Ten Takeaways from Sunday’s 19-17 Win in Tampa Bay

1. Austin Davis isn’t known to have stocked grocery store shelves, but at this time last season, he was the quarterbacks coach at Westminster Christian Academy in Chesterfield. On Sunday, Davis turned in a representative performance in his first NFL start.

austin davis
Austin Davis

He showed the ability to elude the rush, get the ball out, and didn’t throw an interception. That being said, the Rams were just 1-for-3 in the red zone and scored just one touchdown. With the likes of Brian Quick, Kenny Britt, Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks, the Rams should be more efficient inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. In eight red-zone snaps, the Rams ran the ball four times, Davis was 2-of-3 for seven yards, and Scott Wells had a bad snap that forced the Rams into a field-goal try. As he gets more experience, Davis will earn the confidence of Rams coaches to take more shots into the end zone from the red zone.

2. T.J. McDonald all of a sudden became a marked man on special teams with one game. John Fassel’s special teams are aggressive, and McDonald’s exploits that set up field goals were the difference in this game. His punt block in the second quarter led to a field goal that gave the Rams a halftime lead.

His second block, on the first play of the fourth quarter, was of a field goal that would have made it 17-13 Bucs. The Rams then drove to a 46-yard field goal of their own that made it 16-14 STL. If McDonald doesn’t block the second one, Tampa wins the game.

3. Running backs Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham turned in a workmanlike 25 carries for 86 yards. Once again, the power running game failed to set the tone for the offense. Tavon Austin and Britt each had end-around carries that gained good yardage, Austin for 18 and Britt for 12. It’s great to trick teams for gains now and then, but that’s not going to work against defenses like the Seahawks and 49ers have. This effort was better than the opener, but the Rams have a ways to go if they’re going to be able to rely on their running game as the foundation of their offense.

4. With only five accepted penalties for 65 yards, the Rams were disciplined enough to allow them to win. Two of the penalties were in the first Tampa Bay drive and one nullified a Rams touchdown, while the other gave the Bucs a first down after they had been stopped on third down. Against a Lovie Smith-coached team, the turnover battle was even. Overall, a clean enough performance to win most weeks.

5. With Rams killer DeMarco Murray coming to town next week, the Rams better buckle down their defense against the run. Tampa ran 30 times for 157 yards, 5.2 per carry. Among Bobby Rainey’s 22 carries for 144 yards were gains of 31, 24 and 19 yards. In Murray’s last two games against the Rams, he’s run for 175 yards on 26 carries last season, and a Cowboys-record 253 yards on 25 carries with a TD in 2011. So, he’s had 428 yards and has averaged 8.4 per carry against St. Louis. They need to be waaayyy better than they were against Rainey if they hope to knock off Dallas.

greg zuerlein
Greg Zuerlein

6. Seeing Greg Zuerlein go 4-for-4 in the field-goal department, in bad conditions in Tampa, was important. A preseason in which he missed three 50-plus-yard tries and then a miss of a 56-yarder last week had some questioning the Rams’ kicker. With six field goals and an extra point in their first two games, the Rams’ kicking specialists of Zuerlein, holder Johnny Hekker and long snapper Jake McQuaide are off to a good start in their Kick Cancer initiative, which you can join at SSMKickCancer.org.

7. E.J. Gaines looks like the real deal. He led the Rams in tackles and shared the defense’s sack with Eugene Sims. Tall Buccaneer receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans were each held to four catches.

The worries about Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner being injured have been eased with the ascent of Gaines to being a legitimate NFL cornerback.

8. Gaines remains the only starter among the rookies. A team that went 7-9 last season can’t find room for first-rounders Greg Robinson or Aaron Donald to start. Joyner was injured. Third-round pick Tre Mason was inactive for his second game, and fourth-rounder Mo Alexander dressed because of the Joyner injury, but participated strictly on special teams. Perhaps after the bye, Robinson and Mason can begin to replicate the power-running playing style they displayed at Auburn last year.

9. If the Rams say those players need more seasoning, they should get at least some benefit of the doubt. For the second straight game, third-year wide receiver Quick led the team with seven catches, this time for 74 yards. In two games, Quick has caught 14 passes for 173 yards. He has eclipsed his rookie numbers, and is four catches and 129 yards away from his second-year totals.

10. For as much grief as Jeff Fisher and his staff rightfully took for being unprepared in their opener, the team was charged up and ready to go, and came from behind on the road. That’s not an easy thing for a young team to do, but Fisher had them mentally ready.