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Thread: A Baker’s Dozen of Observations and Inquiries Through Week 2

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    A Baker’s Dozen of Observations and Inquiries Through Week 2

    Shane Gray provides special Rams commentaries on 101sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneGmoSTLRams.

    -Bradford’s Better

    Although we are looking at an admittedly small sample size, the early 2013 returns indicate that St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has elevated his game for a second consecutive season.

    In 2011, Bradford finished with a 53.5-percent completion rate. Last year, his passing success rate rose to 59.5. This season, Bradford has connected on 63.4 percent of his throws.

    Two years ago, Bradford’s quarterback rating finalized at 70.5. In 2012, that rating elevated to 82.6. This campaign, it stands at 93.1 after two contests.

    In 2011, Bradford finished the schedule with a per-pass average of 6.1 yards. Last season, it ended at 6.7. In 2013, it currently sits at 7.0 yards per.

    Finally, Bradford’s touchdown percentage stood at just 1.7 percent at the conclusion of the 2011 campaign. That percentage more than doubled in rising to 3.8 last fall. Through one-eighth of this year’s docket, his TD mark has significantly improved again to 5.4 percent.

    In short, the above shows a third consecutive season of betterment from Bradford.

    But it’s not just the numbers that verify a steadily burgeoning Bradford – it is the eyeball test, too.

    When watching No. 8 in the pocket, it is clear that – in back-to-back years – Bradford has ameliorated in regard to pocket awareness, overall poise and read progressions.

    This is not the same young QB of a couple years ago who would constantly lock onto his primary receiver and stare him down. This is not the same green gunslinger who seemed to lack much of a feel for when the pocket was collapsing around him or when to escape and/or get rid of the ball.

    What we are seeing now is a much more refined, confident and capable QB.

    Today’s Bradford is clearly the leader of this offense. This is a man with an aura about him that wasn’t always there in the past. This is a player ready to live up to the expectations that accompanied him after being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

    And as his young weapons around him mature and grow, Bradford will only get better and realize further growth, too.

    From a global perspective, No. 8’s career trajectory is more clearly pointing up now than it has at any point since his rookie season and perhaps at any point in his four-year career.

    -Austin Analyzed

    In scanning various Rams message boards, more than just a few individuals have expressed disappointment at the initiation of first-round rookie Tavon Austin’s pro career.

    Apparently, Austin was supposed to be leading the NFL in receptions, yards per catch, touchdowns and punt returns by the time he was a grizzled veteran of two NFL starts.

    Somewhere the fact was lost by some that very few first-year receivers take the league by storm right out of the gate.

    But what is more baffling about the aforementioned criticism and concern is that Austin is actually on pace for an impactful and highly productive rookie season. In fact, his first two games project to near Pro Bowl-caliber numbers.

    At the moment, Austin is on pace for 96 catches and 16 touchdown receptions. That’s darn good production from anyone, let alone a first-year performer. If these statistics qualify as disappointing, someone please send a couple more truckloads of disappointment to St. Louis as soon as possible.

    As time goes on, Austin will only get better.

    Austin will slowly become more acclimated to the speed at this level.

    When he does, he will eventually find his groove on punt returns. He will make more guys miss after the catch. He will think less and play faster and gain more separation more often when running routes.

    In the meantime, his current projections equate to a terrific year by any standards. As rookie years for wide receivers go, Austin is far ahead of the curve – not behind it.

    All that said, Austin averaged less than 12 yards per catch during his West Virginia career. Those who expected to get a guy who would average 15 yards per reception will probably continue to be displeased. He catches most of his balls underneath and, thus, he may never rack up top-end yard-per-catch averages.

    -Defensive Disturbances


    It hardly qualifies as a news flash to state that the St. Louis pass defense has been a major disappointment thus far. There is no way to sugarcoat it. The pass D has been dismal and must improve if the Rams are going to rightfully take their place as legitimate playoff contenders as the calendar rolls into November and December.

    Through two matchups, the Rams are No. 32 in third-down defense, a statistic very troubling to the St. Louis front office and coaching staff.

    Just before the season started, general manager Les Snead emphasized a desire to lead the league in this category. I don’t think he wanted to lead it at being the NFL’s worst, though.

