NFC West: Cowboys-Rams

Did the Rams not beat Cowboys, Redskins?

October, 21, 2008
10/21/08
2:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Our latest power rankings show two lines of thinking on the resurgent Rams: my thinking and everyone else's thinking. I'm clearly outnumbered on this one.

I ranked the Rams 16th, a reward for beating the Redskins on the road and the Cowboys at home. The Redskins were ranked third in the ESPN.com power rankings when the Rams defeated them. The Cowboys were ranked sixth even though everyone knew Tony Romo's finger was hurting.

The coaching change in St. Louis, coupled with the team's dramatically improved play, led me to discount the Rams' 0-4 start. This is a new team, right?

None of the other 11 panelists voted the Rams higher than 23rd. The average was 25th, with a low vote of 29th.

How high do the Rams deserve to climb based on their turnaround?

Rams expect Jackson to start

October, 20, 2008
10/20/08
4:36
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jackson

ST. LOUIS -- The Rams expect to have Rams running back Steven Jackson in the lineup against New England in Week 8 after tests showed no serious damage to Jackson's thigh.

Coach Jim Haslett expressed relief after learning that Jackson wouldn't miss an extended period. Jackson will be limited in practice this week, but he should be ready to carry his normal load against the Patriots.

In other injury-related news for the Rams:

  • Orlando Pace did some light work Monday. His status remains unclear. Pace was still limping some.
  • Derek Stanley was lucid and appeared unfazed after taking a hard hit to the head Sunday. Additional tests will determine his status, but Stanley appears fine.
  • Running back Antonio Pittman will return against the Patriots.
  • Todd Johnson has a bruised kidney and could miss a couple of weeks.
Jackson's injury situation bodes very well for the Rams as they attempt to win a third consecutive game after an 0-4 start.

Rams show different side against Cowboys

October, 20, 2008
10/20/08
10:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- The Cowboys weren't the only ones fooled by the Rams' offense in Week 7. I was right there with them.

 
 Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
 Steven Jackson rushed for 160 yards against Dallas on Sunday.

What the Rams showed against the Redskins in Week 6 looked nothing like what the Rams showed the Cowboys during a 34-14 victory at the Edward Jones Dome.

The Rams used three wide receivers about 55 percent of the time at Washington. This seemed to make sense after tight end Randy McMichael landed on injured reserve. But the approach changed dramatically against the Cowboys. I counted three receivers on the field for less than 27 percent of the snaps. Instead, we saw the return of the tight end(s) in St. Louis.

I asked tight end Anthony Becht about this and here is what he said:

"I think last week it was just a matter of that's what they gave us. They showed on tape how they were crowding the box and our passing game was kind of in between where we want it to be. This week, Donnie [Avery] was in the game and some of the young receivers presented a little bit of speed, so they had to honor it. It worked out for us."

This combination has the potential to offer the Rams the best of two worlds. In theory, Avery's speed on the outside should help Steven Jackson in the ground game. Before we dive into other personnel-related observations, let me offer this Excel file, which breaks down production by personnel group while providing a sortable play-by-play sheet.

Charting offensive personnel becomes relatively easy on 95 percent of plays after enough practice. The Rams made me think a couple of times. I'm pretty sure they went with one back, one receiver and three tight ends on a couple plays. It's possible one of the tight ends was actually a running back. We're talking about only a couple plays, so no big deal either way.

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Around the NFC West: New-look Rams

October, 20, 2008
10/20/08
7:58
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Rams quarterback Marc Bulger as saying the coaching change had maximum effect because it came during the bye week. Bulger:

"Because we had that bye week at the same time we had the coaching change, it was like we were starting a whole new season. It wasn't because Scott [Linehan] was bad or Jim was better. It was because they made a change, and it was not a little change. It was huge change. ... There was no guarantee that it would work, but it did. And I think because it wasn't a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound, that's why it had a huge impact on everyone in the locker room."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch marks the return of professional football to St. Louis after the Rams hammered the Cowboys in Week 7.

Also from Thomas: Running back Steven Jackson could miss the Rams' upcoming game against New England after suffering a thigh injury.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' defense bears no resemblance to the one that struggled so mightily early in the season.

Also from Coats: A report card with glowing grades, including an A-minus for Bulger.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Haslett's attitude has rubbed off on the Rams. Haslett cut loose with a rant against the Cowboys before the Rams ran onto the field. Defensive coordinator Rick Venturi calls Haslett a natural head coach.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat offers an injury update on the Rams, from Jackson to Adam Carriker.

Also from Korte: How, again, can the Rams look so different?

Norm Sanders of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams weren't on anyone's radar heading into Week 7. The Cowboys seemed to get all the attention. The Rams' defense changed that Sunday.

Rams show anything is possible

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
7:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

 
 Scott Rovak/US Presswire
 Steven Jackson breaks through a hole in the second half of the Rams' stunning 34-14 win over the Cowboys.

ST. LOUIS -- Quarterback Marc Bulger overthrew a potential 92-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery in Week 7.

Oh, well. There was plenty more where that came from.

These are the new St. Louis Rams, after all. The resilient Rams. The Jim Haslett Rams.

You wouldn't recognize them.

Tough-minded, physical, passionate and explosive, these new Rams staked their record to 2-0 against the NFC East since Haslett replaced Scott Linehan following an 0-4 start.

The Rams' 34-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the Edward Jones Dome did more than validate St. Louis' road upset over the Washington Redskins in Week 6. It did more than expose the Cowboys as a fragile team made even more vulnerable without quarterback Tony Romo. This Rams victory reintroduced St. Louis as a potential player in the NFC West, trailing only idle Arizona (4-2) in the division.

