Sunday, October 31, 2010

Where do the Rams stand now?

Having possibly the best QB and defense in the NFC West gives the Rams an advantage.

The Rams are only half a game out of first place with a 4-4 record. It took a little luck today, with Arizona losing a close one to Tampa Bay 38-35; and the first place Seattle Seahawks got blown out by the Oakland Raiders 33-3. Here are the standings:
Seattle Seahawks       4-3 .571
St. Louis Rams          4-4 .500
Arizona Cardinals      3-4 .429
San Francisco 49ers  2-6 .250

Technically the Rams could be in first place a week from now. All it would take is a little luck in the form of Arizona losing to Minnesota (in Minnesota), and Seattle losing to the New York Giants (in Seattle). If that happens, then the Rams and Seahawks would have equal records at 4-4, but the Rams would own the tiebreaker (due to their 20-3 victory over Seattle back in week 4).

If the Rams do exit their bye week in first place, then they will certainly be in a good position to win the NFC West. Why wouldn't they be? They have the best quarterback in the division, as well as the best defense, and those are two major factors when it comes to winning a division.

There are only two crystal clear obstacles that stand in the Rams' way. The first obstacle being their receiving core. The season ending injuries to Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton have left the undersized Danny Amendola as only receiver with any value. Danario Alexander gave fans a glimpse of hope, but he is out 2-4 weeks with another knee injury. So other than Amendola, one of the other receivers (Brandon Gibson, Laurent Robinson, Mardy Gilyard) needs to step it up. Also, if tight-ends Mike Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells can elevate their game, then it would certainly help the Rams overcome their woes at receiver.

The other clear obstacle is the Rams inability to win on the road. The road games against Arizona, Oakland, and Tampa Bay, were all close games that could have gone either way. Even so, the Rams have yet to finish the job on the road. Five of their eight remaining games are on the road, including a tough three game road trip that will take them to Atlanta, Denver, and New Orleans.

When return from their bye-week on the road against San Francisco. If they Rams are serious about making a run at the West, then it would be very helpful if they won that game. Their ability to win on the road should improve after they get that first road victory out of the way. They need to establish an ability to play on the road BEFORE that tough three game trip, not during it.

If the Rams win just two of their away games, then they will be in good shape. If that happens, they should be able to earn an 8-8 record pretty easily, and that record could be enough to win the division. If they can't find a way to win on the road, then their best case scenario is a 7-9 season.

It is going to be a close race in the NFC West. The loss to Tampa was huge, because if they would've won, then they would have some room for error. Since they lost that game, they can't really afford to lose any home games, because now you have to assume that they will lose the majority of their remaining road games.

One thing is for sure, which is that the Rams have showed major improvements over their 2009 campaign. If the Rams do fall short of the playoffs in 2010, then it shouldn't matter. No one was expecting a Super Bowl trophy this season, so the major improvements should be appreciated no matter what the outcome. It is hard to not be anxious for 2011 and beyond, but all I know is that it's good to still be excited about football in November for a again.

Rams even record at 4-4 after beating Carolina 20-10

The St. Louis Rams played host to the Carolina Panthers, and for a while it looked to be a snooze fest. The first seven possessions, combined between both teams, resulted in only 33 yards. The Rams attempted a 51-yard field-goal on their second drive of the game, but kicker Josh Brown missed.

The first score did not come until the 2nd quarter, when Brown hit a 33-yard field-goal on the Rams' fourth drive of the game, making the score 3-0. Then, after the Rams' defense forced a three-and-out, the Rams were able to score again on the very next drive. A reception by WR Laurent Robinson took the ball inside the 10-yard line, which eventually set up a two yard touchdown pass from QB Sam Bradford to WR Danny Amendola, making the score 10-0.

Carolina got the ball back after the touchdown for the final drive of the half. QB Matt Moore ran a no-huddle offense pretty effectively on that drive; he was 7-for-9 on the first nine passes on the drive, including a big pass completed to WR Steve Smith into Rams' territory. The Rams' defense eventually prevailed, forcing the Panthers to kick a field-goal, making the score 10-3 to end the first half.

The second half started off just as slow as the first; both teams were forced to punt on their first two drives. Nothing major happened in the half until Moore completed a 3rd-and-5 pass to Smith, and Smith fumbled on the play, which was recovered by DE Chris Long.

The fumble recovery by Long set up another scoring drive for the Rams. A solid pass by Bradford to WR Brandon Gibson brought the ball to the 15-yard line. On 3rd-and-18 it looked as if the Rams would have to settle for a field-goal, until Bradford hit TE Daniel Fells around the 5-yard line, and Fells continued to dive into the end-zone for a touchdown, making the score 17-3.

Carolina then got the ball back. Ron Bartell had a solid pass deflection on 2nd down, forcing a 3rd down situation. On 3rd down DT Fred Robbins tipped Moore's pass, and the "wounded duck" was picked off by SS James Butler, who took the ball to the Carolina 30-yard line, which set up a field-goal for the Rams. That made the score 20-3.

The Rams defense was dominant for most of the game, but once they had a 17 point lead in the 4th quarter they began to play relaxed defense. The lenient defense resulted in Carolina's first touchdown of the game. While in the red zone, rookie receiver Brandon LaFell caught a pass from Moore around the 5-yard line, fighting his way into the end-zone, making the score 20-10 with just over three minuted left in the game.

The onside-kick was recovered by the Rams, but they were eventually forced to punt. After the punt, Carolina tried to put together the final drive of the game, but FS OJ Atogwe picked off Moore, and took the ball to the 1-yard line. Atogwe was flagged for celebrating, so the Rams took over at the 16-yard line, and they took a knee to win the game 20-10.

The Rams will enter their bye-week this week, and then they have their work cut out for them. They return from the bye-week to face the 49ers in San Fransisco, then they play Atlanta at home. The Rams then go on a three game road trip that will take them to Denver, New Orleans, and Arizona. The fate of the Rams' season will likely be decided on that three game road trip.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

THE GOOD:
-THE DEFENSE The Rams' D was absolutely swarming around the ball today. James Laurinaitis had a sack and an interception, Chris Long had a forced fumble and a sack, and OJ Atogwe got the game ending interception. The defense really only gave up three meaningful points, since the Carolina touchdown was scored after the Panther's fate was practically sealed, and the Rams' defense was playing loose.

-SAM BRADFORD The rookie quarterback just threw two touchdowns for a second game in a row, and he hasn't been picked off in three games. The young quarterback continues to play at an unheard of level for a rook, and continues to show monster potential. The defense is getting most of the credit this year, but the future is certainly bright for the offense.

-COACHING See what happens when the Rams actually tries to score in the 2nd-half? Not only do they get more points, but they win with comfort. It definitely beats trying to run out the clock with only a 10 point lead, and with an entire half of football remaining. The coaches should get credit for not being too conservative in the 2nd-half, and for actually trying to put the game away.

THE BAD:
-THE RAMS WR SITUATION Bradford was struggling to find targets today. Eventually Brandon Gibson was able to step up, and even Laurent Robinson made some plays. However, other than Amendola, the receiver are struggling to get separation. With the injuries that the Rams' receiving core has endured, someone needs to step up, and step up big. I think Gibson has what it takes to be that guy, and fans have certainly been expecting more from Mardy Gilyard. The return of a healthy Danario Alexander during the three game road trip could be huge.

THE UGLY:
-PANTHERS OFFENSE Wow. That offense has some promising young players, such as Brandon LaFell, and Jonathan Stewart (even though he's been bad this year), but I just don't see a bright future for that team's offense. The thing that's working against them, in my opinion, is their quarterback situation. I just don't see either Moore, or Jimmy Clausen, having long and successful careers.

STATS
St. Louis Rams
PASSING: Sam Bradford- 25/32  191 yards  2 TD  0 INT
RUSHING: Steven Jackson 23 ATT  59 yards  0 TD 
RECEIVING:
Brandon Gibson  6 REC  67 yards  0 TD
Daniel Fells  4 REC  35 yards  1 TD
Laurent Robinson  5 REC  33 yards  0 TD

Carolina Panthers
PASSING: Matt Moore  23/37  194 yards  1 TD  3 INT
RUSHING: Jonathan Stewart  14 ATT  30 yards  0 TD
RECEIVING:
Steve Smith  9 REC  85 yards  0 TD
Brandon LaFell  4 REC  40 yards  1 TD
Jeff King  2 REC  22 yards  0 TD

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Looking Forward: Back-up Running-Back

Drafting two Heisman winners in a row would help build a winning environment at Rams Park
Ever since the arrival of Steven Jackson, as well as the departure of Marshall Faulk, the Rams have struggled to find a suitable back-up running-back. The ideal candidate would be a guy with some speed, someone who is a real home-run threat; someone who would add the "thunder and flash" effect the Rams' backfield, with Jackson being the "thunder". The candidate should also be a solid receiving threat for 3rd and long situations.

I do a weekly piece that tracks college's top receivers. Since a complimentary back is such a major need, I thought I should write a feature on some of colleges top running-backs, guys who would make solid draft picks in the first couple rounds of the draft.

