St. Louis Rams Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Heading into Week 14?

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St. Louis Rams Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Heading into Week 14?
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

After not registering a single win since Week 5, the St. Louis Rams are now winners in back-to-back games in Week's 12 and 13. It all started with a convincing win on the road against Ken Whisenhunt's Arizona Cardinals.

However, the most impressive win the Rams have had in years came just three days ago. Their win over the 49ers pushed its single-season record in the NFC West to 4-0-1. It's hard to believe that St. Louis is doing that well in the West considering its record during the seven years prior was 7-35 in divisional play.

Heading into Week 14, Jeff Fisher's club knows they are still alive in the NFC playoff hunt, but they know that they will need to treat every week as a playoff game. It all starts this week as they head to Buffalo to take on the 5-7 Buffalo Bills.

Still, it won't be easy, as the Rams have only managed to win one game on the road this season.

 

The Good

On a day that didn't feature a whole lot of good offensively for the St. Louis Rams, their defense stepped up and bailed them out for the third time this season. This past Sunday's game marked the second time this season when the Rams won a close battle without scoring an offensive touchdown.

That's surprising, considering the last thing St. Louis has been known for in recent years is its play on defense. But it's clear that Coach Fisher has brought a whole new attitude and demeanor to this team. Players like Cortland Finnegan, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Kendall Langford and William Hayes are all free-agent additions who were brought in to upgrade one of the league's worst defenses. 

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
And coincidentally enough, the player who had the biggest impact on the outcome of the 49ers game was outside linebacker Dunbar. According to Pro Football Focus, he posted his seventh positively graded game of the season. Compare that to his 2011 season, when he only had three positively graded games, and you could say a change of scenery has definitely helped him.

The 12th game of the season also marked quite possibly his best game as a pro. By game's end, he finished with 10 solo tackles, seven defensive stops, one quarterback sack and one quarterback hurry. The fine statistical output helped him set a season high in tackles, defensive stops and assisted tackles.

For the season, Dunbar has also set career highs in tackles, sacks, hits and defensive stops. At the time of his signing in the offseason, not many jumped up in arms over his acquisition, but it's safe to say the Rams will be looking to keep him as long as they can if he keeps up this high level of play beyond 2012. 

Moreover, based on individual player grades, Dunbar currently has the highest grade of any defensive player on the Rams. His plus-8.2 PFF rating symbolizes his strong pass-rushing ability and his strong play against the run.

It's hard to remember the last time St. Louis had an outside linebacker who dominated the way he did.

 

The Bad

Unfortunately, not all good came out of the Rams' Week 13 win over San Francisco—bad always seems to accompany the good. After strong games in back-to-back weeks, the offensive line fell back to Earth going against the 49ers front seven.

Pass protection seemed to be okay, as they only allowed nine total pressures, but running backs Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson had a tough day on the ground, as the offensive line had trouble opening up running lanes. That was truly surprising, considering Jackson had a field day against the Niners in Week 10.

St. Louis' backfield carried the ball 27 times for a measly 85 yards—that's only 3.1 yards per carry. Not to mention the backfield could only muster up one run for more than 10 yards on those 27 carries. By breaking down those numbers even further by run gaps, you begin to realize just how horrid of a day the Rams had on the ground. 

David Welker/Getty Images
Jackson was only able to average more than three yards per carry in two different running lanes. When running outside of left tackle Rodger Saffold, he managed four yards a pop, and when running right off his backside, he managed six yards a pop. Other than that, no other running lane saw him get to the second level.

Since center Scott Wells returned from injury, the Rams have struggled a bit with its interior rush game. There's no question Wells is quick and strong at the point of attack, but I think it will take some time for him and the other two guards to mesh.

Remember, Robert Turner, the former center in Wells' absence, is learning a new position as well. It's good to have players who can play multiple spots on the offensive line, but no matter what, it takes time for five different players to jell together.

Let's just say there's no better time for the line to come together, as the Bills are the 30th-ranked team against the run. Despite his age, there's no question a good game from SJ39 usually spells success for the Rams.

 

Stock Watch (Week-by-Week Evaluation)

Rising: Chris Givens

Finally, a wide receiver stepped up in the absence of Danny Amendola. Chris Givens caught a career-high 11 balls for 92 yards. The rookie wideout has really come on in recent weeks—during Weeks 12 and 13, he has registered 207 yards, 16 receptions and one touchdown.

 

Falling: Lance Kendricks

After a really strong game against the Arizona Cardinals, tight end Lance Kendricks could maintain momentum and turned out a less-than-impressive performance against the 49ers. He caught three passes for 32 yards, but he was plagued by two drops late in the game. Drops often kill drives and momentum, especially in a tight game.


Rising: James Laurinaitis

Like fellow linebacker Dunbar, James Laurinaitis also managed to have his best outing of this season this past week. He piled up 11 solo tackles, 10 defensive stops and one quarterback hit. Laurinaitis hasn't deserved a whole lot of praise this season, but it appears as if he is hitting his stride with four games left to play.


Falling: Janoris Jenkins

Even though rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins managed to snag his third defensive touchdown in as many weeks, his off-coverage against the 49ers was a bit of a head-scratcher. At times, he was giving opposing receivers an eight-to-10-yard cushion. The large cushion caused him to surrender nine catches for 74 yards.

 

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