Only clarity in Rams QB situation: Bumpy road lies ahead

Shaun Hill (left) and Austin Davis both struggled under center for the Rams.

ST. LOUIS — Early in the second half of Sunday’s 34-6 loss to Minnesota, Rams quarterback Shaun Hill stood with his hands on his hips on the far right side of the sideline, a good distance away from his teammates.

That image of distress and frustration just about sums up the current situation for St. Louis at the game’s most important position. After all the talk at Rams Park about moving forward and not changing the offense without injured starter Sam Bradford, it looks painfully clear that something new must be done.

"We certainly didn’t see it going down like that coming into today," Hill said in the postgame locker room. "We had some opportunities early and moved the football, but it was just kind of self-inflicted wounds."

Indeed, the Rams’ passing game got off to a promising start on the offense’s first play when Hill hit Brian Quick for a 23-yard gain on a play-action pass. Coach Jeff Fisher said that’s the key for his team’s success through the air, and there’s no doubt an ineffective run game made life much tougher on the quarterbacks.

It also meant huge chunks of yardage were needed on third downs, the biggest reason St. Louis converted just 4 of 14 for the day. Far too often Hill seemed content to make a short dump-off pass with little chance of picking up a first down.

Then again, when he finally decided to take a chance, it turned into a disaster right before halftime. Fisher and Hill both said the costly interception resulted from a bad decision, even if it coincided with Hill’s quad strain.

"I’m not sure that he injured it and tried to throw it out of bounds at the same time," Fisher said. "I’m not making excuses for him, but at halftime we decided that it would not be a good idea for him to return."

That left the offense in the hands of Austin Davis, who was understandably nervous about making his NFL debut with the Rams trailing, 13-0. The third-year quarterback from Southern Miss has made some big strides since St. Louis cut him from the 53-man roster a year ago, but he’s still not ready to play in this league.

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"Obviously, you saw it didn’t go too well," Davis said of his performance. "You’ve got to tip your hat to the Vikings. They played a good game and took it to us, so we’ve got to figure some things out and get back to work and get ready to go next week."

Fisher indicated pocket presence might have been the biggest concern for Davis, who managed to show some decent accuracy when given time to throw to an open receiver. But he looked lost when receivers were covered and the offensive line couldn’t hold up, leading to four sacks for an aggressive Vikings defense.

They backed off with the game well in hand in the fourth quarter, and Davis completed 11 of 16 passes for 142 yards to compile some deceptively good final numbers. It’s telling that he got only two first downs when starting from Minnesota territory, and the one pass he threw with the line of scrimmage inside the 25-yard line resulted in a pick-six for safety Harrison Smith.

"Obviously, he’s disappointed in the interception returned for a touchdown," Fisher said. "There were a few other opportunities where he just needed to throw the ball away and have a shot at a field goal, and he took a sack, so we’ll look at it."

Hill said he expects to be ready to play next week at Tampa Bay, and Fisher will likely announce his status at Monday afternoon’s press conference. If healthy, the 34-year-old remains the Rams’ best option under center, at least for now.

On the other hand, if Hill can’t come back and play, it might be time for St. Louis to take some drastic measures to find a new leader for the offense. Even if Case Keenum could be a capable NFL quarterback, which is far from a guarantee, there’s no way he can learn the system well enough to start in less than two weeks.

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At the very least, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer would need to make some drastic changes to make things easier for whoever’s under center and ensure the Rams can run the football against a solid Tampa Bay front seven that held Carolina to three yards per carry on Sunday. No matter what the Rams decide to do at quarterback, it looks like a bumpy road ahead.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.