St. Louis Rams: Austin Davis

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher's endorsement of Austin Davis as his starting quarterback earlier this week could be classified as lukewarm at best.

"He didn't have his best half," Fisher said. "He missed some opportunities, he made some bad decisions, had difficulty seeing at times. And over the last couple of weeks he's thrown four interceptions but we're going to hang in there. He's working real hard. So we'll see where it goes."

Fisher went on to tick off a handful of opportunities Davis missed and mentioned his propensity for holding on to the ball too long. When I wrote about it Monday night, I wrote the following:

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AP Photo/L.G. PattersonIn Shaun Hill, the Rams are opting for a veteran quarterback who won't hurt the team with mistakes.
"If that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement it's because it probably isn't."

Of course, nobody could know just how tepid that endorsement was. At least not until Wednesday morning when Fisher informed his team at a meeting that Shaun Hill would be reclaiming the starting job this week against the Denver Broncos.

In the big picture, it probably doesn't matter much who starts at quarterback for the Rams because it's probably too late for them to make a postseason run at 3-6 with Denver and a trip to San Diego up next.

But going back to Hill now makes sense for one primary reason: The Rams' defense is starting to live up to expectations and they can't afford to have a quarterback who gives points away, especially in the fourth quarter.

That's been one of Davis' biggest issues since he became the starter in Week 2. Davis has thrown nine interceptions this season with four of those returned for touchdowns (all in the fourth quarter). He also has coughed up a pair of fumbles that have gone for scores.

Those instant points have prevented the Rams from winning games that were there for the taking with no better example than the most recent against Arizona last week. He threw two interceptions and fumbled once in the fourth quarter of a game the Rams led with less than 10 minutes to go. One interception and the fumble turned a 3-point deficit into a 17-point losing margin.

Since the Rams beat Seattle on Oct. 19, Davis is 45-of-79 for 481 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions for a passer rating of 61.2 and a QBR of 7.3. That isn't to excuse the struggles of the offensive line and others but clearly those numbers aren't good enough to win consistently.

After the loss to Arizona, the always honest and professional Davis pointed to his inability to keep his eyes downfield and go through his progressions as the reason for his recent struggles. It's something he's battled with since entering the league in 2012 and was a primary reason the team released him in 2013.

"I think the thing you have to do is just kind of let it all play itself out," Davis said Sunday. "They are putting guys everywhere and moving them from everywhere. The ability to learn from this and get your eyes downfield and not on the rush is something that I’ve got to do."

In turning to Hill, the Rams are going with the veteran hand that was supposed to guide them after losing Sam Bradford in the third preseason game. Were it not for a thigh injury in the season opener and Davis' big performances against some weaker defenses early in the year, Hill probably would have reclaimed the job when he got back from the injury.

"We are moving forward now with a quarterback that for all intents and purposes lost his job because of injury," Fisher said. "You all understand why we went that way because of the production we got earlier out of Austin. The last few weeks were difficult for him. The defenses that he’s faced have been especially good. I don’t want to present anything that appears to be cloudy but this is what’s best for this football team right now."

The hope now is that Hill can be the steady leader for an offense in dire need of a boost. And, if nothing else, manage the games effectively so that the recent yeoman's work of the defense isn't for naught.

Over the past two weeks, the defense has allowed an average of 299 yards per game, including just 54 per game on the ground. And the pass rush has revved up to the levels expected at the beginning of the season with 11 sacks in those two games.

In other words, the defense is playing well enough for the Rams to win. With Hill back in the mix, the Rams are betting he can help the offense play well enough not to lose.

 

 

 
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Despite a disastrous fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Austin Davis will remain as the St. Louis Rams starting quarterback. At least for now.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher addressed Davis' Sunday afternoon struggles with the media early Monday evening and made it clear the Rams don't have immediate plans to go back to veteran Shaun Hill as the starter.

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Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAustin Davis tossed two interceptions against the Cardinals, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
"He didn't have his best half," Fisher said. "He missed some opportunities, he made some bad decisions, had difficulty seeing at times. And over the last couple of weeks he's thrown four interceptions but we're going to hang in there. He's working real hard. So we'll see where it goes."

If that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement it's because it probably isn't. When Fisher named Davis the starter earlier in the season, he said Davis would get some leeway and not be pulled at the first sign of trouble. But there's little doubt that Davis has tested that patience over the past couple of weeks.

Against the Cardinals, Davis finished 17-of-30 for 216 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for a 62.6 passer rating. One of those interceptions was returned for a touchdown and Davis also coughed up a fumble that was taken back for a score. On the season, Davis has six turnovers that have led directly to points for the opponent, including four pick-sixes.

It's no coincidence that Davis' struggles have been more obvious in recent weeks as the Rams have played better defenses. Seattle, San Francisco and Kansas City all rank in the top seven in the league in yards allowed per game and Arizona is tied for second in takeaways. Those teams also haven't hesitated to dial up the blitz against Davis, bringing an extra pass-rusher a combined 25.9 percent of the time. In those same weeks, Davis has been under pressure on 38.3 percent of his drop backs.

Arizona sacked Davis six times on Sunday with many of those coming in the closing moments after the Cardinals had jumped to a big lead. On the outside, it can often be hard to tell if pressure and sacks are the fault of the quarterback, the offensive line, the receivers or someone else.

While the Rams' issues have been an amalgamation of all those things, Fisher didn't hesitate to acknowledge Davis' need to get the ball out quicker.

"At times, give the defense credit, there is going to be an unblocked rusher," Fisher said. "You have to get rid of the football. The quarterback has got to get rid of the football. He's got to see that. Austin can't take a sack in field goal range. It's a combination. It's the quarterback. We had a couple pass-rush games where we got soft but the ball has to come out."

