National Football League

Stalter’s Game Notebook: Rams-Titans

+ Since the final whistle, I’ve heard some say how the Rams should have won this game because the Titans were a below-.500 team coming into Week 9. Ironically, these are probably the same people who said the Rams wouldn’t win another game following Sam Bradford’s season-ending injury. The reality is that these two teams are even on paper. Their rosters were constructed similarly, the coaching staffs mirror each other because of Jeff Fisher, and their general philosophies are the same (i.e. first things first, run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense). So, for anyone to imply that the Titans were supposed to be a pushover is shortsighted, especially considering Tennessee was a 3-point road favorite coming into the game.

+ The difference between the two teams yesterday was that the Rams once again couldn’t get out of their own way. They didn’t stand a chance on the first drive of the game because they racked up 20-plus yards in penalties on three consecutive plays. Then they got inside the red zone on their first offensive possession, and Benny Cunningham fumbled without being touched. Throughout the course of the game, Jared Cook dropped a pass with at least 10 yards of open space in front of him, Zac Stacy dropped a screen pass following Cortland Finnegan’s second-quarter interception, and Greg Zuerlein missed his second field goal in as many weeks. Then, with the game on the line, Kellen Clemens puts the ball on the ground to set Tennessee up for the game-winning score. Until this team can stop taking a shotgun to its own foot, it’s not going to matter who it adds in the offseason, who is under center, who is calling plays, or who the opponent is. Every week the Rams are not only fighting the team on the other side of the field, they’re fighting themselves.

+ Let’s get positive for a second: Right now Stacy is better than Steven Jackson. Granted, Stacy benefits from having a better offensive line (Atlanta’s is awful), but there’s no question he has better vision, better burst and, believe it or not, is better after contact right now. Don’t get it twisted: Jackson has had a magnificent career, and Stacy has only been starting for four weeks. Big difference. But Stacy has easily been the better player in 2013, injuries or no injuries. He’s also significantly cheaper than what the Rams would have had to pay Jackson to keep him around.

+ Jake Long has been one of the sources of frustration for fans this year because the team isn’t playing well and he was the Rams’ biggest offseason addition. But he had a solid day in pass protection on Sunday as none of the Titans’ right ends did anything from a pass-rush standpoint. Long has had his ups and downs this year, but he’s quietly put together excellent performances in back-to-back weeks.

+ The best pass that Clemens threw was the touchdown to Cook. The tight end hadn’t even finished his route before the ball was delivered between multiple defenders. Clemens had a tight window to throw the ball through and had Cook not displayed good hand/eye coordination, he would have likely dropped the pass. Timing is everything in the red zone.

+ Speaking of Cook, it looked like he let out seven weeks of frustration when he fired the ball into the padding in the back of the end zone following his touchdown catch. He’s been criticized, and rightfully so, for his route-running ability, his blocking (or lack thereof), and drops, but maybe he can build off of Sunday’s performance.

+ Jurrell Casey ate him up in pass protection, but Shelley Smith had arguably the best day of any Rams’ offensive linemen from a run-blocking standpoint. Considering Harvey Dahl’s absence was a concern coming into the game, Smith more than held his own and was key in Stacy’s success. The same cannot be said for his fellow guard mate Chris Williams, who had issues trying to black Sammie Lee Hill. Left guard remains a black hole for this team.

+ Joe Barksdale and Rodger Saffold split snaps three weeks ago in Carolina. Since then, Barksdale has received the majority of the playing time, including on the final drive in each of the past two games. The coaching staff might be trying to bring Saffold along slowly after he missed four weeks with a knee injury. But the more likely scenario is that the team is preparing to lose Saffold, who becomes a free agent after the season.

+ Sunday was far and away Kendall Langford’s best performance of the season, as he registered two sacks, four tackles for loss and six total stops. There have been times this season when he would burst into the backfield only to create an open running lane and leave his linebackers out to dry. But he made every play that came his direction on Sunday.

+ Speaking of Langford, the entire Rams’ defensive line played well again. Robert Quinn continues to be a menace, but Chris Long has put together back-to-back excellent weeks as well. He didn’t register a sack, but Tennessee right tackle Mike Otto won’t want to watch film on Monday because Long worked him over on several occasions.

+ After weeks of solid play, the linebackers struggled for the Rams. Jo-Lonn Dunbar looked like he was moving in slow motion trying to keep up with Chris Johnson, and James Laurinaitis missed an open-field tackle that contributed to Kendall Wright’s 45-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Alec Ogletree also missed a few tackles, and while pass coverage continues to be a strength, run defense has been a major sore spot for the rookie. (While we’re on the subject, Rodney McLeod missed a handful of tackles as well.)