The St. Louis Rams dropped their Week 3 preseason game at Dallas by a score of 20-19. If you're waking up today and reading the score, that means that the Rams fought hard and competed, right? They lost a close game to a pretty darn good football team, right?
Not so much.
The Rams were dominated in the first quarter of the game, as Cowboys' QB Tony Romo threw for something like a thousand yards. Of course, I'm exaggerating, but only a little bit. Romo gashed the Rams secondary in the first quarter, and what is so troubling about that is the Cowboys were without their starting tight end and both starting wide receivers.
Tony Romo lit the Rams up with the Cowboys JV receivers.
So let me be clear—the Rams looked awful in the first quarter. Having said that, there were a lot of good things to take away from this football game if you're a Rams' fan. Today I'm going to run through five positive signs and five reasons to be concerned for Rams' fans.
Reasons to be concerned:
1. The offensive line struggled: The Rams first three drives went something like this... run (short gain), run (short gain), Bradford tries to pass (sack). The one positive play—a long completion to Lance Kendricks—was followed up by a false start, which set the Rams offense back. The O-Line simply has to play better for this team to compete in 2012.
2. The defense looked lost: As I've said over and over, I don't care about the score in these preseason games. I don't care that the Rams lost or that they gave up a lot of yards. What bothers me is how wide open the receivers were. There were clear cases of blown coverage time and time again. This has to be a major concern for Jeff Fisher.
3. Bradford still doesn't have an elite target: Kendricks, the tight end, is the closest thing Bradford has right now to a "go to" target. The receiving corps is better, but against a pair of really talented corners, the Rams' receivers had a hard time creating separation. I don't care if we're talking about Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, any QB in the league would have a hard time throwing into the tight windows that Bradford is trying to throw the ball into right now.
4. The linebackers are struggling: As I said last week, the Rams LB's are having a hard time in pass coverage. That was true against Dallas, and as bad as the pass coverage was, the tackling was worse. Even James Laurinaitis struggled to make tackles. Listening to the Rams' broadcasters, they commented on how deep the Rams' LB's are playing before the ball is snapped. That could be a factor in their poor play. Whatever the reason, Jeff Fisher now has two weeks to figure it out before the Rams play at Detroit.
5. Bradford held the ball: In fairness to Sam, as we've already pointed out, the offensive line struggled big time, and he doesn't have an elite target to throw to. That has been the case for two years now. What bothers me about Bradford, and I said this about him last year, is that he is holding onto the ball in obvious blitz situations. On one hand, it's good to see Sam stand there and take the sack instead of tossing a bad interception. On the other hand, the great QB's in this league have a way to step up, roll out or simply get rid of it as they're getting hit. Bradford seems to just fold under pressure.
It's time for Sam Bradford to take that next step and make the players around him better. We know the O-Line is bad, and we know the receivers are only above average. If Bradford has what it takes to be a great QB, it's time for him to elevate the play of those around him.
Five Positive Signs:
1. Nobody got seriously injured: Again, look at the Cowboys. They're playing with backups because they've suffered some serious injuries. The Rams have made it through three preseason games without any major injuries. If the Rams can just stay healthy, they'll win more games than they won a year ago.
2. Steven Jackson didn't play: Jackson sat this one out, mostly as a precaution. Anytime No. 39 isn't in the game, the Rams aren't the same team. With Jackson not playing, the rookie RB's got all of the carries. Darryl Richardson, a seventh-round pick, continues to impress. Isaiah Pead, a second-round pick, had his best game of the preseason, and is starting to really come around.
3. The Rams are much better on special teams: Rookie punter Johnny Hekker is a keeper. He has a huge leg and has shown good touch so far. If Hekker has a huge leg, then there is no description for what kicker Greg Zeurlein is doing. Greg "the Leg" booted two field goals from beyond 50 yards, as he continues to be the Rams' secret weapon on offense. Isaiah Pead was also very good on kickoff returns, giving the Rams a real threat in the return game for the first time in years.
4. The D-Line is really talented: The front four continues to show flashes of brilliance. Robert Quinn picked up a sack. Chris Long was his usual self, although he never got to Tony Romo. Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford were stout against the run, and they pushed the pocket against the pass. A lot of the plays Romo made early were made outside the pocket, where Romo is terrific. My point is, Romo was on the run for a reason—the Rams were really getting after him. As the coverage gets better, this defensive line is going to wreak havoc. Hopefully that happens sometime this season.
5. Bradford looked good when he had time to throw: Like I said earlier, this wasn't often enough. However, Bradford did sling it pretty good when he had time. He has the arm strength and accuracy to put the ball in tight places. We're just going to have to be patient with these young receivers. As they get better, and as he gets more time to throw, Bradford will prove himself to be an elite QB. I still believe that.
Of course, he'll be a lot better after we spend one of our draft picks on a stud tackle in the NFL Draft next April, right?
As always, thanks for reading.