    The problems on third down point directly back to the problematic pass defense.

    Thus far, if the Rams’ air defense were Air Force weapons, they’d be retired. St. Louis stands at No. 24 in yards per attempt allowed, No. 27 in total passing yards given up, No. 28 in passer rating relinquished and No. 29 in regard to opposing QBs’ completion rate.

    Obviously, the excessive use of off-coverage is not cutting it. The pass D cannot do much worse than it is now, so why not try mixing in some bump-and-run and press coverage looks? Why not try to redirect some routes and stop giving up free pass completions on a routine basis?

    As seen above, the current approach is not succeeding. It is time to adjust it.

    The Rams have made Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan look like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning thus far. If they go to Dallas with the same approach and serve up similar execution, Tony Romo will morph into Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.

    It is time for the Rams’ pass D to tighten up, starting this week in Texas.

    -Quinn’s Quality

    There may not be a more physically gifted defensive end in the NFL than Robert Quinn, who is still just beginning to come into his own at only 23 years of age.

    Through two games, Quinn is on pace to amass 32 sacks and shatter Michael Strahan’s all-time single season record of 22.5.

    Following Quinn’s opening-week three-sack effort vs. Arizona, a performance that netted him defensive player of the week honors, teammate Chris Long showered Quinn with high praise.

    “I’ve been saying he’s a top-five … eventually a top-three pass rusher,” Long said. “He’s as dangerous as anybody in the league. He’s just going to continue to show it, and it’s scary how good he can be.”

    According to defensive coordinator Tim Walton, Quinn can contend for a sack title at some point in his career.

    “No question about it, because his speed is unbelievable,” Walton said. “He can really rush the passer, he can really close off the edge, and he plays physical. He has great endurance, (is) very athletic, and you just don’t find guys with that type of ability to close and he can do it all in time. He can be a special player for us.”

    What might be most impressive about Quinn’s 2013 start is his enhanced play against the run. It is one thing, after all, to be able to rush the pass prolifically. However, many who excel with the pass rush give up a little in terms of run defense. Not so with Quinn thus far.

    “He’s playing the run with a great deal of strength right now and then he’s hard to block one-on-one out there,” Fisher said following the Week 1 win.

    If Quinn continues to play at an All-Pro level, he will eventually demand more and more attention. Of course, that will open things up for others, and it will be up to them to step up and make more plays.

    -Finding Finnegan

    Among an overall pass defense that has been dispiriting, cornerback Cortland Finnegan’s performance has easily been the most disheartening individual effort of all.

    Without posting the ugly stats, the eyeball test should suffice to serve witness that Finnegan has struggled mightily. When he hasn’t been getting burned by opposing QBs who have had little trouble finding Finnegan’s man running open, he has been racking up needless personal foul penalties.

    As the veteran of a young but talented defensive backfield, Finnegan must set a better example both with his play and his actions.

    Finnegan has vowed to avoid incurring any more personal foul infractions, but if his play does not begin to improve soon, the St. Louis pass D might be better off with him on the sidelines.

    Knowing Finnegan’s career history and the type of man that he is – a man of personal integrity off the field who takes pride in his work on it – he will find a way to get it figured out.

    At 29, perhaps Finnegan is beginning to slow down a little sooner than many of his peers. That is yet to be determined.

    Nonetheless, one should expect to see Finnegan begin to find at least some of his former Pro Bowl game. In the coming weeks, one should expect to see at least a solid version of Finnegan, if not one that occasionally splashes splendor.

    Finnegan’s not washed up yet, and his fiery determination will not let him continue to flounder. He will find a way to right the ship.

    If not, the veteran corner may be looking at a contract restructuring come next spring.

    -St Louis Safeties

    Although St. Louis’ set of starting safeties lacks experience, they certainly don’t lack the ability or willingness to light people up. Even though I recall watching some big-hitting safeties like Toby Wright and Adam Archuleta in the Gateway City, I don’t recall the Rams fielding a more physical tandem of safeties since 1995.

