The St. Louis Rams didn't do much to answer the questions surrounding them as they approach the 2013 regular season. Saturday's lackluster preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers had flashes of greatness, but was sandwiched in between some poor performances and fundamental miscues.
Let's look at the good, the bad and the ugly for each of the three units:
Offense: Isaiah Pead looked very good when he was outside the tackles, which wasn't very much. In between the tackles, Pead isn't able to move the pile by himself when the line doesn't get a surge. Still, a good night overall for Pead, who was able to show his speed on the edge and, most importantly for him, he didn't put the football on the ground.
With the exception of the bad throw to Tavon Austin that cost them a touchdown, Sam Bradford was solid. He made a great play fake and hit Chris Givens in stride for the biggest gain of the night, 57 yards. He showed good pocket awareness, stepping up when pressure came from his backside and avoiding the sack.
The receivers had a decent night. Facing some physical Green Bay coverage, they got separation, but too many times they weren't able to hang on to passes in traffic. The tight ends outshone their wideout counterparts with Jared Cook's 37 yard catch and run and Mike McNeill's nice head juke to elude a tackler and pick up extra yardage.
The second and third team offense struggled mightily protecting the quarterback. Kellen Clemens was forced into a pair of picks. Both he and Austin Davis were getting hit every time they dropped back. As far as Clemens and Davis are concerned, neither performed well enough to determine who will back up Bradford. Clemens turned in an abysmal performance, completing only two of 11 throws and the aforementioned picks. Davis completed fewer than half his passes, but did show some grit standing in the pocket and completing the Rams' lone touchdown of the evening.
Rookie Barrett Jones got the majority of snaps at center in the second half and looked lost picking up Green Bay's stunts and twists. This allowed the pass rush to come right up the gut and destroyed any semblance of a pocket for Clemens and Davis. Jeff Fisher alluded to this when he spoke to the media on Sunday, saying that the Packers were bringing offering some more exotic looks on defense than his offensive personnel, particularly the second and third team, were prepared for.
Defense: The poor tackling in the first half was most obvious, but also the most correctable problem we saw on Saturday. To a man, the Rams defenders were cognizant of that and will look to address that this week before heading to Denver.
Although Robert Quinn recorded the first sack of the preseason against Green Bay's first unit, the pass rush wasn't really a factor as Rodgers got rid of the ball quickly. That will bear watching this week when they see Peyton Manning, who's much less mobile, but much quicker getting the ball out of his hands.
Undrafted free agent Gerald Rivers was only credited with two tackles, but his impact was far greater than that. Rivers got some snaps with the first team, and was largely responsible for quelling the Packers initial drive by getting into the backfield and disrupting the play once the Packers got inside the red zone. Rivers was around the football the entire night.
Ray Ray Armstrong was also active on Saturday, On his initial series, he got stuck inside and couldn't get off a block, resulting in a big gain for Green Bay on the ground. In open space, however, Armstrong showed good instincts and the ability to "lay the wood" when he lined up a ball carrier.
Special Teams: This was the one area where there was noticeable progress from week one. The Rams' coverage teams did a nice job limiting the opportunities for Packers' return men. They were able to down a nicely checked-up punt from Johnny Hekker inside the five yard line and recovered another punt that hit off a Packers' return team member inside the ten yard line in the second half.
Greg Zuerlein missed a 50 yard field goal attempt, but was denied at least two other attempts when Fisher decided to go for it on fourth down.
The Rams will have four days to get things straightened out before flying to Denver on Friday to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The third preseason game is typically the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season, so be prepared to see the first unit players playing into the second half of Saturday's game.
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