It was, as you might have expected, a rugged start for the Rams. With a new coach, a new staff and system, and with only one player that started last season’s finale on offense (Steven Jackson) and three defenders that started against San Francisco last January (Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Quinten Mikell) it was going to be rough.
The problem is that Indianapolis is in identical shape. They have a completely new coaching staff, system and roster too, yet they looked a lot better than the Rams in the pre-season opener.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said during the week that “what you want to do through the preseason is not give up a lot of points, keep the penalties down – keep them way down – protect the football, block and tackle and execute and let the score take care of itself.”
Well, the Rams had only four penalties for twenty yards. They turned the ball over twice…once on a fumble by Isaiah Pead, the pick coming at garbage time, when Austin Davis was intercepted with 28 seconds left and the Rams down 38-3.
The score DID take care of itself, however, because the Rams did give up a lot of points. They didn’t block and tackle and execute, and it came back to haunt them. After the Rams failed on a 4th and 3 on their first offensive possession, Andrew Luck hit Donald Brown for what should have been a five yard pass. But Laurinaitis got caught up in the wash at the line of scrimmage, the rest of the defense was out of position, and Brown raced for a 63 yard score.
On Indy’s first possession of the second quarter, the Rams applied NO pass rush to Luck, who threw a 23 yard strike to Austin Collie for another touchdown.
The rest of the Indy scores came against the Rams second and third teamers, and we know the lack of depth Fisher’s team suffers from. The fact of the matter is that if the Rams lose starters, they’re going to get gouged. There were a lot of minuses…and some plusses from this one…
Plusses: The Rams offense was able to generate 76 yards on nineteen plays with Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson in the game. After that, they had drives of 15, 7, 13, 30, 5 and 9 yards until their last possession, which went for 56 yards on 12 plays. So the starting offense did some things right. If they can keep their starters healthy, they have a chance to stay in games. The starting defense allowed 17 yards on 5 carries, which is more than respectable. Rookie punter Johnny Hekker compiled a net average of 52.5 yards on three kicks, which was impressive. On four punts, the Rams only allowed one return. And Greg Zeuerlein, aka Greg the Leg, hit his only field goal attempt.
Minuses: The Colts’ opening play, that 63 yard touchdown, was a punch in the gut. The defense didn’t get to Luck, who was 10-16 for 188 yards, two scores, and a passer rating of 142.7. The defense really had only two good possessions. The starters forced a three-and-out on Indy’s second series of the game, and forced a punt after an eight play, 27 yard drive on Indy’s first possession of the second half. The other Colts possessions resulted in five touchdowns, a field goal, and the end of both halves.
The running backs the Rams drafted didn’t show much. Pead had 11 carries for 33 yards, and Daryl Richardson had four yards in four carries. The offensive line has issues, especially at right tackle, where it didn’t appear anyone could get the job done.
There’s plenty of time left in the pre-season to make things better, but we as fans need to be honest with ourselves. With thirty one rookies on the roster, and the youngest team in the NFL, this is a project. Fisher is a terrific head coach, and he has a seasoned, quality staff. But there’s going to be teaching that takes place throughout this season. We might see games similar to what we saw Sunday against Indianapolis, but this team should get better as the season goes along, and be highly competitive in the second half. Fisher and that staff are going to have to get the roster to block and tackle and execute better, and hopefully the score that takes care of itself provides a more pleasant outcome.