    Both of these safeties – rookie T.J. McDonald and second-year man Rodney McLeod – have exhibited good instincts. Both figure to play consistently against the run and to tackle well as the season wears on.

    What will be critical, however, is to see how they fare against the pass. If they can perform adequately in pass coverage, this duo could prove to be a dynamic one in the coming campaigns.

    -Corralled Quick

    Thus far in the early stages of his sophomore season, wide receiver Brian Quick has been largely corralled – corralled by the coaching staff and kept on the sidelines more frequently than most in the media or of the fan base would prefer.

    The 6-4 Quick showed steady improvement throughout camp and made several nice plays in the preseason. His combination of size, speed, athleticism and run-after-the-catch abilities is impressive. In my eyes, Quick’s size, athletic ability and movement are reminiscent of Terrell Owens.

    For whatever reason(s), though, the coaching staff feels it best to bring him along slowly. According to footballoutsiders.com, Quick only collected 19 snaps in the Arizona opener. For comparison’s sake, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis both amassed 55.

    In Week 2, Quick got more playing time. According to rosterwatch.com, Quick was on the field for 33 snaps – or 45 percent of the offense’s 77 total snaps. On just one target, Quick had a catch for 15 yards. On the year, Quick has two receptions for 31 yards.

    I will continue to insist that the offense’s most explosive potential lineup uses Jared Cook, Austin, Givens and Quick together.

    If the uptick in snaps from Week 1 to Week 2 is a predictor of things to come, then the Rams are on their way to uncorralling Quick. It will then be up to him to show what he can do.

    -Special Specialists

    In limited returns, punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein have been money.

    Hekker is second in the league in net punting average and has improved his accuracy in regard to directional punting. Zuerlein has converted all five attempts and looks to be very comfortable in his second year.

    It would appear that St. Louis is set at these positions for the next decade-plus. The Rams may have struck gold in 2012 by landing these talented specialists.

    -Running Ragged

    In the early going, it has largely been rough sledding for the Rams’ running game. Through the first set of games, St. Louis is averaging just 67 yards on the ground.

    In terms of rushing average, St. Louis stands at No. 23 with just 3.2 yards per attempt. In regard to yards per game, the Rams check in at No. 25. In terms of touchdown production, the ground game checks in dead last with no rushing TDs thus far.

    Do the Rams miss Steven Jackson or is the running game simply off to a slow start?

    It may be too early to give a definitive answer to that two-part inquiry, but it is clear that it must improve, regardless.

    Unless a team has a truly elite air attack, offenses are almost always better served to utilize a two-pronged running and passing approach.

    If the Rams are to avoid becoming one-dimensional, the run game must get going – and soon.

    -Consistent Cooking?


    In hybrid tight-end/de facto wide-receiver Jared Cook’s sizzling St. Louis debut, he was lights-out, collecting seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

    In his encore performance, “Cookie” failed to get going and racked up just one reception for 10 yards.

    From Cook’s vantage point, part of the reason for the diminished stat line was because the Falcons played him differently than the Cardinals did.

    “They definitely did some different things then the Cardinals did (last week),” Cook said after the Atlanta loss. “That just comes with the game. That’s part of it and no team will be the same week to week. We just need to watch the film and come back and correct it.

    “They had a linebacker every time that I released and then had a safety up over the top. It just opened up opportunities for other guys to ball out.”

    The focus on Cook indeed opened it up for other pass targets, but questions remain regarding the uber-talented weapon:

    Will we see Cook develop into a consistent force, or will he eventually duplicate the rather modest overall numbers that he did throughout his tenure in Tennessee?

    Although it is widely believed that Cook was largely misused and underutilized in Nashville, will he ever consistently play at the Pro Bowl level he exhibited in the season opener, or is he destined to be a guy who impacts only on occasion while simply blending in during other action?

    In four seasons in Nashville, Cook never compiled more than 49 catches in a single year.

    That should change in 2013, and Cook should challenge for a Pro Bowl berth. The Rams will use him correctly, and he all the tools to reel off a remarkable season.

    But the fact is, the precedent for major statistical output simply isn’t there for Cook. That absolutely can change, but there is no guarantee it will come to fruition if basing it upon his past.

