NFC West: St. Louis Rams

ST. LOUIS -- Since veteran quarterback Shaun Hill suffered a calf injury late in the opener against Minnesota, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has never budged from his stance on who his starting quarterback is.

According to Fisher, if Hill is healthy, he's the starter, regardless of what Austin Davis does in his stead.

Even after Davis went 30-of-42 for 327 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the Rams' 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Fisher wouldn't waver.

"No, I’ve stood behind that decision,” Fisher said.

Well, it's time for Fisher to reconsider. The Rams enter their bye week at 1-2 and will need every bit of that time to correct the many problems plaguing them. But Fisher should also use that time to sit down with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti and have an honest conversation.

Last week, Davis did enough to earn the trust of the coaching staff to garner another start against Dallas. This week, he did enough to show that he should get a chance to be the starter moving forward. In two starts, Davis is 52-of-71 for 562 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. That's a passer rating of 98.4.

Since the Rams drafted Sam Bradford with the first pick in 2010, Davis' passer ratings in each of the past two weeks would rank as the 14th and 15th best performances in a game by a Rams quarterback, a span covering 67 games. Davis' 327 passing yards is the fifth-highest output by a Rams signal caller in that time.

Anytime a decision has to be made between two quarterbacks or, really, any two players, it comes down to which player gives the team the best chance to win. It's understandable that Fisher would want to stick by the veteran Hill had Davis been pedestrian or worse the past two weeks against subpar defenses. Davis has been better than that. He's been good enough to earn his chance or at least a deeper look than "I've stood by that decision."

When asked why he's been so steadfast in standing by Hill, Fisher has pointed to Hill's strong start against Minnesota in the time before his late first-half interception. Hill is a team captain and a veteran respected by his peers.

But even if Hill is able to return and approximate Davis' performance, it still makes more sense to go with Davis at this point. At 34 and on a one-year contract, Hill's tenure in St. Louis doesn't figure to be a long one.

Davis is 25 and in his third season in the league. Playing Davis allows the Rams to see what they have in him beyond this year while still offering them the chance to stay competitive and win games now.

"I’m not really thinking about it, honestly," Davis said. "I just wanted to come in, play hard for this team and give us a chance to win. This one hurts, we’d like to have gotten the win. Coach Fisher has been pretty clear when Shaun is healthy he’ll be the starter. Until I hear different, that’s my approach."

Given some time to reflect on the upcoming bye week, perhaps Fisher will give it more thought. The conclusion he should reach is that Davis is the best option for this team now while also providing hope for the future.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Much was made of the St. Louis Rams' defense, particularly its pass rush in the weeks and months leading into the 2014 season.

After drafting defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the first round, some even went so far as to question whether the Rams could offer an updated version of the Fearsome Foursome. At minimum, the Rams' marketing and social media teams embraced the hashtag #SackCity.

The nickname SackCity has thus far been surprisingly appropriate. Sack as in one, as in the singular sack the defense has been able to muster in the first three games of the season. That was a sack credited on further review to Donald last week against Tampa Bay. There was another that the league took away upon further review in Week 1 against Minnesota.

That would have been an improvement over what the Rams got Sunday in a 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in which they blew an early 21-0 lead. Yes, the Rams managed 31 points (seven credited to the defense) and still found a way to lose the game.

"I just feel like you look at the board, you see 31 points and our defense, you think about a win," defensive tackle Michael Brockers said.

To be sure, it's not only the pass rush or the front four at fault for what took place at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday. Every level of the defense is responsible for the onslaught of points that rained down on the Rams in the second half.

But we can begin with the pass rush, the area the Rams were relying on most entering the season.

For the first time all season, the Rams were playing with a big lead and doing well enough against the run to put Dallas in third-and-long situations. To a pass-rusher, third and long is the football equivalent of a green light. The Rams figured to finally have a chance to feast. They didn't.

Yes, the Rams miss cornerstone bookend Chris Long and were facing one of the better offensive lines in the league but they did not register a sack for the second time in three contests.

"We had opportunities to get Romo down today," end William Hayes said. "There were a couple of times where it looked like he was ready to go down and they would make a play at the last minute. On those plays, we have just got to capitalize on it."

