Game Notes: Saints 28, Rams 23 -- The Great Leap Forward
Okay, Rams fans, now you should be excited.
Two weeks ago, after the Rams beat the Detroit Lions for their first victory in over a year, I played the role of buzzkill, trying to explain why it wasn't all that encouraging the Rams won. Sure, it was nice to finally erase that big ugly zero from the win column, but there wasn't really anything in the game which made me think the Rams were really starting to turn it around. The Lions are one of the worst teams in football; the Rams are essentially their peers. Of course the Rams should be able to beat a team that bad at times. Play a real team, look good, and get back to me was the message.
This, though, this was.. something else entirely.
On Sunday, the Rams took on one of the best teams in all of football, the New Orleans Saints, who look like the reincarnation of the Greatest Show on Turf most weeks, and guess what? They gave the Saints everything they could handle and had a chance to win the game on the final drive.
Maybe this thing really is headed in the right direction.
I'll be the first to admit, I didn't give the Rams much of a chance going into yesterday's game. The Saints looked like the best team in the NFC; the Rams looked like, well, the Rams. I was kind of expecting a score that looked a bit like something Bill Swerkski's Superfans would have predicted when Ditka was involved. Saints 220, Rams 6, something along those lines.
Instead, the Rams absolutely took it to New Orleans, playing possibly the best game they've played all year on both sides of the ball. They held the Saints to almost ten points less than their season average in scoring; the Rams' 23 points was a season-high. Put simply, the Rams looked not just like a real football team on Sunday, but a pretty good one, to be completely honest.
Steven Jackson, again: Jackson rolled up 131 yards on the ground yesterday, and added 45 more on 9 catches. Another day, another 150+ total yards. Yawn. There's no question at this point Jackson is one of the truly elite players in all of football; he's been a consistent producer on a lousy team the past two seasons, to a level very few backs ever reach. Better yet, he's managed to avoid injury so far this year. He's the best player on the Rams, and it's not remotely close.
The Passing Game: Hallelujah! At last, it looked as if the Rams had some sort of passing game. Marc Bulger actually managed to look a bit like the Bulger of old, tossing a couple touch passes -- especially to Donnie Avery -- that wouldn't have looked entirely out of place in a highlight reel from 2003.
Something I thought was a fantastic idea was using Bulger a bit differently yesterday, getting him outside the pocket on some bootleg plays, and it seemed to pay dividends. The O-line held up nicely, but getting Bulger moving around and giving the Saints an additional aspect to worry over was a huge part of the offense's success, I thought. The Rams simply aren't talented enough on offense right now to be predictable; they're going to have to get creative if they're going to be successful.
Oshiomogho Atogwe: What can I say? He's the defensive version of Steven Jackson for the Rams this year, an elite player stuck in the middle of a large batch of underwhelming. Atogwe's coming-out party was 2008, but this season has really cemented him as one of the better safeties in the league. The hit on Marques Colston that jarred the ball loose just short of the goal line was a classic Atogwe play: not only did he make the play, he showed that nose for the takeaway we've seen so much of the last two years.
The Rest of the Defense: Chris Long has a sack now in two straight games. Does that mean anything? Tough to say, but it's certainly better than talking about how long it's been since he's had a sack, isn't it? James Laurinaitis continues to look like an incredible steal in the second round of the draft, and a future star in this league. The secondary as a whole did a great job holding the Saints to a mere 21 points and picking off Drew Brees twice. Against a lesser offense, that performance yesterday might have come damned close to being a shutout, honestly.