It's also imperative for the receivers to create separation consistently, which hasn't exactly been a hallmark of the Rams in this or any other recent year. Again, Fisher said there were some chances that didn't materialize because the ball didn't come out on time.

"We had a number of opportunities for significant catch and runs yesterday," Fisher said.

The ability to stare down the pass rush and deliver accurate passes under pressure is, perhaps, the most important trait of an NFL quarterback. It's something Arizona's Carson Palmer did again and again before his knee injury Sunday.

When the Rams released Davis before the 2013 season, it was a move made in part because of his struggles keeping his eyes downfield, going through progressions and getting rid of the ball.

As the quality of opponent has increased, that weakness has bubbled to the surface again.

"I think the thing you have to do is just kind of let it all play itself out," Davis said. "They are putting guys everywhere and moving them from everywhere. The ability to learn from this and get your eyes downfield and not on the rush is something that I’ve got to do."

It's a lesson Davis readily acknowledges but one that's easier to discuss than it is to fix. For at least another week, he'll get his chance.

Failure to finish still plagues Rams

November, 10, 2014
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher prefers to believe his team has the ability to close out games. It somehow found a way to do it just a week ago against the San Francisco 49ers.

"I believe in these guys and I’m not buying into that business about us not being able to complete a game," Fisher said after Sunday's 31-14 loss. "The record reflects it and statistics reflect it but we’re going to keep doing the things we’re doing because I believe in them."

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Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTre Mason and the Rams can't seem to run away when they have a second-half lead.
As the coach of the Rams, that's an understandable approach for Fisher to take but as ESPN colleagues Michael Smith and Jemele Hill would tell you, the numbers never lie. Even if Fisher chooses not to acknowledge them, the Rams' second half and fourth quarter failures are impossible to deny.

Never was that more clear than in Sunday's loss to the Arizona Cardinals. As late as midway through the fourth quarter, the Rams held a 14-10 lead and looked to be on the verge of one of the season's biggest upsets. They'd dominated defensively and made the types of big plays that have often gone against them.

Then Arizona quarterback Drew Stanton hit John Brown for a 48-yard touchdown to give Arizona its first lead. A flurry of three Rams turnovers followed, including two returned for a touchdown. A four-point lead turned into a 17-point final margin going the other way as the Rams fell to 3-6.

The theme of not closing out games has become all too common for the Rams.

"It’s frustrating," linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "It’s something that we haven’t done all season long, something we didn’t for the last two years. Again, it’s frustrating. It needs to change. We need change from everyone, myself included. We have got to step up and play better and make sure we keep everybody together so we can focus on Denver and come out with a win."

While there are three other quarters to get things done, closing out games is clearly something good teams do and bad teams don't. Arizona offers the best example of all.

After Sunday's game, the Cardinals now rank first in the NFL in fourth-quarter scoring margin at plus-57. They also lead the NFL in turnover margin in the fourth quarter, now up to a whopping plus-11.

The Rams, meanwhile, have mostly offered floundering finishes, even in the games they've won. For the season, they are minus-40 in fourth quarter scoring differential and they are minus-five in turnover margin which includes seven giveaways and two takeaways. Of those seven giveaways, five have gone for defensive touchdowns.

St. Louis has outscored an opponent in the fourth quarter in only three games this season. Aside from the Philadelphia game in which the Rams outscored the Eagles by 14 in the fourth quarter, the other two fourth quarter advantages have been plus-3, with those advantages coming in wins against Tampa Bay and San Francisco.

"I think we learned today that this game is four quarters long," Fisher said. "Three doesn’t get it done for you."

Through nine games, the Rams have proved capable of going toe to toe with anyone in the league for 30 or even 45 minutes. But until they can add the other 15, the Rams will continue to get the same results.
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GLENDALE, Ariz. --The harsh reality of playing quarterback in the NFL might not have been apparent to the St. Louis Rams' Austin Davis after his first start or his second or even his fifth.

But the past two weeks have served as a reminder that Davis has one of the toughest jobs in sports, a job that he simply isn't capable of doing at a level that will lead his team to wins on a consistent basis. Whether that's a permanent condition or not remains to be seen but the evidence seemed to be piling up against him in Sunday's 31-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

After managing the game and coming up with a big play or two along the way for the first three quarters of a game the Rams led into the fourth quarter, Davis was once again unable to avoid the type of costly mistakes that have dotted his first eight NFL starts.

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Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAustin Davis had a rough day against the Cardinals defense, accounting for three turnovers (two of which were returned for touchdowns).
A lead that sat at 14-10 in the fourth quarter quickly turned into 21 unanswered points for the Cardinals, 14 of which fell out of the hands of Davis. He threw two interceptions to Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, one of which Peterson returned 30 yards for a game-sealing touchdown, and coughed up a fumble that Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie picked up and returned 14 yards for the final margin.

"I didn’t play well enough to win today," Davis said. "I think the thing I’m learning really quick is you can play well for three and a half quarters but you’ve got to play four. You can’t have a single letdown and right now I’m having those and it’s costing our football team. I’ve got to stay the course, stay strong and keep getting better and eliminate these mistakes, mainly turnovers, that are costing our football team."

To be sure, Davis' struggles in Sunday's game weren't limited to the fourth quarter. He struggled to identify the many exotic blitz packages the Cardinals threw at him and he got little help from his offensive line and wide receivers along the way. Despite those issues, Davis and the Rams were poised to pull off the upset until the costly fourth-quarter turnovers.

