St. Louis Rams Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Heading into Week 8?
After stringing together back-to-back wins in Week's 4 and 5 to put St. Louis above .500 for the first time since 2006, the Rams have dropped two games in a row in as many weeks. Some may ask, what led to the two consecutive losses?
In Week 6, it was lack of execution in the red zone and self-inflicted wounds, and in Week 7 it was the inability to shut down the reigning MVP. The loss to the Dolphins should be the most frustrating of the two. Plenty of teams get steamrolled by Aaron Rodgers, yet not many teams lose after piling up 462 yards of total offense.
Things don't get any easier this week either. St. Louis has to cross the Atlantic Ocean to play their fifth home game of the season. Given the fact that they are the host at Wembley Stadium—means they forfeit one of their home games at the Edward Jones Dome.
Regardless, the games must go on no matter where they are held. New England will be looking to start their second two-game winning streak of the season before they head into the bye.
Let's take a look at the Rams' progress so far this season, so we can determine if they have enough to pull out a victory heading into Week 8.
Even though the Rams surrendered 30 points at home, and Rodgers tossed three touchdown passes, there was some good that came out of Sunday's game. The offensive line did a really nice job in the run game and they held strong against Clay Matthews.
I thought coming in that things would get pretty ugly early on. Joe Barksdale was making his first career start at left tackle, and Shelley Smith was making his first career start at left guard. Yet, to everyone's surprise, they were practically flawless.
Between both first time starters, they only allowed four quarterback pressures. Barksdale allowed a sack, a hit and a hurry, while Smith only allowed one quarterback hurry. Some may think that four total pressures isn't close to flawless, but when squaring off against the best pass rusher in the league, it's considered a win.
For as good as the offensive line did in pass protection, its play in the run game was even better. Again, it was the left side of the offensive line that excelled. Barksdale and Smith sure left their stamp of approval on Sunday's game.
When St. Louis ran to the left side of the line they averaged 5.45 yards per carry. When St. Louis ran to the right side of the line they only averaged 3.43 yards per carry. Are you surprised? I definitely was after calculating those numbers.
Pro Football Focus graded the left tackle and the left guard as the two best run blockers by games end. Barksdale graded out at plus-0.6 and Smith received a plus-1.6. The next closest offensive lineman was Harvey Dahl with a plus-0.1 grade.
Barring any type of injury, it's safe to say the Rams left side of the line is set for at least a few more weeks. Maybe that unit can build some continuity going forward.
As we all know, good news is usually followed by some type of bad news. And the bad news was the Rams secondary, especially Janoris Jenkins. Cortland Finnegan and Bradley Fletcher played OK at times, yet Jenkins completely bombed for the second week in a row.
I realize he is a rookie and he is still learning the position at the pro level, but allowing nine catches on 11 targets for 121 yards and a touchdown is unacceptable. Not to mention the fact Rodgers' quarterback rating was an astonishing 142.8 when targeting Jenkins.
Fans shouldn't be mad that he gave up nine catches or the 121 yards—they should be mad about how he gave it up. Time after time the rookie cornerback fell for the double move, bit on the fake from the wide receiver and got caught out of position.
Fortunately, these are things that can be overcome with the proper coaching and technique. There's no question Jenkins has all the physical tools in the world. He just needs the game to come to him. It appears as if he is thinking too much right now and not reacting.
For example, on the 52-yard reception he allowed to Jordy Nelson, he never turned his head around once to look back for the ball. And the ball was in the air forever. In the NFL, it's crucial to play the ball in the air. You can't get away with reading the wide receiver's eyes.
He may have been able to get away with that in college, yet the pro game is a whole different ball game. As I mentioned above, all of these flaws can be coached out of him. Head coach Jeff Fisher knew it wasn't going to be smooth sailing right away, but, with a young team, he's willing to ride it out.
Jenkins and the Rams secondary draws another tough matchup this week against Tom Brady and his group of experienced pass catchers.
Rising: Chris Givens
It seems like every week this kids stock just keeps on rising. He was up to his old tricks yet again this past week. For the fourth game in a row, he caught a pass of 50-yards plus. The Rams may have finally found the deep threat they have been searching for all these years. On the season, he is averaging 27 yards per catch.
Falling: Barry Richardson
After a strong Week 6 performance against Cameron Wake, Barry Richardson appeared to be turning things around. But, I must have spoken too soon. Richardson looked atrocious in the run game against the Packers. St. Louis only averaged 2.7 yards per carry when running it off of his backside. I wouldn't be surprised if Barksdale slides over to right tackle when Rodger Saffold returns.
Rising: Michael Brockers
Michael Brockers' first three NFL games didn't quite go as planned. He wasn't consistently getting to the quarterback and his play against the run was either a hit or miss. However, he finally put it all together this past week. His game against Green Bay was easily the best of his young career. He registered his first career quarterback sack and recorded two tackles for loss.
Falling: Chris Long
For the first time all season long, Chris Long was stonewalled. Not one single quarterback pressure to his name. The last time that happened was Week 1 of the 2009 season. Every once and awhile, big time pass rushers have bad games. I'm sure the Rams are hoping it doesn't happen again for another three years. His stock will be right back up there after this week's game. He always rebounds after a disappointing performance.
The Outlook Heading Into Week 8
The Patriots are not the invisible all-mighty Patriots anymore. At 4-3, they have proved that they are more vulnerable than ever. Their secondary still seems lost at times, and they go through stretches where they can't seem to generate a pass rush. Many felt all of these problems would be fixed by the start of the season because of the draft. It just goes to show, a defense can't be transformed overnight. Just ask the Buffalo Bills.
St. Louis actually matches up quite well against New England's offense. If Long and Robert Quinn get going early, they can force Brady into throwing a couple of bad balls just like the Seahawks did. It's apparent that Sam Bradford and the offense need to capitalize if Brady does in fact turn the ball over. Turnovers mean nothing unless they get turned into points.
Bill Belichick's club leads the all-time series six games to five.
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