NOTE: This article is in reference to first string players, and primarily the first half of the game.
Rookie #1 overall pick, QB Sam Bradford threw his first 2 TD passes as a Ram (and to make it even better, it he did it on the same night Albert Pujols hit is 400th career HR), and had an impressive performance overall.
I think it is fair to say he made a heck of a case for himself, as the potential starter for week 1. He went 15-for-22 (68%) with 189 yards and 2 TD passes, against the New England Patriot's starters (they have one of the more solid defenses in the league). The question now is: Where do the coaches go, QB wise, from here? With a performance like that, against one of the better teams in football, I don't see Bradford riding the bench week 1.
Let's look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; and talk a little more about Bradford, and the rest of the game...
The Good: Steven Jackson looked as good as most thought he would in his limited time. He had 5 carries for 22 yards; and his presence was (as expected) a major factor for the offense. Bradford was able to throw his first TD as a Ram, and I believe part of that is due to the pressure that Jackson took off Bradford. The TD pass was to rookie TE Mike Hoomanawanui.
But Bradford certainly didn't require Jackson. He continued to tear up the Patriots with Jackson on the bench. He threw his second TD of the game (once again, to big Mike H.), and over 100 yards after Jackson left the game. And he damn near threw his third on the last drive of the first half, but led WR Laurent Robinson a little too close to the sidelines.
Another good thing, was that the offense did not turn one-dimensional after Jackson left the game. RB Kenneth Darby was able to establish an inside running game, he rushed for 35 yards on 13 carries, taking some pressure off Bradford.
The defense was also able to establish a strong presence. The Pats scored a TD on the opening kick-off, and then the Rams scored 17 unanswered, until late in the 4th quarter. The half-time score was not really a good indicator of how dominate the Rams were in the first half. The Patriots had virtually no run game (16 yards total in the first half). And their pass game, though consistent, was not very potent until the end of first half.
Although I usually don't mention the back-up's, QB Keith Null, and QB Thad Lewis deserve some credit for hanging on in the second half, and sealing the victory. There is nothing better than beating the Patriots.
The Bad: The defense, once again, was unable to establish consistent pressure in the pass rush. They were able to pressure at moments, but it lacked overall, as Brady was able to go 8-for-10 in the first half. And that completion percentage is also reflective of the defensive backfield having another poor game (although they seemed a little more physical than last week).
When you are coming off a 1-15 season, you can not allow teams to get their points from special teams. The kick-return TD was inexcusable. A team as weak as the Rams can not afford to lose momentum that early in the game.
The Ugly: Donnie Avery injured his knee towards the end of the second half; and it looked nasty. We will have to wait and see what the doctors say, but he was carted off the field, and it did not look good. Not good for a team that is already thin with WR talent.
The Patriots were also ugly overall. But I am hoping it has more to do with the Rams playing good, than the Patriots playing bad. But take away their special-teams TD, and the score was 20-7 Rams lead at half-time. And you know a team is desperate when they play their first team offense against the Rams' (worst team in '09) second string defense. Nice class Belichick. It looks like he cheats in the preseason as well.
Overall: It was a very encouraging performance by the Rams, and it will be hard to expect that anyone other than Bradford will be lining-up under center week 1. If this performance didn't earn him the starting job, then I don't know what will.
The offense looks like it is ready to roll. It is unknown how much the loss of Avery will hurt. He is a good WR, but this will give Denario Alexander or Mardy Gilyard a great opportunity. God knows both of those guys have the talent, they just need to make the plays. It's not like Avery was light-years better than the other wide-outs. Trent Green also got injured in the preseason against the Patriots, and that turned out alright. We'll have to wait and see. This is an offense capable of putting points on the board. Certainly more than 10.9 points per game (the offense's average in 2009). The only thing that can stop this offense is stupid mistakes (but remember, Richie Incognito and Alex Barron are gone), and injuries.
The Defense looks like a much improved unit over last year. The defensive backfield might cause some concern, but hopefully coach Spagnuolo will improve the pass-rush throughout the year, therefore taking pressure off the backfield. It might not be an elite defense, but I think the Rams can definitely win some games with this unit.
If every team underestimates the Rams, like the Patriots did tonight, then this team will turn some heads this year.