Dallas was just one-of-four on third down in the first half but as it made its second-half comeback in which it outscored the Rams 24-10 over the final 30 minutes, the Cowboys began moving the chains even in the most dire situations.

Quarterback Tony Romo and the offense hit on four-of-six third downs in the second half, including consecutive conversions from 13 and 14 yards away. On third-and-13 early in the fourth quarter, Romo scrambled for 16 yards, shaking loose linebacker Alec Ogletree to keep the drive moving. Three plays later, on third-and-14, Romo hung in the pocket for what seemed an eternity before hitting receiver Terrance Williams for 20 yards and another first down.

The Cowboys finished the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Williams on third-and-2 to take a 27-24 lead they would not relinquish.

Linebacker James Laurinaitis was among the many defenders left searching for answers.

"I wanted to rip my head off, to be honest with you," Laurinaitis said. "I wish I had an iPad playbook right here so I could watch them with you and tell you how I really feel. I don’t know what happened."

That's become a familiar refrain in the first three weeks from a group that boasts plenty of early-round draft picks and high-priced contracts. The Rams were built to lean on their defense to win games. On Sunday, it was the reason they lost.

Jared Cook blames himself for loss

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
ST. LOUIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 34-31 loss to Dallas:
  • Cook
    Rams tight end Jared Cook had what should have been an easy 10-yard touchdown slip through his hands early in the fourth quarter, leaving the Rams to settle for a field goal. Instead of a 28-20 lead, the Rams took a 24-20 advantage. Cook's frustration with himself boiled over on the sideline when he shoved quarterback Austin Davis, who had come over to help him settle down after the drop. Defensive end William Hayes stepped in and yelled at Cook in an attempt to defuse the situation.

    After the game, a despondent Cook said he cleared the air with Davis and took the blame for the drop and the shove.

    "I was heated, like anybody else," Cook said. "I feel like I let this game slip through my hands, and that’s my fault as a man."
  • Davis had another big outing, going 30-of-42 for 327 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 98.0. Apparently that performance, combined with what he did last week, is not enough to earn him the job moving forward. Rams coach Jeff Fisher reiterated that Shaun Hill will be his starter when he returns from a calf injury.

    "No, I have said it and stood behind that decision," Fisher said.
  • Fisher declined comment on a couple of controversial calls that went against the Rams, including a defensive holding against end Eugene Sims in the game's closing moments. He said he would look at the film before offering his thoughts, presumably in his Monday news conference.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at the Edward Jones Dome:

What it means: It's hard to believe the Rams held a 21-0 lead and looked to be headed toward their second consecutive win. But although the Rams' offense didn't muster many more points, this loss was on the defense. This group was supposed to be capable of taking over games, but through three contests, it's been more liability than bedrock. Dallas put up 20 unanswered points and went on a 34-3 scoring tear after its rough start. At 1-2 with eight tough games coming after the bye, the Rams enter next week in danger of letting this season slip away.

Stock watch: Down -- The Rams' pass rush. Losing Chris Long was a big blow, but the depth of this group was supposed to be enough to help cover for him. End Robert Quinn is getting double- and triple-teamed, and nobody else is taking advantage. Through three games, the Rams have one sack, and they didn't have any against Dallas on Sunday.

Jenkins' day: In the first two years under coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams haven't often shadowed opposing receivers with one cornerback, normally electing to let their corners stay at home on one side of the field. But that philosophy changed Sunday with cornerback Janoris Jenkins following Dallas receiver Dez Bryant everywhere he went. The first-half results of the experiment were mostly positive, as Bryant had four catches for 18 yards and Jenkins came up with an interception return for a touchdown, the fifth of his career (and most in the NFL since 2012). But Bryant got a measure of revenge in the second half with a 68-yard touchdown catch. It appeared Jenkins thought he was supposed to leave Bryant to safety help over the top, but no matter who was at fault, it was a big play that helped turn the game. Later, Bryant drew a 33-yard pass interference flag on Jenkins that set up the touchdown to give Dallas the lead.

Game ball: QB Austin Davis. Fisher can insist the job belongs to Shaun Hill when he returns from a thigh injury, but Davis has done enough in his two starts to give the coach something to think about over the bye. The fourth-quarter pick-six he threw was brutal and his second interception was simply him trying to make a play, but he was excellent otherwise. Davis finished 30-of-42 for 327 yards with three touchdowns for a passer rating of 98.0.

