Forgive me for sounding like the eternal optimist, but the St. Louis Rams are just fine.
They've already exceeded their win total from an abysmal 2011 campaign. On eye test alone, the defense looks like a completely different beast than any Rams team since the franchise arrived in St. Louis. In addition, the rushing performances have improved week after week behind what seems like a two-headed attack and an offensive line that continues to solidify.
Granted, it's not hard to improve when you're starting at the bottom but improve, the Rams (3-4) certainly have. The team has a new personality that not only better personifies the city it plays in, but the division as well.
Fortunately and unfortunately, this tough, gritty approach will be put to the test in the coming weeks. In the wake of a tough 30-20 defeat to the Green Bay Packers (4-3) — a team two years removed from winning the Super Bowl in a game in which St. Louis competed until the final whistle — the Rams will travel to London on Thursday in preparation of facing the New England Patriots this weekend. While journalists debate the current state of the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady's legacy, they still offer a Super Bowl-caliber challenge that will serve as another bar for the Rams to measure themselves by.
The road doesn't get easier any time soon. Although a bye week is on the horizon following the Patriots game, the Rams then face divisional foe San Francisco twice in four weeks with Arizona sandwiched in-between, a stretch that will certainly determine this season's NFC West champion. The New York Jets have had their struggles this season, but they'll be visiting the Edward Jones Dome in Week 11 as well.
All in all, the expectations for these Rams aren't necessarily that high, so the pressure is off. A clear-minded approach to these big games could result in one of the greater turnarounds in modern NFL history, something reminiscent of a Show we all once enjoyed…
But for now, here's what we can take from the Rams’ performance in Week 7.
—Michael Brockers’ hard work and improvement finally paid off Sunday, recording his first NFL sack against the Packers. Brockers has me wondering about his vaunted strength, however; he struggled to pull Rodgers down before the officials stopped the play. Just kidding.
—Steven Jackson started at running back and was involved early, setting up a flea-flicker early in the second quarter that helped start a scoring drive. Jackson got going on the ground late in the second quarter, breaking a 19-yard run with five minutes left en route to another field goal from Greg Zuerlein.
—For the Jackson-hater camp, the Las Vegas native finally rolled the dice in the end zone Sunday, scoring his first touchdown of the year on a 6-yard run up the middle. The Rams offensive line opened a hole large enough for a semi to drive through and played surprisingly well in allowing Jackson and Daryl Richardson to find success.
—The O-line also did well at preventing the third-down sack this week, but a new trend became more apparent. After finally being given the time he needed, quarterback Sam Bradford found trouble completing third-down passes to receivers who ran routes past the first-down marker. Either the receiver couldn't get open after getting past the sticks or dropped the ball after Bradford got it to him. Or, in what became a more common theme, Bradford simply checked the ball down to an underneath route hoping his target could break some tackles, to no avail.
—Bradford has also surely sparked heated debate in barber shops and at water coolers around St. Louis. After under-throwing rookie speedster Chris Givens on a fade route (which resulted in an interception), the Twittersphere blew up regarding Bradford's deep-ball capability. Or lack thereof. Although the third-year quarterback hasn't had a consistent deep threat since he was drafted with the No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma, Bradford also has been highly inconsistent himself with connecting with receivers when they do find themselves streaking open 30, 40 yards downfield. This is certainly a concern to monitor down the road, as Givens was brought in much for that purpose alone. The offense is moving in the right direction in all aspects, but until Bradford and Co. can make these connections more often, they will never reach their potential.
—Down 10-3, the Rams went for it on fourth down with 11 minutes left in the second quarter, just outside the Packers 10. Bradford zipped a perfect pass to Brandon Gibson on a slant route, but the cornerback played through his hands and caused the drop. That isn't to say head coach Jeff Fisher will be less aggressive on fourth downs in the future. The Rams are now 4 for 7 on fourth-down attempts on
—Defensive captain James Laurinaitis notched 14 stops (13 solo). The middle linebacker remains second in the NFL in total tackles (69) while continuing to make it difficult for opposing defenses to throw across the middle.
—Rookie running back Isaiah Pead finally got his first career carry this week, moving the ball a yard off the right side early in the second quarter. We'll take that as progress.
—Someone in the Rams’ camp must have made a visit or two to Rams101.com. With the game much in hand on the final drive, Pead's fellow second-rounder — rookie receiver Brian Quick — was targeted with four passes, catching two passes for 31 yards and just missing out on getting both feet down inbounds while attempting a leaping highlight grab in the end zone. Both Pead and Quick, slowly but surely, are gaining confidence and comfort playing at the highest level, and we'll gladly take the progress.
—Austin Pettis’ TD reception on St. Louis’ final drive was the first of his career. He looks to build on the successes of last year and will have plenty of opportunity (unfortunately) thanks to Danny Amendola's absence, much like last season.