Rams Report Card: Coaches, special teams flunk
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BY JEFF GORDON STLtoday.com | Posted: Monday, November 7, 2011 12:15 am |


Here are the grades for the St. Louis Rams after Sunday’s stunning 19-13 loss to the Cardinals.

QUARTERBACK: Sam Bradford played gamely on one good leg, completing 23 of 36 passes for 255 yards. He got the job done on his final possession of regulation play, directing the Rams into position to kick the winning field goal. But the Cardinals blocked that kick and Bradford was left to lament his failure to finish drives with TDs instead of field goal tries. GRADE: C.

RUNNING BACK: Steven Jackson starred again, rushing for 130 yards on 29 carries. He was heroic at the end of regulation play. Back-up Cadillac Williams added 17 yards on three carries. But Jackson, fullback Brit Miller and the offensive line collectively failed to convert the most critical short-yardage opportunities. GRADE: B-plus.

RECEIVERS: Rookie Greg Salas was having a fabulous game . . . until he suffered a broken leg. So it goes for the hard-luck Rams wideouts. Rookie Austin Pettis stepped in and fared well. Those two receivers and the two Brandons, Lloyd and Gibson, caught pretty much everything they could reach. They didn't always get open, but overall they were just fine. Now we’ll see if Danario Alexander (hamstring strain) and Mark Clayton (Achilles tendon soreness) might have something to add with Salas done for the year. GRADE: B-plus.

TIGHT ENDS: Rookie Lance Kendricks caught one pass while lined up wide, but he suffered a foot injury in the process. Journeyman Billy Bajema drew attention to himself, but only on the penalty front. Some of their run blocking was strong, but Rams offense needs more from these guys in the passing game. GRADE: C-minus.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The good news: This unit opened some giant holes for Jackson. The bad news: It failed to get the needed push on key short yardage plays. And it let the Arizona defense pound Bradford on too many passing downs. The Cardinals earned four sacks and harassed Bradford ceaselessly during the second half. GRADE: C-minus.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Arizona was vulnerable after allowing 24 sacks in its first seven games this season. The Rams exploited that weakness by sacking fill-in Cardinals quarterback John Skelton three times, once for a safety. The line earned another safety when C.J. Ah You forced an intentional grounding violation in the end zone. Chris Long’s 16-yard sack gave the Rams a chance to win at the end of regulation play. But the defensive line also allowed Skelton to scramble four times for 38 yards. Such escapes helped him march the Cardinals to their only TD drive. That late failure negated the unit dominance all day against the run. GRADE: B.

LINEBACKERS: Brady Poppinga (calf muscle) returned to active duty and did his part to limit Cardinals running back Beanie Wells to 20 yards in 10 carries. He, Chris Chamberlain and James Laurinaitis combined for 13 tackles according to press box statistics. Overall the defense allowed just 262 yards, which reflects well on this unit. GRADE: A.

SECONDARY: Safety Darian Stewart was stellar, hawking the ball and hitting hard. But the defensive backs allowed the unheralded Skelton to hit too many big throws when the game was in the balance. GRADE: C.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Rams knew they faced danger with rookie punt returner Patrick Peterson. The speedster led the league in return average (19.1 yards) coming into the game and was just the third rookie since 1970 to score on two punt returns of 80 yards or more. And yet Peterson beat the Rams in overtime on a 99-yard TD return. This unit also had the potential game-winning field goal blocked. Untimely penalties, a couple of ill-advised Quinn Porter returns out of the end zone and a mangled fair catch added to the fun. On the plus side, Josh Brown kicked three field goals, Donnie Jones pinned the Cardinals inside their 20 yard-line four times and Pettis averaged 21.5 yards on two punt returns. But special teams disasters cost the Rams this game. GRADE: F.

COACHING: Steve Spagnuolo and his assistants had to find ways to beat the depleted Cardinals. They just did. And the Rams should have won handily, in fact, given the huge territorial advantage they enjoyed for much of the game. And yet their team found new ways to earn another mind-boggling loss. Spagnuolo made an easy-to-second-guess decision when he opted to go for it on fourth down with 1:48 left, rather than try a 51-yard field goal. That decision didn't cost the Rams, but it was still a head scratcher. With the Rams staggering along at 1-7, this regime will be hard-pressed to overcome this fiasco. GRADE: F.