ST. LOUIS — Rams fans might still be dwelling on the 31-7 beat-down handed out by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, but the football team itself doesn’t have that luxury.
A short week means the Rams (1-2) are back on the field Thursday to play San Francisco (also 1-2) in St. Louis.
Here are five things the Rams must do in order to turn things around.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher attributed Sunday’s slow start to the Dallas defense, and the atmosphere of Jerry’s World.
“It was their defense,” he said. “They were outstanding up front. It was loud, outstanding. They were getting penetration and they were matching up routes. We just could not get things going.”
But this is becoming a theme. St. Louis hasn’t scored in the first quarter all season, and the Rams have scored only 13 first-half points in thee games. That won’t win many games.
The Rams entered Sunday’s game with a flawless sack record. And maybe that was a bit misleading. Sam Bradford had been hurried in previous weeks, and on Sunday those defensive linemen caught up in a big way — Bradford was sacked six times. Perhaps most concerning was Jake Long, the All-Pro left tackle the Rams acquired from Miami, giving up two. Because the Rams have yet to find a way to run the ball consistently, protecting Bradford is an even bigger concern. If he is constantly looking over his shoulder in the pocket, this offense will lose the one-sided thunder it has.
FIND MORE FOR COOK
Remember that big tight end from Tennessee?
It’s not that Jared Cook has been cut out from the offense. But he doesn’t seem to be getting the chance to make nearly as much of an impact as in Week 1, when he caught seven of 10 targets and turned them into two touchdowns and 141 yards receiving.
Cook was targeted five times against Atlanta and seven times against Dallas. His longest catch in those two games has been 19 yards. He hasn’t scored.
Sure, opponents realize Cook is a threat. They’re adjusting to minimize his impact. That doesn’t mean the Rams should just allow it, though. Finding a way to get Cook the ball — even if it means throwing his way 10 or more times — seems to pay off when it happens.
ESTABLISH THE RUN
An already-thin backfield to start the season has become thinner thanks to the foot injury of Daryl Richardson. Whether Richardson, who played just one down against the Cowboys, returns in full force or not, the run game must get stronger fast.
“We’ve just got to hand it off more,” Fisher said. “We haven’t had the opportunities — we’ve gotten behind. We’ve got to get back to that early in the game.”
Only three teams (Pittsburgh, Cleveland and the New York Giants) have rushed fewer times than the Rams’ 54 this season. The Rams average just 3.2 yards per carry and have yet to score a touchdown on the ground.
WIN THE MONEY DOWNS
Next time the Rams defense sets up for a third down, flip a quarter. The chances that the opponent will be stopped equals the chance the coin will land on heads. Opponents average a 50 percent third-down conversion rate against St. Louis, a stat currently tied with Oakland for the worst in the league.
“Really, the key is third down,” Fisher said when recapping the Dallas loss. “When you’re playing a good offensive team like we faced (Sunday), where our offense is struggling, the defense is going to have to get turnovers or get the ball back and we didn’t do that. That really, to me, is the difference in the game. They did an outstanding job on third down — a couple areas that we must improve on if we’re going to win football games and a short time to do it.”
Third downs are where hay is made. They are one of two things: building blocks that lead to touchdown drives, or momentum boosters for the defense that gets the ball back in Sam Bradford’s hands. Fifty percent isn’t good enough.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.