NFC West: Zac Stacy

W2W4: St. Louis Rams

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
12:00
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off Week 2 on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m. ET on regional Fox coverage.

Here are three things to watch for from the Rams' end:

1. Rev the run: Everything the Rams want to do and who they want to be offensively stems from having a successful running game. Last week, the Rams struggled mightily on offense in no small part because the run game never got going. Minnesota loaded the box to slow down backs Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham and dared the Rams to throw the ball. The Rams mostly obliged the Minnesota Vikings but when they did run it, they averaged just 3.3 yards per carry on 22 attempts. Until the Rams show they can beat somebody by airing it out, it's safe to assume defenses will continue to load up to stop the run. That shouldn't stop the Rams from trying to run it, however. Stacy and the run game had success last season in a similar situation but it will require a better effort across the board, especially from the offensive line. Tampa Bay allowed 113 yards on the ground against Carolina last week but has a defense built to stop it. If the Rams can get the ground game in motion, they should be able to take shots in play action and move the ball more consistently and effectively regardless of who is getting the carries.

2. Short and simple: The Vikings didn't do anything fancy to the Rams defense last week, sticking mostly to a game plan full of runs between the tackles and short, efficient passes. Both ploys worked to open things up on the perimeter for receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, and quarterback Matt Cassel had a solid outing without turning the ball over. Cassel averaged the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in Week 1 at just 4.36 yards per pass. It didn't lead to much in the way of fireworks but it served to protect the ball and keep the chains moving. More important, it helped negate the Rams' vaunted pass rush as they had just one sack and that came off a botched snap exchange. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown has big wideouts Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans at his disposal and has favored throwing the deep ball in the past, so it will be interesting to see if the Bucs adopt the Vikings' blueprint. McCown and the passing game struggled to get anything going in the air against Carolina until late in the game but don't be surprised if they take a page from Minnesota and at least mix in some underneath plays before taking their shots against the Rams' secondary.

3. Under center: Rams coach Jeff Fisher has referred to veteran quarterback Shaun Hill as "day to day" all week because of a quad/thigh injury. Fisher has also maintained that if Hill is healthy enough to play, he will start. But Hill didn't do much in practice this week with Austin Davis getting the bulk of the snaps with the first-team offense and Case Keenum getting a few himself. That would seem to indicate that Davis could be making his first NFL start against Tampa Bay. The Rams would need much more from Davis than they got last week, especially when it comes to recognizing pressure and getting rid of the ball. Of course, if the Rams can do the first thing on this list, that would go a long way toward helping whichever quarterback plays Sunday.

Rams Camp Report: Day 11

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • Wednesday's practice was a special teams only workout with no pads, which also meant very little excitement or activity. On the bright side, running back Zac Stacy did go through the practice after limping off during Tuesday's practice. The injury didn't seem serious at the time and it appears there is nothing to it as he was back to go through special teams drills Wednesday. Stacy said after the practice that he's feeling good and though he's unsure if he'll play in the preseason opener, made it clear he's ready to go if called upon.
  • In the absence of pads, the Rams didn't have their usual contact drills and one-on-ones near the end of the practice like they usually do. Defensive end Michael Sam is still getting a lot of work as a blocker on the respective return units and that appears to be his best shot to make the roster. I'd be surprised if Sam didn't get a lot of work on both special teams and defense against the Saints on Friday night.
  • Punter Johnny Hekker is unfazed by the lack of attention that came with the punt team's record-setting performance in 2013 and told me after he spent the morning booming punts that he's looking to get better in 2014. In addition to breaking the record again, Hekker offered left directional punting as an area he'd like to improve going into the season. There are other personal goals he has in store but he preferred to keep those to himself.
  • It's hard to take roll in special teams practices because you never know exactly who is and isn't supposed to be there. But there were a few sideline observers who have been missing practice all week. Running back Trey Watts and fullback Kadeem Jones were among those watching from the sideline.
  • Although there wasn't much happening on the field Wednesday, there were some special visitors to the practice. Super Bowl XXXIV winners Torry Holt, Andy McCollum, Grant Wistrom and D'Marco Farr took in the practice. Farr is a regular at practice in his role as the team's radio color analyst. But Holt dropped by in advance of resuming his color analyst duties for the Rams' preseason games. McCollum and Wistrom were just stopping by to visit. The quartet took the opportunity to catch up. They'll get another chance later this year when the Rams celebrate the 15th anniversary of that championship season before the Monday night game against San Francisco on Oct. 13.
  • The Rams are entering final preparations for the preseason opener Friday night against New Orleans. They'll have their usual day before game walk-through Thursday before Friday's game.

