Injuries affect every NFL team. They're no excuse for sustained failure. Their impact on special teams can be easily overlooked, however.
That came to mind Sunday when the St. Louis Rams suffered continuing problems on their special-teams units. A week after allowing a blocked punt and multiple long returns against Seattle, the Rams' coverage units suffered from additional lapses Sunday during a 20-13 home defeat to Cincinnati. The 56-yard punt return St. Louis allowed to the Bengals' Brandon Tate proved costly.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points to those and other deficiencies in explaining why the Rams lost for the 12th time in 14 games this season. Two penalties against linebacker Chris Chamberlain for unnecessary roughness and one against Harvey Dahl for unsportsmanlike conduct also worked against the Rams. Thomas: "It all started on a 56-yard punt return by Cincinnati's Tate late in the third quarter with the score 6-6. It merely was the latest bust for the Rams' punt coverage team, which has sprung major leaks over the last month and half." Noted: Continuing my earlier thought on in the injury front, the Rams have placed 10 cornerbacks on injured reserve. Six of them remain there. Fifteen total Rams players are on injured reserve, more than the combined totals for Arizona (six) and San Francisco (five). The Seattle Seahawks also have 15 players on injured reserve. They obviously had superior depth.
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com passes out postgame grades to the Rams, including an A-minus for replacement quarterback Kellen Clemens. Noted: That grade seems fair under the circumstances. Clemens never really did anything to swing the game for St. Louis, but he was an upgrade over the injured Sam Bradford. Clemens completed 25 of 35 passes for 229 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions, three sacks and one fumble, which the Rams recovered. His NFL passer rating (95.7) was the highest for a Rams quarterback this season, although his Total QBR score was only 24.0 out of 100, a reflection of his inability to significantly improve St. Louis' chances for victory.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams played well enough on defense to win. Burwell: "Blowing the slim margin for error creates the most unfair conditions for the Rams' defense, which holds its ground as long as it can. But every week you see the Rams' offense go out there with head-scratching play calls and mental or physical breakdowns, and the special teams make repeated failures, and tight, competitive game turn into systematic losses. A lot of attention has been drawn to the failures on offense, but it's time to zero in on the strange adventures on special teams, too. Let me see if I can offer up a little unscientific advice to Tom McMahon's unit. Stop punting the ball down the middle of the field. Better yet, stop kicking the ball in the general direction of any people who run sub 4.3 40 yard dashes and make frequent visits into the end zone on punt and kick returns."