What's next: The Rams head into an early bye week before beginning an eight-game stretch that includes nothing but 2013 playoff opponents and the Arizona Cardinals.

Tavon Austin among Rams' inactives

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Rams receiver/returner Tavon Austin did not practice all week because of a knee injury and was listed as questionable on the team's injury report all week.

The question was answered Sunday morning when the Rams officially declared Austin inactive. Austin will miss his first game of the season and the fourth of his career. He missed the final three games of last season because of an ankle injury.

When Austin entered the league, it was a point of pride that he'd never missed a game because of injury, but so far it's been a different story in the NFL. With the bye set for next week, the Rams expect Austin back for the Week 5 game at Philadelphia.

In the meantime, the Rams will likely turn to Austin Pettis to handle Austin's punt return duties, with Pettis and Stedman Bailey filling in for him in the offense.

The Rams' other inactives are cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee), cornerback Brandon McGee (foot), center Barrett Jones (back), quarterback Case Keenum, running back Tre Mason and safety Maurice Alexander.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has been quite clear that his team once again won't make a decision on a starting quarterback until the moments before Sunday's meeting with the Dallas Cowboys.

With Shaun Hill's injured thigh still in doubt, there are plenty of signs pointing to Austin Davis getting a second consecutive start. Davis impressed in his first NFL start last week against Tampa Bay when he completed 22-of-29 for 235 yards with many of those completions coming in the face of pressure and in tight late-game situations.

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAustin Davis might have learned to handle a pass rush while leading the scout team against the Rams' formidable front.
Should Davis get the call against the Cowboys, there are many ways for him to be even better. And he'll likely have to be given that this week's opponent will almost certainly be better than the one the Rams saw last week.

"We left some points on the field," Davis said. "We’re not going to be able to do that this week. Dallas has a great offense. They’re going to score points and we’re going to have to match that.”

That Davis is even able to talk about making improvements from one week to the next is a testament to his fortitude. Last year at this time, he was looking for a job on an NFL roster. The Rams had released him after a rough training camp and preseason, in part because of his penchant for taking off and running too early rather than hanging in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield waiting for something to materialize.

When Davis re-signed with the Rams after Sam Bradford's Week 7 injury in Carolina, they set about getting that part of his game squared away. Davis' progress wasn't as apparent on the practice field in this camp as it was during the preseason games but the difference was still noticeable.

“He’s always been real athletic," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "That’s one of the first things we really liked about him. I think him working with [quarterbacks coach Frank] Cignetti on some of the pocket movement stuff certainly helps. But really the only way to do it is to get out there and play.

"Certainly by going against our defense in practice when he was running the scout team stuff, you get a lot of work on that because obviously they are very good at rushing the passer. It’s something he’s worked on. The hardest part of doing that is not the movement part, he’s got those skills, it’s keeping your eyes up and kind of seeing where your receivers are going. ”

In that regard, what Davis did last week against Tampa Bay was even more of a surprise. Time and again he hung in the pocket with pressure bearing down on him and delivered an accurate throw, none more so than what amounted to the game winner to receiver Austin Pettis in the fourth quarter.

And though the Rams didn't ask Davis to do much until those closing moments, they also didn't scale back the offense for him at all. If it looked simple, it's because that's mostly what the offense is. In addition to his ability to maneuver in the pocket and make throws against pressure, Davis also has shown a willingness to take some shots down the field.

Through two games, Davis is 9-of-12 on throws 15 yards or more down the field. That's the highest completion percentage on such throws among qualified quarterbacks.

“There were a lot of things for him to improve, still are," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "Again, he’s got to put another good game together this week. He’s not going to be satisfied, we’re not going to be satisfied with just one good game. That was something again when he came back he had a plan. He came back in great shape. He really worked hard this offseason, spent some time doing some stuff on his own. He came back ready to play and ready to compete.”

Fisher has repeatedly made it clear that there is no quarterback controversy to be found in St. Louis. But if indeed Davis gets a second consecutive start, an improvement over last week could make it one.

Rams QB Hill questionable for Sunday

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams quarterback Shaun Hill was limited in practice for the third day in a row and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, coach Jeff Fisher said Friday afternoon.

