Winning Ugly? For the Rams, Any Victory is Beautiful

Presuming I’ll be able to type this to completion without having to duck a penalty flag thrown by referee Jerome Boger’s hyperactive officiating crew, here are some quick-hit reactions to the Rams’ assertive 27-6 victory over the visiting San Francisco 49ers at The Edward Jones Dome:

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Rams coach Jeff Fisher waves to fans before leaving the field following his team’s win Sunday.

An Update On the Path to Progress: 

It was a rather ugly little slugfest Sunday, with the teams being penalized a combined 25 times (186 yards) by Boger’s crew. But with an acknowledgement of history — you know, the reality of the Rams last posting a winning season in 2003 — I’m not inclined to diminish the importance of any win based on artistic merit. Not for this team. And certainly not after the Rams won by 21 points and shoved the 49ers onto their team busses for the ride to Lambert Field.

With the win, the Rams are 4-3 after seven games for the first time since Oct. 29 of the 2006 season. That’s a long time ago. As a frame of reference the Rams haven’t had a winning record this deep into a season since the same week that the baseball Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers in Game 5 to capture the 2006 World Series. The Rams’ victory over the 49ers for that 4-3 record came nine years and six days after Jeff Weaver beat Justin Verlander in that Friday-night Game 5. And the last time the Rams were above .500 at this stage of the season, the Blues were being led by Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight and Lee Stempniak.

In CoMo, Mike Anderson was just getting underway in his first season as Mizzou’s new basketball coach. Closer to home, Kevin Lisch, Tommie Liddell and the rest of St. Louis U. basketball’s team was getting settled in for a 20-13 season. Yes, it’s been a very long time.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher was hardly beating his chest after the win. He’s maintaining a level perspective, having this to say about being 4-3 …

“Well, we expected to be here in years past, but things just didn’t work out that way,” Fisher said. “Again, I’m not satisfied. I’m not satisfied overall with the team, with execution, those kind of things. That has to carry over to the players as well, and I know it does. We’ve got work to do and just try to continue to build wins. That’s the one thing we can do.”

By throttling the 49ers, the Rams moved to 3-0 against NFC West rivals this season, having successfully handled their first tests against the Seahawks (a three-point win at home), Cardinals (a two-point win on the road), and the 49ers (by 21 points.) The Rams are now all even (10-10-1) in NFC West games since Jeff Fisher became the coach in 2012.

Does this team need more from its offense? Absolutely. Especially the passing game. There is no question about that. But for now, it’s best to pause and take a few minutes to appreciate what they’re doing — even though we all realize they’re going to have to score more points and get more production from their passing game to sustain this brief run of success.

“Well it’s nice to win a game, especially in the division, and not be satisfied,” Fisher said after the W. “I think we have to be very careful not to be satisfied with the fact that we’ve won two consecutive games here because we still have a long way to go and a lot of room for improvement … pleased with the win, don’t misunderstand me. We came through healthy. We still have a lot of room for improvement.”

I’m working on a piece on the offense.

After you read this — Part I — you can check out Part II.

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Rams RB Todd Gurley runs 71 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of Sunday’s game.

Another Conquest For the Burly-Gurley Rams: 

Gregg Williams’ burly defense smothered the 49ers, giving the visitors only brief gulps of oxygen that lasted long enough to kick two harmless field goals. (More on the defense later.) And then there was No. 30, rookie running back Todd Gurley, the new franchise player and quick-strike generator who is racing his way into the grand franchise tradition of distinguished running backs. It’s a lengthy list, one that includes Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson, Lawrence McCutcheon, Steven Jackson, Dick Bass, Deacon Dan Towler, Tank Younger, Jerome Bettis, Wendell Tyler, Jon Arnett, Willie Ellison and Cullen Bryant.

Gurley is just getting started, but his impact already is changing the course of his team’s season.

In his first four NFL starts, Gurley has romped for 566 yards, an average of 141.5 yards per game. He’s averaging 6.4 yards per carry, has three touchdowns, and has bolted for 15 runs that gained 10+ yards. As the 49ers, Browns, Packers and Cardinals have learned, it’s possible to keep Gurley under control for a few series. But just when the defense starts to believe that their wall will hold, Gurley breaks through with a game-changing play. Suddenly, the wall comes down — instantaneously shattered, and leaving defense broken. And that’s how it played out again Sunday when Gurley wheeled to 133 yards rushing.

