Marc Sanchez will get the headlines, and the Rams' run defense will get a big asterix with the Jets missing three anchors from their offensive line. But it was a hard-fought game from wire to wire, and it turned out as a win -- thanks in large part to the cool-headed play of Keith Null, a great grab by Sean Walker, and a game-saving defensive play by Eric Moore, causing a fumble, and CJ Ah You, batting it back 15 yards in a recovery attempt. We saw strong play in general from the Rams' newest players -- both drafted and undrafted -- all game long. Indeed, indeed, Steven.
PREGAMEJason Brown got on the Rams' pregame radio and reiterated some highly quotable thoughts of his, talking about the two jobs of the offensive line: protect Marc Bulger like he's the Mama, and clear the way for Steven Jackson so he can go to work, like the Pop. He's not only the leader of the offensive line, but hands down the best interview the Rams have had in a long time. Plus, I really like calling Bulger "Mama" for some reason. Tonight's game is the first televised Rams action that we've seen so far on the year, and right from the start the team made a bold statement -- in fashion, anyway. (As if Hollis Thomas didn't look big enough.) On offense, notable non-starter: Jason Smith, still relegated to the second team, and Mike Karney, still nursing a bum wheel. Notable starts: Laurent Robinson and Burton at WR. On defense: Tye Hill was on the field early, but didn't get his name called. Carriker out, Gary Gibson in as expected following AC's ankle. But the big news is that Laurinaitis got the first-team start. Not that he faced strong competition in camp, but he has worked hard for this.
1st QUARTERSomething old, something new. First the new: Rams run defense comes out STOUT, stuffing the Jets' first drive and causing a quick turnover on a speed rush by Little, with James Hall there to pounce on the loose ball. Then, the something old. Despite getting the ball on the doorstep of the red zone, Rams can't muster much of a drive, and settle for a long Josh Brown field goal. But hey. At least it's a lead, right? But the natives start getting restless as our offense stalls. Not that I could blame them, especially when the Jets roar back for a tying field goal -- set up in large part by a Brad Smith 28-yard sweep (enabled by an overcommitted interior run defense unable to pursue to the outside). The Rams continue to struggle with blitz pickups, whether it's Steven Jackson or Ken Darby in the backfield. The Jets were running a 3-4, sending linebackers Calvin Pace or David Harris on nearly every pass play. This is a tactic that we're likely to see the 49ers and Seahawks adopt with their defensive personnel. Like the Jets, both team struggled with consistent pass pressure last season.
2nd QUARTERThe Jets swapped in golden boy (and favorite draft pick of armchair GMs everywhere, from Peter King to the dude down the street) Marc Sanchez, and Sanchez promptly undressed Justin King on a 48-yard fly pattern. The ball dropped in ever so pretty... if only King could have made a play. Neither King nor Wade nor Hill had strong nights, but this was the one catastrophic play of the half, defensively speaking. On the other side of the field, I don't remember hearing Bartell's name once, or de facto #1 WR Jerrico Cotchery for that matter -- most likely, the Jets simply didn't target his side of the field. Didn't need to. Jets score a touchdown on a series of quick passes, and an athletic leap by Thomas Jones. Rams brought five rushers and never once even sniffed Sanchez's hair gel, and he was looking pretty gelled up, too. Chris Long earned a mention in Sando's first half observations -- for getting handled easily on these rushes. Not the kind of mention you want. Happy enough with what they saw, the Jets pulled Marc Sanchez ... and you might consider this the end of the first-team on first-team observations. The Rams had about half of their first-team defense still on the field, and for the Jets, Sanchez is going to be the guy sooner rather than later. Definitely some flies in the buttermilk at this point. But before we close the book: Rams get another field goal, and yet another (this one with Boller at QB, and Jason Smith in at right tackle) as the Jets renew their commitment to running the ball -- right into Darell Scott and the teeth of the Rams defensive front. Rams are not playing consistently excellent, but they do seem to be picking each other up and playing with energy. Even a total mental collapse by Derek Stanley on a punt return didn't slow the team. Halftime: 10-9 Jets. A damn sight better than the 40-0 score at the half in last season's matchup, flaws and all.
3rd QUARTERBoller came out of the halftime tube having completed 3 of 6 passes ... again he took snaps, and misfired on each of his throws the rest of the way. Some were intentional, avoiding sacks, but a couple were simply poorly thrown. He has much better legs than Bulger -- useful on rollouts, do-or-die plunges on fourth-and-1s, or even setting lead blocks for his running backs -- but the arm accuracy leaves a lot to be desired. However, on the play of the day, all he did was take the snap and give it to Samkon Gado, who burst through a hole cleared by Mark Setterstrom and lead blocker Jerome Johnson, and raced untouched for 77 yards. (Relive the moment on NFL.com video) Gado, Antonio Pittman and Chris "Silent G" Ogbonnaya each had strong opening auditions for the backup running back job, while Chris Darby got turnstiled in blitz pickups, and run behind Alex Barron into a cloud of dust. Not a good night for Darby, to be sure. Pittman had his standout play the next drive -- no, not the 20-yard run in the second quarter, but the heads-up strip of the ball while playing punt coverage on special teams. Should have been a fumble recovery, as Jonathan Wade was first to the ball ... but he had the end zone in his eyes and tried (and failed) to pick it up on the fly. It turned into a costly missed opportunity, as the Jets storm up the field for a field goal behind a big run from third round pick Shonn Greene. aside from Brad Smith's sweep and Thomas Jones' one-yard TD dive (that was nearly a goal line fumble), this was the only significant play given up by the run D. It's worth mentioning that Jason Smith has been playing this whole time, and completely swallowed up the Jets' first round pick from last season, Vernon Gholston. Nothing new there, Gholston has been a bust so far, but Smith looked beastly in the process.
4th QUARTERAs the game gets messier and the players more desperate to show something to the coach, a few individuals stood out:
- Safety Todd Johnson and rookie CB Marcus Brown got badly crossed up on a pass coverage play, leaving Clowney wide open deep for a dramatic touchdown. Johnson was up toward the box, thinking run, and completely unable to switch gears when Brown handed off coverage on the streaking Jets receiver.
- Bradley Fletcher made consecutive strong plays in coverage, and generally looks to be the kind of player who's comfortable getting inside the receiver's shirt. He did get burned for one PI penalty, though.
- Keith Null relieved Brock Berlin after a nasty hit left Berlin motionless on the field for a few beats. Null delivered the goods with a crisp third down conversion, and a sweet connection with the well-covered Sean Walker in the end zone. Both receiver and QB made the adjustment, putting the pass inside the defender's inside shoulder, where he had absolutely no chance at making a play.
- Hollis Thomas had been on the field nearly the entire half ... and looked completely gassed in the 4th. I don't know if it would have been better or worse to run him on and off the field. Makes me wonder how many snaps per game we can expect?
- Chris Ogbonnaya has really smooth receiving hands and nice open field presence. He's probably still the long shot to replace the incumbent Pittman, but he has a chance to be a nice player. Especially if he can pick up the blitz!