What a crazy whirlwind. In a span of eight days, the Rams blew a fourth quarter lead in a tough loss at Arizona, renamed Shaun Hill the starting quarterback, and then all but destroyed Peyton Manning and the defending AFC Champion Denver Broncos.
For a fan base wondering when this Rubix’s Cube would come together, Sunday offered a glimpse of damn near perfection. Take away the Janoris Jenkins/Rodney McLeod mishap, and the Rams executed in every phase.
Just about everything is clicking for Gregg Williams’ squad. They’re forcing turnovers, getting stops on 3rd down, and to be blunt, knocking guys out. Safeties T.J. McDonald and McLeod finally seem comfortable in the scheme, flying around while delivering punishing blows. McLeod concussed star wideout Emmanuel Sanders, and McDonald’s huge hit on Andre Caldwell was a microcosm of the game. Alec Ogletree is running around like a mad man. James Laurinaitis rediscovered blitzing. And oh yeah, the defensive line led by three first-round draft picks has reasserted themselves as “Sack City”.
Manning rarely seemed comfortable in the pocket, constantly forcing throws too early. At one point he curled into a fetal position to avoid a huge hit.
How do you stop a player like Peyton Manning? You get him to think about his three neck surgeries. I know this sounds inhumane, but pressure is the only equalizer against a player of Manning’s caliber.
Broncos’ offensive coordinator Adam Gase, limited without running backs Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball, dialed up 57 pass attempts compared to only 10 rushes. The Rams virtually eliminated the Broncos run game, which allowed Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, and Aaron Donald to pin their ears back and attack Manning.
It’s been exactly 365 days (11/17/13) since the last time Manning failed to throw more than one touchdown pass in a regular season game. Ironically, it came against another Missouri-based team, Kansas City.
The gameplan was spectacular, and the execution was a work of art.
Greg Zuerlein booted five field goals including two clutch bombs in the 4th quarter from 53 and 55 yards out. Zuerlein laughed afterwards when asked about kicking in a Dome with the snowy conditions outside.
Johnny Hekker launched precision-guided missiles with four of his six punts landing inside the Denver 20.
Six of the Broncos 13 drives started inside its own 20, and the best field position to start a drive was the Denver 25. The Rams dominated the field position game.
Former Edward Jones Dome janitor Maurice Alexander, active for just the second time this season, delivered two huge hits in coverage. The ensuing drives resulted in a sack to force a punt, and a Trumaine Johnson interception. Credit Alexander for setting the tempo.
Coming in, I had no idea what to expect from Shaun Hill. He last threw a pass in a game on September 7th against Minnesota, and before that it was September of 2012. Hill played great. 12 of his 20 completions went for a first down, he found Kenny Britt for a 63-yard TD strike, and he didn’t turn the ball over.
Britt joked that the time off helped Hill bulk up, thus improving his arm strength.
Tre Mason rushed for a career-high 113 yards on 29 carries. Mason’s success, in large part, was because Hill kept the Broncos secondary from loading the box. He attempted five deep passes (25+ yards downfield), and the lone completion went for a touchdown–and that left a lasting impression.
Hill’s deceptively quick feet extended the play long enough to step up and find a receiver for positive yards on crucial downs. The Rams did a good job continuously getting something on every down.
The offense sustained drives, winning the time of possession battle by 10 minutes and ultimately, scored points on half of its drives (6/12). I’m not implying the ‘Greatest Show On Turf’ beat Denver on Sunday, but the unit did a lot of good things to help the team win. Most importantly, they never helped Denver’s offense.
Obviously going 0-for-3 in the Red Zone is a problem. Personally, I thought Brian Schottenheimer was a bit uncreative (shocker). He opted to pass the football on third down on all three occasions, two of which looked like identical plays.
But, because the defense was so dominant, consecutive field goals eventually made the game a two-possession differential and the clock hit triple digits. Schotty probably owes Coach Williams a round or two.
Admittedly, I’m a Rams homer. People call me delusional for seeing talent on the roster. Hell, each week I write a preview on how the Rams can win. At the end of the day, the record speaks for itself. The Rams are who we thought they were!
But Sunday’s sweet victory over Denver was like a round of golf: for all the duck hooks, chili-dips, and water bombs – there is always that one beautiful, straight bomb that keeps us coming back for more.
Yes the Rams drive me insane. Thankfully it only lasts 16 weeks.
But brighter days are ahead, and Sunday’s old-fashioned beat down was the latest example.
Thanks for reading.
Hill talks about emotions of this game. His 9-month old son, Theo, was in attendance. Theo was named after his dad who was present at his last win in 2011. His dad died tragically after falling from a barn he was working on at Shaun’s Lake of the Ozarks home.