Rams dig a hole in Atlanta, can’t get out again

Call this team the road crew. They dig a hole, try to fill it up, and move on to the next stretch of road. Last week the hole was 11 points deep in the fourth quarter; this week they dug themselves a 21-0 hole on the road, and found themselves in over their heads. 

Like Sam Bradford with his passes, you can stand in the center of this game and spread the blame around. Our pass rush couldn't disrupt Matt Ryan's timing. Our pass coverage gave up too many big plays. Our special teams committed too many costly penalties. Our running game suffered with the lack of a feature back. Our skill players weren't in sync with Bradford. 

That is a lot of dirt to fling around.

And yet, the Rams stormed back in the second half to make a game out of what should have been a blowout win. The Rams spread out and got to work on offense and proved themselves as explosive as the much-touted Atlanta Falcons. The difference on the scoreboard boiled down to the Rams' one offensive mistake — a pass off the hands of Daryl Richardson that Osi Umenyiora caught and turned around, sprinting 60-plus yards for a touchdown. 

It was heartening to see this team care so little about passing blame during that game. After all, that's our job. 

Coverage, or lack of it

We can talk about mistakes that were made, but fundamentally the Rams' soft defensive schemes are perfectly designed to dig holes on the scoreboard.

The pass rush applied by Chris Long, Robert Quinn and an endless rotation of maniacs is relentless and is capable of wearing down an opponent's offensive front. They tend to get more effective as the game goes on. However, in the early going when offensive lines are fresh, it is far too easy for them to buy their quarterbacks the extra half second to find the outlet pass. And thanks to our over-cushioned defensive backs, there is ALWAYS an outlet. 

Matt Ryan is a very good quarterback, but the Rams allowed him one of his most prolific passing days ever, giving up 33 catches on 43 passes for 374 yards. And of Ryan's incompletions, most were throwaways to avoid a sack rather than a pass that was broken up. Which means that of Ryan's "aimed" passes, he had a near-certain completion in front of him. Creating turnovers is supposed to be the saving grace of this team, but it's hard to do that if you aren't in the same ZIP code as the receiver when he gets the ball. 

Still, though, the Rams pass rush did begin to change the course of the game, putting the ball back in Bradford's hands for multiple scoring drives in the second half. Naturally, the Falcons adjusted, this time springing Jason Snelling on a series of running back screens and trap plays to drive down the field for the deciding score. 

No one had a good day in coverage, but our marquee corners struggled in particular. Cortland Finnegan was again the lowest-rated player on defense by Pro Football Focus, looking a step slow in recognition all day. Meanwhile, Janoris Jenkins got torched for 8 completions on 10 passes for 121 yards, including biting hard on Julio Jones' 81-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Notably, Jenkins was playing Finnegan's slot position against Jones, and without the left sideline to use as a weapon, quickly found himself in no-man's land against one of the league's premier WRs. 

The Mysterious Disappearace of Jared Cook

One week after the debut of Jared Cook, Lethal Weapon, the week 2 sequel fell flat on its face. Cook was targeted six times and came away with only one catch for ten yards, wrecking a fair number of fantasy football teams along the way. After the game, coach Jeff Fisher noted that Cook was getting chipped and bracketed by the Falcons linebackers and safeties, but you have to expect that after lighting up the scoreboard like he had. 

More troubling was the fact that Cook seemed lackadaisical in his routes when he was able to get free. Bradford tried to find him as an escape valve multiple times in the first half. On one throw, Cook was barely aware that he was a target; on another, he flat fell down. 

It's fair to say that Bradford and the offense moved away from Cook in the second half, and got better when they did. The big TE played 63 of 77 offensive snaps, but was targeted only twice after halftime, and not at all on their last two scoring drives. Instead, WRs Austin Pettis, Chris Givens and Tavon Austin received the lion's share of work, with Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey contributing big catches from the TE position. 

You can take this as a testament to the number and quality of weapons that Bradford has available to him. You might also think of these options as sharks in a feeding frenzy — the fastest and hungriest ones will get fed. Perhaps Cook was still overstuffed from last week's feast. 

Bradford's No-sack Streak Continues

Another game, another injury for Rodger Saffold. This time his knee got dinged, and this time he failed to return to the field. Joe Barksdale came in and did a fairly good job in his stead, as Bradford continued his career-long no-sack streak. But with two oft-injured commodities in Saffold and Long protecting the edges, the Rams' lack of tackle depth is frightening. After Barksdale, there is effectively no one I would trust against an NFL defense. 

But Bradford is making his line look better than they are by being extremely quick with his decision-making. He deserves as much credit as anyone for keeping this streak alive. And in our TD-Sack measure, Bradford is +4 on the season. If he and the Rams can sustain this trend, it will help the Rams build consistency on offense.  

And they need it. In an abrupt turnaround from his first three seasons in the NFL, Bradford finds himself in charge of cleaning up his defense's messes. When you're on the road crew, there is always work to do.