Rams Camp Report: Day 9

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
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ST. LOUIS -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • Now THAT was a football practice. There's no doubt the Rams want to be an aggressive, physical team unafraid to hit opponents in the mouth. At Monday's workout, they weren't afraid to hit one another in the mouth, either. In what was the most physical practice of this training camp, the Rams got after it all afternoon with shoulder pads on and run game drills aplenty. The defining moment came when receiver Austin Pettis felt like cornerback Lamarcus Joyner was a little too over the top in his pursuit of the ball after a play and threw it at Joyner. Joyner wasn't pleased with that response and went after Pettis. Before they were separated, both players threw punches and most of the team intervened to pull them apart. It wasn't the only moment of the day where the feisty Joyner got under someone's skin. A handful of plays before the skirmish, Joyner got tangled with receiver Kenny Britt and ended up with Britt's helmet in his hands. Britt later repaid the favor with a crushing downfield block. Joyner might be small but it's quite clear he doesn't back down.
  • As for the run-game work, the Rams emphasized that in today's practice. They did a period of run-blocking only drills early in the practice and made it a point to do even more during the team portion. They didn't tackle but there was plenty of "thud" tempo. That might not do it justice but think of these thuds as the kind that used to show up on the old Batman TV show where the word is in all caps with 18 exclamation points behind it. Starting running back Zac Stacy brought the hammer repeatedly, dropping his shoulder into safety Rodney McLeod multiple times and doing the same to linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong. Tight end Cory Harkey did the same after a couple of catches, including one that drew some not-fit-for-print words from Armstrong.
  • A couple of others who showed up when the contact increased: tight end Justice Cunningham and safety Maurice Alexander. After Alexander came up with a run stuff in one period, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams could be heard yelling "Look who finally showed up." Cunningham came with some big blocks during run plays in team as well, drawing praise from his offensive teammates and coaches.
  • The walking wounded list is still extensive but none of the injuries appear serious. Among the key names not practicing were linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford, wide receiver Brian Quick, cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Brandon McGee and offensive lineman Barrett Jones. Laurinaitis, Brockers and McGee are battling ankle issues and Saffold has a stinger. One player who did practice was safety Christian Bryant. He's been stuck on the non-football injury list since his arrival and Monday's workout was his first with the Rams.
  • The Rams return to practice Tuesday with the workout scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET. That practice is the only one left this week open to the public at Rams Park.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have made a habit the past two years of continuing to perpetuate the blockbuster trade they made with the Washington Redskins by making additional deals.

In fact, in the first two years with Les Snead as general manager and Jeff Fisher as coach, the Rams had made at least one trade with each of their three first-round picks, not to mention other deals made in later rounds.

But the Rams managed to sit still, not fidget and make some picks in Thursday night's first round. In selecting Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson with the second overall pick, the Rams added the final piece of the puzzle from the trade with the Redskins.

While we won't be able to fully assess the deal for some time, the Rams certainly came away with quite a haul when you factor in all the pieces they have added. Of course, if quarterback Robert Griffin III goes on to a big career, the Redskins won't mind the cost. All of that is to be determined.

In the meantime, here's a breakdown of what the two sides received in the trade:

Washington received: QB Robert Griffin III

St. Louis received: DT Michael Brockers, CB Janoris Jenkins, RB Isaiah Pead, G Rokevious Watkins, LB Alec Ogletree, WR Stedman Bailey, RB Zac Stacy, OT Greg Robinson

As we sit here today, that means the Redskins got a starting quarterback. The Rams, meanwhile, got starters at defensive tackle, cornerback, linebacker, running back and offensive line with a receiver who could likely grab that role this year.
ST. LOUIS -- A week after losing starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a torn ACL, the St. Louis Rams caught no breaks in hosting the Seattle Seahawks on "Monday Night Football" in Week 8.

To the surprise of many, present company included, the Rams managed to keep it close on the strength of a stout defensive performance and the power running of rookie Zac Stacy. Making his first start of the season, quarterback Kellen Clemens struggled to get much of anything going against Seattle's top-ranked pass defense but appeared to catch a rhythm on the final drive as Stacy's running opened things up down the field.

Stacy repeatedly gashed the Seahawks all night, posting 134 yards on 26 carries and the Rams found themselves with a chance to steal the win as time ran down. After failing on three shots to take the lead, the Rams had fourth-and-goal at Seattle's 1 with four seconds left.

Given Stacy's performance, it seemed like a no-brainer that the Rams would at least use him as a decoy on the final play if not hand him the ball outright. Instead, Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Clemens later said they got a zero-blitz look in which the Seahawks were set to bring the house. So Stacy split out wide to the left alongside receiver Brian Quick in the slot. Stacy was followed by Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner with cornerback Brandon Browner on Quick.

With no threat of the run, Seattle brought the house at Clemens, who let the ball go as soon as he received the snap. The throw landed harmlessly as Quick struggled to get to the corner of the end zone to end the game. Seattle won 14-9 and the head-scratching play call denied the Rams their best chance at a second win in the NFC West division.
ST. LOUIS --A quarter of the way through the 2013 season, the St. Louis Rams were on pace to be one of the worst rushing teams in the history of the NFL.

After parting ways with veteran Steven Jackson, who posted 1,000-yard seasons like clockwork, in the offseason the Rams insisted they would be able to replace Jackson's production with a variety of options. Daryl Richardson figured to get the first shot with Isaiah Pead waiting in the wings. That plan left the Rams at 1-3, averaging less than 50 yards per game on the ground through the first four weeks.

[+] EnlargeZac Stacy
Michael Thomas/Getty ImagesZac Stacy emerged this season as St. Louis' top option out of the backfield.
A dreadful 19 carries for 18 yards as a team against San Francisco in Week 4 left Rams coach Jeff Fisher and his staff looking to get back to their run game roots. At the center of that plan was finding a back capable of carrying the load. Rookie Zac Stacy had one carry in the first four weeks after falling behind because of some injury problems in training camp and the preseason.

