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Revived Rams gave Mad Mike plenty to smile about
BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
Rams coach Mike Martz got what he wanted Monday night -– a crisp, tough, encouraging performance from his defensive and offensive starters in Detroit.
They put that miserable showing in San Diego behind them and got ready for the real games while shoving around the Lions. Well-executed blitzes fueled the defensive charge and Steve Jackson’s explosive running (14 carries, 108 yards) sparked the offense.
All in all, “Mad Mike” had plenty to smile about after this game. Most of the team questions were answered during the impressive 37-13 victory.
Here is what we liked:
The Rams' front seven stood out early, with a quick three-and-out defensive stop. A good run stop on second down and a decent pass rush on third down were notable. That set the tone for a sturdy performance from start to finish -– albeit against a Lions offense that couldn’t execute.
Detroit rushed for 66 yards, about one-fourth the total the Chargers put on the Rams’ defense in Week 2 of the preseason.
Starting at left guard, Tom Nutten helped spring Jackson for a 64-yard run up the right sideline by pulling right and delivering a nice lead block. That led to Marc Bulger’s third-down “run” up the middle for a touchdown.
Middle linebacker Chris Claiborne ran over Kevin Jones on a blitz, than collared Lions quarterback Joey Harrington for a first-quarter sack. On the next play, another blitz created another sack.
Utility lineman Tyoka Jackson found an open lane and sacked Harrington to push the Lions out of field-goal range. This became a very long night for the young Lions quarterback.
Hey, it’s great to see tight end Brandon Manumaleuna break wide open for a 27-yard catch. And here we thought Roland Williams was going to do all the damage at that position this season!
Later in the half, though, Manumaleuna couldn’t pull in a Bulger bomb after breaking free down the middle in the field. Martz loves the prospect of hitting his tight end over the top while the safeties are otherwise occupied.
Hey, it’s great to see the bulldozing Jackson go out in motion, run a crisp route and catch a first-down pass from Bulger. That looked a bit like Marshall Faulk coming out of the backfield.
Speaking of Marshall Faulk, he looked like Marshall Faulk with his hard-core running in the red zone late in the first quarter. That set up Jackson’s TD run and gave the Rams’ first unit a 14-0 lead. Again, Nutten did a nice job as lead blocker.
Defensive end Anthony Hargrove, fighting to beat out Brandon Green for a starting spot opposite Leonard Little, got a nice second-effort sack of Harrington and jarred the ball loose for Damione Lewis as well. Alas, Harrington was ruled to be in the grasp before the ball came out.
Later in the first half, Hargrove mauled Harrington and again jarred the ball loose for Jimmy Kennedy. The officials ruled the play a fumble on the field. Inexplicably, the play was ruled an incomplete pass after a video review.
Special teamer Michael Stone made the most of his playing time in the secondary; he crushed Harrington as the quarterback scrambled away from a blitz. The result was an incomplete third-down pass, well underthrown.
Bulger wanted to work into mid-season form and he succeeded in Motown. His 31-yard strike to Isaac Bruce on a post-pattern pass -– pushing the Rams first-half lead to 21-3 -- was vintage Air Martz.
Adam Archuleta, back at strong safety, generally kept himself in the middle of things. Among his other plays, he arrived in time to whack tight end Marcus Pollard -– helping force a red-zone incompletion.
Early in the second half, the middle of the Rams defensive line stuffed a fourth-and-one plunge to turn the ball back to the offense.
Quarterback Jamie Martin relieved Bulger and marched the Rams into scoring position with a big strike to Kevin Curtis and a swing pass out to Manumaleuna. He built on his sharp play earlier in camp and reinforced his value as Bulger’s back-up.
Fullback Madison Hedgecock looks very promising on special teams, but that 11-yard TD pass he caught from Martin could help solidify his role in the offense as well. He is a big, big man with intriguing potential.
Playing ahead of Jeff Smoker in garbage time, Ryan Fitzpatrick solidified his grip on the No. 3 quarterback job. Has Martz discovered his next new thing at that position?
And here is what we liked not as much:
Archuleta was sitting on Lions running back Kevin Jones in the first quarter, but couldn’t wrap him up one-on-one in the backfield. Jones got loose for a 14-yard gain as a result.
Torry Holt’s little brother Terrence burst in offsides and rolled into kicker Jeff Wilkins. That careless foul knocked Wilkins out of the game, briefly, and gave Martz something to get tight about. Fortunately, Wilkins wasn’t seriously hurt.
Moving into run support position in the flat, cornerback/kick returner Terry Fair lowered his head on Jones, got kneed, and fell motionless to the turf. With Jerametrius Butler sidelined, the Rams did not need to lose another defensive back to another injury.
Fortunately, Fair suffered only a bruised spinal cord and regained feeling in his limbs shortly after the hit.
Punt returner Shaun McDonald went backward on his first two attempts, which is NOT going to give this team improved field position.
After getting run around a bit and sacked, Bulger got a bit anxious in the second quarter and got picked off with a too-daring throw downfield. But he quickly settled down and finished off an efficient showing.
As usual, Martz wasn’t shy about burning timeouts long before the final two minutes of the half.
Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe steamed in unblocked on a blitz late in the first half . . . and whiffed on his sack attempt. As a result, the Lions moved into scoring position.
Rex Tucker had enough rough moments at right tackle to leave the door ajar for Alex Barron, should the No. 1 pick continue progressing during preseason drills.
The first-team Rams offense was steaming back into scoring position early in the second half when Isaac Bruce lost the ball after a downfield reception. The guy who stripped him? Old friend Dre’ Bly.
(When Orlando Pace dumped Bly into the Lions bench at the end of the play, it was funny to watch the Lions crowd Pace and respectfully object to the play. Nobody wanted to take on the towering Pace, even though he was badly outnumbered on the Detroit sideline.)
Arlen Harris was building a nice advantage in the competition for the No. 3 running back spot . . . until he got dinged in the third quarter. Dusty McGrorty saw extensive second-half action as a result, although we’re not sure he helped his long-shot cause a great deal.