On the first, Davis had receiver Chris Givens running a deep route against Peterson. Givens actually had created some space and a strong, accurate throw might have even gone for a touchdown to get the Rams the lead back after the defense surrendered a long touchdown pass to give Arizona a 17-14 lead.

As Davis stepped up, he was unable to get enough on the throw and Peterson settled under it for an easy interception. It was the second week in a row in which Davis badly underthrew a pass that was intercepted.

"I just underthrew the ball," Davis said. "I don't really have an answer for it. I don't understand it. We got the look we were looking for, I thought Chris ran a good route and won, the ball didn't go where I wanted it to."

The Rams survived that interception as the defense got the ball back with a quick three-and-out but Davis' next mistake was far more costly. Looking for receiver Kenny Britt on a short crossing route, Davis fired it a little too high and though Britt should have caught it, the pass would qualify as catchable but not accurate.

Peterson was again there to secure the mistake and return it for the score that made it 24-14 and, for all intents and purposes, end the game.

"The second one, I just threw it high and it gets tipped around," Davis said. "Two critical plays, you can't turn the football over. We knew coming in that was kind of their thing. They kind of live off the turnover and you saw it there at the end."

For Davis, the fourth-string-quarterback-turned-starter, costly turnovers have been all too familiar this season. He has nine interceptions on the season with four of those turning into immediate points via a return for touchdown. He also has a pair of fumbles that have been returned for touchdowns. Making those numbers hurt worse is the fact that six of Davis' nine interceptions have come in the fourth quarter, including all four of the pick-sixes.

In nine games, Davis' fourth-quarter passer rating is 68.1 with a QBR of 23.8, which includes a 12.0 and 0.1 on Sunday.

"It can't happen," Davis said. "It's killing our defense. They're playing their tails off. For me to have those letdowns, it's really tough. I've got to get a lot better and I can't do that."

In terms of intangibles, Davis checks every box for what a starting NFL quarterback should be. But intangibles don't score points or win games. While he's done enough to earn a backup job moving forward, it's probably best to put away any hopes that he can be the Rams' long-term answer at the game's most important position.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

November, 9, 2014
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 31-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

What it means: Although the final score wouldn't indicate as much, this was a game that was winnable for the Rams. They actually had the lead entering the fourth quarter and missed some opportunities to put the game away. But, as has been custom all year, the Rams were unable to finish against the best fourth-quarter team in the league in terms of scoring and turnover margin. The Rams are now 3-6 on the season and any realistic hopes of mounting a second-half charge probably faded away with their latest fourth-quarter meltdown.

Stock watch: Down -- Rams quarterback Austin Davis. At halftime, Davis had a passer rating of 145.8, a number that mostly reflected a 59-yard touchdown catch by tight end Jared Cook. Though the offensive line didn't provide much cover and the receivers rarely got open, Davis struggled to recognize blitzes and sufficiently get the ball out in short order. He threw two inaccurate fourth-quarter passes that ended up as interceptions for Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson. Peterson returned one 30 yards for a touchdown to put the Rams away. It was Davis' fourth pick-six of the season. He also coughed up a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. While Davis has done some admirable work, it has become clear that pinning any future hopes on him as a starter would be foolish.

Costly call: With 4:13 to go in the third quarter, Davis hit Cook for a big gain down the right seam, a 41-yard gain that looked to set the Rams up with a prime chance to take a two-score lead inside Arizona's 10. But after Cook broke a tackle and headed for the right sideline, tight end Lance Kendricks delivered a crushing block to Arizona safety Tony Jefferson as he turned to pursue Cook at the 20. The block sprang Cook loose for more yards, but the officials flagged Kendricks for an illegal blindside block. Instead of first-and-goal, the Rams had a first-and-10 at Arizona's 35 and ended up punting. It was a big missed opportunity that dearly cost the Rams.

Game ball: Safety T.J. McDonald. The second-year safety has had his ups and downs in his first season and a half, but he was all over the field Sunday. In what was probably the best performance of his young career, McDonald finished with nine tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss and a quarterback hit.

What's next: Their three-game road swing finally over, the Rams get to head home to take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos before another trip to the West Coast to play San Diego the following week.

Rams offense seeking solutions

November, 7, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the past four weeks, the St. Louis Rams have faced three defenses in the top five in average yards per game allowed.

That stretch includes two games against the No. 2 San Francisco 49ers and one each against No. 4 Seattle and No. 5 Kansas City. Before that quartet of games, the Rams offense had been one of the league's more pleasant surprises under the guidance of quarterback Austin Davis.

Through those first five weeks, the Rams were averaging 392.8 yards per game -- 283.5 yards passing and another 109.25 yards on the ground for an overall average of 5.8 yards per play.

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Michael B. Thomas/Getty ImagesAustin Davis and the Rams offense has found the going tough of late after facing some of the best defenses in the league.
But the question of whether the Rams could keep that up when they moved past games against lower-ranked defenses such as Tampa Bay, Dallas and Philadelphia lingered. Not that the Rams consider any defense in the NFL a pushover.

“I don’t think any of them are crummy in this league," Davis said. "That’s what you learn right away -- every week’s a different challenge and a tough challenge.”

The past four weeks have offered a resounding answer to the question of whether the Rams could sustain their success as the defenses they face have gotten better.

In the four contests against the 49ers, Seahawks and Chiefs, the Rams' offensive production dropped across the board. The St. Louis offense is averaging 244.2 yards per game, with the passing average dropping to 151.75 yards per game and the rushing average down to 92.5. In those games, the Rams have averaged 4.4 yards per play.

Aside from facing better defenses, Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer points to maintaining better balance and taking care of the ball as keys to getting the offense untracked.