Stacy took over as the starter in Week 5 against Jacksonville and never looked back.

"I was given the opportunity and I pretty much just took advantage of it every week," Stacy said. "There’s really no secret sauce to what I’m doing. It all started up front with the offensive line and just being a pro about yourself. Staying an extra hour watching tape, staying an extra hour working on your footwork and craft and stuff like that. That’s one thing I’ve taken from guys like Chris Long, James Laurinaitis. One thing they told me is just be a true pro about yourself. Eat right, take care of your body. Little things like that."

After nearly a decade of relying on Jackson as the workhorse of the offense and running game, the Rams attempted to go to more of a committee approach but Stacy's emergence took them back to the method that had worked in the run game. Stacy handled the bulk of the work from that point forward, finishing with 973 yards on 250 carries and 26 catches for 141 more yards and eight total touchdowns.

For the most part, Stacy was a strong, reliable centerpiece for an offense that was at its best when Stacy was at his best. But that doesn't mean Stacy didn't have his share of struggles in his rookie season.

As teams loaded the box to try to stop the run more and more, Stacy ran into some difficult games. Seattle and Arizona shut Stacy down completely, holding him to 40 yards on 29 carries. He finished the season with an average of just 3.89 yards per carry. He also battled small injuries that never cost him a game but kept him out of games for stretches of time.

Likewise, Stacy's pass protection got better during the season but can use work in that area as well. That's just one example of the details Stacy plans to attack in his first NFL offseason.

"Just doing all the little things," Stacy said. "Getting a better grasp of the playbook from that standpoint. Obviously getting faster, stronger. It’s a long season that I’ve learned from a rookie standpoint. You have got to be able to take care of your body as well. Keep doing all the little things right, from the weight room standpoint, flexibility, all of that stuff."

By the end of the season, Benny Cunningham was the primary backup with Pead next in line and Richardson inactive as he battled injuries all season.

The Rams seem to have plenty of options for the running game, making it unlikely they'll need to spend much in the way of money or draft capital on another back though a speedy complement might be an option. Stacy might not have answered the running game question in full but he appears to have done enough to earn another shot at starting in 2014.

St. Louis Rams season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
2:00
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 20
Preseason Power Ranking: 15

Biggest surprise: The offseason departure of running back Steven Jackson to Atlanta left many wondering who would take the torch to be the team's next centerpiece running back. After a failed four-game audition from Daryl Richardson, the Rams handed the keys to fifth-round rookie Zac Stacy. Stacy took over in Week 5 against Jacksonville and never looked back. For years, the Rams have watched as other teams found late-round gems and developed them into starters, but now they appear to have found one of their own. After becoming the starter, Stacy was one of the league's most productive back and finished with 973 yards and eight total touchdowns in just 12 games in the lead role.

Biggest disappointment: There are a few options here but the knee injury to quarterback Sam Bradford is the winner for what it meant to the 2013 season and the long-term future of the franchise. In his fourth NFL season, this was supposed to be the year when the Rams could truly have a handle on Bradford's viability as the team's quarterback long-term. Likewise, Bradford hoped to use this year to post his best numbers and possibly earn a lucrative contract extension. Instead, Bradford suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 20 and missed the season's final nine games. Before the injury, the Rams seemed to be finding an offensive rhythm with a run-first approach opening things up for Bradford in the passing game. All signs point to the Rams staying committed to Bradford as their quarterback in 2014, but the lost chance to do so with a bigger body of work was the year's biggest letdown.

Biggest need: The Rams enter the offseason with serious needs along the offensive line and in the secondary, but the single biggest need remains a true No. 1 receiver. The franchise has insisted that it wants to emulate a team like the New Orleans Saints, who have many options in the passing game. Problem is, two of those options are No. 1 quality pass catchers. Teams that don't have one say they can get by without a true No. 1. It's almost impossible to find a legitimate No. 1 in free agency because teams rarely let them go. The Rams have used four picks, including the No. 8 overall choice last year, on receivers the past two years, but that's no reason to stop searching for the type of wideout who can go deep, go up and win jump balls, run after the catch, go over the middle and all the things that the league's best receivers do. Put simply, the Rams need to be a more dynamic offense even if they remain committed to running the ball first. Landing a top wideout, even if it means using a high draft pick again this year, is the biggest need.

Team MVP: There's little doubt that defensive end Robert Quinn was both the team's best player and it's most valuable. He was the most dominant pass-rushing force in the league and set the tone for big wins against the likes of Indianapolis, Chicago and New Orleans. In addition, Quinn improved greatly as a run defender and did most of his damage with teams double- and triple-teaming him. He's the team's MVP and it says here he should be the NFL's defensive MVP as well.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:34
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A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 27-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

What it means: The Rams finish the season at 7-9, a half-game worse than they were a year ago, but after another manhandling at the hands of a division opponent, it's fair to wonder how far they have to go to keep pace in the NFC West. After piecing together a division-best 4-1-1 record against the NFC West last year, the Rams finished 2013 at 1-5 in the division on their way to a fourth-place finish. Although St. Louis made strides outside the division, going 6-4, that's not going to mean much if the Rams can't find ways to hang with the teams ahead of them.

