NFL Nation: Janoris Jenkins

Rams draft rewind: 2012

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
The NFL draft is still about a month away, leaving us with plenty of time to look ahead to what might happen. But it also gives us plenty of time to take a look back.

In the interest of keeping Rams fans from re-living the nightmares of drafts gone by, we'll limit our look back to drafts where at least one player remains on the roster.

With that, we turn our attention to the 2012 class.

The picks: DT Michael Brockers (No. 14 overall), WR Brian Quick (No. 33), CB Janoris Jenkins (No. 39), RB Isaiah Pead (No. 50), CB Trumaine Johnson (No. 65), WR Chris Givens (No. 96), OL Rokevious Watkins (No. 150), K Greg Zuerlein (No. 171), LB Aaron Brown (No. 209), RB Daryl Richardson (No. 252).

What's left: The first draft class of the Jeff Fisher/Les Snead era, this is the group that, for better or worse, is the foundation of what this regime is hoping to build. So far, the results have been mixed but the Rams have found some pieces that they believe will be long term starters and contributors. From the original group, only Watkins and Brown are no longer on the roster.

Brockers, Jenkins and Johnson remain as projected starters and the Rams seem to have plenty of confidence in their ability to get the job done. Zuerlein looks poised to hold down kicking duties for the long haul.

After a promising rookie season, Givens took a step back in 2013 but still offers potential as a deep threat. Richardson looked ready to become Steven Jackson's replacement as the starting back but injuries prevented that from happening and he tumbled down the depth chart. The jury remains out on Quick and Pead entering their third year but so far they've been disappointments.

Best pick: The Rams rolled the dice a bit when they traded back twice before taking Brockers at No. 14 but so far the pick looks like a good one. An ankle injury slowed Brockers in his first season but he played all 16 games and was instrumental in the team's improved run defense in the final half of the 2013 season. Although he still has work to do as a pass rusher, he posted five and a half sacks despite regular double teams. When the Rams drafted Brockers, they knew they were getting an unfinished product but he looks headed toward reaching that potential.

Worst pick: While Quick hasn't made the strides many hoped he would in his first two seasons, it was at least clear early on that he would take some time. Which makes Pead the choice here. When the team drafted him in the second round, the expectation was that he would be the change of pace for Jackson and potentially his long-term replacement. He fell behind right away, missing the offseason program because of college rules and hasn't been able to get out of his own way since. Richardson claimed the change of pace role for Jackson and then the starting job when Jackson departed. Pead has meanwhile struggled with fumbling issues when he has played and hasn't earned many opportunities. Now, he's been relegated to a special teams role and will likely find himself battling for a roster spot come training camp.

What could have been: Many will point to the Rams passing on Alshon Jeffery in favor of Quick and based on results so far, that's a fair argument. But Jeffery was never really under consideration by the Rams so let's go to a scenario that was in play. Before the draft, the Rams showed interest in linebackers Bobby Wagner and Mychal Kendricks. Both were on the board for the Rams at No. 45 overall. But St. Louis wanted to recoup the fifth-round pick it traded for receiver Brandon Lloyd during the 2011 season. So the Rams made a deal with the Bears, moving down to No. 50 and getting their fifth-round choice in the process. Chicago took Jeffery with that No. 45 pick, Philadelphia selected Kendricks at No. 46 and Wagner went No. 47 to Seattle. Three picks later, the Rams took Pead and used the fifth-round choice on Watkins. Making matters worse, Tampa Bay's star linebacker LaVonte David was still on the board when the Rams picked Pead.
Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine JohnsonGetty ImagesThe Rams have been pleased with the work of CBs Trumaine Johnson (22) and Janoris Jenkins.
The St. Louis Rams said goodbye to cornerback Cortland Finnegan early in free agency, releasing him in a move that will save them $7 million in salary-cap space. Safety Darian Stewart signed with the Baltimore Ravens. Fellow safety Matt Giordano remains unsigned.

None of those three moves will do much to hurt the fortunes of the Rams' secondary in 2014, but they have left the team short on experience in the defensive backfield. At cornerback, Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins, each entering his third season, are the longest-tenured NFL players. Likewise at safety, where Matt Daniels and Rodney McLeod enter their third years.

Under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, the Rams have not been afraid to roll with young players and, after staying out of the fray for free-agent defensive backs, it appears that's one area they will do so again in 2014.

According to Fisher, the team's lack of veteran help on the back end of the defense wasn't necessarily by choice but also doesn't have him concerned, either.

“It would have been nice [to add a veteran], but honestly that market got priced out of what we were looking for," Fisher said. "And again, we’ve got two young safeties coming into their second year as starters. Not disappointed in the improvement we saw out of Cody [Davis], got Daniels coming back, the potential to draft and there’s still going to be experienced safeties out there. Not disappointed.’’

There may still be some experienced safeties and even corners on the market, though those shelves have mostly been picked over at this point. It's going to be hard to find starting-caliber players anywhere but the draft at this point in the offseason. Which means the Rams' secondary could well bear a striking resemblance to its 2013 receiving corps, relying on players with no more than two years of experience to handle the bulk of the snaps.