“We’re at our best when we’re balanced, when we can get the running game going," Schottenheimer said. "We all got to do a better job of converting third downs; that helps us. This will certainly be a challenge. It comes down to execution, us doing our job, guys making plays, taking things one play at a time. Hopefully, it’ll be a good week for us to get back on track.”

In terms of the basic defensive ranking numbers, this week's game against the Arizona Cardinals would appear to offer a chance for the Rams to get going on offense again. The Cardinals are 19th in the league in total defense (366.4 yards per game allowed) and last in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (286.75).

On paper, that would seem to offer a chance for the offense to find traction, but a further inspection reveals a defense better than the numbers would indicate. Arizona is third in the NFL in rush defense and tied for second in turnover margin.

"They’re getting up and teams are just throwing it and going two-minute," coach Jeff Fisher said. "They’re giving up plays just to protect the end zone and things like that. It’s very, very misleading.”

While Arizona doesn't rank as highly as their NFC West brethren, it poses some problems that other teams don't. Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has earned a reputation for providing one of the most varied and unique defensive schemes in the league.

The Cardinals are more game-plan specific than most teams defensively and have been using four-man fronts more frequently in recent weeks. After facing a 49ers defense known for sticking to what it does, Davis will be challenged more than ever by a defense that will force him to question what he sees from play to play and series to series.

"Whatever you prepare for you’ll get something different," Schottenheimer said. "It’s one of those games we say, ‘You got to trust what you see, trust your rules.’ They come with different packages, different people. They played Dallas a bunch of four-man fronts. They played a bunch of Bear against Oakland, they do different things. Very creative. How do you mask that? You do what you do and say, ‘Hey guys, get ready to adjust on the run.’”

Rams staying focused on football

November, 6, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As rumors and speculation about the Rams future in St. Louis picked up following Missouri Governor Jay Nixon's conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, not much of it managed to find its way into the team's locker room.

While a handful of players took interest in what Nixon had to say -- one player approached me asking for details of what was said -- the primary focus of the team as a whole was quite clear.

"There's no issues whatsoever with the players," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "We've not discussed anything with the players. Their focus, as well as the staff's focus, is on the Arizona Cardinals."

At 3-5 with any loss sending their remaining hopes further down the road, the Rams are in no position to sit and wonder about the future beyond this week, let alone this season. Since his arrival in 2012, that's been something Fisher has emphasized to his team and that was long before conference calls and rumors of relocation.

Quarterback Austin Davis said he's seen no evidence to contradict Fisher's assertion that the team is only focused on this week's opponent.

"I think we're so focused on what we have in front of us and the task is so large we really don't think about it," Davis said. "It's far out of our control. Those decisions are way above us and we'll just keep focusing on Arizona and worry about those things when they come."

Of course, it's only natural for players, coaches or support staff to wonder about their future. Some players own homes in the city and would clearly prefer to have some notice if they're going to have to put those homes on the market.

As expected, Nixon's teleconference revealed no specifics or details but did offer a means to an end of how those specifics and details will be gathered. In the meantime, the Rams can only worry about what they can control.

Namely, finding a way to beat the 7-1 and NFC West division leading Cardinals.

"We've got too much going on, too much in front of us and way bigger fish to fry," Davis said.

The Film Don't Lie: Rams

November, 4, 2014
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A weekly look at what the St. Louis Rams must fix:

No cliche in football carries more truth than the need to win the turnover battle, but never is it more true for the St. Louis Rams than this week against the Arizona Cardinals.

In last week's surprising 13-10 win against the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams managed to escape with the victory because their defense was able to come up with two key takeaways that helped nullify the two they gave away early in the game. The Rams scored their lone touchdown after one of those takeaways and ended the game with the second.

But turnovers have been a consistent issue for the Rams offense this season. Many of those issues can be pinned on quarterback Austin Davis. Against the Niners, Davis didn't get through his progression and missed an open target on a crossing pattern, which led to the first of his two interceptions. His second came later, when he scrambled and attempted to throw downfield on the run -- a throw he simply doesn't have the arm to make.

Those two interceptions both came outside the pocket, which made Davis the first quarterback since Christian Ponder in 2012 to throw two interceptions from outside the pocket in the same game.

For the season, Davis has thrown seven interceptions, three of which have been returned for touchdowns. He also has a fumble that was returned for a score. All told, the Rams are minus-3 in turnover margin, which is tied for 23rd in the NFL.

If Davis and Co. are going to pull off an upset in Arizona, they'll have to cut down on the mistakes. The Cardinals are second in the league in turnover margin at plus-10, with a plus-8 margin in the fourth quarter.
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have made a habit of starting as the hare and ending as the tortoise in 2014, but for all of those slow finishes, many of them can be directly linked to a series of missed opportunities.

After the Rams' 34-7 blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon, the 2-5 Rams appear headed down the path to another disastrous season.

And there will be no sequence of plays that better sums up this year's team so far than what happened midway through the second quarter of Sunday's loss.

In a 7-7 game with the ball at Kansas City's 8-yard line after a fumble recovery by defensive end William Hayes, the Rams somehow managed to come away with no points. Not a touchdown, not a field goal, nothing. Instead of at least a 3-point Rams' lead, Kansas City got the ball back and promptly drove for a field goal of its own.

It was a six-point swing that turned more painful as the Chiefs rattled off the next 24 points of the game. They scored all 34 of their points after the Rams' opening touchdown.

"We clearly got outplayed the second half of this game in all three phases," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "It probably started before half when we had the turnover, got sacked, got no points and then gave up points. So this team is going to have to learn to play consistent through 60 minutes."

