St. Louis Rams: Lance Kendricks

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With the NFL draft and free agency complete, the St. Louis Rams' 53-man roster will likely come mostly from the players already on the team.

With organized team activities (OTAs) less than a week away, we take a look at where each position stands heading into next week. The next in the series continues today by examining the tight ends.

Who returns: Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, Cory Harkey, Justice Cunningham

Who is new: Alex Bayer, Mason Brodine

Who is gone: Mike McNeill

Projected starters: Cook, Harkey (when team uses two-back sets)

Pending competition: The Rams found roles for their top three tight ends in 2013 with Cook carrying the water as the primary pass-catching option, Harkey acting as a primary blocker who also lined up as a de facto fullback and Kendricks doing a little bit of both. All three should remain in those roles again this year with expectations increased across the board upon the return of starting quarterback Sam Bradford. The most likely competition to develop will for a fourth spot on the roster. The Rams have high hopes for Cunningham, whom they coveted before landing him late in the season from Indianapolis. Brodine is attempting to transition from defensive end and would be a prime candidate to handle blocking duties because of his size but will need to prove capable of making the switch first.

Outlook: The Rams will look to Cook as one of Bradford's primary receivers in hopes that another year together can allow Cook to deliver on the expectations that came with his 2013 free-agent contract. Cook still set franchise records for production from a tight end but he'll seek more consistency in Year 2. Harkey was a pleasant surprise last year as he emerged as a solid blocker inline but also out of the backfield. He even contributed as a pass-catcher on occasion. Kendricks got lost in the mix with the other two playing so much but still offers versatility and was productive in the red zone, scoring four touchdowns. Cunningham could be a surprise as a replacement for McNeill and does bring some skills in the passing game. Overall, this is a steady if unspectacular group with plenty of variety.

Rams draft preview: Tight end

April, 29, 2014
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The NFL draft is set to begin May 8 and the St. Louis Rams hold 12 picks in this year's selection process. For the next week and a half, we'll take a look at a different position every day with what the Rams have in place at a position, what they need, when they might address it and some possible fits.

We continue the countdown with a look at tight ends.

In place: Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, Cory Harkey, Justice Cunningham

What's needed: The Rams invested heavily in the position in 2013 free agency when they handed a lucrative contract to Cook. He didn't meet the lofty preseason expectations he created but was still the most productive tight end in franchise history. He should be even better with a full season of Sam Bradford throwing him the ball.

Harkey is the de facto fullback and designated blocker while Kendricks does a little bit of everything. Cunningham was a late-season pickup but one the Rams eyed all year and could well make the roster.

With that quartet in place, tight end is one of the few positions on the team where there's no obvious move to make in terms of adding a piece. The Rams lost Mike McNeill to Carolina in free agency but have high hopes for Cunningham. Perhaps they'd take a look at a tight end in the late rounds with one of their compensatory picks as a possible eventual Kendricks replacement. Kendricks is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after 2014.

Possible fits: North Carolina's Eric Ebron is the top prospect in the draft but probably a bit too repetitive with Cook for the Rams to consider early in the first round where he is expected to go. It's a solid tight end class later in the first and into the second round with players like Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, among others. Some late-round options that could be appealing include Tennessee State's A.C. Leonard, Missouri Western's Reggie Jordan, Massachusetts' Rob Blanchflower and USC's Xavier Grimble.

Verdict: Unless the Rams see a great value with a tight end in the late rounds, the guess here is that this position won't be addressed in the draft. The Rams do need to add a few bodies at tight end to get through training camp and the preseason but they could probably do that without having to use a draft pick. They do have 12 picks and if they keep all of those choices or add more through trade, maybe the odds of drafting a tight end increase. Either way, any significant additions here would come as a bit of a surprise.

Rams draft rewind: 2011

April, 12, 2014
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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 2011 draft class.

Quinn
The picks: DE Robert Quinn (No. 14 overall), TE Lance Kendricks (No. 47), WR Austin Pettis (No. 78), WR Greg Salas (No. 112), S Jermale Hines (No. 158), CB Mikail Baker (No. 216), LB Jabara Williams (No. 228), S Jonathan Nelson (No. 229)

What's left: Quinn is the best player on the current roster and one of the best young players in the league. Kendricks and Pettis have had their moments as role players. Salas has bounced around the league a bit since the team dealt him to New England before the 2012 season. Williams went to Chicago briefly before returning to St. Louis and coming up short in his bid to make the Rams roster last season.