More alarming, St. Louis was almost completely feckless offensively in its five losses to Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco this season. Four of those games came without starting quarterback Sam Bradford, but with so many stout defenses in the West, the Rams have to find a way to score more points.

Stock watch: Down: the Rams' running game. There was almost no chance the Rams would be able to match the 200 rushing yards they had in the first meeting between the teams, but to say they came up short of that mark would be a massive understatement. The loss of left tackle Jake Long and the other moving parts along the offensive line allowed Seattle to stack the box and completely shut down Rams back Zac Stacy & Co.

Stacy didn't even get the 42 yards needed to reach 1,000 for the season. When the Rams run the ball, quarterback Kellen Clemens can have success throwing. When they don't, you get a performance like Sunday's. The Rams finished with a measly 13 yards on 18 carries, an average of 0.7 per attempt.

Flag fest: It's not an unusual sight to see the Rams racking up penalties, but Sunday's game might have taken it to a new level. Make no mistake, Seattle had its share of penalties and the officials didn't have much control, if any. But the Rams again failed to maintain composure and piled up silly penalties, many of the 15-yard variety. When all was said and done, the Rams had 12 penalties for 87 yards. That total doesn't even account for another handful that weren't accepted.

What's next: The Rams head into what should be an interesting offseason. They're positioned well in terms of the NFL draft, with the No. 2 overall pick from Washington plus another first-round pick, but will have some serious decisions to make in regard to the salary cap. In the increasingly tough NFC West, they can't afford any missteps.

Rams-Buccaneers study session: Offense

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
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ST. LOUIS – Some thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams’ 23-13 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, after reviewing the All-22 film:

- From the very first snap the offense took, there was no doubt what the Rams wanted to do against the Bucs. The plan was simple: run the ball, run it again and run it some more. That’s exactly what the Rams did in this one, though yards were a bit harder to come by than they were against New Orleans last week. The Bucs made it clear they knew the Rams wanted to run it, regularly loading the box with extra defenders. After watching some other Tampa Bay games, it was clear they missed safety Mark Barron’s presence, especially against the run.

[+] EnlargeKellen Clemens
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesFor the second week in a row, Kellen Clemens set a single-game best for completion percentage.
- Regardless, the Rams spent much of the game in power formations running between the tackles. Even after losing left tackle Jake Long three snaps into the game and turning over the right-guard duties to Shelley Smith, with Rodger Saffold moving to left tackle, the Rams continued to pound away inside. Smith did a pretty good job all things considered; Zac Stacy found his share of yards running inside to the right. Saffold was also solid moving over to left tackle, but he’s simply not as dominant in the run game on the edge as he is when he plays guard. Saffold's ability to combine strength and athleticism when he pulls makes him a destructive run-blocker as a guard. That’s neutralized a bit when he is already outside. Nice job in pass protection, though.

- Center Tim Barnes looked more comfortable as well, especially in the run game, though there was an obvious hiccup when the Rams somehow failed to send anyone to block defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and he waltzed in untouched for a sack. Aside from that play, McCoy was mostly held in check.

- For the second week in a row, quarterback Kellen Clemens set a single-game best for completion percentage. He was on target, got the ball down the field and didn’t make any bad decisions when throwing it. Another bonus, Clemens didn’t run himself into any sacks, as he seems to do on occasion. Overall a strong performance, except for his fumble in the red zone. He’d be the first to say it but the quarterback draw on which he fumbled was a puzzling call, and Clemens made it worse by not recognizing it was going nowhere and just going down to come away with three points. Quarterback draws with Clemens have been successful before, but that wasn’t the time or the place for it.

- One call I did like, and it wasn’t all that meaningful in the grand scheme of the game but one that had me wondering why teams don’t do it more often, was the fourth-down quarterback sneak Clemens executed to keep a late drive going. The Rams lined up with one receiver split wide and everyone else in tight in offset power-I formation. Before the snap, Clemens sent his tight ends in motion and spread the defense out. Tampa Bay’s defense audibled to account for the receivers on the outside, and then Clemens sneaked into wide-open space for an easy first down. I’d be curious to see a similar setup where the defense tries to call the bluff and see if Clemens has the freedom to throw there anyway. Either way, simple design and concept but well done.

- More good work from Cory Harkey not only as a blocker but also in his continued involvement in the pass game. He’s actually become a reliable outlet for Clemens for short gains to help move the chains through the air. The drops that plagued him early in the season have been absent lately.

- Speaking of good play calls: Rookie receiver Stedman Bailey continues to get more opportunities and make the most of them. After getting a sudden change off a turnover at Tampa Bay’s 27, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called for a double reverse. It was a good call because it worked, obviously, but it was also well timed in that the Rams were in position to take advantage of that quick shift in momentum. The Rams blocked it up perfectly, to the point where it was almost shocking how easy it was. Not sure Bailey needed the dramatic leap into the end zone, but who are we to deny him the chance to enjoy his first NFL touchdown?

- Besides, how can anyone hold a grudge against a player who made the catch Bailey did for a 28-yard gain? When analysts talk about a player catching with his hands, a shot of Bailey hauling that one in should be the prime example. Bailey has done nothing to indicate his future is anything but bright.

