On the heels of the St. Louis Rams' impressive preseason performance last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Rams went into Saturday night's exhibition at Cowboys Stadium with high expectations.
I usually ignore the final score of preseason contests, and instead I focus on how individual performances fit into the ultimate goal of the team: continued improvement.
There were a lot of things to take away from this third preseason game. Some were good; some were not.
Making sure we play nice and follow every criticism with a compliment, here are the 10 things we learned from Saturday night's performance.
1.) Janoris Jenkins Needs to Tackle
As good as Jenkins looked last week against the Chiefs, he looked that bad against the Cowboys. On Dallas' initial drive, Jenkins was beat by a juke off the snap, allowing a 25-yard gain when the safety blitz didn't pay off.
Jenkins missed several open-field tackles, none more damaging than on Dwayne Harris' second touchdown. It appeared that Jenkins didn't even try to bring down Harris while Craig Dahl dove at Harris' legs and missed. I counted two other obvious missed tackles by Jenkins. Unacceptable, even for a rookie.
2.) The Rams' Defensive Front Four is Very Good
Right from the beginning, the team got pressure on Romo. I didn't like the stiff-arm Robert Quinn took from DeMarco Murray in the initial drive that allowed a first down.
But on the very next play, Quinn got good pressure on Romo, forcing a throw down on a busted screen play. That was followed soon after by Michael Brockers making a nice solo tackle on DeMarco Murray at the line of scrimmage.
In the second quarter, Quinn had the presence of mind to stop his futile rush, waited for the QB's arm to cock back to pass and threw his huge arm up to knock down the ball.
3.) Isaiah Pead Needs to be Aggressive...All...The...Time
I'm not an NFL film geek by any means, but even I could see that when Pead hesitated, he got nothing; and when he attacked the defense, he made strong gains.
Pead stutter-stepped too many times and each time the defense quickly consumed him. When Pead didn't dance with the ball, like on two of his returns and on his third-quarter rushes in the red zone, he hit the holes in the defense and gained large chunks of yards.
Pead needs to be less impatient with the ball, because...
4.) Darryl Richardson is the Rams' Second-Best Rusher
Richardson put on a clinic for Pead in aggressiveness and surely impressed Rams coaches again. Richardson ran hard to the line of scrimmage, attacked the first hole he saw and made nice gains.
If Richardson can get four or five yards on every rush and avoid negative plays, he will become Steven Jackson's backup sooner rather than later. He also seems to have a good eye for a first down on short-yard plays.
In the second quarter, Richardson took a pass five yards behind the line of scrimmage, with three Dallas defenders waiting for him. Richardson found a seam between them, kept moving forward and found first-down yardage.
5.) The Rams Can't Afford to Miss Tackles
I know, it's a ground-breaking statement. Missed tackles never end well in the NFL, but they should not come in such large quantities as they did for the Rams Saturday night.
I mentioned Jenkins' missed tackles above, but he was not alone on the Rams defense. Cortland Finnegan missed an easy tackle on a second-quarter Dallas run, giving up a first down.
In the first quarter, Murray made three Rams defenders miss on a rush and painfully converted a 3rd-and-10.
6.) Greg Zuerlein is For Real
The secret's officially out. "Young GeeZee" can stroke it.
Zuerlein nailed 55- and 52-yard field goals in the first half, both with about a dozen yards of clearance to spare.
Zuerlein was also impressive on kickoffs, booting the ball deep into the end zone each time.
Garrett Lindholm's missed extra point only makes us appreciate "The Leg" even more.
7.) Offensive Line Double Feature: Where's the Pass Protection? Get the Ball Out!
Quinn Ojinnaka didn't earn any points when he let a defender's swim move beat him for an easy sack of Bradford on third down. That's the kind of easy sack that will lead to a turnover in the regular season.
Even when the line held its own, Bradford often kept the ball too long before delivering. Bradford made two such mistakes in the second quarter. On one, he missed the hot read to Steve Smith and was sacked by an unaccounted-for free rusher.
On another, Bradford couldn't get rid of the ball, despite plenty of time in the pocket, and he absorbed an unnecessary hit on a drive that led to Zuerlein's second field goal.
That being said…
8.) Play Action to Lance Kendricks is Money
In today's NFL, offenses have to be able to use the tight end to attack downfield. Sam Bradford sold a perfect fake to the defense on play action and hit Kendricks over the middle for a 26-yard gain. It was Bradford's best throw of the day, by far.
Calling for play action is easy on first down, as Bradford and Kendricks showed. Selling it, and converting it, on second and third down is the real challenge.
9.) Kellen Clemens is a "Cut Man Walking"
Is it possible that Austin Davis impressed Rams coaches so much that he might make Clemens expendable?
Davis was literally perfect on a late fourth-quarter drive, completing all four of his passes to lead the team to a touchdown.
Clemens played longer than most expected Saturday night, and it seemed that Davis was only called on when Clemens was woozy after a fourth-quarter hit. That tells me that Davis has already earned his spot on the 53-man roster and that Clemens' spot is now the one in question.
10.) The Rams' Kickoff Coverage is Game-Day Ready
Too many times last year, Rams' kickoffs ended with the offense in prime field position. Things are miles better this year.
Open-field tackles were made time and again by the Rams special teams unit. Rodney McLeod burned down the field and took down Murray in open space on a return at the 11-yard line.
Even when the returner made one man initially miss, the rest of the coverage unit pushed the return laterally, didn't lose containment and kept the gains to a minimum.
Maybe they could teach a thing or two to the Rams secondary.
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