The Rams haven't completely ignored the defensive backfield this offseason, rolling the dice on cornerback Greg Reid, an under-the-radar signing they hope can pay off big as a potential solution for the nickel role next to Jenkins and Johnson. Brandon McGee, a fifth-round pick in 2013, also has drawn positive reviews from Fisher and Snead and could be part of the mix.

It's probably safe to assume the Rams will add some help at cornerback at some point in the draft, though it remains to be seen how early. Reports over the weekend indicated Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert is scheduled to arrive in St. Louis this week for a visit. He's considered one of the top corners available in May's draft.

Either way, the Rams do appear quite confident in the ability of Jenkins and Johnson to take another step forward.

“I think the corners can always improve. I’m pleased what we got out of them last year," Fisher said. "Jenks had a couple issues with the ball, he got tangled up in the Seattle game on the Golden Tate touchdown and a couple others, but was productive week in, week out. Tru, on the other hand, didn’t give up a lot of plays, the balls were in front of him, thought he tackled well, it’s been good to see Tru in the building, he’s committed, he’s working hard this offseason. I think he’s really growing up and maturing, think you’re going to see a lot more improvement out of him.’’

Meanwhile, at safety, the Rams believe in T.J. McDonald at one starting spot but his running mate remains a spot up for debate. McLeod started every game last season and proved valuable if for no other reason than his versatility to play in the slot when needed. But the Rams are still in serious need of a ball-hawking, rangy safety to complement McDonald.

That's why one of the most consistently predictable mock draft selections found anywhere is the Rams taking Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and, to a lesser extent, Louisville's Calvin Pryor, with the No. 13 overall pick.

Armed with 12 picks in this year's draft, it's a safe bet the Rams will select at least one corner and one safety somewhere along the way. All that remains to be seen is whether those positions are enough of a priority for those picks to happen sooner than later.
The free-agent market is scheduled to begin March 11, and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 8. We'll count down to that with a position-by-position look at what the Rams have in place, who is set to hit the market, what they might need and who might fit the bill.

In place: The top four cornerbacks on the roster all remain under the Rams' control for 2014, though the possibility for tweaks remains. Starters Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are set to enter their third year and will be back, as will Brandon McGee, who is set to enter his second season.

Where the intrigue comes in is with veteran Cortland Finnegan. Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have publicly given Finnegan the vote of confidence in terms of his return, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be back under the same contract with his $10 million salary-cap hit. The Rams technically don't have to do anything with Finnegan's contract right away since they have room to sign a player or two without restructuring, but having an agreement in place if they plan to bring him back would seem to be a priority.

Pending free agents: Quinton Pointer (exclusive rights).

What’s needed: Simply put, the Rams need to find another starting-caliber cornerback, or at least good enough to be one of the top-three options on the team. They've invested picks and time in Jenkins and Johnson, and though signs of progress have been evident for both, inconsistency has been just as prevalent. Many believe defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can get that duo on track, but even if that's true, the Rams need another option ready to go.

Finnegan played hurt before he went on injured reserve last year and didn't look right before the season even started. He's still relatively young at 30, and one would think he has some gas left in the tank, but it's hard to imagine the Rams bringing him back at his projected cost.

Possible fits: The obvious name here is pending Tennessee free agent Alterraun Verner. Verner had his best season last year under the guidance of Titans defensive assistant Williams, who is now running the defense in St. Louis. He would certainly fit the need for a starting-caliber corner. But Verner figures to get a hefty contract, and with what the Rams have invested in Jenkins and Johnson and the lack of return on investment for Finnegan, it might not be the best idea to invest heavily in a corner who doesn't have a long track record of success.

Other top corners who will be available include New England's Aqib Talib, Miami's Brent Grimes and Green Bay's Sam Shields. All figure to get big-money deals. The better bet for the Rams might be to find a mid-level veteran type, such as Oakland's Tracy Porter or San Francisco's Tarell Brown.

Verdict: I wouldn't be surprised if the Rams kicked the tires on Verner, but I also don't expect them to spend the kind of big money on a free agent that would be required to land him. They could use an early pick on a top corner, but they could use a veteran presence in the secondary. Perhaps Finnegan will be that guy, coming back on a lesser contract.

Tavon Austin questionable again

December, 20, 2013
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In today's edition of the Tavon Austin injury watch, we can confidently report that, well, there's not much to report.

Austin sat out Friday's practice, just like he did Wednesday and Thursday, as he continues to nurse his ankle back to health. He didn't practice before sitting out last week's game against New Orleans, either. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Austin will be questionable for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.

Fisher said Monday that he hoped Austin would be able to practice at some point this week. Clearly, that didn't happen, which makes Austin's status more tenuous for this week. It seems unlikely he'd play without practicing, but it's possible he could improve in the next couple of days, test the ankle before the game and play against the Bucs.

Here's the Rams' complete Friday injury report:

Questionable: Austin (ankle), running back Daryl Richardson (thigh)

Probable: Offensive lineman Mike Person (illness), linebacker Will Witherspoon (illness), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (back)

Austin, Jenkins questionable for Sunday

December, 13, 2013
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the third consecutive day, St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin and cornerback Janoris Jenkins did not practice.

For those keeping score at home, that's a full week's worth of practice in preparation for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Austin's ankle injury and Jenkins' back ailment have kept them on the sideline all week and now have them listed as questionable for this week.