- Receiver Chris Givens also made a nice catch deep down the sideline, climbing the ladder and getting his feet down for a big gain. One thing that he didn’t need, though, was the jawing with Darrelle Revis. Nothing wrong with not backing down from a challenge, but a little sense of place in relation to the opponent would be good. And that applies across the board. Rams defensive backs have been particularly guilty of it this year.

- They didn’t go for big gains but Brian Quick had a couple of catches in traffic with defenders all over him. That’s a good sign for a player who hasn’t taken advantage of his physical advantage over most defenders enough.

- Zero penalties for the offense in this one. In a game where yards were difficult to find, that’s a hidden number that can mean a lot.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 16

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
8:00
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ST. LOUIS -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 23-13 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Crown him: In this space last week, we made a strong case for why Rams defensive end Robert Quinn should be the leading candidate for the NFL's defensive player of the year. Quinn only added to the résumé against the Bucs, racking up three more sacks and six tackles. In the process, Quinn became the franchise's single-season leader for sacks, besting Kevin Carter's previous record of 17 by one.

[+] EnlargeRobert Quinn
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsWith three sacks of Bucs QB Mike Glennon, Robert Quinn moved into the league lead with 18 on the season.
Quinn's 18 sacks now lead the NFL in that category, and he remains tied with Indianapolis' Robert Mathis in forced fumbles with seven. Despite constant double- and triple-teams, Quinn kept battling against the Bucs and proved once again why he should be the leader in the clubhouse. Teammates William Hayes and Chris Long carried Quinn off the field to chants of "MVP, MVP" at the end of the game. No player has wrecked more offensive game plans in 2013.

Don't forget Ogletree: Rams rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree hasn't been as prominently mentioned in the defensive rookie of the year contest as Quinn has in the defensive player of the year battle, but maybe he should be. Ogletree added eight tackles, half of a sack and two forced fumbles to his tally against Tampa Bay.

For the season, Ogletree has 110 tackles, 1.5 sacks, an interception return for a touchdown, six forced fumbles, eight pass breakups and five batted passes. His half-dozen forced fumbles trail only Quinn and Mathis in that category.

Losing Long: Not all of the news from Sunday's game was positive for the Rams. They lost left tackle Jake Long to a knee injury three plays into the game, and coach Jeff Fisher said there's concern that it's a torn ACL. That would mean a long road to recovery for Long, leaving the Rams with even more questions on an offensive line that figures to have plenty in the offseason.

Rodger Saffold ably filled in for Long against the Bucs and continues to show his value through not only his versatility but also his ability. Saffold's pending free agency now becomes an even more pressing issue for the Rams as the offseason nears.

Rookie ramblings: The Rams have had no problem relying on rookies to produce all season, as they are the league's youngest team for the second year in a row. That production has been hit or miss from week to week but Sunday's game provided a glimpse into what could be when this year's group reaches its potential.

Ogletree is something of a given in terms of production at this point; so is running back Zac Stacy, who provided his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season Sunday. Now, others are starting to become more prominent. Receiver Stedman Bailey had three catches and rushed for a 27-yard touchdown. Safety T.J. McDonald had six tackles and a sack.

That doesn't even include top pick Tavon Austin, who didn't play because of an ankle injury. If the growth of this year's class from Week 1 to now is any indication of the future, this draft class might be the type of foundational group that leads to big things for the Rams in the future.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Much has been written and said this week about the chances of St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn taking home the defensive player of the year award. That includes plenty from this corner of cyberspace.

Lost in the end of the year award conversation is the candidacy of a pair of Rams rookies for their respective rookie awards. With two weeks to go, running back Zac Stacy and linebacker Alec Ogletree are probably long shots for the offensive and defensive rookie of the year awards, respectively. But both have done enough to at least have their names thrown into the hat.

We detailed Stacy's season here yesterday but there have been almost no rookies more productive on the offensive side of the ball than Stacy since he became the Rams' starter in week 5. In that time, Stacy has the second most carries among all backs and is fifth in rushing yards.

Stacy
Ogletree
The problem for Stacy's chances is that one of the few backs who has been more productive is also a rookie. Green Bay's Eddie Lacy has been nothing short of fantastic in that span, leading the league in rushing with 977 yards and seven touchdowns on 233 carries. Many consider Lacy to be the leader to win offensive rookie of the year.

Those that don't point to San Diego receiver Keenan Allen or, to a lesser extent, Cincinnati running back Giovani Bernard. Allen has 63 catches for 931 yards and seven touchdowns acting as a revelation to a San Diego offense in desperate need of a reliable receiving target.

Although things could change in the next two weeks, Stacy is probably on the outside looking in but if you weigh his value to the Rams' offense, particularly after the loss of quarterback Sam Bradford, a case can be made for him to at least finish in the top three.

Ogletree faces a far more difficult climb to merit consideration in the defensive rookie of the year race. Steadily improving throughout the year, Ogletree has posted the type of numbers that would make him a strong candidate in most seasons. He has 101 tackles (third among rookies), four forced fumbles (first), eight pass breakups (fourth) and five batted passes (first). He also has a sack and an interception he returned 98 yards for a touchdown.

That body of work should qualify Ogletree to have his name firmly in the mix but the production of many of the top defensive rookies this year has been impressive.

