Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 8 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…


St. Louis Rams Steven Jackson looks downfield after making a reception in the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on October 31, 2010. St. Louis won the game 20-10. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

– “If only the Rams could now somehow beat the Saints on Sunday, this would be the greatest sports weekend EVER,” uttered the random St. Louis fan on Friday night after the Cardinals defeated the Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series. How do the previously winless Rams defeat a team in the Saints that just racked up 62 points on the Colts? Well, that’s pretty easy. When you can’t stop Steven Jackson even though you know he’s going to get the ball every down, you lose two turnovers over on your side of the field, and you don’t protect your quarterback, you’re going to lose to most opponents regardless of whether or not they have any wins. The Rams won this game because of Jackson and their defense, which sacked Drew Brees six times and returned one of his passes for a game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. Chris Long absolutely abused Charles Brown, who should have been given more help because he clearly needed it. The Rams clearly haven’t checked out and they’ll continue to fight every Sunday. That was apparent for anyone who saw Jackson flip out on his offensive line late in the second half following yet another false start penalty. What a sweet first win this was for a city that is on cloud nine right now.

– It’s not really shocking that the 2-6 Panthers lost another game. But considering whom they were playing and given that they were 3.5-point home favorites, it was a little surprising to see Carolina go down in flames to Minnesota on Sunday. Christian Ponder’s 102.7 passer rating and 8.4 yards per attempt were both season-highs for the Vikings, who apparently just should have started the kid from Week 1 and bypassed acquiring Donovan McNabb altogether. Ponder threw for 236 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-28 passing while earning his first career win thanks in large part to Olindo Mare’s inability to hit a 31-yard chip shot. The miss, which came with under a minute left to play, cost the Panthers an opportunity to force overtime. Good thing Carolina GM Marty Hurney spent so much money on Mare this offseason. Dude was totally worth it.

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Receiver and defensive backfield just two of many issues for Rams

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 13:  Laurent Robinson #11 of the St. Louis Rams carries the ball during the game against the Seattle Seahawks on September 13, 2009 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Rams 28-0. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Merry preseason, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the woeful Rams and their concerns at receiver and in the defensive backfield.

When a team earns the right to select at the top of the draft, it’s easy to spot its holes.

And the Rams have a lot of holes.

Outside of running back Steven Jackson and a linebacker corps led by second-year player James Laurinaitis, the Rams have issues at nearly every position. The hope is that young players like Sam Bradford, Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith and Chris Long will step up in due time, but it’s going to be a while before guys like Bradford are ready to make major contributions.

The receiver and defensive backfield are currently the team’s two biggest weaknesses heading into the new year. Wideout was already a concern before Donnie Avery went down to a season ending injury and now that they won’t even have him, the Rams have an even bigger hole at the position.

I’ve been very high on Laurent Robinson since he came into the league as a third round pick of the Falcons in 2007. But despite flashing his potential on occasion, he’s been a dud due to injuries. He caught 13 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown in his first four games last year, then suffered an injury that shelved him for the rest of the season. With Avery out, he has the opportunity to be the No. 1 guy but can he stay healthy for 16 games? He hasn’t yet.

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2009 NFL Preview: #31 St. Louis Rams

Check out all of our 2009 NFL team previews.

Offseason Additions: Jason Brown (C); James Butler (CB); Kyle Boller (QB); Billy Bajema (TE).

Offseason Losses: Torry Holt (WR); Orlando Pace (OT); Pisa Tinoisamoa (LB); Nick Leckey (C); Anthony Becht (TE); Fakhir Brown (CB); Jason Craft (CB); Dane Looker (WR); Brett Romberg (C).

Player to Watch: Laurent Robinson, WR.
The Rams acquired the former third round pick from Atlanta this offseason and thus far, he has impressed. He’s already solidified the No. 2 receiver position across from Donnie Avery and could emerge as the Rams’ top playmaker in their passing game. At 6’2, 194-pounds, Robinson has excellent size, speed and has demonstrated this summer that he can catch the ball in traffic. Injuries forced him out of Atlanta, but he’s making a name for himself in St. Louis and could become a household name by the end of the season.

Team Strength: In the past three years, the Rams have invested two first round picks in their defensive line and with the guidance of former Giants’ defensive guru Steve Spagnuolo, the unit could become a strength this season. Of course, that will depend on whether or not former second overall pick Chris Long can take the next step in his development and if former ’07 first round pick Adam Carriker can stay healthy. Defensive ends tend take a couple years to develop, but Long has the drive and tenacity to inevitably succeed. Although he’s getting long in the tooth, Leonard Little still brings plenty to the table as a pass rusher and could help free up Long to make plays on the other side. Assuming Carriker and Little can stay healthy and Long blossoms in his second year, the D-line could be one of the few positives for the Rams this season.

