First Impressions – Titans @ Rams

| August 22, 2011

St. Louis’ second half defense coupled with a game winning drive by Thaddeus Lewis propelled the Rams to a second straight preseason victory. After the first half, the Rams’ defense look demoralized from getting steam-rolled on the ground.  Making the necessary adjustments to pin their ears back and get the job done, they pitched a second half shutout that gave Josh Brown the opportunity to kick the game winning field goal as time expired.
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Tennessee was also looking for their second straight preseason victory, but the inability to convert three into six haunted the Titans all night. The majority of the first half belonged to Tennessee, but when Matt Hasselbeck left the game, so did their offensive efficiency.
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St. Louis – Three Things of Note
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● The Rams’ secondary looked like the strongest defensive unit they fielded Saturday night. Bradley Fletcher showcased his ability to put the Titans receivers on lock down. Fletcher, along with the rest of the starters, played the majority of the first half. Fletcher did two things particularly well: he effectively jammed Tennessee’s receivers off the line and played the ball well while in the air; finishing the night with two passes defended. St. Louis’ secondary only gave up one reception to the Titans’ wide receivers through two quarters. James Butler chipped-in with a second-half interception, showing that he can still make plays when given the opportunity.
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● It was nice to see what offensive play caller Josh McDaniels can bring to the table. All offseason, Rams fans heard that McDaniels would bring an explosive vertical passing game to St. Louis that will stretch the field and keep the eighth defender out of the box. Week 1 of the preseason looked eerily similar to Pat Shurmur’s dink-and-dunk-fest from 2010. But not to fear, Week 2 arrived and the Rams’ first play from scrimmage was everything McDaniels promised. A perfectly-executed, 83-yard, play-action bomb that allowed Brandon Gibson to walk in the end zone untouched was one way to make a statement. Not to mention, it put to rest any talk of Gibson being too slow to stretch the field.
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● Even with a “W” notched, there’s plenty to clean up before the eleventh of September. The Rams were absolutely dominated at the point of attack on both sides of the ball. Chris Johnson’s absence didn’t seem to affect Tennessee’s running game at all. They still managed to grind out over 190 yards on the ground. St. Louis’ pass rush was one of their bright spots from a year ago, but their play has been underwhelming in these first two weeks. They only managed one sack on Tennessee’s quarterbacks.
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Tennessee – Three Things of Note
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● Go ahead and do me a favor, remember the name Jamie Harper. Yes, it’s only preseason and I know it’s easy to get carried away with players in meaningless games, but I tend to add a little more merit when a player jumps out at me and he is running with the 1’s. Harper could easily become a guy who will be given plenty of carries if Johnson’s holdout continues, but even if Johnson does comeback sooner rather than later, Harper has the ability to cut into Javon Ringer’s snaps. The rookie fourth-round pick is dynamic when the ball is in his hands. One play in particular stands out; with 5:04 left to play in the first quarter, on a designed cutback, Harper baited the defense one way and as soon as the they swayed, he busted out for 46 yards the other direction.
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● Cortland Finnegan is a guy looking to have a bounce-back year after a dismal 2010 campaign. The Titans’ new coaching staff is trying to find new, effective ways to utilize Finnegan’s strengths. It was intriguing to see him blitzing from the nickel corner spot, something you rarely saw from the previous staff. Finnegan recorded a sack early in the game and had a couple more pressures from the nickel as the game went on. Tennessee consistently brought pressure from all over, which could be an early indication of them being more of a blitz-heavy team under Mike Munchak. Not only did Finnegan blitz effectively, but he also flashed good balls skills. On Sam Bradford’s first quarter interception, Finnegan tipped the ball away from Mike Sims-Walker (the intended receiver) popping it into the air and allowing Alterraun Verner to come down with it. The Titans went on to convert the turnover into six points.
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● By looking at the box score it would have been thought that Tennessee was the better team. And, sure, on paper they might have been, but they faltered where it mattered most: in the red zone. Tennessee found themselves in threatening the goal three times and converting just one of those tries into a touchdown. Head Coach Mike Munchak said it best “Offensively, if you go by the stats we rushed for 200 yards, we were good on third downs, but again it comes down to finishing drives in the red zone. Field goals come back to a haunt you when you kick a lot of field goals.”
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Even though, St. Louis came out on top, their offense appeared to make strides in the passing game, but regressed in the run game. At the same time, their defense impressed in coverage, but failed to do so against the run. With two more weeks to iron things out before the regular season, Tennessee will hope to see Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt get back on the field. Their presence alone gives the Titans the ability to be more efficient and consistent at sustaining drives and putting points on the board.
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