At the end of Tim Shields' latest Anatomy of a Play feature, Tim Ryan remarks of Sam Bradford's pinpoint throw to Lance Kendricks: "A great throw will beat great coverage every time." Unfortunately, those words foretold the Rams' doom against Aaron Rodgers, who when on is as good as any passer to ever play the game.
Rodgers has found his ON switch the last two weeks, averaging 9 yards per attempt with 9 touchdowns and zero interceptions against two very good pass defenses. Most impressively, both games have been on the road, in Houston and here in St Louis, though given the abundance of bus-traveling cheeseheads, the notion of Green Bay ever playing a true "road" game is pretty foreign.
Very little the Rams did defensively could slow him or his two primary receivers down; Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb combined for 16 catches on 17 targets for 211 yards and three TDs, while working against all four Rams corners. Their best tactic was to invite Rodgers to hand the ball off, something he did with surprising regularity and unsurprisingly little effectiveness.
But there is little time to dwell on this loss, which dropped the Rams to 3-4 on the season. The wheels are already up on the team's six-hour flight between "home" games, as Jeff Fisher works to prepare his team for a match against the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium in London. So while the team gets used to a new clock and a new locale, here are three things we can take away from last week.
1. Keep your head on a swivel, Sam
Sam Bradford has shown marked improvement in a number of areas this season, including having a better sense of when to bail from a collapsing pocket and create a positive play. However, he looked particularly jumpy at times in this game despite pretty good protection by a patchwork line.
Paul Boudreau promoted a pair of third stringers to man Bradford's left flank, and the tandem of Joe Barksdale and Shelley Smith worked fairly well together. They should certainly not be blamed for the most egregious breakdowns in the passing game, most notably a mechanically disastrous throw from Bradford's own goal line that the defensive back easily received, comfortably swaddled like a baby brought by the stork.
The positives in Sam's day might have outweighed the negatives against a lesser opponent. But 20 points is never (*) good enough to beat a team of the Packers' caliber.
* Note: unless you're Seattle and you have received the greatest gift a replacement ref can offer.
2. All yardage is not the same
Not counting penalties, the Rams' offense accumulated 353 yards on only 56 plays, a healthy 6.3 yards-per-play average that would rank among the top three teams in the NFL. However, penalty yardage scuttled the offense in the red zone for the second week in a row.
Last week against Miami, Quinn Ojinnaka's repeated hands-to-the-face infractions (a result of purely lazy play, there's no other way to put it) knocked the Rams back several times, derailing at least two scoring drives. This week, a false start penalty on Barksdale (prompted by a Clay Matthews flinch) knocked the Rams back to 3rd-and-16, a down and distance that Bradford and Austin Pettis very nearly made up with a 14-yard connection. Rather than a new set of sticks on the doorstep of the end zone, this pass led to a fateful 4th-and-2 try.
Despite improvements between the twenties, particularly with Daryl Richardson providing an effective counter to Steven Jackson in the run game, the Rams are averaging a piddling 2.4 red zone drives per game, 3rd-worst in the league. That this is a mild improvement over last year's league-worst mark of 1.9 drives per game is nothing to celebrate. So while we like Fisher's aggressiveness there, the pain of a lost opportunity is keenly felt.
The good news here is that Jackson burst through the line and Pettis caught a pretty little fade pass for a pair of red zone scores in their two other opportunities. The bad news is that more opportunities were not to be found.
3. No route-jumping allowed
After generating eight interceptions in their first five games, the Rams defense has been blanked for two weeks in a row in the turnover column. It must be tempting for the defensive backs – particularly Janoris Jenkins, a natural born playmaker – to jump pass routes in hopes of creating more opportunities to put hands on passes.
Freelancing is one thing against blind timing-throwers like Matt Stafford and Kevin Kolb. However, against clear-eyed quarterbacks of the caliber of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, this is a recipe for disaster. Particularly when their offenses lean heavily on deception and double-moves from their receivers. The Rams' DBs absolutely have to stay home, and trust in the pass rush to create opportunities and get stops.