Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sloppy Rams lose preseason debut

The start, however fleeting, was eye-opening for the Rams and new quarterback Nick Foles. There was a 26-yard completion on the first play from scrimmage to tight end Lance Kendricks down the right sideline.
Next came a quick screen to Tavon Austin, and by golly, not only did the Rams have blockers out there for Austin, but Austin cut it inside, accelerated, and raced 35 yards to the Oakland 19.
Two plays, two passes, 61 yards. Not too shabby. But that was about it for the Rams’ offense in a sloppy performance that fitted the description — preseason opener — in every way. The final result was an 18-3 loss to Oakland at Coliseum that left the Rams with plenty to work on.
"We played hard, we flashed at times, and then we had some mistakes," coach Jeff Fisher summarized.
They also had a couple injuries. Before that first series ended on a 31-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein, the Rams watched left guard Rodger Saffold leave the field after just four plays when he tweaked his shoulder.
"Don't have any information on Rodger right now, or Daren (Bates)," Fisher said. "Daren's sore.  Everybody that left temporarily (during the game) came back. Hopefully we'll have good news as far as that's concerned."
The Rams lost special teams ace and backup linebacker Bates to a knee injury in the first half, an injury that at face value looked more severe than Saffold's.
Bates was on crutches in the locker room after the game, and will undergo an MRI Saturday. Fisher indicated that Saffold also will undergo testing on the shoulder. It's not the same shoulder that was surgically repaired in the offseason for Saffold; it's the other shoulder.
After the initial burst the offense sputtered thereafter, managing a modest 224 yards in its final 59 plays after gaining those 61 yards on the first two. Foles completed three of five passes for 69 yards before giving way to Case Keenum after two series.
"We've got a ways to go," Foles said after his first action as a Ram. "But with these guys, we can do it. It was great being out there."
Fisher had stressed the importance of keeping Foles clean, not only in the preseason opener but this season in general. But Saffold’s replacement at left guard, Brandon Washington, gave up sacks on back-to-back plays to kill Foles’ second series.
The first sack was nullified by offsetting penalties. But the second, which came when Raiders defensive end Shelby Harris got around Washington, cost the Rams 14 yards.
Even with the troubles on that series, Kendricks said the first couple of plays were indicative of what might be expected from Foles in 2015.
“He’s just in sync with the whole offense — great rhythm, great timing with everybody. Easy to work with,” Kendricks said. “It’s going to be a fun season.”
It wasn’t too much fun Friday. The Rams didn’t get much going once Keenum and the second-teamers took over on offense, reaching only as far as the Oakland 49 in the second quarter on a series that ended with a punt.
• BOX SCORE: Raiders 18, Rams 3
Meanwhile, Oakland saw its second possession against the Rams’ first-team defense reach the St. Louis 6 only to be thwarted on a Trumaine Johnson interception. Johnson, flagged for a facemask four plays earlier, cut in front of a Derek Carr pass intended for rookie first-rounder Amari Cooper for the “pick” in the end zone.
“I just read the quarterback’s eyes and was able to make a play,” Johnson said.
Simple as that. That was it for the Rams’ first-team defense after two series against an Oakland offense that looks more potent this season with Cooper and former San Francisco 49er Michael Crabtree at wide receiver.
The Rams’ defense held at its 26-yard line, forcing Oakland to kick a field goal after a 54-yard drive on the Raiders’ first possession. Then Johnson provided the eraser with his interception on the second series.
“I think we handled the first 15 (minutes) pretty well,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “Teams usually come out and try to do a lot of different stuff, and they certainly did with reverses and stuff like that. There’s some things we need to correct, no doubt.”
Oakland made the most of its first series against the Rams’ second-team defense, driving 80 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Lamarcus Joyner was beaten by Andre Holmes for a 3-yard score. Oakland went for two points, failed, and thus took a 9-3 lead.
The Raiders tacked on a field goal to open the third quarter, and then pushed their lead to 18-3 early in the fourth quarter on a 15-yard pass from third-string quarterback Matt McGloin to Brice Butler. Safety Maurice Alexander slipped in coverage on the play, giving Butler enough room to reach the end zone.
Once again, the Raiders went for two points and failed.
All in all, if this was the night you were looking for crisp execution by the offense, a shutdown performance by the defense, and a minimum of penalties ... well, maybe next week when the Rams play preseason game No. 2 at Tennessee.
The Rams were flagged 10 times for 75 yards, and that's not including four penalties that were either declined or negated by offsetting flags. Even Pro Bowl punter Johnny Hekker shanked a punt, for just 22 yards late in the second quarter, so it was not a banner night for the Rams.
The defense did get another takeaway, in the form of an interception by undrafted rookie Imoan Claiborne. Claiborne was later shaken up and left the game but appeared to be OK.
"He's got ball skills and he's been productive," Fisher said.
But the offense simply couldn’t get much going. Keenum got another series to start the third quarter and finished 12 for 17 for 83 yards. But the closest the Rams got in the quarter was a missed 48-yard field goal by camp kicker Michael Palardy with 2:07 to play in the quarter.
Austin Davis took over for a series at quarterback in the fourth quarter, then gave way to rookie Sean Mannion, the third-round draft pick from Oregon State, on the Rams’ final series.
"We used the timeouts just so we could get Sean in," Fisher said. "We wanted to get Sean some work. It was extremely important to us. It was nice to put him in that pressure situation where he was in the hurry-up and making throws. He did have a couple drops."
Mannion threw 13 passes in that one series, completing eight for 53 yards, before the Rams ran out of downs at the Oakland 42 with 1:42 to play.
Before their next exhibition game _ a Sunday night contest Aug. 23 against the Titans in Nashville _ it’s off to Oxnard, Calif., for three days of practices in the Los Angeles area. The team will practice against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday and Tuesday, practice on their own at Oxnard on Wednesday, then fly back to St. Louis.

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