    -Run D Rugged

    While the overall defense is struggling and giving up 24 points per game, it should be noted that the St. Louis run D has been a bright spot. Through two games, the Rams are giving up just 2.9 yards per carry, good for seventh in the league.

    No, the defense has not gone up against a Marshawn Lynch or an Adrian Peterson just yet, but we have watched several no-name backs tear the Rams up in recent seasons. That has not been the case this year.

    Although the pass defense has been abysmal, it should eventually improve when considering the talent level the defense possesses. If the ground D continues to flourish, opponents will become very one-dimensional by necessity.

    If so, that bodes well for the remainder of the season (assuming that the air defense positively progresses.)

    -Plentiful Penalties


    Only 11 teams have accrued more penalties than St. Louis to date. When considering that the roster is again the league’s youngest for a second straight year, that shouldn’t be all that surprising.

    If Fisher is correct about several of the Rams’ penalties at Atlanta, then perhaps the Rams aren’t doing as bad in respect to infractions as most had thought.

    “We were penalized seven times in the game,” Fisher said Monday. “In my opinion, we should have been penalized twice. I was upset after the ballgame but looking at the tape, those are incorrect calls.”

    If indeed five of St. Louis’ seven penalties were improperly called, then the Rams could be legitimately sitting as one of the league’s seven least penalized teams.

    With all of the above considered, it is hard to determine whether this team is actually struggling in regard to breaking the rules, or if they are doing a pretty good job in executing within the rulebook’s guidelines. That should all become clearer in the next few weeks.

    -Hesitation to Hurry

    Even when leaving out the statistical supports I could post here, it is quite clear that Bradford has flourished in the no-huddle and up-tempo offense going back to his Heisman days at Oklahoma.

    He is clearly comfortable in this type of scheme, and the production has been there when working within it.

    Sunday was the latest example of No. 8 picking apart a defense and moving his unit down the field for touchdowns when operating with this approach.

    In comments from Fisher since the offense’s strong showing while using a faster-paced attack, it would seem he may still be hesitant to incorporate no-huddle and hurry-up concepts except when it is deemed necessary, however.

    When recognizing that Fisher has always been a coach who tends to operate conservatively, this seeming hesitation to go full-throttle should come as little surprise.

    But if the Rams O continues to play better when using a faster approach than without it, at some point one would hope that the coaching staff would help optimize the offense’s output and its corresponding chances for winning by fully unleashing Bradford in the manner that he works best: in a swifter-styled scheme of attack.


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    R.Gabriel is offline Registered User
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    Re: A Baker’s Dozen of Observations and Inquiries Through Week 2

    Nice write up. Your spot on with the corners playing soft. They should be on the line daring teams to go deep. That would play right into the hands of our front four.

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    Re: A Baker’s Dozen of Observations and Inquiries Through Week 2

    Hard to argue with much here. Even though we're struggling a bit, we should improve as the season goes on. The future looks bright for the St. Louis Rams!
    RealRam likes this.

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    Re: A Baker’s Dozen of Observations and Inquiries Through Week 2

    "So let it be written. So let it be done."

    GO RAMS!

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    Re: A Baker’s Dozen of Observations and Inquiries Through Week 2

    Quote Originally Posted by RealRam View Post
    "So let it be written. So let it be done."

    GO RAMS!
    Thank you, Yul Brynner!!

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    Re: A Baker’s Dozen of Observations and Inquiries Through Week 2

    Quote Originally Posted by RAMarkable View Post
    Thank you, Yul Brynner!!
    You got it. I especially like the "...let it be done" part!
    Last edited by RealRam; -09-22-2013 at 02:47 AM. Reason: Wink

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    Re: A Baker’s Dozen of Observations and Inquiries Through Week 2

    I guess if your going to quote Yully, we have to throw in a Chuck Heston... ' By the Lord my God '
    On top for the alamode effect! lol


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    Re: A Baker’s Dozen of Observations and Inquiries Through Week 2

    Or..."I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands" - Charles Heston.

    Back on topic...Our secondary play has been disappointing. Is it scheming or the players that need to pick it up? It seems to me that bump and run would be more effective than the big cushions I've seen lately.

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