“Two games out of the playoff picture” sounds a lot better than “at the bottom of his division,” but eight games into his second season, Jeff Fisher has his St. Louis Rams in both spots simultaneously.
The 3-5 Rams are getting acquainted with the injury bug. They’ve been hit at several positions, including quarterback, running back, offensive line and safety. It’s still evident, however, that the team is growing—including the requisite growing pains—and evolving as the season goes on.
For example, St. Louis ran a lot of soft-zone coverage on defense and frequently tried to force Daryl Richardson up the middle early in the season. Now, there’s more man coverage, Richardson gets a higher proportion of outside carries and Zac Stacy is bulldozing guys in between the tackles.
We’re all still waiting on Tavon Austin to be adequately featured, though.
Sam Bradford’s fourth season was going pretty well until a torn ACL ended it prematurely. The former No. 1 overall pick amassed 1,687 yards, 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions on 262 passing attempts. He completed 60.7 percent of his passes and was sacked 15 times.
Bradford did a good job leading the offense that he was asked to run by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. As much as more deep shot, screens, slants and creative running plays were lacking early in the season, Bradford was efficient enough to lead St. Louis to 22.3 points per game. He surpassed 300 yards in one game: a seven-point loss Week 2 at Atlanta.
Kellen Clemens didn’t fare so well in his first start. He completed 15 of 31 passes for 158 yards and two interceptions.
Zac Stacy is a revelation at the tailback position. His four-plus yards per carry is no surprise, but the talented fifth-round rookie has already logged 68 carries by Week 8. Daryl Richardson took 98 carries in his rookie year. Stacy is on pace for 136, despite playing just five games so far.
That means he’s more likely to reach—or surpass—180 totes.
Daryl Richardson was leading the team in carries until the Rams’ Monday Night Football appearance, but he’s hovering around three yards per carry. St. Louis rarely gets him outside, but when it does, he will eat up some real estate. Richardson has covered double-digit yardage on a carry five times on 64 rushes this season.
Benny Cunningham and the largely absent Isaiah Pead have combined for 67 yards on 24 carries (2.8 yards per).
The Rams' running backs have been a presence in the passing game. As a group, they have been targeted 41 times and caught 30 passes for 242 yards and a Stacy touchdown.
The St. Louis Rams wide receivers face an uphill climb to produce a 1,000-yard gainer this year. Chris Givens is pacing them with 354 yards…through eight games.
That’s a pace of 708.
Nobody else is on pace for even 600. Austin Pettis leads the squad with four receiving touchdowns, but the group has been underwhelming as a whole. Sam Bradford effectively spread the ball around. Tavon Austin is the team leader in receptions with 31.
Jared Cook leads the St. Louis Rams with 375 receiving yards on 29 catches. The Rams are also getting good production out of Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey, who have contributed four scores in addition to Cook’s Week 1 pair of touchdowns.
The trio has caught 49 passes for 519 yards and six touchdowns on 73 targets.
Cook has inexplicably been marginalized in the game plan in recent weeks. In his last four games, he’s gotten just 18 looks. He had 10 targets in Week 1. Kendricks stepped up in his stead, though.
St. Louis Rams fans are more than familiar with the prospect of losing half of their offensive line to injuries during various points of the season. True enough, Jake Long, Rodger Saffold and Harvey Dahl have all been taken out of parts of or entire games due to injury.
That doesn’t mean this hasn’t been the line’s best season in years, though.
Sam Bradford finally had consistent protection. Kellen Clemens was generally afforded the same thing against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. St. Louis’ offensive line wasn’t offering a lot of push in the running game early, but even that has improved recently.
The Rams chewed up 200 yards rushing against Seattle.
The St. Louis Rams' front four is the best in the business. With 10 sacks through eight games, Robert Quinn is nearly on pace to break the single-season sack record. Chris Long has 5.5, Michael Brockers has 3.5 and Kendall Langford has one.
Seven Monday night sacks—three from Quinn, three from Long and one from William Hayes—vaulted the Rams defense from 21st to fourth in the league in that department.
These guys routinely get after the passer, disrupt the running game—once Tim Walton stopped spreading them out all the time—and wreak general havoc all around.
An improving St. Louis Rams' linebacking corps allowed 146 yards on its last 53 times being challenged by its opposition. James Laurinaitis has 58 total tackles, a sack and an interception to his credit. Rookie Alec Ogletree has 53 takedowns and a pick-six, as he has grown to be less of a liability in pass coverage.
The Rams are 23rd in rushing defense, on the influence of a few very poor performances.
Soft-zone coverage kept the St. Louis Rams defensive backs from playing up to their potential in the early season before rookie safety T.J. McDonald—who was making plays in the box—fractured his leg. Things are looking better now that they’re playing more man coverage before halftime, but the Rams are only now 12th in pass defense.
They’ve given up 227.5 yards per game, 19.5 less than their average before holding Seattle’s offense to 91 (139 from Russell Wilson, 48 came back on sacks) in Week 8. Prior to Monday night, the Rams defense was 20th against the pass.
It has allowed 14 passing scores and picked off five passes.
Three DBs, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Matt Giordano, each have one. The other two came from linebackers. Cortland Finnegan has been far from a No. 1 corner thus far.
There’s no telling how many wins special-teams penalties have cost the St. Louis Rams. They got bit with another penalty on Monday night against the Seahawks, despite their cleaning up of such infractions in recent weeks.
Tavon Austin has had little chance to produce any points in the return game; seemingly every time he made a play, it got called back. His numbers, then, understandably look less impressive: six kickoff returns for 134 yards and 23 punt returns for 90 yards.
Half of his credited kickoff returns—and 59 percent of the yards—came in Week 8 against Seattle.
Let’s just say St. Louis gave him more than three cracks at a kick return in his first seven games with the Rams.
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