NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
When the St. Louis Rams lost 28-21 to the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 3, things looked bleak for the rest of the season. Their record dropped to 3-6 after consecutive losses to Carolina, Seattle and the Titans. The latter two came with Kellen Clemens at quarterback, who replaced Sam Bradford after he suffered a torn ACL against the Panthers.
In the loss to Tennessee, Titans running back Chris Johnson rushed for 150 yards on 23 carries, including the game-winning 19-yard touchdown.
After that game, the Rams were ranked 29th in the league in run defense, allowing 125.2 yards per game and 4.4 per rush.
But the team's startling turnaround began the following Sunday with a 38-8 win in Indianapolis, and it is evidenced with the improvement in run defense.
Sunday, the Rams outlasted Tampa Bay 23-13, and they held the Buccaneers to 59 rushing yards on 23 attempts with only 37 on 20 carries by running back Bobby Rainey.
That has capped a six-game stretch in which the Rams have gone 4-2 and allowed opposing running backs to total just 319 yards (53.2 per game) on 125 attempts (2.6-yard average).
Overall, the total rushing yards have been 408 (68.0 per game) on 145 carries (2.8 average).
That has enabled the Rams to jump all the way up to seventh in the NFL in rushing yards allowed at 102.3 per game. The average per rush is down to 3.8. If the Rams were able to limit Seattle to 64 yards Sunday, the average would drop to under 100 yards per game. In the six-game streak, only Arizona rushed for at least 100 yards (107), but the Cardinals' running backs totaled 96.
As defensive end Chris Long simply stated, "If we stop the run and force turnovers and our offense runs the football, we're going to win some football games."
And that's exactly what has happened.
Coach Jeff Fisher pointed to several reasons for the improvement, including limiting big plays.
"We've kept the ball in front of us and that's been a focus," Fisher said. "Overall, I'd like to think the improvement that you see on our defense actually reflects the improvement of the team because our special teams have settled down and they're doing well. Offensively, we're running the football and keeping the defense off the field and have been scoring some points. It's not easy. Five out of the top five defenses are in the NFC and three of them are in our division."
He also said, "Safeties play has been much better. Corners play has been much better, not that that was the issue. I think by and large inside we're playing better. We made some changes up front, just some minor schematic changes and it's been paying off for us. Above all, I think they just play real hard -- that helps, as hard as they're playing."
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Rams confirmed that left tackle Jake Long suffered a torn ACL in Sunday's game against Tampa bay, and he also tore his MCL. The latter can heal on its own, but will delay surgery for about four-to-six weeks.
With training camp roughly seven months away, Long's healthy return for the start of the 2014 season appears in doubt, but Fisher is optimistic.
Said Fisher, "He takes very good care of himself. He knows and understands what's ahead. Obviously he is shocked right now but he's indicated to us that he'll be back and good to go."
As for his readiness for the start of the season, Fisher said, "I wouldn't say doubtful. I think there's a difference between a skilled player and an interior lineman, especially an offensive lineman. Now this is the first one that I've been associated with from an offensive line standpoint and an ACL, but doctors were very optimistic, as he was."
--Defensive end Robert Quinn was double-teamed constantly and forced to work hard for his sacks. Quinn did just that, sacking Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon three times to give him 18 for the season and breaking the club record of 17 set by defensive end Kevin Carter in 1999. The record-breaking sack came on the final play of the game.
Said coach Jeff Fisher, "Very impressive when you take into consideration the history of this organization -- and the defensive linemen, the pass rushers, and the Fearsome Foursome, all of that stuff -- and for him to set the single-season franchise sack record was pretty impressive."
After the game, defensive ends Chris Long and William Hayes carried Quinn off the field as fans chanted, "MVP."
Said Long, "It was awesome to be able to do that and to do it at home. It was really special. At first I thought, 'Alright we'll go get it (the record) next week for you.' They tried to chip us. They tried to do all this stuff. They tried to do everything under the sun to him and he just kept coming and made the play and now he's a record holder. That was fun."
As for the decision to carry Quinn off the field, Long said, "We said, 'Well nobody's going to pay attention to us anyways even though he should be the Defensive Player of the Year. They won't even talk about us on SportsCenter or ESPN.' We did something that probably was good footage. So, they'll probably put that on, and then I figure that'll help him be in the conversation as he should be."
