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RamView, 8/18/2012: Rams 31, Chiefs 17 (Long)
RamView, August 18, 2012
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Preseason Game #2: Rams 31, Chiefs 17
The Governor's Cup is safe in St. Louis for another year, and the Rams turn their preseason around with solid play on both sides of the ball in a not-that-close win over the Chiefs. Preseason itself may not matter, but it's still a relief to see some good things trending up with the Rams.
Position by position:
* QB: Excellent outing for Sam Bradford, 6-9-102 for 2 TDs and a passer rating of 144.4 in a little over a quarter's work. Bradford was sharp from the opening play, a 35-yard corner route to Danny Amendola. He had “good stuff,” to borrow a baseball phrase, throwing with zing and putting every pass right on target. Just as importantly, he led the Ram offense into the end zone twice, hitting Lance Kendricks in stride for a 23-yard TD and hitting Amendola for an 8-yard TD on a fade route, a pass that's given Bradford trouble so far in his early career. He moved the offense with nice tempo and found ways to exploit mismatches and take advantage of the defense that show the progress he's making at QB. Kellen Clemens (8-10-50, 87.5 PR) led the Rams on a short TD drive after halftime, but his biggest play was a 22-yard 3rd-and-long scramble that kept a FG drive alive before halftime. Who knew he could do that, or complete 80% of his pass attempts in an NFL game? Another solid outing. Austin Davis (5-7-70, 103.3 PR) also led the Rams on a TD drive and continues to impress. He moved well in the pocket and threw decisively. No scouting report said anything very good about his arm, but he puts good velocity on his short and medium passes. He needs to throw with more touch sometimes, but he'll figure that out in time. Tom Brandstater (2-3-19) even got some late-game action to round out a highly-positive night for the QB group.
* RB: Steven Jackson (7-49) was also sharp from his first touch, an 18-yard run up the middle. He also got the Rams out of a deep hole with a 14-yard run around right end and polished off his night with a 9-yard run where he carried a 315-pound Chief lineman for about half the distance. Tantalizing prospect seeing Jackson get blocking and running room he didn't get often last season. Isaiah Pead (6-minus 5) didn't get that luxury, entering the game behind the Rams' 2nd-string line but going against the Chiefs' starters. I'm not sure I've ever seen a player have negative yardage rushing AND receiving (2-minus 3). The game plan had him running into a terrible matchup his whole time out there, and the run that really hurt him, a NINE-yard loss right into Tamba Hali and others collapsing the left side of the line back into him, was really a play he should have cut back. But what did he hear all week – about how he did too much east-and-west running in the Colts game. So no improv for Pead this week, but he did score a TD with an impressive leap from a yard out that appeared to clear a Chief DB's head. See? When there's no hole, just jump over everybody. The Rams' most exciting rookie tonight was the last one they drafted, Daryl Richardson (8-35), who looked quicker, more decisive and more effective than Pead. He accelerates very quickly, moves well in traffic, and finds the hole and hits it without needing it to be very big. Richardson weaved and skipped through the Chief defense several times for nice gains, and scored a 4-yard TD on a draw play with more good, decisive downhill running. Richardson's so quick, there's already excitement when he gets the ball, and right now, he looks like a better candidate for change-of-pace RB than Pead. Keep in mind, though, that he's running against 2nd- and 3rd-stringers. Calvin Middleton (3-13) looks like a better RB prospect than Chase Reynolds (4-7), but Reynolds showed well tonight on special teams.