Really, the most consistent thing about this Rams team is the repeated use of that final sentence. Talk of finishing a game, playing a full 60 minutes and other such cliches are staples around the St. Louis locker room, yet nothing seems to change -- with rare exceptions like last week's win against Seattle mixed in.

Sunday's failure came at all levels, but the steamroller didn't really fire up until after the missed second-quarter chance.

The Rams' offense had put together an impressive opening drive for a touchdown, and though it hadn't scored since, had at least moved the ball. On first down from the Chiefs' 8, running back Tre Mason ran up the middle for 1 yard. On second down, the Chiefs blanketed a Rams receiver corps as pressure came through the Rams' struggling offensive line and forced quarterback Austin Davis to scramble for a yard.

Third down is when things really took a turn for the worse as Davis felt pressure, escaped the pocket to the right and instead of throwing the ball away or hanging in the pocket to find receiver Chris Givens in the back of the end zone, took a 14-yard sack.

"That was a big point in the game," Davis said. "Obviously you get the big turnover. At minimum, you’ve got to come away with three, but, really, you need to score a touchdown. I’ve got to throw it away. We’re even closer and it would have been more of a chip shot for Greg so I have got to do a better job of throwing the football away and managing the situation. You get the field goal and everyone feels a little bit better. Those types of plays are critical in a close game, as it was at that point."

In fairness, Davis had thrown a touchdown earlier in the game on a similar play when he rolled out and found tight end Lance Kendricks in the back of the end zone. Taking a sack isn't a good play but it still left kicker Greg Zuerlein a 38-yard chip shot. Or so it seemed.

Zuerlein, who has developed a knack for missing kicks at crucial times, said he rushed the kick and didn't set his plant foot properly.

"Anytime you go out there they expect you to make the field goal, obviously you should, being that close," Zuerlein said.

Once again, there are a lot of simple enough things the Rams should be able to do to help them win games. They're the things that winning teams do and losing teams don't. And for as long as the Rams don't do them, they'll continue to get the same result.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It was almost one year ago today that the St. Louis Rams contacted Brett Favre to see if he'd be interested in returning to replace injured quarterback Sam Bradford.

When Favre declined via his representatives, the Rams turned back to a familiar face in the form of Austin Davis. Davis, who spent a season and a training camp with the Rams before being released in the final round of 2013 cuts, re-signed with the Rams on Oct. 23 of last year.

Just before the anniversary of Davis' return to the Rams, his name is again tied to Favre, but for quite different reasons.

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Michael B. Thomas/Getty ImagesIt's far too early -- and unrealistic -- to compare Austin Davis to Tom Brady or Kurt Warner as backups-turned-starters.
Wednesday morning, Favre told ESPN's Ed Werder that he sees Davis as the next quarterback to rise from obscurity to NFL stardom.

"Austin can definitely play at this level," Favre, the only Southern Miss quarterback other than Davis to start more than one NFL game, told Werder. "Not to sound off my rocker, but [Davis] -- in my mind -- can be the next Tom Brady or Kurt Warner. [Brian] Hoyer, as well.

"Austin, like those mentioned, just needed a legit opportunity."

Since the shooting star that was Warner's three-year run in St. Louis ended in 2003, any time a little-known quarterback has stepped into the Rams' starting job, the hope has existed that the player will somehow morph into the next Warner.

Late-round or undrafted quarterbacks such as Keith Null, Scott Covington, Brock Berlin and a few others have tried their hand and failed only to retreat back into anonymity. Others, such as Marc Bulger and Ryan Fitzpatrick, have developed into starters in the league to varying degrees of success, but none developed into potential Hall of Famers like Warner.

As recently as this preseason, some even went so far as to equate Shaun Hill to Warner after Hill became the starter under circumstances similar to Warner's. That lasted all of one half before a calf injury to Hill gave Davis an opportunity.

But, to the surprise of many, Davis has done enough in his first five starts to give observers pause and consider the possibility that he might have more of a future than the usual third-stringer-turned-starter.

My first reaction to Favre's comments was to answer his rhetorical supposition with a resounding yes: He is indeed off his rocker. To compare Davis to Warner or Brady, two quarterbacks who will end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is simply not realistic. Brady and Warner are legendary aberrations at a position where the failure rate far outpaces the success stories. Brady and Warner aren't just success stories -- they're full-blown outliers.

But before we go too far and offer that Favre has truly lost it, it's important to note that he threw Hoyer's name into the conversation. Hoyer has stepped in and done some good things for the Cleveland Browns this season, but in no way has he flashed anything resembling Brady or Warner. Brady won a Super Bowl after stepping into the starting lineup. Warner did the same and did it while posting video game numbers.

It's also important to note that Favre probably wouldn't mind seeing Davis, who broke most of Favre's passing records at Southern Miss, carry the flag for his alma mater.

As for Davis, he's 2-3 as the Rams' starter, and though he's posted big numbers in some games, his influence hasn't turned his team into an instant winner as Warner and Brady once did.

In five starts plus one half, Davis is completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,517 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions for a passer rating of 94.3 (14th in the NFL) and a QBR of 60.9 (19th). He's alternately flashed promise (leading a comeback win against Tampa Bay and a clutch late drive to seal the victory against Seattle) and struggled with backbreaking mistakes (three of his four interceptions have been returned for touchdowns).

That isn't to say Davis doesn't have some upside. He brings a fiery and enthusiastic approach that his teammates appreciate, and he has an honest way about him that allows him to openly acknowledge his faults and then set about correcting them the following week.

