Shane Gray provides special Rams commentaries on 101sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneGmoSTLRams.
If not for several dropped should-have-been interceptions by various San Francisco 49ers defenders, the stat line for St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford would have been even more abysmal than it was.
On the night, No. 8 completed just 46 percent of his throws (19 of 41). The Rams’ fourth-year quarterback finished the evening with 202 yards passing, a touchdown, an interception and a rating of just 59.2.
Yes, Bradford was again heavily pressured at times. Yes, he again was not helped by multiple drops.
But 19 of 41 is not going to cut it, regardless of the limiting factors. And that one interception referenced above easily could have been three, four or even five.
Those who said it would be smooth sailing week in and out with such a young set of skill players were out to lunch. There are going to poorly run routes, times when adjustments are not made and a myriad of other growing pains.
But good and great quarterbacks find a way to get it done more often than that. Clearly, Bradford isn’t there yet.
The return of starting running back Daryl Richardson to the lineup spurred hope that the running game would get untracked. Those hopes went up in flames, however, as the St. Louis ground game reached new lows on Thursday night.
After averaging just 57 yards rushing in the first three weeks – which was good for just 29th in the league – the Rams’ running game managed to reach new lows against the Niners.
On 19 carries, St. Louis secured just 18 rushing yards.
Rookie Benny Cunningham “led” the unit with a 1.5-yard average, gaining six yards on four carries.
Starter Richardson attained just 16 yards on 12 attempts.
Obviously, this performance could garner an F- if that grade was available.
On the other hand, the offensive line failed to provide the backs with any running room whatsoever. Due to that, I contemplated boosting the unit’s grade to a D-.
However, no matter how you slice it, 18 yards on 19 attempts can only result in one reasonable assessment. Regardless of where the blame lies, the running game is failing.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Rams receivers and tight ends combined for just 177 yards in spite of the fact that they were targeted in excess of 35 times. In any era, particularly in the high-scoring, pass-heavy NFL of today, that isn’t good enough, especially when lacking either a strong run game or a potent D – as has been the case in St. Louis this year.
Third-year receiver Austin Pettis led the way with five receptions for 59 yards. Pettis appears to be finding his niche, not surprisingly, as a consistent option against zone coverage and on short-to-intermediate routes.
Wideout Chris Givens reeled in four passes for 47 yards. Hybrid tight end Jared Cook added four receptions for 45 yards.
Outside of a garbage-time touchdown from tight end Lance Kendricks, these units did very little outside of what was mentioned above.
As a side note, neither Cook nor Kendricks appear to be doing much to help create holes in the running game.
On Thursday night, the offensive line gave up five sacks and eight quarterback hits to San Francisco a week after relinquishing six sacks and eight quarterback hits at Dallas.
It’s been a tale of two extremes thus far for the St. Louis offensive line and its pass-protection performance.
In the first two weeks, the group did not give up a single sack. They did a terrific job of keeping Bradford clean and giving him time to throw.
Since then, however, the unit has regressed and has been allowing rather consistent pass pressure.
As for the run blocking, it has barely existed to this point in the year. For the most part, they aren’t opening up any running lanes. As bad as the pass blocking has been over the last two games, the run blocking has been even worse all season.
The only true bright for the defensive line thus far has been Robert Quinn, who seems to be coming into how own in this, his third season.
Through four games, Quinn has already tallied five sacks. He appears to be on his way to a monstrous campaign, in spite of generating more and more attention from other teams’ blockers.
The rest of the starting D-line has generally performed worse than expected by most.
The unit is not only failing to stop the run, but really isn’t bringing as much heat to quarterbacks as had been anticipated by most.
With the injury to standout reserve William Hayes, the unit was at less than full strength against San Francisco.
If St. Louis is to turn its season around, this supposedly fearsome front four is going to need to begin frightening opponents rather than their own fans.
Any bright spot regarding the Rams’ Week 4 performance must be seen in relative terms.
That is the case with the St. Louis linebackers, who played better than any other unit, but still failed to put together a complete game.
The starting trio did show well in terms of tackles, accumulating 25 on the night. They also were able to break up three passes.
But the linebackers failed to manage to make more tackles near the line of scrimmage against the run and gave up significant yardage via the pass from running backs and tight ends.
All in all, though, their night wasn’t bad in relation to the other positional groups.
The secondary played well early on, but that play went downhill after cornerback Cortland Finnegan – who later left the game with a reported leg injury – got burned on two big third-and-long plays against Anquan Boldin.
Earlier in the night, fellow corner Janoris Jenkins had essentially shot down the veteran Boldin. But when the 49ers countered by moving Boldin to the slot, the Rams chose to leave Finnegan in his normal spot in the nickel rather than having Jenkins follow him. The decision to do so hurt St. Louis and led to a San Francisco touchdown.
On the evening, the 49ers scored two touchdowns via the pass, one to the aforementioned Boldin and one to tight end Vernon Davis.
The Rams only gave up 167 passing yards, but that stat is a bit misleading due to the fact that the 49ers were able to dominate the game on the ground.
This unit may have made a little progress from Week 3, but not enough. They still need to improve significantly as a group.
For a fourth straight game, the Rams’ special team units were unable to play a clean game and avoid penalty. The Rams are covering punts and kicks decently, but cannot seem to make anything happen on their own returns.
The St. Louis specialists did perform well, with punter Johnny Hekker placing six of 11 punts inside the 20 and kicker Greg Zuerlein converting on his only field-goal opportunity of the night.
Overall, though, the struggles on returns and the inability to avoid penalty hurt the overall evaluation here.
What is there to be said here?
The offense utterly failed for a second straight week, scoring just 11 points on the night after scoring just seven in Week 3 at Dallas.
To the naked eye, it seems that the overall approach is failing.
Bradford has shown an ability to thrive in the no-huddle, but the Rams continue to largely (and stubbornly) avoid using it.
The offense is still unable to run the ball and the once-solid pass protection has regressed tremendously.
Richardson excelled on exterior runs a season ago, but has rarely been given outside carries this year.
On defense, the pass rush again disappointed and the unit’s run defense was absolutely grotesque for a second straight contest. Inexplicably, Finnegan was allowed to get torched by Boldin after Jenkins exhibited an ability to shut him down.
The special team units continue to display a lack of discipline and are failing in regard to both kick and punt returns.
All of the preceding points back to coaching, and the staff isn’t getting it done at this point.