Scout's Notebook: Grading The Defense Against The Rams; Rico's Development

OXNARD, Calif. – I spent my off day with the tape of the Rams game, and I came away with some pretty strong impressions.

Here are my primary notes from the game:

  • The defensive line did a much better job of winning off the snap in this game than they did against the Cardinals. Taco Charlton, Damontre' Moore, Lewis Neal and Lenny Jones all had plays where their upfield ability put these Rams blockers in poor positions. Charlton had his most consistent game when it came to using his technique – arm-over and rip while on the move worked well against veteran Andrew Whitworth and later Pace Murphy.
  • Nobody asks more of his players than Rod Marinelli when it comes to defending the run. Marinelli believes that, by playing with speed and effort, you can create turnovers. His defense forced five fumbles, which was in itself was outstanding -- but only coming away with one recovery was disappointing. That one takeaway came on a nice hustle play by Mark Nezocha where he was able to get to the outside in a hurry as Justin Davis was attempting to turn the corner. Nezocha never allowed him to get there by delivering such a blow, it forced Davis to lose the handle of the ball, knocking it up the field. Duke Thomas was able to out-muscle several Rams for the ball, thus stopping their drive.
  • Good to see a bounce back game for Damien Wilson against the Rams. I didn't feel like he was at his best against the Cardinals getting off blocks and rallying to the ball. It was a much different story this week. Wilson was all over the field – sideline to sideline. He was quick to read, react and finish. When he had to be good with his hands, he was able to use them to shed and get to the ball. He did a much better job as a physical player, whereas the week before, he allowed the blockers to get to his body and take him out of the play. I have no idea what his future might hold due to his off-the-field incident, but this defense can use his play-making ability.
  • It appeared that Jeff Heath got caught looking in the backfield on the third down pass from Jared Goff to Cooper Kupp. Goff rolled to his left, away from Heath -- who had his eyes on the play fake. As he took a step forward, Kupp ran unguarded across the field and into Goff's line of vision. Byron Jones was the only defender without a man, but he was much too deep to react to the play. It was an easy pitch and catch play that resulted in a sizeable gain for the Rams.
  • While doing the radio broadcast of the game, I initially thought that the hit by Xavier Woods on Temarrick Hemingway was a fumble. The reply in our booth made it appear that Hemingway had the ball and was making a football move up the field. In studying the tape later on, Hemingway did not have complete possession of the ball and in fact there was space between his arm and the ball while Woods arrived. Focusing on Woods, his technique was textbook in the way he threw his right shoulder into Hemingway, dislodging the ball. Without that play, the Rams convert a big third down and are out from the shadows of their own goal post.
  • Rico Gathers continues to make a name for himself in this offense. His contested catch to convert a key third down before the half kept a drive going. Then he came back with a well-executed route, nodding Folarin Orimolade to the outside to buy space and adjusting back to the ball. The one downside for him came while blocking on a toss sweep to Rod Smith. In his effort to set the edge, he got his hands outside the framework of his man and made it an easy call for the official. Just a note of Gathers' blocking overall at this point, I'd describe it as more "get in the way" than driving off the ball. He is not afraid to use his size to shield rather than push.
  • I liked the answer by Cooper Rush, after the Rams extended their lead to 10-3 in the third quarter. Rush hit Brian Brown with a well thrown ball down the right sideline for 24 yards to put the offense near midfield. Brown, not known for his speed or quickness, was able to win off the line against Kevin Peterson and grab some separation. If Rush could have put the ball out a little further, Brown likely would have had a chance for a larger gain. Instead it was a little short which forced Brown to have to adjust back to it for the reception.  
  • If Noah Brown hadn't fumbled the ball on his 19-yard reception, he was likely going to give Cooper Rush his first passing touchdown of the game. Brown did everything you want from an execution standpoint, except finish. Rush put the ball in a perfect spot and Brown snatched it out of the air on the move. He was physical running through the tackles, but it wasn't until he broke into the clear that he lost the ball. He wasn't trying to switch hands, it just appeared as if he had the ball bang off his right thigh and it flew loose. Really just an unfortunate break for the rookie receiver.
  • It's interesting to watch Travis Frederick pass off defenders to Byron Bell and Jonathan Cooper with confidence as if they're going to succeed with their blocks. Frederick is used to guys like Zack Martin and Ronald Leary, where he knew when he passed a twist or was combo blocking to the second level that defender was going to be handled. I don't feel like Frederick would admit it publically, because he believes in his teammates and their abilities. But who is playing next to him at left guard has to be a concern and how it affects the job he is going to have to do this season.
  • Don't assume that just because Joey Ivie is a draft pick that he is going to make the team if it comes down to him and Lewis Neal. Both have been playing well and getting more of an opportunity to play in these games due to Stephen Paea and Cedric Thornton being held out. If I had to give the nod to Ivie or Neal just from what I've seen up until this point, I'd go with Neal. Despite his lack of height, I see a disruptive player on the inside. Neal's quickness is his advantage and in some shorts burst during a game, that ability is going to allow him to make more plays. Tough call to go with the quickness over the power, but that's what this scheme is really based on.  
  • The plan was to get Xavier Woods in more coverage situations where he was playing in the slot, much like Byron Jones does. With the Rams facing a third down and long, Woods lined up over Nelson Spruce in the slot. Sean McVay went with a screen pass to Spruce in order to try and catch the Cowboys off guard. Woods was not fooled one bit. He quickly beat the blocker, Cory Harkey, and proceeded to wrap up Spruce before he had a chance to get up the field. It was an outstanding reaction by Woods and an even better finish on the play. I would expect more of those opportunities for Woods as he continues to grow in a role on this defense.
  • I'm interested to see with four days of practice this week, if we get some of these young cornerbacks back in the rotation. No offense to the guys that have been playing, but I would like to see Jourdan Lewis start to get more work. Chidobe Awuzie and Marquez White didn't play against the Rams, but they have been practicing -- so I have an idea where they stand. Lewis is a different story. I want to see Anthony Brown back in the mix, as well. With Orlando Scandrick and Nolan Carroll it has a chance to be a pretty solid group.    

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