"What do you have to lose?" Haslett had asked the Rams' players after their 0-4 start.

"I think a lot of guys just embraced that," running back Steven Jackson said after trampling the Cowboys for 160 yards on the ground.

Haslett is the right man in the right place at the right time. A fiery linebacker during his playing days, the Rams' former defensive coordinator under Linehan has won over the players.

"He knows how our emotions go and he knows what we're feeling and I think he knows how to get to us and how to motivate us," guard Richie Incognito said, "and we run with it. "Football is an attitude and we got the right one going for us right now."

Ten more things the Rams taught us in Week 7:

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Rams' Jackson hopes for thigh bruise

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
5:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Rams running back Steven Jackson was hopeful that the thigh injury he suffered against the Cowboys would be only a bruise.

Jackson will undergo additional tests. He was walking in the locker room without an obvious limp. He said that gave him hope that the thigh was only bruised.

Rapid Reaction: Rams 34, Cowboys 14

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
4:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- The Rams are a new team with new life under new coach Jim Haslett.

The transformation has been more dramatic than anyone could have anticipated. The Rams are suddenly a spirited and physical team with a chance to win every game.

Quarterback Marc Bulger again showed more toughness and leadership than in the past by taking hits and bouncing back to make plays. Steven Jackson ran relentlessly and found a lot more room against the Cowboys than he did during a victory over the Redskins in Week 6. His 25-carry, 160-yard performance allowed the Rams to control the clock, a huge help for the Rams' defense.

Injuries to defensive lineman Adam Carriker and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa could prove costly depending on the severity. But the Rams are showing how attitude can compensate for personnel issues. Haslett deserves much of the credit. He's looking like the right man at the right time for a franchise seeking to establish itself again.

A little class would be welcome

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Cowboys fans in attendance began chanting for quarterback Tony Romo while the Rams' medical personnel were tending to injured receiver Derek Stanley on the field.

The Rams brought a cart onto the field for Stanley, but the receiver was able to get up and walk off the field with help after several minutes. Stanley was injured while covering a punt return with 12:42 left in the third quarter.

Rams fans strongly booed when Cowboys fans chanted for Romo. The chants then stopped.

Rams lose defensive lineman Carriker

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
2:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- The Rams have taken starting defensive tackle Adam Carriker off the field for X-rays on an injured ankle.

No details at this time. The Rams' defense has continued playing well without him, helping the Rams build a 24-7 lead in the second quarter.

Update: X-ray results were negative, the Rams announced.

Told you so: Phillips loses challenge

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
1:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Referee John Parry upped his record to 6-0 in replay challenges this season, shooting down Cowboys coach Wade Phillips in the first quarter at the Edward Jones Dome.

Phillips had a 4-0 record in challenges his season coming into this game. Not any more. The lost challenge allows the Rams to take possession in Dallas territory while holding a 21-7 lead late in the first quarter. Phillips had challenged a Cowboys fumble.

The Rams continue to play with the emotion they showed against the Redskins in Week 6. The Cowboys appear lost on both sides of the ball. The Rams have been able to take their pick between the ground game and throwing deep to Donnie Avery.

Late-arriving Rams crowd wakes up

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
1:23
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Rams fans have apparently filled in many of the seats that had been empty during the Cowboys' opening drive touchdown.

Rams fans reacting to Marc Bulger's long scoring pass to Donnie Avery matched and probably exceeded the noise Dallas fans made after the Cowboys' opening drive.

Dallas fans are very well represented here. Rams fans just needed some time to wake up, and an opportunity to make some noise.

Feels like a home crowd for Cowboys

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
1:07
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Cowboys fans seem to be louder than Rams fans at the Edward Jones Dome through the first few plays of the game.

Quite a few seats remain empty. Below me, I can count 10 unoccupied seats in a row in one section.

From a noise standpoint, it feels like 70-30 in favor of Cowboys fans.

Quick note on replay challenges

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
12:37
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Replay reversals helped the Cowboys against the Cardinals last week, but Dallas coach Wade Phillips might have met his match this week.

John Parry, the referee assigned to the Cowboys-Rams game at the Edward Jones Dome, has upheld each of the three coach-initiated challenges made against him this season. Counting two booth-initiated challenges, Parry has a 5-0 record when challenged this season. He and Jerome Boger are the only referees without a reversal this season.

Phillips has a 4-0 record in replay challenges this season. I have Rams coach Jim Haslett with a 4-15 record on replay challenges since 2003. Those figures match league totals.

Big ovation for Cowboys during warmups

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
12:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- The early crowd heavily favors the Cowboys here at the Edward Jones Dome, but the feel will change when Rams fans arrive closer to kickoff.

Hundreds of fans wearing Cowboys jerseys are lining the first row of the stands while the teams warm up. They'll blend into the crowd a little more once it's time to take their seats.

The Cowboys had a strong fan presence at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 6. The presence here doesn't feel that strong.

Rams make it official: Pace will not play

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
11:36
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams listed left tackle Orlando Pace among their inactive players against Dallas, as expected. Adam Goldberg gets the start.

Also inactive for the Rams: cornerback Tye Hill, running back Antonio Pittman, guard Roy Schuening, receiver Drew Bennett, receiver Eddie Kennison and receiver Dane Looker.

Expect young receivers Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton to play extensively. Avery was already starting. Burton becomes the third receiver ahead of Dante Hall, most likely.

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