 Hill has been battling a thigh injury since the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings and made progress this week by doing at least a little work in practice but he will once again be considered a game time decision.

Last week, Fisher called Hill a game time decision and the Rams ultimately kept Hill active but only as a third quarterback for emergency situations. It's possible he could fill a similar role this week.

Austin Davis again took nearly all of the repetitions with the first team in practice and would again get the call to start should Hill not be ready to go.

Elsewhere on the injury report, the Rams remain a little banged up at cornerback. Brandon McGee (foot) and Trumaine Johnson (knee) did not practice Friday. Both have been ruled out for this week. On the bright side, Lamarcus Joyner is back in the mix after missing last week with a back ailment. Joyner practiced all week and did not appear on the injury report.

The Rams also tweaked their practice squad a bit by adding cornerback Jemea Thomas and releasing receiver Justin Veltung.

Receiver Tavon Austin (knee) and tight end Cory Harkey (knee) also did not practice for the third day in a row though both did some work on the side. They'll be questionable for Sunday. If that pair can't play, don't be surprised to see receiver Stedman Bailey and tight end Alex Bayer pick up some of the slack.

Left guard Rodger Saffold returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday with an illness.

Here's Friday's complete injury report:

Out: Johnson (knee), OL Barrett Jones (back), McGee (foot)

Questionable: Hill (thigh/calf), Austin (knee), Harkey (knee)

Probable: Wells (not injury related), Saffold (illness)

Rams searching for answers against run

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Despite the lingering stench from the St. Louis Rams' Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last year, the team's run defense turned out to be much better than it showed after running back DeMarco Murray ran all over them.

By the end of the season, the Rams were ninth in the NFL in average rushing yards allowed per game (102.8) and third in the league in yards allowed per attempt (3.7).

With all 11 defensive starters returning this year and coordinator Gregg Williams taking over, that group figured only to improve against the run. Through two weeks, that hasn't been the case.

It's a small sample size, of course, but in games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, the Rams have allowed 171 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 30th in the NFL. They're also coughing up 5.5 yards per carry, which also ranks 30th.

The reasons for the early regression are many, but the defense to this point has looked more like a group of individuals out to do it all more than handling individual responsibilities for the greater good.

[+] EnlargeBobby Rainey
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for PaniniTampa Bay's Bobby Rainey gained 144 yards on 22 carries against the Rams.
"It’s just a lot of guys trying to make plays," Dunbar said. "We talked about it this past week. It wasn’t a scheme thing, it was just everybody taking their turn... we’re not fitting it right. Somebody took their turn here and there."

In other words, there have been many examples of players not playing sound assignment football and freelancing from play to play. As Dunbar points out, there isn't any single culprit and, in fact, the film shows that almost everyone on the defense has been guilty at some point.

Perhaps most surprising, the young secondary has actually been the most consistent group from down to down.

"I think really the front seven just has to play better," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "There’s no excuses. Missed tackles are no excuse. When we have the opportunity to go and trigger and make plays, we’ve got to make those plays. I like the way that the front seven has been humbled this week."

Missed run fits and blown assignments aren't the only issues. Through two weeks, Pro Football Focus counted 27 missed tackles for the Rams. They had 18 in the opener against Minnesota, meaning they improved some last week against the Bucs, but not enough to keep little-known back Bobby Rainey from gaining 144 yards on 22 carries.

Beyond the tackling, the Rams also found themselves put in some odd positions. Tampa Bay had great success running the ball on second down, many times on second-and-long plays when Williams would dial up a blitz or Rams defenders would be anticipating a pass and get a run instead. With the line and linebackers a bit frustrated by only making one sack through two weeks, that means anything resembling a passing down has left the front seven a bit undisciplined.

"I think there’s a fine line sometimes when you’re in certain coverages where you have to say, ‘OK, am I going to play for the run here or am I going to play for the pass here?’" Laurinaitis said. "If I play for the run, I’m not leveraging the pass. If I play for the pass, I’m not leveraging the run."

Any improvements or fixes the Rams have attempted this week will be put to their biggest test. After finishing 29th in rush attempts last year, Dallas has the look of an NFC West team with its physical and committed approach to running the ball.

