In a game that was not as close as the final score indicated, the Rams physically dominated a very good playoff bound Saints team to raise their record to 6-8 and drop the Saints to 10-4. Coupled with the Falcons victory over the Redskins (and the Vikings win), this was an excellent day for Rams nation. The Rams played about as complete a game as they have all year (with the possible exception of the wins against the Colts and Texans on the road) in jumping out to a big lead, and then holding on with solid defense and just enough of a running game to keep the powerful Saints offense at bay. It's pretty cool to play with a backup qb, run the ball effectively, force turnovers (3), not turn the ball over, cover well downfield, tackle well, not kill yourself with stupid penalties, win the special teams battle, protect your qb, and rush the same passer all in the same game isn't it?
The Rams offensive line played very well today. We ran the ball effectively (34-144) and Clemens was not sacked at all. Special kudos to another strong performance from the right side of the line with Saffold really settling in at guard and Barksdale doing well at tackle. Tim Barnes got beat a couple of times inside in the run game with the box stacked, but he was certainly functional and Jake Long was effective as well. The Saints defensive ends have had great years, but our tackles controlled them well today and the running game sure helped. Brees and the Saints offensive may be fantastic, but one thing for sure, they are not going to score from the bench. The Rams offensive line play, especially in the first half, allowed us to run enough to keep Brees off the field and gain a big lead for the defense to protect in the second half.
The defensive line was terrific. Brees is elusive in the pocket and gets rid of the ball quickly. He is tough to sack and tough to disrupt. We did both with 4 sacks and several other hits and pressures, and we did it primarily with the front four to avoid having to blitz all the time (which is obviously tough to do against Brees). We stopped the run very well today (notwithstanding how hard it is to control Sproles), allowing only 20 carries for 61 yards, most of which came in the first half. Brockers and Langford both blocked field goals that made a real difference in the game. We were in Brees' face a lot and that is really the only way to stop him.
Robert Quinn was dominant in the extreme. Two sacks, two forced fumbles (one recovery), five tackles (including one for a loss in addition to the sacks), drew at least two penalties, drove their starting tackle to the bench, and looked like his unblockable self. Quinn continues to improve against the run. The sky is the limit with this guy. He is going to get a ton of money and he deserves it. Sacks also went to Hayes and Conrath today.
Our secondary played exceptionally well, our best game of the year in my view. Janoris gutted out the full game despite the painful back injury. He had at least two passes defended in the end zone and a couple of others all over the field. He also had six tackles. McLeod had 8 tackles. Trumaine had a fine interception at the goal line to stop an early Saints drive. TJ McDonald had an early INT, 5 tackles, and a terrific stop on 3rd and 4. I defy anyone to complain about the pick of TJ McDonald. Give Fisher credit. The guy is a work in progress, but he can play and he is absolutely part of the long term solution at safety. We were very sure handed tackling and that is such a huge part of the playing the saints. Unlike all year, we did not whiff over and over after the catch. Sure, we had some misses, but on the whole, very reliable tackling and keeping guys in front of us not allowing the big plays down the field made a really big difference.
The defense as a whole deserves credit, many of the points i have already raised. Tree didnt have his best game (7 tackles), but made one huge screen play blowup. Laurinaitis was solid tackling and in coverage. We controlled Jimmy Graham very well, our best job against a top tight end in years. We kept Brees out of the end zone, breaking a streak of 166 red zone throws without an INT. Brees threw for 393 yards, but he had to throw 56 times to do it and we held him to a qb rating of 80. The saints outgained us 434-302, but scoring defense is the name of the game, especially against that kind of offense. Can you believe that we played an entire game against Brees without a single defensive pass interference penalty? We held them to 5-15 on 3rd down which was also a substantial accomplishment. Laurinaitis made a huge tackle on a 3rd and 9 to stop a screen from a big gain, and that got us off the field. In short, a complete defensive effort, and i hope that everyone will get off the case of Jenkins and Trumaine once and for all. Sure we need more depth, but those two guys are outstanding young corners who both battle hard every week and both have tons of upside as they gain additional experience. The stop and blocked fg right before halftime was enormous, it kept the game at 24-3 and kept them from getting momentum (which was especially big since they were getting the ball to start the second half).
Offensively, it was another strong game for Zac Stacy, who showed good power between the tackles and a strong burst outside (40 yard td run on an excellent block from Saffold, Barksdale, Kendricks). Zac wound up 28-133 (4.8 average) after a 16-106 first half. The first half.
Clemens played well (a strong running game and solid pass protection sure does help doesn't it?). He was 10-13-113 in the first half, and would up 14-20-158-2tds and a 126.7 rating, and also had a nifty 8 yard run on an option play (with a 15 yard roughing penalty tacked on). He also threw a perfect long ball to brian quick, who could not haul it in. He made reasonably nice throws for the tds to Kendricks and Harkey (although Harkey deserves the credit for the run after the catch). Not much to complain about today from Kellen, although he didnt do much at all in the second half. Pettis bailed him out with a couple of nice catches (Pettis 4-41 was our leading receiver, all catches in the first half).
