Sunday, October 21, 2012
Rams in the midst of Rodgers' greatness
By Mike Sando
The Rams couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers as he completed 30 passes for 342 yards and three scores.
ST. LOUIS -- This was more action flick than horror movie for the St. Louis Rams. They were mere extras in Aaron Rodgers' latest production, and what a production it was.
Rodgers' greatness on this Sunday does not excuse the Rams' many transgressions during a 30-20 defeat to the Green Bay Packers in the Edward Jones Dome.
A typically matter-of-fact coach Jeff Fisher was right to hold his players accountable.
Fisher faulted receiver Brandon Gibson for failing to catch a contested pass on fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 14-yard line when the game was close in the second quarter.
Fisher said rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins was "watching the flags fly" against teammate Chris Long for offsides "when he should have been playing defense" on a 52-yard Rodgers completion to Jordy Nelson.
Fisher blamed offside penalties against Long and defensive tackle Kendall Langford for giving Rodgers the freedom to throw deep for the 52-yard gain and again for what will stand as the game's signature play.
Leading 20-13 with 8:50 remaining, Rodgers rolled left and threw the ball across his body to Randall Cobb for a 39-yard touchdown. The ball traveled 43 yards in the air and over rookie cornerback Trumaine Johnson before safety Craig Dahl could factor in the play. Cobb caught the ball over his head and beyond his body.
One quarterback in the NFL is more likely than any other to make that play. Unfortunately for the Rams, they were facing him Sunday.
"What he does the best is that he's good at improv," Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said.
If you're going to pressure Rodgers, you'd better get him down. The Rams succeeded on that front early in the game. Long and fellow defensive end Robert Quinn had matchup advantages. But the Packers adjusted by helping their tackles. They settled for shorter completions and then struck deep when the Rams made mistakes.
"I hung our coverage out to dry," Long said of his offsides penalty. "That was 100 percent on me. All week I knew he was going to take a shot if we got offsides or jumped offsides and then lined up and got back."
Long, credited on the stat sheet with an assisted tackle and nothing else, took the defeat personally.
"You got three guys busting their ass, playing really well," he said of the Rams' other defensive linemen. "I just need to be better."
Rodgers completed 20 of his first 22 passes for 232 yards and two scores. He completed 10 of his final 15 passes for another 110 yards and a touchdown.
MVP voters, take note: Rodgers now has completed 54 of 74 passes (73 percent) for 680 yards with nine scores and no interceptions over the past two weeks. He has done it against Houston and St. Louis, teams that have made life rough on most other quarterbacks this season. Before Sunday, the Texans and Rams had allowed 58.1 percent completions with 10 touchdowns and 15 picks to quarterbacks other than Rodgers.
The Rams must be accountable, of course, but they've got to be realistic, too. There's less shame in losing when the opposing quarterback plays this way.
"He's going to make throws that other quarterbacks won't," Laurinaitis said.
Rodgers completed five passes longer than 15 yards, four of them on third down.
Rodgers went short when the Rams attacked with five or more pass-rushers, completing 10 of 13 attempts for 81 yards and a touchdown, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And when the Rams rushed four or fewer, the Packers had their way down the field. Rodgers completed 20 of 24 passes for 261 yards and two scores on those plays.
Aaron Rodgers' pinpoint touchdown pass to Randall Cobb gave the Packers a two-score lead.
Cobb caught all eight passes thrown his way for 89 yards and two touchdowns. He is the only player this season to catch every pass thrown his way when targeted at least eight times in a game. He's done it twice, both against NFC West teams. Cobb caught all nine targets for 77 yards against San Francisco in Week 1.
Nelson fared at least as well Sunday. He caught eight passes in nine targets for 122 yards and a touchdown. That included six receptions for 99 yards and a score outside the yard-line numbers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Packers succeeded in isolating Nelson against Jenkins and Bradley Fletcher on the outside while Cortland Finnegan defended the slot.
"It is more than Aaron being dialed in," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
McCarthy pointed to administration by the referee Bill Vinovich and crew as one key for the Packers. He said officials were standing over the ball between plays for longer than anticipated, making it tough for Green Bay to execute its no-huddle offense early.
The Packers showed they could move the ball methodically as well. They had 12- and 10-play touchdown drives in the second half. Those drives spanned more than 12 minutes while keeping the Rams' offense from building on a first half in which St. Louis rushed for 93 yards and won time of possession by six minutes. Green Bay possessed the ball for more than 21 of 30 minutes after the half.
The Rams count their cornerbacks as a strength, but Jenkins has suffered through rookie struggles the past couple weeks, at great cost to the team. He froze on a play against Miami last week, guessing wrong and standing still as the receiver got behind him for an easy score. This time, he failed to stay with Nelson after Long's penalty.
And yet the Rams trailed by only a touchdown after a six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter. They finally have a playmaker at wide receiver. Chris Givens' 56-yard catch-and-run during that drive gave him a 50-plus reception in four consecutive games, the first time any NFL rookie has done that since Willie Gault in 1983.
The Rams allowed only three sacks on 37 drop backs even with a left tackle and left guard making their first NFL starts. There will be better results for this offense in the future.
Quarterback Sam Bradford needed help from Gibson on that fourth-down play, but he has to be better, too. The first-down interception he threw on a deep pass to Givens had no chance for completion. Bradford felt pressure and rushed the throw without setting to deliver. It looked like a panic throw. It was one reason the Packers held the ball so long in the second half.
The many thousands of Packers fans in attendance Sunday roared their approval following what was the game's only turnover.
If Rams fans weren’t quite outnumbered in the Edward Jones Dome, you can bet they will be when St. Louis faces the the New England Patriots in London this week.
All is not lost.
While no team should welcome a matchup with Tom Brady, this instance might warrant an exception. Getting as far away from Rodgers as possible has to feel pretty good for the Rams right about now.