Here are the grades for the St. Louis Rams after their last-second 27-23 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday afternoon at Ford Field in Detroit
QUARTERBACK: Sam Bradford finished well while posting an solid 104.4 passer rating. He demonstrated excellent touch on his 23-yard TD strike to Brandon Gibson. He marched his team for the go-ahead field goal inside the last two minutes. But he caught a break when teammates scrambled after his fumble and prevented a disastrous turnover; Harvey Dahl ended up with the ball. Had he put some more oomph! into his early bomb to Chris Givens, he could have had an epic statistical game.
RUNNING BACK: Steven Jackson didn’t have a lot to work with. He ran hard but gained just 53 yards on 21 carries. His makeshift line didn’t open up much against the stout Lions front. Jackson was more successful in the passing game, catching four passes for 31 yards. Rookie Daryl Richardson flashed promise (20 yards on two carries) as the change-of-pace back playing ahead of Isaiah Pead.
RECEIVERS: Brandon Gibson took an unfortunate personal foul penalty, then redeemed himself with four catches for 51 yards and a TD. Gibson reminded us that he and Bradford had a pretty good working relationship a couple years back. Danny Amendola was as good as usual (4 catches, 55 yards), but Steve Smith had just one catch for 16 yards and rookies Chris Givens and Brian Quick were non-factors. Givens had a chance to make a big play early, but he didn’t make a strong adjustment on the ball to seal his defender and secure a deep ball from Bradford.
TIGHT ENDS: Lance Kendricks (two catches, 16 yards) and Mike McNeill (one catch, 10 yards) caught the balls that came their way. But they must become a bigger part of the passing game and greater blocking force in the run game.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The starting unit worked together for the first time in this game. When center Scott Wells exited with a foot injury, Fisher had to start moving parts around. Then left tackle Rodger Saffold departed with a head/neck injury. Fortunately, it does not appear to be as serious as it looked on the field. Journeyman Robert Turner, rookie Rok Watkins and newcomer Wayne Hunter found themselves on the spot against a ferocious Lions defensive front. Bradford suffered three sacks and Jackson didn’t have consistent running room. Ill-timed penalties help stifle the offense. Although the makeshift unit suffered some big breakdowns throughout the game, it blocked well enough during the two fourth-quarter scoring drives. Given all its adversity, the line could have played much, much worse.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The Rams went with a lot of three-man rushes, so it’s not shocking that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered just one sack (by Robert Quinn). Defensive end Eugene Sims had a nice pass deflection, but the ball went back to Stafford instead of a teammate. But Detroit’s ground game really handled this unit, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The Rams missed injured defensive tackle Michael Brockers, but it needed to be much better against the veteran Lions offensive line.
LINEBACKERS: Jo-Lonn Dunbar (interception) and James Laurinaitis (six tackles, three assists) were busy, but the Rams needed to do a much better job pass defending the Lion tight ends. Stafford completed 12 passes to that trio. That’s not all on the linebackers, of course, but they did bite on a play-action fake or two. And the Lions did pile up 429 offensive yards between their turnovers. So the Rams will need a lot more from this unit.
SECONDARY: Cornerback Janoris Jenkins saved at least three points with an interception. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan scored six points with his interception. But cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Craig Dahl couldn’t hang onto potential interceptions and overall Stafford lit up the secondary for 355 yards passing. Fletcher did a lot of good things as the nickel back, playing ahead of rookie Trumaine Johnson, but the Lions moved with ease when they needed to score.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Greg Zuerlein crushed field goals from 46 and 48 yards out and buried a 29-yarder too. Punter Johnny Hekker averaged 48.2 yards on his kicks. The coverage teams did allow a 21-yard punt return, but on balance this was a very good day for the unit.
COACHING: Most experts believed the Lions would handle the Rams rather easily. Most fans figured this team would fold as soon as the momentum turned. So this near upset was a notable achievement. Had Fisher and Co. come up with tactical answers for that final Lions drive, this could have been a hallmark victory. Instead, the Rams went soft on defense.