Best pick: The easiest choice for this spot of all recent Rams' picks and one of the best choices of any team in the past few years is Quinn. After a slow build in his first two seasons, Quinn burst on the scene in 2013 with 19 sacks on his way to first-team All Pro honors. Beyond his pass rushing skills, Quinn vastly improved as a run defender last season and is still only scratching the surface of his potential. The Rams have him under control for two more seasons but will likely do everything possible to keep him around for the long haul.

Worst pick: Let's cheat the system here a little bit and go with every pick made from the fourth round on in a five-way tie. While it's unrealistic to expect sixth and seventh round picks to make the roster, it's never a good sign when those players not only don't make the roster but aren't even kept around for the practice squad. Salas at least showed some promise as a rookie but battled injuries and never seemed to click with the new regime that came aboard in 2012. Hines, Baker and Nelson never made the roster and bounced around to some other opportunities that never amounted to much. Williams showed some early promise but never stuck in two stints with the team. Not that anyone should have expected to get starters at that point in the draft but at least some depth or special teams contributors would have been helpful.

What could have been: When healthy, Kendricks has been a solid if unspectacular contributor and his versatility has had value in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense. But for a team that has been constantly searching for top receiver options, the Rams missed a golden chance to get a wideout that has become a true difference maker instead. Eleven picks after the Rams picked Kendricks, Baltimore chose receiver Torrey Smith, who has gone on to become the Ravens' top wideout and one of the top deep threats in the game. Even if the Rams had passed on Smith, they could have taken multi-purpose weapon Randall Cobb, who went six spots after Smith.
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 countdown 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 Rams spent big money last offseason to bring tight end Jared Cook to St. Louis from Tennessee. Although technically listed as a tight end, Cook was the de facto replacement for Danny Amendola as a super sized slot receiver.

Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey remain under the team's control for 2014 and join Cook as one of the groups where the Rams seem most settled heading into the offseason.

Pending free agents: Mike McNeill (restricted)

What’s needed: At first glance, the Rams seem to be pretty well set at tight end with the three under contract each bringing a different flavor to the table. Cook will continue as the primary pass receiving threat from the position while Harkey handles in line blocking and fullback duties and Kendricks does a little bit of everything.

However, the big picture beyond 2014 is a little more up in the air. Kendricks is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after 2014 and Harkey will be restricted. McNeill is a favorite of head coach Jeff Fisher and the Rams could likely get him back at the lowest tender number.

Tight end is still far from a pressing need going into the offseason but if the right opportunity presents itself, it's something that could at least earn a second look.

Possible fits: The biggest free agent prize of all is New Orleans' Jimmy Graham but the Rams obviously won't be in that market. Instead, if the Rams wanted to make an addition here it would likely be from the bargain bin. Matthew Mulligan, who was with the Rams in 2012 as a blocking specialist is the type of player who would fit that bill but the Rams replaced him last year and seemed content with Harkey in that job.

Verdict: I don't expect the Rams to make any free agent additions at this position with the possible exception of retaining McNeill on a low tender as a restricted free agent.

Rams-Saints study session: Offense

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

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

Rams-Bears study session: Offense

November, 26, 2013
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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 receiver Tavon Austin runs 65 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead on the third offensive play of the game.

Austin
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.

Other observations:
  • 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.
  • Have a feeling Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce were smiling somewhere on Stedman Bailey's 19-yard catch on a well-run dig route. That route was the bread and butter of Holt and Bruce for many years.
  • 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.

Lance Kendricks headed toward return

November, 20, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams tight end Lance Kendricks didn't play in the team's final game before last week's bye but it appears that extra week off will allow him to miss just one game because of a fractured finger.

Kendricks returned to practice Wednesday and appears to be headed toward a return Sunday against the Chicago Bears at the Edward Jones Dome. Rams coach Jeff Fisher indicated the only area where Kendricks might be bothered would be catching the ball.

