NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
It wasn't the way the St. Louis Rams wanted to end their season, but it wasn't surprising either. On a day where the Rams weren't able to run the ball successfully and failed to cause a turnover while committing two of their own, the result was a 27-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the team with the best record in the NFC.
Still, quarterback Kellen Clemens, who had one of his two interceptions returned for a touchdown, noted the strides the team made this season.
"You always want to go out with a win. It's certainly a very good football team that we drew for Week 17," Clemens said. "But I think as a whole I am proud of the guys, I am proud of how they rallied. I am proud of the resiliency this team showed, especially once we were eliminated from the playoffs, still coming back to get a couple of wins to finish out the season. It's an unfortunate end for us but I think there are a lot of positives that we can take out of this season and get ready to build for next year."
Noting the youth on the roster, Clemens added, "You look at the young guys and their growth, Tavon (Austin) before the injury, Stedman Bailey, Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, there is a lot of positives going into this offseason, going into the 2014 season. I am excited to see it, excited to see how guys continue to develop, continue to work. We have a great nucleus of leadership in that locker room that should be back."
Acknowledging his own position as the backup quarterback, Clemens concluded, "You get 8 (Sam Bradford) back out there swinging it around too and it's going to happen."
Said head coach Jeff Fisher, "I'm encouraged about the guys in that locker room. I am proud of this team. This team, inside the building on the practice field, is one of the better ones, from a chemistry standpoint, I've ever been around. They do everything that's asked of them, they do it well. I think we have a lot to look forward to, from the standpoint of not only last year, but this year. We have a young team that's going to get better, and it's going to get significantly better over the offseason. I'm encouraged about the new guys that we don't have yet that will be there to help us."
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--Two of the "new guys" that coach Jeff Fisher says will help the Rams in 2014 will come in the first 13 picks of the draft if the Rams hold onto the choices they have currently. The Rams have Washington's first-round pick, which is the second selection overall, and their own choice at 13.
The Rams ended up at the bottom of a tied four-team group with teams 7-9 that includes Detroit (10th), Tennessee (11th) and the New York Giants (12th).
Ties for draft order are broken by strength of schedule, and the Rams' .551 percentage was the highest of the four teams. In fact, only three teams in the entire league had a tougher strength of schedule: Tampa Bay, .574; Houston, .559 and Atlanta, .553.
In the second round, the Rams will jump to the top of that four-team group, so they will select 10th in the second round giving them three picks in the first 42 players.
--It turns out Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford had more reasons than mere frustration for throwing his helmet to the ground after being ejected in the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Seahawks for making contact with an official.
Langford entered the game with four sacks and needed two to earn a $333,000 incentive bonus. He got one late in the second quarter, and while having two in one game would be unusual for him, it certainly became more possible once he got the first.
However, those hopes ended with 2:53 remaining in the third quarter during a sequence that began when linebacker Alec Ogletree was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after tackling Seattle running back Robert Turbin.
Langford wasn't even on the field for the play, but was entering the game and began playing peacemaker by motioning with his hand to the official that all Ogletree was doing was talking.
Said Langford, "I was saying, 'He can talk? He can talk, right?' I went just like this (raising his arms), and I guess that's when he (official) came running up behind me and I knocked his hat off."
Langford didn't realize he had been ejected and was explaining things to coach Jeff Fisher when he was told he had to leave for the locker room.
When it was noted to Langford that it looked like he didn't know the official was there, he said, "Exactly. There was no late hit, no anything. I was surprised at that, and once he told me I was ejected for it, I got really upset about it. I apologize for throwing my helmet, that part of it. But I don't agree with the call at all."
Langford was able to see the replay, and added, "After I had seen it I thought it was a bad call. I don't agree with it, and after seeing it over and over I still don't agree with it."
And he certainly didn't like the fact he then had no chance to earn his incentive.
