National Football League

Ten Takeaways from Sunday’s 30-15 Loss in Carolina

There’s a vocal group of Rams fans who have pleaded for a different quarterback since Sam Bradford’s rookie year. Well, now they have the opportunity to see another QB under center for the Rams. If they want to see the team win, I hope that works out for them. We’ll see how it goes for this club without its starting quarterback. I fear the worst after Bradford’s injury against Carolina. And with that, 10 takeaways from Sunday’s 30-15 loss to the Panthers:

1. We can be beside ourselves all we want about the Rams’ undisciplined play on Sunday, but that’s what the Rams signed up for when they brought Jeff Fisher aboard as head coach. After all, Mike Sando of laid out what we should expect soon after Fisher’s hiring.

Fisher’s teams are going to be intense, they’re going to take lots of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and they will protect one another. Unfortunately, right now this team isn’t good enough to overcome that attitude. They have to be disciplined, because at best they’re going to be playing close games most of the time.

2. This game could have been close, but the Rams left a bunch of points on the field. If they would have converted from a first-and-goal at the four in the first quarter, it would have been 7-7. Tavon Austin’s fumble at the Carolina 42 came after the Rams had moved 26 yards in three plays, and could have cost the Rams at least three more. Late in the second, the Rams had a first-and-goal at the nine but settled for a field goal. Additionally, Austin had a long touchdown called back, and Brian Quick dropped a sure touchdown pass. That’s at least three touchdowns the Rams might have scored, but their inability to get out of their own way allowed them to only score six points.

3. Zac Stacy is good enough that you can trust him on fourth and goal from the one-inch line. The Rams called the pass play to Jared Cook on the left sideline of the end zone, but it would have been nice to see them bring in the big boys and power up on that early fourth-down play.

4. Austin must feel like someone is out to get him. That’s two touchdowns – one on a punt return at Dallas and Sunday on a 63-yard strike from Bradford – that were nullified by penalty. Sunday’s came on a tripping call against Rams left tackle Jake Long, who appeared to intentionally trip Carolina pass rusher Greg Hardy. In Dallas, it was a penalty by Brandon McGee that took away an 84-yard score by Austin.

5. We can talk about the Rams’ youth, and how they’ll get better in the penalty department with experience. We can talk about it, but yesterday we would have been wasting our breath. The eight penalties came from Jake Long (sixth year); Trumaine Johnson (second year); Chris Long (sixth year), who took two penalties; Janoris Jenkins (second year), Harvey Dahl (eighth year), who also took two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties; and Quick (second year). Jake Long’s penalty is inexcusable, as are the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on Chris Long, Dahl (two of them) and Quick. Six of eight, and three of the four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, came from some of the team’s most expensive veterans.

6. Brian Schottenheimer and Fisher have taken and will take their share of criticism for deciding to throw on fourth and goal at the one with 5:35 left in the first quarter, but looking back it was smart. To that point, Stacy had run six times for four yards against the league’s fourth-ranked rush defense. Three of his carries had gone for -2, -4 and zero yards. The Panthers sold out against the run on the play. The pass wasn’t completed, but contrary to my initial thoughts, throwing the ball was the right choice.

7. Stacy ran 17 times for a respectable 53 yards. The Rams’ running game, with Bradford at quarterback, appears to be ascending to the point that they can count on it setting up a good passing game.

8. Heading into Sunday, only three teams – Carolina, Oakland and San Diego – had allowed a higher completion percentage for opposing quarterbacks than the Rams’ 67 percent. That number went up when Cam Newton completed 15 of 17 passes for 204 yards. Torry Holt told us last week that the most difficult thing for a receiver is getting off press coverage, yet the Rams rarely employ it. When the opposing quarterback completes two-thirds of their passes, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get off the field on third down. At some point, Rams DBs are going to have to challenge their opponents with their physicality rather than just their mouth. Somehow, they need to defend passes better.

9. Despite what you may believe, this team will not be as effective without Bradford. Yes, he threw a pick-six on Sunday, but he doesn’t generally give up possessions by throwing picks. That was his fourth of the season. As mentioned, Long’s tripping penalty that negated a 63-yard touchdown pass set he and the Rams back. Austin’s fumble hurt, as did Quick’s drop of a touchdown pass and the pressure applied on a pass to Jared Cook in the corner of the end zone. In Bradford’s games this season, the Rams led the NFL in dropped passes. Winning and losing shouldn’t fall completely on the quarterback, but inevitably it does. I’ll be interested to see the reaction of people to the play of Kellen Clemens and whoever else plays for the Rams under center the rest of this season.

10. The most logical choice to replace Bradford on the roster is Austin Davis, who spent last year (and this offseason and training camp) in the system. Other possibilities include Greg McElroy, the former Alabama national champion QB who was with Schottenheimer as a Jets rookie in 2011. He has a winning pedigree and is an accurate passer who is now on the Bengals’ practice squad. Other names that are out there include Matt Leinart, Tyler Thigpen, Dennis Dixon and Mike Kafka. Vince Young isn’t really an option. Even if he’s smoothed over his differences with Fisher, it’s proven difficult for him to learn a system. Tim Tebow, whom Mike Silver of reported was discussed by the Rams, isn’t a viable passer. It wouldn’t make much sense to spend what the Rams have on receivers and then try to have Tebow throw to them. Practice squad guys include Rusty Smith, who is with Tennessee and actually started games for Fisher in 2010, Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson with Oakland and Arizona’s Matt Scott with Jacksonville. As I’ve always told the Bradford haters, be careful of what you wish for.