Preseason Week 1:
Vikings (0-0) at Rams (0-0)
August 14, 2010 12:00 CST
Hope for the Saint Louis Rams has been long delayed. So what was a few plays longer?
After an exchange of scoreless series, the Vikings prepared to punt away to the Sam Bradford era, hoping to pin it back inside the ten yard line. Instead, Danny Amendola caught the punt, sidestepped the flailing arm tackle of the gunner, wormed his way up the right sideline then exploded through a seam, needing only to dodge the punter and a late arriving tackler on his way to a 92-yard touchdown score. As the Rams and fans celebrated their first lead of the 2010 season, Hope (as personified by the man wearing #8) remained on the sideline.
The Rams' second-teamers on defense forced the Vikings into a comical sequence of penalties, with the aggressive rushes of Chris Long and George Selvie drawing multiple flags for false starts and holding. (Note to Brad Childress: you need a page in the playbook for 3rd and 38.) And again, Minnesota prepared to punt away to the Sam Bradford era, and again Danny Amendola stood waiting. Only this time, he fumbled Hope away. Sage Rosenfels tossed an easy TD to the unheralded Logan Payne.
And for a third time, the Vikings prepared to kick away as Sam Bradford stood waiting to step into his first NFL huddle. And the Vikings defense licked its chops in anticipation of welcoming the rookie to a man's league.
The scoreboard shows that it didn't go too well for the new era of Hope in Saint Louis. But the scoreboard doesn't show the things that Bradford did well: he calmed his nerves after two jumpy snaps, much as he did in Lindenwood; he threw a rope to Laurent Robinson over the middle and kick started the Rams' longest sustained drive (all 10 plays and 42 yards of it); he avoided several pressures and sacks by throwing the ball away; and most importantly, when he took his first NFL hit (followed shortly by his second, third, fourth and fifth), he bounced right back up and rejoined the huddle.
Aside from the score, here's a quick summary of the good, the bad and the ugly from last night's game:
Chris Long and George Selvie came to play. The Rams played the draft and free agency pretty conservatively, spending most of their resources in shoring up the offense, begging the question of what was going to be done to (1) rebuild the pass rush and (2) strengthen the run defense. If Long and Selvie are any indication, those worries might be calmed.
Chris Long was lost in camp a year ago. He had trouble shedding blocks, and was often frustrated with himself, and frustrating to watch for fans. He looks like a completely different player this year: stronger, faster, and more intimidating to opposing rushers. #72 drew multiple penalties from the lineman opposite him, and registered a sack (nullified by penalty) and multiple pressures despite playing only a quarter and a half.
Meanwhile, the rookie DE George Selvie continued his standout preseason, coming in as a third-down option with the first teamers, then staying in heavy rotation for the rest of the game. Selvie showed a variety of speeds in rushing the passer, and great play recognition and sideline-to-sideline recovery speed. Concerns about his size can be dismissed if he can be this successful against the behemoth Minnesota linemen. He could very well be the steal of the Rams draft.
- Larry Grant was a revelation.It was a bit of a surprise when Larry Grant won the starting job at weakside linebacker after spending last season as the strongside backup, but after watching him make play after play in this game, against the run and the pass, and delivering the hit of the game on special teams, it's easy to see why Coach Spagnuolo likes what he sees in Grant.
- The Rams were flagged only 5 times for 30 yards.
- The Rams offensive line held their own early against Jared Allen and the Williamses ...
...but they completely lost it against the Vikes' second-team DEs. 92 Jayme Mitchell and 96 Brian Robison terrorized the Rams' tackles, beating them consistently to the inside and collapsing the pocket against Bradford. He took multiple hits both from under center and when in the shotgun, illutstrating how poor his protection was. From my seats above the Rams' bench, I had a good view of Robison's variety of stunts and speed moves, which often left Rodger Saffold grasping for air.
Perhaps the bigger problem than the pair of rookies on the edge were the pair of fish out of water playing guard. New signee Hank Fraley was meant to provide veteran presence and depth, but thanks to his complete lack of mobility, he is instead starting at Center. This shifts Jason Brown to right guard, filling in for Jacob Bell (sidelined with an abdominal injury). Adam Goldberg, who held his own at tackle last year, is filling in at left guard. The Rams have to hope that someone on the second team steps up here.
- The Rams offense failed to mount a single scoring drive. 4th-string QB Thaddeus Lewis came the closest, leading the Rams down to the red zone after a pair of completions to Jordan Kent, a couple of decent runs by Keith Toston, and even by running the ball himself when needed. But rather than kick a meaningless field goal down 28-7, Spagnuolo challenged his youngsters to convert a 4th and 10 from the Minnesota 22. Lewis completed a pass to Fendi Onobun short of the sticks, but the young tight end couldn't quite fight for those extra two yards. One Minnesota first down later, the game was over.
- The Rams' secondary gave up tons of big plays and took two more losses to the trainers' room. Already decimated by injuries to Ron Bartell, Justin King and Bradley Fletcher, the Rams lost primary nickel defender Kevin Dockery to a hip contusion (immediately after a pretty terrible play in coverage), and Jerome Murphy to a twisted ankle. Murphy, who dove into the pile trying to recover Danny Amendola's first quarter fumble, will hopefully not be out long. His physical presence in the Rams' defensive backfield has been a bright spot so far this preseason.