NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
Last season, the St. Louis Rams were the talk of the NFC West in Jeff Fisher's first season as head coach. The Rams were 4-1-1 in the division with the only loss coming against the Seattle Seahawks in the season finale. Of course, they were 3-7 in non-division games.
This season has seen a reversal. Sunday's 30-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals placed the Rams' division record at 1-4 with the season-ender remaining against the Seahawks. They are 4-4 outside the division with games remaining at home the next two weeks against New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
Fisher knows teams have to find ways to win division games. He said, "We've got one more game in the division. Who knows how that's going to go because they'll probably have things wrapped up, but I'm disappointed that we didn't play better in the division. Throwing the ball at the end zone to win the last play of the game against Seattle at home, that's not bad, but we've got to win football games. If you're going to do anything in this league, you've got to win football games in your division and we haven't done that this year."
Complicating matters is that the NFC West, by record, is the best in the NFL this season. The four teams have a combined record of 33-19, but that includes division games. In games played outside the NFC West, the four teams are a combined 24-10. Just including the three teams ahead iof the Rams, they are 20-6 in non-division gameas.
As quarterback Kellen Clemens said, "The NFC West is probably the best division in football. Obviously for us, when we play within the division, we're playing good teams. Certainly Seattle is in. San Francisco and Arizona, who knows, they might both get in. It's good opponents. It's very good defenses. We have to play better, and we will."
His comment about defenses is notable. In yards allowed, Seattle is first, San Francisco fourth and Seattle fifth. In yards per play, it's Seattle first, Arizona third and San Francisco fifth. Finally, in points against, Seattle is second, San Francisco third and Arizona seventh.
Sunday, the Rams were able to do very little against the Cardinals' defense, especially in the second half.
At halftime, the Rams had 25 plays for 169 yards, but had difficulty running. Running backs Zac Stacy (7-11) and Benny Cunningham combined for 20 yards on nine attempts. Clemens was 11-for-15 for 141 yards with no sacks or interceptions and a passer rating of 102.4
However, in the second half, Stacy was 7-for-15, while Clemens was just 5-for-12 for 40 yards with four sacks and two interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 48.5.
Overall, the Rams gained just 88 yards on 25 plays in the final two quarters, and 56 came on an end-around by wide receiver Tavon Austin. Do the math, and that means the Rams gained on 32 yards on their other 24 plays.
Aside from Austin's run and 33 yards they gained on the final possession of the game, six other second-half possessions netted minus-2 yards.
Poor field position didn't help as the Rams' average drive start was the 18-yard line compared to the 33 for Arizona.
Noted Clemens, "Their punter (Dave Zastudil) did a good job of getting us backed up. Our defense got some stops and their punter did a very good job of getting us backed up. They did a good job, and we didn't do a good enough job offensively of flipping the field on them. We have to be better on third down."
The latter has been an issue most of the season. Sunday, the Rams were 3-for-11 for 27.3 percent and their season percentage is now 33.5.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--After missing four games because of a knee injury, right guard Harvey Dahl returned to start Sunday against Arizona, and Rodger Saffold was the starting right tackle.
When Saffold returned earlier this season from a knee injury, he shared snaps with Joe Barksdale at right tackle. After Dahl was injured, Shelley Smith started one game at right guard, and Saffold then replaced him for three games.
Against the Cardinals, Smith was inactive, and at times in the game, Saffold moved inside to right guard with Barksdale playing right tackle.
Speaking of Dahl, coach Jeff Fisher said, "Generally speaking, we're not going to demote a guy because of injury. We wanted to get Harvey an opportunity to play. He worked hard to come back."
The decision to move Saffold at times, Fisher said, was because "our plan was not to bring Rodger out of the game. It was to let him play."
Saffold played all 54 snaps, with 27 at both positions. Dahl and Barksdale also played 27 snaps.
--Quarterback Kellen Clemens looked like he might come out of the game after being sacked in the fourth quarter by Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby. But, after being evaluated by team doctors, he returned to the game. While being looked at, backup Austin Davis warmed up on the sideline.
Said Clemens, "I got the wind knocked out of me a little bit and then they wanted to kind of assess me for a concussion. I passed, and I was confident I would pass. But I know being in Austin's shoes, you don't want to wait to start getting warmed up until they say, 'He's down.'
"There wasn't a doubt in my mind that I was gonna come back in. But I appreciated being evaluated and I know my wife does. Because that stuff's scary."
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--C Barrett Jones, the Rams' fourth-round draft pick, was active for his first NFL game against Arizona, but did not play. With C Scott Wells out with a fractured fibula and Tim Barnes starting, Jones was the backup center.
--DT Jermelle Cudjo was inactive for the second consecutive game Sunday against Arizona.
--RB Daryl Richardson, who is healthy, was inactive for the fifth consecutive game Sunday against Arizona.
--WR Tavon Austin suffered an ankle injury at the end of a 56-yard run in the third quarter against Arizona. Austin did come back on the field as the punt returner, but didn't play after that for the rest of the game. Coach Jeff Fisher said Monday he would be "day-to-day" this week.
--TE Mike McNeill (ankle) suffered an ankle injury Sunday, but there was no update on his status Monday.
REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS
PASSING OFFENSE: D - QB Kellen Clemens was good in the first half, bad in the second. Of course, it wasn't all his fault with the run game not working and the Arizona pass rush putting the heat on in the second half with all four of their sacks. Overall, the passing game netted just 157 yards and Clemens' passer rating was 48.5.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F - Even with WR Tavon Austin's 56-yard end-around, the run offense gets a failing grade. The Rams could accomplish little on the ground. RB Zac Stacy had a long of nine yards, and gained just 25 yards on 14 carries. Stacy did score the team's only touchdown on a 1-yard run.
PASS DEFENSE: C - The Rams limited the big play, but the pass rush was neutered by the quick passing of QB Carson Palmer. He completed 27 of 32 passes and was sacked only once. His 27 completions totaled just 269 yards (10.0 per completion). WR Larry Fitzgerald had 12 receptions, but for just 96 yards (8.0 per completion) and a long of 19.
RUSH DEFENSE: B - The run defense didn't hurt the Rams as RBs Andre Ellington (11-46), Rashard Mendenhall (17-41) and Stepfan Taylor (2-9) combined for 96 yards on 30 attempts. However, the usually short runs combined with a short passing game enabled the Cardinals to total 25 first down and convert 8 of 14 third-down plays.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B - P Johnny Hekker averaged 51.4 yards per punt, but had a net of 42.8 because two of his five punts were touchbacks. K Greg Zuerlein hit his only field-goal attempt from 44 yards. Coverage was good.
COACHING: B - Nothing great, nothing particularly bad. The Rams were simply outplayed by a stout defense. Of course, we'll never know what would have happened had the officials made the correct call originally on an Arizona touchdown that was reversed. CB Janoris Jenkins would have had a 100-plus-yard fumble return with the score 7-3 in the second quarter.