* Receivers: With Brandon Gibson still out, Danny Amendola (3-58) wasn't just the #1 wide receiver by title; the Rams used him like a #1, throwing a deep corner route to him on the opening play, and going to him with a fade route from the goal line, a play where Amendola made an impressive catch while falling back and despite having a defender draped all over him for an obvious DPI. No quick slants, no 3-yard buttonhooks; Amendola played the role of the feature WR this week, and pulled it off. I know, I know, it's August, but Lance Kendricks (2-34) continues to look damn impressive, beating LB Jovan Belcher with ease on a post route for a 23-yard TD to open the scoring and converting a 3rd-and-9 with an 11-yard catch out of the backfield. Bradford looks for Kendricks and the two are working together well. Kendricks' work in the weight room in the offseason really shows, too, and he continues to throw some dominant blocks out there. Mike McNeill (3-41) flashed in front of his hometown crowd, with 19- and 14-yard catches over the middle from Davis that set up Richardson's TD. I'd call McNeill a lock for TE4, but with Mike Hoomanawanui pretty much MIA, he may be able to shoot higher. Brian Quick (3-20) did drop a deflected pass from Clemens but did solid work in the big-possession-receiver role before leaving the game with a possible back injury. Showed good hands, went strong after the ball and set up a TD with a 4th-down catch at the goal line in the 3rd. Unless Brandon Gibson ever gets back in action, I suspect we're looking at Amendola, Quick and Steve Smith (1-10) as the opening day starters.
* Offensive line: The starting unit actually looked quite good. Barry Richardson and Harvey Dahl wiped out the left side of the Chiefs line on Jackson's opening run. Richardson got Jackson the corner for his end run for 14, and Jackson's last run was through a hole made by a strong block by Dahl on one side and a good pull-block by Quinn Ojinnaka on the other. This line looks really strong run-blocking so far, with Richardson looking like a real mauler, and Bradford wasn't touched tonight in pass rush. The o-line deserves a good grade. But there are caveats. Richardson was pancaked twice in pass protection, including on the TD pass to Kendricks. Fortunately, Bradford got the ball out quickly both times. Not to find the cloud around the silver lining, but you're not going to keep Bradford protected with the right tackle on the ground. Ojinnaka was more assignment-sound than he was last week, but it was still his miss that let Derrick Johnson through to submarine Jackson for a loss on a 3rd-and-short handoff. And Ojinnaka was completely outmatched by Tamba Hali after he moved to LT in the 2nd quarter. Doesn't look like he belongs out on the edge at all. But if the Rams do need a 3rd tackle this season, they'll have Jason Smith to fall back on. Smith's pass-blocking looked good enough, but I didn't see anything to make me think he's taking his old job back from Richardson very quickly. In fact, the Rams seemed happy trying to run (and failing) behind the clearly overmatched Ojinnaka than trying to run behind Smith at all. Sue me, but I found that telling. Rodger Saffold seemed solid enough except for a red zone false start, and Brit Miller had to hold after getting beaten trying to block for Bradford on a rollout, and didn't even do that all that well. But the Rams ran for 122 and allowed just two sacks, and one of those was Davis fumbling a sloppy play-fake. (The other was a jailbreak on Brandstater where every Ram 3rd-string lineman got beaten). You have to say they had a good game. But there's also clearly room for improvement.
* Defensive line/LB: We'll take a performance like this from the defense every week, thank you very much. Chief RBs averaged just 3 yards a carry and the Rams scored five sacks. Jo-Lonn Dunbar knifed through to blow up a 3rd-down sweep for a loss and force a punt. Robert Quinn drew double-teams almost the whole time he was in but still sacked Matt Cassel in the 2nd for a huge loss with an inside charge. Chris Long could have been a bigger pass-rush factor with Quinn drawing all the double-teams, but he did knock down a pass, as did James Laurinaitis. Both those knockdowns were close to being interceptions. Michael Brockers held strong against the run until banging heads with Peyton Hillis and leaving the game woozy. Fingers crossed this does not present a concussion problem for the Rams' first-round draft pick. Eugene Sims dominated for a series after the starters left, harrying Brandon Albert into a hold and a face mask on back-to-back plays, and Albert should have gotten a false start right after the other two infractions. Josh Hull opened the second half with a run-stuff, followed by an interception by, yes, Matt Conrath. Jermelle Cudjo continued his strong roster push by blowing up a sweep for a big loss and following it with what I would have scored a half-sack with William Hayes. Scott Smith got a coverage sack of Ricky Stanzi in the 3rd, and with the Chiefs going for it on 4th down afterward, several Rams chased Stanzi out of the pocket and all over the field until Justin Cole got to him and forced a fumble Rocky McIntosh recovered, the Rams forcing a 20-yard loss on 4th-and-1. McIntosh wasn't done. He finished a 3-and-out in the 4th blitzing in untouched for a sack, and forced a fumble deep in K.C. territory. Criminy, would you look at all the impact players by linebackers this week! A couple of items to clean up: Peyton Hillis' TD run was much too easy. He about walked in over left tackle, with Laurinaitis and another LB strewn on the ground after failed dives. All the double-teaming frustrated Quinn into taking really wide routes to the QB, which opened a huge lane for Cassel to scramble for 11 in the 1st. We didn't see the individual flashes of dominance we saw last week, but instead saw 11 men playing as a team. And the very improved results.
