National Football League

Stalter’s Game Notebook: Rams-Colts

+ After watching the Rams crush the Colts 38-8 on Sunday, one word springs to mind: Consistency. Imagine where this Rams team would be if it got consistent efforts like that every Sunday. If they could run the ball as effectively as they have over the past four weeks. If Tavon Austin was the weapon that the Rams intended him to be when they leapt into the top 10 last April to draft him. If the defensive line was as dominant every week as it was Sunday vs. the Colts, or on that Monday night against the Seahawks. And if the coaching staff could make every opposition look as befuddled as the Colts did in Indianapolis. Where would this 2013 Rams team be if it just played with a little consistency?

+ This game was reminiscent of the Rams’ victory over the Texans. Both victories came on the road against AFC South opponents that were heavily favored. And both times it was the opposition that was shooting itself in the foot as opposed to the Rams. The Colts were the ones who had offensive line issues, were giving up big plays in the secondary and had problems all day on special teams. It was the Colts that turned the ball over five times, received inconsistent production out of their quarterback and generally couldn’t get out of their own way. And just like in Houston, the Rams won all three phases of the game. There haven’t been too many times that we’ve said that this season.

+ It suffices to say that Sunday was Tavon Austin’s coming-out party. He caught just two passes, but the pair of receptions went for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard reception to open the third quarter. His 98-yard punt return in the second quarter was a combination of awareness, speed and athleticism that we’ve been waiting to see since the team drafted him last April. Imagine how good his special teams numbers would look if it weren’t for all the penalties that robbed him of success in the first nine weeks of the season. The biggest takeaway on Austin was the fact that he played with some swagger. The Carolina game may have been his lowest point, as he sulked back to the sidelines following Jake Long’s tripping penalty that negated a long touchdown. He went from a rookie feeling sorry for himself to one who wanted to re-define his season in just four quarters. He was electric on Sunday, and hopefully he builds off this performance.

+ As the weeks go by, Robert Quinn has solidified himself as a complete player. It was only three months ago that we wondered if he could be more than just a pass rusher who didn’t leave his linebackers out to dry when he crashed hard inside and left the edge unprotected. But he’s a more instinctive player than at any point in his two previous seasons, and he’s made the Rams more dangerous defensively. I realize Chris Long lines up on the opposite side, but it’s a wonder why more teams don’t use an extra blocker to at least chip Quinn in pass protection. He flat-out abused Anthony Castonzo on that sack/strip/fumble that led to Long’s touchdown in the first quarter, and the play set the tone for the rest of the game. Want to talk about consistency? That’s Robert Quinn this season.

+ Two performances that are sure to be overlooked are the ones that William Hayes and Trumaine Johnson gave. Last week Hayes was fighting a mirror in the Rams’ locker room out of frustration, but this week he racked up five quarterback hurries and was a pain in Andrew Luck’s ass all day. Johnson, meanwhile, was thrown at five times and allowed just two receptions for 20 yards combined. With the Colts backed up against their own goal line, he also had a nice pass break-up after he jumped a hitch route on the sideline and nabbed one of the team’s five interceptions. With Cortland Finnegan struggling mightily this season, Johnson is slowly coming into his own at cornerback.

+ With Zac Stacy somewhat bogged down (he rushed for just 2.4 yards per carry), it was nice to see Benny Cunningham add a different element to the Rams’ rushing attack. Stacy has been fantastic when it comes to moving piles, picking up positive yardage and gaining yards after contact, but Cunningham proved yesterday that he has more burst and acceleration. Nobody is going to confuse him with Chris Johnson, but if he can add a little lightning to Stacy’s thunder, the Rams will have a nice 1-2 punch in their backfield for the final six games.

+ For the first time since he took over as the starter for Sam Bradford, the margin of error wasn’t razor-thin for Kellen Clemens. And he otherwise thrived. While he completed only nine passes, they went for 247 yards, two touchdowns and a 15.4 yards-per-attempt average. (If a team can win the turnover battle and has a YPA average of over 10.0, it’s going to win most games.) This game was essentially won in the first half, where Luck couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. And yet Clemens was accurate on the pivotal plays that burned Indy’s defense, such as Austin’s 81-yard touchdown pass to open the second half. The key to Clemens’ performance is that he didn’t turn the ball over. He was a footnote in a 38-8 win, which is how it should be if the Rams are going to keep winning this season. Clemens is what he is, and the Rams found out on Sunday that that’s good enough to win if they can be successful in other areas of the game. For a guy who wants it as bad as Clemens and is willing to work for everything he gets, that was a well-deserved victory on Sunday.

+ The Rodger Saffold era at guard got off to a nice start. He was solid as a run-blocker and held his own in pass protection. Many people, including coach Rick Venturi, said that Saffold would make a better guard than tackle coming out of Indiana. If he continues to play well there, maybe the Rams can throw enough money at him to stick around as a guard. But given how many teams need a left tackle in this league, I highly doubt he’ll stay in St. Louis to play on the interior.

+ There’s not much to complain about following a 30-point win on the road, but there are still some concerning trends. Janoris Jenkins was thrown at eight times, and he allowed five completions for 103 yards and a QB rating of 106.3 according to Pro Football Focus. Finnegan and Stewart also struggled in coverage, and the secondary remains one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. Offensively, Jared Cook caught just one pass for 17 yards and finished with yet another drop. When he caught his lone pass, even the television announcer said, “There’s Jared Cook!” You know it’s bad when even the national play-by-play guy is surprised to see you involved. Jake Long also had a rough day, as he wound up on his back one time trying to mirror Robert Mathis, and gave zero help to Cory Harkey on Mathis’ second sack of the day. Granted, Mathis leads the league in sacks, but the Rams didn’t pay Long all of that money this offseason just to block the average defensive ends. After quietly stringing together some solid performances, Long struggled on Sunday.