Rams-Buccaneers study session: Offense

ST. LOUIS – Some thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams’ 23-13 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, after reviewing the All-22 film:

- From the very first snap the offense took, there was no doubt what the Rams wanted to do against the Bucs. The plan was simple: run the ball, run it again and run it some more. That’s exactly what the Rams did in this one, though yards were a bit harder to come by than they were against New Orleans last week. The Bucs made it clear they knew the Rams wanted to run it, regularly loading the box with extra defenders. After watching some other Tampa Bay games, it was clear they missed safety Mark Barron’s presence, especially against the run.

- Regardless, the Rams spent much of the game in power formations running between the tackles. Even after losing left tackle Jake Long three snaps into the game and turning over the right-guard duties to Shelley Smith, with Rodger Saffold moving to left tackle, the Rams continued to pound away inside. Smith did a pretty good job all things considered; Zac Stacy found his share of yards running inside to the right. Saffold was also solid moving over to left tackle, but he’s simply not as dominant in the run game on the edge as he is when he plays guard. Saffold's ability to combine strength and athleticism when he pulls makes him a destructive run-blocker as a guard. That’s neutralized a bit when he is already outside. Nice job in pass protection, though.

- Center Tim Barnes looked more comfortable as well, especially in the run game, though there was an obvious hiccup when the Rams somehow failed to send anyone to block defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and he waltzed in untouched for a sack. Aside from that play, McCoy was mostly held in check.

- For the second week in a row, quarterback Kellen Clemens set a single-game best for completion percentage. He was on target, got the ball down the field and didn’t make any bad decisions when throwing it. Another bonus, Clemens didn’t run himself into any sacks, as he seems to do on occasion. Overall a strong performance, except for his fumble in the red zone. He’d be the first to say it but the quarterback draw on which he fumbled was a puzzling call, and Clemens made it worse by not recognizing it was going nowhere and just going down to come away with three points. Quarterback draws with Clemens have been successful before, but that wasn’t the time or the place for it.

- One call I did like, and it wasn’t all that meaningful in the grand scheme of the game but one that had me wondering why teams don’t do it more often, was the fourth-down quarterback sneak Clemens executed to keep a late drive going. The Rams lined up with one receiver split wide and everyone else in tight in offset power-I formation. Before the snap, Clemens sent his tight ends in motion and spread the defense out. Tampa Bay’s defense audibled to account for the receivers on the outside, and then Clemens sneaked into wide-open space for an easy first down. I’d be curious to see a similar setup where the defense tries to call the bluff and see if Clemens has the freedom to throw there anyway. Either way, simple design and concept but well done.

- More good work from Cory Harkey not only as a blocker but also in his continued involvement in the pass game. He’s actually become a reliable outlet for Clemens for short gains to help move the chains through the air. The drops that plagued him early in the season have been absent lately.

- Speaking of good play calls: Rookie receiver Stedman Bailey continues to get more opportunities and make the most of them. After getting a sudden change off a turnover at Tampa Bay’s 27, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called for a double reverse. It was a good call because it worked, obviously, but it was also well timed in that the Rams were in position to take advantage of that quick shift in momentum. The Rams blocked it up perfectly, to the point where it was almost shocking how easy it was. Not sure Bailey needed the dramatic leap into the end zone, but who are we to deny him the chance to enjoy his first NFL touchdown?

- Besides, how can anyone hold a grudge against a player who made the catch Bailey did for a 28-yard gain? When analysts talk about a player catching with his hands, a shot of Bailey hauling that one in should be the prime example. Bailey has done nothing to indicate his future is anything but bright.

- Receiver Chris Givens also made a nice catch deep down the sideline, climbing the ladder and getting his feet down for a big gain. One thing that he didn’t need, though, was the jawing with Darrelle Revis. Nothing wrong with not backing down from a challenge, but a little sense of place in relation to the opponent would be good. And that applies across the board. Rams defensive backs have been particularly guilty of it this year.

- They didn’t go for big gains but Brian Quick had a couple of catches in traffic with defenders all over him. That’s a good sign for a player who hasn’t taken advantage of his physical advantage over most defenders enough.

- Zero penalties for the offense in this one. In a game where yards were difficult to find, that’s a hidden number that can mean a lot.