DeMarco Murray- Oklahoma (Sr.)
Height: 6'1" Weight: 214 lbs 40-yard Dash: 4.48 seconds
STATS:
2007- (Rushing) 127 ATT 764 Yards 13 TD  (Receiving)14 REC 60 Yards 0 TD
2008- (Rushing) 179 ATT 1002 Yards 14 TD (Receiving)31 REC 395 Yards 4 TD
2009- (Rushing) 171 ATT  705 Yards 8 TD (Receiving)41 REC 522 Yards 4 TD
2010- (Rushing) 162 ATT  712 Yards 11 TD (Receiving) 30 REC 218 Yards 3 TD

DeMarco Murray would be the perfect candidate if the Rams are willing to spend a first round pick on a back. He has the speed to get outside and win the corner from the defenders, and he also has the ability to run up the middle, juking his way to a big gain. He is so fast that even when he is brought down, his momentum gains three or four more yards.

His 4.48 speed would make him an ideal punt returner, as well as a solid receiving threat out of the backfield. The only downside is that he has a good chance at being the top running-back in the 2011 draft class, so the Rams may never have a shot at him.

Daniel Thomas- Kansas State (Sr.)
Height: 6'2" Weight: 228 lbs 40-yard Dash: 4.63
STATS:
2009-(Rushing) 247 ATT 1265 Yards 11 TD (Receiving) 25 REC 257 Yards 0 TD
2010-(Rushing) 167 ATT 895 Yards  9 TD  (Receiving) 16 REC 88 Yards 0 TD

Thomas doesn't have the elite speed that Murray has. His 4.63 40-yard dash may be a little too slow for the NFL, and his stats do not indicate that he is much of a receiving threat (though that could be his Offensive Coordinator's fault). However, Thomas is a little harder to bring down than some of the other small and speedy running-backs around. If the Rams decide to go wide-receiver or defensive-end in the first round, then Thomas may be a nice consolation prize in the second or third round. He may be viewed as a first round prospect now, but combine work out numbers have a way of killing a player's draft stock.

Noel Divine- West Virginia (Sr.)
Height: 5'8" Weight: 180 lbs 40-yard Dash: 4.34
STATS:
2007-(Rushing) 73 ATT 627 Yards 6 TD (Receiving) 7 REC 90 Yards 0 TD
2008-(Rushing) 206 ATT 1289 Yards 4 TD (Receiving) 35 REC 187 Yards 0 TD
2009-(Rushing) 241 ATT 1465 Yards 13 TD (Receiving) 22 REC 177 Yards 1 TD
2010-(Rushing) 143 ATT 693 Yards 4 TD (Receiving) 24 REC 132 Yards 1 TD

Divine was turned into a national sensation when his high school highlight video was released to the Internet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkvhIDsCJck). His college career wasn't as electric as his high school career, but he certainly did not disappoint. In '08 and '09 he averaged over six yards per carry, and had over 1000 yards both of those years for West Virginia.

Divine is a speedy back that threatens to score every time he touches the ball. He would be very useful as a kick returner, and he would certainly be an ideal change of pace back behind Steven Jackson. Though he is not as dangerous catching the ball as he is running with it, he would definitely be able to serve as a 3rd down back.

The biggest knock on Devine is his size. At 5'8" and only 180 lbs, it's fair to say he is extremely undersized, and may never be an every down back. However, you can't ignore his speed and diversity as a player. Even if he isn't an every down player, he will make up for it with his ability to return kicks, or play receiver. Jahvid Best was a late first round pick in 2010 and was similar in size (5'10" 195 lbs), Best also has a similar running style, and he seems to be doing fine in the NFL. Judging by the spot Best was drafted (30th overall), I am going to predict that Devine gets drafted in a similar spot. So therefor, the Rams may need to trade back into the first round to grab Devine, unless they get lucky and Devine slips to them in the second round. I don't know about you, but I could certainly live with AJ Green in the first round, and Noel Devine in the second.

Mark Ingram- Alabama (Jr.)  
Height: 5'10" Weight: 215 lbs 40-yard Dash: 4.41
STATS:
2008-(Rushing) 143 ATT 728 Yards 12 TD  (Receiving) 7 REC 54  Yards 0  TD
2009-(Rushing) 271 ATT 1658 Yards 17 TD (Receiving) 32 REC 334 Yards 3 TD
2010-(Rushing) 85 ATT 544 Yards 8 TD  (Receiving) 13 REC 68 Yards 0 TD

If St. Louis picks somewhere is the middle of the first round, then they may certainly have a shot at making Mark Ingram a Ram. Ingram would be the Rams' second consecutive Heisman trophy winner. If the Rams want to build a winning environment, then drafting two Heisman winners in a row would be a hell of a start.

Running-back may not be a pressing need because of Steven Jackson, and the first round pick may be better spent on a receiver, or a defensive-end, but I am a firm believer in teams picking the most valuable player available no matter what. Ingram carried his offense to a National Championship, won the most prestigious award in football, and would add a weapon to the Rams offense. His elusive speed would make him a weapon on every down, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to have Jackson's replacement around, as the 27-year-old Jackson is slowly creeping in on his 30th birthday, a day that is dreaded by all running-backs. Not to mention that Jackson has more mileage than most 27-year-old running-backs.

Ryan Williams- Virginia Tech (Soph.)
Height: 5'10" Weight: 202 lbs 40-yard Dash: 4.49
STATS:
2009-(Rushing) 293 ATT 1655 Yards 21 TD (Receiving) 16 REC 180 Yards 1 TD
2010-(Rushing) 52 ATT 149 Yards 4 TD (Receiving) 5 REC 82 Yards 1 TD

It seems like the 2011 draft would be the perfect opportunity for the Rams to find a speedy back to compliment Steven Jackson. Just about every back I listed is a speedster, as oppose to a power runner, and Ryan Williams is no exception.

Williams had a ridiculously productive 2009 campaign. As you can see above, he rushed for over 1600 yards and 21 touchdowns. It doesn't matter if it's high school, college, or the pros; if someone rushes for 21 touchdowns in one season, then they are a dangerous offensive weapon. Williams is quick enough to win the the corner, and he is elusive enough to fake out head-on tacklers. He has been under used in the passing game, but I have no doubt that he is talented enough to become a receiving threat out of the backfield.

Williams is a redshirt sophomore, meaning he is eligible for the 2011 draft. His 2010 numbers have been limited due to a nagging hamstring injury. The injury would be a good reason for him to declare for the draft since the 2009 season is still fresh in everyone's memories. If he returns in 2011, and doesn't produce, then his draft stock could be ruined. If he does enters the draft this year, then he would make a solid first round pick for the Rams (assuming they are picking somewhere in the middle). There is also the possibility, due to his injury this year, that he slips to the end of the first round, and St. Louis would then have the chance to trade back into the first round and grab him. Williams would make a solid addition not matter where he is drafted.
Williams was very productive in '09, but is battling injury in '10.


Rams vs Panthers: Pre-Game Package

This will be the last game before the bye-week for the Rams. Who knew they would be 3-4 heading into their bye-week, after going 1-15 in 2009? The Rams sit a half a game out of 2nd place in the NFC West, behind the 3-3 Cardinals, and they are only 1.5 games behind the 1st place Seattle Seahawks (a team that the Rams have already beat... convincingly).

The Rams will have a chance to gain some ground in the West this week. The Seahawks go on the road to face the Oakland Raiders (and the Seahawks have been worse than the Rams on the road this year), and the Arizona Cardinals will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Arizona. The Rams will have it easy this week, facing the 1-5 Carolina Panthers in St. Louis.

The Carolina Panthers are the team that everyone thought the Rams would be this year. Their offense has not been clicking, to say the least. They started the year with QB Matt Moore under center, but he failed to be productive, so they went with rookie QB Jimmy Clausen. In three starts, Clausen had only one touchdown pass vs three interceptions, a completion percentage under 50%, seven fumbles, and a rating of 52.2. Clausen was rightfully benched in favor of Moore last week against San Francisco, and Moore was able to get Carolina their first win of the season.

Even though they won last week, I wouldn't expect a turnaround out of the Panthers anytime soon. Their offense ranks 31st in the NFL (259.8 yards per game), and they rank 32nd in scoring (12.5 points per game). The quarterback battle has resulted in their passing game being ranked 31st in the league. Their top receiver, David Gettis (who?), has only 18 receptions on the year, and former all-pro wide-out Steve Smith has only 17 catches; both have under 250 yards.

Despite their poor passing game, you would think the one thing they are doing well is running the ball, given the deadly tandem of DeAngelo Williams, and Jonathan Stewart; but in six games, Williams has only 361 yards (although his average is a respectable 4.1), and Jonathan Stewart has been a major disappointment for his fantasy owners (I know personally). Stewart has only 148 yards on the season, is averaging under three yards per carry, and has only one rushing touchdown on the year.

