Week Fifteen: Post-Game Observations
There are a few good things to take away from yesterdayís game, despite the loss. We havenít always been able to say that this season, so when the opportunity arises, one must take advantage of it.
First and foremost, the Rams were competitive. Led by their defense, St. Louis actually went into halftime with a lead, and this game never really got away from them. Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton was held to a 62.8 quarterback rating, while Cedric Benson averaged less than 3.5 yards per pop. While A.J. Green got his yards, 85 of his 115 came on his first two receptions.
This was simply another case of the Ramsí defense doing well enough to make a game out of it, but the offense just completely letting the team down. Steven Jackson had a tough day of running through some inconsistent holes and a gameplan designed to test the perimeters of the Bengalsí defense, but he made up for it by becoming the Ramsí biggest factor in the passing game (9 rec, 72 yards).
When you consider who was throwing to Jackson, itís kind of hard to believe the Rams found themselves still in this thing late in the game. Kellen Clemens, with only five practices under his belt, came in against an AFC contender and put up the best passer rating that any Rams quarterback has achieved all season. Thatís something for the young man to be proud of. He looked decisive with the football, did a good job evading pressure, and delivered a nice jump ball to Danario Alexander to score the Ramsí only touchdown. Given the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Ramsí coaching staff, itís too early to speculate on what if anything Clemensí performance means for his career with the Rams. But it was certainly a solid performance given the circumstances.
Speaking of, props to Danario for stepping back into the spotlight in this game, coming up with two clutch catches late in the game to help the Rams stay in this one. Receptions of 22-and-25-yards in the two-minute offense at the end of the game were nice additions. Brandon Lloyd and Austin Pettis had some solid catches but nothing that altered the course of the game. Lance Kendricks was more involved than usual, but still not involved enough for a team in need of multiple playmakers.
The biggest hindrance to the offense, at least in my opinion, was their inability to sustain drives and convert third downs. For the good things that Clemens did, this was certainly not one of them. The Rams converted a dismal 15% of their third-down opportunities on the day, only two out of thirteen attempts. The Bengalsí offense wasnít that much more effective, but when youíre talking about an offensive unit as inept as the Rams, there is so little margin for error. And this inability to convert when needed was a big, big error. This has been a massive failure for the Rams all season, as they currently rank 31st in the NFL on converting third downs through the air or on the ground in third and short situations.
Defensively, what else can you say about this unit? Chris Long deserves a Pro Bowl spot this season. If he doesnít get one, itís a shame and it will likely be because he doesnít play for a contender. Thatís not a fair reason, so Iíd encourage Rams fans to go out and vote for him before the deadline closes. Heís had an outstanding year, and recently, heís been producing despite being hurt. The great ones are able to do that, and I think we need to recognize that Chris Long is developing into a great left defensive end for this team. Based on the impact that his young partner Robert Quinn has had both on defense and on special teams, Iíd say the Rams have a good young duo manning the outside of their lines for a while to come. If only they could get some help on the inside.
The back seven held up fairly well, I thought. I liked what I saw out of the Ramsí outside linebackers more than I have in previous games, and the inexperienced secondary certainly could have been more abused than they were in this one. I think one positive to come out of all the injuries is that the Rams may be finding out what they have in some of these young players. For instance, it would not surprise me at all if Josh Gordy is competing as a nickel corner next season, and I think Darian Stewart is showing why he at least deserves a reserve role on a future Rams team.
The unfortunate part of that situation is that the present coaching staff may not be the ones in town next year to see what these guys turn into, but thatís through no oneís fault but their own. Too often weíve seen some real bonehead maneuvers from this crew, mistakes that extend beyond the injury or talent or personnel excuses. I donít think we saw the kind of head-scratching, snack-throwing decisions yesterday that we have in previous games, and I will say that the intensity this team still showed may illustrate that they havenít given up on their coach. I just wish, at times, Spagnuolo would crawl out of his conservative shell and put some of that confidence back in his players. One way to do so would have been going for it on Fourth and One from midfield in the third quarter. At 2-11, would he really have that much to lose?
Ultimately, of the final three games on the Ramsí schedule, this contest likely represented the most winnable of the three. Going to Pittsburgh for a Christmas eve contest and then finishing out the year with a much improved San Francisco team has the Rams looking hard at a two-win season, which likely leads to massive changes in the organization and the coaching staff. While I think there are some legitimate reasons that Spagnuolo and company can hang their hat on, too many games this year were lost through uninspired, non-competitive performances. This may not have been one of those, but itís still an L in the results column.