Sunday, August 28, 2011

Keys to the Game Answered: Kansas City

1.  On the Receiving End

THE SITUATION: No position battle has been watched and scrutinized more closely in this camp than the one taking place at wide receiver.
That competition should amp up another notch this week when coach Steve Spagnuolo has indicated that the Rams will likely work some different wideouts in with the first group in addition to the usual starters Danny AmendolaBrandon Gibson and Mike Sims-Walker.
In other words, it could be an opportunity for guys like Donnie AveryAustin PettisGreg Salas and Danario Alexander to work with quarterback Sam Bradford and make a statement about where they belong in the wideout pecking order.
Surely, the wide receiver competition will carry into the final week of the preseason next week in Jacksonville but this might be the most prime chance for someone to make a difference and show they belong.
THE ANSWER: Nobody emerged above anyone else, really as the Rams focused on the running game and spread the ball around when they threw it. Sims-Walker caught a touchdown and tight end Lance Kendricks had a solid night also.
2. Outside ‘Backers
THE SITUATION: The outside linebacker spot is to the defense what the receiver position is to the offense. There is a lot of competition and players are jockeying for position be it through the defense, on special teams or a combination of the two.
For the first two preseason contests, the Rams went with Bryan Kehl at the weak side spot and incumbent Na’il Diggs on the strong side while they worked recent free-agent signees Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga into the mix.
This week, Leber and Poppinga will make their first start flanking middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.
The veterans have practice with the first team all week and will now get their chance to make a statement against the Chiefs.
THE ANSWER: Leber and Poppinga were solid and the Rams were noticeably better against the run as both were active in helping to slow Kansas City.
3. Stepping Up at Safety
THE SITUATION: One other tweak to the first-team defense has emerged in the past week as Darian Stewart began taking repetitions with the top unit in place of Craig Dahl on Tuesday.
Stewart practiced with the first team on Tuesday and Wednesday and appears poised to get his shot to line up in the secondary next to Quintin Mikell.
The Rams have used Stewart plenty in the preseason, especially in nickel situations where he works as the WIL linebacker more often than not.
But this week, they want to give him a chance to show what he can do in the base defense.
Stewart is guaranteed nothing but like the rest of his teammates at this time of year, he’s getting a shot to better his position on the depth chart.
THE ANSWER: Stewart did get the start and was solid as the Rams defense posted a strong performance. Stewart played into the second half.
4. Running With Purpose
THE SITUATION: The Rams opened the preseason with a terrific performance in the rushing attack, pounding away at the Colts with 169 yards on 41 carries with two rushing touchdowns.
Last week, with running back Steven Jackson making his debut, the Rams were unable to get on track on the ground, rushing 21 times for just 44 yards. Jackson was slowed down to 10 yards on six carries.
Of course, the Rams didn’t have their starting offensive line intact and faced a more physical Titans defense.
This week, Jackson will get his first chance to run behind the projected starting line. While the entire offense is hoping to get a rhythm, it could start up front with the running game.
The Chiefs play a stout 3-4 defense and should provide a good challenge for Jackson and Co.
THE ANSWER: The Rams got exactly what they wanted as Jackson pounded away early and often. In the first half alone, the Rams rushed 25 times for 123 yards. Jackson ha72 of those yards on 15 tries.
5. Consistency is King
THE SITUATION: The Rams opened last week’s game with a big strike as quarterback Sam Bradford hit Brandon Gibson for an 83-yard touchdown on the game’s opening play.
After that, there were big plays here and there for the first-team offense but it was unable to string any together.
This week, the Rams will look to find the type of play in, play out consistency that is needed to put together drives and put up points.
Keep an eye on drive times and first down numbers. Even if the Rams don’t post a ton of points, they’ll want to at least keep drives moving and prove that they’re grasping offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ offense well enough to move the ball consistently.
THE ANSWER: The Rams would have preferred to continue putting up points in the second quarter but they got a strong enough first quarter performance combined with a late second quarter surge to feel good about where the offense is heading toward the regular season.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rams Whip the Colts