"It’s not an issue blocking," Fisher said. "He’s made some catches, so yeah I’m sure he’ll be fine."

Kendricks was not listed on the team's injury report Wednesday.

On the actual injury report, the Rams were a little thin in the secondary as cornerback Cortland Finnegan (eye) did not practice and safeties Darian Stewart (foot) and Matt Giordano (thigh) were limited participants.

Here's the full injury report from Wednesday:

Did not practice: Finnegan, quarterback Brady Quinn (listed as hip though it was described as lower back Tuesday), guard Harvey Dahl (knee) and running back Chase Reynolds (knee).

Limited participation: Stewart, Giordano
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As expected, it looks like the St. Louis Rams will be without tight end Lance Kendricks on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

Kendricks
Kendricks suffered a fractured finger against Tennessee last week and coach Jeff Fisher indicated Monday that he could miss some time. Technically, there's at least a little bit of hope for Kendricks, who is listed as doubtful on the injury report.

But Kendricks didn't participate in practice all week and it looks like he'll get this week and next with the Rams on the bye to recover.

Assuming Kendricks doesn't play, the Rams will turn to Mike McNeill to fill in. The Rams have regularly used two and three tight end sets in the past few weeks so the loss of Kendricks is not helpful.

McNeill said he's ready to go.

“Mike’s a solid player," quarterback Kellen Clemens said. "He’s a solid player. He’s good in the pass game. He’s surprisingly good in the run game even though he is a little bit lighter-bodied than maybe Lance is. He’ll step up. Lance Kendricks, those are big shoes to fill, but Mike will step up in a big way for us and we look forward to having him.”

Quarterback Brady Quinn is also listed as doubtful with a hip injury and guard Harvey Dahl (knee) is out this week.

In better injury news, running back Zac Stacy (foot) is probable after he did more in practice each day this week, including a full practice Friday. Linebacker James Laurinaitis left Friday's workout early with an apparent hip issue but Fisher said he'll be fine and he is also listed as probable.

Here's the full injury report:

Out: Dahl
Doubtful: Brady Quinn, Kendricks
Probable: Laurinaitis, Stacy

Notables for the Colts: cornerbacks Josh Gordy (groin) and Greg Toler (groin) are out this week. Nose tackle Josh Chapman (knee) and safety Delano Howell (neck) are also out Sunday.

Running back Trent Richardson (ankle) is listed as questionable.

Stacy sits out Wednesday's practice

November, 6, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In what has become something of a weekly tradition, St. Louis Rams rookie running back Zac Stacy did not practice Wednesday as he continues to manage an ankle injury suffered late in the team's game against Seattle on Oct. 28.

On the official injury report, Stacy is listed as sitting out with a foot injury but Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he had hurt the ankle in the closing minutes of that game against the Seahawks. Stacy did not practice last Wednesday, either, before he was upgraded to full participation Thursday and back down to limited on Friday.

But Stacy started and clearly had no lingering issues against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday as he played through whatever ailed him and posted 127 yards and two touchdowns. It would surprise nobody if he follows a similar routine this week leading up to this week's game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Guard Harvey Dahl (knee), quarterback Brady Quinn (hip) and tight end Lance Kendricks (hand) joined Stacy in sitting out Wednesday's practice. Those were the only four players on the team's injury report.

Of note for Indianapolis, linebacker Robert Mathis (shoulder) and running back Trent Richardson (ankle) did not practice.

Rams' Kendricks has fractured finger

November, 4, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams made it through Sunday's 28-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans relatively unscathed with one notable exception. Tight end Lance Kendricks suffered a fractured finger that could cost him some time, coach Jeff Fisher said Monday.

Kendricks
Kendricks suffered the injury on a second-down play in the fourth quarter when quarterback Kellen Clemens threw to him in the right side of the end zone. He left the game immediately after the play.

Fisher said Kendricks' status this week is still up in the air.

"We're just doing some tests right now to see what the best way to go about to either cast it or repair it," Fisher said. "There's a chance that he may miss some time. How much, I don't know."

