The St Louis Rams' home opener vs the Green Bay Packers was treated as little more than a padded practice by Jeff Fisher and the coaching staff, but even with low expectations the level of execution - or lack of it - was irksome for the paying fans in attendance. It was a sloppy contest with many large-yardage plays given up on both sides, but little in the way of scoring until the reserves to the reserves came in.
The story of the day was supposed to be the home debut of the Tavon Austin electric light show, but his performance lacked juice. Those who have seen the Rams practice list Austin as a sure-fire breakout candidate, a front-runner for offensive rookie of the year. So fans who have only seen his play in two preseason games -- in which he has been targeted 8 times and gained a Shurmur-esque 28 yards -- can be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about.
Here are a few observations on his inauspicious showing:
- The Packers solved the problem of "who covers Tavon" by not putting a man on him, at least until the Rams got down into goal line territory. Instead, they set up a "Tavon zone," letting Bradford find him for underneath stuff short of the sticks, and sending bodies to converge on him there. It was smart, punishing defensive strategy that was most evident on the Rams' failed 4th down conversion in the 1st quarter. Schottenheimer and Bradford will have to learn to recognize this defensive tendency and defeat it by looking elsewhere for singled-up receivers. They will be there.
- Down at the goal line, Austin and Givens ran a beautiful rub route that was easily his best-executed route of the game, and entirely shook free of his defender. Unfortunately, Bradford threw a ball that 6'4" Brian Quick would have had to reach for ... as it was, it way overshot the 5'8" Austin. An easy touchdown opportunity lost.
- Tavon didn't help himself when he had the ball by running east-west a lot more often than north-south. This will happen with "space" players trying to find big-play lanes, but he needs to curb that tendency. Everyone is fast in the NFL, and those lanes close up in a hurry.
- There was a lot of howling at the refs for failing to throw a flag for defensive pass interference on a key Tavon route. I actually think they were correct not to, because Tavon initiated the contact by hesitating as the ball came his way. Like a post-up jump shooter, he was intentionally trying to draw the foul while also trying to make the play. If he had simply run his route, the defender has no play on the ball where Sam put it.
- Oh, and Tavon got flagged for holding to erase a very good Daryl Richardson outside run. Said D'Marco Farr, always looking for the silver lining, "I didn't know Tavon was strong enough to hold."