At the conclusion of each Rams pregame show, Neil Rackers and I make our score predictions for that day’s game. On Sunday, I picked the Saints to beat the Rams 41-10. My pick was based on the quality of New Orleans’ offense, the inability of the Rams to stop the pass and the Rams’ recent offensive ineptitude. As Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar used to say, youneverknow. The Rams rolled 27-16. Ten takeaways from the win:
1. Robert Quinn is amazing. He was unstoppable again Sunday, getting Saints left tackle Charles Brown pulled from the game as Quinn piled up two sacks, a pressure, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Quinn is the major defensive force in the NFL this season. With 15 sacks, he’ll have an opportunity to break the St. Louis Rams’ single-season record of 17 in a season, a record set by Kevin Carter in 1999.
2. Zac Stacy had his most carries with 28, his longest run (40 yards) and fell one yard short of his single-game high. In Stacy’s 10 starts, the Rams are 5-5. Interestingly, this was his third 100-plus-yard game, but the first time the Rams have won when he’s rushed for 100. I’ll be interested to see how he rebounds after the 28-carry, one-reception game. Back in the day, Marshall Faulk always seemed to have a tough game the week after he got around 30 touches.
3. You could argue that Johnny Hekker is the Rams’ MVP this season. His punting has consistently put the opposition in bad field position, and allows the Rams to win those massive swings in field position. On Sunday he had four punts, none of which were returned, for a 41.8-yard average. His first punt, a 52-yarder, pinned New Orleans at its seven and set up the Drew Brees interception that led to the first Rams touchdown. His second, a 47-yarder after a Rams penalty nullified a 54-yarder, was downed at the New Orleans 26. His third was a 34-yarder that Darren Sproles was forced to fair catch at his own 11, then his fourth was fair caught at the 20. That’s some bad starting field position for the Saints.
4. The Rams came into the game allowing a well-chronicled 68.5 percent of the passes against them to be completed. So it was no surprise that Brees, who holds the record as the most accurate passer for a season in NFL history, threw for almost 70 percent. But he threw two passes to the Rams, and one led to a Rams score while the other kept New Orleans out of the red zone. This performance by the DBs was certainly better than the last two weeks against San Francisco and Arizona, respectively. Give some credit to Janoris Jenkins, who didn’t practice all week with a bad back, and had a good day.
5. After the game, Jeff Fisher thought the Rams blocked two field goals, thinking they got a piece of Garrett Hartley’s 26-yard attempt just after the two-minute warning. “I believe we did,” Fisher said. “Someone said we did. If you can rush, you don’t necessarily always have to get a piece to affect the kicker and we were getting pretty good pressure.” The special teams were without return man Tavon Austin, but with Hekker’s punts, the two blocked field goals, a successful onside kick and two Greg Zuerlein field goals were a huge part of the win. After a horrendous start to the season in regards to special teams discipline, it’s great to see the Rams’ special teams playing as well as they are.
6. The Rams drafted Alec Ogletree because of his athleticism, and he showed it again on Sunday. Ogletree has been asked to keep an eye on the likes of mobile quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, but in this game he had to cover all-world tight end Jimmy Graham. With Ogletree spending a lot of time covering, Graham was held to two catches for 25 yards. It was a virtuoso coverage performance by Ogletree, who had seven tackles, one for loss and a pass defensed.
7. When you watch the way this team performed against New Orleans, you have to wonder where this kind of effort is on a week-to-week basis. The Rams are in a league where more than 50 percent of the games are decided by one score or less. Yet only four of their 14 games have been decided by a similar margin, meaning they’ve been involved in 10 blowouts. Of the blowouts, the Rams have won five (Jacksonville, Houston, Indianapolis, Chicago and New Orleans) and suffered five losses (Dallas, San Francisco twice, Carolina and Arizona). The defense must become more consistent to allow the Rams to be in games in the fourth quarter. In their blowout losses to Dallas, at San Francisco and at Arizona, the games got away early. First quarters are a key to the success of any team, including this one. They aren’t set up to come back with the offense arranged the way it is. By the way, the Rams are 1-3 in one-score games, so they need to shore up that aspect of the game, too.
8. In addition to run-blocking for 144 yards, the Rams’ offensive line of Jake Long, Chris Williams, Tim Barnes, Rodger Saffold and Joe Barksdale didn’t allow a sack. If they preserve continuity up front and don’t switch out every series, the Rams’ offensive lines under Paul Boudreau are able to build continuity week-to-week and play well. Overall, this is the best offensive line play the Rams have had over the course of a season since Jim Hanifan was their offensive line coach in their last winning season of 2003.
9. Despite the presence of a bevy of Saints fans (who travel very well to every venue), the Rams’ crowd got into the game. When the New Orleans faithful started their “Let’s go, Saints” chant, they were quickly drowned out by the boos of Rams fans at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams’ defense took advantage of lots of crowd noise. The fans who showed up were rewarded. And when you consider that it was 25 degrees outside, that the game was televised locally and the home team was a decided underdog with a two-game losing streak, getting about 50,000 St. Louisans to come out is pretty impressive.
10. It was interesting that the NFL Network reported on Sunday morning that Fisher has taken over most of the defensive game-planning duties from Tim Walton. That shouldn’t be the job of a head coach – especially one that works as a CEO, as a manager and delegates lots of responsibility to his assistants. As was noted at NFL.com, “The coach isn’t calling plays, but he has taken over the defensive game plan from coordinator Tim Walton for the past month.” Fisher has been more hands-on than ever with the defense.
“Walton was hired after now-New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was briefly with the Rams this offseason,” NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport continued on “NFL GameDayMorning. “The Rams missed out on more qualified coordinator candidates than Walton after they believed they found their man in Ryan.”
With that being the case, it’ll be interesting to see if Walton is the defensive coordinator in 2014. An NFL head coach has more to do that coordinate a plan among his defensive line coach, linebackers coach and secondary coach each week. There should be some coaching talent available immediately after the season. Because the Rams waited so long to fire Gregg and Blake Williams last year at the conclusion of Gregg’s league suspension, the Rams were behind in the hiring process. If they choose to make a change this season, they can be proactive and get the best candidate available.
Two games left, at home against Tampa Bay and then at Seattle, where the Seahawks have home field throughout the NFC playoffs sewn up. How much will Pete Carroll play his starters, and can the Rams finish 8-8? Stay tuned.