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Rams Report Card: Defensive front seven fails

2011-10-24T12:10:00Z 2011-11-20T01:39:32Z Rams Report Card: Defensive front seven failsBY JEFF GORDON stltoday.com
October 24, 2011 12:10 pm  • 

Here are the grades for the St. Louis Rams after Sunday’s 34-7 loss to the Cowboys:

QUARTERBACK: Seldom-seen A.J. Feeley didn’t embarrass himself as Sam Bradford’s stand-in, completing 20 of 33 passes for 196 yards and an interception. He was at his best in the quick-hit short passing game, getting the ball out quickly to beat the Cowboy pressure. But he and newcomer Brandon Lloyd didn’t get on the same page on key downfield throws and Feeley capped the afternoon with a red zone fail. Overall he was less than horrible under difficult circumstances. GRADE: C-minus.

RUNNING BACK: Another costly turnover by Cadillac Williams – this time at the end of a nice catch-and-run play – undermined the Rams while they were still competitive in the game. Steven Jackson broke loose for a 40-yard run burst and capitalized with a 6-yard touchdown run. Otherwise it was tough going behind an overmatched offensive line: Jackson gained 24 yards on his other 16 carries. GRADE: D.

RECEIVERS: For much of the game they caught what came their way. Lloyd offered a nice upgrade over free-agent bust Mike Sims-Walker, catching six passes for 74 yards. But he, too, failed to make plays in the red zone when the Rams belatedly tried to dress up their score. Rookie Greg Salas (two catches, 33 yards) showed promise again in the Danny Amendola role. Danario Alexander got nothing done (one catch on six targets) and suffered a hamstring strain, perhaps paving the way for Mark Clayton’s activation. GRADE: D-plus.

TIGHT ENDS: One play that worked for the offense: bootleg passes to Billy Bajema and Michael Hoomanawanui. They had a solid receiving day overall, combining for five catches for 64 yards. Rookie Lance Kendricks, who leads the team with 112 yards after catch this season, had no role in the offense Sunday. GRADE: C-minus.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Right tackle Jason Smith’s disappointing career took another painful turn when he suffered a neck strain and possible concussion. Medical personnel carted him off the field carefully and took him to a local hospital for observation. Left tackle Rodger Saffold managed to keep Cowboys star DeMarcus Ware mostly under control, so that was a bright spot. But the group had a predictably hard time against the Dallas defensive front and repeatedly failed to block screen passes. GRADE: D-minus.

DEFENSIVE LINE: The Cowboys are beset by offensive line issues. Their rushing offense was ranked 27th in the NFL. Back-up running back DeMarco Murray was just averaging 3.0 yards per carry this season. Yet the Rams allowed him to rush for 253 yards. They were terrible at the point of attack. The loss of defensive tackle Darell Scott (apparent concussion) exposed their lack of depth in the middle. GRADE: F.

LINEBACKERS: The Cowboys gobbled them up on Murray’s 91-yard run 5 ½ minutes into the game, setting the tone for an extraordinarily long day. Brady Poppinga was a big culprit on that play. He recorded just one assist and no tackles, according to press box statistics, before departing the game in the second quarter with a calf muscle strain. These guys may want to avert their eyes during team video review. GRADE: F.

SECONDARY: Venerable cornerback Al Harris used his strength to tie up Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant on goal-line passing plays. That was a plus. So was his fumble recovery. On the other hand, safety Quintin Mikell and the other defensive backs failed to do damage control on Murray’s explosive runs. Their tackling was atrocious. The loss of cornerback Justin King (groin muscle strain) only made things worse. GRADE: D-minus.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Donnie Jones placed three punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged 47.4 yards per kick. Quinn Porter and Austin Pettis were unexceptional in the return game. The kick coverage was OK. Place-kicker Josh Brown didn’t have much to do. GRADE: B.

COACHING: Steve Spagnuolo was supposed to build this team from the lines out . . . and yet the Rams keep getting manhandled in the trenches, despite heavy investments there. Overall sloppiness remains pervasive six games into this winless season. One example: A defensive penalty for having too many men on the field that extended a key Dallas drive. White flag play-calling continues to limit the offense. One example: After forcing the Cowboys to settle for a long field in the third quarter, the Rams got the ball on their 40-yard line after an errant Dallas kickoff. They trailed 20-7. This was their chance to counter. Jackson carried the ball three times for a single yard. The Rams punted the ball back to the Cowboys and were pretty much done for the afternoon. The death march continued. GRADE: F.

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