In NFL parlance, the questionable designation translates to a 50/50 chance to play. Austin has watched practice each of the past two days with a walking boot protecting his left foot.

Jenkins has spent the week getting treatment on his back but took to social media earlier Friday to offer a strong statement that he plans to play against the Saints.

In response to a fan question, Jenkins said he'd be ready to play.

The possibility of playing without Austin is damaging enough to an offense without much big play potential in his absence. Not having Jenkins would also be harmful to a struggling secondary without much depth, especially against New Orleans' high-octane passing attack.

Here's the Rams' complete injury report for Friday:

Questionable: Austin (ankle), Jenkins (back), running back Daryl Richardson (thigh), Harvey Dahl (knee)

Probable: Cornerback Brandon McGee (foot)

Tavon Austin misses practice again

December, 12, 2013
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin missed practice for the second consecutive day because of an ankle injury.

Austin watched Thursday's practice from the sideline while wearing a walking boot on his injured left foot. On the official injury report, he's listed as "did not participate" once again.

More will be known about Austin's status on Friday, when the team has its final practice of the week before Sunday's game against New Orleans.

Also missing practice for the second day in a row were cornerback Janoris Jenkins (back) and running back Daryl Richardson (thigh). Guard Harvey Dahl (knee) joined that group on the not practicing list.

Cornerback Brandon McGee (foot) returned to practice as a full participant.

Rams-Bears study session: Defense

November, 26, 2013
ST. LOUIS -- A look back at the St. Louis Rams’ 42-21 win against the Chicago Bears after reviewing the All-22 film.

Big play: Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar dropped Bears running back Michael Bush for a loss of 4 yards from the Rams’ 1 on fourth and goal with 8:21 to go in the third and the Rams leading 24-14.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bush
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesJo-Lonn Dunbar's tackle of Michael Bush on fourth and goal capped the Rams' third-quarter goal-line stand.
The Rams and Bears came out in goal-line formations. The Rams had eight defenders at the line of scrimmage, including safety Rodney McLeod and linebacker Alec Ogletree. Linebackers James Laurinaitis and Dunbar lined up behind the line with safety T.J. McDonald. Each lined up a step or two inside the other.

The Bears came out with seven blockers on the line, including an extra lineman and two blockers in front of Bush, one directly in front and the other offset right. Quarterback Josh McCown came out under center.

At the snap, the Bears blocked down to the left with right guard Kyle Long pulling to the left and both fullbacks flowing the same direction with Bush behind. Tight end Dante Rosario, who was the extra blocker in the backfield offset to the right, was supposed to get to Dunbar after the snap. But Dunbar read the play immediately, and Rosario got stuck in traffic, actually running into Long as Dunbar shot the gap.

Dunbar was on Bush before Rosario ever sniffed contact and dropped the running back almost immediately after he got the ball to complete the goal-line stand.

Hidden play: Two plays earlier, Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins offered textbook coverage against Alshon Jeffery and broke up a second-and-goal pass from the 4 to help set up the stop.

The Rams lined up with four down linemen, three linebackers and two safeties in the slot in a normal alignment with the two corners playing about 3 yards off the line of scrimmage.

The Bears had Jeffery split left with tight end Martellus Bennett attached to the line standing outside right tackle and two receivers, including Brandon Marshall split right. Bush lined up at running back with McCown in the shotgun.

At the snap, the Rams rushed four, but McLeod appeared indecisive in the slot, leaving Jenkins one on one with Jeffery. McCown wasted no time throwing the jump ball to the bigger Jeffery but Jenkins was ready for it. He turned immediately to look and timed his jump just right. Jenkins got his left arm in the way to deflect the pass away as it fell incomplete.

Other observations:

  • This is the part of the exercise where we offer weekly praise for defensive end Robert Quinn. Quinn didn’t have but one sack -- one that turned into a fumble forced, recovered and returned for a touchdown -- but he was every bit as dominating as the games where he’s posted three sacks. He beat Jermon Bushrod all day and though he didn’t have the sacks to show for it, this might have been his best game. There’s nothing fancy to Quinn’s approach. He doesn’t have a wide array of moves, but he doesn’t need them. He’s as dominant as any defensive player in the league right now.
  • It was a nice day for Ogletree, who was around the ball a lot and made a lot of tackles, including a nice play in space on third down between the two plays mentioned above.
  • The Rams have had their share of trouble stopping the run but at least in recent weeks, tackling hadn’t really been an issue. It was in this one. The defense really struggled to tackle consistently, and it wasn’t any one area. Missed tackles across the board. That has to be corrected with the Niners up next.
  • End Chris Long also had a strong outing, not quite to the level of Quinn, but he created consistent pressure most of the day. Really, every lineman the Rams threw out there seemed to have his share of success. McCown came under fire most of the game.
  • Speaking of McCown, he deserves a tip of the cap. While the Rams came crashing down on him repeatedly throughout the day, he stood tall in the pocket, bought time with his legs and delivered accurate pass after accurate pass. Very impressive.
  • Not to beat this to death but it was a rough game for rookie cornerback Brandon McGee, who split his time between the slot and playing on the outside. He had three costly penalties, and the Bears had great success targeting him. It was his first time playing defense extensively, so nowhere to go but up from here.
  • McDonald had some obvious rust as well. McDonald missed a couple of tackles and struggled in coverage, especially against Bennett.
  • Yes, Jenkins got beat for a touchdown early in the game but Brandon Marshall ran a terrific route to do it. Otherwise, it was a good performance from Jenkins, who showed a real knack for taking on bigger receivers and winning at the top of the route. His interception, which was nullified by a penalty, was a clinic in how to cover a bigger wideout.
  • Laurinaitis was active in this one as well, having particular success against the run and recovering a fumble. Bennett gave Rams linebackers some problems, but otherwise it was another in a line of solid performances.
  • In another area worth mentioning here, which is now becoming a weekly thing: once again, the Rams were nothing short of outstanding on special teams, especially in coverage. Rookie linebackers Daren Bates and Ray-Ray Armstrong are rapidly developing into special teams aces.

