1. So much for the idea of some fans that Tavon Austin is a bust. During the first nine games, many people contacted me via Twitter and Facebook to complain about another wasted first-round draft choice. I continually preach patience with young players. Half a season isn’t enough time to write the story of a player. On Sunday, Austin’s two touchdown catches for 138 yards gave him four touchdown receptions, and increased his average per reception from 6.7 to 10.5. His four punt returns for 145 yards and a touchdown improved his average from 4.7 to 8.9. Amazingly, he had more punt return yards against Indianapolis than he did in his first nine games combined! If a penalty hadn’t been called on Austin’s 84-yard touchdown return against Dallas, he’d be 10th in the NFL among punt returners averaging at least one return per game, at 11.35 per return, and would lead the league with two punt return touchdowns. Unless you’re going to blame him for a penalty against Brandon McGee, it’s pretty tough to label Austin a bust.
2. I always go back to turnovers. Sorry about that. But, the Rams did have four interceptions without throwing one, and took away a fumble while losing one. Go plus-4 in the turnover differential, and you’re going to win the game. And you had to love the three red-zone interceptions, by Trumaine Johnson, Will Witherspoon and William Hayes. When the game got to a point where it was played in a phone booth, the Rams dominated.
3. The Rams’ pass rush was great early, and didn’t let up. On Indy’s first series of the game, Robert Quinn’s sack/strip led to Chris Long’s touchdown. The Rams hit Andrew Luck relentlessly, and that led to his worst game as a pro. They had three sacks and numerous other hits on Luck. During the offseason, the Rams thought they’d set the tone for games with their offense, but that isn’t going to be the case. The defense will set the tone for this team, and the players need to be aware of that – that their effort is going to dictate whether the Rams get off to a good start and win.
4. A rush defense that struggled against the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray, the Texans’ Arian Foster and the Titans’ Chris Johnson buckled down against the Colts. Donald Brown had come into the game hot, but he was held to -1 yard on two carries, and as a group the Colt running backs had nine carries for two yards. The run defense is capable of that. I wish they’d just be consistently good.
5. Not all was good. Against Tennessee, Benny Cunningham fumbled in the red zone, costing the Rams at least a field goal and perhaps a touchdown. In their second possession against Indy, Kellen Clemens and Zac Stacy missed connections on a handoff and fumbled the ball away at the Colts’ five-yard line. You can’t consistently turn the ball over in the red zone and expect to win. And when it happens in back-to-back games, that’s too consistent.
6. At halftime, Luck was 12 of 23 for 93 yards and a passer rating of 62.4. Clemens was 4 of 7 for 129 and a touchdown, with a passer rating of 141.4. The Rams led 28-0. Nobody saw that coming. Clemens played the perfect game for the Rams. I’m really impressed with the way Brian Schottenheimer, Frank Cignetti and Jeff Fisher have crafted a plan that plays to what Clemens can do.
7. The Greatest Show on Turf Rams would get ahead with the pass, and then put the game away with the run. With the two touchdown passes to Austin helping the Rams build the 28-0 halftime lead, the Rams had dropped back to pass nine times and tried 16 running plays after two quarters. In the second half, the Rams ran 21 times and dropped back seven times. When you build a lead with the help of the passing game, you can shorten the contest by pounding it in the second.
8. Indy was just 1 for 5 in the red zone on offense, with the Rams taking the ball away three times with interceptions and taking over once on downs. That sort of bend-but-don’t break defense will cause some heart palpitations, but will allow you to win games. This defensive staff does a great job of preparing its defense for the red zone. While we’re at it, let’s point out that the Colts were 2 for 12 on third down. Fisher will love his team’s statistical defensive performance.
9. From what I saw of Rodger Saffold at right guard, I was impressed. Jim Hanifan told us during the pregame show that his switch of positions was more difficult than switching sides. Saffold, who hadn’t played guard since seventh grade 13 years ago, did a good job pulling and driving ahead. He may have found a new home at right guard.
10. At 4-6, and with the Bears and Saints at home and trips to San Francisco and Seattle still to come, it’s foolish to think about the playoffs. However, the Rams can still improve and build some momentum for next year. They’ve played well enough to win in their last three games. If they can steal a couple of games they aren’t supposed to win and compete in every game they have left, they’ll have a great jumping-off point for 2014. This was a terrific win. The Rams will feel great during their bye week and have a good taste in their mouth as they get ready to face Chicago in their next game, Nov. 24 at the Edward Jones Dome.