NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
When the decision was made for running back Steven Jackson to become an unrestricted free agent in March and eventually sign with the Atlanta Falcons - this week's Rams opponent - one of the reasons was the Rams' plan to move forward with essentially a running back by committee rather than relying on a bellcow back.
Jackson wanted to be the bellcow, and that wasn't going to happen in St. Louis.
As the Rams prepare to travel to Atlanta Sunday, they will do so perhaps without a bellcow back, but at least with one that got all but one rushing attempt in Sunday's win over Arizona.
Daryl Richardson had 20 rushes, which is more than Jackson averaged per game in 2012 when he had 257 attempts (16.1 per game). Rookie Zac Stacy had one rush, the only one not by Richardson who left the game for a few plays when he had his leg looked at. Last season, Jackson had just four games with 20 or more rushing attempts.
In addition, Richardson had five receptions Sunday for a total of 25 touches. Jackson had three games with 25 combined touches in 2012 and averaged 18.4 per game.
Asked if the plan was to get the ball to Stacy more, coach Jeff Fisher said, "You want to try to do that, but sometimes the game just goes that way. You got a three-and-out, and then you come back and if you get a long drive, you're better able to get him in. One of those other things you talk about improving, we've got to work on the run game. It's a stout defense, but we're going to have to run the ball a bit better as well."
One factor was that Isaiah Pead wasn't available because of a one-game league suspension. He is back on the roster this week. When asked if Pead will play Sunday against Atlanta, coach Jeff Fisher said, "We'll see."
However, the team's depth chart had Pead back in the No. 2 spot behind Richardson. There is expected to be more of a rotation at the position with Pead reinstated. Pead received a significant number of reps with the first unit Wednesday as Richardson didn't practice because of a foot injury. Fisher said he would practice Thursday, saying he just needed "a rest."
Richardson had just 63 yards against the Cardinals, but he did a good job of working to get positive yardage even when there wasn't much room to run.
Despite the modest yardage total, quarterback Sam Bradford said Richardson played well.
"I thought Daryl did great," Bradford said. "Like I said, I think they threw a lot of different looks at us. I think he showed that he has matured a lot since last year, both in his ability to run the football and to pick up blitzes. I'm extremely proud of him and I'm excited for what this year is going to be for him."
SERIES HISTORY: 76h regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 47-26-2. The Rams won seven straight in this series from 1999-2003, the first four of those years when they were in the same division. Most recently, Atlanta has won three of the last four.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--To make room on the roster for reinstated running back Isaiah Pead, rookie linebacker Jonathan Stewart, who missed the season opener because of an injury, was waived. That left the Rams with just five linebackers on the roster. Stewart cleared waivers Wednesday and was expected to be added to the practice squad for Thursday's practice. Cornerback Darren Woodard was released from the practice squad Tuesday, and he wasn't replaced for Wednesday's workout.
The Rams also have five running backs, as Chase Reynolds stayed on the roster. Reynolds was on the field for 17 special teams plays Sunday in the first game of his career after being on the practice.
Reynolds told the Post-Dispatch, "It was exciting to be out there and be part of something on Sunday that was two years in the making. Took a minute to take a good look around. For me, it's work every day because there's no telling how long it'll last. As coach said in the locker room, it's hard to make this team, but it's harder to stay on."
Prior to Pead returning, when asked if that could endanger his roster spot, Reynolds said, "I can't worry about that. I just have to keep grinding, to do what I gotta do. If it happens, I'll deal with it and if it doesn't, I'll treat it as a blessing and I'll keep fighting and hopefully secure my spot.
"With anything in life, there comes a point when you look at yourself in the mirror and wonder if it's worth it. Today, it was worth it. It was awesome."
--Quarterback Sam Bradford wasn't sacked against Arizona for the third consecutive game. That hasn't happened for the Rams since the 1973 season.
Of the offensive line, coach Jeff Fisher said, "I thought they were good. I thought they hung in there. Arizona did a lot of different things up front. We kept the pocket clean for the most part. Sam was touched six times in the game, and that was pretty good."
Noting that the consecutive sackless streak includes two games from the end of the 2012 season, Fisher said, "Not that there's much carryover from last year, but at least we're off to the right start, and you credit the offensive line, the quarterback, and everybody involved."
--Last season, there were countless times the ball was on the ground in key situations and the Rams weren't able to come up with it. Opponents fumbled 17 times in 2012, and the Rams recovered only four.
For a while, Sunday was more of the same. There was a first-quarter strip sack by Robert Quinn, but tackle Levi Brown recovered for Arizona. There were two more, including on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter after the Rams had pulled to within 24-21. Javier Arenas was blasted by Matt Giordano, but Tony Jefferson recovered for the Cardinals.
The tide turned on the fifth play of that possession when Quinn stripped quarterback Carson Palmer again, and this time Chris Long emerged from the scrum with the ball.
"I had it all the way," Long said. "Guys were pulling at it, but no way was I letting it go."
Said Fisher, "(After) the first fumble that we don't get, you start thinking, 'Oh boy, one of these has got to bounce our way,' and then we open the half and their defensive tackle scores an interception for a touchdown. So now you know you're going to have to go make some plays.
"It just happens. It's frustrating, especially Matt's hit on the kickoff returner. That's great field position down there and you don't get it. But, as long as it's coming out, you'll get your share. We've just got to make sure that we're emphasizing that defensively and protecting it on offense."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought they both played well. There's room for improvement, like everybody, but I thought they were active. There weren't any mistakes, glaring mistakes, some minor technique things and some position things, but I thought they both played well." - Coach Jeff Fisher on the play of safeties T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod in the season opener.
"That's absurd; they're rumors." - Fisher on speculation he could be the next coach at USC.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DE Robert Quinn was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three sacks and two forced fumbles against Arizona. Said coach Jeff Fisher, "He was very productive. He played hard and I hope he can keep it up."
--RB Isaiah Pead was back at practice after missing the first game of the season on the suspended list. Pead was able to be at the team facility and attend meetings during the suspension, but he wasn't allowed to practice. Said Pead, "Not being able to play football was tough. But I'm well past this whole situation. It's behind me and I feel like I've been able to pick up pretty much where I left off. ... A few jitters early today, but overall I felt pretty good out there."
--RB Daryl Richardson did not practice Wednesday because of a foot injury, but was expected to practice for the rest of the week. Said coach Jeff Fisher, "He just needed some rest."
--TE Cory Harkey, who suffered a slight fracture in a bone around his knee in an Aug. 24 preseason game against Denver, was back practicing with full participation Wednesday, 18 days after the injury. Originally, it was thought Harkey could miss three or four weeks and perhaps as much as six.
--S Darian Stewart remains out of practice because of a thigh injury.
--T Rodger Saffold practiced Wednesday after missing four plays Sunday because of a left knee injury. "I'm definitely sore," Saffold said. "It's going to be a grind, but I'd rather be out there than watching."
GAME PLAN: For the first time in the career of running back Steven Jackson, the Rams will be tasked with trying to stop him. Of course, the Rams also have to try and slow the Falcons' passing attack. Most important is that they will be facing a team playing its home opener after losing a tough division game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams DRE Robert Quinn vs. Falcons LT Sam Baker. Quinn have Levi Brown fits last week, and he will try to do the same against Baker. The question is wyether the Falcons will try and give Baker some help.
Rams WR Chris Givens vs. Falcons CBs. Givens had just two receptions against Arizona as he was doubled consistently. That opened up things for other receivers. If more attention is paid to other receivers, then Givens will have the opportunity for some big plays.