The St. Louis Rams bounced back from a lackluster performance last week at home with a sharp performance against the Denver Broncos. Even though the final score showed the Rams losing on the scoreboard 27-26, when the first team units squared off against one another, the Rams were more than up to the task.
St. Louis started the game on defense, and forced Peyton Manning and the Broncos to punt. That set up the first contribution from a Rams newcomer. Tavon Austin showed why the Rams wanted him so badly in this past April's draft, breaking the return 81 yards down to the Bronco 3 yard-line. Austin probably would have scored, but he slowed up to allow his blockers to get in front of him down the sideline.
Rookie LB Alec Ogletree would also contribute in a major way in the first half. First, he stripped Denver RB Ronnie Hillman, scooped it up and ran 13 yards for a touchdown that put the Rams up 17-7. He would also break up a Peyton Manning pass in the end zone that forced the Broncos to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown. Then, with the Broncos driving at the end of the half, Ogletree tipped a Manning pass intended for a big gain down the middle and had the athleticism to make the interception.
Overall, the Rams' performance was worlds better than last week's home debut against Green Bay. The tackling was sharp on the defensive side. That's always big against a team like Denver when yards after the catch are kept at a minimum.
The offensive line did an outstanding job protecting Sam Bradford and allowing him to stay in the pocket while routes developed. For his part, Bradford completed nine of 16 first half passes for 110 yards and the touchdown to Cook.
The only continuing concern is depth. The second and third units surrendered a 20-10 halftime lead. Until a late touchdown pass off a Bronco turnover inside their own 10 yard line, the second and third offensive units had punted five times in six possessions. Once again, the second and third offensive lines got very little push and struggled protecting the quarterback.
Neither Austin Davis nor Kellen Clemens did anything notable to separate themselves in the race to win the backup quarterback job. One nice moment occurred when Jeff Fisher gave a series to fourth stringer, undrafted free agent Tim Jenkins, who is from nearby Highlands, Co.
The nadir of the second half was a special teams break down that resulted in a blocked punt that allowed the Broncos to score the go-ahead touchdown.
The Rams are now 0-3 in the preseason record book, but that will all be erased in two weeks when the season starts. What they can take away from tonight is a winning performance on the road against a Super Bowl contender.
St. Louis will close out the preseason next Thursday at the Edward Jones Dome against the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens.
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