Five Takeaways: Defense Gets Two Picks, Kelly Scores Two Touchdowns

Los Angeles' first-team defense didn't play much, but did play well in its preseason action against Houston on Saturday.

While the Rams won the game 21-20, in preseason football there's far more to it than just the final score. With that in mind, here are Five Takeaways from Saturday's contest.

1) FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE LOOKS THE PART

With running back Todd Gurley, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and center John Sullivan already slated to receive Saturday's game off, head coach Sean McVay elected to sit the rest of the offensive starters as well. The decision likely stemmed from right tackle Rob Havenstein tweaking his ankle during practice earlier this week.

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The defensive starters, however, were on the field and played well in their limited action. 

During the practice week, cornerback Marcus Peters said he'd like to see the defense come on the field, force a couple three-and-outs to get their work, and get off. That's exactly what happened on Houston's first series, with cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman breaking up a short pass over the middle on 3rd-and-4 to force the game's first punt.

The defense did surrender a first down on the next series, but quickly made up for it with a takeaway. On 2nd-and-10 from the Houston 37, quarterback Deshaun Watson evaded the pocket to his right, then threw across his body deep down the left side. Watson took a hard hit from defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh as the ball came off his hand, and the pass floated earrantly downfield where safety Lamarcus Joyner made a leaping interception.

The pick was the last play of the day for the starting defense, which was off the field after just two series.

Barring anything completely unforeseen, the next time we'll see the starters will be Sept. 10 against Oakland for Week 1.

2) WELCOME BACK SAM SHIELDS

Cornerback Sam Shields has not played in a regular-season game since Week 1 in 2016, sitting out the past couple years due to injury. But he's been back on the field and playing well since signing with the Rams in March.

Late in the first quarter, Shields made the impact play he's likely been looking for. On 2nd-and-8 from the Texans 15, defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks put a hard hit on backup quarterback Brandon Weeden as he threw. Shields cut off the route, and intercepted the pass in the middle of the field — returning it down the left sideline to the Houston 13.

As Shields came off the field, his teammates sprinted down the sideline to congratulate him. It was a nice scene considering all Shields has overcome to get back to this level after the past two years.

Shields' last regular-season interception came off then-Dallas quarterback Matt Cassel on Dec. 13, 2015.

3) SLOW START, BUT THE OFFENSE EXECUTES

Quarterback Sean Mannion has had an up-and-down preseason, and once again had a slow start on Saturday — beginning the day 0-of-5 passing with an interception.

But after the pick, Mannion completed 11 of his last 12 passes in the first half to finish 11/17 with 68 yards, a touchdown, and the interception.

After Shields' interception, Mannion and wide receiver Pharoh Cooper fully capitalized on the opportunity, with the South Carolina product making a six-yard touchdown reception on 3rd-and-3. Cooper ran a quick out and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge cleared out some space behind him on the offense's left to get the score.

And Mannion engineered his best drive of the preseason in the second quarter, with Los Angeles going down the field in nine plays to score a touchdown. Granted, the Rams got the ball in Texans territory after a punt. But Mannion still completed four passes on the possession.

4) EASLEY, LONGACRE PLAY FIRST SNAPS OF PRESEASON

Along with the starters who have been practicing all camp, the Rams got two defensive impact players on the field for their first preseason action in outside linebacker Matt Longacre and Dominique Easley.

Easley — fresh of the physically unable to perform list earlier this week — was on the field for the second defensive series. For all of his career, Easley has been an interior lineman. But earlier this week, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips told the media that Easley had been working at outside linebacker.

Those practice reps turned into game snaps, with Easley working both as an outside linebacker in the Rams' base 3-4 set and as a rush defensive end when the Rams went to their nickel package. 

5) LONG, SUSTAINED DRIVE TO OPEN THE SECOND HALF

Quarterback Brandon Allen has done a nice job leading the Rams' offense during the second half of this year's preseason games, and expanded on that success on Saturday.

The Rams received the opening kickoff of the third quarter and ended up using a 19-play drive to not only take 12:06 off the clock, but also score a go-ahead touchdown.

Allen was 8-of-9 passing for 47 yards on the possession, as Los Angeles converted all six of its third-down chances to keep things going. Allen completed third-down passes to wideouts Fred Brown, Steven Mitchell, and JoJo Natson, and scrambled for 10 yards on third down, too.

Running back John Kelly converted the two remaining third-down opportunities. The first was a three-yard run on 3rd-and-1, moving the chains on the first set of downs. And then Kelly — who had already run in a four-yard touchdown in the first half — capped the drive with a 15-yard scoring strike.

On 3rd-and-goal from the 15, Kelly took a handoff up the middle, spinning and pinballing his way into the end zone for a touchdown. It was Kelly's third touchdown of the preseason, as he's continued to make a case for being a significant offensive contributor as a rookie.

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