By Cedric Williams
The St. Louis Rams led 21-0 midway through the second quarter on Sunday, but were unable to hold onto that lead, as the Dallas Cowboys scored 20 straight points to get back into the game, then outscored the home club 14-10 in the fourth quarter to earn themselves a 34-31 win at the Edward Jones Dome.
“You go up 21-0 and you know you can’t ever let up,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said. “That’s precisely why I went for it on that fourth and inches. We needed touchdowns and we needed to execute, and we didn’t.”
The second half was especially bad for the defense, which is why we didn’t have many high marks at all for anyone on that side of the ball on Sunday.
Here’s how we graded the Rams’ Week 3 performance against the Dallas Cowboys:
Quarterbacks — A-
Austin Davis had a tremendous day under center for the Rams. The third-year man out of Southern Miss completed 30 of 42 passes for 327 yards, three touchdowns, and a 98.0 passer rating. And it was his hot start that helped St. Louis get out to that 21-0 lead. In fact, if it weren’t for a wide open dropped pass in the end zone by tight end Jared Cook late in the fourth quarter, Davis would have enjoyed the first four-touchdown pass day by any Rams QB in nearly a decade.
Instead, Davis will probably remember most his two worst throws of the day — a pick early in the fourth quarter that allowed Dallas to extend its lead to 34-24 and his final pass of the day, which was intercepted by the Cowboys with just over a minute left, which ended any chance of a St. Louis comeback.
Running Backs — A
Rams ball carriers, Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, and Trey Watts, had their best day by far this season, with a combined 120 yards on 26 carries. They also did a fine job in pass protection, with a number of nice blitz pickups that helped Davis find time to throw throughout the game. Ball security was good as well, with no fumbles this week for the RBs.
Receivers & Tight Ends — C-
Brian Quick showed off more big-play capabilities with a 51-yard bomb for a touchdown; Austin Pettis caught a key late touchdown that helped pull St. Louis to within a score; and free agent pickup Kenny Britt had his best day as a Ram with five catches for 69 yards. But Quick was also called for an obvious offensive pass interference, which negated a 30-yard play, and Cook’s drop in the end zone on Sunday might have been the single worst individual play by a Rams offensive player this season.
Broadcast cameras also caught a strange exchange on the Rams’ sideline, when it appeared Davis came over to console Cook, but the Rams tight end seemed to shove Davis away, an action which prompted several Rams defensive players, led by defensive end William Hayes, to get into Cook’s face. A brief shouting match ensued before cooler heads prevailed. Still it was odd and a bit disheartening to see Cook forcefully shove his young quarterback when it was clear that Cook was the one to blame for the missed scoring opportunity.
Offensive Line — B+
Another group that had its best day of the season, the Rams’ O-Line paved the way for a 121-yard rushing day and kept Davis upright most of the day. Thanks to his front five, St. Louis’ young quarterback was only pressured some and wasn’t sacked at all.
The O-Line probably had only two really bad plays all day — a fourth and inches play on the first drive of the second half, where they got no push and the Rams lost two yards and possession of the ball, and a completely uncharacteristic fumbled snap by center Scott Wells, who snapped the ball between his legs like he normally does when his quarterback was under center. Unfortunately though, Davis was in shotgun formation, so there was nobody there to take the ball when Wells snapped it. That was another candidate for worst play of the season by a Rams offensive player.
Defensive Line — D
As heralded a defensive front as there is in the league, the reality is the Rams’ D-Line has only one sack all season and didn’t get any on Sunday. This group was also responsible for two key penalties — both called on defensive end Eugene Sims. The first was a roughing the passer call late in the first half, which helped put the Cowboys in position for a field goal, and a defensive holding call, which gave Dallas a first down and allowed them to run more time off the clock before eventually giving the ball back to St. Louis for its final drive.
Linebackers — C-
The Rams’ LBs were great in the first half, when they held Cowboy RB DeMarco Murray to just 40 yards on 10 carries (with 20 of them coming on one play). But in the second half, this group was mostly seen chasing behind Murray and tight end Jason Witten, who were both able to gash the St. Louis defense for big plays that helped Dallas overcome a 21-10 halftime deficit.
Secondary — D+
Tons of missed tackles in the Rams secondary turned several plays that should’ve been intermediate gains into big plays for the Cowboys. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins notched the fourth interception return for a touchdown of his career, but he was also burned badly on a double move by Dallas’ Dez Bryant, for a 68-yard touchdown that helped Dallas pull to within 21-17 just four plays into the second half.
Rookie E.J. Gaines got burned for a touchdown that gave Dallas its first lead, and Lamarcus Joyner was called for a pass interference that helped set up another Dallas score as well. It was a tough day all the way around for the Rams defensive backs.
Special Teams — C
The guys that kick the ball didn’t have a whole lot to do on Sunday. Greg Zuerlein made his only field goal attempt, was true on four PATs, and was solid on kickoffs, while Johnny Hekker was only called on to punt once. But a couple more special teams penalties and zero production in the return game made it an average day at best for the Rams’ specialists.
Coaching — D
The offensive gameplan was outstanding. The Rams came out flying with perhaps their best drive of the season to start the game, then compiled 26 first downs and 24 points throughout the day, but the defense — especially in the second half — seemed to have no answers for Dallas’ potent attack.
Fisher’s decision to go for it on fourth and inches, rather than kick a field goal that would’ve given St. Louis a 7-point lead midway through the third quarter backfired. Another 119 yards in penalties for the Rams also showed that for whatever reason this young team is still not learning how to play with committing infractions. That falls on the coaches as much as it does the players.
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 email@example.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.