Regardless of the Rams' approach with Kendricks, he's almost certainly going to need a cast on the finger, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be able to wear a cast that will allow him to continue to play. That cast will make it difficult for Kendricks to catch the ball, though he theoretically could continue to block.

Should the Rams be without Kendricks for any period of time, it will undoubtedly come as a blow to the offense. Kendricks is one of the team's most useful and versatile pieces. He has been a key blocker in the improved run game with Zac Stacy, and has also been a valuable target in the red zone with three touchdown catches on the year.

Since Stacy became the focal point of the offense, the Rams have regularly used two, three and the occasional four tight end set. Mike McNeill stands to get more work if Kendricks is unavailable.

"He's ready to go," Fisher said. "He's been ready to go, he's practicing, (tight ends coach) Rob (Boras) does a good job with him moving him around and things like that. He's prepared to play."

Rams-Texans study session: Offense

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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ST. LOUIS -- A look back at the St. Louis Rams’ 38-13 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday after reviewing the coaches’ film.

Big Play: Rams quarterback Sam Bradford hits tight end Jared Cook for 34-yard gain in third quarter to set up a touchdown that would give the Rams a 24-6 lead.

Holding a 17-6 lead on their first possession of the third quarter, the Rams were looking for a chance to extend the margin and put the Texans away.

On second-and-11 at Houston’s 41, the Rams lined up with two receivers, a tight end, a running back and a fullback. Before the snap, Bradford sent receiver Austin Pettis in motion. Pettis stopped on the right side of the line to serve as an additional blocker with Lance Kendricks as the fullback.

[+] EnlargeJared Cook
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams took advantage of a favorable matchup on Sunday with TE Jared Cook being covered by Texans safety Shiloh Keo.
Houston was loaded up at the line of scrimmage with three down linemen and two linebackers -- Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus -- standing at the line on opposite sides. The corners stayed in off coverage with both safeties high.

At the snap, the Texans sent four pass-rushers with Mercilus getting caught flatfooted as Pettis lined up across from him. Pettis stayed in to block.

Bradford faked the handoff to running back Zac Stacy and quickly turned his eyes upfield. Cook got a free release as Reed attempted to pressure Bradford on the outside.

Cook found himself running free into the secondary matched up against Houston safety Shiloh Keo, a favorable matchup for Cook if ever there was one. Cook ran a smooth deep out after faking a cut to the inside.

Meanwhile, left tackle Jake Long didn’t get the expected help from running back Stacy on Reed as Stacy actually runs into Long, allowing Reed to bend the edge past Long.

An obviously aware Bradford appeared to see Reed coming and slid to the right before setting his feet and releasing a perfect strike just before Reed hit him. Cook hauled it in at Houston’s 26 and turned it upfield, hurdling Ed Reed before Keo finally took him down at the 7 for a gain of 34.

The play would set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bradford to receiver Brian Quick two plays later. It was a big play by Cook but much of the credit on this one has to go to Bradford, who handled pressure extremely well in this game. He looked like he saw Reed coming, made the adjustment and delivered an accurate ball for a big gain knowing he was about to take a hit.

Hidden Play: Bradford throws incomplete deep down the middle to receiver Chris Givens.

Working with a 10-3 lead midway through the second quarter, the Rams missed a prime opportunity to strike fast and move the lead to 17-3 with a home run to Givens.

The Rams lined up with two receivers to the right, a tight end, a fullback and Daryl Richardson at running back. Pre-snap, Bradford sent Givens in motion to the left of the formation.

Defensively, the Texans shadow Givens with cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who follows Givens across the formation. Upfront, Houston again had three down linemen with Reed and Mercilus at the line of scrimmage. The Texans sent four after Bradford with Reed dropping off into coverage.

Bradford took a straight seven-step drop with a clean pocket around him, including strong work from Long on J.J. Watt. There was nothing fancy about Givens’ route as he sprints down the field on a basic "9" route from the left slot.

With a clean pocket in front of him, Bradford was able to set his feet and step up in the pocket to unload a deep ball for Givens, who ran clean between Joseph and safety Danieal Manning. Neither was able to stay in stride with Givens as Manning lagged behind.

Bradford launched a nearly perfect deep ball to a wide-open Givens who would have scored had he hauled it in, leaving the Rams with a disappointing near-miss.

