By Cedric Williams
File another one in the ‘it just doesn’t make sense’ category for the St. Louis Rams, who picked up a surprising 22-7 win over the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos, Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
An announced crowd of 59,401 saw St. Louis take it to the Broncos right from the opening kickoff, and no one on the Rams let up until the game was over some three hours later.
The Rams are now 4-6 on the season, with wins over Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco (three of the four teams to play in the last two Super Bowls) in the last five weeks. And now a team that was teetering on laughingstock status just a couple of weeks ago, is now firmly entrenched as one of those teams nobody that’s thinking about making the playoffs wants to play.
The Rams pummeled the Broncos on Sunday and earned themselves some very high marks from us in the process.
Here’s how we graded St. Louis’ stunning victory over Denver on Sunday:
Quarterback – A
The big news of the week, last week, was head coach Jeff Fisher deciding to bench Austin Davis for veteran Shaun Hill at quarterback. And one game in, that move looked like a stroke of genius, as Hill was steady and calm and solid under center and in the pocket in his first start since the season opener against Minnesota.
For the day, Hill completed 20 of 29 passes for 220 yards, which included a spectacular 63-yard scoring strike to Kenny Britt, and no interceptions. In fact, Hill didn’t make many mistakes at all on Sunday and was the strong leader in the huddle and on the field the Rams have needed ever since Sam Bradford got hurt during the preseason.
Running Backs – A
After toying with the ol’ running back by committee strategy for a couple of games last month, St. Louis has clearly settled on rookie Tre Mason as its No. 1 lead back. And on Sunday,
Mason looked like he was up for the role as he carried the ball 29 times for 113 rough and tumble yards against a Denver team that hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season and had been ranked No. 1 in the league in rushing yards allowed this season.
Third-down back Benny Cunningham was also a big contributor with several key catches that kept drives alive. The second-year man out of Middle Tennessee State finished the day with four catches for 31 yards.
Receivers & Tight Ends – A-
As St. Louis’ biggest free agent signing during the offseason, Britt basically earned the entire group this “A” all by himself by delivering his first big game for his new club with four catches for 128 yards and that deep bomb touchdown from Hill late in the first quarter.
The rest of the Rams’ pass catchers had less than 100 yards combined. But with Britt having a big day, St. Louis didn’t need anything more from anybody else than to simply make catches when the ball was thrown their way. Guys like Stedman Bailey, Jared Cook, and Tavon Austin did that, and it was enough to produce a winner on Sunday.
Offensive Line – A
Sunday was perhaps the best performance of the season for the Rams’ front five, which dominated Denver’s defensive line with its superior run blocking throughout the day.
Rookie Greg Robinson made what could’ve been a catastrophic error when he inexplicably left Denver’s Hall of Fame bound defensive end Demarcus Ware unblocked for a clean blindside sack on Hill. The ball came loose and it would’ve been a disaster if Denver had fallen on it. Fortunately, Hill fell back on the ball and St. Louis escaped its worst danger of the day.
Other than that one play, the Rams O-Line was fairly outstanding all day.
Defensive Line – A+
It wasn’t eight sacks, like what they did to San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick three weeks ago, but “Sack City” was in the house and in Peyton Manning’s face all day.
The Broncos had allowed just nine sacks all season before Sunday (mostly because Manning is a master at getting the ball out of his hands before a defender can get to him), but that didn’t stop the Rams from pressuring the future Hall of Famer and forcing him into several bad throws.
Denver couldn’t run the ball either (10 rushes for 28 yards) and that was also mostly because the Rams’ front four was basically unblockable all day.
Linebackers – A+
Another huge day for the Rams’ LBs, led by outside backer Alec Ogletree’s team-high 13 tackles. He also had a key interception in the fourth quarter and a key knock down of a Manning pass that helped keep the Bronco offense from ever getting going.
Middle backer James Laurinaitis had 11 tackles, a sack, a QB hit, and another tackle for loss to complement the big day Ogletree had.
Secondary – A
It’s kind of hard to say a group that gave up 369 passing yards deserved an “A” for its performance, but the Rams’ D-backs more than lived up to the challenge of facing the legendary Manning.
Safeties T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod did a superb job of making sure the Bronco receivers paid dearly for daring to catch the ball against them, while corners E.J. Gaines, Janoris Jenkins, and Trumaine Johnson all shown exceptional coverage skills against Denver’s bevy of playmakers.
Johnson made a highlight reel pick late in the fourth that essentially ended any shot the Broncos had at pulling off a late comeback.
Special Teams – A+
Kicker Greg Zuerlein was nothing short of amazing in going five-for-five on field goal attempts on Sunday, including two boots from 50-yard plus that helped St. Louis keep building on its lead throughout the day.
Punter Johnny Hekker made sure Denver battled bad field position all day, by dropping four of his six punts inside the Bronco 20-yard line.
Rookie safety Maurice Alexander also had a splendid day in coverage, as he delivered two big hits on Bronco return men that dared to field a kick in front of him.
Coaching – A
Fisher clearly had his team ready to play on Sunday, and for the first time all year, they were also ready to play for the full 60 minutes.
We haven’t said this much this season, but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had a sound gameplan that took chances when the time was right, but mostly relied on sound rock ’em, sock ’em football to control the game.
And defensive coordinator Gregg Williams seems to have his mojo back, as he continues to make all the right moves to keep putting the pressure on opposing quarterbacks, even the great Manning, whose made a career of getting rid of the ball before defenders have a chance to hit him.
On Sunday, Williams’ defensive gameplan had Rams defenders hitting Manning on just about every play.
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.