It's hard to blame the gameplan when you out-gain your opponent by nearly 200 yards. It's hard to blame the defense when they utterly shut down the biggest threats in the Dolphins offense. It's hard to blame the refs when they gift-wrap two huge calls for you, taking fumbles off the board. It's hard to blame Sam Bradford when he averages better than 8 yards per pass (but some will surely try).
The Rams were undone not by a single player or a single play, or by a single player (no, not even rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein, who missed three field goals wide left from 48, 52 and 66), but by a series of little mistakes. The arithmetic of football added up against St Louis today – shoot yourself in the foot more times than your opponent, and you likely end up in the loss column.
Field position played a huge part of today's loss, as the Rams started only three of nine drives from beyond the 20 yard line. Janoris Jenkins did not have a good day on punt-return duty, giving the Dolphins a short field and an easy field goal early in the game. Penalties — 94 yards worth on twelve yellow flags — drove the Rams back the full length of the football field. And crucially bad sacks pushed the line of scrimmage back at several key moments, including the game-ending kick. Thus a Rams offense that racked up more than 400 yards on a balanced attack only spent a handful of plays in the red zone. The inability to complete drives killed this team, as a combination of missed field goals and opportunities for touchdowns left a bushel full of points on the board.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams defense snuffed Reggie Bush and sent waves of pressure against Ryan Tannehill, and held the Dolphins to barely 200 yards of offense. But they could not break Tannehill, and the poised rookie took advantage of the limited opportunities given to him.
Tannehill exposed the Rams' top-rated pass defense with dozens of underneath routes. Despite a lack of gross yardage or any production at all from Brian Hartline, Tannehill finished with two touchdown passes (doubling our defense's season allowance) and an impressive 112.0 quarterback rating. He led only two drives of any significant length, but finished them both.
There were a ton of good plays in this game, several signs for those willing to look for them that this is still a team with upside, still a team that is heading in the right direction. To wit:
- Daryl Richardson and Steven Jackson combined for a startlingly effective run game against a much-hyped Dolphins run defense. Richardson ran with burst and got nearly a 50% share of work in the game, while Jackson pounded out tough yards and made plays in the passing game. Both finished above 4 yards per carry.
- Brandon Gibson atoned for a bad couple of weeks with a series of clutch catches, including a one-hander on the sideline that is as good as any catch you'll see.
- Chris Givens may already be the best wide receiver on the team, making his presence felt in the first half with three catches for 85 yards. (Why so few looks in the second half though?)
- Sam Bradford continues to show improvement with ball placement and mental toughness. He could not fully silence his critics today, and deserves his share of blame on sacks where he held the ball too long, but he made far more positive plays than negative on the day. His signature play wasn't a pass, it was a half-yard sneak for the Rams' only touchdown with Karlos Dansby applying his full body weight to Bradford's neck.
The 3-3 Rams have yet to find their first road win. They had one slip through their grasp today. As this team continues to grow in Jeff Fisher's image, it's not hard to see them getting these wins, but they need to quit beating themselves first.