If nothing else, Davis has proved in his handful of starts that he's deserving of at least a No. 2 job in the NFL. Beyond that, there is still plenty for Davis to prove. The opportunity to make the starting job his on a permanent basis lies in front of him. Becoming the next Hoyer is certainly possible, and you could argue he's already outplaying Hoyer. But setting the bar at Warner and Brady is simply asking too much.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Here is a look back at the turning-point in the St. Louis Rams' 28-26 win against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon:

Givens
The situation: With a third-and-6 at Seattle's 44 and a 21-19 lead that had shrunk from 21-3, the Rams looked poised to let another big lead slip away for another disappointing loss. The offense had barely moved the ball at all in the second half and now desperately needed a drive that ended in the end zone. A field goal would have helped stop the bleeding, but probably would have been little more than a quick fix delaying the inevitable. A promising drive had taken a turn for the worse after Tavon Austin gained 4 yards on first down and quarterback Austin Davis threw incomplete on second. The Rams needed points, but first they needed to move the chains.

The play: The Rams lined up with Austin split wide right, Chris Givens in the slot beneath him and Brian Quick wide to the left. With Davis in the shotgun and flanked by running back Benny Cunningham to his left and tight end Jared Cook to his right, Davis sent Cook in motion to the left before going back to the right. Seattle was in its nickel defense with cornerback Marcus Burley matched up against Givens in the slot. At the snap, the Seahawks sent linebacker Malcolm Smith on a blitz that the Rams cleanly picked up with right tackle Joe Barksdale handling Smith with relative ease. Quick ran a crossing route from Davis' left to right, which cleared out that side of the field as Austin and Cook ran deep routes down the right sideline. Burley allowed Givens a free release to the inside, possibly with the expectation that he would have safety help. But safety Kam Chancellor decided to help cover Cook and Earl Thomas took a step toward the receivers running down the right sideline, leaving him flat footed and unable to help on Givens. Givens runs a deep crossing route with a step on Burley the whole way. Given a clean pocket and plenty of time to throw, Davis fired a strike to Givens for a 30-yard gain to Seattle's 14.

The fallout: There were a ton of plays to pick from for this spot this week, and since we already went into great detail on the two big special teams plays on Sunday, I chose this one because it led to the points that would ultimately decide the game. After Givens' catch, a play made more relevant by the fact that Givens had been inactive the previous two weeks, the Rams scored three plays later when Davis hit tight end Lance Kendricks for a 4-yard touchdown. That gave the Rams a 28-19 lead, and though there were other things that happened after it to determine the outcome, we never get to those without this. Making it more important was the fact that Davis had not even attempted a pass more than 19 yards downfield until hitting Givens here.

"We thought we’d get man-to-man coverage," Davis said. "When they need a play, they trust their guys to cover man-to-man. Chris, with his speed, just ran across the field. I trusted it and obviously, we worked the play all week, and when we needed it, he made a big play. That’s how you win games. You’ve got to make big plays when the game is on the line. You’re going to have a chance to go down and win the game at the end or not. Today, we did it."

Rams keep it clean on way to win

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
1:00
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For all that goes into every game in the NFL on a weekly basis, there are always a few small things that can be done to greatly influence the outcome.

Those small things -- penalties and turnovers -- become amplified if a team doesn't perform up to par in those areas. The St. Louis Rams know all about the effect of failing in the small details, losing four of their first five games in part because of their continued failings there.

So it was no coincidence Sunday when the Rams pulled out a 28-26 victory against the Seattle Seahawks that they finally found a way not to make the continued critical errors that have cost them games in the first part of the season.

“Well, yeah, as long as we're not hurting ourselves and creating negative field position and things like that, we’re OK," coach Jeff Fisher said.

What the Rams offered Sunday was a surprising victory on many levels, including a closer examination of the details.

The Rams entered Sunday's game 20th in the league in penalties (43) and 28th in penalty yards (425). That trend has plagued them since Fisher's arrival in St. Louis in 2012, as they were the most penalized team in the league over the past two years.

After receiver Brian Quick appeared to throw a punch at Seahawks cornerback Tharold Simon early in Sunday's game to draw a 15-yard penalty deep in Seattle territory, it appeared the Rams were on their way to another sloppy, penalty-plagued performance.

But the Rams found a way to course correct, drawing just one more penalty the rest of the day, and even that was a delay of game penalty the team took on purpose. Seattle, meanwhile, drew costly penalty after costly penalty on its way to 10 flags for 89 yards. The plus-69-yard penalty margin was the Rams' first positive margin of the season and their best margin of the Fisher era in St. Louis.

Beyond that, the Rams did not turn the ball over for the first time in a game this season and did not allow a sack for just the second time in 2014. They even added three sacks of their own on defense and consistently generated pressure on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

There's nothing fancy about any of those numbers, but they're certainly part of a recipe for success -- a recipe the Rams know they must duplicate if they're going to build on Sunday's win.

“I think that’s how you win games in the NFL," quarterback Austin Davis said. "I think it’s something that we need to watch and figure out how to repeat week to week. The turnovers and the penalties and some of those things have been what’s holding us back. We feel like we’re a good team and keep progressing, but those things have really plagued us. We found a way to play a clean game tonight, and it gave us a chance to win and we ultimately pulled it out.”

ST. LOUIS -- After reviewing the film from last week's loss to the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis acknowledged he didn't do a good enough job of taking what the defense gives him.

Heading into Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks, Davis vowed to force the ball down the field less and take advantage of whatever the Seahawks were willing to cede. Late in the Rams' surprising 28-26 victory, Davis had done just that, almost to a fault.

