The Raiders came in with a record of 1-10, and the Rams turned in their best effort of the Jeff Fisher era with a 52-0 thrashing of Oakland Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. The crowd of 55,650 was engaged from the start and enjoyed the biggest blowout in St. Louis Rams history. Can they win two in a row now? We’ll see…but before that we have ten takeaways from Sunday…
1) The Rams played a nearly perfect first half. They didn’t have to punt and tied a franchise record with 38 points on 26 plays, piling up 307 yards. They ran for 136 yards and passed for 171. In the first two quarters, they faced just two third downs and converted one of them. Also notable was that the Rams picked off two passes in the first half and had their average drive start at their 42 yard line. Their touchdown drives were of 54, 78, 71, 89 and 18 yards. Having such great field position helps you score points. The Rams were able to cruise in the second half and rolled to their first shutout since blanking the Raiders in 2006, and piled up their largest margin of victory since clobbering Atlanta 59-0 in 1976. The 52 point win is their second largest margin ever.
2) The Rams were right in drafting RB Tre Mason. After Zac Stacy piled up 954 yards in a span of ten starts in 2013, many fans (I was one) wondered what the point of drafting another running back was. Clearly, the Rams wanted more explosiveness, and Mason’s 35 yard touchdown reception and his 89 yard touchdown run defined explosiveness.
Stacy doesn’t have the speed to make those plays. Give Fisher and GM Les Snead credit for identifying a good player and upgrading their talent level. Mason has started five games, having picked up 562 yards on 122 carries…good for a 4.6 yard average.
3) Takeaways were key, the result of great defensive pressure. The Rams had six sacks, tons of pressures, and five takeaways. They harassed Derek Carr into three interceptions and pounded the Raiders into fumbling three times, with the Rams getting two. This one game helped the Rams climb the turnover ratio ladder from 21st to the top half of the league.
4) Ogletree has turned it around. After an awful first half of the season, linebacker Alec Ogletree has played like the first round star we expected. In his first eight games, he had 46 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 sacks, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles. In the last four games, he has 35 tackles, two interceptions, six passes defensed and a forced fumble. He makes a consistent impact. Last week, Fisher said Ogletree showed up for training camp in poor condition. If he shows up in great shape next year, it’s tantalizing to think what a great player he could become.
5) E.J. Gaines is great. He tied for second on the team in tackles, broke up two passes, and had his second pick of the season. When the opposition brings in a third receiver, Trumaine Johnson comes into play against the outside guy and Gaines moves into the slot. He’s versatile, tough and fundamentally drilled. As a sixth round selection who was the 188thpick overall, Gaines could turn out to be the best draft steal in St. Louis Rams history.
6) The offensive line played effectively. The Rams ran for 172 yards and allowed just one sack in 23 dropbacks. Despite losing Rodger Saffold in the second half, the line acquitted itself quite well. Greg Robinson is slowly but surely improving, and Joe Barksdale has had only one bad game. The line has not had a great statistical season, but against the Raiders turned in a strong effort.
7) Stedman Bailey is a #1 receiver. Steve Savard said it last year when Bailey got a chance to play, and Bailey has proven it in the last two weeks…he is a number one caliber receiver in the NFL. He caught five passes for 100 yards and had the catch for the Rams lone 3rd down conversion, on a 3rd and 8 in the first quarter. When the ball is thrown his way, Bailey makes the catch. He’s a guy that, right now, should be the main target of the Rams quarterback in clutch situations.
8) The Rams are three plays away from being 8-4. Full disclosure, I will point out first that the Rams are a Johnny Hekker fake punt against Seattle and a Colin Kaepernick fumble in San Francisco from being 3-9. However, when you look at the games…Austin Davis threw a fourth quarter pick-six against the Cowboys in a 34-31 loss, Austin Pettis dropped a pass that would have given the Rams a first and goal in Philadelphia in the final minute of a 34-28 loss, and Hill threw the interception into the end zone at San Diego. The Rams are that close to being an 8-4 team rather than a 5-7 one.
9) Coach Fisher is keeping his team competitive. Give props to the head coach. With those disheartening losses, it would be easy for this team to not compete at a high level. We saw a Raider team on Sunday that looked satisfied that it had won ONE game.
Justin Tuck and Charles Woodson competed hard, but there were a lot of Raiders that appeared to cash in their checks. Fisher deflected credit to his players, saying “I’m pleased for them because of the approach that they took this week and every week. They deserve to have a game like this. They’re a great group of guys.”
The Rams have never given up with Fisher as their coach, having played nine games this season that they were leading or were one score games into the final minute, and another that was a one score game (in Arizona) midway through the fourth quarter.
There were two blowout losses…to Minnesota and to Kansas City. Otherwise, you have to give Fisher credit for having his team ready.
10) It was a great day for outdoor football. On November 30, it was in the mid-60’s at kickoff. For the fans that clamor for an outdoor stadium, it would be hard to argue with them on this day.