Rams-Bears: Matchup breakdown

November, 23, 2013
ST. LOUIS – A look at three individual matchups to watch in Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears.

Rams left tackle Jake Long vs. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers

A couple years ago this might have been one of the premiere individual battles you could find anywhere in the NFL. Make no mistake, Long and Peppers are still very good players but they might not be at the level they once were.

Still, this is one of the most important matchups in this game. Peppers’ combination of speed and athleticism remains even if the numbers aren’t jumping off the page as they once did.

“He’s a great player, day in and day out,” Long said. “He’s got such long arms, he’s got power, he’s got speed to take down the edge, so it’s a good battle to go up against him. I’m excited. It’s going to be fun.”

Through the first 10 games, Peppers has posted 29 tackles, four sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception returned for a touchdown.

Long has struggled against elite rushers this year, particularly with Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware, a player not unlike Peppers in terms of size and skill set. But Long has also been much better in the past month or so since the Rams switched to a more run-heavy attack.

If the Rams can get the run game going – an area Long can help jump start – it should allow for the Rams to keep Peppers off balance and Long to dictate the matchup.

Rams cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson vs. Bears receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall

There’s no receiver combination in the league more physically imposing than Jeffery and Marshall. That duo has caused nightmares for opposing defenses with its ability to outjump and outmuscle opposing corners for the ball.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall has 64 catches for 828 yards and eight touchdowns this season while the 6-3, 216-pound Jeffery has 54 catches for 818 yards and three touchdowns.

There isn’t a cornerback duo in the league equipped to match Marshall and Jeffery in terms of sheer size.

“It’s a matchup issue,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “They’re very, very talented. Both quarterbacks Jay [Cutler], obviously was playing well before he went down, but Josh [McCown] does a really good job putting the ball up to them. They’ve got confidence. These guys can outjump and outreach. We’ve got a battle on our hands, but our corners … ‘Jenks’ is a leaper and ‘Tru’s' got length, so we’ll just see how it goes.”

At 5-10, 198 pounds, Jenkins is the smaller of the Rams’ options and must be on top of his game in terms of timing his leap. He’s had mixed success in those situations this year but hasn’t faced a challenge of this size just yet.

Johnson has improved in 2013 and at 6-2, 208 pounds is more suited to take on players like Marshall and Jeffery.

The Rams have been more aggressive in coverage in recent weeks, playing more press coverage at the line of scrimmage. That may be the best way to keep the Bears duo from winning jump balls. A good jam at the line of scrimmage can throw off timing and allow the Rams defensive line to get after McCown before he can get the ball down the field.

Rams punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein vs. Bears returner Devin Hester

Rams fans still have nightmares about Hester’s game in St. Louis in 2006 when he returned two kicks for touchdowns.

Much has changed in terms of Hester’s role since then as he no longer contributes much to the offense and has even been in the mix as a cornerback. But he remains Chicago’s primary returner with a strong kick return average of 28.23 yards and 13.25 yards per punt return to go with a touchdown.

“He’s not playing any offense, but he’s still very, very dangerous,” Fisher said. “I think, considering the fact that his role on offense has been reduced or limited, he’s going to be more inclined to bringing the ball out and has that desire to make plays. So, it makes him very dangerous and they’ve always had great confidence in him.”

The onus falls on Hekker and Zuerlein to help neutralize the player who is probably the most dangerous returner in league history.

Hekker has been as good as any punter in the league so far in 2013, leading the league in net punting with an average of 43.51 yards.

Zuerlein hasn’t yielded much in the way of returns, either, averaging 65.88 yards per kickoff, fifth most in the league. The coverage units have been good in this regard, too, as Rams opponents have started an average of 80.4 yards from the end zone on their drives, second furthest away in the league.

Rams-Colts: Matchup breakdown

November, 9, 2013
ST. LOUIS -- Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts has plenty of intriguing matchups. Here are three to keep an eye on.

Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins vs. Indianapolis receiver T.Y. Hilton

With star receiver Reggie Wayne lost for the season to a knee injury, the Colts have been forced to look elsewhere for a top receiving target. Quarterback Andrew Luck won’t hesitate to spread the ball around, but it’s Hilton who has clearly emerged as his primary target.

