National Football League

Ten Takeaways from the Rams’ Season-Opening Win Over Arizona

1. If the Rams are to become consistent winners, they have to clean up their game. Sunday was exciting, but it was too exciting. They had a touchdown taken away by a Jared Cook fumble as he was going in for a touchdown, and they allowed one of the Arizona touchdowns on a tipped interception return for a score. As far as penalties are concerned, Cortland Finnegan’s second-quarter unnecessary roughness penalty moved the Cardinals from the Rams’ 27 to the 14 to set up a field goal. A third-quarter William Hayes unnecessary roughness after a punt moved the ball from the 15 to the 7, then Cook’s hold moved it back to the three to set up Arizona’s tipped interception. Finnegan’s unnecessary roughness added 15 yards to an 11-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that put the Cardinals up 24-13. Eugene Sims’ taunting penalty in the fourth quarter – after a punt – moved the ball back from the 10 to the 5-yard line. Of the Rams’ seven penalties, four took place after the play and severely hampered their chances of winning. Turnovers and penalties will kill you. The Rams got away with one on Sunday.

2. T.J. McDonald may be the best thumping safety the Rams have had since Toby Wright. When he hits you, you feel it. With each of his four tackles, he laid the wood to a Cardinal. As McDonald grows into his role, he could become a feared defender in the NFL.

3. McDonald’s fellow rookie, Alec Ogletree, led the team with seven tackles. He was all over the field and was impressive against the run. As he ascends, he’ll be a fun player to watch. If Game 1 is any indication, the Rams did a good job in selecting their rookie defenders.

4. Robert Quinn is a beast. He had three of the Rams’ four sacks and applied consistent pressure on Carson Palmer. Quinn has an amazing pass-rushing skill set, and is primed for a huge season of sacking the quarterback.  It was nice to see Hayes get rewarded for his hard work with the last one. Once Chris Long gets going, the pass rush that led the NFL in sacks last year will be fierce.

5. The Rams averaged only 2.8 yards per rushing attempt, but Daryl Richardson had 20 carries for 63 yards. If he can do that every week, he’d have a 1,008 yard season. The Rams’ offense could get by very successfully with that type of performance.

6. The Rams would like to improve their third-down efficiency on both sides of the ball. They were just 4-11 on offense, good for 36 percent, and allowed 50 percent to the Cardinals, who picked up seven first downs in 14 attempts.  To win, they need to reverse that, allow 36 percent and make 50 percent.

7. Heading into the Monday night games, only six teams scored more than the Rams’ 27 points: Denver with 49, Dallas with 36, Detroit and San Francisco with 34, the New York Giants with 31 and Kansas City with 28. Because of the lack of practice time during the offseason and training camp, opening week is sloppier now than it’s ever been. Even though they only scored two touchdowns, the Rams scored more points than they did in all but three games last season.

8. Love or hate Sam Bradford, he can play when the chips are down. After leading four fourth-quarter comebacks last season, he was 11-13 for 121 and a touchdown and set up Greg Zuerlein’s game-winning field goal with an eight-play, 50-yard drive in the closing minutes, all coming after Arizona had made it 24-13 late in the third quarter. His passer rating after the Cards moved ahead by 11 was 131.08. For good measure, Bradford ran for a game-tying two-point conversion with 13:01 left. For the game, Bradford was 27-38 for 299 yards and two touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 100.7.

9. Bradford has now gone three straight games without being sacked – the last two games last year and this one. Paul Boudreau has done an amazing job of building continuity and technique up front, and it shows. This line is also tough. Rodger Saffold had to leave in the first half but returned, and Jake Long was rolled up in the second half but didn’t miss a play when the Rams called a timeout. The O-line is really a bright spot worth looking forward to as the season unfolds.

10. It’s hard to imagine that there’s a better kicking game in the NFL. Johnny Hekker punted three times for an average of 49 yards and a net of 42, pinning Arizona inside its own 20-yard line once. Zuerlein hit field goals of 36, 25, 38 and 48 yards without a miss. The two kids don’t inspire any trepidation when they take the field, and fit in well with today’s NFL. Games are going to be won in close fashion, and the Rams are set up to win that way with their two young kickers.

Bonus take: As a lifelong St. Louisan and a booster of our community, I was embarrassed that only 55,279 fans showed up, well over 10,000 short of capacity. The Rams have done everything we’ve asked them to do, but fans still aren’t showing up. I hope we’re a better sports city than we showed on Sunday.