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Bernie Bytes: Rams' Extra Points ..
3 hours ago ē BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
Itís Monday morning, time for some Ramsí Extra Points:
Since just about everybody continues to yap about Steven Jackson and Jeff Fisher, Iíll offer a few observations:
1. Jackson didnít play after spiking the football (after he thought he had scored) to draw a 15-yard penalty. Jackson was irate when he came to the sideline. Some observers near the Rams bench thought Jackson barked at Fisher to challenge the call on the field after the officials ruled that Jackson hadnít scored. (He did get into the end zone, it was an awful call.) This led to an obvious question: Was SJ39 benched? If not then what?
2. After the game, Fisher told the media that Jackson didnít play after straining a groin muscle. I donít know when Jackson suffered this injury; was it on the spike? He sure seemed to be moving well at the time. And after the game, Jackson confirmed Fisherís version (the groin). Jackson elaborated on the injury, gave details, and spoke about wanting to return Sunday in Chicago. Jackson praised Fisher for making such a positive difference as the teamís coach. Jackson couldnít have been more respectful of his coach. Iíd have no problem accepting the Fisher/Jackson version of things, but some questions remain.
3. When a player is injured and leaves the game teams report the injury to the press box. Itís a practice that has been in place for a very long time. I canít recall ever being in an NFL press box and not having the team announce the injury and provide an update on the player. Teams state the nature of the injury, then give an assessment of the possibility of the playerís return. The team will say, for example, ďhis return is questionable,Ē or ďhe will not return.Ē The Rams never offered any info on Jacksonís injury, and thatís unusual. It defies NFL standards and customs. Itís very strange.
4. There are conflicting versions of Jacksonís medical treatment. Iíve talked to people who insist they saw Jackson receiving attention from the training staff. Iíve talked to people that insist Jackson never received treatment. I was watching the football game instead of studying the sideline, so I have no idea. But after Jackson was pulled, every time I looked he was standing on the sideline, holding his helmet. I guess Iím used to seeing injured players sit. Jackson was standing. He was moving. And frankly, even if he had tweaked the groin, weíve seen Jackson play under worse circumstances, and with more serious physical problems. That said Ö are we really accusing Fisher and Jackson of lying? Because if we reject the injury story, then we are absolutely calling Fisher a liar, and Jackson a liar.
5. If, in fact, Fisher was trying to send a message to Jackson, didnít he make the message clear by not playing Jackson for the remainder of the first half? If this was a message, a punishment, didnít Fisher reinforce it by not going back to Jackson at the start of the second half? Would Fisher really put a victory at risk by going with a rookie RB who fumbled late, giving the Redskins a chance to win? (By the way, Iím not knocking the rookie, Daryl Richardson. He did really well.) But before leaving, Jackson was gashing the Redskins; he had nine carries for 58 yards. Do we really believe Jeff Fisher would be willing to lose a football game just to send a message to SJ?
Of course it is possible that both things are true. Maybe Jackson was banged up. Maybe he was able to churn out those yards despite being hurt. Maybe Fisher had concerns. But when Jackson got the penalty that pushed the Rams into field-goal range, then came to the sideline in an agitated state, maybe Fisher decided it was a good time to take care of two potential problems. How? First, get Jackson out of the game to avoid a more serious groin strain. Second, remind Jackson and the entire team that a new coach is in charge and the Rams are going to do things differently now. No one, not even SJ39, is above the team.
Bottom line: Injury or benching, it doesnít really matter. I say that with good reason. If SJís removal was caused by an injury, fine. There is nothing to discuss. And I think weíll learn a lot more about the truth when the Rams return to practice on Wednesday. Will Jackson fully participate? Will he miss practice? Will he participate on a limited basis? Wednesday will offer a clue on Jacksonís health.
