Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Thoughts and observations from the Rams' exhibition game against the Bengals on Thursday night:
Defense capitalizes. The Rams appeared much more active and alert defensively than they did last week. Rookie James Laurinaitis pounced on an unforced fumble early in the game. Chris Long or Jonathan Wade probably would have recovered if Laurinaitis had not. Later, Laurinaitis made Bengals guard Nate Livings whiff badly as the rookie swarmed toward running back Cedric Benson. Ball-hawking safety Oshiomogho Atogwe forced a fumble, setting up James Butler's touchdown return. Butler later missed badly in run support, letting Benson get into the secondary. James Hall pressured effectively up the middle. Victor Adeyanju and C.J. Ah You seemed to play well.
Asterisk duly noted. Former 49ers starter J.T. O'Sullivan was in the lineup at quarterback for the Bengals. Carson Palmer did not play.
Mixed reviews at receiver. Laurent Robinson continued to show he can be effective on quick slants, a staple of the West Coast offense. Robinson also had a rough start. He dropped the ball on third down to kill the Rams' first drive. His illegal block also negated a first-down conversion on a running play. Keenan Burton worked underneath to catch a short pass. The Rams used a dink-and-dunk approach to the passing game. There weren't many chances to make plays downfield.
Horrible special teams. The Bengals' return specialists found far too much room to run, gaining 104 yards on four punt returns. The Rams even had trouble executing an extra point, with Richie Incognito committing a false-start penalty on one of them. That was one of four special-teams penalties against the Rams. Josh Brown, a very good long-range kicker, missed from 50 and 51 yards. Quincy Butler fumbled after fielding a punt.
Butler steps up on 'D'. The cornerback continues to make a push for a roster spot. He made a tackle for loss in the flat, then picked off a Jordan Palmer pass on the next play. Butler turned his head early in the route while covering Chris Henry, allowing him to play the ball. Butler was one of the lesser-known players who stood out when I visited Rams training camp. He did fumble after fielding a punt, but that was the least of the Rams' worries on special teams.
Jason Brown sighting. Watching free-agent addition Jason Brown isn't particularly exciting. He's not a nimble, active center making plays in the run game 10 or 15 yards downfield. What Brown does seem to do is prevent immediate trouble up the middle. That is my initial impression of him and that is an improvement for the Rams.
Jason Smith update. The rookie tackle played both sides for the Rams. I didn't notice him as much this week and that's probably a good thing. Smith did not seem to miss badly on blocks. He plays to the whistle, seeks out defenders late in plays and helps up teammates. He remains a work in progress, but he clearly wants it.
I've watched the first three-plus quarters of this game. The Rams finally did throw deep, with Brock Berlin looking unsuccessfully for Tim Carter along the left sideline. Smith tied up his man and didn't let him get to the quarterback.