In the first half of Sunday's 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the St. Louis Rams could do little right. In the second half, they flipped the script and nearly pulled off an incredible comeback. Accordingly, there are good and bad things the Rams can take away from their trip to Atlanta.
Penalties. A Chris Long offsides kept alive the Falcons opening drive, ultimately resulting in a Steven Jackson touchdown. The Rams forfeited a first and goal in the first half because they weren't lined up correctly. Instead of a touchdown, they settled for a field goal. The Rams special teams committed four penalties, each one pinning the Rams offense deep in their own territory and shrinking Brian Schottenheimer's playbook.
Last season the Rams were the most penalized team in the NFL. With seven penalties in each of their first two games, the Rams are not looking like they'll improve on that much, if at all. Winning teams don't give their opponents fresh sets of downs. Winning teams don't put their offense behind the eight ball and make them go the length of the field.
The Rams have enough to overcome with their youth and inexperience. Adding penalties to the equation won't bode well in the tough NFC West. Jeff Fisher must get this cleaned up immediately.
Dropped balls. Lance Kendricks dropped a pass in the flat on the Rams' first offensive play. Daryl Richardson's drop resulted in a pick six for Osi Umenyiora. Sam Bradford is maturing as a quarterback, but receivers dropping balls won't help his confidence…and it won't help the Rams beat playoff caliber teams like the Atlanta Falcons.
Offensive playcalling and rhythm. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer needs to recognize the obvious: Sam Bradford excels in a no-huddle offense. It's the style he played in at Oklahoma, and thus far, we've seen him look much more comfortable when the Rams have gone to it. The problem is Schottenheimer has waited until the Rams are behind multiple scores in the fourth quarter to go to it.
The Rams have also been more successful so far using the pass to set up the run, and not vice versa. Again, Schottenheimer must face reality: opposing defenses aren't gameplanning to stop Daryl Richardson. Putting Bradford and the passing game behind the chains only serves to help the defense know what is coming.
By throwing on first down, Bradford has the entire field at his disposal. His check downs are positive yardage and keeps the Rams offense on schedule. When he's throwing on second and third and 10, then he has to force the ball down the field.
Run defense. The Rams owned first down. They didn't do a good enough job in the second half finishing drives and getting Ryan and company off the field, but the Falcons could get nothing done on the ground. Arizona didn't have much luck last week either. This an encouraging trend that will serve the Rams well as the season progresses.
Second half pass rush. Whatever adjustments Robert Quinn and company made at half time, they worked. Matt Ryan will definitely be spending some time in the cold tub this week after all the hits he took. That too is a very encouraging trend, but the Rams need to figure out how to get that pressure for sixty minutes.
Tackling. What was a concern in preseason has been a strength so far in the first two games. Neither Arizona nor Atlanta have gotten big plays off missed tackles. There might be some issues with coverages at times, but the secondary is doing a nice job limiting yards after catch.
Persistence. The Rams have been down by multiple scores in the fourth quarter two weeks in a row. While that's not good (and largely fixable by addressing the list above), the Rams haven't given up. They've shown a lot of heart in their comebacks, even though only one was successful. That will build confidence as the season wears on and could bear fruit should the Rams get in playoff contention or further. I watched what happened to an equally young Indianapolis team last season who started believing early on they were never out of a game.
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