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis
Michael B. Thomas/Getty ImagesQB Austin Davis had a career day on Sunday, leading the 2-4 Rams to a key division win against Seattle.
In the first three quarters, Davis completed 13-of-14 for 77 yards, an average of just 5.9 yards per completion. But as Seattle mounted a late comeback and put itself in position to win the game, Davis suddenly needed to come up big. He hadn't been able to in the past three weeks after leading a late victory in his first start against Tampa Bay. But he found a way to lead an impressive 80-yard drive to give the Rams the winning points.

On that drive, Davis completed 4-of-5 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown to tight end Lance Kendricks. None of those throws were bigger than a 30-yarder to receiver Chris Givens on third-and-6 at Seattle's 44.

"We thought we'd get man-to-man coverage," Davis said. "When they need a play, they trust their guys to cover man-to-man. Chris, with his speed, just ran across the field. I trusted it and obviously, we worked the play all week, and when we needed it, he made a big play. That's how you win games. You've got to make big plays when the game is on the line. You're going to have a chance to go down and win the game at the end or not. Today, we did it.”

Minutes later, Davis offered another big play when he evaded Seattle's pass rush on second-and-12 and somehow shoveled a pass to tight end Jared Cook for a 9-yard gain to put the Rams in position for the fake punt that helped seal the victory.

For the day, Davis was 18-of-21 for 152 yards and two touchdowns for a rating of 128.6. That completion percentage plus punter Johnny Hekker's completion on one attempt left the Rams converting 86.3 percent of their pass attempts, the highest allowed by the Seahawks in franchise history. The quarterback rating is the highest of Davis' young career.

The key to that success? Effectively using the middle of the field. Davis majored in risk management Sunday, throwing his 21 passes an average of just 5.5 yards down the field with 18 of those attempts coming in the middle of the field. That was a logical move considering Seattle is 20th in the league in completion percentage allowed over the middle the past two seasons and star cornerback Richard Sherman usually lurks on the outside.

It also allowed Davis to come up with big plays such as the ones to Givens. He attempted just four passes more than 10 yards down the field Sunday but he completed all of them.

Most important, Davis had no turnovers, eliminating the costly plays that have helped beat the Rams in recent weeks.

"You can't ask for more out of a guy who went from third string to now starting quarterback and playing great ball," defensive end Robert Quinn said. "We've got to be consistent week in and week out and prepare for teams and finish games."

Rams vs. Seahawks preview

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
8:00
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The St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks are both coming off bitter defeats against top contenders in the NFC in the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, respectively.

Of course, the Rams are coming off three consecutive defeats and are reeling at 1-4 while the Seahawks sit at 3-2 and facing questions about their ability to defend their championship.

Both teams are in need of a victory and the Rams have been a handful for Seattle in St. Louis recently, splitting their last four meetings at the Edward Jones Dome.

Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount discuss this week’s matchup:

Wagoner: Terry, it's not often anybody asks about how the Seahawks are going to rebound after a loss, but that's the situation they're in. Of course, that makes for a tough challenge for the Rams. After that dominant season-opening win against Green Bay, the Seahawks seem like they've been a little up and down. What's the reason for the inconsistency?

Blount: Too many reasons to list here, but it boils down to this: They don’t have the depth they had a year ago. The Seahawks lost 11 players that had a total of 58 years of NFL experience. Entering this season, no one really thought it was a big deal because most of the starters were back and the Seahawks had younger players ready to step in who were seen as having more talent than many of the players who left. It hasn’t turned out that way, at least not yet. They don’t have the pass rush they had a year ago and they don’t have the depth in the secondary to make up for the injuries they’ve suffered.

Nick, you’re probably getting this question every week, but people here in Seattle are wondering what in the world has happened to the Rams’ pass rush? They had 53 sacks a year and only one so far this season. What gives? And how is it Robert Quinn doesn’t have a sack?

Wagoner: I think the Rams are wondering what in the world has happened to their pass rush. There are a number of reasons for it, including the loss of defensive end Chris Long to an ankle injury but that’s far from the only issue. Part of it has been a failure to get home on blitzes. Gregg Williams has long been a fan of dialing up the blitz but many of those attempts this year have been poorly conceived, poorly timed, poorly executed or a combination therein. They’ve also struggled to stop the run, which hasn’t given them many opportunities to rush the passer. In fact, they’ve been thrown against the fewest times of any team in the league.

But the bottom line is, whether the Rams are blitzing or not, they simply aren’t getting the job done. Teams are throwing everything at slowing Quinn and that’s worked and the others haven’t been able to generate push on a consistent basis. They’ve been close at times but this isn’t a game of horseshoes. No points for being close.

It's obviously not to the level of the Rams but the Seahawks' pass rush hasn't produced as expected yet either. Why the drop-off and what can they do to improve in that regard?

Blount: The Seahawks lost three players from last year who accounted for 11.5 sacks and 90 tackles in defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. No one has stepped up to replace them. Seattle drafted Cassius Marsh of UCLA as a pass-rushing specialist, but he has no sacks and no quarterback hits. Defensive end Cliff Avril hasn’t adapted well to playing more snaps. He had eight sacks and five forced fumbles in 2013. He has one sack and no forced fumbles in the first five games. Defensive end Michael Bennett, with three sacks, is the only player with more than one sack. Other than blitzing more with their outside linebackers, the Seahawks need Marsh to grow up fast and Avril to start playing at last year’s level.

Nick, the nation got a chance to watch quarterback Austin Davis play Monday night, with mixed results, but he’s still pretty much an unknown around here. What kind of a guy is he and how do you think he has played overall under such difficult circumstances?

