- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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Big play: Rams receiver Tavon Austin runs 65 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead on the third offensive play of the game.
The Rams lined up with tight end Lance Kendricks at fullback offset left, receivers Austin Pettis and tight end Jared Cook bunched left in the slot. Receiver Chris Givens lined up wide right with Austin in the slot and quarterback Kellen Clemens under center with no running back.
The Bears lined up with four down linemen, all three linebackers in the box, with a cornerback up near the line of scrimmage on the receivers bunched left. Cornerback Tim Jennings started 3 yards off of Givens to the right with two safeties playing deep.
Before the snap, Austin motioned into the backfield as linebacker James Anderson creeped to the right a couple steps. At the snap, the Rams' offensive line fired off blocking to their left as Kendricks came across the formation into the right flat. Bears defensive end Shea McClellin and Anderson bit hard as Austin took the ball from Clemens quickly and pivoted back right with Kendricks in front. Kendricks got in the way of Jennings to shield him away from Austin. The key play came from Givens, who took on incoming safety Chris Conte. Givens took out Conte and McClellin with one block as Austin ran between the two blocks.
At Chicago's 45, Pettis squared up a perfect block on Bears linebacker Khaseem Greene to wipe out the last real threat. Austin's speed took care of the rest to give the Rams a lead they would not relinquish.
Hidden play: Quarterback Kellen Clemens hits tight end Jared Cook for 29 yards to Chicago's 30 on first and 20 from Rams' 41 with the Rams up 27-21 and 5:30 to go in game.
The Rams lined up with a receiver split wide left, a receiver split wide right, two tight ends bunched right attached at the line, Benny Cunningham at running back and Clemens under center.
The Bears came out with two corners playing off coverage, three linebackers in the box, four down linemen and two high safeties.
Before the snap, Cook motioned left just off the line of scrimmage but attached. Clemens took the snap and faked a handoff to Cunningham. The Bears rushed four but got no pressure as the Rams got strong blocks on the edge from Kendricks against McClellin and left tackle Jake Long against Julius Peppers.
Cook ran down the seam untouched with Anderson on him at the beginning but with no contact at the line, Cook wasted no time getting behind him. It appeared the Bears were supposed to be in basic Cover 2 but middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic never dropped into the middle deep of the field. Cook got in between the linebackers and the safeties. Clemens locked onto Cook right away with Givens and Austin running deep down sidelines. Clemens stepped up in the pocket and fired a strike for a big gain and a first down after a costly penalty.
It was the only pass of the Rams' final touchdown drive but it was a big one to help set up Cunningham's 9-yard touchdown run.
When a team rushes for 258 yards, 213 of those before contact, it's pretty clear what's happening. What happened in this one was a thoroughly dominant performance by the Rams offensive line. The Rams' front five has really taken to the run-heavy approach and it was especially evident in this one.
Much of that rushing success has been directed to the left side where Long has been on a roll for the better part of the past six weeks or so. Long set the tone early, crashing to the second level against Greene and opening a big hole for Stacy on the first play from scrimmage. He also controlled Peppers all day. I noted just two times when Peppers seemed to register any semblance of a victory against Long. He had no sacks.
Rodger Saffold was every bit as impressive his second time out at right guard as he was the first. The opinion that he could be an elite guard looks like it's panning out in the small sample size we have. Will be interesting to see how he fares against the Niners this week.
It bears another mention: The work of the Rams receivers and tight ends blocking is night and day from early in the season. Cory Harkey, in particular, caught my eye in this one. He's lining up all over the place and opening huge holes in the run game, especially when he steps into the modified fullback role.
While the blocking set the tone, Zac Stacy and Cunningham also deserve credit for their work. Both showed good patience as the holes opened and then good burst through those holes. Cunningham clearly has a little more juice than Stacy but that's OK because it allows the Rams to have two backs of similar stature with different styles. Easier to change pace that way.
It was a good day for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Obviously, his job is much easier when the running game is working but he had a nice rhythm calling plays and had excellent designs for plays.
Speaking of which, how about Austin's touchdown run? You would be hard pressed to find a coach willing to draw up a play which actually calls for a runner to stop his motion and reverse field but it speaks to Austin's speed and athleticism that not only did the Rams feel comfortable designing the play but then to have it work so well. That's the game-changing ability that was advertised with Austin.
We'd be remiss not to mention just how bad the Bears' run defense is and was in this one. Linebackers appeared out of position on a regular basis, McClellin overpursued almost everything and both safeties, especially Conte, struggled mightily in run support.
Clemens had some really rough moments, including one pass that appeared to slip out of his hand and go directly into the ground. But he's doing a couple of things that are allowing him to have success. Although he's not completing many passes, he's making the ones he does hit count. He's not afraid to push the ball down the field and so when he does throw an accurate ball that hits, it goes for a big gain. Part of that is his ability to feel pressure, climb the pocket and deliver in the face of pressure. He'll never be the type to string together six or seven completions but so long as he can make the one or two he does hit count like he has recently, he'll be just fine.
Rough go for Givens aside from his big block to spring Austin. He missed a couple of catchable balls and couldn't get his feet down on a deep pass down the sidelines. That's a play that has to be made.
Cook has been a bit more involved since Clemens took over. The Bears made the mistake of allowing him a free release multiple times and Cook took advantage.