In the pregame show, coach Rick Venturi told the fans that he expected the Rams to run the ball a lot in this game, and that they were going to be successful at it. Thirty minutes of game time and 123 yards on the ground on 25 carries, and you’d have to say he was right on both counts.
This was a smashmouth win, one that shows yet another facet of the team’s dynamic new offensive character.
McDaniels managed a Shurmur-esque game plan and felicitous field position to 33 points against the Colts; he tore the roof off against the Titans on the game’s first play; and he opened this game with six consecutive runs that chewed up 42 yards and set the Chiefs’ defense on their heels.
And when called upon to take the offense to the air, Bradford did so with panache. He started the game by completing his first 8 passes for four first downs and two touchdowns, striking the short and intermediate zones, throwing over and under defenders, to every quadrant of the field.
The score at that point was 14-0, but the gulf between the two teams felt even wider, as the Rams physically imposed themselves on their opponents. Last week, the Rams were the ones bullied up and down the field. Perhaps it says something about the new character of this team that something snapped inside them, and that they came out this week with a chip on their shoulders.
Preseason wins are overrated, even with the Governor’s Cup at stake. But Rams fans could take a lot of satisfaction and maybe even a little east-vs-west pride from the way this game was played, the way it was won.
Bradford makes plays downfield
Of course, he isn’t Superman. Not yet. But just as he bailed out his offensive line (two penalties on successive plays pushed a 3rd-and-4 to a 3rd-and-19, which Sam converted with a 20-yard catch and run by Brandon Gibson), his defense bailed him out when Bradford made a rare mistake.
Notable in the sequence was that Bradford’s 3rd-and-9 attempt was a classic short throw from the Shurmur playbook, a 6-yard curl to Kendricks who was stopped short of the sticks. But given a second chance to convert by Chiefs coach Todd Haley’s decision to accept a 10-yard penalty, Bradford shucked off the underneath routes and express-mailed the ball deep left to Gibson on a must-convert play.
Both touchdown throws – to Sims-Walker (watch) and Kendricks (watch) were pro-quality over-the-shoulder throws made without the defense-tipping crutch of a comeback move. The offense’s willingness to trust Bradford with small targets has been a key to their newfound red zone proficiency (6 touchdowns and 2 field goals in 8 trips inside the twenty so far this year).
Bradford’s lone miscue came at the hands of the most notable Chiefs defender making plays: outside linebacker Derrick Johnson. Johnson might could have been a Ram two years ago, but has emerged from Haley’s doghouse to become an absolute beast of a player. Johnson made an incredible play in space yesterday, creeping into the flat like a ninja and intercepting a short out route to set up his struggling offense on the doorstep of the end zone.
The Rams’ defense overwhelms
The Spagnuolo imprint on the defense is taking hold, and we have a new stat to track. In addition to sacks, QB hits and hurries, we need to start paying attention to how many holding penalties the Rams’ onslaught of pass-rushers draws from overwhelmed offensive linemen.
Yesterday, there were six. The Chiefs’ offense continually shot itself in the foot, unable to keep Chris Long, James Hall, Eugene Sims and Robert Quinn out of their back yard. (Quinn even blocked a field goal with that impossibly long reach of his.)
Matt Cassel got the worst of it, getting harried into a 6-13 day for an unimpressive 59 yards passing. But the running backs fared no better, whether it was Thomas Jones, Jamaal Charles or Dexter McCluster. The only time they found space was in the passing game, a sign that our outside linebackers still have room for improvement.
One matchup worth rewinding and rewatching? Bradley Fletcher jousting with Dwayne Bowe and effectively taking him out of the game (1 catch on 4 targets for 11 yards).
Still no #1 receiver, but no one seems to mind
The leading pass-catcher for the Rams? By yardage, it was Donnie Avery and Lance Kendricks with 26 yards apiece. By catches, it was Mardy Gilyard with three. By scoring, it was Kendricks and Sims-Walker with one apiece.
It’s becoming clear that the McDaniels offense may not produce a Brandon Lloyd breakout star from this group, which might come as a disappointment to fantasy players. But as an offensive unit, the Rams are able to flood the field with effective pass-catchers with enough wiggle to make the first man miss.
Of course, this makes the job of predicting front-runners from this group increasingly difficult. Who gets cut? That’s a topic for another post. For now, enjoying this win is enough.