In his four starts, Gurley has been held to 31 yards rushing on 18 carries in the first quarter. And on Sunday, the 49ers brought a thicket of defenders close to the line to shut him down early; Gurley scraped for only 15 yards on six runs in the opening quarter. But the Rams keep feeding him the football, confident that Gurley will charge his way into the open field. It happened on his first carry of the second quarter — lightning that appeared in the form of a perfectly-blocked, 71-yard, breakaway for a touchdown. It was Gurley’s fourth run of 45+ yards in his first four games as the starter.

This great Gurley escape gave the Rams a 10-3 lead and effectively ended the 49ers’ hopes of becoming the first defense to stop him since he tore a knee ligament in his final game for Georgia, against Auburn, on Nov. 15 of 2014. Considering the brutality of the Rams defense, the the ‘Niners had little chance of recovering from Gurley’s amazing gallop. Other than American Pharoah’s six-length triumph in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, this was the best run of the weekend.

The Rams are 3-1 with Gurley as their starting running back. He’s introduced himself to the league with 566 yards rushing, the most by an NFL back in his first four starts during the Super Bowl era.

“I keep bringing up that ‘S’ word, which is ‘special.’ I’ve been saying that he’s special,” Fisher said. “Again, credit him to get to this point and credit the guys around him. They bought into the run game. They bought into that philosophy, which you have to have. He’s obviously getting a lot of people’s attention.”

This Is the 49th Season of NFL ball In St. Louis, and This Is the Best Defense We’ve Had Here: 

The Rams defense continued to muscle opponents onto the ground, keeping offensive invasions from advancing into the end zone. Yeah, I know. The 49ers offense is bad, weakened by injuries, and the joy and energy and light re gone from quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s performances. But it doesn’t matter. Winning matters, and the NFL standings don’t include asterisks next to a team’s victory total to note beatdowns of sad-sack opponents. Besides, the Rams have been playing tremendous on the defensive side for a while now, and there’s no legitimate basis to downgrade the unit’s domination of 2-6 San Francisco. This is what they’re supposed to do — correct?

The 49ers had 11 first downs, with three coming on their opening possession before the Rams’ defense broke a sweat. Overall the Niners converted only 3 of 17 third-down plays, and finished with 189 net yards. The 21 rushing attempts by the 49ers accumulated 38 yards, with a few Kaepernick dashes accounting for most of that. The SanFran running backs had 10 yards rushing on 15 carries. Kaepernick was sacked three times, pursued into misfiring on multiple instances, and completed only 20 of 41, and averaged a dinky 3.4 yards per passing attempt. On third down Kaepernick flunk 14 passes for five completions and 35 yards, and his passer rating for the game was a lame 59.1.

Because of the Rams’ struggles and ineptitude on offense, this is a game that could have gotten away … but the Rams defense wasn’t going to let that happen. The group’s first-quarter safety made that clear. Until Gurley’s long TD run, the Rams’ defense provided the only two points by the home team.

The Rams defense has allowed the opponents’ offense to score only eight touchdowns in 85 possessions this season, a rate of 9.4 percent that’s the stingiest in the NFL. And the Rams have been hit for only five TDs in their opponents’ 16 red-zone opportunities. That red-zone touchdown yield of 31.2 percent is the best by an NFL defense this season.

Overall the Rams’ defense has given up only 104 offensive points in seven games, an average of 14.8 points.

And in forcing eight plays for losses on Sunday, the Rams defense increased their NFL-leading negative play total to 80.

The Rams Defense Continues to Rule the Dome … 

With the defense guarding the home turf, the Rams are 3-1 at The Ed this season. Even before Gurley moved into a starting and starring role, the Rams’ defense has made it awfully difficult for visiting teams to reach the end zone. Here’s the breakdown, and I’ve excluded three offensive possessions that ended with the visiting team taking a knee to run out the clock at the end of the half or — in Pittsburgh’s win — in the final seconds of the fourth quarter:

Seattle, 11 possessions — one TD on offense.

Pittsburgh, 9 possessions — one TD on offense.

Cleveland, 12 possessions — no touchdowns.

San Francisco, 14 possessions — no touchdowns.

That’s two offensive touchdowns in 46 possessions for visiting teams in St. Louis this season.

Not counting kneel downs, the Rams haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown at home in 32 consecutive possessions. The last touchdown was a 1-yard run by Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell two minutes into the second quarter on Sept. 27 during the Rams’ 12-6 loss.

This has been quite the impressive stand by the Williams’ defense.

As always…

Thanks for reading.

–Bernie 

Audio: Fisher Praises Defense, Notes Room to Improve in Win Over 49ers