However, if Fisher wanted to send a message to Jackson and the rest of the team, he certainly succeeded. If, in fact, this was a benching, then you couldnít ask for a better reaction from Jackson. He didnít protest. He didnít pop off. In the post-game interview Jackson didnít make any cryptic remarks, that could be left open to interpretation. Jackson offered an emphatic Fisher tribute. Jackson praised his team. He complimented Richardson. He spoke positively of the teamís future under Fisherís leadership. If this was, in fact, a benching then Jackson accepted it with admirable graciousness. Which means that Jackson is buying in on the Fisher program. Heís buying in at 100 percent.
Moving On Ö
ē The Rams are 1-1 after two games, and in most NFL precincts that record would result in shrugs. OK, so whatís the big deal about 1-1? Well, the Rams havenít been 1-1 after two games since 2006. In the five hideous (15-65) seasons from 2007 through 2011, the Rams went 1-13 in September games, getting outscored 468-199. (Thatís an average score of opponents 27.5, Rams 11.7.) Their offense scored only 18 touchdowns from scrimmage in the 14 September games. The Ramsí lone September win from 2007-2011 came over Washington in the third game of 2010.
ē Thatís why fans were buzzing Sunday night and Monday morning. An early-season win is a rare thing in these parts. And the Rams were one defensive stop away from winning in Detroit, ultimately losing 27-23. That was followed up by a persistent performance to erase two Washington leads for a 31-28 win. The Rams offense is averaging 27 points after two games, which is 12th in the NFL.
ē The passing game has life. The Rams had only 13 total TD passes in those awful 1-13 Septembers from 2007-2011. They already have 4 TD passes in two games this year. The offense has scored 47 points in two games. (Remember, the Rams have scored one defensive touchdown on the pick-six INT by Cortland Finnegan.) The 47 points represent real progress; last season it took the Rams four games to reach 46 points. They had only 49 points after five games, and 56 points through six games. So to see 47 points by this offense already Ö thatís a dramatic improvement.
ē Props to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Heís developing a smart, sound offense. Heís identified strengths, and is putting players into position to make plays. Iím not used to seeing such coherency on offense.
ē Coaching matters. All you have to do is go back to how quarterback Sam Bradford did against the Redskins last season, compared to his performance against them on Sunday. In the 2011 encounter with Washington, Bradford was 20 of 43 (46.5 percent) for 146 yards. He completed 7 of 15 on third down. He was sacked seven times. He had one TD pass, and a rating of 64.5.
Yesterday was a different story, and a different Bradford. With Schottenheimer devising the plan and calling the plays, Bradford was 26 of 35 (71.7 percent) for 310 yards. He threw three TDs. He was sacked only once. He completed all nine of his passing attempts on third down, picking up seven first downs. His passer rating was 117.6.
ē Schottenheimer had Bradford moving around, instead of staying in the pocket as a stationary target. Bradford is an athlete, and he has plus mobility for a quarterback. Schottenheimer recognized that, and we saw how effective Bradford can be when the play calls for him to be fluid, and in motion, before making a throw. Schottenheimer also has Bradford getting rid of the ball faster; the increased tempo and rhythm were obvious yesterday. The mobility and the quick release were prime factors in the Ramsí ability to handle Washingtonís pressure.
ē When Schottenheimer was hired, the most important questions were: would he help Bradford improve? Would Schottenheimer design an offense to fit Bradfordís strengths? Would he get the third-year QB on a consistent track? Itís only two games. But so far so good. Head coach Jeff Fisherís instincts on Schottenheimer appear to be on the mark.
Moving On Ö
The Bradford Files:
ē Bradford, part one: After two games his passer rating of 112.4 ranks second among QBs that have played two games. (Denverís Peyton Manning and Atlantaís Matt Ryan each have a higher passer rating than Sam, but thatís based on one game. Weíll see Ryan vs. Manning on Monday Night Football tonight.)
