Denver was favored by 10 points coming into the Edward Jones Dome to face the Rams on Sunday, and pretty much every fan I talked to figured the Broncos would cover that spread by a wide margin. But you never know in the NFL, where the 4-6 Rams have beaten three of last year’s final four, including both Super Bowl participants, in the last five weeks. Here are my 10 main takeaways from the win over the Broncos.
1. The Broncos had the top rush defense coming into the game, allowing just 67 yards per game.
The Rams became the third team to rush for over 100 yards against Denver. Kansas City had 133, and Seattle had 129. The Rams ran for 131, with Tre Mason running for 113, becoming the first back to run for more than 100 against the Broncos this year. In its other games, Denver allowed Indianapolis 54 yards, Arizona 37, the Jets 31, San Francisco 62, San Diego 61, New England 66 and Oakland 30. That was the most impressive aspect of the day for the Rams – they got their running game going against the top rushing defense in the league.
2. Shaun Hill did a great job of leading Kenny Britt on the 63-yard touchdown pass. The Rams needed a big play, and he delivered. Additionally, Hill didn’t turn the ball over. After the calamitous fourth quarter by Austin Davis against Arizona, the Rams needed the quarterback position to settle down, and Hill provided it.
A workmanlike 20-of-29 for 220 yards, a touchdown and no picks is what the Rams needed.
3. With the Broncos facing a fourth-and-5 with 1:22 left in the first quarter, Peyton Manning waved the punt team back to the sideline to go for it.
Manning tried to hit Emmanuel Sanders, but E.J. Gaines broke the pass up. In the fourth quarter, the Broncos gave up the ball on an Alec Ogletree interception, on downs, on a Trumaine Johnson interception and again on downs. That’s five big plays by the Rams’ defense against Manning, including four in the fourth quarter, which is phenomenal. After spending half the season with their linebackers getting only a fumble recovery, in the last two weeks they’ve had 34 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
4. This was the fifth time in 10 games the Rams have scored zero or one touchdown. It’s remarkable that they’ve achieved a 4-6 record with that stat. Against Minnesota the Rams didn’t score a TD, and then at Tampa Bay, Kansas City and San Francisco, and then against Denver, the Rams scored one touchdown – winning against Tampa, the 49ers and the Broncos. The Rams have 3 of their 4 wins scoring one touchdown, but that’s an anomaly.
They can’t win consistently in the NFL with that sort of offensive production.
5. While the Broncos’ run defense had been great coming in, the Rams have steadily improved during the season. This may have been the best performance of all. C.J. Anderson ran nine times for 29 yards, and was smothered by the Rams. It got to the point that Manning didn’t even bother with the running game, allowing the St. Louis pass rush to tee off and force the throws that resulted in interceptions.
6. Speaking of the Rams’ pass rush, it was amazing that Ryan Clady only got called for one holding penalty. He played the same way that Russell Okung of Seattle does, consistently grabbing Quinn around the collarbone and neck and dragging him down. How that isn’t a hold is beyond me, but the league does a great job of protecting Manning and Russell Wilson.
7. The Rams were only penalized three times.
There was the bad call of unnecessary roughness against Rodney McCleod. It was a perfectly timed football hit, but those have been legislated out of the NFL. The other penalties were a silly delay of game by Janoris Jenkins for moving the ball from its spot, and offside on a kickoff. The discipline before and after the snap by the offense and defense was superb.
8. There were three Rams who dressed but didn’t play. Backup quarterback Davis was one. Running back Zac Stacy and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who weren’t on the injury report, were the others.
It says a lot about the staff’s feelings about Dunbar’s pass defense abilities that he didn’t play. But Stacy will still see action.
As great as Mason was, he can’t carry the ball 29 times every week.
9. After missing key field goals against Seattle and Kansas City, and falling to 29th in the league in field-goal accuracy, Greg Zuerlein has hit his last seven attempts, including 55- and 53-yarders against Denver, to get to 20th in accuracy. Zuerlein is not a concern now, as he was earlier in the season.
10. I mentioned during the pregame show with Anthony Stalter that if the Rams could steal a win against either Denver or San Diego, they’d have a shot at a .500 record. First off, they didn’t have to steal this win. They didn’t have to fake punt or onside kick. On that day, the Rams were better than Denver. At 4-6 right now, the Rams wouldn’t surprise anyone if they beat the Raiders, Redskins, Cardinals and Giants to get to 8-8. The trips to San Diego and Seattle are iffy at best.
Bonus: In the last two games that Manning has faced a defense coordinated by Gregg Williams (Sunday and Super Bowl XLIV), he’s gone 65-of-99 for 722 yards, but only two touchdowns and three interceptions. Manning has lost both games, with his teams totaling 24 points.