--He was the unheralded college teammate of Tavon Austin selected 84 picks after him in the third round of this year's draft, but for Stedman Bailey, his first NFL touchdown couldn't have come at a better time.
With Austin, his St. Louis Rams teammate, inactive Sunday because of an ankle injury, Bailey celebrated Christmas early with a 27-yard run on a double reverse that jump-started the Rams to a 23-13 victory over the Buccaneers.
The Bucs were off a to a good start after running back Bobby Rainey gave them a 7-0 lead capping an 85-yard drive on a 1-yard run with 6:31 left in the first quarter.
The Rams tied the game at seven 7:43 later on running back Zac Stacy's 1-yard run that finished an 80-yard drive.
The game immediately turned in the Rams' favor after a Rainey reception gained four yards to the Bucs' 30-yard line on third down. That turned out to be the Bucs' last third-down conversion of the game. On first down, Rainey fumbled on a hit by linebacker Alec Ogletree and defensive end William Hayes recovered for the Rams at the 27.
On first down, quarterback Kellen Clemens handed the ball to wide receiver Chris Givens, who was coming from left to right. Givens then pitched the ball to Bailey (coming from left to right), who caught the ball at the 37, turned the corner two yards later, and admitted, "My eyes lit up like a Christmas tree knowing that was going to be my first touchdown.
"It was so wide open, I was kind of jogging. I felt I could have walked in. The defense never knew what was happening. It was executed very well. It was a great call in a perfect situation."
Givens said he could tell the play was going to work. He said, "I focused on the pitch, turned around and watched, and I saw how the whole defense was flowing. I knew it was going to be a big play."
Clemens was part of the convoy that included left tackle Rodger Saffold, right tackle Joe Barksdale and tight end Cory Harkey.
Line coach Paul Boudreau joked, "All Stedman had to do was make sure not to trip over Kellen."
Clemens laughingly said, "I would like to take credit as the guy that sprung him, but it was such a great call and schemed up so well there was nobody there. The coaching point for me when we installed it on Wednesday was maybe get in someone's way other than Stedman. I just had to get out of the way."
Saffold said, "I had to go up to him afterward and say, 'Why did you jump for nothing? You just wanted to jump didn't you?' He said, 'Yeah, I just wanted to jump.'" Probably for "TV time," Saffold added.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher acknowledged that coming right after a turnover was the perfect time for a play the Rams had never run before and Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy reluctantly agreed.
He said, "That was smart. Coach Fisher; he'll try anything. They have nothing to lose, so they're going for it all. After a sudden change, you've got to expect either a shot to the end zone or a trick play. We've been trained on that since we got in the league."
But not trained enough to stop it. The touchdown gave the Rams a 14-7 lead, and while the Bucs hung close for the rest of the game, the Rams never relinquished the lead.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--OL Rodger Saffold will start the season finale at left tackle with Jake Long out because of a torn ACL and MCL.
--WR Tavon Austin did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury.
--DE Chris Long did not practice Wednesday because of a thigh injury, but he is expected to play Sunday.
REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- QB Kellen Clemens completed 80 percent of his passes (16-for-20) for 158 yards and a passer rating of 99.6. He was sacked just once and didn't throw an interception. In the Rams' four wins with Clemens at quarterback, he has five touchdown passes and no interceptions, while attempting only 78 passes. In four losses, he attempted 130 passes with two touchdowns and five interceptions.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Zac Stacy grinded for 104 yards on 33 rushing attempts and scored on a 1-yard run. A double reverse worked to perfection with WR Stedman Bailey scoring on a 27-yard play.
PASS DEFENSE: : A-minus -- There were some lapses in coverage that resulted in WR Vincent Jackson catching five passes for 98 yards. Other than that, QB Mike Glennon passed for another 60 yards and he was sacked seven times.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- RB Bobby Rainey had 37 yards on 20 carries, and 20 came on three runs at the start of the second half. Aside from that stretch, he had 17 yards on 17 runs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- P Johnny Hekker punted just twice, and had the same average as his net at 44.0 as one punt was downed and the other resulted in a fair catch. K Greg Zuerlein had his first 50-plus field goal of the season at 54 yards and also hit from 25 and 48 yards. All six of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Filling in for Tavon Austin, Justin Veltung did a solid job on punt returns with 34 yards on three returns.
COACHING: A -- The game plan was executed as it was drawn up, and the timing of the double reverse that resulted in a touchdown came at the perfect time right after a takeaway.