Fortunately for the Rams, Williams will likely be sidelined this Sunday with a foot injury, leaving the ineffective Stewart to carry the load. Surprisingly, Stewart is averaging over 150 yards per game in his three career starts, but that is a trend that will not likely continue.

The Rams will have every opportunity to win this game. The Panthers questionable passing offense will help the Rams overcome their injured defensive-backfield (see King, Stewart, and Bartell in the injury report below), and the absence of DeAngelo Williams will take away any run threat that they might have posed. Even star running-back Steven Jackson is playing this week, despite having surgery on a finger Monday, just to make sure his team doesn't get embaressed by the 1-5 Panthers.

The most important advantage, however, is the Rams' homefield advantage. The Rams' have only one home loss this year (opening week against Arizona), and even during that one loss, they were competitive for four quarters. If there is one "sure" win for the Rams this season, then it is this game against the Panthers.

PREDICTION: RAMS 24  PANTHERS 13


INJURY REPORT

ST. LOUIS RAMS
CB Justin King (Hamstring)- Out
TE Fendi Onobun (Back)- Out
FS Darian Stewart (Hamstring)- Out
OT Jason Smith (Concussion)- Questionable
WR Denario Alexander (Knee)- Questionable
CB Ron Bartell (Neck)- Questionable
RB Steven Jackson (Finger)- Questionable
DT Fred Robbins (Toe)- Questionable
DT Darrel Scott (Ankle)- Questionable
SS James Butler (Knee)- Probable
WR Mardy Gilyard (Hamstring)- Probable
LB David Vobora (Hamstring)- Probable
LB James Laurinaitis (Knee)- Probable

CAROLINA PANTHERS
DE Tyler Brayton (Not injury related)- Game status unknown
OT Jeff Otah (Knee)- Out
WR Devin Thomas (Groin)- Doubtful
RB DeAngelo Williams (Foot)- Doubtful

STATS
PASSING           COMP/ATT   YARDS   TD
STL Sam Bradford    146/260       1483        9
CAR Matt Moore       53/100          650       4

RUSHING                    ATT  YARDS  AVG  TD       
STL   Steven Jackson      149    617      4.1    2
STL   Kenneth Darby       26      85        3.3    1
CAR DeAngelo Williams  87      36        4.1    1
CAR Jonathan Stewart     50     148        3      1

RECEIVING              REC  YARDS  TD
STL Danny Amendola    39     351       9
STL Steven Jackson      16     165      0
CAR David Gettis          18     244       2
CAR Steve Smith           17     224      2

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rams sign Lewis/Butler to help deal with the injury bug

The Rams have signed former pro-bowl strong safety Michael Lewis. Lewis was released by the 49ers this season by his own request. Lewis played under coach Steve Spagnuolo in Philadelphia, so he is somewhat familiar with the defense.

Lewis is 30 years old, and was a 2nd round draft pick when he entered the league with the Eagles in 2002. Lewis has had eight seasons with 100 or more tackles, and he even made the pro-bowl in 2004. The signing was a response to strong safety James Butler's knee injury, as well as safety Darian Stewart's hamstring injury.

The roster spot was made possible by adding defensive-tackle Clifton Ryan to the injury reserve. The departure of Ryan is an unfortunate one, as he was a solid part of the defensive-tackle rotation. Ryan has been battling a series of migraines for the majority of the 2010 season, and his only game this season came in week one, against the Arizona Cardinals.

On another note, cornerback Quincy Butler was re-signed by the Rams. Butler was a member of the team throughout training camp, but was cut by the team towards the end of the preseason.

Overall, the additions of Lewis and Butler seem like solid moves. They aren't permanent solutions to the defensive-back problem, but they are both familiar with the Rams' defensive scheme, so therefor the learning curve will be small, and they will hopefully be ready to contribute come Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rams' Future WR Watch: Week 8

Jones had a monster week against Tennessee, gaining over 200 yards.

It was a huge week for the NCAA's top receivers this week, except for Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, who missed his team's week 8 game against Navy with a hamstring injury. AJ Green was also quiet, grabbing six catches for 86 yards (you know he is good when those stats equal a bad game for him). But the rest of the receivers were on fire...

- Julio Jones had the most impressive week, hauling in 12 catches for 221 yards, but failed to find the endzone.

- Jon Baldwin had only five catches, but gained 139 yards and a touchdown; that's almost 30 yards a reception for Baldwin (and his longest catch was 46 yards, so it's not like his average was piggy-backing on one huge catch).

-Ryan Broyles had decent stats, catching eight passes for 110 yards, but I'm sure his stats did not satisfy him, as he watched his #1 ranked team get beat by the #11 ranked Missouri Tigers.

WEEK EIGHT
MICHAEL FLOYD- NOTRE DAME 6'3" 227 lbs: Week 8 @ Navy- Did not play (hamstring).                                           SEASON:  44 receptions 624 yards 6 TD

AJ GREEN- GEORGIA 6'4" 212 lbs: Week 8 @ Kentucky- 6 receptions 86 yards 0 TD

                                     SEASON: 22 receptions 365 yards 4 TD

JULIO JONES- ALABAMA 6'4" 220 lbs: Week 8 @ Tennessee - 12 receptions 221 yards 0 TD

                                    SEASON:  45 receptions 669 yards 3 TD


JON BALDWIN- PITTSBURGH 6'5" 230 lbs: Week 8 vs. Rutgers- 5 receptions 139 yards 1 TD 
                                    SEASON: 25 receptions 383 yards 3 TD

RYAN  BROYLES- OKLAHOMA 5'11" 183 lbs: Week 8 @ Missouri- 8 receptions 110 yards 0 TD
                                    SEASON: 69 receptions 810 yards 5 TD

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rams lose a heartbreaker to Tampa 18-17

QUICK NOTE: Some technical difficulties this week. It may take a while to get the videos up this week, as I'll have to use a desktop, as oppose to a labtop, but keep checking back.

The Rams have not seen a winning record since November 2006, and it looks they will have to wait a little longer. Everything seemed to be going right for the Rams in the first half, and they looked like they were going to come away with their first road victory, but the team completely gave up in the second half.

Tampa Bay actually had the lead to begin the game, as they put together a solid drive for their second offensive drive. However, a sack by DT Jermelle Cudjo, and a couple of penalties, knocked Tampa back 30 yards, and they settled for a field-goal, taking a three point lead.

St. Louis answered right back. Two first down runs by Steven Jackson, as well as a first down run by Kenneth Darby, allowed the Rams to get into field-goal position, tying the score 3-3.

On their next drive, a 20 yard reception by Danny Amendola got it started off right. Steven Jackson then had a nine yard run, followed by a two yard run, which put him past Eric Dickerson as the Rams all-time leading rusher. Amendola then took a reverse 22 yards. Shortly after that, Sam Bradford hit him in the end-zone, and it was Amendola's first touchdown reception of the season, and it made the score 10-3.

After the Rams' defense forced a three-and-out, the Rams got the ball back, and were able to do it again. TE Mike Hoomanawanui was able to score his first touchdown of the season on a pass by Bradford, this made the score a commanding 17-3.

Tampa Bay got the ball back for the last drive of the first half, and they were able to get a field-goal, making the score 17-6. That field-goal didn't seem to matter because the Rams were dominating. In fact, OJ Atogwe dropped an interception on that drive, which would've taken away the field-goal. It didn't seem to matter at the time, but it turned out to be huge.

The second half was all about Tampa Bay. Poor tackling, and a relaxed defensive approach, allowed rookie RB LaGarrette Blount to run them over. Blount was able to get yards in chunks with his "bowling ball" style of running. What was worse is that whenever the Rams defense closed in on Blount, QB Josh Freeman was able to hit WR Mike Williams, or TE Kellen Winslow with ease; or on several occasions, Freeman just kept the ball himself.

Tampa Bay was able to slowly pick away at the Rams' lead, crawling back field-goal by field-goal. After two field-goals in the second half, and four on the game, the score was 17-12, Rams lead.

The Rams had the ball for what would be their final drive of the day, had they been able to get enough first-downs to kill the clock. WR Laurent Robinson caught a first-down reception, and shortly after that, Hommanawanui caught another one, giving the team some hope after a pitiful offensive performance in the second half. However, a 3rd and 6 was turned into a 3rd and 11 after a false start penalty; and on 3rd and 11 Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur inexplicably decided to call a run play. Steven Jackson would've had the first down if it was still 3rd and 6, but he fell a couple of yards short, forcing the Rams to punt.

The outcome of the game was then put into the hands of the defense. After two first downs, one by Cadillac Williams, and one by Mike Williams, things were looking bad for the Rams. However, a personal foul against Tampa put them into 2nd and long territory, but they were able to convert for the first down. Tampa took it to the goal-line after a touchdown saving tackle by James Laurinaitis, but it didn't matter. Freeman hit C.Williams in the end-zone, and after a failed two point conversion, the score was 18-17, and that was the final score.

