For Starters, Offense Fares Well

Posted Aug 14, 2011


There is, perhaps, no Rams-related storyline being monitored more closely in this preseason than how quarterback Sam Bradford and his offensive teammates are adapting to the offense being installed by new coordinator Josh McDaniels.

That group got its first test Saturday night as the Rams opened the preseason with a thoroughly convincing 33-10 win against the Colts at the Edward Jones Dome.

And, as first preseason games tend to go, the results were a mixed bag of positive plays and near misses that were encouraging but also let room for much to be improved.

“I think Josh and Sam and the rest of the offensive guys and all the offensive coaches are putting something together where you are always on the attack,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “And keep the defense on the defensive. And that worked out tonight, I’m sure we are going to hit our bumps during the season. When the defense plays a little bit better that we’re going against. But all in all I think we did a good job.”

There’s only so much that can be taken from an exhibition contest in which the starting offensive unit played two dozen snaps and the opposing defense was working with a hodgepodge of players from its first, second and even third units.

No, Indianapolis did not have guys like end Dwight Freeney, linebacker Ernie Sims or defensive tackle Fili Moala on the field. Of course, the Rams were operating without expected offensive contributors like running back Steven Jackson, receiver Donnie Avery and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.

Further, both teams were about as vanilla in play calling as expected, hesitant to give away much of what they want to do when the real games begin.

So trying to draw any definitive conclusions from what took place Saturday night is probably no more than a fool’s errand. But that doesn’t mean that some snapshots of what this offense could become were unavailable.

Starting with the man pulling the trigger, everything is clearly advanced from what it was at this point a year ago.

“It’s like night and day,” Bradford said. “Compared to our first preseason game a year and this game tonight, it really is night and day. I just feel a lot more comfortable and a lot more confident. It just allows me to relax and play the way I can.”

All told, the Rams offense rolled up 342 yards of total offense with a near perfect balance of 169 rushing and 173 passing.

Out of that total, Bradford and the top offense was on the field for 24 snaps encompassing four series.

On two of those series, the offense had a short field that actually began in the red zone. While that limited the opportunities for the Rams to stretch their legs in terms of yards, it also gave them a chance to show some strides in the red zone.

A year ago, reaching the red zone was no problem for the Rams but scoring touchdowns once they got down there proved difficult. Of the top unit’s four drives, the Rams penetrated the Colts’ 20 on three occasions, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal.

“It felt good,” Bradford said. “It just felt good to get out there playing the game again. It definitely nice to put some points on the board early, to be a part of two touchdown drives. It’s just a good start to the year.”

Originally, Spagnuolo wanted the top offense to get between 12 and 15 snaps. But the short drives that was a product of the field position and a three and out actually had them on the field twice as long.

“We thought a couple series and maybe a third series, and if in any of the series we got up to the play count and they were in the middle of it, we would just let it go,” Spagnuolo said. “And that’s what happened. Was it four series he played? When we were done with the third series there probably wasn’t quite enough plays yet and then that fourth series it was long enough so we just let him go.”

That fourth and final series was one of the offense’s best as it went 63 yards on 14 plays in seven minutes, 14 seconds.

Bradford finished his night seven-of-12 for 45 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Even better, he was not sacked as the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage most of the night.

Bradford was quick to acknowledge there is still plenty of work to be done to get the offense where it wants to go. He also knows there is a lot more that McDaniels

Perhaps the most encouraging signs for the offense actually had little to do with stalwarts like Bradford and Jackson.

With Jackson resting on the sideline, the Rams gave the bulk of the running load to newly-signed backs Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood. Both showed plenty of the talent that made the Rams covet them in free agency.

Williams started the game and finished with 11 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown. Norwood chipped in eight carries for 37 yards. Let there be no doubt that Jackson remains the focal point of the running game but the work of Williams, Norwood and second-year back Keith Toston certainly promised an improvement behind Jackson.

“Cadillac and (Norwood) both ran really hard tonight,” Bradford said. “I was in there with Cadillac quite a bit and I thought he did a great job, just following his blocks and running hard. Then when ’Wood got in there he did the same thing. So I think having those two guys is going to be a great complement to Jack this year.”

In addition to the two newest additions making strong first impressions, the Rams’ talented rookie tight end also was able to take his big practice performances into a game situation.

Lance Kendricks, who has played seemingly every snap in practice, got plenty of work against the Colts and made the most of it. He caught five passes for 47 yards and a touchdown.

After the game, Kendricks was his own harshest critic, blaming himself for a couple of drops and a couple of mental mistakes. Still, it continues to be evident that Kendricks is going to be a factor in the offense sooner than later.

“I think so,” Bradford said. “I think that’s part of his (Josh McDaniels’) philosophy, is that the ball gets spread around to everyone on the field, and that way it does put stress on the defense. I think what you saw tonight with Kendricks was him playing several different positions, running quite a few different routes and route concepts. I thought he did a great job tonight and I would only imagine that it’s going to continue to grow.”

Kendricks’ role isn’t the only thing the Rams expect to continue to grow. As the preseason goes on and everyone gets more time to get on the same page, McDaniels figures to continue feeding his group more and more plays and concepts.

It’s a challenge that so far the Rams have responded to well. But, as Bradford and his cohorts are quick to point out, it’s still early.

“I don’t really know how much more Josh has in store for us,” Bradford said. “But I thought everything he’s thrown at us, we’ve handled. I thought we went out tonight and executed everything that was in the game plan very well, and I think as we go forward he’s only going to continue to put stuff on our plate until we can’t handle something, but I don’t think that will be the case.”