The Cowboys have the fourth-most rushing attempts in the league heading into Sunday and are second in the league in rushing yards per game. Murray is off to his career-best start and has rushed for 428 yards on 51 carries in two previous meetings with the Rams.

For the Rams to have any chance at beating Dallas, they're going to have to sell out to stop the run first and sort everything else out afterward. Until it gets solved, that has to be the plan.

"We have just got to get in sync with it, and I’m confident we will," Laurinaitis said. "But that stuff definitely deserves to be talked about until we put the fire out. You can’t sit there, and if you told me before the year we’d have 170 yards averaged against us, I’d be like, ‘Get out of here.’ But that’s where we are right now. I think guys have really swallowed their pride and like, ‘Hey, we need to work at this; let’s go out and work at it.’ No excuses."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After an early evening Thursday practice, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher made it clear that a decision on the starting quarterback will again be made before Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys.

But the decision could be a little more difficult this week with veteran Shaun Hill making progress toward a return from an injured thigh. Hill remains limited on the official injury report but did more Thursday than he did Wednesday. Austin Davis continued to get the vast majority of the work with the first-team offense.

"Shaun was limited today," Fisher said. "He did more, but we're still day to day. It will most likely be a pre-game decision like it was last week."

The Rams worked Hill out before last week's game against Tampa Bay and decided he could be active as a third quarterback capable of taking shotgun snaps in an emergency. He could follow a similar path this week if the Rams decide to go with Davis on game day.

Elsewhere on Thursday's injury report, the Rams did not have guard Rodger Saffold because of an illness and cornerback Brandon McGee was downgraded from limited participation to did not participate because of a foot injury. Center Scott Wells, who did not practice Wednesday, returned to full participation Thursday.

Here's the full breakdown:

Did not participate: WR Tavon Austin (knee), TE Cory Harkey (knee), CB Trumaine Johnson (knee), OL Barrett Jones (back), Saffold (illness), McGee (foot)

Limited participation: Hill (thigh/calf)

Full participation: Wells (not injury related)
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Per the St. Louis Rams' policy, quarterback Shaun Hill hasn't been available to speak to the media since after the regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

 Injured players are off-limits until they start doing more in practice. But Hill, who practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday, was made available for the first time since after that game and injuring his thigh/calf.

That's because he's starting to make genuine progress toward a return. While Hill has yet to do any work in 11-on-11 team drills, and his status for this week remains uncertain, he said Wednesday he's making strides.

“Better and better every day, absolutely," Hill said. "That’s about all I can say about it. It certainly is getting better every day.”

Wednesday's practice offered the most tangible evidence since the injury that Hill is indeed improving. He was also listed as limited in last Friday's practice though that was a bit generous given how little he did. In Wednesday's workout, Hill did more in individual drills and appeared to be moving around better than he did late last week or even in pre-game warmups last week in Tampa Bay.

Since he suffered the injury, coach Jeff Fisher has been clear that Hill is still his starter so long as he's healthy. The question has been when Hill will meet that standard. Fisher has also emphasized the need not to rush Hill back to avoid making the injury worse.

Asked Wednesday what he needs to see from Hill to plug him back into the starting lineup, Fisher reiterated those thoughts.

“More than what we’re seeing right now," Fisher said. "Again, this is about not setting him back so we don’t want to put him in position out here on the field to where we’re risking setting him back. He’s day-to-day, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Austin Davis, who started last week against the Buccaneers, took the vast majority of the reps with the first team Wednesday with backup Case Keenum getting a few more reps. Davis led the Rams to a win in that game and will start again this week in the event that Hill doesn't show Fisher and the coaching staff what they need to see.

“I think that’ll be determined later in the week," Hill said. "But, the idea going in is to just keep progressing and see what happens when we get later in the week.”

Hill opened the first game against Minnesota 5-of-5, but the lingering memory of his interception near the end of the first half has persisted.

Hill and Fisher have said that interception was due in part to the injury, offering that Hill was trying to throw it away but couldn't get it out of bounds because he lacked the leg strength to drive it that far while on the run.

For Hill, whose last start (prior to this season's opener) came in 2010, the injury has been frustrating even if it isn't a severe one.

