The St. Louis Rams had what was undoubtedly the high point of their 2014 season on Sunday, shocking the NFL by picking up a 28-26 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. While the Rams’ path to the win wasn’t the smoothest—they were outgained 463 to 272 by Seattle and nearly blew what was a 18-point lead late in the second quarter—they were able to grit their way to an impressive division victory and play yet another tight game with a Seahawks team that has been largely unbeatable since Russell Wilson took over as their starting quarterback in 2012.
Here are a few brief observations, both positive and negative, from Sunday’s victory:
- The Rams’ special teams playcalling was masterful on Sunday. First, a designed punt return play which involved a great acting job from Tavon Austin on the left side of the field, followed by a 90-yard runback from Stedman Bailey, who had never returned a punt in his life, on the right side. Later on, a fake punt pass from Johnny Hekker to Benny Cunningham sealed up the game for the Rams in the fourth quarter. While Jeff Fisher and his staff frequently catch flak for not enforcing discipline strongly enough on special teams, you can’t dispute their courage and willingness to try things in every facet of the game.
- As skeptical as everyone in Rams nation was over the first several weeks when the team’s two rookie draft picks out of Auburn, Greg Robinson and Tre Mason, were left out of the gameplan completely, the duo has made their presence very felt since being pressed into action on Monday against San Francisco. Robinson has looked very crisp and disciplined over his first two starts at left guard, and we haven’t seen nearly as much noticeable inconsistency from him as we saw during the preseason, when he was constantly being shifted between left tackle and left guard. Mason, meanwhile, has added a nice element of explosiveness to the offense that we weren’t seeing from the running game earlier this year.
- With the emergence of Mason, this is now the second straight season in which the Rams’ opening day back has been completely unseated. Benny Cunningham, Mason, and Tavon Austin split the carries in the backfield, with Mason leading with 18 for 85 yards and a touchdown. Cunningham was the primary receiving back, catching five balls for a team-leading 46 receiving yards and a touchdown, in addition to his two carries for three yards. As a result, Zac Stacy did not get any touches.
- The Rams had some of the oddest gameday roster construction in recent memory on Sunday, as they dressed only eight defensive backups (three extra linemen, two linebackers, two corners, and a safety) while dressing four extra running backs (Mason, Stacy, and special teamers Trey Watts and Chase Reynolds) in addition to Cunningham, the starter. It looked for a while like that decision might come back to burn them, as undrafted rookie Marcus Roberson was pressed into action when starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins suffered an injury. However, Roberson actually performed very well until Jenkins returned in the third quarter.
- It must have been a rough day for rookie safety and occasional special teams contributor Maurice Alexander, who was a healthy inactive on Sunday while Stacy spent nearly his entire day on the sidelines, making no impact on special teams.
- Chris Givens, who had been a healthy inactive since the bye week, may have earned himself a spot in the lineup for a while with his performance on Sunday. The third-year receiver had a key 30-yard catch in the fourth quarter to get the offense into the red zone and set up a Lance Kendricks touchdown. His clutch play certainly outweighed anything that possession receiver Austin Pettis, who was inactive Sunday, has done in recent weeks.
- Despite some tackling issues that he encountered Sunday while being matched up one-on-one with Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, it should be interesting to see if rookie cornerback E.J. Gaines retains his starting spot. He’s been one of the most consistent performers on the Rams’ defense to this point, which can’t be said about his opposite corner to this point, Janoris Jenkins. If Trumaine Johnson returns from injury next week, the Rams will have a tough decision to make in regards to if they keep the promising rookie or the tested veteran in the lineup.