By Cedric Williams
In today’s NFL, one thing teams have to concern themselves with that they didn’t have to years ago was weighing rest versus rust when trying to decide how much time off to give its players during their bye week.
Some teams work straight through and practice everyday during the bye week and only take the day off that Sunday when they don’t have a game.
Others teams have gone with the philosophy of giving its players as much rest as possible, hoping that they’ll come back to work ready and completely refreshed for the rest of the season.
This past week, St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher tried the latter approach, and only held two brief practices the week of his team’s bye, and then gave the players four full days off, before bringing them back to work to get ready for Sunday’s game with the Chicago Bears.
The players seemed happy with the time off. The coaches seemed pleased with how everyone came back to work. And 66,000-plus (except for the large contingent of Bears fans in the building) seemed satisfied with how St. Louis came back from the bye, as the Rams pummeled Chicago, 42-21, Sunday afternoon at the Edward Jones Dome.
Here’s how we graded the Rams in what was easily their best home win of the season:
Offense – A
Chicago came in with the second worst run defense in the league, allowing more than 130 yards on the ground per game.
After Sunday though, the Bears now officially have the worst run defense in the entire NFL, as St. Louis gashed them for 258 yards on the ground, on only 29 run plays, for an incredible 8.9 yards per carry average.
Rookie running backs Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham, who both spent time not even dressing out for the Rams early in the season, combined for 196 yards on 25 carries and each scored a touchdown, to help power the St. Louis offense.
Rookie receiver Tavon Austin also got in on the fun, with a sensational 65-yard scoring run on a jet sweep reverse that got the Rams on the board just three plays into the game.
Quarterback Kellen Clemens was efficient and careful with the ball, passing for 167 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions and no wild plays that could potentially let the porous Bears defense off the hook.
Tight end Jared Cook had his best day in more than a month, with four catches for 80 yards and a key touchdown that helped St. Louis build a 21-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Defense – B+
The Rams did give up 344 yards passing to backup Bears quarterback Josh McCown and his top-flight receiving corps, but St. Louis also held Chicago to just 80 rushing yards, and didn’t give up anything easy, including holding the Bears on six of seven plays from the 1 yard line.
Another Rams rookie, linebacker Alec Ogletree, had a game-high 11 tackles on the day, while Defensive Player of the Year candidate Robert Quinn nabbed his NFC-best 13th sack of the season, to go along with four tackles, a pass defensed, and an amazing strip-sack-fumble recovery-and-touchdown all on the same play late in the fourth quarter.
St. Louis forced three turnovers in all, and with five in the game three weeks ago against the Indianapolis Colts and two more the week before against the Seattle Seahawks, the Rams defense has now forced 10 turnovers in their last three games.
Special Teams – B
The Rams were solid and showed renewed focus in the kicking game Sunday.
Placekicker Greg Zuerlein was great again on kickoffs and banged in two key field goals that helped keep Chicago at bay as the Bears were trying to mount their comeback.
Punter Johnny Hekker also had an excellent day, averaging 48.5 yards on two punts.
And the one time Bears return maven Devin Hester did break loose for what could’ve been a game-changing touchdown return, the play was nullified thanks to a back-breaking penalty on one of the Bear blockers.
Coaching – A
Fisher and his staff deserve kudos for having the Rams fired up to play right from the outset. Also, several new blitz packages seem to help create some added pressure on the Bears offense. And the play of the day, Austin’s dazzling scamper up the right sideline, came on a play the Rams hadn’t run before that seemed specifically designed to attack Chicago’s aggressive (and sometimes overzealous) backside run pursuit.
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.