It was the second week in a row the Rams just missed on a deep ball. Last week Bradford underthrew Givens, but this week Givens wasn’t able to make a catch he should have made. The two appear to be close to hitting on a big play and the Rams deserve a lot of credit for piecing together a good drive for a touchdown after this play but quick-strike plays have been absent for most of the season and the Rams can’t afford to continue to miss on opportunities like this moving forward.

Other Observations:

  • Reviewing film of Stacy doesn’t give much of a different view than what you see in person. He’s a meat and potatoes runner but he’s pretty darn good at it. He ran hard between the tackles and he rarely misses a run read or the opportunity to drag would-be tacklers with him. A couple things jumped out that were surprising; one good and one bad. The good, Stacy showed the ability not only to run through contact but actually make tacklers miss. Early in this one, he made a nice hesitation move as J.J. Watt flew right by for a whiff. On the other side, he missed a hole with an opportunity for a big gain on his second carry of the game when he bounced to the right despite the glaring opening.
  • Left tackle Jake Long had some really good moments, particularly in the run game and in the red zone. Long and Chris Williams wiped out their side of the line to help Stacy pick up 6 yards on one run on the team’s first scoring drive.
  • Much has been made of the lack of Tavon Austin in this game and though I understand, anyone who watched this would see why. The Rams regularly lined up with two, three and once even four tight ends in the game. Cory Harkey and Kendricks got plenty of work in the fullback role and the Rams rarely had more than two receivers on the field. The commitment to the run game is having a trickle down effect on snaps for wideouts beyond the top two with one exception.
  • That exception is Quick, who is getting more work by the week. It’s no coincidence given the attempts to get the run game going. Quick is a big, physical presence who can run block and also gives the Rams a bigger target on the outside.
  • Some have wondered about the Rams’ lack of a rushing touchdown this season. Stacy probably deserves to cash one in for his work but the lack of a score inside opponents’ territory isn’t because the Rams aren’t running well down there. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Stacy and the Rams ran well against the Texans inside the 20 and, after establishing that, coordinator Brian Schottenheimer took advantage with some play-action throws for easy touchdowns. They picked on Houston linebacker Joe Mays for touchdowns to Harkey and Kendricks.
  • I’ve already written about Bradford’s work against pressure in this one but it’s worth re-stating. He was outstanding facing pressure and delivering timely, accurate passes. The Rams didn’t run many offensive plays, let alone pass plays but Bradford made the most of them and continues to protect the ball on every possession.

Rams-Jaguars study session: Offense

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
8:00
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look back at the St. Louis Rams' 34-20 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars after reviewing the All-22 film.

Big Play: Rams quarterback Sam Bradford hits receiver Austin Pettis for a 31-yard touchdown to seal the victory.

[+] EnlargeAustin Pettis
Scott Kane-USA TODAY SportsAustin Pettis hauled in a perfect pass from Sam Bradford to seal the Rams' win over the Jaguars.
The Rams lined up in '21' personnel with two receivers, one tight end and two running backs. Jacksonville had four linemen and a linebacker at the line of scrimmage with a single high safety in the form of Josh Evans.

At the snap, Bradford faked a handoff to running back Daryl Richardson with fullback Cory Harkey sliding down from the left side of the formation to the right to pick up a blitz. Richardson also picked up another blitzing linebacker to create time for Bradford.

Pettis got a free release against cornerback Will Blackmon and did a small stutter step before accelerating to Blackmon's outside shoulder. Pettis quickly gained a step on Blackmon and Bradford dropped a perfect ball over his left shoulder for the touchdown.

Bradford's throw was pretty close to perfect and Pettis did a nice job of hauling it in but extra credit goes to Richardson and Harkey for picking up the blitz as well as they did.

Hidden Play: Bradford narrowly misses a deep ball to receiver Chris Givens.

With a 24-13 lead near the end of the third quarter, the Rams had a golden chance to hit a big play to effectively put the Jaguars away but just missed it when Bradford and Givens couldn't connect.

In '12' personnel with two receivers split right, two tight ends stacked left and a running back to the left in the backfield, the Rams lined up against Jacksonville's defense in its base 4-3 alignment with one cornerback on the left side and two high safeties.

