Even Jeff Fisher noted after his team’s 27-6 win over San Francisco that the performance left them plenty to work on before next week’s game. A dozen penalties and a tough time for the offense staying on the field made for a less than dazzling display, but a win is a win.
And for the Rams, any win in this playoff race is big. With that, ten takeaways from the win that got St. Louis over .500 in November for the first time in nine years.
1) 4-3 is a major accomplishment for this franchise. They hadn’t been 4-3 since the first seven games of 2006, their first year under Scott Linehan. Winning two in a row and playing well in back-to-back games should give the team confidence as it heads out on the road to face the Vikings next week. The last time the Rams were as good as 5-3 at mid-season? The 12-4 West Division Championship season of 2003.
2) After going 1-for-9 in third down conversions against Cleveland last week, the Rams offense was 1-12 on Sunday. That’s something Jeff Fisher noted as he pointed out that things aren’t perfect. “We converted one third down today. That just doesn’t get it done. So we obviously have some work to do. Pleased with the win, don’t misunderstand me. We came through healthy. We still have a lot of room for improvement.”
He’ll make sure the players know they weren’t perfect, either. Winning imperfectly provides a great coaching point.
3) To get better on third down, the Rams need to have a better passing game. Perhaps limiting what’s asked of Nick Foles will help. He seems to have difficulty with the deep sideline routes (in fairness, football folks say that’s the hardest throw to make). But if he can’t make that throw, perhaps one thing the Rams could try are some slants and some shallow crossing routes to their talented playmakers. Foles had great success in Philadelphia throwing to the middle of the field. With big guys like Kenny Britt and Brian Quick, plays like that would seem to be a perfect fit with the Rams.
4) The 49ers called ten passing plays and seven running plays to running backs in the first quarter, but after that only handed off eight times in the final three quarters. San Francisco gave up running and tried to throw 34 of their final 42 plays. The Rams early dominance on defense, and injuries to running backs Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush, caused San Francisco to completely abandon their game plan. And that affected the way the Rams played offense, clearly knowing that the only way San Francisco could score a touchdown would be with a fluke.
5) In half a season of home games, the Rams have allowed two offensive touchdowns to the opposition. Seattle got a touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham, and the Steelers got a one yard touchdown run from LeVeon Bell. Otherwise, the Seahawks kicked three field goals, and the Steelers, Browns and 49ers each kicked two. The Rams have had remarkable red zone success, a have done a great job of clinging to the vine when they need to keep the opponent into the end zone. Their defense at home is as good as any in the NFL.
6) The game changed on the Rams safety in the first quarter. After picking up just 26 yards on their first two possessions, the brilliant punting of Johnny Hekker forced the 49ers to start at their own three. Mark Barron stopped running back Mike Davis for back-to-back one yard losses, and then Davis was tackled in the end zone for another one yard loss by James Laurinaitis to get the Rams within 3-2. The 49er offense wasn’t the same after that play, and the Rams scored 25 of the game’s final 28 points.
7) Hekker, by the way, was amazing. He punted eight times for a 54.5 yard average, and a remarkable 49.8 net average.
Four of his eight punts pinned San Francisco inside their own twenty yard line, and three of them were downed at the three, eleven and two yard lines. It’s amazing what a weapon he is. The average starting field position for the 49ers was the 22 yard line, and on Hekker’s punts before the final minute of play it was the fifteen yard line.
8) Since the debacle against the run at Washington, the run defense has been sensational. The leading running back rushers since then have been LeVeon Bell of the Steelers, 19 for 68 yards, against Arizona Chris Johnson had 16-83, Eddie Lacy of Green Bay 13-27, Robert Turbin of Cleveland 5-30 and Kendall Gaskins of San Francisco, 5-6. In the last five games, the Rams have allowed an average of 77.6 yards per game on the ground.
9) We are in an instant gratification society, and sometimes if players don’t live up to expectations right away, they get labeled a bust. Well, with two touchdowns against the 49ers, Tavon Austin has seven, an average of one per game. My hope was that Austin could combine for ten touchdowns this season. He’s got two rushing, four receiving and one on returns. Suddenly, Austin has become one of the best weapons and best fantasy players in the NFL. He’s on pace for sixteen TD’s. Hard to call him a bust right now.
10) 28 penalties were called and 25 were accepted. Most were legitimate penalties against both teams. But if 28 penalties are called in a pro football game, either the coaches and players aren’t very good, or there are too many rules. I watch a lot of NFL games, and this happens all the time. There’s no rhythm to the games. There are simply too many rules for officials to call, and Jerome Boger’s crew loves to call all of them.
Hopefully Jeff Fisher and his cohorts on the NFL’s competition committee can cut back on some of the rules the officials call so that the game can get back into the players hands. The lurching style of the game makes it difficult to stick with.
The run defense will have their hands full against Minnesota next week, but the game is huge because it can go a long way toward determining the second wild card team in the NFC. At the moment, the Vikings have a one game lead over St. Louis for the final playoff spot in the NFC. If the Rams win next week, they’ll own that spot.