Rams Report Card: Special teams flunk

2012-11-12T14:10:00Z 2012-11-13T10:00:50Z Rams Report Card: Special teams flunkBY JEFF GORDON stltoday.com

Here are the grades for the St. Louis Rams after their exasperating 24-24 tie with the 49ers at San Francisco:

QUARTERBACK: Sam Bradford (with fourth-down help from slick-passing punter Johnny Hekker) marched the Rams for a late touchdown, completing 7 of 8 passes on that drive. Then he threw an 80-yard bomb to Danny Amendola in overtime. Sadly, an illegal formation penalty erased that clutch play. Bradford later moved the Rams into position for rookie Greg Zuerlein’s game-winning 53-yard field goal . . . but a penalty wiped that out, too. Amid all the bumbling around him, Bradford stood tall while completing 26 of 39 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 104.1 passer rating. This should have been his graduation day, but circumstances beyond his control prevented that.

Grade: A

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RUNNING BACK: Steven Jackson (101 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries) and Daryl Richardson (58 yards on seven carries) did terrific work against a strong 49ers defense. Jackson added 26 yards on two catches, but Richardson dropped an easy swing pass. No. 3 running back Isaiah Pead even got involved with a late catch. Rams backs had some excellent pick-ups in coverage and fullback Brit Miller helped Bradford by scooping up a fumbled snap.

Grade: A

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RECEIVERS: Danny Amendola came back from his shoulder injury and caught 11 passes for 102 yards. He was headed toward NFL Offensive Player of the Week honors until a penalty erased that overtime bomb. Oft-maligned rookie Brian Quick used his strength to beat press coverage and score on an early 36-yard reception. Second-year receiver Austin Pettis got free for a late TD pass in the fourth quarter. Even veteran back-up Steve Smith caught a couple of passes. But that devastating illegal formation penalty appeared to be the result of a wideout (Brandon Gibson) lining up incorrectly. That left Rodger Saffold uncovered at left tackle and Saffold did not report as an eligible receiver. Rookie deep threat Chris Givens sat out the game after violating team rules. That was a big and needless subtraction.

Grade: B

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TIGHT ENDS: Lance Kendricks delivered some home-run blocks – including one on Jackson’s TD -- and also caught three passes for 48 yards. Many fans wrote him off after a difficult season, but Kendricks is progressing nicely.

Grade: A

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OFFENSIVE LINE: Saffold’s comeback from his knee injury paid big dividends. The Rams piled up 458 offensive yards in the marathon and put the team in position to win it several times. They ran for 159 yards on 4.3 yards per carry. On the other hand, the O-line allowed two unblocked sacks up the middle, including one late. And untimely penalties (like that late holding call on center Robert Turner) somewhat diminished a strong performance.

Grade: B

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DEFENSIVE LINE: Second-year defensive end Robert Quinn and rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers each earned a sack and split a third. Defensive end Chris Long (one sack, two quarterback hits) and defensive tackle Kendall Langford (tackle for loss, two quarterback hits) were also active. But the 49ers offensive line leaned on the Rams defensive front when it mattered, scoring 17 fourth quarter points.

Grade: C

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LINEBACKERS: Outside linebacker Mario Haggan came back from his thigh injury to earn a fumble-forcing sack, but the Rams failed to recover it. Outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar delivered a kill shot on Alex Smith, but he had less success chasing around fill-in 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick – who scrambled for 66 yards while rallying the 49ers. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis whiffed on Frank Gore (115 yards from scrimmage) a couple of times while failing to fill gaps. Overall, though. the Rams played five quarters and allowed just 343 yards on the road. 

Grade: B

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SECONDARY: With rookie Janoris Jenkins inactive after violating team rules, rookie Trumaine Johnson stepped onto the spot. Smith completed 7 of 8 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown (at the expense of safety Craig Dahl) and a 143.8 passer rating before bowing out. The scrambling Kaepernick mostly threw the ball underneath, so assessing the Rams pass coverage is difficult. The Rams blew some coverages on Kaepernick's watch but got away with those mistakes. Also, this unit needed to be stronger in run support.

Grade: C

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SPECIAL TEAMS: OK, so where do you start with this unit? Linebacker Justin Cole erased a big Amendola punt return with an obvious blocking-in-the-back penalty. On one hand, Hekker had a 13-yard punt, his first big shank of the year. On the other hand he completed two passes on fake punts. Pead coughed up a kickoff return to fuel San Francisco’s game-tying comeback. Zuerlein hit a 27-yard field goal and nailed what would have been the OT game-winner . . . but the Rams failed to get the play off in time. Then he missed the 58-yarder. Ultimately the massive mistakes offset the big plays and prevented the Rams from winning.

Grade: F

COACHING: How did the Rams fail to kick the potential game-winning field goal before the play clock expired? The offense was playing for the field goal, so everybody knew it was coming. The Rams had a timeout left, so somebody on the sideline needed to react when the clock wound down. That was just one of the myriad mental mistakes that cost this team a hard-fought victory. Jeff Fisher used a timeout to set the stage for the late go-head TD, but that resulted in the Rams scoring too quickly. (Although, in fairness to Fisher, it was a big deal they scored the six at all. Red zone offense hasn’t been a strong suit.)

Credit the coaches for inspiring a spirited performance, but blame the coaches for the wholesale sloppiness nine games into the season. Mind-boggling assortment of breakdowns offset some tactical genius, like the two successful fake punts. Although hardly anybody thought the Rams could win this game, they came away feeling like they blew it. Young players will make mistakes, but veteran coaches must remain focused under duress.

Grade: D

Jeff Gordon

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Jeff Gordon

This is the new home for STLtoday.com sports columnist Jeff Gordon. Here you'll find his columns on the Cards, Rams, Blues and more, plus his daily "Tipsheet" blog about who's in and who's out in the world of sports.

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