Here are the grades for the St. Louis Rams after their 17-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night at the Edward Jones Dome.
QUARTERBACK: Sam Bradford threw two nice touchdown passes. He scrambled to his left in the red zone and located tight end Lance Kendricks to give the Rams a quick 7-0 lead. Later he heaved a 51-yard bomb to speedy rookie Chris Givens that sealed the victory. A lot of bad stuff happened in between, though, including an end zone interception.
The demise of top receiver Danny Amendola caused the Rams passing game to implode. Bradford won’t win many games by completing just 7 for 21 for just 141 yards, so he and his young receivers have lots of work to do.
RUNNING BACK: Steven Jackson recovered from his groin muscle strain, got his old burst back and gained big yardage chunks when the Rams needed them late in the game. He averaged 4.2 yards on his 18 carries, which is where he needs to be. Rookie Daryl Richardson chipped in with a nice 16-yard run. Neither played a factor as a passing target, which was odd, and Richardson had a rough moment in pass protection.
RECEIVERS: Even Amendola had some issues before departing the game. He failed to hang onto a leaping catch that would have put the Rams in scoring position. He sat on a route over the middle as Bradford tried to lead him. After Amendola departed, Givens gained a higher profile and got exposed as a raw rookie. On one play, he fell down running a route as Bradford put the ball right on the money. Then he let an easy pass on a simple crossing route carom off his hands. On Bradford’s interception, rookie Brian Quick didn’t reach the necessary spot in the back on the end zone. He is a long way away from being able to win red zone battles against pro cornerbacks.
But Givens did hang on to the clinching TD catch, Amendola did make a very nice 44-yard catch coming back to the ball and Brandon Gibson showed a nose for the first down mark.
TIGHT ENDS: Lance Kendricks had another of his annoying dropped passes, but he did a very nice job of making himself available to Bradford on his touchdown catch. With Amendola down, the Rams will need Kendricks to step up and become a much bigger part of the offense.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The Arizona defense attacks from every angle and causes much havoc. So the makeshift line’s ability to generally protect Bradford was notable in the pocket. So was the big blocking push the group generated when the Rams absolutely had to run the ball downfield. The offense suffered lengthy lulls in this game, but then it made the plays it needed to make to win. The line did its part to make that happen.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Eugene Sims sat out the game with a concussion, leaving the team without one of its key pass rushers. He missed the party as the Rams overwhelmed Arizona’s offensive line and chased Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb all over the field. Defensive end Robert Quinn had three sacks (including one that forced a fumble) and defensive end Chris Long and defensive tackle Jemelle Cudjo had one each. Defensive end William Hayes recovered a fumble.
This unit sustained steady pass pressure and forced the hapless Arizona linemen to hang on for dear life. The defensive front also did its part to limit the Cardinals' ground game to 2.6 yards per carry. Even Quinn got in on that fun with a key tackle for loss.
LINEBACKERS: Outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar was all over the field making big hits and key plays. The press box statistics credited him with five tackles, three assists, a sack, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and two pass defenses. He was Arizona's worst nightmare. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis had seven tackles, three assists and a sack. These guys did their part to limit Arizona’s ground attack and torment its passing game.
SECONDARY: Maybe a better quarterback would have exploited rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins by delivering a couple of deep balls on time. But Jenkins has amazing recovery skills. He got back to break up pass after pass that seemingly had him beat. He nearly got a "pick six" too -- but Cardinals receiver Larry Fltzgerald grabbed his facemask to break up the play. Veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan had five tackles, including a critical drive-killing sack on a safety blitz. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher earned a hustle sack by chasing Kolb out of bounds on a scramble. Rookie cornerback Trumaine Johnson was also visible in pass coverage. Safety Darian Stewart destroyed running back Ryan Williams with a big hit.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Johnny Hekker did what he could to keep Arizona in the game, punting the ball to the explosive Patrick Peterson again and again. Peterson averaged 15.2 yards on his five returns and he just missed taking one of them back for a late TD. With Amendola knocked out of his punt return duties, Jenkins took over and showed his daring side. He will make that chore exciting. Placekicker Greg Zuerlein did his thing with a key 53-yard field goal that he hit like it was no big deal.
COACHING: Would-be defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can only watch this team play from a safe, league-mandated distance while serving his suspension. But the “D” has taken on the punishing personality of a Williams defense. The Rams are unpleasant to play against. And with each victory this long struggling squad gains more confidence. What a difference coaching makes!