As I was walking out of the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday, I was, as usual, happy to talk football with anyone who wanted to. I’m always stunned after the Rams win when the first thing people want to talk about is how bad it was. We are Rams fans, people. We survived 15-65. We are not in a position to throw back wins. Don’t be upset with a win. Savor it. Revel in it. There will be plenty of time to complain. But right after a win, there should be a smile on your face. Even if that win happened to be against the Jacksonville Jaguars. And with that, 10 takeaways from Sunday’s 34-20 Rams win:
1. The Rams did what they were supposed to do. Vegas had them as an 11 ½-point favorite, and they won by 14. So, despite the warts (which we’ll discuss in a moment), the Rams did something that’s not easy to do. There were 10 day games on Sunday, and just three of them (Rams over Jaguars, Cardinals over Panthers, Eagles over Giants) had spreads of 14 points or greater.
2. It’s amazing how turnover margin consistently provides us with a tell of who’s going to win. In the 11 games played through Sunday day games in the NFL, six had a turnover winner, and the other five had an even differential. Of the six, only Baltimore lost the turnover battle and won the game. The other five winners in the turnover battle won the game. The Rams were a plus-3, and won the game. It’s not a coincidence. Of course, a turnover in which the team scores is a big advantage, too, and the Rams had Matt Giordano’s 82-yard return for a score.
3. The last time a Rams running back ran for more than Zac Stacy’s 78 yards on Sunday, it was Steven Jackson at Tampa last December 23. Perhaps the Rams should have used him earlier, but he made his point against Jacksonville. Stacy should be the Rams’ main back.
4. It is so bizarre to be frustrated by Sam Bradford. In the first half, he was 12-20 for 128 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions – a passer rating of 112.1. But he didn’t throw the ball downfield, so I was frustrated. The problem we have is that the Rams had only three plays of more than 20 yards, and we want more explosion. Bradford did take a shot deep to Chris Givens in the first quarter, but Will Blackmon made a great play. Bradford and Givens hooked up on 50-plus-yard plays in five straight games last year, and I don’t think Bradford has lost the desire to take shots. There must be something else there. Bottom line: Even though I was frustrated, I’ll take three TDs, no interceptions and a 105.3 passer rating every week.
5. The Jaguars were averaging 224 yards a game coming in, but ran up 363 vs. the Rams. They had averaged 49 rushing yards a game, but nearly doubled that with 96 against the Rams. They had averaged 175 passing yards per game, but threw for 267 against the Rams. Yes, the Rams allowed one of the worst offenses in recent NFL history to run up and down the field. A team that had scored 31 points in four games scored 20 against the Rams. Next week the Rams play against a Houston team with Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. The defense needs to get better – and fast. It’s early in Tim Walton’s career, but the Rams haven’t come close to doing what they did last year defensively. Someone needs to be held accountable.
6. Speaking of accountability, I believe we’ve all seen enough of John Fassel’s special teams penalties. As Bernie Miklasz noted at STLToday.com after the San Francisco game, the Rams led the league in special teams penalties after that game with 11, and their 39 for 328 yards in his first 20 games as Rams special teams coach were far and away the most in the NFL. On Sunday, the Rams committed six penalties, and the special teams accounted for five of them. In the first quarter, a Tavon Austin 23-yard return to the Jaguar 46 was wiped out by Ray-Ray Armstrong’s illegal block, and made the Rams start at their own 23. A loss of 31 yards. Brandon McGee’s fair catch interference later in the first allowed Jacksonville to start from its 42 rather than its 27, giving us a total of 46 yards’ difference. In the second quarter, Austin’s nine-yard return to the 27 was wiped out by Chase Reynolds’ holding, and the Rams started at their 10. That 17-yard difference gets us to 63 yards’ cost in special teams penalties. In the third quarter, Austin’s 49-yard return to the Jacksonville 26 was nullified by Daren Bates’ hold, and the Rams started a their own 15, a 59-yard difference. That’s 122 yards yielded in field position because of Rams special teams penalties. The special teams also allowed a blocked punt and had another penalty that gave the Jags a first down after a made field goal. Fortunately, James Laurinaitis’ interception bailed the Rams out on that drive. Alan Lowery, who was with Jeff Fisher for 16 years with the Oilers/Titans, 12 with his special teams, might be in line for a phone call.
7. I thought the offense performed better when Shelley Smith was in at left guard rather than Chris Williams. I’ll get a closer look, but my impression was that was the case.
8. I wasn’t a big fan of Giordano until his long interception return for a touchdown. That was good to see.
9. Unless they’re sure Cortland Finnegan is going to be healthy for the Texans, the Rams need to get themselves another cornerback. And they need to cull the herd on the offensive line. They have three rostered offensive linemen who haven’t played in a game (Brandon Washington, Barrett Jones and Mike Person), plus Sean Hooey on the practice squad. That’s more than enough offensive linemen.
10. OK, I’ll be over-reaction guy. The Rams are only two games out of the NFC West lead. They control their own destiny. All they need to do is steal an unexpected win in Houston, then they’re 3-3 and anything can happen. Show me.