Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rams Rally Comes Up Short

ARLINGTON, Tex. – The Rams and coach Jeff Fisher’s approach to the preseason has been constant in that the result on the scoreboard isn’t as important as the opportunity to evaluate players and continue to improve from week to week.
After a step forward from the preseason opener last week against Kansas City, the Rams first units on both sides of the ball were stuck in neutral on
Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium.
The result was a 20-19 win for Dallas, dropping the Rams to 1-2 in the preseason.
“We didn’t move the ball like we would like to and like we did last week against Kansas City,” running back Steven Jackson said. “But this is what training camp provides. It puts stuff on film so we can correct it, make sure we are running the scheme right, communicating right up front. But all the mistakes we made as far as the offense, are all things that are correctable.”
After a blistering start last week against the Chiefs in which the Rams held a 14-0 lead within the opening five minutes, the Rams had the tables turned on them a bit in the first half of Saturday’s game.
Some of the areas Fisher has been hoping to see improvement were again an issue as the first team defense struggled to get off the field on third down and the first team offense labored to stay on it.
Entering the game, Fisher had said he didn’t expect to play the starters much longer than they played against the Chiefs, perhaps just an additional series or two on both sides of the ball.
But the starting offense wasn’t able to piece together a drive of any substantial length until the second quarter and even then needed the help of some special teams trickery to extend the series.
First and foremost, though, the first team defense had major issues finding stops. Dallas played starting quarterback Tony Romo with the first team offense for just one quarter despite a pre-game plan to play him into the second half.
That’s because Romo had such success early in the game that Dallas opted not to risk potential injury. In the opening 15 minutes, Romo went nine-of-13 for 198 yards with two touchdowns, both to wideout Dwayne Harris covering distances of 61 and 38 yards.
Harris’ touchdowns gave Dallas a 17-3 lead at the end of the quarter, a lead the Cowboys never relinquished.
The long scores were a result of missed tackles and coverage miscues.
“We had a communication problem on the long touchdown pass,” Fisher said. “We can do some things better. We gave up way too much through the air. A number of those situations would have been called back because of holding because it looked like we were getting tackled pretty often back there.
“We have to tackle better on defense. We tackled pretty well the first two weeks and we didn’t tackle well tonight.”
The offense, meanwhile, couldn’t gain traction picking up just two first downs in the first quarter. Despite the plan to play the starters about the same as last week, the group wasn’t on the field long enough to call it a night at the end of the first quarter.
Things picked up a bit in the second quarter as the Rams picked up four first downs, including one on a fake punt that saw safety Matt Daniels take a direct snap and race 30 yards for a first down on fourth down.
That drive was the highlight for the first offense as rookie running back Daryl Richardson got his first look with that group. Richardson had a catch for 9 yards and six carries for 27 yards.
Still, the Rams couldn’t punch one in the end zone and finished the first half with just 6 points, all coming off the powerful right leg of rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein, who converted 55 and 52 yard field goals.
All told, the numbers weren’t pretty on either side of the ball in the first half.
Offensively, the Rams had six first downs and were only one-of-seven on third down conversions. They finished with 114 yards of net offense and quarterback Sam Bradford was six-of-17 for 64 yards for a rating of 47.2.
Bradford came under fire quite a bit as well, as he was sacked twice and hit a handful of other times. Running back Steven Jackson started but did not get any carries and only played a few snaps. Rookies Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson took the bulk of the work with the first team at running back.
“We have two games in less than a week,” Jackson said. “And coach mentioned that we are going to play quite a bit on Thursday. And we would give Isaiah and Daryl more this game.”
As for the defense, that unit allowed Dallas to rack up 17 first downs, convert three-of-five third downs and post 342 total yards in the first 30 minutes. That added up to a 20-6 halftime deficit.
“We’ve got to get better as a whole,” Laurinaitis said. “We’ll continue to grow, but we’ve got to watch and learn from it and get better.”
The Rams did get a drive going at the end of the third quarter as backup quarterback Kellen Clemens hit rookie wideout Brian Quick in stride for a gain of 39 down the left sideline.
That drive got the Rams deep into Dallas territory and ended with Isaiah Pead finding some running room as he picked up 17 yards on four plays. The
Rams punched it in on a 2-yard pass from Clemens to Austin Pettis.
Kicker Garrett Lindholm missed the extra point to make it 20-12 Dallas with 12:50 to go. The Rams continued their comeback as third string quarterback
Austin Davis led an excellent drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown run fromChase Reynolds.
The extra point made for the final margin as the Rams couldn’t get it back and Dallas ran out the clock.
Now, it’s back to the drawing board for the final preseason game coming Thursday against Baltimore at the Edward Jones Dome.
Just like after the loss to Indianapolis in the preseason opener, the Rams will look to bounce back with a strong performance at home that they can carry into the regular season.
“I think that’s the challenge,” Bradford said. “I think coach Fisher challenged us with that tonight. With it being a short week, it means we have got to come in there tomorrow with the right mindset, look at the tape, learn from our mistakes and the two or three opportunities we have to make sure every rep is done well and get the most out of all of them.”

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