Wagoner: The Monday night game was Davis' first chance to play a top-tier defense. I had a feeling that would lead to a regression to the mean -- not that I was going out on a limb there -- and that certainly seemed to be the case despite a hot start. The Rams haven’t helped him with their persistent protection issues, either.

All things considered, though, Davis is a tough, smart young quarterback with some athleticism and a fiery approach that his teammates appreciate. His physical skill set will always be a bit limited compared to other quarterbacks and it’s probably wishful thinking for anyone to hope that he can develop into more than a solid long-term backup. But even if he just becomes that, it’s a nice find given he came in as an undrafted rookie.

Much was made of receiver Doug Baldwin's comments after the loss to Dallas. But I assume he wouldn't have made those comments if there weren’t some truth to them. The run game is still rolling but I think many of us expected more steps forward in the passing game. Why hasn't that part of the game taken off and have you seen the progress from Russell Wilson that you expected?

Blount: There’s a lot of truth to Baldwin’s comments about not playing up to their potential, but Baldwin is a factor in that, as well. He hasn’t played as well as everyone hoped he would in moving outside to replace Golden Tate at split end. Things started off great with Percy Harvin healthy and playing full time, but opposing teams have caught on to what the Seahawks are doing with Harvin on hitch passes, bubble screens and the jet sweep. For example, the Cowboys loaded up on the perimeter at the line of scrimmage and shut down Harvin. They practically dared the Seahawks to throw downfield and it worked except for one long pass to Jermaine Kearse in the first quarter. But the last person to blame is Wilson. He single-handedly won the Monday night game against the Redskins and he engineered the 80-yard drive in overtime that beat the Broncos.

Nick, people here on the West Coast have a lot of interest in whether the Rams will leave St. Louis and move back to Los Angeles. The Seahawks would be all for it because it would give them another game in the Pacific Time Zone and an easier trip. What’s happening on all that? Is it just rumors or is there some truth to it?

Wagoner: Deciphering what’s real and what isn’t at this point is an exercise in futility. Rams owner Stan Kroenke isn’t talking about the subject publicly and it’s hard to believe anyone who says he's doing so privately either. I'm of the belief that everything is still on the table. Is Los Angeles a possibility? Until the Rams have something set in stone in St. Louis, I believe the answer is yes. But it’s not like L.A. has its stuff together for a new stadium yet either. There are so many moving parts to the whole thing it’s hard to imagine that a decision has been made. And even if it has, it would require approval from the other owners to get done. We're not there yet. But I do think it’s safe to assume that the speculation and rumors are just getting warmed up as the Rams head toward the expiration of their lease at the Edward Jones Dome following the season.

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Moments after his team's 31-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis had no interest in finger pointing or passing out blame for the Rams' shortcomings.

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis
AP Photo/Scott KaneAustin Davis is experiencing some of the ups and downs that come with the starting QB position.
Davis did what any good leader and quarterback should do and pointed directly at himself. That's not to say the Rams' latest loss was all his fault. It wasn't, not even close. But Davis clearly understands the Rams took a step up in class against the 49ers' second-ranked defense and the results weren't good after a hot start.

"I feel like this one's really on me," Davis said. "I didn't play very well, and I've got to find a way to lead this team.”

In taking the blame, Davis is doing his best to lead the team but as the Rams are already finding out, it's going to take much more than that to overcome some of the better opponents that now await.

Davis made a bit of a splash in his first three starts, leading a comeback win against Tampa Bay and then posting consecutive games with 300 yards or more passing and three touchdowns against Dallas and Philadelphia. Heading into last week, those defenses ranked between 21st and 30th in the league in yards allowed per game. Dallas has since surged up the rankings to 15th, but the Eagles are now 24th and the Bucs 32nd.

In taking on the Niners, Davis and the Rams' offense faced their toughest test yet. After a pair of scoring drives to open the game, it looked like a test the Rams would pass with flying colors. But for most of the second half, it was a pure failure. Davis finished 21-of-42 for 236 yards with a touchdown and an interception, which was returned for a touchdown for a passer rating of 65.2 and a QBR of 18.9.

“It was OK," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Davis' performance. "I don't think he played as well as he did the first couple weeks. Again, the position's hard to play. He got off to a fast start and made some good throws. A wide open tight end in the end zone is a scary throw and he didn't miss that layup. He made some other really good throws. They took some things away. He's improving. He's got his hands full.”

The numbers in the second half were even uglier as Davis went 10-of-28 for 99 yards with that pick-six and no touchdowns in the game's final 30 minutes. Asked about the second-half struggles, Davis pointed to some errors of his own doing.

“I thought they had us covered pretty tightly at times, but there were throws to be made and I know there were checkdowns, probably," Davis said. "I probably flushed the pocket a little too soon at times. I'm looking forward to seeing that and seeing what I can learn from it.”

Davis did indeed miss some throws and wasn't as good going through his progressions later in the game as he'd been in previous starts. Of course, much of that can be attributed to a San Francisco defense that had him under siege for most of the game. Uncharacteristically, the Niners dialed up the blitz 11 times and though Davis did OK against it by completing seven passes, it was part of a more aggressive scheme than the Rams appeared ready to handle.

More typical of a Vic Fangio defense, the Niners offered an array of stunts and twists that made it difficult for the Rams to block everyone. Some shoddy pass protection from tight ends and running backs helped lead the Niners to five sacks and left Davis under duress on 20 of his dropbacks.

With the Seattle Seahawks coming to town Sunday, there's plenty the Rams need to straighten out as Davis and the offense will again be tested by a top-10 defense.

“We've got a short week and we've got the world champions coming to play, so we can't really focus on the record," Davis said. "We've got to get back to work and keep building on the positive things we're doing. That's all we can do."

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