* Secondary: The Rams' corners got off to a strong start. Cortland Finnegan stuffed a pass to Tony Moeaki for 1 yard on K.C.'s first play, then Janoris Jenkins stripped Jonathan Baldwin for a fumble recovered by Craig Dahl. Trumaine Johnson was beaten by Kevin Boss for 20 to set up a late-first half Chiefs FG, but he more than made up for that in the 2nd half, starting off with his deflection of a pass for Terrance Copper two plays into the third, a ricochet which turned into an interception for... Matt Conrath. Hey, just like they practice it. That set up a TD, and Johnson was strong in run support and in coverage throughout the half. Safety play improved a lot over last week. Quintin Mikell didn't blow nearly as many plays. Craig Dahl didn't get beaten for anything big and made several solid tackles. Rodney McLeod recovered a fumble and popped again on special teams; that's how you make a roster, which I'm pretty convinced he's going to do. One of the things Steve Spagnuolo's defenses did well was cover the tight end, but that seemed to emerge as a problem tonight, with Boss beating various Rams 4 times for 62 yards, including an especially-painful 17-yard catch on 3rd-and-15. A little disappointing: they've certainly had to defend their share of passes to tight ends in camp. A minor problem tonight, but it could become a major one.
* Special teams: The legend of Greg Zuerlein continues to grow, as he hit from 52 just before halftime. Johnny Hekker was just ok punting. He “pinned” the Chiefs at the 15 with a punt from midfield and caught another good bounce with a no-hangtime punt from his end zone and got 50 out of it. Jerome Murphy made a nice play to shut down a Javier Arenas punt return for no gain, while Rodney McLeod, Brit Miller and Chase Reynolds made plays in kick coverage. Not much happening on returns at all this week. Jenkins was forced to make fair catches. Pead made a stupid effort to go east and west on one 2nd-half punt return and was lucky to get the two yards he did get (and had to run sixty yards to get them). Keep an eye on Sammy Brown on punt blocks – he got close enough a couple of times to make it interesting.
* Coaching/discipline: I first need to make sure to mention the very vanilla game plans by the Rams (and Chiefs) on both sides of the ball after failing to do so last week. Not that Brian Schottenheimer didn't do some interesting things. Using Amendola like a bigger #1 wideout was intriguing, and successful.
Schottenheimer's doing a good job keeping the tight end involved in the passing game. And misdirection has been effective in getting receivers wide open on those rollout screens that never seem to work here. Couple of nice gainers tonight on those. No, there weren't many deep balls, fewer than last week, even, but the offense is working.
Didn't notice much blitzing tonight, either, which seems sure to be different come September. Did notice the Rams go to a 3-4 look just once, with Brockers on the nose, which appeared to confuse the Chiefs into taking a timeout. One thing that's stood out so far about Jeff Fisher's defense is its tackling. There haven't been very many missed tackles. When the Rams tackle someone, they stay tackled. Keep that up. What else stood out tonight: 5 sacks, 4 turnovers, 21 points off of turnovers. Sure sounds like a Jeff Fisher defense to me.
* Waiver bait: Greg Salas has only two catches for 7 yards in two games. His stock is falling faster than Facebook's. Could be worse – RB Nick Schwieger has yet to enter a game. Garrett Lindholm missed a 50-yard FG late in the game and didn't show all that strong a leg kicking it. Danario Alexander unfortunately seems to be running out of time to make an impression somewhere other than the trainers' table. Kendric Burney showed excellent trailing technique while getting scorched by one Jeremy Horne for Kansas City's longest play of the night, a 38-yard TD.