ST. LOUIS (AP)—Josh McDaniels’ debut as St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator was a big success. TheIndianapolis Colts got a reminder just how much Peyton Manning(notes) means to the franchise.
Sam Bradford(notes) produced 17 points in four possessions with big help from a defense that jumped on Manning’s backups for a pair of early interceptions as the Rams opened the preseason with a 33-10 victory on Saturday night.
“I’m not sure how much more Josh has in store for us,” Bradford said. “But I felt like everything he’s thrown at us, we’ve handled.
“We went out tonight and executed everything in the game plan very well.”
Josh Brown’s(notes) 60-yard field goal ended an almost perfect first half not just for the offense but for all phases. Brown’s boot bettered his career best of 58 yards in 2003 with the Seattle Seahawks, giving the Rams a 23-3 cushion, and he added a 53-yarder in the third quarter.
“I don’t think I could have pulled him off that field,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said of the 60-yarder. “He was running out there even before I said, ‘Let’s kick a field goal.”’
Manning almost blended into the crowd on the Colts sideline in blue jeans and wearing a ball cap, but his presence on the field was sorely missed.Curtis Painter(notes) and Dan Orlovsky(notes) threw costly interceptions early, giving the Rams possession deep in Indianapolis territory to set up 10 easy points.
“There’s encouraging moments, there’s some that are challenging,” Painter said. “Having another week of practice will help.”
Defensive end Dwight Freeney(notes) also didn’t play and Reggie Wayne(notes)made at most a cameo appearance for the Colts, who beat the Rams 42-6 in the last regular-season meeting in 2009. Indianapolis has made nine straight playoff appearances and will be a lot more formidable with Manning, but has lost seven straight preseason openers.
“We certainly weren’t as sharp as we would like to be,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “The interceptions certainly made a big difference. We’re not quite where we’d like to be right now.”
Manning underwent neck surgery on May 23 and hasn’t practiced. The Colts have said they expect Manning to be ready for the opener Sept. 11 at Houston.
“He’s working with the doctors, and the doctors that he usually does the rehab with were here,” Caldwell said. “He’ll stay with the plan and get his treatment.”
Perhaps the highlight for Manning on Saturday was a visit with former Tennessee backup quarterback Todd Helton before the Rockies played the Cardinals across downtown. Manning and Bradford chatted on the field after the game, just outside the prayer huddle.
Bradford was in for 24 snaps, topping coach Steve Spagnuolo’s estimate of 12-15 plays earlier in the week. He was 7 for 12 for 45 yards and a touchdown while backup A.J. Feeley(notes) was 10 for 14 for 100 yards.
“It’s night and day compared to our first preseason game last year,” Bradford said. “I just feel much more comfortable and much more confident.”
Steven Jackson was in uniform but didn’t play for St. Louis, which excelled on defense without middle linebacker James Laurinaitis(notes) (pectoral). Backup running back Cadillac Williams had 40 yards on 11 carries with a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and Keith Toston(notes) had 64 yards on 11 carries and a 5-yard score.
The Rams totaled 169 yards rushing and had 21 first downs to only 12 for the Colts.
“It’s a preseason game, but you still take pride and want to stop guys,” Indianapolis defensive endAntonio Johnson(notes) said. “We were just a little rusty and we’ve got to straighten some things out and try to come out next week and do better.”
The first half was penalty-free, unusual for a preseason opener and especially because the lockout wiped out minicamps and OTAs. The first whistle was for pass interference on the Rams’ Chris Chamberlain(notes) with 8:17 to go in the third quarter.
Quintin Mikell(notes) picked off Painter on the third play of the game, and his 25-yard return to the Colts 16 set up a 6-yard scoring catch and run by rookie tight end Lance Kendricks(notes), who bulled the last few yards into the end zone.
“Obviously, it was the right read,” Painter said. “I just threw a bad ball.”
Orlovsky entered on the Colts’ third series, and his first pass was picked off by Craig Dahl(notes), whose 18-yard return to the Indianapolis 16 set up a chip-shot field goal for a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter.
Orlovsky and Painter were a combined 7 for 16 for 166 yards and three interceptions. Orlovsky, who was picked off twice, threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Taj Smith(notes) in the third quarter.
Notes: Rams WR Mike Sims-Walker(notes) (groin) and Mikell (left elbow) were sidelined early because of injuries that are thought to be minor. … Backup Darren Evans(notes) led the Colts with 52 yards on eight carries. … Undrafted free agent Mike McNeill(notes), who is from suburban Kirkwood, Mo., led the Colts with three catches for 33 yards.