The Rams moved to 3-3, tied with Arizona and a game behind San Francisco in the NFC West, with their 38-13 rout of the Houston Texans. Every aspect of the Rams’ team played a role, and not a single penalty was called on the Rams’ special teams. It was a terrific performance, and the first road win of the year for St. Louis. And now, 10 takeaways from Sunday’s win over the Texans:
1. The Rams are 2-0 since Jeff Fisher hit the reset button and unofficially started a 12-game season. The most notable part of the restart to me is that the Rams are a plus-7 in the turnover differential in the wins over Jacksonville and Houston. And most of the time, they’re legitimate takeaways. All four on Sunday – Alec Ogletree’s forced fumble of DeAndre Hopkins that turned into James Laurinaitis’ 43-yard return, Ogletree’s 98-yard interception return for a touchdown, the Rodney McCleod strip after a Rams kickoff that allowed Daren Bates to score, and Janoris’ Jenkins pick – were real takeaways, not Houston giveaways. The four takeaways led to 17 Rams points. They’ve found one of the keys to winning.
2. Speaking of turnovers, the Rams now are a plus-6 overall in differential. Before the weekend, Chicago and Seattle led the NFC at plus-7. Clearly they’ve discovered something that works.
3. Next week, the Rams face the league’s seventh-ranked rushing offense in Carolina. The Panthers ran for 131 yards against Minnesota, and the Rams allowed Houston to run for 153, including 141 from Arian Foster. He had runs of 23, 22 and 18 yards. The Rams must figure out what their problem is in run defense and fix it. Continuing to allow the opposition to run all over them doesn’t bode well for defensive success.
4. Sam Bradford only passed for 117 yards on just 16 attempts, but his 12-of-16, 117-yard, three-touchdown day – with no interceptions – resulted in a career-high passer rating of 134.6. Among his 12 completions, Bradford hit nine different receivers. He now has 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. And you might recall, the three picks were tipped balls by Matt Shaughnessy of Arizona that landed in Dan Williams’ hands; by Rams running back Daryl Richardson, whose drop went right to Osi Umenyiora of Atlanta; and by Tramaine Brock of San Francisco, whose play on the right sideline went right to Donte Whitner in the end zone. So, in 233 attempts this season, Bradford hasn’t thrown an untipped interception. In fact, the only full-time quarterbacks in the league with fewer than three interceptions are Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, and Manning, Tony Romo and Drew Brees are the only ones with more touchdown passes.
5. Rams general manager Les Snead took a trip to Nashville last spring to work out Zac Stacy, and came home really excited about him. Now we see why. Stacy shows uncommon vision and patience in allowing his blockers to work, then zooms through the hole when it materializes. With 75-yard-plus performances in his first two starts, he has clearly established himself as the Rams’ bell cow at running back. Now all the Rams need to do is figure out who to use as their third-down/speed option when they need plays on the perimeter. Against Houston, Isaiah Pead dressed but never got on the field. That should tell us something about the pecking order at running back.
6. With all the hype about building an offense that presented the opposition galactic-sized matchup problems (and I did as much hyping as anyone), that idea has gone by the boards. Pricey free-agent acquisition Jared Cook was targeted twice (catching both), and first-round pick Tavon Austin was targeted once. This is actually a good sign. Fisher and his staff recognized that what they were trying to do wasn’t working, and changed the identity of their offense in a week. That’s some impressive coaching.
7. After what appeared to be a mistake by Brian Quick when he didn’t recognize an audible by Bradford and got hit in the back of the helmet, Bradford went right back to him for a touchdown. There are going to be times when a quarterback loses confidence in a receiver because of a mistake. It was good to see Bradford utilize Quick five plays after a frustrating misconnection, getting a touchdown in the process.
8. The Rams’ average starting field position was their best of the season, averaging their 26-yard line. They started beyond their own 30 on their first three possessions, coming away with a touchdown and a field goal. They also put together an 80-yard touchdown drive. Their best field position of the day came after the fumble recovery, and the drive that started at the Houston 43 resulted in a Greg Zuerlein field goal. Good field position leads to points and, of course, points lead to wins.
9. Ogletree has become a major force. He had the forced fumble downfield, he had the 98-yard interception return for a touchdown and, according to press box stats, led the Rams in tackles with 10. He’s just scratching to surface, but is already someone to be reckoned with and accounted for by opposing offensive coaches.
10. The Rams only led the time-of-possession battle for one quarter, the second. They held the ball for 24:50 to Houston’s 35:10. Houston had drives of 4:15, 7:00 and 3:40 that ended in Rams takeaways. From now on, this will be a team that will try to win the time-of-possession battle.
Before the season, we would have thought Houston would be a team impossible to beat on the road and that Carolina would be a beatable team. Right now, even though they’re 2-3, the Panthers have allowed the second-fewest points in the league, 68. The Rams will have their hands full in Charlotte, and will have to rely on better defense and takeaways again next Sunday.