“That is something I struggled with, big time, originally when it happened," Hill said. "It’s been hard for me to get on the field, especially the last few years. And finally when you get the chance, for that to happen, it’s harder to come back off. What can you do? You pick yourself back up and get yourself back as quick as you can.”

Cowboys vs. Rams preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

The St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys put together two of the league's most dubious Week 1 performances, but both teams rebounded with road victories last week.

This week, the teams meet for the second consecutive season in search of their second win. The Cowboys thrashed the Rams 31-7 in Dallas in 2013.

ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner preview Sunday's matchup.

Wagoner: Todd, if DeMarco Murray ever goes into the Hall of Fame, he should probably say thank you to the Rams in his speech. He has shredded them in the past and it looks like he's off to a good start in 2014.

Does he look better now than he has in the past? And what is it that has made Dallas' running game so effective so far?

Archer: He really turned a corner late last season well after he ran for 175 yards on 26 carries against the Rams. He ran with more conviction and had a better feel for the scheme and what the linemen were doing in front of him. But it's more than that. It's understanding where the defensive fronts can give him some trouble before the snap. He has run with power but he's shown the ability to bounce plays and get more positive yards so far. The offensive line helps. The Cowboys have three first-rounders up front in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. After years of talking about wanting to be a physical team but not actually doing it, the Cowboys are actually doing it and it's because they believe more in the line than they have since making the playoffs in 2009.

Not to get too carried away here, but did Austin Davis work at a grocery store after toiling in the Arena Football League? I thought the Rams were in trouble when they had to go to Shaun Hill after Sam Bradford's injury, but how is Davis getting it done?

Wagoner: Does serving a few weeks as a quarterbacks coach at the Westminster Christian Academy here come close enough to stocking shelves at the grocery store? A year ago at this time, that's exactly what Davis was doing. Seriously, though, Davis took most of us by surprise with his performance last week against Tampa Bay. He didn't put up any jaw-dropping numbers, and a rash of injuries limited Tampa's defense, but the most impressive thing about his performance was how cool he was under pressure. Time and again he faced pressure, stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball.

For Davis, that has been the biggest change. When the Rams released him in 2013, it was in no small part because he struggled to recognize coverage and was too quick to take off running without keeping his eyes downfield. He was much improved in that area against the Bucs. Whether he starts remains to be seen because coach Jeff Fisher says Hill is the starter so long as he's healthy. But Hill hasn't proved he's back to 100 percent and the Rams have a bye next week, which would allow Davis another go.

The Cowboys' defense took a lot of heat before the season started but seemed like it found some answers against the Titans last week. What do you make of that group so far? And what are some areas of weakness we should be watching for?

Archer: I still have my doubts. It has been better than I or many thought. But I need more visual evidence. Maybe it's just not wanting to be fooled so much. In Week 1, I believe San Francisco really shut it down in the second half and just wanted to avoid the big mistakes with a 28-3 lead. Last week at Tennessee, Jake Locker was terrible. Now some of that was the Cowboys' making. They got a good rush on him at times and the coverage was solid, but he also missed some throws. If they have another good game this week against Davis (or Hill), I'm still not sure I would get carried away. But it would give the Cowboys confidence and that's more important than anything I would say.

One of the matchups I want to see this weekend is Robert Quinn vs. Tyron Smith. Both guys received giant contracts recently. What kind of start is Quinn off to, and how is Chris Long's absence affecting him?

Wagoner: Quinn doesn't have any sacks yet but that single stat is really a disservice to the work he has done. Tampa Bay and Minnesota made it a point to get rid of the ball quick and both teams used screens, slants and other short routes as a way to help negate Quinn and the Rams' pass rush as a whole. Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel had the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in the league in Week 1 and the Rams had no sacks.

But Quinn is still wrecking offensive lines and creating pressure despite the lack of sacks. Teams are throwing multiple blockers at him on every play and linemen are desperately clutching and grabbing him to keep him from getting to quarterbacks. He's not always getting the calls but the attention going to him should open things up for others. Of course, he also hasn't seen a tackle as good as Smith in the first two weeks, either.

Tony Romo has also had some big games against the Rams in the past. What have you seen from him, coming off his injury? And do you expect him to return to his usual levels of production?