New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson has been a force against the run, racking up a shocking 70 tackles from a position where those are hard to come by.

Buffalo linebacker Kiko Alonso has been even better, posting 137 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and four interceptions.

New Orleans safety Kenny Vaccaro, San Francisco safety Eric Reid and Carolina defensive tackle Star Lotulelei also have solid cases. Like Stacy, it's going to be difficult for Ogletree to squeeze his name to the top of many ballots but there's no denying that he, too, has earned mention among the best rookies in the league.

Even if, as expected, both Rams rookie fall short of any postseason recognition, their fans can take solace in the fact that they're getting strong return on draft picks right away. In St. Louis, that hasn't been a common occurrence in the past decade or so.

Zac Stacy's standout season a throwback

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- There was a time when 1,000 rushing yards in a season was a milestone held in high regard around the NFL. It was a number that was difficult to reach because of the pounding running backs took from week to week.

That was in a time before the league expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Runners who hit the 1,000-yard mark before then did it in 14 games and, even more impressive, 12 before that.

As St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy closes in on reaching that mark in his rookie season, it wouldn’t seem to be an achievement that should move the needle much.

But if Stacy can piece together the 146 yards he needs to reach 1,000 in the next two weeks, his 1,000-yard season will carry a bit more weight than the many others in the club for 2013.

[+] EnlargeZac Stacy
Scott Kane/USA TODAY SportsZac Stacy is closing in on becoming the third Rams rookie to record 1,000 rushing yards in a season.
“Considering he got a late start, I think it would be quite a feat, especially against some of the defenses that we faced this year,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.

Indeed, based on Stacy’s late start, a 1,000-yard season would fall more in line with the likes of backs of the 1950s than those who play today. In many ways, that would be a fitting accomplishment for Stacy, who runs with an old-school, hard-charging style reminiscent of the backs of yesteryear.

After coming to St. Louis as a fifth-round draft choice in April, Stacy battled some injury issues in training camp and the preseason. It left him behind the pack in the team’s running back competition and he started at the bottom of the depth chart.

Through the team’s first four games, Stacy was active just twice and carried once for 4 yards. In desperate need of a reliable running game, the Rams turned to a healthy Stacy in hopes he could ignite something.

What they got was the key to a shift in offensive philosophy that turned the course of the season.

“It was definitely frustrating from a standpoint of just I’m a competitor and I want to be out on the field and help this team and this offense be successful,” Stacy said. “I just pretty much played the waiting game, was given the opportunity and took advantage of it.”

That’s putting it mildly. Aside from a couple of tough outings against Arizona and San Francisco, Stacy has been the driving force for the offense, adding new wrinkles to his game seemingly every week.

Since taking over as starter in Week 5, Stacy has 850 rushing yards, the fifth-highest total in the NFL in that span. His 854 rushing yards are the third most by a rookie in franchise history. If he gets to 1,000, he’ll join Eric Dickerson and Jerome Bettis as the only rookie rushers in Rams history to get there.

“That would be amazing,” quarterback Kellen Clemens said. “I don’t know where he’s at. That would be great. Certainly, the way that we lean on the run game, hopefully it’s possible. Hopefully he gets his carries.”

Getting carries certainly hasn’t been a problem for Stacy. He’s carried 201 times since Week 5, trailing only the 233 attempts of Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy in that time period.

That workload hasn’t come without a price, though. There doesn’t appear to be many glaring holes in Stacy’s game but his knack for getting nicked up here and there has kept him from having even more opportunities. Against Chicago, he rushed for 87 yards in the first half and looked like he was on his way to a career high before leaving with a concussion.

Stacy has also dealt with rib, ankle and hip issues along the way, the latter of which he practiced through Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m crawling to the bathroom on Monday[s],” Stacy said. “I feel good as new. I feel better than last week, to tell you the truth.”

That throwback mentality is similar to Stacy’s running style, both of which have earned him high marks among teammates. At 5-foot-8, 224 pounds, Stacy bears a bit of resemblance to San Francisco’s Frank Gore both in size and running style.

Stacy runs low to the ground but possesses excellent patience and more often than not makes the right reads. He’s also made a habit of pushing the pile for extra yards and finding positive gains where none looked available.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Stacy is 10th in the league in yards after contact with 377. It should also be noted that Stacy doesn’t have a fumble.

“When you look at how he runs, those extra yards are what’s really helping him,” guard Rodger Saffold said. “We’re giving him the ability to get to the second level but the way that he’s pushing the piles, those yards after you’ve been hit have been adding up.”

And even though Stacy doesn’t have the home run speed that many might like, he proved last week with a 40-yard touchdown run, he is capable of going the distance when the opportunity arises.

Add all of that together and it appears the Rams have found a back who can carry the load well into the future, even for a full season.
Mike Glennon and Kellen ClemensGetty ImagesMike Glennon's Bucs and Kellen Clemens' Rams have remained competitive down the stretch.
The St. Louis Rams will wear their throwback uniforms Sunday when they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The old school blue and yellow is intended to spark memories of the famous NFC Championship Game the two sides played after the 1999 season.

It's also going to serve as a reminder of how far both teams have to go to get back to a place where they're competing for Super Bowls. The Rams are 6-8 and Tampa Bay is 4-10, leaving both squads on the outside looking in for the postseason.

