Ladies and gentlemen, your first place St. Louis Rams
Just let that sink in for a minute. First place.
Feels good, doesn't it? To have a first place team again on the football field here in St. Louis? You're damned right it feels good. It feels...right. Like all the world is where it's supposed to be. Like God is in his heaven, and, well, you know the rest.
Okay, so it's just a 2-2 start for the Rams, and the tough part of the schedule is still in the future. Regardless, the St. Louis Rams just beat the Seattle Seahawks for the first time in almost six years, and let's face it: it wasn't just a win. That was an ass kicking.
And sure, maybe the Rams do play in the weakest division in all of football. (In fact, I'm pretty sure they do.) Nonetheless, the Rams were within two, maybe three plays of winning both of their first two games this season, and are now on their first bona fide winning streak since the last time Interpol was really relevant. Under the circumstances, I'm sure you'll forgive me if I seem uncharacteristically upbeat.
Steven Jackson, Steven Jackson, Steven Jackson -- Sorry for the repetition; I thought maybe if I said his name three times, like Beetlejuice, SJ39 would show up at my house and get me some tough yardage. Apparently he doesn't work like movie ghosts. Oh, well.
If you want to tell the story of this game, you have to start with Steven Jackson. That's all there is to it. There actually were other parts of this Rams team which played a bigger role in the victory, and arguably just played better period, but Jackson's gutty performance after missing practice and being considered doubtful to play at all the whole week is the story. Oh, and he passed some guy on the all-time Rams rushing list, too. Oh, I don't remember the dude's name. Something with an F.
You could tell Jackson wasn't at full speed yesterday on a couple of runs where he managed to break through and get big yardage, but just couldn't pull away and blast past the pursuit the way we've seen in the past. So we had to settle for just very good, rather than truly great. I'll still take that any day of the week. And really, the performance on the field was just part of it. What mattered most was seeing Jackson take the field and the boost it gave to his teammates. We've known for a long time that Steven Jackson is a tough guy, and the face of this franchise. What we saw yesterday was just more of that, as he played through pain yet again to lead his team out into battle.
The Defensive Line -- If you have to begin the story of yesterday's game with Steven Jackson, you finish it with the D-line. That was the single best performance I've seen from a Rams defensive line since, well, I honestly don't know when. I'm sure there was a point somewhere during the Greatest Show on Turf years days when the Rams had a front four as good as what we saw yesterday, but damned if I can recall the exact lineup it may have been.
The Rams' defensive line was all over Matt Hasselbeck yesterday, pressuring him and hitting him and just generally getting right in his face all day long, making it a miserable day. James Hall was just flat-out unblockable, collecting three sacks, and both George Selvie and Chris Long garnered half a sack each. Even better than the level of pressure the Rams were able to bring was the way they brought it; this wasn't the result of constant blitz packages and stunts. Just the front four of the Rams alone was enough to consistently put the heat on Hasselbeck. And being able to bring pressure with just four guys, not having to constantly bring extra, is the biggest advantage you can gain out there on defense.
Fred Robbins gets a special mention as well, both for his sack yesterday and his general play to this point in the season. It seemed like a rather minor pickup at the time when the Rams brought him in, but he's been outstanding for the most part this season.
James Laurinaitis -- I honestly don't know what else to say about Laurinaitis at this point. Every week he comes out and puts up a dominating performance, regardless of who the Rams are playing, what they try to do to stop Laurinaitis, or anything else. At this point I'm having a hard time seeing how Laurinaitis hasn't surpassed Patrick Willis in production and has to be considered the best linebacker in the division. Just outstanding.
Mark Clayton -- Seriously, Clayton has been everything the Rams could have possibly hoped for an more. Tremendous acquisition, and really makes you wonder how the Ravens couldn't find a spot for this guy, even after picking up Anquan Boldin.
Bradley Fletcher -- Two weeks in a row with an interception, and another week of just not giving his man much of anything to catch. Fletcher is quickly establishing himself as the Rams' preeminent cornerback, which is impressive considering he plays opposite a pretty good one by the name of Ron Bartell on the other side.
