National Football League

Stalter’s Game Notebook: Rams-Ravens

+ Given how much discussion has taken place over the past month about the backup quarterback situation, I thought Kellen Clemens was sharp and it was good to see him compete. He was 13-of-18 for 188 yards, and his average pass went for 10.4 yards, which is a great stat – preseason or not. He also showed some toughness by staying in the game after Zac Stacy bailed out on a failed blitz pickup in the first half and got Clemens smacked in the mouth. The overall picture wasn’t good this preseason concerning the backup quarterback position, but at least Clemens showed what he could do when he gets a little protection.

+ Speaking of the offensive line, the starting unit of Joe Barksdale, Shelley Smith, Tim Barnes, Chris Williams and Rodger Saffold played well. For the first time this preseason, the running backs actually had decent lanes to run between.

+ Collectively, the running backs had a good night. You look at the 3.4 YPC average that Stacy had, and that figure isn’t overly impressive. But seven of his 11 carries went for at least four yards and, more important, he flashed that between-the-tackles running ability that we haven’t seen out of the Rams’ backs this preseason.

+ Benny Cunningham, of course, really stood out. He rushed eight times for 76 yards, which included a 29-yard run when he was able to bounce it to the edge and get outside. Granted, he was running against Baltimore’s twos and threes, but he also had twos and threes blocking for him. The main takeaway is that he stood out, which is vital for an undrafted rookie.

+ Isaiah Pead’s performance, yet again, was largely a wash. When he gets into open space, we see his quickness, elusiveness and explosion. He also was stout in pass protection, which is one area he’s shown dramatic improvement in since last season. But he put the ball on the ground on the opening kickoff and, for the third week in a row, he tried to bounce a run outside when the hole was open inside. He either doesn’t trust what he’s seeing or he’s to the point where he’s trying too hard to make a play and is relying purely on his speed. Either way, he needs to have better vision.

+ Preseason or not, 17 penalties for 123 yards is jarring. But as Jeff Fisher pointed out after the game, the players who committed many of those infractions won’t be here next week.

+ The three fumbles at the start of the game – Pead, Brain Quick and Tavon Austin – are inexcusable. Especially Pead and Quick, who continue to battle with inconsistency week in and week out. Everyone keeps waiting for this pair to seize the opportunities that they’ve been given, and it’s yet to happen.

+ That said, take away the fumble and Quick had perhaps his best game as a pro. He used great body positioning while high-pointing the ball on back-to-back catches in the second quarter. He came down out of bounds on the one pass, but at least he caught the ball and drew a penalty. The hope is that his skill set will make him a legit red-zone threat, and we saw a glimpse of that last night.

+ Austin is going to be a special player and a major weapon for this team. But he has to learn to get what he can and either get down or get out of bounds. As Fisher pointed out after the game, when he’s trying to keep his balance while fighting to pick up more yards, his No. 1 job is to protect the football. He’s electrifying, and his highlight reel plays will come when he’s in open space and can flash his athleticism. But it does the Rams no good if he makes 12 moves to pick up 30 yards if the other team is going to wind up with the ball in the end.

+ With him fighting for a roster spot, it was good to see Matt Daniels finish with an interception and a couple of tackles. It was also good to see Daniels appropriately credit Rodney McLeod with help on said interception. On that play, the Rams were in their nickel package with Cover 2 coverage, with McLeod lined up on Tandon Doss in the slot. Doss tried to run an out-and-up to get down the seam, but McLeod re-routed him out wide, which allowed Daniels to get into Caleb Hanie’s passing window and make the pick. Hanie threw the pass expecting Doss to be where Daniels was, but because he was late following the re-route, it was an easy pick for Daniels. When the play ran live, it appeared as though Hanie threw the pass straight to Daniels as if he were wearing a Baltimore uniform. But the play was set up by McLeod.

+ While we’re on the subject of McLeod, it was interesting to see that during the game Les Snead said that he would be the Rams’ starting safety alongside rookie T.J. McDonald. For those who have watched McLeod in practice and in preseason, the news doesn’t come as a surprise. He has simply outplayed Darian Stewart, who is once again battling injuries and isn’t a lock to make the final roster.