Hilton had three touchdown catches in a win against Houston last week, and he leads the Colts with 533 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

“You’ve got to make sure you’re aware of him and what’s going on with him at all times, because he’s the go-to guy,” Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. “He’s the guy that, he was making catches even when Reggie was there, but now he’s really been the go-to guy. They’re moving him around, putting him in different spots on the field so you can’t just zero in on him and know exactly where he’s going to be in line. And like I said, the guy’s crafty, so he’s definitely a threat.”

The Rams haven’t had much success slowing down receivers who are clearly their team’s top threat this season. Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon are among those who have had big days against the Rams' secondary.

Likewise, the Rams haven’t opted to shadow any receivers this season, so the onus of slowing Hilton figures to fall on more than just Jenkins. Whether it’s Jenkins, Cortland Finnegan, Trumaine Johnson or someone else, the Rams must find a way to make someone other than Hilton beat them.

Rams tight ends and tackles vs. Indianapolis pass-rusher Robert Mathis

Dwight Freeney is gone, but the Colts’ pass rush remains strong behind the yeoman’s work of Mathis.

Long overshadowed by his pass-rushing partner in crime, Mathis has stepped to the forefront as the engine driving the Indianapolis defense. His 11.5 sacks lead the league and are the most by a Colt through the first eight games of a season, two better than Freeney’s previous record set in 2009.

Playing a position the Colts refer to simply as “Rush” linebacker, Mathis moves around and finds the spots where he can do the most damage. That means the job of protecting quarterback Kellen Clemens from Mathis falls on everyone, not just tackles Jake Long and Joe Barksdale.

That includes tight ends such as Mike McNeill, who is likely to be pressed into duty with Lance Kendricks recovering from a fractured finger.

“Certainly, Indianapolis has some good pass-rushers,” Clemens said. “Obviously, Mathis leads the way. But, I’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys, and we’ll do some things to probably help out a little bit.”

Look for the Rams to help out a lot bit when it comes to Mathis.

Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford vs. Indianapolis left guard Hugh Thornton

A rookie out of Illinois, Thornton has struggled with consistency, particularly as a pass-protector.

The Colts have been solid in protecting Luck on the edge, which should be a tough task to continue against Rams ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, but Langford is coming off one of his best games and should have a favorable matchup against Thornton.

Langford had a pair of sacks last week, and though some of that damage is the result of strong edge rushing and his cleaning up after, he still showed a knack for being disruptive in the middle.

Luck’s ability to run and escape pressure often comes up the middle, so the chance for Langford and fellow tackle Michael Brockers to slow that train also exists.

“When he’s coming head-on up the middle, he’s a big body coming at you, so sometimes he’ll catch DBs and most of the time, when he’s getting tackled you can see he’s falling forward,” Walton said of Luck. “There are not a lot of times that he’s actually carrying the football as he’s getting knocked back.”

Rams-Panthers yields fines aplenty

October, 25, 2013
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It's no surprise that last week's game between the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers figured prominently when the NFL issued its weekly fines Friday.

C. Long
What is more interesting isn't that Rams defensive end Chris Long, receiver Brian Quick, and guard Harvey Dahl were taxed, but more what the league handed out on the Carolina side.

Long took the heftiest hit to the wallet after he was ejected for throwing a punch during the middle of a third-quarter melee. The league docked him $15,750 for his role in the scuffle. Quick and Dahl received matching $7,875 fines for unnecessary roughness and a late hit, respectively.

On the other side, however, the Panthers took two fines for players who didn't actually receive penalties for their infractions. Safety Mike Mitchell ($7,875) and receiver Steve Smith ($7.875) received fines for taunting and unnecessary roughness, respectively.

Mitchell, of course, drew the ire of Dahl and the Rams after he celebrated on the Rams' sideline after he hit Rams quarterback Sam Bradford as he was going out of bounds. The play resulted in Bradford's torn ACL, which will keep him out the rest of the season. Mitchell stood over Bradford after the play with his arms out in celebration, then repeated it moments later after Dahl attempted to get him to vacate the premises. Earlier in the game, Mitchell had offered a similar celebration on the Rams' sideline after a 6-yard catch by tight end Cory Harkey.

Smith's fine comes as punishment for hitting cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the face while blocking. Jenkins and Smith were in a combative mode all day, and Smith threatened to punch Jenkins if he ever came across him in public.

Jenkins didn't have much to say on the matter when asked Friday.

"He’ll be all right," Jenkins said. "No comment on Steve Smith. I don’t care about Steve Smith. Whatever."

Turnover margin working in Rams' favor

October, 13, 2013
HOUSTON -- If anyone still needed a case study to prove that there's no statistic more important in the NFL than turnover margin, the St. Louis Rams' 38-13 win over the Texans on Sunday should provide ample evidence.

For the second week in a row, the Rams not only created multiple turnovers but turned them into instant points and didn't have any giveaways of their own. They even went one better than last week's plus-three output and added a special teams touchdown for good measure.

The Rams' plus-four takeaway margin was the first time they've hit that mark since a Week 8 game against Carolina in 2010.

"That was a big thing and we did not turn the football over," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Keeping the penalties down and protecting the football and not turning it over for us has been very helpful for us the last two weeks."

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Alec Ogletree
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesAlec Ogletree returns an interception 98 yards for a touchdown against the Texans.
That's probably putting it mildly.