At the snap, Givens got a free release to the inside against Blackmon, who presumably was to have safety help over the top. Jacksonville safety Johnathan Cyprien, who otherwise played well, got lost on the play and took a step toward the line as Givens raced down the field to the post.

Bradford didn't see Givens right away and the pocket closed in around him from the left side with end Tyson Alualu and tackle Sen'Derrick Marks providing pressure. Bradford took a couple of little hops before letting it go and as he threw, the pressure appeared to force him to take something off the throw.

By the time the ball arrived, Blackmon was able to recover and time it up to break up the pass.

Other observations:
  • Bradford had a couple of other issues with the pocket, including a third-quarter play where he didn't send the pressure quick enough and tripped over left tackle Jake Long's foot for a sack.
  • Tight end Lance Kendricks isn't completely healthy but he looked much better against the Jaguars. He was solid in his blocking and made some plays in the passing game. He was on the field a lot, too, playing 66 snaps.
  • Speaking of tight ends playing a lot, the Rams are using Harkey more and more. He played more snaps than Jared Cook and had good moments blocking. He also had a drop in the passing game, which won't help get more looks there.
  • Harkey also provided a glimpse into the world of working with so many young skill players on offense. During one sequence in the fourth quarter, Bradford signaled for Harkey to go in motion three times before he turned around to tell him to move.
  • Receiver Brian Quick also continues to work his way into the mix more. He played more snaps than Tavon Austin and had a couple of nice grabs. On one, he saw the pocket collapse around Bradford and did a good job of coming back to the ball, making himself available and hauling in the catch for a 17-yard gain.
  • Shelley Smith played about a third of the snaps at left guard and Chris Williams handled the rest. There didn't seem to be much dropoff between the two. Both were solid in the run game and just OK in pass protection. As I mentioned this morning, it seems inserting Smith is intended to have him ready in case a tackle gets hurt and Williams has to shift outside.
  • Richardson still doesn't look healthy to me. He ran a little better in this one but he looks a bit tentative hitting the hole, not at all like the guy we saw last year. Also, plays designed to throw him the ball just don't seem to do much. It's clearly not his forte.
  • Obviously the Rams are trying to get Tavon Austin going in the pass game but Bradford missed a golden opportunity for a touchdown to Cook on a play where Austin dropped a short pass at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Defenses throw a lot of attention at Austin on plays like that and it seems to allow chances to hit elsewhere.
  • Nice power running from back Benny Cunningham late when Zac Stacy was off the field with a rib injury.
  • Stacy was as expected. Powerful, breaking tackles, all the things you could see live showed up on film. He also did a nice job when asked to pass protect.
  • Bradford was mostly solid for the day. He did miss a couple of opportunities but he took care of the ball and didn't make any huge glaring mistakes.
  • The offensive lineman who looked the best to my eyes? Right tackle Joe Barksdale. He was solid in all aspects but caught my eye a couple of times in the run game, especially. He appeared to give up a sack but that was about it in terms of anything from the man across from him.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When a team is struggling to get anything going offensively like the St. Louis Rams have the past two weeks, it’s easy to point to the offensive line and cast blame solely on the front five.

Make no mistake, the Rams’ line isn’t opening many holes or keeping quarterback Sam Bradford upright consistently, but the blocking blame can easily be spread amongst the others tasked with doing the job.

That includes tight ends, receivers and de facto fullbacks in the run game, and tight ends and running backs in pass protection. To this point, that group simply hasn’t gotten the job done.

[+] EnlargeLance Kendricks
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceTight end Lance Kendricks says the Rams can improve their blocking with better communication.
For the Rams to get out of their offensive rut, it’s going to fall on the shoulders of everyone on the field, not just a select one or two players. That means doing the dirty work that might normally go under the radar, especially in the running game.

Tight end Lance Kendricks, who proved a solid blocker a year ago, is still working his way back from a knee injury and said he’s just now starting to feel like he’s back in football shape.

That’s a good sign for the Rams, because they ask a lot of Kendricks as a blocker, not only on the edge at tight end, but coming out of the backfield in a fullback role. It’s something Kendricks himself acknowledges.