THE GOOD
-RON BARTELL: Man, do I have respect for this guy after today. The guy was initially held out of the game due to a knee injury, but then entered the game anyway because of more injuries to the position. He was then pulled from the game for a shoulder injury. However, after the Rams' pitiful performance in the second half, he decided that enough was enough, and not only did he go back into the game, but he had a couple of deflected passes on that final drive. I would take three injured Ron Bartells over the three other defensive-backs that were out there for the final drive; if that were the case, then the Rams would of won the game.

-FIRST HALF: They say that the San Diego Chargers are a "second half team", so the Rams must be the polar opposite. Maybe it is poor halftime adjustments by the coaches, or a conservative second half game plan by Shurmur, or maybe even over confidence after commanding first half leads; but either way, this team needs to learn how to play all four quarters, not just the first two.

-STEVEN JACKSON: This guy is a warrior. As if becoming the all-time leading Ram rusher wasn't enough, he had to have a fantastic game as well. Did you see the look on his face as he was on the sidelines watching Tampa's game-ending touchdown drive? You could tell that it was absolutely killing him that he could not be out there doing something about it. I'm surprised he didn't check himself in at safety.

THE BAD
-FALSE STARTS: The Rams have 15 false start penalties on the season, leading the NFL. Isn't that the reason they sent Alex Barron packing? This unit has to do a better job at hearing the snap count.


-SAM BRADFORD: Overall Sam had a good day, and I feel bad putting him here, because you can only expect so much out of a rookie. He had two touchdown passes as well. But he made some pretty bad throws today, several of them should have been interceptions; I also get the feeling that that may be one reason why Shurmur was so conservative with the playcalling in the second half... not that I'm defending Shurmur.

-TACKLING: I was thinking about putting 'Defense' here instead of 'Tackling', but that wouldn't be accurate. The defense actually played a solid game, and their second half collapse could very well be due to the fact that they were constantly on the field in 90 degree weather, and they had almost no breaks. However, the tackling was absolutely horrid; they were unable to execute the basic fundamental tackling taught to children.

THE UGLY
-COACHING: Terrible half time adjustments. Blount was the only player on Tampa who could move the ball, it should of been obvious that he would be getting more carries in the second half, and the Rams coaches should have prepared their players for it. But what's worse is that the conservative playcalling absolutely killed them. Remember last week against San Diego? When Shurmur called a run play on 3rd and 6? Had Jackson not got that first down, then the Chargers' offense (who was red hot at the time) would've had another shot. Shurmur's idiotic playcalling almost lost the game last week, and it DID lose the game this week. A run on 3rd and 11? With the game on the line? Are you kidding me?

OVERALL:
Tough loss for the Rams. Next week will be the closest thing to a sure win that the Rams will see all season when the Carolina Panthers head to St. Louis. Fortunately for the Rams, no one is running away with the division. If the Rams play .500 ball all season, then they'll be in it until the end. Sometimes it's hard to remember the team was 1-15 last year, and incremental improvements are that can be expected; but it's hard to think about that when the Rams are still in the division race.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rams @ Buccaneers- Pre-Game Package

We know the Rams can win in St. Louis, at the Edward Jones Dome. We also know that they can be competitive on the road (Oakland), and that they can completely fall apart on the road (Detroit); but what Rams fans don't know is if the team can win on the road.

The Rams' ability to win on the road this season will likely be the difference of them winning the NFC, or missing the playoffs once again. Either way, the 2010 season will likely mark major improvements within the organization. However, I'm sure the team, as well as the fans, would be thrilled to see more than just incremental improvements. If the team can win on the road, and somehow make the playoffs after going 1-15, then I suspect a certain coach will be winning the 'Coach of the Year' award, and a certain quarterback will be named 'Rookie of the Year'.

There is still a lot of football to be played, and dreams of winning the NFC West are nothing but speculation at this point. However, the next two games are huge for this team if they want to make those dreams a reality. The Rams will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday, in Tampa Bay; and then they will take on the struggling Carolina Panthers in St. Louis. If the Rams can beat both of those teams, it will prove that they can win on the road, and it will send them into the buy week with a 5-3 record, which could potentially be the best record in the division at that point.

If the Rams win these next two games, then they should be widely considered the NFC West favorites; they would then just need to win three out of their four remaining divisional games, and just one game against their four remaining non-divisional opponents (Atlanta, New Orleans, Denver, Kansas City), to give them a 9-7 record (which could very possibly win the division). However, if they lose one, or both, of the next two games, then it will probably be an uphill battle for the rest of the season.

The Rams will play the Buccaneers at noon, in Tampa. The Bucs have a 3-2 record, while the Rams are sitting with a 3-3 record. The Bucs' only two losses have come against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. The Bucs have not won a home game all season, just as the Rams have not won a road game.

The Buccaneers run defense has been brutal to say the least. Their run defense is ranked 31st in the NFL, and they are giving up 157 yards a game on average. Last week, the Bucs gave up over 150 yards to the New Orleans Saints' rookie running-back Chris Ivory. Ivory was undrafted in 2010, and served as the Saints' third-string running-back before being promoted due to injuries. Tampa Bay's defense has not face an elite power running-back like Steven Jackson all season; and if they struggled against Ivory, then they will certainly struggle against Jackson

The Bucs' pass defense has only been a little bit better than their run defense. Though their pass defense ranks 16th in the NFL, it has been slowly falling apart. They lost their promising young safety Tanard Jackson to a season ending suspension. Jackson was able to play the first two games of the season for Tampa Bay before the suspension, but has been unavailable ever since. The Bucs' record is 1-2 without Jackson. 

Tampa's poor run defense will likely result in a lot of carries for Steven Jackson. If Jackson is successful against the Buccaneer defense, then it will likely open up the possibility of effective play-action passing. If Tampa keeps multiple defensive-backs on the field, then Jackson will run them over; but if they stack up against the run, then Bradford will have the option of going deep to his new deep threat, Danario Alexander.

The Rams' defense should not be too overwhelmed. They rank 11th in average points allowed per game, and 17th in average yards allowed per game. Their defense might be a little too much for Tampa Bay to handle; Tampa's offense ranks 22nd in average yards per game on offense, with a 306 yard average; and their offense is ranked 31st in the NFL in scoring, putting up just 16 points per game.

The main reason for Tampa's poor offense is their lack of a running game. Cadillac Williams has been a non-factor all season, and they gave up on their 2009 free-agent running-back Derrick Ward, cutting him before the start of the 2010 season.

Their anemic rushing offense has held back second-year quarterback Josh Freeman, who has been playing at an acceptable level in 2010. Freeman has 6 touchdown passes, and 3 interceptions, for 1,043 yards, and an 83.4 rating. Freeman's favorite target has been rookie wide-receiver Mike Williams out of Syracuse, who has 23 receptions for 283 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Williams was likely a 1st round talent coming out of Syracuse, but he slipped to the 4th round due to the fact he quit the Syracuse football team because of a possible suspension.

The Rams and the Buccaneers were two of the worst football teams in 2009. The Rams finished with a 1-15 record, and Tampa Bay had a 3-13 record. However, both teams have been impressive in 2010. The Buccaneers are coming off a devastating loss to their division rival, the New Orleans Saints, so their ability to bounce back will be put to the test. Even though they have the home-field advantage, I just don't see Tampa beating the Rams, mainly due to their pitiful run defense, and their inability to score.


INJURY REPORT
St. Louis Rams
CB Justin King (Hamstring)- Did not participate in practice- Out 
DT Clifton Ryan (Migraines)- Did not participate in practice- Out
Darian Stewart (Hamstring)- Did not participate in practice- Out
WR Mardy Gilyard (Hamstring)- Did not participate in practice- Doubtful
CB Ron Bartell (Thigh)- Limited participation in practice- Questionable
LB Chris Chamberlain (Toe)- Limited participation in practice- Questionable
LB Na'il Diggs (Knee)- Full participation in practice- Probable 
CB Kevin Dockery (Hamstring)- Full participation in practice- Probable
DT Darell Scott (Ankle)- Full participation in practice- Probable
CB Jerome Murphy (Hamstring)- Limited participation in practice- Probable
LB David Vobora (Hamstring)- Limited participation in practice- Probable

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DT Brian Price (Pelvis)- Did not participate in practice- Out
  C Jeff Faine (Quadricep)- Did not participate in practice- Out
CB Elbert Mack (Heel)- Did not participate in practice- Doubtful
RB Ernest Graham (Hamstring)- Did not participate in practice- Questionable
OG Keydrick Vincent (Back)- Did not participate in practice-Questionalbe
OG Davin Joseph (Knee)- Full participation in practice- Questionable
LB Barrett Ruud (Toe)- Full participation in practice- Questionable
DE Kyle Moore (Shoulder)- Full participation in practice- Probable
TE Kellen Winslow (Knee)- Full participation in practice- Probable

