Against a Dallas team missing a lot of quality in its starting line-up (DeMarcus Ware, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten) Rams fans probably expected a closely contested game. However, don’t be fooled by the final score here. When the seconds and thirds put a little gloss on the scoreboard the end result was anything but. So easy was it was for the Cowboys and so quickly did the coaches get Tony Romo the workout he needed, he was withdrawn before the end of the first quarter with the score 17-3 in the home team’s favor.
As we’ll go into in far more detail below, there was also a diametrically opposite performance from Sam Bradford to take in. If the Rams are to take maximum advantage of some good offseason acquisitions he’ll need to play markedly better.
St. Louis Rams – Three Things of Note
1) Bradford on the Brink
The Rams last drive of the second quarter pretty much summed up both their evening and Sam Bradford’s. Against a combination of the Cowboy’s first and second string defenders they managed, by a combination of a fake punt, decent running by seventh round rookie Daryl Richardson and an offsides penalty, to move from their 18 to the Dallas nine before Sam Bradford threw incomplete three of the next four downs. Bradford’s total contribution to that drive: 10 passes, 3 completions, 20 yards and zero first downs.
He was pressured early in the game but just about held it together, making a good throw to Lance Kendricks for 26 as the first quarter wore on. However, it was just after that his problems began; he led Kendricks into a couple of defenders and then started to hurry his throws and become inaccurate even at short range. On a number of occasions he overthrew his receiver when they were barely five yards downfield.
This was not a totally dreadful display, he didn’t throw any dangerous passes, but it was a very poor one and certainly one of the worst by any quarterback so far in this week’s games. I accept it was against a pretty formidable defense but without DeMarcus Ware or otherwise he simply has to do better.
2) Jenkins’ Bad Day
So far the reviews of Janoris Jenkins’ play have been favorable but is not the case in this game. The first quarter was an unmitigated disaster for him and he was replaced by fellow rookie, third rounder, Trumaine Johnson early in the second period.
It started when he lost back-side contain on a running play and only got worse thereafter. With 12:34 remaining he was beaten immediately off the line by Kevin Ogletree, slipped trying to find his feet and gave up a 25 yard reception. On the next series he got confused by his assignment and gave slot receiver, Dwayne Harris, the opportunity to run away with an easy 61 yard touchdown. Later, his tackling was brought into question when he missed Ogletree on a hook and finally (and perhaps most horribly) appeared to be looking the other way in trying to tackle Harris down the left sideline who then ran in for another six points.
The Dallas scorers, perhaps presciently, had made Bradley Fletcher the starter at RCB on the gamebook, despite Jenkins being there from the start, but if this type of display continues expect them to be more accurate going forward.
3) Tough Old Gut
This was a depressing display by the Rams but there were at least a couple of bright spots filling the middle of the defensive line. We told you at the time Kendall Langford was a good pick-up and he’s proving us correct. He made life tough for the interior of the Cowboys line with two hurries and a relentless approach to stopping the run. He’s a consistently good player who isn’t flashy but rarely gets beaten and it looks like his inside pairing with first rounder, Michael Brockers, will rapidly become one of the better sets in the league.
The rookie did pretty well himself, forcing a couple of hurries as well and also showed his maturity and game sense when, invited inside by Nate Livings on a speed draw, held back and made the tackle for no gain.
Dallas Cowboys – Three Things of Note
1) Sporting Vignette
This was an excellent performance by Tony Romo. Missing his three top receivers and hurried on more than half his throws, he still looked in control even when scrambling around to complete passes. Of his four incompletions one was thrown away, two were dropped (although in both cases the passes could have been more sympathetic) and on only one occasion did he overthrow his man.
This is his talent; to look completely brilliant for stretches of the game only then to implode with throws remarkable for both their “bolt from the blue” nature and utter stupidity. There was none of that in this game as he was withdrawn early but there is a feeling I have, based on no evidence at all, that those throws could be a thing of the past and this may well be his year to take the next step.
2) Line of Thought
I have a view that the offensive line of the Cowboys, whether playing poorly or otherwise, draws more column inches than any other OL in the league. The current Bears unit may push them close but if Jay Cutler starts getting rid of the ball a couple of tenths of a second quicker, they’ll become old news quickly. That will never happen in Texas, where talk of a centers ability in the shotgun can almost become back page news.
So how is this revamped unit faring so far? I’d say about as well as you can expect when not a single player is back in the same position they occupied the year before. That’s a massive amount of change so it’s not surprising they leaked pressure with such regularity or got beaten so often in one on one situations. Honestly, the Rams have a good defensive line for 2012 and every member of the Dallas starting line-up had some issues. New LT, Tyron Smith, gave up three pressures and was beaten twice in the running game, while LG, Nate Livings (the best of the bunch) allowed only a single hurry. Stand-In center , David Arkin gave up three hurries; a huge amount for a center in one half of football, while RG, Mackenzy Bernadeau was OK in pass protection but struggled to contain his man blocking for the run. Finally Doug Free, after getting beaten terribly on the first play of the game, inside, by Chris Long, did manage to sort things out later, it was scant consolation when taken in the round.
On paper this group should be better than last year but they need time to gel and it’s unlikely Jason Pierre-Paul and the rest of the Giants will be doing them any favors in ten days time.
3) Lee’s Defense
It’s possible there will always be comparisons between Sean Lee and his ex-teammate at Penn State NaVorro Bowman. Lee was picked a round ahead of Bowman but so far it’s the 49er who has shown himself to be the superior player. That’s not to say Lee has been poor; far from it but when their respective bodies of work are looked at side by side, All-Pro Bowman has been on another level.
However, this year, things may be different. Long-standing veterans Bradie James and Keith Brooking are gone and Lee has become the clear leader, not just of the linebacker’s, but the defense itself.
Last year, he was forced to play the last half of the season in a cast due to a broken wrist. If this game is anything to go by he’ll be much improved this year. He picked up pressure on an early blitz, filled a well made hole, avoiding a pulling guard to make the tackle and also maintained close coverage on a Kendricks whip route to defend the pass.
It’s this ability in all these facets of the game that make him a superb player but it’s leadership skills that will stand him apart and possibly stop the comparisons to Bowman too.