“It goes for me, too,” Kendricks said. “I obviously haven’t been the best out there. Everybody is trying to be accountable, and I think the past couple days have kind of been a good testament to everyone just being accountable and communicating and doing their job right. We have been trying to flow through practice without any mistakes.”

When asked about the blocking struggles in the first four weeks, Kendricks points to a common point of contention for any team looking to get issues corrected: communication.

Kendricks said there have been multiple occasions where calls have been miscommunicated and led to players taking the wrong assignments. That has allowed defenders to run free to the ball.

Making matters more difficult last week was San Francisco’s 3-4 look, which puts more athletic defenders on the field in the form of linebackers, and can create additional confusion.

“We’ve really been stressing communication and making sure we’ve got the right calls,” Kendricks said. “Everyone here can block. We’ve got good linemen; we’ve got good tight ends that can block. It’s just a matter of communicating, getting the right call out and being on our technique and stuff like that.”

Blocking is the one area that can be difficult to measure without statistical backing. The folks at Pro Football Focus attempt to grade it with anything in the 0.0 range coming in as average, anything negative coming as below average, and anything above coming as a net positive.

According to their grades, the majority of the Rams' offensive line has been pretty solid in the run game. In fact, they have center Scott Wells as the only starting lineman with a negative score in the category (though it’s awfully low at negative-6.1). Their metrics also grade injured tackle Rodger Saffold below average.

Kendricks has the lowest grade amongst Rams in run blocking, and fellow tight end Jared Cook has also struggled mightily in that area. Even if you don’t subscribe to those grading methods, a quick glance at the All-22 film shows those shortcomings.

Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer says the Rams need improvement on the edges, but that applies across the board.

“We certainly have guys that we feel good about on the edges,” Schottenheimer said. “Lance obviously can be a dominant blocker on the edge. Cookie, obviously because of his length can do that.

“It’s not just the edges that we’ve got to do better. It all works together. We hear coach loud and clear, we know that’s something we have got to improve on, and it will help the whole group.”

Kendricks has enough body of work as a blocker that as he continues to knock rust off he should return closer to his usual self. Cook has rarely been asked to do much run blocking in the past, and it would probably serve the Rams well to follow a similar plan.

The Rams need more from their backs and tight ends in passing situations as well. San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman terrorized the Rams running backs last week with two sacks, two hurries and three quarterback hits, most of the time without a running back laying a hand on him.

Schottenheimer shouldered much of that blame, but it’s clear right now the Rams don’t have a back who has established himself as reliable in pass protection.

“Obviously that was an issue,” Schottenheimer said. “I blame myself. I should have made an adjustment after he got us twice. We knew what they were doing; I should’ve got that adjustment made. It’s a hard matchup for any back, and again, he was doing a good job because there’s multiple moves he uses. Certainly there’s things we can get better at but again, I’ve got to take some of that.”

Rams roster analysis: offense

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Earlier, I posted a breakdown of how the Rams roster could shake out on defense and special teams. To complete the exercise, let's take look at what shape the offense might take after final cuts are made this weekend.

Again, keep in mind that some of this could change based on how things go in Thursday night's preseason finale. But for now, here's my best guess.

QUARTERBACK

Kept in 2012: 2

This year: The only debate here is who will be the backup behind quarterback Sam Bradford. Last year, the Rams kept two in the original round of cuts, letting go of veteran Kellen Clemens. They brought him back after Week 1, making his contract non-guaranteed. Neither Austin Davis nor Clemens has done enough to clearly separate in the competition. It would be logical for the Rams to take the same approach this season should they choose to carry three for the bulk of the season again.

Prediction (2): Bradford, Davis

RUNNING BACK


Kept in 2012: 4

This year: When Terrance Ganaway departed to pursue things other than football, this situation became pretty clear. Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham will make the roster. The Rams have a Week 1 exemption on Pead because of a suspension, which could potentially buy Chase Reynolds a one-week, special teams reprieve. Fullback Eric Stevens has had some reps with the first team in practice and is the only true fullback on the roster. It seems less likely the Rams will keep one this year, though, given the versatility of their tight ends, but Stevens remains something of a wild card in the mix.

