NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
Whenever a team loses, fingers are often pointed at the quarterback and/or the offensive play-calling.
That was certainly the case following the Rams' 31-24 loss to the Falcons Sunday, especially after the Rams scored three second-half touchdowns in a hurry-up offense because they were behind by three touchdowns.
While the focus was on quarterback Sam Bradford supposedly using too many checkdowns in the first half or coordinator Brian Schottenheimer allegedly conservative play-calls, forgotten in the analysis was that the Rams' field position was poor in the first half and it averaged the 16-yard line as the drive start for the game.
In addition, focus somehow avoided the defense, which wasn't able to stop the Falcons twice in the fourth quarter after the lead had been cut to one touchdown.
Also, the Rams forced no takeaways against Atlanta. In 18 games with Jeff Fisher as head coach, the Rams are 0-7-1 in games where they don't force a takeaway and 8-2 when they do.
Sunday in Dallas, the Rams will need to force turnovers and have better results in pass defense than they have so far this season.
In two games, while the Rams do have six sacks, they have also allowed opposing quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan to complete 71.1 percent of their passes and compile a combined passer rating of 107.6.
Ryan continually found open receivers Sunday, especially wide receiver Julio Jones, even with Roddy White playing sparingly and doing little because of a high ankle sprain.
In the second half, the Falcons had four possessions where they gained a total of 27 yards on 14 plays when the Rams mounted their comeback. However, on a touchdown drive after the Rams cut the lead to 24-17, Ryan was 8-for-8 for 74 yards. After the Rams cut the lead again to seven points at 31-24, they weren't able to get the ball back.
With a 94.6 passer rating after two games, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo could have a field day throwing to Dez Bryant (13-163), Miles Austin (13-103) and tight end Jason Witten (11-82).
Third down could be crucial. Last season, the Rams' defense was strong on third down, allowing only a 37.6 percent conversion rate (13th in the NFL). In two games this season, it is at 51.9 percent (14-for-27), which is tied for last in the league. However, the Cowboys rank 29th in the NFL having converted just 30.8 percent (8-for-26) so far this season.
As Fisher said when asked about the pass defense, "Could be better. We had breakdowns. We could be better on third down. We did some good things, but we've got to get better."
Added linebacker James Laurinaitis, noting that good passing teams are going to get their yards, "We have to get takeaways and get off the field on third down."
SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Series tied, 11-11. Only twice in this series that dates back to 1960 has one team won two consecutive games. The Rams won two straight in 1967 and 1969, and the Cowboys won two straight in 1981 and 1984. Since that 1984 game, the teams have alternated wins over the last 10 games with the Cowboys winning the last time the teams played in 2011.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--Numerous players were held out of practice Wednesday with what are believed to be minor injuries. One reason is that the Rams want to manage the players with two games to be played in five days.
Following Sunday's game in Dallas, the Rams play Thursday night against San Francisco.
"Yeah, anticipation of both games. Yes," coach Jeff Fisher said when asked if that's part of the reason so many players didn't practice. "We talked about it with the team late Monday about what our plans were and how we have to not look past the Cowboys, but understand what the challenges are with the short week next week.
"There were a number of players that didn't practice I think probably could have. Then, there were several that they may not have been able to, and we'll just see how they are tomorrow."
--With Rodger Saffold expected to miss two or three games, Joe Barksdale will replace him at right tackle. Barksdale was acquired on waivers from the Raiders during the 2012 season and started two games at left tackle.
"This is what you practice for," he said. "Practice to be able to play."
Said coach Jeff Fisher, "Joe's done fine. He's gone out there and done fine. He had a very, very productive day last year against the Packers, mainly Clay (Matthews). When he's gone in he's done a good job. It's just a matter of getting the practice reps. You get the practice reps during the week and you prepare and you end up playing better."
Added quarterback Sam Bradford, "Joe's been in that situation before. It's not the first that time he's had to come into a game off the bench. He was thrown into a similar situation last year. He prepares every week like he's going to step on the field, so I thought he did a really good job coming in. It's not easy to step into a game cold like that."
--Coach Jeff Fisher amplified on reasons not to employ an over-abundance of the no-huddle or hurry-up offense early in games.
Said Fisher, "We have done it, obviously, early in the ball game. But, you do it early in the ball game against a guy like Matt Ryan and go three-and-out you've got problems. You're putting him back on the field all the time. You look at Sam's 300-plus yards passing games over his career, they've won two. We have the ability to do it and there's a time do to it and a time not to do it."
--In each of the first two games, the Rams have had an interception returned for a touchdown against them.
Said Fisher, "It's hard to win games when you give up defensive scores."
BY THE NUMBERS: 14-112 - Number of penalties and yards against the Rams in the first two games. There are 11 teams in the league with more penalties and yards, including Denver, San Francisco and Seattle. Two teams also have 14 and three teams have 13 penalties.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "By no means am I placing blame. I have great respect for the officiating department and the officials. We work very close with them and we move on. We had chances in that ballgame. We had chances to get off the field, chances to make plays - didn't make them." - Coach Jeff Fisher, after saying he believes five of the seven penalties called against the Rams against Atlanta shouldn't have been called.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--T Rodger Saffold did not practice Wednesday and is expected to miss two or three weeks because of a sprained MCL in his knee.
--RB Daryl Richardson did not practice Wednesday, and had his left foot in a boot. Richardson missed one day of practice last week because of the foot injury, but played against the Falcons. Coach Jeff Fisher said he believes Richardson will practice Thursday.
--DE Chris Long (hip) did not practice Wednesday. Long missed part of practice last Thursday and did not practice Friday, but played 54 of a possible 64 snaps against Atlanta.
--S Darian Stewart returned to practice for the first time since suffering a thigh injury (which was first reported as a hamstring injury) on Aug. 17 against Green Bay. Stewart was limited in Wednesday's practice.
--DE William Hayes (hip) did not practice Wednesday.
--DT Eugene Sims (foot) did not practice Wednesday.
--CB Cortland Finnegan (nose) did not practice Wednesday.
--TE Mike McNeill (chest) did not practice Wednesday.
--G Chris Williams (foot) did not practice Wednesday.
--CB Quinton Pointer, who has missed the first two games of the season because of a thigh injury, remained out of practice Wednesday.
--T Joe Barksdale will get the start at right tackle with Rodger Saffold expected to miss as many as three weeks with a sprained MCL ihn his knee.
GAME PLAN: Two seasons ago, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray gashed the Rams in a 34-7 win for 253 yards on 25 carries, including a 91-yard touchdown run. This season, the Rams have allowed 61.0 yards rushing per game (sixth-best in the league) and 2.9 yards per rush (seventh). But the Rams will have to stop the Dallas passing game to win.
Offensively, it is paramount that the Rams get off to a good start. They have scored a total of 13 first-half points in two games, and they can't fall behind the Cowboys like they did against Atlanta last week.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams DTs Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford vs. Cowboys interior line - Brockers and Langford, along with Eugene Sims and Williams Hayes on passing downs, hope to push the pocket to stop the run and get pressure on QB Tony Romo on passing downs. The Cowboys are inexperienced with rookie Travis Frederick at center, along with guards Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau.
Rams receivers vs. Cowboys secondary - Dallas will try to keep WR Chris Givens from beating them deep with either CB Brandon Carr or a banged-up Morris Claiborne (shoulder). The Rams will try to free TE Jared Cook like they did the first week against Arizona.