After two weeks of progress to open the season, the St. Louis Rams offense took a step backward in week three in Chicago.
The Rams achieved just 12 first downs, gained 160 net yards and failed to score a touchdown in their 23-6 loss to the Bears. While the score was more lopsided than the game itself, it accurately depicts the Rams’ inability to move the ball on offense.
A week after arguably the best game of QB Sam Bradford’s career, the third-year quarterback completed only 51 percent of his passes for 152 yards and was intercepted twice while constantly being harassed by the Bears defensive line. Bradford was sacked six times and rarely had time to throw, adding to the frustrations of the day. Both of Bradford’s interceptions came in the fourth quarter, one that S Major Wright returned for a touchdown to make it 20-6 and one that sealed the game with less than two minutes to play.
Bradford’s struggles were compounded by a running game that was never able to get going. Pro Bowl RB Steven Jackson played through a groin injury that held him out of practice all week leading up to the game but was rarely effective, gaining only 29 yards on 11 attempts. Backup RB Daryl Richardson, who put up over 100 all-purpose yards last week in Jackson’s stead, fared only slightly better, finishing with 16 yards on four carries.
The offense’s shortcomings all come back to the offensive line. A line without three key pieces was unable to protect Bradford, forcing the Rams to rely on quick passes to move the ball. The Bears responded by pressing Rams receivers, a tactic that resulted in the game-defining interception return by Wright. In week two’s win over Washington, the Rams protected well enough to allow their receivers time to get open downfield; this week, Bradford’s longest pass went for 30 yards.
But for all the offensive problems, the Rams defense and special teams showed up against the Bears. The defense caused Bears QB Jay Cutler issues of his own, allowing just 183 yards and no touchdowns through the air. CB Cortland Finnegan intercepted his third pass in three games, proving again that his addition to the Rams secondary this offseason was a smart move. DE Chris Long also registered his first two sacks of the season.
A few times the Rams defense held the Bears to short field goals instead of touchdowns, and Rams K Greg Zuerlein connected on two longer field goals of his own. Zuerlein showed off the leg that got him drafted in the sixth round of this year’s draft when he nailed a 56-yard field goal before the half. Zuerlein’s second field goal put the Rams down 13-6 midway through the third quarter. P Johnny Hekker was up and down, but the Rams punt coverage was effective in keeping Bears PR Devin Hester from breaking a long return.
If the offense was disappointing in Chicago, the defense offered another cause for hope for the Rams moving forward. And move forward is what both sides of the ball must do after Sunday’s loss.