louis Rams showed signs of life in their second preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. After going through motions against the Colts last week, the Rams' offense came out guns blazing against their I-70 rivals.
Like I said last week, wins and losses aren't as important as how you play this time of year. Overall, I was really pleased with the Rams effort and execution tonight, especially from the starting offense.
So read along and I'll break the game down for you. As always, feel free to comment. I always enjoy the discussion with fellow Rams' fans.
Bradford's first two drives—5/6, 98 yards, two TD's and a QB Rating of 158.3. When was the last time we could say this about Sam? I don't care that it's the preseason. Heck, I wouldn't have cared if Bradford was doing this against a Big 12 team. It was just great to see Sam play well.
Bradford took some shots deep down the field, he stepped up to get away from pressure, and he looked like a QB that was getting comfortable in the offense. I'm sure the Rams are still holding back a little bit because the entire offense isn't "game ready," but they really executed in the first quarter tonight.
Sam Bradford was the biggest reason for that great execution. He finished 6/9 for 102 yards and two TD's.
Steven Jackson looked like vintage Steven Jackson. He carried the ball seven times for 49 yards, with several of those yards coming after first contact. A lot of Jackson's yards came behind fullback Brit Miller, who did a really nice job with his lead blocks.
Isaiah Pead didn't fare as well. The first three touches Pead had—two runs and a reception—resulted in negative 12 yards. I'm really hoping that Pead settles down and starts to play better. So far, it looks to me like Pead isn't being patient enough setting his blocks up, and he is trying to bounce everything outside the tackles.
In fairness to Pead, he was working with the Rams' second string offense, and the Chiefs still had their first string defense in the game. That meant Pead didn't get a lot of blocking, and that probably explains how Pead finished with negative five yards on six carries.
I'm not worried about Pead at all. He just has to figure out that all those East and West yards don't count towards a first down.
Darrell Richardson, working with the third unit, ran hard and looked really quick. Expect him to make the team, and he could be a player to keep an eye on.
For the second straight week, Danny Amendola, Steve Smith and Austin Pettis got almost all of the first unit reps. Amendola looked great, catching three passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. Smith looks healthy and is clearly an upgrade for the Rams at the receiver position. Bradford targeted Smith three times, connecting for one 10-yard completion.
Once Bradford and Smith get on the same page, it could take this offense to another level.
Pettis was targeted once with the first unit on a deep pass down the middle. He couldn't come up with the catch. In fairness to Pettis, the O Line (Barry Richardson) got beat, forcing Bradford to step up and throw it early. Pettis was open on the play and made a great effort to come up with the grab.
Bottom line, Pettis is going to make this team.
That means five players are fighting over three more spots. Two of them will go to rookies Chris Givens and Brian Quick. So we are left with Greg Salas, Brandon Gibson, and Danario Alexander fighting over the final roster spot for a wide receiver.
Quick looked much better, and while he has a long way to go, you can see the star potential there. He will get some playing time this year during the regular season, and if he learns to use that 6'3", 220 pound frame, he will definitely help the Rams' passing game this season.
Givens is going to be a weapon for this offense, and you can bank on the Rams using him as their fourth receiver. Givens should give the Rams a few chances at a big play every week, whether it's in the passing game or on special teams (more later). Givens looks like the real deal.
Pettis will start the season serving a two game suspension, and contrary to other reports out there, he will not count against the Rams' roster during those two games. In my opinion, that means Salas and Gibson both make the Week 1 roster, extending their audition two extra games.
The left side opened up some huge holes early in the game, allowing Steven Jackson the chance to rack up a lot of yards. Scott Wells still isn't playing at center, so more than anything else with this group, I feel like they still deserve an "incomplete grade."
We just can't know how the line is going to be until Wells, their best O Lineman, is anchoring this unit.
I think Rodger Saffold (LT) has actually played well during both preseason games. Saffold gets unfairly lumped in with Jason Smith (RT), the Rams other talented young tackle. Saffold looks more like the promising young player we saw as a rookie, whereas Smith has lost his starting job to journeyman Barry Richardson.
Richardson isn't the answer at right tackle, but he is still getting the first team reps over Smith. This is a really bad sign for Rams' fans, because it means we wasted the No. 2 overall pick back in 2009 on Smith, and it means we're probably going to have to use one of our first-round picks this April on another offensive tackle.
Bottom line, Saffold, Wells and Harvey Dahl (RG) are all NFL starting caliber offensive linemen. Wells is a Pro Bowler. The competition at left guard and right tackle rages on, with nobody standing out yet, at least in my opinion.
Expect Rams' head coach Jeff Fisher to give the right tackle a lot of help blocking this year with a full back, tight end or running back.
The Rams' D Line sets up like this (from left to right): Chris Long (LE), Kendall Langford (DT), Michael Brockers (DT) and Robert Quinn (RE).
My point is, Brockers and Quinn are lined up beside each other. In order for the Rams to be a quality football team, both of those players have to do their job against the run. Brockers, a mountain of a man, was drafted because he is going to be an elite run stuffer who can also collapse the pocket. Quinn, an elite pass rusher, isn't great against the run yet.