Bailey had two big catches, with a 3rd and 12 play for 20 yards that was really impactful. That guy runs nice routes. He also gained 6 on a nice end around (obviously, we would all rather see Tavon running that play, he was out today with the ankle injury). Givens had only one catch, a 31 yard catch and run on third and 4 on a hot read. Otherwise, he saw only one other ball all game. Harkey was outstanding all game, blocking well and making a terrific catch and run for our first td. Harkey is absolutely a keeper. Cook and Kendricks each had one catch i believe, the Kendricks touchdown grab capped off a 93 yard drive.
Hecker and the Leg were both good again today. Leg had a terrific perfectly placed onside kick which Bailey leaped to recover and hit his field goals while allowing no kickoff returns. Hecker had some deep kicks and two kicks inside the 20. Good coverage kept the dangerous Sproles under control as a returner. Great special teams efforts, two blocked field goals and a recovered on side kick (but see the one ugly play in the game below on the allowing the onside kick at the end).
The Rams played a clean game. No turnovers and only 4 penalties for 30 yards (one of which was a lousy personal foul call on Simms early in the game).
Give the coaches credit today. No quite at all in the Rams. We were ready to play and physically beat up another playoff caliber opponent. Many of our young players are really coming along.
Brian Quick has to make that catch. The ball hit him in the hands. It's not an easy catch, but its the kind of play that he has to make.
I love Tree, but he takes some angles to the ball that are just awful and 2 or 3 times a game he badly takes himself out of plays.
Janoris missed one tackle that cost us 20 yards in field position.
Chris Long jumped offsides on a 3rd and 6. Langford also had an offsides.
Injuries to McLeod (hand) and Stacy (hip), although Zac came back in and played the rest of the game and played well.
We missed on a couple of makeable slant patterns on third and short (one to bailey, one to givens).
The last play of the third quarter, we gave up 22 yards on some bad tackling over the middle.
Our offense didnt put the Saints away when we had some chances to do so in the second half. We had very little offense in the second half, but what we had was enough, especially with the clock on our side and the defense not giving up big plays down the field.
Only one ugly play in the entire game, but it was a really ugly one. We allowed the Saints to recover an onside kick with about 3 minutes left when the ball hit Chase Reynolds before it went ten yards. With everyone in the stadium knowing that an onside kick was coming, and with Coach calling timeout before the kick to make sure everyone was ready, its incomprehensible and ugly in the extreme that we allowed that kick to work. It kept the game alive and made plenty of us nervous i am sure. If we fall on that ball, the game is over.
A top notch quality win for the Rams, no two ways about it. With the exception of the onside kick at the end and the missed long catch for Quick, its really picking nits to criticize the Rams for the way that they played and coached today. The Saints are the likely #2 seed in the NFC and we deserve a lot of credit for getting the job done by playing Jeff Fisher football, getting a lead with the running game and opportunistic passing, and dominating physically with a strong pass rush and sure tackling. Winning the turnover battle 3-0 is a great way to win games in the NFL.
Tampa Bay is next, and we should have an excellent chance to win that game at home. If Seattle clinches home field next week, we could be playing the seachicken backups for a chance to wind up at .500, which would be quite an accomplishment without Sammy. Lets hope we have Tavon back for the Tampa game. If we play like we played today, i feel good about our chances, but as we have all seen this year, consistency is a quality that has eluded the Rams. Let's see if we can put two quality games together and not play down to the level of our competition.
One interesting note. The Rams waived Gerald Rivers today. He was the rookie defensive end that was so impressive in preseason with high energy and sacks. I wonder what he did to get himself kicked off the team this late in the year. I suspect there is a story there somewhere. Also, HUGE win for the Falcons. The Falcons forced 7 turnovers today and still almost lost, but they stopped the Skins on an attempted 2 point conversion with 20 seconds left in the game when Shanahan went for the win instead of forcing OT. This was a fortunate result for the Rams because the Falcons blew as many opportunities as you ever see in an NFL game and really couldnt stop the Redskins at all. I doubt that there is a game in the last 20 years in the NFL where a team turned the ball over 7 times and won and the Redskins got as close as you can get. The Redskins play Dallas next week, this is Dallas who allowed 5 tds on 5 Green Bay possessions in the second half to blow a 26-3 halftime lead at home. Let's hope the Cowboys can get the job done, leaving us to cheer for the Giants in the last week at home vs. the Redskins in the hope that the Rams can wind up with the #2 overall pick.
Ramming speed to all (and get well soon Sammy)