Archer: Romo has not looked the same, despite what he, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett say. I think he's working his way back into game speed after being limited so much in the offseason and in four preseason games because of back surgery last December. He has not had the same zip on passes. He has not moved around as well as he has in the past. It's all intermittent right now. The back can be a tricky thing and it takes some time to heal. Romo has been sacked seven times and had only 73 pass attempts, so clearly the line isn't protecting him as well. He needs to play better. I think he will get there eventually this season -- maybe even this week -- but it's a good thing the Cowboys look to have a ground game they can rely on.

Michael Sam spent the summer with the Rams and had a productive preseason. Cowboys fans have asked me about how Sam has done since joining the practice squad, but it's hard to judge development there. You saw him in the preseason. What kind of player can he be?

Wagoner: Sam really just kind of is what he is -- a high-energy, all-out effort player who has a motor that constantly runs. He's never going to wow anyone with an array of pass-rush moves or overwhelming power to win with a bull rush. He has to win by getting to the edge with his speed and/or by chasing down quarterbacks or ball carriers, because he simply never quits on a play. Because of that, his upside is limited but it's also a quality that should eventually earn him a chance to play in the league.

Dallas once added a former highly touted college performer who was a seventh-round pick of the Rams in George Selvie, and he turned into a pretty decent NFL player. I see no reason Sam couldn't eventually follow a similar but slightly lessened trajectory.

Breaking down Robert Quinn's contract

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn inked a four-year contract extension with the team on Saturday, a deal that is actually a new six-year contract worth $65.6 million.

Now that the details of the contract are available, we can see that Quinn's deal does indeed contain $41.2 million in guarantees though they aren't all technically guaranteed.

As we reported Saturday night, Quinn's salary-cap number for this year is mostly unchanged by the deal. The real big money starts kicking in in 2015 with a salary-cap number reaching in excess of $16 million, which is about $10 million more than it would have been under the fifth-year option the team exercised in the offseason.

"I was really happy for Rob," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "As we said we really appreciate (Rams owner) Stan’s (Kroenke) support and approval on this. Rob’s got a chance to be an outstanding defensive player for us for a lot of years, so much deserving of it.”

Here's the full breakdown of Quinn's deal, which is heavy on palindromes and courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:


Base salary: $608, 608 (prorated for rest of the season from original number of $646,646, all of which is fully guaranteed)

Bonus: $2,296,001

Roster bonus: $0

Cash value: $5,488,731

Cap value: $3,077,958


Base salary: $5,555,555 (Fully guaranteed for injury and becomes fully guaranteed regardless on fifth day of league year)

Signing bonus proration: $955,354

Roster bonus: $10,233,201 (Fully guaranteed)

Cash value: $15,788,756

Cap value: $16,744,110


Base salary: $7,777,777 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Signing bonus proration: $955,354

Roster bonus: $2,424,242 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $10,202,019

Cap value: $11,157,353


Base salary: $6,161,616 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Signing bonus proration: $955,354

Roster bonus: $3,633,363 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $9,794,979

Cap value: $10,750,333


Base salary: $10,333,301

Signing bonus: $955,358

Roster bonus: $1,111,111 (due on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $11,444,412

Cap value: $12,399,770


Base salary: $11,811,121

Signing bonus: $0

Roster bonus: $1,121,211 (due on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $12,932,332

Cap value: $12,932,332
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams began preparing for the imminent return of wide receiver Stedman Bailey on Monday when they released defensive tackle Matt Conrath to create a roster spot.

On Wednesday morning, the NFL announced the completion of a new policy on steroids and performance-enhancing substances, which made Bailey's return official just halfway through the original four-game punishment.

In the announcement released by NFL communications, Bailey is one of three players named as eligible to return to his team right away.

From the release:
Discipline of players for certain violations in the 2014 league year will be adjusted to reflect the new policy. Wes Welker of the Denver Broncos, Orlando Scandrick of the Dallas Cowboys and Stedman Bailey of the St. Louis Rams will be eligible to return to their teams this week.

Bailey was originally suspended four games on May 13 for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. He missed the team's first two games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay but wouldn't actually have been scheduled to return until after Week 5 because the team has a Week 4 bye. Now, he'll not only be back before the bye but have the opportunity to play this week against Dallas should the Rams opt to go that way.