The only thing that concerns me with Fletcher is the physicality of his play. Personally, I love the way he goes about his business, and I think him knocking receivers around a little is a huge part of why he's been so good to this point. But I worry that, at some point, the refs are going to start tightening up how they call Fletcher if he starts to get a reputation for manhandling receivers. I don't know if that would cause a downturn in his production, and if so how much, but I do wonder if he'll start attracting more attention before long. For now, I'll just enjoy watching him shut down any and all comers.
Really, the secondary as a whole should get some credit, playing short-handed and still shutting down the Seahawks' passing game. The only guy they couldn't defense very well was Brandon Stokley, and let's be fair: he's been finding the holes in zone coverage since before most of these guys hit puberty.
Brandon Gibson -- A couple outstanding catches in traffic and the first touchdown reception of the year for Mr. Gibson certainly merits mention in The Good section. Nice work, Brandon.
Special Teams -- I've already gone gaga over the defensive line, so this may sound a little disingenuous, but here goes: the play of the Rams' special teams yesterday, particularly on coverage, was the single biggest reason the Seahawks were unable to put together anything offensively. After getting in Josh Brown's face before the game, Seattle's kickoff returner extraordinaire Leon Washington was held completely in check. He didn't break off a big return all day, and never really even threatened to do so. And Golden Tate, who has done such great work this season bringing back punts? Even less going on than Washington. A special mention has to go to Jerome Murphy, who made one of the great open-field plays you'll ever see wrapping Tate up the second he received a punt. Just a fantastic play. And Donnie Jones continues to cement his place as the best punter in the NFL, dropping bomb after bomb deep into Seattle territory and giving them no chance to bring it out.
Play Calling -- It was creative, it was intelligent, and it was effective. Facing a defense intent on blitzing constantly? Screen play. Beautiful.
Brandon Gibson -- Okay, so I've got him in the Good and Bad sections. Sue me. he did make a couple great catches and haul in a touchdown, but he also continues to be the most drop-happy receiver I've seen in years, and that's not so good. If Gibson had caught all the balls he allowed to clang off his hands yesterday, he would have had a huge game instead of just a good one. Gibson is supposed to be a possession receiver, yet he seems to have completely lost his hands this year. I just don't get it. Very frustrating.
Pass Protection -- I really hate to put this here, because I actually think the offensive line played pretty well overall yesterday, but when you let your quarterback get sacked four times you go in the Bad section. Two of those sacks, though, weren't on the offensive linemen, but instead on tight ends who failed to pick up blitzers. Seattle's defensive scheme is a tough one, I know, and the line held up well for the most part, but there has to be a better job done on recognition and picking up the pressure, especially by the tight ends. Period.
Danny Amendola's Sportsmanship -- No, I'm not ranting about Amendola showing up anyone. I'm ranting about the ridiculous call made against Amendola for spinning the ball after a particularly tough catch on the sideline. Unless he was shouting out something about raping and murdering the families and pets of everyone who's ever wronged him while he spun the ball on the ground that may have been the most pathetic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty I've ever seen. The No Fun League strikes again, I suppose, but the ref who called that should really be ashamed of himself.
Sam Bradford's Interception -- I love Sam Bradford. I mean I really, really love him. I love his presence in the pocket, I love his accuracy, I love the hair clippings I stole out of his garbage a couple weeks back. The guy is just awesome.
We saw him do something yesterday he hasn't done much so far in his NFL career, though: he tried to force it when it just wasn't there. After Bradley Fletcher picked off Hasselbeck and ran it back to the three yard line the Rams had a golden chance to put their heel firmly on the Seahawks' collective throat. Unfortunately, Bradford tried to force a bad throw in to the endzone and promptly gave the ball right back on an interception of his own. It was just the sort of rookie mistake we haven't seen from Slingin' Sam, trying to do too much at a moment when he can smell blood in the water. And honestly, I fully expect it to end up being a net positive for Bradford, as he'll hopefully learn a little something about patience even when you can feel the win. Still, you make that throw and you end up in the Ugly, Sam. Let's not make a habit of it, 'kay?