STATS
PASSING
St. Louis Rams                    Att/Comp   Yds    Comp%   Yd/Att  TD  INT  Long  Rating
Sam Bradford                       133/234       1357     56.8%     5.8         7      8      49      69.3 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers      Att/Comp   Yds    Comp%   Yd/Att  TD  INT  Long  Rating
Josh Freeman                        94/159       1043     59.1%     6.6         6      3      46      83.4 
RUSHING
St. Louis Rams                          Att   Yds  Yds/Att  Long  TD
Steven Jackson                           127    507      4.0       42      2
Kenneth Darby                             22     66       3.0       13      1
Keith Toston                                12     25        2.1         8      0
Sam Bradford                                9     18        2.0       11      0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers            Att   Yds  Yds/Att  Long  TD 
Cadillac Williams                          76    190       2.5       20      0
Josh Freeman                               18    114       6.3       33      0
Ernest Graham                             14      89       6.4       61      1
LaGarrette                                   10       30       3.0       12      1
RECEIVING
St. Louis Rams                          Rec   Yds  Yds/Rec  Long  TD
Danny Amendola                         36    322       8.9       36      0
Mark Clayton (Injury Reserve)       23    306     13.3       39      2
Daniel Fells                                 15    148       9.9       36      1
Steven Jackson                            14    130       9.3       49      0
Brandon Gibson                           11    150     13.6       30      1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers           Rec   Yds  Yds/Rec  Long  TD
Kellen Winslow                           24     257     10.7       40      0
Mike Williams                             23     283     12.3       37      3
Cadillac Williams                         15     127       8.5       20      0
Sammie Stroughter                      12     139     11.6       27      0
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Past three drafts in hindsight

I'm going to take a look at some of the recent drafts, and give General Manager Billy Devaney a report card, as I grade the picks from the first five rounds of the past three drafts. Keep in mind that Devaney was not the General Manager for the 2008 draft, as former head-coach Scott Linehan was still running the show; but Devaney was, however, involved in that draft.

Here is an explanation of the grading scale:
A: Potential franchise player, and potential to be elite at the position. This may also be the grade for a mid to late round pick that has far surpassed expectations.

B: For high round picks, this means that they were a solid pick, and they are probably a solid starter. For mid to late round picks, it means that they were a very solid pick for their draft position.

C: For a high round pick, this means that they are just average. For late round picks, this means that they weren't a good pick, but not a flat out horrible pick either.

D: A poor pick for the spot the player was chosen.

F: Flat out bust, an awful pick.

2010
Round 1 Sam Bradford A: Bradford is playing at an elite level for a rookie quarterback. It is clear that he has the potential to be the next big time NFL quarterback; and I'm not talking about Aaron Rodgers or Phillip Rivers, I'm talking about Peyton.

Round 2 Roger Saffold A: Whenever a second round offensive-tackle can start on the blindside immediately, and play at an acceptable level, then chances our that the pick was probably a very solid one.

Round 3 Jerome Murphy B-: He is getting a good amount of playing time in the nickel package, and has made some plays. It is hard to expect much more out of a third round corner.

Round 4 Mardy Gilyard B-: As a fourth round pick he is getting playing time as the primary kickoff returner, and he is starting to get playing time as a receiver. He has yet to show an ability to make big plays on Sundays, like he was able to in college. He is seeing the field more than the average fourth round pick, so that makes his value acceptable.

Round 5 Mike Hoomanawanui A-: If only he recovers from the injury, and shows something in the regular season, then he just might be an A+. He was Bradford's favorite target during the preseason, catching his first two touchdown passes, and Big Mike had three total touchdowns in the preseason. If he can come back from his high ankle sprain, and have a similar effect in the regular season, they he could be a complete steal in the fifth round.

Round 5 Hall Davis D+: I wasn't expecting a solid contributor from the fifth round. However, it would've been nice to have a guy capable of playing on special teams, or at least to practice squad. The reason it is not a C is because there were special teams players available at this point; and the reason it is not an F is because you can't expect a lot from this spot in the draft.

2009
Round 1 Jason Smith D+: I'm not saying he is a bust, and I'm not saying he isn't slowly improving, but I am grading him based on what he has done so far, which is not much. I think that either Aaron Curry, Michael Crabtree, BJ Raji, or Eugene Monroe would've made a better pick. I didn't like this pick then, and I still don't now. He was the number two overall pick, and he got beat out at left-tackle by a second round pick; that's not something you want to see out of a player making this kind of money. I believe that Smith was drafted based on his personality, and attitude, rather than his level of play.

Round 2 James Laurinaitis A+: Everyone, including myself, was shouting for Rey Maualuga when the Rams were on the clock for this pick. Thank god I wasn't drafting for the Rams when they made this selection; but still, once they announced Laurinaitis as the pick, I thought it was a fine alternative pick. Turns out it was more than just a fine alternative, it was the best pick of the draft. The Rams have had a void at middle-linebacker ever since they lost London Fletcher, and now they have a franchise linebacker of Brian Urlacher proportions.

Round 3 Bradley Fletcher A: Fletcher won the starting corner job, opposite Ron Bartell, just a few games into his career. That is phenomenal for a third round pick. Fletcher looked lost this past Sunday, but overall he has been developing into a fine starter. A nice find in the third round.

Round 4 Darrel Scott B: Who would've thought that the Rams would the able to find a solid part of their defensive-tackle rotation in the fourth round? He has a lot of developing to do; but it is nice to see production and depth from a fourth round pick.

Round 5 Brooks Foster D: He was never able to stay healthy long enough to show anything. I always wondered why the team looked at a receiver that was the number three receiver at his school; that didn't make much sense to me.

2008
Round 1 Chris Long A-: Some fans consider Long an overrated player, however, I think he is easily an underrated player for the Rams. He has not had a 10+ sack season yet; but when you look at the alternative players the Rams could of drafted, and when you look at the havoc that Long creates for opposing offensive-lines, then it is easy to see why Long was a good pick. He is a key asset for the Rams' defense, and he will be a solid part of the unit for the next ten years. The sacks will come, just give him time, and wait until the Rams can find him some help at the other defensive-end position.

Round 2 Donnie Avery B-: A very controversial pick, considering that DeSean Jackson was still available when the Rams made this pick. Jackson was clearly the better option; but when you look at the other receivers that were taken in the second round between Avery and Jackson, then it is easy to see the Rams got the next best receiver. Avery was the Rams' top receiver in 2009, and probably would've had a break out year if not for his injury. He will be back in 2011, and he will be an asset. Just think about the receiving core next year, with Avery, Mark Clayton, Danario Alexander, Danny Amendola, and Mardy Gilyard. They have potential to be a scary group; add one of the top receivers in the 2011 draft, and it will be an elite group.

Round 3 John Greco C-: For a while it seemed as though Greco would be the right-guard of the future. He got a decent amount of playing time his rookie year, but the past few years he has disappeared. Let's hope that he continues to develop, but for whatever reason, he has vanished from the map.

Round 4 Justin King C: It looked as if King was pretty useless during his first two seasons; but recently, he has developed a little, and has been playing solid so far in 2010. Let's hope he continues to develop, and that he adds some depth.

Round 4 Keenan Burton C: I liked this pick for the potential alone. Burton showed flashes of ability, which indicated that he is talented enough to be a NFL receiver. Unfortunately, Burton has never been able to stay healthy, so the Rams cut their losses with him. He has the talent, but his body just didn't agree.

Round 5 Roy Schuening D-: Who? I can't really give an F to a 5th round pick, but much like Hall Davis of the 2010 draft, it would've been nice to find a player at this spot who could of at least made a run at a special teams position, or a practice squad spot.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

LaRussa will return; Mason fired

The St. Louis Cardinals' manager Tony LaRussa will return for his 16th season with the team. LaRussa's one-year contract came to an end at the conclusion of the Cardinals' 2010 season, giving him the option of retirement, or the option of pursuing another job. LaRussa chose neither of those options, and will return to St. Louis.


The 2010 season was a huge disappointment for Cardinal Nation. The team was expected to easily run away with the N.L. Central Division, but instead they finished with an 86-76 record, and ended the season in second place, five games behind the Cincinnati Reds.

The return of LaRussa will likely get mixed reactions by the fans, as most either love him, or they hate him. Either way, the fans will have to settle for another season of LaRussa. Hopefully we will get the Hall-of-Fame LaRussa in 2011, and not the LaRussa that plays "lawyer ball" and over-analyzes every single situation.

Also, as a result of LaRussa's return, the Cardinals are now comfortable making personnel decisions; bull-pen coach Marty Mason was fired by General Manager John Mozeliak. The departure of Mason has been getting unfavorable feeling by members of the bull-pen (particularly Mitchell Boggs and Kyle McClellan).

The firing of Mason may be confusing for some, as the bull-pen was not a clear weakness that kept the team out of the playoffs. Maybe trading one of the best RBI hitters of the last three years (Ludwick) for a below average pitcher (Westbrook) had something to do with the downfall. Last I checked, that move wasn't on Mason.    

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rams vs Chargers Post-Game Package

The Rams were coming off of a devastating loss the Detroit Lions, a blow out that resulted in the final score of 44-6. That game made everyone uncertain how the Rams would come out against a solid San Diego Chargers team. The Chargers have the top rated offense in the NFL (yards per game), as well as the top passing offense. Would the Rams play them competitively? Or would they bend over again? And also, would rookie receiver Denario Alexander help fill Mark Clayton's shoes?