Despite the knowledge they'll be home in January, both teams have remained competitive which should make for an interesting matchup when they renew acquaintances at the Edward Jones Dome.

ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas discuss Sunday's game.

Wagoner: After a rough start, it seems the Bucs have somewhat righted the ship here (pun unmercifully intended) toward the end of the season. How have they been able to do that, and do you think Greg Schiano has made a case to keep his job?

Yasinskas: The amazing thing is, despite the 0-8 start, the Bucs never stopped playing hard. That's led to wins in four of their last six games. That's happened mostly because the defense has played very well and the offense has played just well enough. Still, it remains to be seen if Schiano has done enough to keep his job after this season. My personal opinion is the ownership likes him and likes how he's cleaned up the locker room, but I think he needs to win these final two games to have any chance of staying.

The Rams obviously aren't going to the playoffs either. What's left for them to play for?

Wagoner: Nothing particularly tangible is out there save for a chance to finish .500 for the first time since 2006 and only the third time since 2004. In St. Louis, that does represent progress given the last decade has been such a disaster in terms of wins and losses. Since Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead arrived, they've quietly targeted 2014 as the breakout season for this young team. Any progress they can make toward that is a good thing. It would serve them well to engender confidence among the fan base that the 2013 team is better at the end of the year than the 2012 team was.

You mentioned the work of the defense in keeping the Bucs competitive this year. It seems linebacker Lavonte David is quietly having a huge year and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is also enjoying a second straight big season. You see those guys every day. Are they receiving proper credit for the job they've done or is it lost in the mix of a losing season?

Yasinskas: McCoy went to the Pro Bowl last year, so he's not a complete unknown. He should go to the Pro Bowl again this season. He already has eight sacks and is shooting for double digits. David isn't nearly as well known outside of Tampa Bay, where fans already are comparing him to Derrick Brooks. David is having a phenomenal season. He has six sacks and five interceptions. That makes him just the seventh player in NFL history to have at least five sacks and at least five interceptions in the same season. There even has been talk of David as a defensive player of the year candidate. I think his play makes that a legitimate possibility. But Tampa Bay's losing record probably will work against him.

Speaking of defensive player of the year candidates on non-playoff teams, St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn deserves to be in the conversation. Do you think he's earned a chance?

Wagoner: With two games to go, I think a legitimate argument can be made that he should not only be in the mix but also win the award. He's become the dominant and disruptive pass-rusher everyone expected him to be and he's drastically improved as a run defender, which allows him to stay on the field for all three downs. And he's not just doing it against bad teams. He is second in the league in sacks, first in forced fumbles and has countless quarterback pressures and hits. He's done a lot of that damage without the benefit of a lead and ample pass rush opportunities to boot. He's also two sacks from tying Kevin Carter for the most in a season in the history of the St. Louis version of the Rams.

I'm curious about the guy Quinn and Co. will be chasing Sunday. It looked like the Bucs had quite a quarterback conundrum on their hands earlier this year, but the switch to Mike Glennon has calmed things quite a bit. What does Glennon bring to the table and do you believe he's done enough to cement himself as the guy moving forward?

Yasinskas: Glennon has been a pleasant surprise after the Josh Freeman mess early in the season. Glennon brings a big arm and is naturally poised. He's been slowed a bit recently as he ran into some good defenses (Carolina and San Francisco), but the Bucs still think his trajectory is pointing up. As for whether Glennon is the quarterback for the long term, a lot depends on what happens with Schiano. If there's a new coach, he might elect to bring in his own quarterback. But Glennon is Schiano's quarterback. Schiano tried (unsuccessfully) to recruit Glennon to Rutgers and has been infatuated with him ever since.

Speaking of rookies who are having a big impact, tell us what running back Zac Stacy has brought to the St. Louis offense.

Wagoner: Simply put, Stacy's emergence in the run game has been the key to the Rams' turning it around after one of the worst rushing starts to a season in franchise history. He's not going to wow anyone with his speed or flashy moves in the open field. But he's physical, intelligent and extremely patient. When the Rams have success on offense, it's a direct result of the run game working, usually with Stacy as the centerpiece. He opens things up for backup quarterback Kellen Clemens in the pass game and helps keep defenses off-balance. He's been a revelation as a fifth-round draft choice.

Rams-Saints study session: Offense

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
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ST. LOUIS – Some thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams’ 27-16 win against the New Orleans Saints, after reviewing the All-22 film.