--The two divisions the Rams will play in 2014 is the NFC East and AFC West. In addition to division games, the Rams will host Dallas, New York Giants, Denver, Oakland and Minnesota. On the road, they will play Philadelphia, Washington, Kansas City, San Diego and Tampa Bay.
Like the Rams, the Vikings and Buccaneers finished in fourth place in their respective divisions.
--Punter Johnny Hekker, who was selected to play in the Pro Bowl, ended up setting an NFL record for net punting yards in a season with a 44.2-yard average. Against Seattle, Hekker's net (48.4) was higher than his gross (48.1) because the Seahawks returned two of his punts for minus-2 yards and he didn't have a touchback.
Hekker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "I can say that we knew we starting history in the face today and we went out and got it. We take a ton of pride on this team in producing, and we went out and did that."
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--OL Rodger Saffold started against Seattle at left tackle, but left the game in the fourth quarter with a concussion and did not return.
--OL Chris Williams, who played all season at left guard, had to move to left tackle Sunday against Seattle after Rodger Saffold left the game because of a concussion.
SEASON REPORT CARD
PASSING OFFENSE: C - QB Sam Bradford was growing more and more comfortable with each game, especially after RB Zac Stacy became the focal point of the ground game in Week 5. However, things changed when Bradford was lost for the season because of a torn ACL in Week 7 against Carolina. Kellen Clemens exhibited leadership and toughness taking over for Bradford and the team was 4-5 with him at quarterback. In the four wins, Clemens had no interceptions, but in the five losses he had seven. TE Jared Cook led the team with 51 receptions and five touchdowns, but WR Chris Givens took a step back from a successful rookie season. Rookie WR Tavon Austin missed the final three games of the season because of an ankle injury, and had 40 receptions.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B - Stacy was a revelation and fell just short of 1,000 yards in 12 starts. He ended up with 973 yards and also scored seven rushing touchdowns. Not an explosive runner, but Stacy usually managed to get positive yardage and that helped the Rams win games in the second half of the season. The team was 6-6 once he became the starter against Jacksonville in Week 5.
PASS DEFENSE: B - On one hand, the pass rush was outstanding with DE Robert Quinn leading the way with 19 sacks and DE Chris Long adding 8.5. As a team, the Rams had 53 sacks, third-most in the NFL, and they were second in sacks per pass play. Despite the pass rush, the young secondary struggled at times, and allowed 4,200 yards, a 68.1-percent completion rate and a 94.7 passer rating. However, in the pass-happy NFL, their passing yards allowed of 242.1 ranked 19th in the league.
RUSH DEFENSE: B - This aspect of the defense improved greatly in the second half of the season, and they ended up ninth in the league with 102.9 yards per game against. Their 3.7 average per attempt was third-best in the NFL. Quinn improved greatly against the run, while defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford were stout inside.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- P Johnny Hekker and the coverage unit set an NFL record with a net average of 44.2. Hekker had only four touchbacks in 78 punts, and 30 of his punts were returned for a total of just 79 yards (2.6 yards per return with a long of 17). That figure ending up topping Seattle, which entered Sunday's game having allowed only 25 punt-return yards on 16 attempts. However, Rams punt returners Austin Pettis and Justin Veltung combined for 57 yards on five returns to put the Seahawks at 82 yards on 21 returns (3.9-yard average). K Greg Zuerlein missed just two field-goal attempts all season, and hit on his last 12 attempts. He also tied for fourth in the league with 52 touchbacks on kickoffs. The return game was average with Austin scoring one touchdown on a 98-yard punt return, but he averaged only 8.5 yards. There were some penalties issues early, but there was significant improvement. The Rams ranked first in punt-return defense and eighth in kickoff return defense.
COACHING: B - Jeff Fisher's even hand kept his young team focused, although penalties were often too plentiful. Fisher did his best work after Bradford was lost for the season and gave his support to Clemens. The team rallied around him, and for the most part played solid football.