The Rams came out in the first half and gave some quick answers to those questions. Their first offensive drive resulted in a field-goal, making the score 3-0. Then, on their third drive of the game, Alexander caught his third reception of the game, a 38-yard bomb by Sam Bradford for a touchdown; this made the score 10-0. On the fifth drive of the game, a 21-yard catch by receiver Mardy Gilyard, and a personal foul penalty, set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Steven Jackson, making the score 17-0.

The St. Louis defense had an equally solid half. They forced a three-and-out the first two drives, and shut down San Diego's offense until a field goal at the end of the half (which made the score 17-3 going into the half). The Rams were able to apply solid pressure during the first half; Chris Long recorded two sacks, Larry Grant had a sack, OJ Atogwe got one, as well as James Hall. Atogwe also had a interception in the end-zone.

Things did not go as smoothly in the second half, as the Chargers started off with all of the momentum. Their second drive of the half was their first trip to the red-zone. Poor pass coverage, and big plays, ultimately resulted in running-back Mike Tolbert pounding in a goal-line touchdown, making the score 17-10.

After two failed offensive drives by the Rams, following Tolbert's touchdown, the Chargers offense put together another solid drive, once again marching down field against the Rams' defense with ease. It looked as though they Chargers would walk away with more points from the drive, as they got ready to attempt a field-goal; however, kicker Nate Kaeding slipped, and the field-goal attempt failed. 

The missed field-goal turned out to be huge. Instead of adding three more points, the Chargers gave the Rams solid field position. After a 15-yard catch by tight-end Billy Bajema, the Rams were in field-goal range. Bradford initially ran for a first-down, giving the Rams a shot at a touchdown rather than a field-goal, but the run was called back due to a holding penalty on center Jason Brown. Either way, Josh Brown nailed a 47-yard field-goal, making the score 20-10.

San Diego got the ball back with about 3:50 on the clock, in the 4th quarter. It was a very successful drive by the Chargers. They breezed by the Rams' pass coverage, and there receivers were able to out-of-bounds to stop the clock. The drive resulted in a touchdown pass to receiver Buster Davis, making the score 20-17. The Chargers touchdown drive took only 40 seconds.

The Chargers decided to kick it deep, as oppose to an onside-kick. It looked as though the Rams offense would go three-and-out, as they called a run play on 3rd-and-7, but Jackson was able to fight, and get the first down. The Chargers ran out of timeouts, and Jackson broke free for an 11-yard first down run. This allowed the Rams to take their "victory" formation, and take a knee. The Rams beat the Chargers, with the final score of 20-17.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY  
THE GOOD
The Rams were looking for one of their receiver to step up and fill Mark Claytons shoes; Denario Alexander was able to do just that. The rookie receiver out of Mizzou, who led the NCAA in receptions (113) and receiving yards (1781), exceeded expectations in his NFL debut. The highlight of his game was a 38-yard touchdown catch. Alexander finished the game with 4 receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown. 

Steven Jackson played a major role in the game. His hard-nosed touchdown run on the goal-line was a big score for the Rams (and ultimately the difference in the game). Jackson also sealed the deal with his two first-down runs on the Rams final drive of the game, which allowed them to run out the clock. Jackson had 29 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown, and he busted his ass for each and every yard. There should be no doubt that this is Steven Jackson's team.

You also have to give credit to the rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford continue to greatly exceed expectations, and he had a solid outing. Bradford did not put up monster numbers on the afternoon, but he was able to cut back on mistakes, move the ball, and avoid turnovers. 

Also, the Rams front four on defense played their hearts out. The defensive-ends, Chris Long and James Hall, each recorded two sacks on the afternoon. Defensive-tackle Fred Robbins also got a sack, and the Rams had seven sacks on the game. 

THE BAD
The Rams defense got too relaxed int he second half. The Chargers two touchdown drives looked way too easy, and the coverage was horrible. If the defense is going to take the "bend but don't break" approach when facing a hurry-up offense, then they need to at least tackle the receiver in bounds. The Rams are very lucky that their offense got two first-downs on the final drive; because if the Chargers got the ball back, the Rams would've been toast. 

Also under the "bad" category, I have to give some recognition to the San Diego Chargers. You can tell the effort is their, as they have the top offense in the NFL (as far as yardage goes); but regardless, the preseason AFC West favorites are off to a 2-4 start on the season, and the 2010 season is beginning to look bleak for San Diego. 

THE UGLY
Bradley Fletcher showed everyone, all day, how to NOT cover NFL receivers. Each time the Chargers ran their hurry-up offense, quarterback Phillip Rivers looked towards Fletcher's direction every time, and for good reason. Fletcher's poor coverage set up Tolbert's touchdown run, as well as Davis' touchdown reception. I have been an advocate for the Rams drafting a wide-receiver with their 2011 first round pick, but with the solid outing by Alexander, the Rams might have a seriously consider drafting a defensive-back. 

Also, Jason Brown needs to work on snapping the ball. Twice today, while the Rams were in shotgun formation, Brown made a wild snap. Heads-up reactions on Bradford's part saved the poor snaps, but still, those snaps could of had very bad results.   

STATS
ST.LOUIS RAMS
PASSING
Sam Bradford  18/31  198 yards  1 TD  0 INT
RUSHING
Steven Jackson  29 carries  109 yards  1 TD
Sam Bradford  6 carries  8 yards
RECEIVING
Denario Alexander  4 reception  72 Yards  1 TD
Billy Bajema  3 receptions  34 yards
Brandon Gibson 3 receptions  33 yards 
Mardy Gilyard  1 reception  21 yards
Danny Amendola  3 receptions  19 yards
Daniel Fells  1 reception  8 yards
Mike Hoomanawanui  1 reception  5 yards
Mike Karney  1 reception  4 yards
Steven Jackson  1 reception  2 yards
DEFENSE
Chris Long 2 sacks, James Hall 2 sacks, OJ Atogwe 1 sack 1 INT, Larry Grant 2 sacks, Fred Robbins 1 sack, Fred Robbins 1 sack, Bradley Fletcher 7 tackles

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
PASSING
Phillip Rivers  22/37  249 yards  1 TD  1 INT
RUSHING
Ryan Mathews  12 carries  64 yards
Darren Sproles  1 carry  9 yards
J. Hester  1 carry  3 yards
Mike Tolbert  3 carries  3 yards  1 TD
RECEIVING
Patrick Crayton  6 receptions  117 yards 
Darren Sproles  5 receptions  48 yards
Buster Davis  3 receptions  39 yards  1 TD
Malcolm Floyd  2 receptions  15 yards
Antonio Gates  2 receptions  12 yards
Ryan Mathews 3 receptions  12 yards
J. Hester  1 reception  6 yards
DEFENSE
E.Weddle 12 tackles, A.Garay 1 sack, K.Burnett 1 sack, L.Castillo .5 sack, J.Cesaire .5 sack

LaRussa and the Cardinals

LaRussa will ponder his return for the 2011 season.

Alright. I said I wouldn't do anymore Cardinal articles until there is something worth talking about. The 2010 season, and that pitiful effort displayed by a team full of over-payed primadonnas, was NOT worth writing about. There was absolutely no excuse for a team that talented to perform that god-awful.

However, I think that it is clear that there is finally something worth discussing; and that is the return (or departure) of Manager Tony LaRussa. When it comes to LaRussa, the opinions of Cardinal Nation are split right down the middle. Some people recognize that he is a Hall-of-Fame bound manager; so therefore it is reasonable to believe that he is just as good, or even better, than any other manager that may be available. The other side views LaRussa as someone who can put together winning talent, but also makes bone-headed game management decisions, and doesn't know how to manage a bullpen. That same group also feels that LaRussa reads way too much into statistical match-ups, and he doesn't always go with the best players; they feel he has worn out his welcome in St. Louis.

LaRussa's one-year contract has expired, and he has not given any indication on whether or not he will return for a 2011 season. It is clear that LaRussa will be welcomed back by the front-office...but will he be welcomed back by the fans?

First of all, there is the fact that LaRussa just finished a one-year contract. Maybe the "one year" part was his decision, or maybe it wasn't. If it was his decision, then what made him sign only a one-year deal in the first place? Was it a lack of passion? Has he lost his desire? Not to mention, his long silence indicates that it's a tough decision for him, meaning he is not ready to grab the team by the throat, and he may no longer have the youthful energy needed to lead the team into the playoffs. 

So is having an experienced manager worth having a manager with no heart? There is a lot of talent on this Cardinal team. It would be a damn shame if that talent went to waste for another season, just because the manager is not 100% dedicated to running a baseball team. It seems like the team would be better served with a manager that knows, with complete certainty, that there is nowhere else he would rather be than managing the St. Louis Cardinals.     

Rams' Future WR Watch: Week 7

Broyles lacks the size, but his production can't be ignored.

