Steven Jackson sets the tone. Jackson didn't wait, either. He caught a pass nine seconds into the game and barreled up the left sideline as if looking for someone to punish. Jackson caught the ball at the St. Louis 20-yard line, made a defender miss at the 29, lowered his shoulder into another defender at the 32 and fell forward to about the 40. One of his feet stepped out of bounds accidentally, but Jackson never sought the sideline even when it was clear he wasn't going to gain much more yardage. This type of play will shorten Jackson's career, but it's the only way he knows. Jackson arguably saved the game with a fumble recovery at the New Orleans 3-yard line late in the first half. Rookie receiver Greg Salas lost the ball as the Saints tackled him. Jackson beat two Saints players to the ball for the recovery. A turnover in that situation would have been crushing. Jackson scored on the next play.
Steve Spagnuolo was aggressive, too. The Rams went for it on fourth-and-2 from the New Orleans 40 with 9:29 left in the second quarter of a scoreless game. Improved depth at wide receiver made this a more feasible decision. With Brandon Lloyd commanding attention, the Rams ran a pick play for the improving Salas. Feeley set up in the shotgun. Salas was past the first-down marker and wide open on the left. This wound up being a high-percentage play, but one the Rams would have had a hard time executing a few weeks ago. About that improved receiver depth. Lloyd made one of the better catches I've seen this season when the Rams were running their four-minute offense with a 24-14 lead. Lloyd was on the ground along the sideline when he caught the ball less than a foot off the ground to convert a third-and-5. Feeley delivered the ball from inside the right hash at the 21-yard line. Lloyd caught it at the St. Louis 46. Those plays win games.
Chris Long affected the game beyond sacks. Saints right tackle Charles Brown struggled against the Rams' defensive end. Long collected three sacks overall, a career high, but those weren't his only impressive plays. Long beat Brown to the inside with a strong move late in the first quarter, forcing a dump pass to the fullback, which Chris Chamberlain smothered. Late in the first half, Long used a spin move to get pressure on a pass teammate Craig Dahl nearly intercepted. Long beat Brown to the outside for a sack on the next play. Long used a power move to beat Brown and deflect Brees' third-down pass on the next play. Rookie defensive end Robert Quinn blocked the ensuing punt. The Rams' defensive linemen were relentless.
The Saints' longest play covered 25 yards. They rank sixth in the league with 30 pass plays of at least 20 yards, but had only two such plays Sunday, one of them in garbage time. The combination of a strong Rams pass rush and better-than-expected coverage was in play. Drew Brees had to be surprised by what he saw. These weren't the same Rams.
The Rams mixed up the ground game. The Rams' two longest plays were runs. Jackson had a 32-yarder behind fullback Brit Miller. Later, Jackson gained 20 yards after the Rams motioned him into a previously empty backfield from the left side of the formation, then ran him to the right behind two tight ends. Billy Bajema locked up linebacker Scott Shanle, turning him to the inside on the 20-yarder. The Rams' tight ends were better in this game.
I made it through the game without too many notes on Adam Goldberg, who was filling in for Jason Smith at right tackle. That's good for the Rams. Goldberg seemed to fare pretty well in pass protection.