At least it didn’t count. Thoughts from the Rams’ 38-3 loss to the Colts

Well Rams fans, the good news from today’s 38-3 crashdown against Andrew Luck and the Colts was that we aren’t going to have another 4-0 preseason to falsely raise our preseason expectations to unsustainable levels. At this point last year, the Rams’ fan base was ready to anoint Sam Bradford as the second coming of Tom Brady and Joe Montana, only better. And when the Rams suffered their Icarus plunge back to earth, charred feathers and all, it felt like we had all been kicked in the gut.

This year, the Rams’ season begins somewhat in more metaphorically appropriate fashion – at the bottom. Beaten open-handed by the co-worst team in the league. Now Jeff Fisher knows exactly where he stands, and how far this team has yet to go. And if and when he pulls the Rams back into playoff contention, he’ll have this yardstick planted in the ground to let him and everyone else know exactly how far they’ve come.

Aside from the scoreboard, which doesn’t count anyway, the game wasn’t all bad as an exhibition of some individual players and their skills. Unfortunately, this is an 11-on-11 game, and it’s plain to see that the Rams are still playing as a collection of parts, rather than a whole. Most of the game’s big breakdowns (even the ones involving my personal punching bag, Craig Dahl) didn’t fall on a single player. Breakdowns between players – missed assignments, missed handoffs, etc. – were much more prevalent.

Take, for example, the Colts’ first touchdown. Or their second. Or that first-down completion on third-and-forever that the Colts’ scrubs had against our scrubs. In each case, Colts’ offensive players found their way into creases between the Rams’ personnel groups – between the defensive line and the linebackers, or between cornerback and safety. These are coachable mistakes, and with time can be erased.

There were some individual breakdowns as well – Jason Smith on an early pass-protection that led to a sack on Kellen Clemens, Isaiah Pead putting the ball on the ground twice, Greg Salas failing to run a 4th down route to the proper depth. These breakdowns are on the players as much as they are on the coaches, and we need them to be better than that. (For his part, Smith actualy seemed to settle down and play pretty well laster in the game.) 

The things you worry about are the schematic ones, particularly on offense, which seems to be stuck in the Shurmurville. Sam Bradford worked his underneath reads efficiently enough, but rarely went over the top. In our lone red zone drill of the first half, Kellen Clemens and company gained a single yard before summoning our field goal kicker. But it’s a start, and we have not seen all the wrinkles of a Brian Schottenheimer offense yet.

There also were some positives of note:

  • Second year players Austin Pettis and Lance Kendricks, both huge disappointments as rookies, had very strong games. Both players displayed good hands and the ability to make tough, must-have catches for first downs. Pettis in particular corraled a 12-yard pass on a quick slant, ducking just inside the cornerback and accelerating upfield. The ball was thrown well ahead of the receiver, who stretched his full frame while keeping his stride going to bring it in with his hands. Best of all, the ball didn’t budge once it hit his fingers.
  • The first-team running game, with Steven Jackson plowing behind Harvey Dahl, moved the ball effectively at will, helping to set Bradford up with good field position early.
  • Janoris Jenkins looks like he’s capable of handling man coverage against NFL players, nearly picking off Andrew Luck on a perfectly anticipated break and making an outstanding play downfield on a deep ball for a pass breakup.
  • Robert Quinn was nearly unblockable early, hitting Luck on his first two throws of the game. (Too bad one turned a dump-off into a 60+ yard touchdown.)
  • Chris Givens showed off his speed in a Donnie Avery-like debut, drawing a pass interference on one deep ball and nearly taking in another at the goal line. (He needed to get that ball, though.)
  • Johnny Hekker punted well all day, planting one ball inside the three yard line.
  • Best of all, the injury cart stayed parked on the sideline.

Bradford didn’t wow, but he did what was asked of him, which wasn’t much in two series of work. We want to see more, and we will. But it seems clear that Fisher isn’t overly concerned with getting his almost-veteran QB a heavy preseason workload. (Especially behind an offensive line that is still a work in progress.)

Overall, this isn’t a game that we’ll look back on fondly. But it isn’t meant to be. It’s the preseason, after all. If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the Rams have barely laced up their boots yet.