I have decided to add one more receiver into the mix. I am talking about Ryan Broyles of the Oklahoma Sooners. Broyles does not have the size that the Rams need, but with the additions of Donnie Avery, Danny Amendola, Mardy Gilyard, and Mark Clayton, it might be fair to believe that General Manager Billy Devaney prefers the smaller, and quicker receivers. There is also the possibility that the Rams might not even draft a receiver in the first round, so throwing in another receiver with second round potential makes this piece more realistic. Not to mention that Broyles has been flat out impressive all season, getting over 100 yards every week except for one (against Texas). And of course, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Sam Bradford and Broyles played on the same team, so the chemistry may already exist. We saw what happened the last time the Rams brought in a ex-Sooner receiver for Bradford (Clayton); he instantly became the Rams' top receiver. 

Broyles had another big game this week, gaining 182 yards; but the top receiver of this week was clearly Michael Floyd. Floyd racked up 157 yards, and got into the end-zone three times. Julio Jones has been slowed down by a hand injury, but has been able to stay on the field. Meanwhile, AJ Green continues to play solid, despite missing the first four weeks due to a suspension. Jonathan Baldwin has the size, but so far he is looking like the least productive receiver of the bunch. Baldwin had a big 61 yard catch today, but that was his only catch of the day.
WEEK SEVEN
MICHAEL FLOYD- NOTRE DAME 6'3" 227 lbs: Week 7 vs W.Michigan- 9 receptions 157 yards 3 TD
                                     SEASON:  44 receptions 624 yards 6 TD

AJ GREEN- GEORGIA 6'4" 212 lbs: Week 7 vs Vanderbilt- 3 receptions 64 yards 1 TD

                                     SEASON: 16 receptions 279 yards 4 TD

JULIO JONES- ALABAMA 6'4" 220 lbs: Week 7 vs Mississippi - 1 receptions 8 yards 0 TD

                                    SEASON:  33 receptions 448 yards 3 TD


JON BALDWIN- PITTSBURGH 6'5" 230 lbs: Week 7 @ Syracuse- 1 receptions 61 yards 0 TD 
                                    SEASON: 25 receptions 383 yards 3 TD

RYAN  BROYLES- OKLAHOMA 5'11" 183 lbs: Week 7 vs Iowa St.- 15 receptions 182 yards 1 TD
                                    SEASON: 61 receptions 700 yards 5 TD

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rookie receivers will try to step up

With the unfortunate injury to the Rams' wide-receiver Mark Clayton, there are some shoes to fill at receiver. Clayton, a former 1st round pick for the Baltimore Ravens, was acquired by the Rams just before the start of the season. Clayton was meant to be the replacement for the injured Donnie Avery. Clayton was a more than suitable replacement, racking up 306 yards and 2 touchdowns throughout the first four games. However, last week against the Detroit Lions, Clayton left the game with a serious knee injury, and he will not return for the rest of the 2010 season.

Avery started the season as the number one receiver, then Clayton took over, so now the Rams will be looking for their third "number one" receiver only five games into the season. Danny Amendola figures to be the most talented receiver at this point, but he fits well in the slot, and doesn't have to size to line up on the outside.

Brandon Gibson is the receiver that needs to step up. At 6'0" and 210 lbs, Gibson has the size to play on the outside. He also has the potential to be a decent red-zone threat (although his height is not as ideal as his weight).

Other than Gibson, and Amendola, the Rams will be focusing on their rookie receivers. Mardy Gilyard, the Rams' 4th round draft pick in 2010, has seen some playing time at kick-returner, but he does not have much playing time at receiver. Gilyard has only five catches on the season, for 42 yards. Gilyard has the moves to become a big play threat, but he has not been able to turn his potential into game-day production as of yet.

The more interesting option, as far as rookie receivers, is Denario Alexander. Alexander is an undrafted free-agent out of Mizzou; it is widely believed that Alexander would of received a late 1st-4th round draft grade, had it not been for his troubling history with knee injuries. In 2009, Alexander led the NCAA in receptions (113), as well as receiving yards (1781), and he also had 14 touchdowns. He has ideal speed (4.4 40-yard dash) and size (6'5" 215 lbs) to be a solid down-field threat, as well as a big red-zone threat.

Alexander was activated from the Rams' practice squad, to the 53-man roster. The promotion took place on Monday, as a result of Clayton's injury. Head-coach Steve Spagnuolo said that the Rams' trainers are comfortable with Alexander's knee, and believe he is ready to see action. According to Alexander, his knee feels better than it did during last season at Mizzou.

RB Mathews expected to play Sunday

The Chargers' highly touted rookie running-back Ryan Mathews is expected to play Sunday. Mathews has been sidelined for the past several weeks with an ankle injury, but he is expected to return to action against the St. Louis Rams.

Mathews did not fully participate in practice early this week, or he was very limited. He was, however, able to participate in practice later on in the week. Chargers' head-coach Norv Turner suggested that Mathews will be limited this week, and will not get the majority of the snaps. The primary running-back for the Chargers this week will be Mike Tolbert. Tolbert has been the Chargers' starting running-back ever since Mathews was sidelined. 

A banged up Mathews might be a blessing in disguise for the Rams' defense. If Mathews is in-fact slowed down by the injury, then it might serve as an advantage to St. Louis, as oppose to facing Tolbert for an entire game. Tolbert has 292 yards and 4 TD on the season; he is also averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rams vs Chargers: Pre-Game Package

The San Diego Chargers will enter the Edward Jones Dome, on October 17th at noon, to take on the St. Louis Rams. Both teams will enter the game with a 2-3 record. The Rams are coming off of a devastating loss (to say the least) against the Detroit Lions; St. Louis lost that game 44-6, and it was the Lions' biggest victory (as far as point differential) since 1995. The Rams entered the game against Detroit with a 2-2 record, after beating the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins back-to-back. So the fact that they weren't even competitive was very disappointing to Rams fans.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers, the AFC West favorites, have been disappointing so far. It is funny how a 2-3 record can be a solid start for some teams (Rams), and at the same time it can be a slow start for others (Chargers). They're coming off a 35-27 loss to the Oakland Raiders. The Chargers were also beat by a mediocre Seattle team, and their third loss came against the Kansas City Chiefs.

If previous games are any indication, then Sunday's game should be a close one. The Chargers lost to Seattle, a team that St. Louis beat (convincingly); and St. Louis only lost to Oakland by two points, whereas San Diego lost by eight. However, San Diego beat the Arizona Cardinals 41-10, while the Rams lost to Arizona 17-13.

The Rams' defense will have their work cut out for them. San Diego has the top ranked offense in total yards, as well as the top passing offense in the NFL. Although San Diego is known for their passing game, their rushing offense has been in good shape, despite the fact that their highly touted rookie running-back, Ryan Matthews, has been out of action with an ankle injury. Back-up running-back Mike Tolbert has been a solid substitute. Tolbert is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, with 292 rushing yards, and 4 touchdowns on the season. 

St. Louis' defense is ranked 20th in total defense (yards per game); their defense was ranked in the top ten in total points allowed, but after the game against Detroit, they slipped to 15th. The defense will get a little healthier this week, resulting in some players returning from injury. Starting defensive-tackle Gary Gibson will return from his shoulder injury this Sunday, and defensive-tackle Clifton Ryan will also return after being held out since week one due to migraines. The production from the defensive-tackle position should improve this week, as Gibson and Ryan were two solid members of the rotation.

San Diego's defense is ranked 23rd in total points allowed, but they rank 2nd in average yards allowed per game. Though the stats contradict each other, it doesn't matter. The Rams offense will be climbing an uphill battle either way. The absence of their top wide-receiver, Mark Clayton, will surely be noticed. The Rams have activated rookie wide-receiver Denario Alexander to the 53-man roster. Alexander has the size that the Rams crave, but has knee issues. Mix the knee issues with the inexperience, and that makes it likely that Alexander will be a non-factor. It will be up to Brandon Gibson or Laurent Robinson to step up, and to fill the void.

Rookie tight-end Mike Hoomanawanui fully participated in practice this week, after receiving a high ankle sprain toward the end of the preseason. Hoomanawanui caught quarterback Sam Bradford's first two touchdown passes of the preseason, and had three touchdown catches total during the preseason (all of them thrown by Bradford). Hoomanawanui was clearly Bradford's favorite target during the preseason, and his return certainly helps; it may even partially fill Clayton's shoes (Clayton was very good for the Rams so far, but remember, he was not an elite receiver by any means).

My season prediction article had the Rams losing this game; simply because the Chargers are a play-off caliber team, and the Rams are not on the same level (at least it didn't seem that way at the time of the prediction). But despite that, if you mix the Rams' home-field advantage, and look at some of San Diego's losses this season, then it is clear that this game could go either way.