We'll find out the extent of Rams coach Jeff Fisher's plans for Bailey for this week after practice later Wednesday, but it stands to reason he could be involved in the game plan given the way the Rams planned ahead for his return and Tavon Austin's sprained knee.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- No matter how many times the question is asked or in how many different ways it's phrased, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has never wavered in his response: Shaun Hill is his starting quarterback and Austin Davis is the backup.

It goes something like this:

“If Shaun is healthy and able to play and not going to subject himself to re-injuring this or making it worse, then Shaun’s our quarterback and Austin’s our backup," Fisher said. "That’s just the way it is.”

Well, then what about the possibility for a change of heart after sleeping on it?

"I won’t visit with you guys (Tuesday), but I will Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, so you can ask me again, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, if you want," Fisher said. "You’re going to get the same answer.”

Once again, Fisher has reiterated that he's never had a quarterback controversy in his many years of coaching and he doesn't plan to start now. Of course, there are a few factors at play here that need to be taken into account.

The key word in Fisher's response is "healthy." Hill will start when healthy. In other words, when his injured thigh is healed.

That didn't happen last week and there's no guarantee that it will this week. Fisher said Hill probably wouldn't practice Wednesday and might be able to do limited work Thursday. Until he can get back on the field in practice, there's no need to rush Hill back, especially with Davis now having some experience and a good performance as a starter last week under his belt.

Until Hill is healthy, there's really not even much reason to discuss a possible quarterback controversy. If Hill is close to healthy but not all the way there, there's no reason for the Rams to even ponder playing him. That's especially true with the bye week coming after this week's game.

According to Fisher, the impending bye week could be a part of the decision should Hill be close but not all the way back.

“Well it would be a factor," Fisher said. "Again, this is not coach speak, it’s day to day. We’re going to see how he is.”

If indeed Hill isn't able to return this week, the Rams would have an additional week to get him healthy to play in Week 5 against Philadelphia. That would serve the purpose of not only allowing Hill to get to 100 percent but give the Rams another opportunity to evaluate Davis.

If Davis starts again and struggles, it could remove any lingering outside doubts that Hill should be the guy moving forward. If Davis starts again, plays well and leads the Rams to another win, perhaps Fisher will have to reconsider over the bye. Perhaps he won't. But if that's the case, rest assured, the questions will only continue.

Harkey's toughness energizes Rams

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have already lost key players such as quarterback Sam Bradford, and defensive end Chris Long to serious injuries that will require rehabilitation.

 Bradford is out for the season with a knee injury, and Long is on injured reserve but designated to return after ankle surgery. But neither of those injuries looked as bad when they happened as the one tight end Cory Harkey suffered on Sunday in Tampa Bay.

Late in the third quarter, Harkey caught a pass from quarterback Austin Davis in the left flat, but Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson quickly closed in on Harkey and hit him square in the left knee. Harkey managed to limp off the field, but the hit looked bad enough that it could keep him out for a long time.

"That was a rough hit," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "Now when you saw it, that’s a byproduct of the league and the rule changes. Goldson’s a good football player, and that’s one that you just don’t like to see. We feared, I feared for the worst on it until he got to the sideline."

For his part, Harkey said even he was shaken up by the hit.

"Obviously, it was a shock. It was scary, but I knew once I was able to get up and kind of walk off that I was going to be OK, which is a good thing," Harkey said. "And God is looking out for me. But yeah, it was scary."

When Harkey returned to the sideline, he wasted no time lobbying to return to the game, a campaign that proved successful. He was on the field on the next drive and caught a pass for 6 yards about 15 minutes (in game time) after taking the hit.

That Harkey returned and contributed was a surprise to everyone except those who have seen him go from undrafted rookie to a valuable, multipurpose piece of the offense -- and one of the team's resident tough guys.

“We knew, we knew Cory was a tough guy," Fisher said. "He loves the game, and the docs felt structurally he was going to be okay. We were going to change some personnel groups and Cory said, ‘No, don’t change them. I’m going back in,’ so very impressed with him."

On Monday, Fisher revealed that Harkey actually suffered a mild knee sprain on the play. Fisher went on to say that he wouldn't rule out the possibility of Harkey playing against Dallas this week despite the injury.

Based on what Harkey did last week, it would be more surprising if he didn't.