The Rams defied the oddsmakers, who had them as a seven point underdog, and their defense held the previously explosive Arizona offense to just five field goals and one late touchdown in a 24-22 thriller at University of Phoenix Stadium.
This one featured Tavon Austin’s best game since his rookie year, and a coming out party for rooking running back Todd Gurley. With that, ten takeaways…
1) Gregg Williams’ defense is fun to watch. They’re aggressive, they go for the ball, and they hit! There were bigtime hits from T.J. McDonald, Janoris Jenkins, James Laurinaitis, Rodney McLeod and Alec Ogletree. The Rams defense has given up one offensive touchdown in three of their four games, and two in the other game; the loss to Washington. The Rams defense has given up 68 points…seventeen per game…and five touchdowns in four games.
2) I have some frustration that the Rams can win the turnover battle against a good team on the road, but hasn’t been able to at home. The Rams beat the Seahawks despite losing the turnover battle, and fell to Pittsburgh while breaking even. It’s great that they’ve won the turnover ratio in both of their road games, but it would seem to be easier to do at home.
By the way, as the Rams head to Green Bay, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception in 51 consecutive games there.
3) The offensive line became aggressive and may have found itself in the second half. The kids weren’t exactly taking it to the opposition in the running game in the first three games, but opened some terrific holes in the second half, in which Gurley exploded for 144 yards on fifteen carries after Ram running backs got eight carries for one yard in the first half. Much of Gurley’s success came on the heels of massive holes opened up by a suddenly confident offensive line. His 146 yards on 19 carries were the most by a Rams rookie since Steven Jackson ran for 148 against the Eagles in 2004.
4) Passing the ball to Tavon Austin works. Austin was targeted seven times, catching six passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Austin did not have a receiving touchdown last season, and this was his third two-touchdown game, with the last coming November 10 of 2013 at Indianapolis.
The 96 yards were his second most, after that same contest in Indy. Since his first four games in the NFL, Austin was only targeted as many as seven times once before Sunday…that being the second to last game of his rookie year. His most targets in the passing game last year was five. New offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti is trying to get the ball into Tavon’s hands, and it’s working.
5) The Rams got explosive in the running game. Coming in, the Rams had seven running plays of ten-plus yards, and five of those had come from receivers. Austin had four and the departed Chris Givens had one. On Sunday, Gurley doubled the Rams season number explosive plays from running backs, breaking off runs of 20, 23, 30 and 52 yards.
6) The Rams dressed Brian Quick but did not target him in the passing game. Kenny Britt was only thrown to once. That was in large part, I’m sure, because the Rams were ahead, and they didn’t need the passing game as much in the second half. I liked seeing them use Stedman Bailey for another touchdown.
There are only so many plays in a game, but Bailey deserves to see the ball more than the tight ends at this point.
7) Perhaps more impressive that Gurley piling up so much yardage was his having the awareness to simply go down and run the clock at the end of his thirty yard run on the second to last play of the game. Many running backs, especially young ones, would try for the end zone and risk a fumble. He didn’t, and allowed the Rams to run a victory formation at the end.
8) Alec Ogletree was arguably the Rams best defensive player over the first month of the season, and he’ll miss extended time with an ankle injury. Ogletree suffered the injury when T.J. McDonald ran into him during a tackle in the third quarter. It’ll be difficult for the Rams to replace Ogletree, who had become a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine. Darren Bates and Cameron Lynch replaced him on Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see what Williams does. Mark Barron would be intriguing to try in that role.
9) Nick Foles was exactly what the doctor ordered. The QB completed 16 of 24 for 171 yards, three touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions. With the philosophy of the offense the Rams employ, if Foles can turn in those types of numbers each week, he’ll give his team a chance to win. 21 points per game for this team should be plenty.
10) With four more sacks, the Rams defense has seventeen on the season. They’re on pace for 68, which would be four shy of the NFL record of 72 set by the 1984 Bears. Fisher told his initial St. Louis defense that he wanted them to break that record. This group has a chance.
Next week will provide the Rams their toughest test of the season, visiting unbeaten Green Bay and the incomparable Aaron Rodgers. This win was huge, because the Rams will hit their bye with, at worst, a 2-3 record, and they’ll have a chance to go on a run after their bye week.