The Rams were unable to put together a complete game again on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., and were thumped by the league-leading Cardinals 31-14. The defense did enough good things to win, but the offense was held to 203 yards before its last, meaningless drive and turned the ball over three times in the pivotal fourth quarter. These are the 2014 Rams. And, with that, 10 takeaways:
1. After a half season of starting for Austin Davis, it has become apparent that he isn’t a guy to be a franchise, difference-making quarterback in the NFL.
At times, he shows moxie. But he doesn’t have an exceptionally strong arm, and doesn’t show innate aggressiveness when he needs to lead a team to a comeback.
For most great quarterbacks, their aggressiveness needs to be reigned in. For Davis, as Derek Stanley said on the 101ESPN postgame show, he looks “timid, scared and uncomfortable” in clutch fourth-quarter situations. So far, when the chips are down and there’s a chance in the fourth quarter, he crumbles. Against Dallas, the Rams trailed 27-24 in the fourth when Bruce Carter returned a Davis interception to make it 34-24 and put the game away. Down 20-7 in Philadelphia, he lost a sack-fumble-touchdown early in the third quarter that gave the Eagles a 20-point lead. Down by a touchdown against San Francisco at the Edward Jones Dome, he threw a pick-six to Dontae Johnson that gave the 49ers a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter.
Then in this game, he threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and had a fumble that was returned for a score to increase Arizona’s lead from 17-14 to 31-14.
Since passing for 300-plus yards in Weeks 3 and 4, Davis has passed for 236, 155, 160, 105 and 216 yards. His passer rating in those five games is 73.3, with six touchdowns and six interceptions – plus a pair of pick-sixes. That’s no way to win.
2. The Rams had three more sacks to give them 17 this season and 16 in their last four games. It makes you wonder why it took so long to get the pass rush going. They harassed Carson Palmer until he left the game with a knee injury, and got their hands on both Palmer and Drew Stanton with pressures several times. The defense actually played well enough to win, holding Arizona to 17 points and just 335 yards.
3. With a scoreless second half, the Rams have scored 59 second-half points in nine games, and 21 of those came in Philadelphia after they had fallen behind 34-7. In eight games, they’ve scored 38 points (4.75 per game) in second halves (Green Bay scored 42 in one half on Sunday night vs. Chicago). Even with a backup quarterback, that’s inexcusable. The ability of offensive coordinator/playcaller Brian Schottenheimer to improve production after halftime seems non-existent. Granted, Davis’ turnovers have undermined the Rams. But but no team can win scoring at that rate in second halves.
4. I understand the illegal blindside block call against Lance Kendricks that cost the Rams a first down at the Arizona four-yard line late in the third quarter, but how can it be a “blind side block” if the defender is facing the tackler? It was an awful call. It’s another example of the NFL legislating hitting out of their sport. Six years ago, that play would have set up a St. Louis touchdown. Now, it devastates a team’s chances to win.
5. For the third time this season, the Rams had a chance to win back-to-back games. Last year, they won back-to-back games three times, but never won three in a row.
In 41 games as their head coach, Jeff Fisher has led them to one three-game winning streak (in 2012). The Cardinals are in the midst of their second three-or-more-game winning streak of the season. Under first-year coach Mike Pettine, the Browns have won three in a row. The Detroit Lions have won four in a row under first-year coach Jim Caldwell. It would seem a franchise in the third year of a regime would be able to put together a level of consistency beyond what the Rams have.
6. In a rather amazing stat, the opposition has scored 34 points against the Rams in four games, and 31 in their other two losses. That’s consistency. Obviously, not all of those points can be placed on the defense.
But the Rams know how many points it’ll take to win most weeks: They need to get 35 to be sure.
7. The Rams punted seven times, with five of those coming after three-and-outs by the offense. In those five drives, the Rams had 15 plays for 12 yards. When you have 12 meaningful possessions (not at the end of a half), and five of them garner 12 yards, you generally aren’t going to win.
8. In a game of explosive plays, the Rams had exactly one – their touchdown pass to Jared Cook – that went for more than 20 yards. Four of the Rams’ 10 longest plays were Davis passes in garbage time in the fourth quarter. Brian Quick is missing, but the Rams have a significant investment in Tavon Austin, Cook and Kendricks, and have talented players in Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt and Chris Givens. Yet they can’t come up with explosive plays. Perhaps this goes back to Davis or Schottenheimer, but Fisher has to solve the problem if the Rams ever hope to compete at the highest level. By comparison, the Packers had a 21-yard play, a 73-yard touchdown, a 40-yard touchdown, a 29-yard pass and a 56-yard touchdown in the first half against Chicago. They also drew a 53-yard pass interference penalty. The Rams aren’t in the same universe as the most explosive teams in the league, and haven’t been even with Sam Bradford at quarterback.
9. I love the fact that Fisher has assembled a “rock star” coaching staff that has received many accolades over the years. Several members of the staff have Super Bowl rings or multiple playoff appearances, and they’ve coached Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame players. So the pedigree is there. With that being the case, it’s disturbing to me that so many highly drafted players have failed to ascend or have even regressed.
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who had four and then 5.5 sacks in his first two years, has one through nine games. On draft day 2012, when the Rams took Brockers, defensive line coach Mike Waufle told Michael Silver, then of Yahoo!, “They say he’s not much of a pass rusher, but we’ll teach him to pass rush. Tommy Kelly wasn’t either, at one time, and we taught him how to power rush. The last two years he’s had more sacks (14 ½) than any defensive tackle in the league, and this kid will do the same.”
That hasn’t happened. While the first of three second-rounders that year, Quick, appeared to break out this year, Janoris Jenkins has regressed. Isaiah Pead never did anything. Givens regressed after a good rookie year, too. 2013 first pick Austin hasn’t been an impact player yet, and Alec Ogletree hasn’t advanced this year.
Last year’s third-rounder, T.J. McDonald, has been solid, but fourth-rounders Bailey and Barrett Jones have yet to get on the field enough to make an impact. It’s too early to say they’re not going to make significant impact, but it’d be nice to see this staff develop some stars from among all of those picks.
10. Although Ogletree has been an overall disappointment this year, he did turn in a huge impact interception in the fourth quarter that set up what should have been a touchdown, if not for the Kendricks penalty. He was second on the team in tackles with seven, had three pass breakups and forced a fumble. The SEC group of defenders in the back seven – Ogletree, Jenkins and Mark Barron – made some plays. Perhaps the Rams significantly added to their talent base with the addition of Barron. All the defenders will need to be great to hold Peyton Manning under 30 points next week.