By Cedric Williams
The good news for the St. Louis Rams is that they were able to snap their three-game losing streak this Sunday with a mostly impressive 34-20 win at the Edward Jones Dome over the the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.
Quarterback Sam Bradford threw three touchdown passes and finished the day with a 105.3 passer rating, and the moribund running game finally made an appearance this season, as rushers Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson, and Benny Cunningham combined for 139 yards on 30 carries.
The Ram defense also had a decent day, as it sacked Jacksonville quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne twice, forced three turnovers, and even scored a touchdown (on a scintillating 82-yard interception return by new Ram Matt Giordano).
So all in all, it was a good day for the home club.
The bad news is, the Rams were playing the team most consider the worst in the league, and St. Louis only beat them by two touchdowns.
“It seems like a long ten days, but it was a good win for us,” head coach Jeff Fisher said. “As we’ve been talking about during the past week there were things that we set out to do, things we needed to do differently. Fortunately, we were able to put those things in motion a little bit.”
Those last three words are probably the ones that stand out the most.
The Rams were definitely a better team against the Jaguars than they were in their previous three contests against Atlanta, Dallas, and San Francisco.
But they were only better by a little bit.
Here’s how we graded the Rams win over Jacksonville:
Offense – B-
Overall, Sunday’s numbers look pretty good for St. Louis — 351 total yards, 143 of them coming on the ground, with the quarterback throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions.
But that same quarterback struggled on third down and nearly lost a fumble on his own goal line.
New tailback starter Zac Stacy had an effective day on the ground, carrying the ball 14 times for 78 yards (a 5.6 yards/carry average) and did most of it running the ball right up the gut, which is a very encouraging sign for a Ram running game that came into Sunday the second-worst ranked unit in the league (only Jacksonville’s running game was worse).
In the passing game, nobody was particularly spectacular and there were a couple of bad drops, but Austin Pettis caught two touchdowns and tight end Lance Kendricks made a tremendous play to turn a short catch into a 16-yard touchdown, which game St. Louis its first lead early in the second quarter.
Quietly, it was the men up front that probably had the best day for the Rams offense, as the offensive linemen dominated Jacksonville’s front four, hallelujah, didn’t commit any key penalties.
Those things had become a major issue for the O-line in recent weeks.
Defense – C
The defensive unit that had the best day was without a doubt the defensive linemen, who took full advantage of the many mismatches they had against the makeshift Jaguar offensive line.
Defensive end Chris Long in particular was dynamite, registering five solo tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.
The linebacker corps had its moments as well, including a sensational diving interception by middle linebacker James Laurinaitis in his own end zone, which snuffed out a Jacksonville drive that seemed headed for a sure touchdown.
The score at the time was 24-10, and if the Jags could’ve gotten seven there, it could’ve been an entirely different game.
Instead, Laurinaitis made a huge play and kept St. Louis comfortably ahead.
The Ram secondary was in rough shape before the game even started, with starters Cortland Finnegan and T.J. McDonald out because of injuries.
And Jacksonville exploited the Rams rag tag pass defense for 267 yards on just 16 completions, including five catches for 136 yards and a touchdown for the just-back-from-suspension second-year wideout Justin Blackmon.
Even Giordano’s wacky, winding INT return couldn’t make up for the often nowhere-near-the-receiver “coverage” the Rams were providing on Sunday.
Fortunately, Jacksonville’s “D” played worse, so the Rams were able to overcome the shortcomings of its pass defense.
Special Teams – F
If there were a worse grade we could give the Rams special teams, we would.
It’s becoming almost laughable how bad the Rams are on special team.
And it’s always the same culprit — penalties.
St. Louis had two thrilling Tavon Austin punt returns nullified by infractions; they got called for an offsides on a Jacksonville field goal try, which gave the Jags a shot at a touchdown instead; and they were called for a personal foul for roughing the opposing return man on a fair catch, which means he had clearly signaled he wasn’t going to try to run and a Rams special teamer hit him anyway.
It was just an atrocious day for the Rams special teams — and that’s not even counting giving up a blocked punt to a rusher who came untouched straight up the middle.
Again, the Rams were able to overcome these mistakes. But as previously mentioned, they were playing the worst team in the league.
If these problems continue, St. Louis is going to find itself right back in the boat it was before Sunday’s game — simply playing to not be considered among the league’s worst teams.
Sunday’s win and an overall 2-3 record probably helps the Rams avoid that stigma. But falling back into those old bad habits will most certainly put them right back there.
For more Rams news and updates, visit Rams Central.
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a freelance reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the Rams and small-school college sports for Examiner.com and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can be found on Examiner.com.