Prediction (4): Richardson, Stacy, Cunningham, Reynolds

Suspension exemption: Pead

TIGHT END


Kept in 2012: 4

This year: The Rams will almost certainly keep four again, and could even go as high as five depending on what they want to do at receiver. Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks are integral parts of the offense, and Kendricks will probably work in the fullback role on occasion. Cory Harkey is also well-positioned depending on the severity of an undisclosed injury he suffered in Denver. That would leave a battle between Mike McNeill and Zach Potter for the other spot. Potter is the better blocker and McNeill is more versatile. The decision will depend on which flavor the Rams prefer for that final tight end spot, or they might even keep both.

Prediction (5): Cook, Kendricks, Harkey, Potter, McNeill

WIDE RECEIVER


Kept in 2012: 6

This year: Five wideouts -- Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Tavon Austin, Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey -- are essentially locked in here. The question is whether the Rams keep a sixth, and if so, who will it be? Justin Veltung and Nick Johnson are the top contenders for that job. Veltung’s special teams skills would likely earn him the job, assuming the Rams keep six.

Prediction (6): Givens, Pettis, Austin, Quick, Bailey, Veltung

OFFENSIVE LINE


Kept in 2012: 8

This year: The Rams actually carried more linemen into the opener, but had eight on the roster coming out of the initial wave of cuts. This year, they’ll likely keep eight or nine, but it would seem that eight is probably the more likely number again after the cuts are made. From there, the Rams might again be searching for depth on the waiver wire. Jake Long, Rodger Saffold, Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl are in. Chris Williams and Shelley Smith are competing at left guard, and it seems things are leaning Williams’ way for the starting job. Williams stays regardless because of versatility. Joe Barksdale will be the swing tackle. Rookie Barrett Jones will stick as an interior swingman, leaving one spot left. Smith would be the most likely to land the job, but if he doesn’t win the starting spot, it becomes a bit more tenuous because he’s strictly a guard. Tim Barnes is another option, but is probably redundant with Jones.

Prediction (8): Long, Saffold, Wells, Dahl, Williams, Barksdale, Jones, Smith

Total on offense: 25
The NFC West complied with the 75-man roster limit Tuesday by releasing some players and placing others on various reserve lists.

The chart shows how many players each team from the division is carrying by position. Note that figures for defensive lineman and linebacker can be tricky, so a generic "front seven" figure could be more relevant in some cases.

One observation per team:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Injury concerns have led the Cardinals to carry additional players at tight end. Starter Rob Housler suffered a high-ankle sprain and might not be ready for the opener. Veteran Jeff King has not yet played during preseason. The team added Richard Quinn as short-term insurance. Housler and King both passed physicals and have practiced during camp, making them ineligible for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Both are expected back sooner than PUP rules would allow, anyway. For now, though, their injuries are creating roster challenges. Guard Jonathan Cooper is also ineligible for PUP. He could go on the injured reserve list with a designation for return later in the season.
  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have 10 wide receivers on their 75-man roster, tied for most in the NFL even after placing Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham on the PUP list. Four or five of their remaining cuts figure to come at that position. The 49ers' wide receivers are the oldest in the NFL by average age thanks to Anquan Boldin (32) and Kassim Osgood (33). If Osgood sticks on the 53-man roster, special-teams contributions will explain why. Boldin, Jon Baldwin, Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton and Marlon Moore would be by picks if the team kept five.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Defensive end Chris Clemons remained on the roster instead of shifting to the reserve/PUP list, another indication the team thinks he could return from knee surgery sooner rather than later. The PUP designation would allow Clemons to resume practicing between Oct. 15 and Nov. 19, but all signs point to Clemons being ready before that. Seattle needs him, too. Bruce Irvin faces a four-game suspension. Cliff Avril has a hamstring injury that could affect his availability for the opener. Keeping Clemons in play for Week 1 makes sense as long as there's a chance he could be ready by then.
  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams are a little heavy at tight end while Cory Harkey recovers from injury and Lance Kendricks gets back to full speed following knee surgery. The Rams' roster appears pretty normal overall. The decisions looming appear straightforward. That could change as the team continues to build its depth.

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