RAMS VS CHARGERS- INJURY REPORT

St. Louis Rams
LB Chris Chamberlain (toe)- Did not participate in practice
DT Gary Gibson (shoulder)- Full participation
WR Mardy Gilyard (thigh)- Full participation
TE Mike Hoomanawanui (ankle)- Full participation
CB Justin King (calf)- Full participation
S   Darian Stewart (hamstring)- Full participation
TE Billy Bajema (knee)- Limited participation
CB Ron Bartell (calf)- Limited participation
OG Jacob Bell (head)- Limited participation
RB Kenneth Darby (ribs)- Limited participation
CB Kevin Dockery (hamstring)- Limited participation
DT Darrel Scott (ankle)- Limited participation
LB David Vobora (hamstring)- Limited participation


San Diego Chargers
LB Larry English (foot)- Out; will not play
LB Brandon Siler (foot)- Did not participate in practice
WR Legedu Naanee (hamstring)- Did not participate
RB Ryan Mathews (ankle)- Did not participate
WR Craig Davis (ribs)- Did not participate

Monday, October 11, 2010

What happens now at wide-receiver?

The Rams' top receiver, Mark Clayton, was removed from the game on Sunday against the Lions after obtaining a knee injury. The injury will be season-ending, and the specific injury was a torn patella tendon. Before entering the game Sunday, Clayton was on pace for a 1200 yard season; which would've made him the Rams' first 1000 yard receiver since Torry Holt in 2007.

Obviously, the Rams now have a major void to fill at wide-receiver. General Manager Billy Devaney is not known for blockbuster moves (to say the least), so that leaves the Rams' options very limited. The Rams' immediate response to Clayton's injury was moving Denario Alexander from the practice squad, to the 53-man roster. Alexander is a rookie out of Mizzou, and he led the NCAA in receiving yards in 2009, with 1781 yards. Alexander was widely expected to receive a draft grade anywhere between the first round, to the third round. A recent knee surgery (which is just one of several knee surgeries in Alexander's career), and failed physicals, turned the NCAA's top receiver into an undrafted free-agent. Alexander ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, and has the size that the Rams' are craving, at 6'5" and 215 lbs.

However, since an undrafted rookie, with major knee issues, seems like the exact opposite of a practical solution, here are some other options that have been rumored:

WR Lee Evans- Buffalo Bills  - Lee Evans seems like the best option. Since the Buffalo Bills are the new "Rams" of the NFL, it is believable that Evans might want out of Buffalo. Evans is very similar to Mark Clayton is size, and style of play. Evans is only 5'10" and 197 lbs., but he has been very productive throughout his seven year career. Evans has 40 touchdowns since his rookie year in 2004, and he has two 1000 yard seasons. He is 29 years old, and Evans should have plenty to offer the St. Louis Rams. If the price is right, Billy Devaney, and the Rams, should seriously pursue Evans.

WR Steve Smith- Carolina Panthers - At one time, Smith was one of the most dominant receivers in the league. Smith is a four time pro-bowler, has five 1000 yard seasons in his career, and 52 touchdowns. Smith is another small receiver at 5'9" and 185 lbs., but his size has never stopped him throughout his career. Due to injuries, Smith has been slowed down the past couple of seasons; in 2008 he received a concussion, and in 2009 he received a broken forearm. Smith seems to be healthy again; he has 174 yards and 2 touchdowns this season, despite a very flat Panther's offense. The downside to Smith (besides his age, and potential cost) is his attitude. Though Smith's antics aren't nearly as publicized as T.O.'s, he has been known to cause problems; one example is the training camp fight between him and Ken Lucas in 2008.

If I were Billy Devaney, I would not be too thrilled with my options. Both Evans and Smith are worth having, but neither are long term solutions. It would be hard to justify giving up top draft picks for receivers that are 1) Not elite talents, and 2) old. Of course, there is always the OBVIOUS option. You know, that 6'5" pro-bowl receiver... the one that is only 27 years old, the one sitting at home right now, waiting for a team to make a trade with San Diego. Of course I'm talking about Vincent Jackson. But why make that trade? I guess it makes too much sense. It is such an obvious option that Billy Devaney must be suspicious about a hidden catch involved. But it's OK Devaney; just keep on signing 5'9" practice squad receivers, the ones that only last four games. That should get it done.    

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rams @ Lions- Post-Game Package

The Rams got off to a rough start at Ford Field against the Detroit Lions. The Rams started with an onside-kick, but the Lions recovered, which gave them solid field position to start the game. Detroit scored a field-goal on that first drive, making the score 3-0 Lions' lead.

The Rams went three-and-out on their first drive; but their second drive was even more troublesome. Wide-receiver Mark Clayton was tripped up by Detroit safety Louis Delmas, and it appeared that Clayton injured his knee on that play; reports later indicated that it was a patella tendon tear. Clayton left the game, and will be out for the season. The Rams continued to march the ball into the Lions' red-zone, but that drive came to a halt after wide-receiver Danny Amendola fumbled the ball inside the 10-yard line.

The Rams' defense prevailed after the fumble, forcing a punt, and they were able to take it right back into the red-zone after a solid reception by Amendola, and a big run by Steven Jackson (which took the Rams to the 10-yard line). Regardless, the Rams had to settle for a Josh Brown field-goal, tying the score at 3-3 on the final drive of the 1st-quarter. 

The score was not tied for long, the Lions' kick returner Stephan Logan returned a Josh Brown kick-off 105 yards for a touchdown, this made the score 10-3, Lions' lead, to start the 2nd-quarter. But the Lions' were not done doing their damage; after getting the ball back, a couple of solid runs by running-back Jahvid Best set up a 1-yard touchdown catch by star wide-receiver Calvin Johnson, making the score 17-3, with just over six minutes left in the half.

The Rams got the ball back and were able to put together a nice drive. A reception by Mardy Gilyard, which drew a 15-yard face-mask penalty, put the Rams into the Lions' red-zone. However, the Rams were ineffective in the red-zone, as Bradford threw two passes that were nearly picked off, which forced the Rams to settle for a field-goal, making the score 17-6.

The Lions were then able to put together a solid final drive of the half. They put on a clinic with their hurry-up offense, moving the ball at will, and on the last play of the drive, quarterback Shaun Hill had all the time in the world to hit TE Brandon Pettigrew for his second touchdown pass of the game. This made the score 24-6. The Rams nearly answered back with 8 seconds left on the clock; Bradford hit tight-end Daniel Fells, which put them in field-goal range, but Fells didn't go down in time, which could have given the Rams a chance to call a time-out, and kick a field-goal. Fells instead killed the rest of the time on the clock, ending the half.

The 2nd half did not start off any better for the Rams. The Rams got the ball to start the half, but they gained negative yards on the drive, which forced them to punt. The Lions, once again, answered back; this time with a 26-yard touchdown catch by wide-receiver Nate Burleson from Hill. This made the score 31-6, and that remained the score as the 4th-quarter started.

I'll just stop there...

The rest of the game was nothing but the Rams demonstrating how to not play football. The final score was 44-6. The Rams lost by 38 points... to the Detroit Lions. It was the Lions' biggest win (point differential wise) since 1995.

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY


THE GOOD:
Well... Steven Jackson had his first 100 yard game on the season. He carried the ball 25 times for 119 yards. Meanwhile, Danny Amendola had 12 catches for 95 yards, coming close to his first 100 yard game.

THE BAD: 
Everything was bad in this game. The onside-kick to start the game was questionable, especially considering the opposing team is known for their offense, meaning that handing them good field position was probably not a smart move. Amendola's fumble was a momentum changer. The kick-off returned for a touchdown seemed to be the point where the Rams went flat. Sam Bradford had plenty of poor throws, including two interceptions. The defense was lifeless, and they showed no heart at all. Steve Spagnuolo and Pat Shurmur were completely out-coached.

THE UGLY:
There was plenty of "ugly" in this game; but I'm going to go with Clayton's injury. The trade for Clayton was the answer to Donnie Avery's season ending injury. Clayton's injury looked just as serious, if not more serious, than Avery's. So how will General Manager Billy Devaney answer to Clayton's injury? This may force the team, once again, to revisit the Vincent Jackson option. Jackson would have to serve a three-game suspension, but he would be available for this team by the time they return from the bye week.

MY PREDICTIONS FOR 2010 STAYING ACCURATE

Going by my predictions, as seen in my article "Rams 2010 Season Prediction"- http://stlsport.blogspot.com/2010/08/rams-2010-season-prediction.html - I am 80% accurate so far on my predictions:
Rams vs Cardinals PREDICTION: WIN      OUTCOME: LOSS
Rams vs Raiders   PREDICTION: LOSS     OUTCOME: LOSS
Rams vs Redskins PREDICTION: WIN       OUTCOME: WIN
Rams vs Seahawks PREDICTION: WIN     OUTCOME: WIN
Rams vs Lions      PREDICTION: LOSS     OUTCOME: LOSS

I take no pleasure in being correct about the Oakland game, or today's game. My overall prediction has the Rams going 7-9 in 2010. My prediction of the games leading up to the bye week has the Rams losing next week against San Diego, winning against Tampa Bay, and losing to Carolina (one prediction I wish I could change); hopefully I am wrong about two of those upcoming prediction, and the Rams enter the bye week with a 5-3 record. But we can only hope.