* Upon further review: Not many complaints for “Matt” Nicks and crew from my seat. No one seems to be calling offensive line holding this summer (which seems to be benefiting Barry Richardson and could be something to watch for). Josh Gordy probably got away with DPI on a deep TD pass attempt to Jonathan Baldwin in the 2nd. I didn't think McNeill was touched down on his 19-yard catch; I assume he didn't think so, either, since he got back up and ran. Maybe his foot got clipped. The crew went 1-for-2 on challenges. Romeo Crennel challenged Amendola's TD catch. The crew not only got that call right, they also got the obvious DPI. Pretty easy call, actually. Jeff Fisher successfully challenged Nate Eachus' fumble in the 4th, which was a much harder call. I didn't even get that one right after the first replay. Though it's probably because the Rams won, I'd take the job Nicks' crew did tonight most weeks of the regular season.
* Cheers: Very light crowd, 30,000 at best, not helped by last week's poor performance or the Cardinals game ending about a half hour before kickoff. We still raised a good ruckus on 3rd downs, though, enough to even surprise the announcers on the TV broadcast a bit. I was very happy with a couple of improvements inside the Dome. The “Rams Rules” and the stupid clapping video before kickoffs are history, and it looks like all the aisles in the upper deck have been re-painted and polished. So for at least one glorious night, my shoes weren't welded to the floor by some three-week-old spilled soda from a high-school game. The NFL this year is allowing stadiums to show the same replay footage the referee sees while he's under the hood reviewing a play. The video crew blew that on the first challenge, but we got excellent looks at the late fumble challenge that the Rams won. The league should give a raise to the person who pushed this idea.
* Who’s next?: The Rams return to the scene of one of their biggest crimes of last season next Saturday – Dallas, where they made Demarco Murray the all-time Cowboys record-holder for yards in a single game with 253. That game exposed (in part) the run defense of the Rams' safeties, weakside LB and Robert Quinn, making next weekend a valuable progress report. We'll also get a key preview of the season for both teams in the Rams corners vs. the Cowboy wideouts. Jason Witten's spleen injury (ouch) gives the Cowboy offense a much different look and feel. It's up to the Rams to make Tony Romo really feel the absence of his favorite receiver. On offense, Barry Richardson vs. Demarcus Ware sounds like a matchup to be avoided at all costs, but whoever plays RT this season will have to block Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, Brian Orakpo, Mario Williams, Cameron Wake, Aldon Smith, Chris Clemons, Calais Campbell...there aren't any weeks off in the NFL. With one good game and one dog of a game under their belt, the Rams need to show execution similar to tonight's to prove they're continuing to make progress. It'll be harder for the Rams because Jeff Fisher doesn't use his starters as much in the third preseason game as other coaches, but it shouldn't be hard to see.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 8/18/2012: Rams 31, Chiefs 17 (Long)
Always enjoy reading your recaps, Mike! Glad to hear the team was executing better this time around. Really hoping that Bradford/Kendricks connection successfully carries over into the season this year.
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-08-19-2012 #3Registered User
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Did salas dress in this game?
Re: RamView, 8/18/2012: Rams 31, Chiefs 17 (Long)
I was not able to watch game so really appreciate your recap. i am encouraged that we progressed. thanks again
-08-19-2012 #6Registered User
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Franke, do you have a photographic memory or do you rewatch the games and take notes and write your reviews? Whichever way its impressive coming from a fan!
Re: RamView, 8/18/2012: Rams 31, Chiefs 17 (Long)
Salas came up short again on a third-and-long. The Rams converted on 4th down, though and went on to score. I like him but he does seem to be sliding down the depth chart at the wrong time.
I can still remember a lot, but not near as much as I used to, so I use the NFL.com game log as an outline so I don't leave out (m)any important plays. Depending on time, I'll rewatch the game or at least the key plays, especially to try to get blocking or defensive details straight. I only re-watched the first quarter last night.
Thanks (or maybe I should blame it) to DVR technology, it probably takes me 4-5 hrs. to watch a road game and then go from a ton of notes (which I usually have to censor).
Thanks, everyone, for your questions and comments.
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