Seahawks vs. Rams: St. Louis Grades, Notes and Quotes
For a moment, St. Louis fans thought they were about to witness an implosion—something all too familiar for Rams fans—after two fourth-quarter drives ended in turnovers for the offense. The Isaiah Pead fumble gave Seattle a field goal, while the Seahawks scooped up a fumble after a Nick Foles sack for a touchdown.
In less than eight minutes, St. Louis' commanding 24-13 victory turned into a tied game, which then became a late-game 31-24 deficit following the Jimmy Graham touchdown and the two turnovers.
You have to hand it to the Rams. In the past, they would have curled up into a ball and allowed things to get out of hand. But this team took a stand and decided it deserved a better outcome.
After turning the ball over on its last two possessions, the Rams offense took the field with just more than four minutes in the game and marched the ball 86 yards in 12 plays. On a key third down, Foles hit tight end Lance Kendricks for a 37-yard score to tie the game with less than one minute in regulation.
Foles again came up big in overtime, hitting Stedman Bailey on a beautiful 22-yard pass between two defenders. The clutch grab by Bailey set up the overtime field goal, which turned out to be enough for the win.
As for the Seattle offense, it could not withstand the intensity of St. Louis' front seven. The Rams finished with six total sacks, including two apiece for Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. On 4th-and-inches in overtime—the final play of the game—Michael Brockers and Donald stuffed Marshawn Lynch well behind the line of scrimmage and won the game.
The first game of the year never determines a team's outcome for the whole season. That's just as true for a Week 1 victory as it is for an opening-day loss. Still, in a tight NFC West battle that's guaranteed to come down to the wire, the Rams are fortunate to start things on the right track.
This article will break down St. Louis' performance, including position grades, key takeaways and quotes.
Position Grades for the Rams
The Rams could not have asked for a better debut from new starting quarterback Nick Foles. He went 18-of-27 (66.6 percent) for 297 yards and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) with zero picks.
Foles did lose two fumbles, but he was not at fault for either one. The first was caused by a poor snap, and the other was the result of blown pass protection. Still, his positives far outweighed any negatives. His strike to Bailey in overtime was beautifully placed and likely won the game for St. Louis. His ability to find receivers while standing up to pressure and taking the hits was remarkable and fun to watch.
At running back, the Rams were thin with Todd Gurley, Tre Mason and Trey Watts out of the lineup. Even so, No. 3 back Benny Cunningham stepped up to the challenge and had an excellent game. With 122 yards from scrimmage for Cunningham, hardly anyone noticed the Rams were down two backs.
Still, Isaiah Pead's fourth-quarter fumble was careless and nearly cost St. Louis the win. That play alone lowers the grade at the running back position.
The wide receivers combined for just seven total catches and were quiet in the game. Even so, Kenny Britt and Bailey both had key first-down grabs, and Tavon Austin scored on a 16-yard run.
The tight ends had an excellent showing and practically carried the aerial game. Jared Cook led the team with five catches and 85 yards. Lance Kendricks had two grabs for 42 yards, including his 37-yard touchdown.
The offensive line had a much better showing than initially expected, especially for a group with three first-year starters, but there were still some issues. Foles was nearly killed on the play that caused his second fumble, and the pressure from Seattle's defense was too consistent.
On the defensive line, the front four simply dominated the game. With six sacks and only 3.9 yards per carry allowed, the Rams gave the Seattle offense very little to work with.
Stout play from the linebackers was also an advantage that helped the defensive line. James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree did a nice job of wrapping up Lynch all day. After that highly physical game, it's going to take a week of ice baths for both players to be ready for Week 2.
The secondary allowed Graham to get wide open on his touchdown reception, but the defensive backs played a tough game overall. Rarely did the Seattle receivers turn upfield for big gains. Also, Trumaine Johnson's interception was one of the key highlights of the game. Wilson's jaw surely dropped when he saw Johnson jump that route.
Special teams allowed the 57-yard punt-return touchdown from Tyler Lockett, but the group more than made up for that misstep. Austin had a 75-yard return touchdown of his own, and Greg Zuerlein was on target with all his kicks.
As for coaching, the game plan worked. The offense didn't try anything too flashy and mostly relied on dumps to the running back and tight end, but it panned out. On defense, the Rams got after Wilson without exposing themselves to too many big plays.
Head coach Jeff Fisher certainly had his team ready for the opener.
Rams Defensive Line Has Its Eyes on Greatness in 2015
Last season, the Rams had just one total sack in the first five games combined. The team still tied for 13th in total sacks last year (40), but the Rams could have easily finished near the top if not for the sluggish start.
If you feared that the defense would be slow out of the gate yet again this year, fear not. The St. Louis defensive line completely dominated this game.
Not only did the team tally six sacks, including two apiece for Quinn and Donald, but the front seven held Lynch to a mediocre 73 yards on 18 carries—and 24 of those yards came on a single carry. St. Louis also contained Wilson to only 31 yards on the ground, and the other three Seattle backs combined for just 20 yards on six carries.
Without a healthy run game to move the chains and with constant pressure on every play, the offense is limited in what it can do. Seattle was forced to settle for modest pickups on short passes, most of which were shut down by the hard-hitting secondary.
With the amount of talent up front, this is what fans will be expecting from the St. Louis defense all season long. For years, the team has been acquiring top-notch talent in hopes of one day creating an elite defense.
The time is now.
All of the key pieces are under contract. The young stars—Donald, Ogletree, Brockers, McDonald—are blossoming. The veterans—Chris Long, Quinn, Laurinaitis, Janoris Jenkins—are still themselves. After 2015, the initial picks from the Robert Griffin III trade will hit free agency, including Jenkins.