During the Rams' three-game losing streak earlier this season, they weren't awful in turnover margin, netting a minus-one for those three games, but it's quite clear the difference it makes when there's a plus at the beginning of the construction.

Houston outgained the Rams 420 to 216 in total yards while running 73 plays to the Rams' 41, gaining a dozen more first downs and holding a time of possession edge of 11 minutes and 20 seconds. By all accounts, those numbers would portend a blowout victory. They did, but not in the direction you'd expect.

That's because of the 98-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Alec Ogletree, the interception in his own end zone by cornerback Janoris Jenkins, Ogletree's forced fumble and recovery by James Laurinaitis and the 11-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by linebacker Daren Bates while covering a kick.

Those four plays resulted in 17 Rams points and provided enough to give the Rams a victory.

"When you can score defensive touchdowns, those are game changers," Laurinaitis said. "Those don't come a whole lot. So when you get them, that can change the whole outcome of the game. It's detrimental for them when you give them up."

On the other side of the ball, the Rams have showed a penchant for taking care of the ball and did so with a balanced offensive game plan that was effective in the short bursts when it was actually on the field.

Quarterback Sam Bradford attempted only 16 passes but he threw no interceptions. His offensive line allowed no sacks and thus, no opportunities for strip sacks. Running back Zac Stacy protected the ball at all costs despite regularly finding himself in heavy traffic with opponents ripping at the ball.

Before the end of Week 6, the Rams' six turnovers put them in a tie for fourth fewest in the league.

Even as yards might accumulate against the defense or the offense continues to search for some consistency, the takeaway formula remains tried and true.

After the Rams scored on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bradford to Brian Quick with 7:46 remaining in the third quarter, the offense didn't get back on the field until there was 11:56 to go in the game, a span of 10 minutes and 48 seconds without the ball.

But because of the touchdowns from Bates and Ogletree, the Rams' lead increased from 24-6 to an insurmountable 38-6. And with that, any hope the Texans entertained of a comeback was gone.

"They're huge," Bradford said. "Anytime our defense creates a turnover, it just gives us a spark on offense and then in the second half today, the one on special teams and then the pick-6, we come off the field and we're up 24-6 and the next time we come on the field we're up 38-6. Those are two huge plays in the game and they just gave us a lot of momentum and kind of sealed the deal."

Rams-Niners study session: Defense

September, 30, 2013
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After a two-game in five days sprint last week, we fell a bit behind on our study sessions, but we’re back despite some troubles with the All-22 film on the San Francisco game.

Considering we’re dealing with two Rams’ games -- at Dallas and home against San Francisco -- this week’s version of study session will be condensed, with a bit more overarching thoughts buoyed by examples from those games.

On to the defense:

  • The first thing that stands out from the Dallas to the San Francisco game is the increased aggressive approach by the defense against the Niners. The Rams played more man coverage, and early in the game it seemed to be working. Eventually, the Niners were able to hammer away with the run game and it opened some things up for San Francisco.
  • [+] EnlargeJanoris Jenkins
    AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceJanoris Jenkins is off to a strong start in coverage despite some recent penalties.
  • Cornerback Janoris Jenkins is playing better than the penalties that have been going against him might indicate. He’s been victimized by some borderline calls, the type of calls that second-year players don’t normally get against veterans like Anquan Boldin. But Jenkins was sticky in coverage and seems to be timing his attempts at pass breakups better. It was actually a bit surprising the Rams didn’t shadow Boldin with Jenkins given the Niners’ lack of other pass-catching threats.
  • The other player who showed up against San Francisco was middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. He had probably his best game of the season with 12 tackles, and broke up a pair of deep passes down the field.
  • Unfortunately for the Rams, there wasn’t much more to write home about, especially in trying to stop running back Frank Gore.
  • The Rams greatly missed William Hayes (knee injury) in this game. Ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn struggled to set the edge, and tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford didn’t get much push up the middle.
  • On a pair of Gore’s long runs, including his 34-yard touchdown, Brockers and Langford get wiped out and it allows a blocker to get to the second level to remove the linebackers. Niners guard Mike Iupati pulls right on Gore’s touchdown, and is able to bury Alec Ogletree and open the path to the end zone, in no small part because the defensive tackles are taken out of the play.
  • In last season’s two meetings with the Niners, the Rams had great success against Colin Kaepernick by turning up the heat with the blitz. This season, not so much. The Rams blitzed 10 times, less than the 60 percent rate they did in 2012, and Kaepernick had success against it. Although the Rams got home for a sack once, Kaepernick completed seven-of-eight for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
  • The Rams don’t seem to be getting home much on the blitz at all this season, and many of the blitzes seem to be telegraphed. Slow-developing blitzes such as the one that came on Kaepernick’s first touchdown pass to Boldin seem to keep popping up. On that play, the Rams rushed just three down linemen, but then linebackers Ogletree and Laurinaitis circled around to the right side. Neither got anywhere near Kaepernick, who got the ball out quick as Boldin beat the struggling Cortland Finnegan for a touchdown.
  • We’ll add special teams in this space again with a nod to punter Johnny Hekker, who is quietly having a Pro Bowl caliber season.

