Facing the area’s former resident NFL team on Sunday, the Rams faced a tough opponent to start the launch of their rebuilding effort.
Last Sunday, the next chapter in the Rams plight began in a similar fashion to how the last one ended: with a loss. However, there’s a bit more to this one than the recent collection of them. During the 17-13 tilt they showed a surplus of what was their one endearing trait in 2009: heart. Although they managed one win last season, they rarely took losses in outstanding embarrassing ways, and that trend carried over into week one of this year as well. Against an equally tough, yet more talented, Cardinals team, they played nose-to-nose with them for 3 quarters, and showed they were not going to lay down and be a carpet for the NFC West champs to walk into 2010 on.
Much of the focus is on the offense coming into this year, which is to be expected with top pick Sam Bradford taking over the wheel from the starting blocks. There should be some definite improvement on the unit, yet expecting it to be consistent this year is a premature hope. Game one was a good indicator of what to expect from the Rams this season, peaks and valleys. On one drive, Bradford would be in rhythm with his receivers (especially Mark Clayton it appears) and would move the chains frequently. However, on the next drive a collapse on the offensive line or a forced pass end with either an incompletion or interception ends any momentum that had started up. It’s the nature of having a 22 year old quarterback leading your attack, the offense will be up down along with his learning curve. However, it can’t be stressed enough that keeping him off the turf and giving him time to operate is the most important job of for anybody on this team, from the offensive line, to Steve Spagnuolo. He’s better, a lot quicker, than I think anybody could have guessed and keeping him on the field is the number one key to turning around the Rams fortunes. Playing as well as he did against the physical Cardinals defense was reassuring and bode well for the toughness and character the team can expect from its young leader, which is arguably just as important as the results from his right arm.
While they will score more than 13 points in some contests this year, there will be games where they’ll struggle to reach that total. Keeping morale up is the key for this club, and that’s where the defense enters the fold. Last year, this group played tough consistently and showed it could be better this year. While Derek Anderson is far from an all-world QB, Larry Fitzgerald is just that as a receiver and the Rams secondary did a good job of not letting him break loose on them as a whole. He fought for three and a half quarters to finally get free enough to catch the decisive touchdown for the Cards. A concern is that while they limited his impact, it often took as many as three defenders to keep him in check and Steve Breaston complied over 130 yards by taking advantage of the lessened focus on him.
The numbers on the ground weren’t much prettier, as the Cardinals surpassed 100 yards rushing on 20 carries, with two carries over 20 yards. While the stat sheet may not be the best, with 378 yards of total Arizona offense, the defense made plays when needed to keep the Cardinals out the endzone, and that’s a start at least. You’ve got to show the potential is there before the expectation of success comes into play. Making big plays against the two time division champs and holding them to 13 points is a certain measure of success, regardless of win or loss.
– Mark Clayton was everywhere, with a 10 catch, 119 yard debut. He seemed to have an immediate chemistry with Bradford (who he worked out with during summers at their Alma Mater, Oklahoma) and could be a huge development and comfort option for #8.
– Bradford threw more passes (55) than any other rookie QB in his debut start on Sunday and had the 3rd highest yardage total (253) of any debut rookie ever. Take this stat with a grain of salt however; he’s in mixed company here. Peyton Manning went for 302 yards in his debut, but Mark Sanchez’s 272 yard game last season is second place. Hope for more of the former than the latter.
– Kudos to Ron Bartell who played Larry Fitzgerald as tough as can be hoped for and flanked the All-Pro receiver all day
– The Jason Smith/Rodger Saffold combo did a decent job of protecting Bradford, as he took only one really bad hit on Sunday. However, the run blocking has to get Steven Jackson more opportunities to shine. He breaks tackles better than any RB in the game, but he was getting touched too early, too often this week.