St. Louis' typical "maybe next year" consolation slogan is out of juice. It's time for St. Louis to finally field an elite defense and make a run at the division. There are no excuses.
If this game is any indication, the Rams are well on their way.
Quarterback Play Made All the Difference
The Rams finished 6-10 in 2014, but how many wins did substandard quarterback play toss away?
Austin Davis' fourth-quarter meltdowns against Dallas and Arizona alone cost St. Louis a .500 record. Shaun Hill also struggled to seal the deal against San Diego with a last-second pick at the goal line. And in 2013, it was the shaky play of backup Kellen Clemens that largely contributed to St. Louis' downfall.
We can only speculate as to what the outcome of this game would have been with Davis or Clemens under center, but it's probably safe to assume it wouldn't have been the same.
Having an experienced and productive quarterback such as Foles—who led three game-winning drives in eight games for Philadelphia last season—made a world of difference. When the leader of the offense doesn't shiver in the face of adversity, the team is suddenly capable of locking up close games.
If Foles can stay healthy and maintain his current level of play, he'll ultimately be viewed as the missing ingredient who put St. Louis in the 2015 playoff hunt.
Is Aaron Donald Human?
When the Rams selected Aaron Donald with the No. 13 overall pick in 2014, every pundit in the business had positive things to say. He's freakishly strong, makes plays and has a solid work ethic.
But did anyone, even in their wildest dreams, envision his career taking off the way it has?
The common comparison is Warren Sapp, but in reality, Donald's career is off to a far more promising start. Sapp had just three sacks as a rookie compared to Donald's nine. In his second year, Sapp broke out with nine sacks, but Donald is already on pace to shatter that sophomore-year total as well. Also, Donald's two forced fumbles in 2014 matches Sapp's total number of forced fumbles in his first two seasons.
Ndamukong Suh, who got his career off to a flying start in 2010, had 10 sacks in his first 17 NFL games. But Donald, who had two sacks against Seattle, has surpassed Suh with 11 sacks in the same stretch of time.
There's little doubt that Donald has become the best pick of general manager Les Snead's career. With Quinn and Donald on the front four, the Rams could possibly have two Defensive Player of the Year candidates in 2015, which is simply unthinkable in this day and age.
Jim Thomas on Lance Kendricks' Touchdown
"(Tight end Lance) Kendricks said he wasn't necessarily the first option on his game-tying TD catch, but it was a decision made based on the matchup," Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said via Twitter.
Kendricks pulled in a clutch 37-yard touchdown grab with less than a minute in regulation—a connection that sent the game into overtime—and he wasn't even the primary target.
On a deep outside route, Kendricks was matched up with Seattle safety Dion Bailey—who was in for the absent Kam Chancellor—but Bailey's foot was caught in the turf, which caused him to fall and allowed Kendricks to separate.
We can conclude a couple of things from the play. For one, it tells us that Chancellor's absence made more of an impact than Seattle is willing to admit. The Seahawks secondary was far less imposing than we've seen in the recent past, and the play to Kendricks was a prime example. With Chancellor's stellar athleticism, it's doubtful he would have allowed a similar meltdown.
Second, the touchdown tells us that Foles is capable of going through his options. Prior to his arrival, the former St. Louis quarterbacks had a nasty habit of checking down and locking onto the first option. Fortunately, Foles was alert enough to go through his reads and identify the blown coverage.
If Foles hadn't noticed the blunder and taken advantage, we'd probably be discussing this game in an entirely different tone.
Jeff Fisher on the Onside-Kick Confusion in Overtime
"I wanted an explanation. I was a little confused when (the officials) wanted a re-kick," Jeff Fisher said regarding the onside-kick confusion in overtime, per the postgame conference.
The Rams won the coin toss prior to overtime and elected to receive. The first team to have possession in overtime typically has the advantage, so Seattle attempted to turn the tides with a risky onside kick to begin overtime.
Rams receiver Bradley Marquez—an undrafted rookie who made the roster for his excellent special teams play—was not fooled. He slid on his knees to get under the ball, and it landed directly into his hands. The recovery seemingly gave St. Louis great field position, but there was some confusion that nearly wiped out the play.
Marquez waved for a fair catch. The refs initially ruled that it was invalid and that Seattle would have to kick again, but upon further discussion the officials decided the ball stayed in the air and never hit the ground, making the fair catch valid.
It was nearly a horrible mistake on the officials' part. The fact the Rams could have lost such an emotional and hard-fought game because of a poor call by the refs is almost unthinkable.
Official Jeff Triplette deserves a lot of credit for huddling up with the officials to discuss the call and ultimately overturn it. He knew that his crew could not afford to blow the call, so he put in the extra diligence to ensure fairness and deserves recognition.
It was an excellent play by Marquez. It would have been a shame if the officials took that moment away from him as a result of their own confusion.
Thankfully, the refs got it right, and hopefully there will be no further controversy.
Thomas on the Turnover Margin
"Rams won despite being minus-two in takeaway-giveaway margin," Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, via Twitter.
Turnovers are typically the ultimate indicator of a game's outcome. If a team loses the turnover battle, more often than not the game is lost.
The Rams coughed up three fumbles, and the St. Louis defense scored just one takeaway, putting the Rams at minus-two in the turnover ratio. The fact St. Louis was able to overcome that speaks volumes about the resilience of the players.
Despite the win, the Rams did not play their best game. With multiple fumbles and poor ball control, the offense looked awfully sloppy for parts of the game.
St. Louis beat Seattle despite the setbacks, which is a positive sign moving forward. If the Rams can solidify the ball control and play mistake-free football, there's not a team in the NFL they can't stand up to.
Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams' 2015 game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or following him on Twitter.