For the second time this season, the Rams shocked the Seahawks and the NFL, putting a stranglehold on an early lead and holding on for a 23-17 win in Seattle on Sunday.
The formerly invincible-at-home Seahawks went 5-3 at Century Link field in 2015, the same record the Rams achieved at the Edward Jones Dome. Now the Rams shoot for a .500 record for the first time since 2006. Baby steps. And with that, 10 takeaways from Sunday’s win…
1) I understand the excitement over a three game winning streak under quarterback Case Keenum and offensive coordinator Rob Boras, I really do. However, it should be noted that the Seahawks scored seventeen points, and the Rams offense scored sixteen. Keenum was workmanlike, going 14-23 for 103 yards and a touchdown. Admittedly, he’s working with a less than stellar cast. But the offense generated 207 yards. The win is nice, but I’m not ready to anoint Keenum as THE GUY at quarterback heading into 2016. After all, in his last win for the Rams, Austin Davis was 13-24 for 105 yards and a touchdown (with two interceptions).
2) Credit to Jeff Fisher and his staff for keeping the players engaged despite being out of the playoffs. Getting a team to go from 4-8 and a five game losing streak to 7-8 with a three game winning streak is a testament to the Rams effort.
Unfortunately, they let games in Minnesota and Baltimore get away. A really good team would have preserved those wins and perhaps been 9-6 with a playoff shot heading into the final week of the season.
3) Fisher rightfully gave the game ball to center Tim Barnes, the former Mizzou center who hustled to recover fumbles by Benny Cunningham and Todd Gurley on the fourth quarter drive that put the Rams up 23-10. If Seattle recovers either of those fumbles…especially Cunningham’s…the Rams are in trouble, playing defense with a six point lead. You can always tell an offensive lineman is hustling when you see him downfield on long running plays. Orlando Pace always did that. Barnes’ hustle and attentiveness won the game for the Rams.
4) During the pregame show on 101 ESPN, Anthony Stalter and I noted the great work of the defensive staff with the absence of Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald. During this game, the Rams lost Mark Barron and, for a time, Trumaine Johnson. Yet they still played at a high level. Russell Wilson had gone 110-148 with nineteen touchdowns and no interceptions, averaging 284 yards per game for a passer rating of 146.2 in his last five games. The Rams held him to a 25-41, 289 yard, two touchdown, one interception performance…with 40 yards and a touchdown on the Seahawks meaningless final drive. Trumaine Johnson’s second quarter pick was the first of Wilson in 168 attempts. With all the injury issues on defense, the Rams also ended Seattle’s 25 game string of 100 yard rushing days. Gregg Williams and the defensive staff continue to work magic.
5) For the fourth game in a row, the same offensive line of Greg Robinson, Garrett Reynolds, Barnes, Cody Wichmann and Rob Havenstein started and finished the game. That continuity makes a big difference. You can see the combo blocks the Rams put together for Todd Gurley’s runs, and they provide great protection. Gurley ran for 85 yards and 4.5 per carry, and Keenum wasn’t sacked. When an offensive line group works together, regardless of their talent level, they play better. We are seeing that with this group.
6) The Rams are now 4-2 when they win the turnover battle, 2-4 when they lose it, and 1-2 when it’s even. They’re 4-1 when Gurley goes over 100 yards rushing. 0-5 when attempting 30 or more passes, 5-1 when they outgain their opponent. They’re 7-0 when they score 20 or more points and 0-8 when they score less than 20. Now we have another stat. The Rams are unbeaten when Jeff Fisher wears a cap on the sideline. He’s going to have to try that again next week.
Aside from scoring 20 or more points, that’s the only category in which the Rams have a perfect winning percentage.
7) Remarkably, the Rams can move to 5-1 in the NFC West with a win in San Francisco next week. They could end the franchise’s string of losing seasons at eight, despite the string of non-winning seasons reaching twelve this year. But most alarming is that even if the Rams go 8-8, they’ll be 3-7 outside the division, with the wins coming against Cleveland, Detroit and Tampa Bay at home. I know success starts in the division, but to be a playoff team there needs to be a formula that includes beating other teams. Whether it’s going 8-0 at home and 4-4 on the road, or 5-1 in the division and 5-5 outside, somewhere along the line the Rams are going to have to be good and consistent against the entire league.
8) Hey Seattle fans, your team isn’t the only one allowed to hit hard. Football is still a collision sport, and defensive players are paid to hit offensive players hard. So when Rodney McLeod leveled Jermaine Kearse and separated him from the ball early in the fourth quarter, your move is to ooohh and aaahh, not to boo a guy for playing hard. If the Seahawks got booed every time they hit someone hard, there would never be any cheering. Again, hard hits are legal in this game. Even though they aren’t encouraged the way they were back in the day, they’re still why we watch. Don’t boo a guy for doing his job well.
9) By the way, with Pittsburgh’s loss, at the moment the Rams have played seven teams that will make the playoffs; Seattle and Arizona twice each, Minnesota, Green Bay and Cincinnati. Against those teams, the Rams finished 3-4, and obviously 0-3 against those out of the division.
10) Fans aren’t the only ones that have seen the last of the Rams for this season. Because they play in San Francisco next week, the franchise decided to stay on the west coast during New Year’s week before playing their finale in San Francisco, so most St. Louis media won’t see them this week, either. The team doesn’t want their players to be worn out by flying west TWICE in two weeks. Apparently the Rams weren’t paying attention last year when the Cleveland Cavaliers flew to Oakland to play on June 4th and 7th, then flew BACK to Cleveland for games on June 9th, 11th and 14th, and then again to Oakland for a game on June 16th. Then again, maybe that’s why the Cavs lost. Nonetheless, the Rams will practice in Napa this week before ending their season Sunday in Santa Clara against the 49ers.
Have a happy and safe New Year’s holiday, and I’ll see you on the radio.