ē Bradford, part two: His completion percentage of 71.7 is high on the leaderboard; it could be as high as third depending on what Ryan and P. Manning do tonight. Bradfordsís 8.47 yards per attempt is sixth and could move up in the rankings, pending Ryan vs. Manning. Bradfordís 4 TD passes have him in a tie for second.
ē Bradford, part three: Heís been exceptional on third down, completing 14 of 17 passes (82.4 percent) for 159 yards, 1 TD, no interceptions and a rating of 125.2. Bradfordís third-down passes have picked up the first down at a rate of 58.8 percent; only Ben Roethlisberger and P. Manning have done better.
ē Bradford, part four: when the Rams are in the fourth quarter and winning or trailing by a range of seven points, Bradford has completed 10 of 13 for two TDs and a passer rating of 145.8.
ē Bradford, part five: when the Rams were losing at any point in the first two games, Bradford helped bring them back by completing 26 of 36 (72.2 pct.) for 3 TDs, 1 INT and a rating of 114.6.
ē Bradford, part six: his passer rating of 117.6 vs. Washington was a career best for one game. Bradford has opened the season with two consecutive games of a 100+ passer rating; thatís a first for him. In his first 26 NFL games coming into this season, Bradford had only three 100+ rating days. But this season heís 2 for 2.
ē Bradford, part seven: In the first two games Bradford connected with his receivers at a rate of 68 percent (Detroit) and 74.3 pct. (Washington). The two percentages are among the top five in his career.
ē Bradford, part eight: His YPA of 8.86 vs. the Redskins was a career best for a game. And his 7.92 YPA at Detroit was the third-best of Bradfordís career. (He had a YPA of 8.32 at Denver in 2010.)
ē Bradford, part nine: The 310 passing yards vs. the Redskins was Samís third-highest total in a game. Heís had five 300-yard games in his career.
Moving On Ö
ē You could say that Bradford enjoys working with wide receiver Danny Amendola. They connected early and often in Bradfordís rookie season (2010). The combination was ruined in the first game last season, when Amendola suffered a season-ending injury after catching five passes against Philadelphia. And now the QB-WR partnership has resumed this season. Against the Redskins Bradford targeted Amendola 16 times and completed 15 of the passes; thatís an extraordinary connect rate. In the first two games Bradford is 20 of 25 for 230 yards and a touchdown when he targets Amendola; thatís a passer rating of 118.3.
In his career Bradford has completed 110 of 154 passes (71.4 percent) for 964 yards, 4 TDs and 49 first downs when targeting Amendola. And when Bradford has targeted any other receiver in his NFL career, heís completed 478 of 853 passes (56 percent.)
Moving On Ö
ē The Rams offensive line did a heck of a job Sunday, considering the exotic defenses that Redskins coordinator Jim Haslett threw at them. Bradford was sacked once. Part of that was Schottenheimerís effective strategy, which weíve already discussed. But O-line coach Paul Boudreau had the fellows ready to take on whatever the Redskins came up with. And for the second consecutive week this O-line did a terrific job of overcoming in-game injuries to play well. When your team rushes for 156 yards and your quarterback goes for 310 yards, 3 TDs and is only sacked once in the 36 times he dropped back to pass _ thatís just a first-rate job by the O-line and the man who coaches them.
ē I should have mentioned this in my Monday column, but the Rams special teams were very strong in the Washington win. The Rams blocked a punt. Rookie Johnny Hekker averaged 54.3 yards per punt, and had an outstanding net average of 48.7 yards. Hekkerís 66-yard boomer pinned the Redskins deep in the 4th quarter when they were trying to come back. The Redskins could only return one of Hekkerís three punts and that one went for a 3-yard loss. And then thereís the rookie kicker, Greg Zuerlein. He drilled all three FG attempts yesterday and is 6 for 6 through two games. The Z is 3 for 3 on attempts of 40 yards or longer. Rams GM Les Snead, take a bow. These two rookie specialists appear to be as good as promised, and itís pretty exciting to watch them.
As always thanks for reading.
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