Against the Chiefs, Quinn not only picked up a sack, but that right side of the line played much more physical against the run. Chris Long also got after the QB, knocking a pass down. This starting defensive line has a chance to be very, very good.
Equally important to note, undrafted rookie free agent Matt Conrath—all 6'7" of him—rotated in with the first unit at defensive tackle. That bodes well for Conrath's chance to make this roster. Eugene Sims (DE) also played very well in a reserve role. Jermelle Cudjo (DT) continues to make his case to be a contributor in 2012.
Trevor Laws (DT) is still injured, and he has to be taking note of Cudjo. If Laws doesn't get healthy, he could find himself playing behind Cudjo, who is making the most of his playing time right now.
This group is still a work in progress. I think most of the Rams' struggles on defense are a result of these linebackers and safeties who can't cover the hybrid tight ends. Last week against the Colts, they saw two talented rookies that fit that description, and against the Chiefs they saw more of the same in Tony Moeaki and Kevin Boss.
Mario Haggan is starting at the Sam Linebacker spot, and while he is very strong against the run, he isn't good in coverage. Jo-Lonn Dunbar is playing the Will Linebacker spot, and I am encouraged by some of the things he is doing right now. I really expect him to be a solid player for the Rams this year.
Rocky McIntosh, another OLB fighting for a starting spot, picked up a loose fumble and also recorded a sack. It should be noted that McIntosh did most of his damage in mop up time, but it's still good to see another linebacker making plays out there.
I think the depth at linebacker is much, much better than it was a year ago, and by that I mean the Rams have several guys on this roster who are good enough to play, even if they're not good enough to start. Last year, the Rams didn't even have OLB's that were good enough to play.
Bottom line, in a division where you play Vernon Davis twice a year, you better figure out how to cover those hybrid tight ends.
Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins continue to get all the first team reps. Craig Dahl and Quintin Mickell continue to be the starting safeties. The closer we get to the start of this season, the more I think that Darian Stewart, so promising as last year's starting free safety, is in big trouble.
Jenkins caused a fumble that was recovered by Dahl. Finnegan made some big hits. Trumaine Johnson continues to look like the nickel back on this team, with Jerome Murphy and Josh Gordy also getting a lot of playing time.
Rookie safety Rashawn McLeod is making a case for himself right now. McLeod is a good player on special teams, and he has a nose for the ball in coverage.
Bottom line, there is a lot of young talent in this Rams' secondary. I really feel good about this group going into the season.
Rookie kicker Greg Zeurlein is a freak of nature. He nailed a 54-yard field goal with room to spare. Zeurlein is a weapon for the Rams because now they are in scoring position anytime they cross their opponents' 35 yard line. Good defense, a whole lot of Steven Jackson, and some Zeurlein field goals is a recipe for at least double the two wins the Rams had a year ago.
Johnny Hekker, another rookie, has won the punters job already, as he is the only punter in camp. Hekker also has a huge leg. I love what the Rams are doing this year by bringing in two young kickers in a rebuilding year. This gives the Rams a chance to have two experienced young kickers when the team has a chance to be really good in a year or two.
Janoris Jenkins and Isaiah Pead got some work returning punts and kicks. The Rams made a conscious effort to bring in more play makers on special teams during the offseason. For the first time in years, they have guys who can take it to the house and change a game on special teams.
Here are my final thoughts on the game, the roster and the direction of the team:
1) Players that look much improved over a season ago—Bradford, Saffold, Kendricks, Pettis, Amendola (back from injury) and Quinn.
2) Players making a strong push to make this roster—Cudjo (DT), McLeod (FS), McIntosh (OLB), Richardson (RB), Conrath (DT), Austin Davis (a lock to make the roster as the third QB), Mike McNeil (TE, very impressive late in the game) and Sammy Brown (depth at linebacker, special teams).
3) Players who are on notice right now—Trevor Laws (DT), Darian Stewart (FS), Greg Salas (WR), Danario Alexander (WR), Brandon Gibson (WR), Jason Smith (RT) and Bradley Fletcher (DB).
4) Final thoughts on this game, and this game only—The Rams played really well. They finally scored some points. Like I said last week, wins and losses are so overrated right now. Heck, the Rams went 4-0 last year in the preseason, and look how that turned out!
I'm more worried about the eye test than the scoreboard right now, and tonight the Rams passed the eye test. They played more physical, and they are definitely more talented and have much more team speed than they had a year ago.
5) What does this game mean for the regular season?—The Rams have a simple formula that could lead to a decent season. If they can stop the run, that sets up the pass rush and the secondary to be a major factor in every game. Steven Jackson running the ball behind a physical offensive line should keep the defense honest, and that should keep Sam Bradford clean.
The receivers are better, and while that position group is much deeper, but it's still not an elite group. For those drives that stall, the Rams have a secret weapon in rookie kicker Greg Zeurlein. Basically, the Rams are going to be a solid team without a lot of margin for error.
My prediction, no lower than 5-11, no higher than 9-7.
As always, thanks for reading.