Jaguars vs. Rams: Takeaways from St. Louis' 34-20 Win over Jacksonville
The Rams—despite dropping their previous three games—now own a 2-1 record at home.
The Rams entered the game ranked 30th in run defense (133.5 yards per game), but St. Louis managed to hold Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew to just 70 yards. Jacksonville picked up a modest 96 total rushing yards in the game.
On offense, St. Louis entered the game ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards, averaging an abysmal 47.2 yards per game. The Rams tripled that average to finish with 143 total rushing yards. Rookie Zac Stacy received his first NFL start and ended the game with 78 yards on 14 carries (5.57 yards per carry).
It was a solid, convincing victory for the Rams, who now have a bit of momentum going into a tough Week 6 road game in Houston. But the win was far from perfect.
Here are several takeaways from St. Louis’ performance against the Jaguars.
Sam Bradford Is Still Not Reaching the Next Level
Sam Bradford produced 222 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Jaguars in a solid fantasy outing for the fourth-year passer.
In fact, Bradford is on pace for 32 touchdowns, 4,208 yards and just 10 interceptions, which would make 2013 a career year for the young quarterback.
However, he still needs to improve in several areas.
In the first half, we saw Bradford take off on a 3rd-and-short. He had a shot at running for the first down, but his weak run was stopped short of the marker by the Jacksonville defense, forcing a punt.
No one wants to see their starting quarterback injured on a run play, but NFL quarterbacks have to show some grit in those situations. Bradford failed to do that.
Then, we saw Bradford take a “phantom sack” on the drive following the James Laurinaitis interception. Bradford fell to ground for a five-yard loss despite not being touched by a defender.
The defense created a key turnover and gave the offense a chance to secure a three-score lead, but the sack killed the drive and forced the Rams offense to punt away.
The team needed Bradford to show killer instincts in that situation.
Another disappointment was Bradford’s shot to Chris Givens downfield. A completion would have put the Rams offense near the Jacksonville red zone, but Bradford missed Givens.
The Rams eventually settled for a field goal on that drive.
Overall, Bradford has been producing solid numbers as a passer, but every game he seems to come up short on several key plays.
This week, it did not prevent the Rams from winning the game, but these mental lapses may force several losses in the near future.
Rams Finally Produce Defensive Points
In 2012, the Rams were frequently bailed out by defensive touchdowns. That has been absent for most of the 2013 season.
In Week 1, cornerback Trumaine Johnson returned a pick inside the five-yard line against the Arizona Cardinals to set up a score and the Rams eventually won the game.
This week, safety Matt Giordano came up with St. Louis’ first pick-six of the season, and once again the Rams walked away with a victory.
It’s not a coincidence that St. Louis created two key turnovers in each of its two victories this season. Giordano's touchdown against Jacksonville was particularly helpful in creating momentum.
Defensive scoring was a vital component a year ago, and the Rams need more of that moving forward.
On a side note, Janoris Jenkins scored four of St. Louis’ five defensive touchdowns last season, but the second-year cornerback has yet to record an interception this season. He’s too talented to be contained forever. Expect big plays in the near future.
Zac Stacy Will Get Another Shot Next Week
Zac Stacy, St. Louis’ rookie fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt, received his first NFL start against the Jaguars.
Stacy entered the game with only one carry on the season, but he picked up 78 yards on 14 carries against Jacksonville.
Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson are speedy finesse runners who struggle with runs up the gut, but Stacy demonstrated a power running style that the Rams have been missing during the first four games.
The Jaguars entered the game with the worst run defense in the NFL, surrendering 165.0 yards per game on average, so Stacy’s production is not unexpected, but it's a promising start nonetheless.
Stacy will have a tougher challenge against Houston a week from now. The Texans are ranked 23rd in run defense (113.2 yards per game), but they have a talented defensive front overall.
Punt Return Penalties Still Unacceptable
If you’re curious why Tavon Austin has yet to make the highlight reels, the ugly truth is that the electric rookie has produced numerous jaw-dropping punt returns, but basically every single return has been spoiled by a penalty.
Blocking penalties on punt returns have literally been a weekly occurrence for the Rams' special teams unit. The group’s latest performance wiped out two promising punt returns for Austin against the Jaguars.
One has to wonder, why sacrifice a second-round pick and trade up to the No. 8 overall slot to select Austin if the team is completely incapable of executing a clean punt return?
Austin has had so many electrifying punt returns this season that he could easily be in the discussion for offensive rookie of the year, but unfortunately, none of those plays count.
The unit’s performance has been completely unacceptable. Rams special teams coach John Fassel has done a horrendous job with his group and has to be concerned about his job security at this point.
Brian Quick Needs More Playing Time
Receiver Brian Quick was selected No. 33 overall in the 2012 draft but has seen little playing time since arriving at St. Louis.
Quick produced just 156 receiving yards as a rookie last season, but the young receiver emerged this preseason and flashed the potential that made him a high draft choice. He picked up 131 total preseason yards, including a 60-yard performance in the preseason finale.
Regardless, the Rams have been unwilling to get the ball to Quick.
Quick has just six receptions on the season, but five of those catches have been for 12 yards or more.
Against Jacksonville, Quick caught just two passes and managed to pick up 45 total yards, including a 28-yard reception.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has to do a better job working Quick into the game plan. At 6’3” and nearly 220 pounds, Quick is a mismatch nightmare in the secondary and a potential red-zone monster. But the Rams have stubbornly refused to take advantage of his talents.
Quick was one pick away from being a first-rounder. Why select a player with such a lofty draft pick if he doesn’t fit into the game plan?
Quick needs more targets, period.
Top Offensive Weapons Need to Have a Bigger Impact
The Rams entered the 2013 season gushing over their electric trio of offensive playmakers—Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Austin.
However, outside of Cook’s monster Week 1 performance against Arizona, the trio has been rather quiet this season.
These three players have exceeded 50 yards just three times this season and surpassed the 100-yard mark just twice. They have now gone three weeks without a single touchdown and have just four total touchdowns combined after five games.
This group was supposed to provide a jolt for the St. Louis offense and take the unit to the next level, but their impact has been average at best.
If the Rams’ top playmakers are shut out on a weekly basis, how can the offense possibly expect to outscore competent opponents?
They shouldn’t take the full blame, as Bradford has been questionable with the deep ball this season, but the group has to have a bigger presence on game day.
Austin Pettis Is Improving
Austin Pettis was a third-round pick in 2011—a selection by the former regime—and the third-year receiver has improved every year since joining the team.
Last season, Pettis was held to a modest 261 yards receiving, but he had a presence in the red zone, recording four touchdowns.
Pettis is currently second on the team in receptions with 22. He has 222 yards on the season and leads the team with four touchdown receptions—matching his career-high total from 2012.
Pettis has had some key drops this season. He’s mostly picking up the scraps left over by the absent playmakers mentioned in the previous slide, but he has certainly exceeded expectations.
At this point, the Rams could do a lot worse for their third-best receiver.
Chris Long Is Waking Up
You may recall my article from several weeks ago calling out Chris Long and Cortland Finnegan for their substandard play, but I’m pleased to report that Long is finally performing at the level we expect from the former No. 2 overall pick.
Long was second on the team in tackles against Jacksonville with five. He also recorded a sack and a forced fumble.
It was a slow start to 2013 season for the veteran defensive end. He failed to record a sack in the first three games. But his arrival could be huge for this young Rams team.
Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer's profile or by following him on Twitter.