Rams-Cowboys: Matchup breakdown

September, 21, 2013
EARTH CITY, Mo. – Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys has plenty of intriguing matchups, making it difficult to boil it down to just a few. Here are three to keep an eye on when the teams kick it off at 1 p.m. ET at AT&T Stadium.

Rams CB Janoris Jenkins vs. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant

Another week, another elite receiver for Jenkins and the Rams secondary to deal with. Last week it was Atlanta’s Julio Jones doing the damage, beating Jenkins for an 81-yard touchdown -- though Jenkins should’ve had some help from safety Rodney McLeod on the play.

Bryant battled a back ailment all week, but is listed as probable and coming off a big outing last week in Kansas City. The Rams have been torched in the passing game the first two weeks -- and Bryant might be the most dynamic of all the wideouts they’ve faced yet.

Jenkins has been better than the rest of the Rams’ corners so far, but this might also be his biggest challenge. Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton took responsibility this week for the big days top wideouts like Jones and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald have had against his secondary.

[+] EnlargeJanoris Jenkins
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceThe tests get tougher for Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins: This week it's Dez Bryant.
Look for Jenkins to get his chances to go up against Bryant -- but for Walton to find ways to provide more help for his young corner.

“You’ve got to make sure you take care of him,” Walton said of Bryant. “You’ve got to double him. It’s the same thing, he’s one of the best receivers in the league -- physical and they’re going to get him the ball. We have to try to do a better job of taking away guys’ No. 1 threat and he is their No. 1 guy.”

Rams DE Robert Quinn vs. Cowboys LT Tyron Smith

Quinn has been, perhaps, the league’s most dominant pass-rusher in the first two weeks and has also made major strides as a run defender.

“He has really taken a big step forward, but he does it every day at practice,” Walton said. “(Defensive line) coach (Mike) Waufle has done a great job with him -- technique, leverage, alignments. And he’s done that through (organized team activities), training camp and you can see now in the first couple games of the year, he’s off to a great start with that. He plays with a great motor.”

Along the way, Quinn has done his work against Arizona’s Levi Brown and Atlanta’s Sam Baker but he has yet to see a tackle the caliber of Dallas’ Smith.

Smith didn’t allow a sack in games against Kansas City or the New York Giants, and has proved himself to be one the league’s top up and coming tackles.

In many ways, Sunday’s matchup will be between two of the league’s best young players at their respective positions.

Rams OL vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware

Technically, this matchup should read “Rams left tackle Jake Long vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware,” but the reality is that the Cowboys have showed no inclination to put Ware in one spot and let him operate from there.

Long has been excellent in the first two weeks, particularly in Atlanta in Week 2, but in Ware he’ll find his most difficult challenge yet and one of the most difficult challenges in the league.

Ware spent his first eight seasons as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 but has showed no signs of slowing with his hand in the ground as a 4-3 end with a pair of sacks through two games.

With Rodger Saffold out because of a knee injury, the Rams will likely start Joe Barksdale at right tackle, so don’t be surprised if the Cowboys look to test the younger Barksdale by having Ware switch sides on occasion.

“I think they’re going to move him around all the time, just try to get different matchups at different times,” Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “Again, a player like that, they’d be crazy not to move him around.”
St. Louis Rams secondaryAP Photo/John BazemoreAfter two weeks, the Rams are giving up 330.5 passing yards per game.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A quick glance at the passing numbers around the league and one might think they’re looking at something straight out of the Madden video game.

For the St. Louis Rams, those numbers have provided plenty of good news but just as much bad news in the first two weeks.

While the Rams’ own passing numbers have taken off in the opening games, they’ve been on the receiving end of some big days by opposing quarterbacks as well.

“I think everybody in the league is trying to get better at pass defense,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “That’s just a part of this game, the ball is going down the field, you have got to make a play so we’re working technique, we’re working fundamentals, we’re working communication, we’re working scheme, we’re doing everything.”

Yes, pass defense has thus far proved to be a league-wide problem, an area where nobody seems to have a solution.

The Rams have a long way to go to get their issues fixed, however. After two weeks -- say it with me: small sample size -- the Rams are 27th in the league in pass defense, allowing 330.5 yards per game through the air.

That’s not the only damaging number that can be directly correlated to the Rams’ struggling pass defense. To wit:

  • The Rams are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 71.1 percent of their passes, 29th in the league.
  • Opposing quarterbacks have a 107.6 quarterback rating, which is fifth worst in the league and a total QBR of 79.2, which is the second worst rate allowed.

Those are just a few of the numbers hanging over the defense’s head so far. Where’s the disconnect for a team that allowed more than 100 yards less per game through the air in 2012?

Part of it can be attributed to the increasing talent teams all over the league have at quarterback and receivers. There’s no doubt that numbers are up in the entire NFL for a reason.

In looking at what the Rams choose to do in terms of scheme, though, there are a few things that seem to stick out.

For the most part, the Rams have sat back in soft-zone coverages, opting to allow receivers to get a free release more often than not. Of the corners, only Janoris Jenkins seems to have the green light to step up to the line and play press or at least show it before bailing out.

The idea behind that coverage is to keep the ball in front and not allow big plays but the problem is it has so far allowed for easy completions (see the above percentage stat) and even easier first downs. Big plays haven’t been eliminated by that approach either, as Julio Jones can attest.