  • The story of this game for the offense isn’t much different than what it was on the other side of the ball. This game was won at the line of scrimmage, where the Rams got an outstanding effort from their offensive line, tight ends and fullback Cory Harkey.
  • With the run game sagging like it did the previous two weeks, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and his staff made some tweaks to the run game to get Zac Stacy rolling again. The most obvious fix in this game? Using Stacy outside the tackles. Schematically, the Rams have been using mostly a potpourri of whams with Stacy; he’s gained most of his yards between the tackles. But yardage has been harder to find in that area recently. Getting Stacy outside is made easier with Rodger Saffold back at right guard. The Rams used Saffold on a variety of pulls and wasted no chance to get him out in space to clear out Saints linebackers. Saffold has quick feet and the power to completely wipe out smaller defenders. He was particularly noticeable on a 29-yard run by Stacy early in the game as well as Stacy's 40-yard touchdown run. All of that stuff about Saffold potentially being an elite guard in this league is coming to fruition. Nice job by Schottenheimer putting his players in position to do what they do best.
  • The rest of the line also deserves credit for the run game revving again. Tim Barnes was much better this week at center, Joe Barksdale and Chris Williams were solid and left tackle Jake Long was again extremely effective in the run game.
  • Tight end Lance Kendricks also played a strong role in Stacy’s touchdown run and a number of other solid gains. His acrobatic touchdown catch was icing on the cake on a nice day for him.
  • Stacy continues to impress. I have to admit, I wondered if he could be effective outside the hashes, but he showed a little better speed and quickness of foot than I expected when the Rams got him out in space. His hurdle leading to a 29-yard run showed more athleticism than we’d seen as well. The thing that continues to stand out about Stacy is his patience. He hits the hole but he also allows time for it to develop. That’s an instinctual thing that can’t be taught.
  • Like Kendricks, Harkey had another nice day. His touchdown rumble was well done, though he benefited from some awful tackle attempts, and he was stout as a blocker, per usual.
  • The other thing the Rams did schematically that made a lot of sense was move the pocket and keep the Saints from being able to focus their pass rush solely on the quarterback. Schottenheimer had plenty of bootlegs and play-action in the game plan. That, combined with solid pass protection, kept the Saints from getting much pass rush going.
  • Kellen Clemens had his most accurate day as a passer and was in total control from the beginning. You keep waiting for him to have a streak of five or six misses in a row, but it never happened. When the run game is rolling like it was, Clemens is so much more effective. He did a nice job of standing in the pocket and getting the ball to the right people to keep drives alive. I only noticed Clemens scramble himself into trouble one time against the Saints.
  • For most of the day, the Rams stuck to run-heavy, power formations, with only one or two receivers on the field. But there was little middle ground. They’d go five wide when they weren’t in jumbo ‘22’ packages and spread the Saints out. It helped keep them off balance.
  • Austin Pettis played only 13 snaps, but he made the most of them. He had four catches, three for first downs and played an integral role in keeping early drives alive.
  • Nice sight adjustment by receiver Chris Givens on a 31-yard catch-and-run early in the game. You can clearly see him alerting Clemens to an opening for a quick slant before the snap. That’s a positive sign of growth for Givens, who hasn’t had many of them this season.
  • Tight end Jared Cook didn’t do much in the pass game but had one of his better days as a blocker. He threw a nice block on Harkey’s touchdown and did some good work run-blocking as well.
  • In live action, it was hard to tell whether receiver Brian Quick should have hauled in the deep ball from Clemens that he just missed. It was a nice throw by Clemens; that should be acknowledged. But upon further inspection, it looked like a nice play by Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis, who got his hand in to knock the ball away before Quick could snatch it. Perhaps Quick could have done a little more to get it, and 50/50 balls have been hit or miss for Quick. But it was a nice play by Lewis.
  • The Rams were 7-of-14 on third down, but the key was their ability to get into manageable third-down situations. Five of their seven conversions came on third-and-5 or less, and they actually missed some easier chances when they only needed a yard or two to keep the chains moving.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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ST. LOUIS -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 27-16 victory against the New Orleans Saints:

Quinn again: Rams defensive end Robert Quinn had already established himself as the team’s best defensive player in 2013, and with each passing week he’s making a better case that he’s the league’s best.

Quinn
Quinn forced Saints coach Sean Payton to toss out the game plan early and continued to punish any blocker put in front of him throughout the Rams' victory. Quinn had five tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss, two quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

For the season, Quinn leads the NFC in sacks with 15 and the NFL in forced fumbles with eight. This is the definition of a breakout season for one of the game’s emerging stars.

Stacy steps up: It’s no secret that the Rams’ success in 2013 has been directly tied to their ability to run the ball successfully. Rookie Zac Stacy has been the key to that success, and after a couple of down weeks, he rebounded nicely against the Saints.

Stacy rushed for a combined 97 yards in losses to San Francisco and Arizona the past two weeks. He had 106 in the first half against the Saints and finished with 133 yards on 28 carries with a 40-yard touchdown run.

Since becoming the starter in Week 5, Stacy has averaged 88.6 yards in the team’s five wins.

On target: Toughness and leadership are qualities Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens has regularly displayed since becoming the starter in Week 7. Accuracy is not.

So when Clemens started Sunday’s game by completing 10 of his first 13 passes, it seemed like just a matter of time before the ball started hitting the turf consistently. It never happened.

Clemens completed 14 of 20 for the game, a 70 percent completion rate which is the highest of his career to date. The Rams grabbed an early lead behind Stacy’s running, leaving Clemens with little to do, but he made the most of his opportunities, posting a 95.7 QBR.

Turnover time: It’s been said and written time and again that no single statistic is more indicative of a team’s performance than the turnover differential. That certainly holds true for the Rams.

St. Louis created three takeaways (two interceptions, one fumble recovery) and coughed up none on offense to finish plus-three against the Saints. That they won given that turnover output should come as no surprise. The Rams are plus-three or better in five of their six wins this season and have not lost when they’ve been on the positive side of the takeaway battle.

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