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Are the Rams the NFL’s sleeper team of ’09?

Mike Tanier of the New York Times must have been hitting the sauce the past couple days, because he’s suggesting that the Rams will be one of the NFL’s surprise teams in 2009.

It turns out that Spagnuolo isn’t the only reason for optimism in St. Louis. Many statistical indicators suggest that the Rams are close to rising again. One is their fumble recovery percentage: the Rams forced 17 fumbles last year but recovered just 5, a sign that with better luck and a dose of Spagnuolo’s coaching, their defense will create a few more turnovers.

The Rams were one of the worst teams in the league in red zone running, and it takes only a slight improvement in that area to make a big difference on the scoreboard. The Rams lost many of their starters to injuries in 2008 and can get better just by getting healthier.

One other major factor works in the Rams’ favor: their division. The Seahawks are rebuilding. The 49ers haven’t had a winning season since 2002. The Cardinals won the conference, but they are no powerhouse. With a few slight improvements, the Rams could easily go 4-2 or 5-1 against the N.F.C. West. Those wins alone would give them their best record in three years!

I like the direction of this team under Spagnuolo more than I do Scott Linehan, but this is still a bad football team, even in a weak division.

Steven Jackson is a beast, but the Rams’ offensive line is brutal (remember that Jason Smith hasn’t taken a snap in the NFL yet) and Marc Bulger checked out years ago. He plays with zero passion and even if he were into the games, the offensive line will get him stomped anyway. The defense has some nice young pieces to build around in Chris Long, Ron Bartell, Adam Carriker and James Laurinaitis, but there are still a ton of holes on that side of the ball, too.

Will the Rams be improved in ’09? Maybe. Will they be a sleeper? Pass me whatever Tainer is drinking and I’ll let you know.

2008 NFL Draft re-do

Don Banks of decided to re-do the 2008 NFL Draft after what we know now. (I.e. Matt Ryan is a freak.)

Matt Ryan1. Miami Dolphins (Original Pick: Jake Long, OT, Michigan)
Chad Pennington has been superb, and Chad Henne is locked and loaded as the Dolphins quarterback of the future. But Ryan is in the midst of one of the greatest seasons ever by a rookie quarterback, and you don’t pass on that given a second chance. Just like Ben Roethlisberger in our inaugural re-draft of 2004, Ryan shoots to the top of the heap.

2. St. Louis Rams (Original Pick: Chris Long, DE, Virginia)
You think Flacco lingers to No. 18 on the board this time around? Uh, no. It’s a quarterbacks league, and while I’m not sure anyone could win in St. Louis about now, Marc Bulger sure isn’t getting it done. The list of teams that wished it had believed in Flacco last spring is getting longer all the time.

3. Atlanta Falcons (Original Pick: Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College)
Without the Falcons getting their quarterback in this slot, they would turn to their need at left offensive tackle, where they took USC’s Sam Baker after trading back into the first round at No. 21. Long, Ryan Clady and Duane Brown have all excelled at LT this year, but the ex-Wolverine has been a solid pro.

4. Oakland Raiders (Original Pick: Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas)
We all know Al Davis loves speed, but in Johnson he gets speed that has actually produced as a rookie. McFadden has just one 100-yard rushing game, and that came in Week 2. Johnson has been a spectacular season-long contributor to Tennessee’s overwhelmingly successful running game.

5. Kansas City Chiefs (Original Pick: Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU)
The Chiefs have gotten virtually zero impact out of Dorsey, and they sure could have used some defensive line help to offset the loss of the traded Jared Allen. Long has modest statistics, but his four sacks are a good first step in the right direction. Don’t forget it took Mario Williams until year two to find his groove.

It’s always interesting to look back at the draft every year after most of the regular season has been played out. In April, Glenn Dorsey was arguably the best defender in the draft but as Banks points out, he’s made no impact for the Chiefs. Granted, these players are just 14 weeks into their young careers so a lot could change, but how wrong was everybody (myself included) who suggested the Falcons should have taken Dorsey over Matt Ryan? It would have looked like one of the biggest draft blunders of the year, assuming of course Dorsey was equally ineffective for Atlanta.

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