Completions made against the Rams have come with an average of 7.3 air yards per attempt. Air yards measures how far down the field the ball is thrown per attempt. That number is actually the ninth lowest in the league.

Along with that, 43.4 percent of the Rams’ opponents' passing attempts have gone for a first down -- the worst percentage in the league.

Those numbers and the tape tell us that the Rams are inviting teams to work their way down the field with the short passing game, things like screens and swing passes, and teams are enthusiastically responding yes.

The easy completions have led to a higher percentage of first downs, which have also turned into an area of concern for middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and his teammates.

“I look at third-down efficiency and turnover margin,” Laurinaitis said. “Are you getting off the field on third down when you’ve got a chance to, which we didn’t when we had a chance to in Atlanta and are we causing turnovers, which we didn’t. We’ve got to find a way, some way to get them.”

The Rams also sit tied for last in the league in third-down conversions, giving them up at a rate of 51.9 percent.

Let’s also be clear here, plenty of teams in the league employ similar coverage styles. There aren’t many teams that have the ability to press successfully down to down like, say, Seattle.

[+] EnlargeJames Laurinaitis
AP Photo / Jim MahoneyDespite the Rams being out of the playoff hunt, LB James Laurinaitis said he's not going to let his teammates quit on the season.
That’s why Fisher and his players emphasize things like technique. In the opener against Arizona, Jenkins allowed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

After the game, Jenkins put all the blame on himself and said he played the wrong coverage and thus, the wrong technique. On the play, Jenkins lined up inside Fitzgerald’s inside shoulder, giving up the outside route. That wouldn’t normally be a big issue except for the fact that the coverage clearly provided help inside in the form of safety Rodney McLeod.

That’s just one example of the technique and fundamental breakdowns that have plagued the Rams in the first two weeks.

“Technique is the thing we keep harping on,” Laurinaitis said. “If guys are supposed to be pressed up, be pressed up. If guys are supposed to be off, be off. Just trust in what we have been coached to do. We just need to stay focused on that part of it. It’s all consistency.”

Hope is far from lost, especially just two games into the season. The Rams have a young but talented secondary that one would think will get better as it gets more experience.

There also have been some good signs in terms of the pass defense over the past two weeks. In addition to a pass rush that is one of the league’s best, the Rams are third in the league in pass breakups with 12 and lead the NFL in batted passes with five.

Considering that teams seem to be happy to take the short passes the Rams are giving up, it’s logical to think that the pass rush isn’t always going to have time to get home which puts added importance on defenders to continue to find ways to get their arms up and knock down passes at the line.

In the third quarter last week against Atlanta, the Rams probably played their best pass defense of the season. The front four generated pressure; the coverage was generally good and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan struggled his way to a 2.5 QBR as the Rams mounted a comeback.

It was just one 15-minute stretch but it showed the potential for the Rams defense when the coverage holds long enough to allow the pass rush to generate pressure and what the coverage can do when the pass rush forces the quarterback to get rid of the ball.

“Everything works together,” Laurinaitis said. “It’s rush, it’s coverage. Last week we looked at the tape and we could have had six sacks if we were just a little tighter in coverage and then again, if our rush is just a little better some of the big plays they got wouldn’t have happened. So it’s a mixture.”

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 2

September, 16, 2013
ATLANTA -- An examination of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Own worst enemy: The Rams again put themselves in a difficult position after spotting the Falcons a 21-point halftime lead. The Falcons didn’t necessarily dominate the Rams the way that deficit would indicate, but big plays and big mistakes by the Rams again put their backs against the wall. This is the second week in a row the Rams have drawn seven penalty flags and given up a defensive touchdown. They were able to overcome it against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 but not on the road against a better Atlanta team.

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsJulio Jones got the best of Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, gaining 182 receiving yards on 11 catches.
Rams’ resiliency: On the flip side of those slow starts, the Rams have finished each of their first two games with a flourish. They scored 14 straight to beat Arizona last week and outscored the Falcons 21-7 in the second half Sunday. It wasn’t enough to forge a second stirring comeback win in as many weeks, but there’s no doubting the Rams’ effort and attitude after they again mounted a comeback that nearly allowed them an opportunity to tie it up late against Atlanta.

Jenkins vs. Jones: In Saturday’s matchup breakdown, we took a look at the pending battle between Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones. Jenkins got the better of Jones in their final two collegiate meetings, but Jones got the most recent laugh Sunday. Jenkins was on the wrong end of Jones’ 81-yard touchdown catch and his share of the rest of Jones’ 182 receiving yards and 11 catches. Jenkins had safety help in the middle of the field but said he played the coverage wrong, and when Jones read Cover 2, he broke to the outside, where he beat Jenkins one-on-one.

Whither Jackson?: Perhaps the biggest storyline for the Rams entering the game against Atlanta was how running back Steven Jackson would fare against his former team. As it turned out, the matchup never materialized. Jackson suffered an apparent thigh injury on an 8-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and never returned to the game, or even the sideline. That’s a sight that became all too familiar to Rams fans in Jackson’s time in St. Louis as soft tissue injuries regularly plagued him as a Ram. As it turned out, the Falcons didn’t need Jackson, or really much of a running game at all, because quarterback Matt Ryan racked up 374 passing yards and two touchdowns.