The St. Louis Rams faced a very tall task at home on Sunday against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. In the end they earned a hard-fought 20-17 victory, improving their overall record to 3-3.
Coming into the game, the Chargers boasted a top-notch offense across several statistical categories.
Before Sunday, Philip Rivers led the NFL in passing yards (1,759) and was tied with Peyton Manning for the lead in touchdown passes (11). Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates were the third and fourth-most productive receivers in the NFL. On the ground, the Chargers possessed the No. 9 rushing attack in the league. Finally, as a team the Chargers led the NFL in total yards, notching a near 400-yards more than the second-place Indianapolis Colts.
It’s no wonder Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was feeling uneasy in the days leading up to the game.
“[I’m] very, very proud of the way they came out and played what I think is an elite football team,” Spagnuolo said after the game. “[I was] very, very concerned about playing them today.”
Not only did a stern Rams defense stymie the top offense in the NFL, but the Rams offense actually outgained them behind solid performances from quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson.
The No. 1 overall pick continues to impress with his poise and decision-making. Sunday’s victory over the Chargers was the first game that he did not throw an interception.
Bradford got a huge boost from the presence of rookie wideout Danario Alexander, who made his NFL debut filling in for the injured Mark Clayton.� The tall and dangerous Alexander finished the game with four catches for 72 yards. One of his catches was a 38-yard touchdown reception – the third-longest passing play of the year for the Rams.
“I thought he did an awesome job today,” Bradford said of his newest target. “To come in and really only have a week to get in there with the [first team], and learn what we were doing. For him to come in and play the way he did, it was a huge boost for our offense today.”
Once heralded as a top receiving prospect, Alexander underwent knee surgery in February that labeled him an injury liability and subsequently caused him to go undrafted. The Rams signed him in August, assigned him to the practice squad out of training camp and this week inserted him into an active role in the receiving corps.
“I wanted to come out and prove everybody wrong,” he told reporters during a spirited postgame interview. “Everybody passed up on me and the Rams gave me this opportunity. So I’m trying to make the best of it right now, try to prove a lot of doubters wrong and come out and play my best football.”
Jackson finished with 109 yards on 29 carries – his highest carry total of the season. He sealed the deal in crunch time, fighting for two big first downs that allowed the Rams to run the clock and keep the dangerous Philip Rivers-led offense off the field.� �
“To be an elite running back, you have to be able to do that,” Jackson said after the game.
“I can’t take credit for that,” he added. “I think the offensive line did a great job of just answering to the call…We had to stay in bounds and we had to get a first down or two. And for everyone to answer, that’s just hats off to the offensive line.”
None of this would have been possible, though, without the strong performance put forth by the Rams defense. They sacked Rivers seven times on Sunday, their highest total since November, 2003.
“We emphasize on being relentless every play,” linebacker Larry Grant said. “The coaches called up the blitzes and we just executed and were a relentless defense all day today.”
Grant, Chris Long and James Hall each recorded two sacks and Fred Robbins also floored Rivers once. Both Hall and Robbins are 11-year NFL veterans who have been tremendous assets on an otherwise young Rams defensive line. They are leading the group by example, and one would think the line is benefiting from their tutelage.
Next week the Rams travel to Tampa Bay to face what will surely be a hungry Buccaneers team. The New Orleans Saints embarrassed the Bucs on their home turf this week. The Rams are yet to put together a good showing away from the Dome, so next Sunday’s game is important in a few different ways for the team. First, they can win their first road game of the season. And second, they can possess their first above-.500 record since the 2006 season.