Heading into Week 13 head coach Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams are coming off one of their biggest wins of the season. Not because the Cardinals are a juggernaut by any means, but this past Sunday's victory puts them in the win column for the first time since Week 5.
That was something this team needed. After starting 3-2, they went winless over the next five weeks. They did tie San Francisco in Week 10, but unfortunately a tie doesn't give you the same sense of accomplishment as a victory.
It almost makes you feel worse than losing because you reflect back on all the missed opportunities, and every play can be magnified as a potential play that could have swung the momentum.
Let's take a look at the good, the bad and everything in between from Week 12.
As bad as I want to go with rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins and his two pick-sixes right here, I simply can't. I have to show some love for the offensive line and running back Steven Jackson. The offensive line and Jackson have had some pretty rough stretches in 2012, so it was good to see breakout games from both in Week 12.
SJ39 carried the ball 24 times for a season high 139 yards. His 5.8 yards per carry output marked the second week in a row where he eclipsed the five-yard per carry threshold. The last time Jackson managed to average five yards per carry in back-to-back games before Week 12 was Week 2 of the 2011 season.
It's obvious that minor injuries have slowed him down the past couple seasons, but for the first time in a long time he looks fully healthy. That is huge, considering the Rams offensive line is fully healthy for the first time in a long time as well.
They were opening up huge gaping holes left and right for the nine-year pro out of Oregon State. When running off the right tackle, Jackson averaged an incredible 8.6 yards per carry on nine carries. Additionally, 35 of his 70 yards after contact came from running behind right tackle Barry Richardson.
His second-most effective running lane was behind St. Louis' other tackle, Rodger Saffold. He didn't rush nine times behind Saffold, yet he did average 5.7 yards per carry on three carries and forced his only missed tackle of the game when running off No. 76's backside.
Three of the Rams' five offensive linemen finished with a positive run blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus. Only center Scott Wells and left guard Robert Turner struggled to get things going, but in their defense, this was Turner's first game at left guard and it was Wells' first game at center since Week 1.
Moving forward Jackson only needs 276 more yards on the ground for his eighth straight 1,000-yard season.
Defensively, the Rams did a great job in a number of different areas. They played the pass particularly well, they did a fine job of stopping the run, yet they didn't rush the passer all that well. Rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley dropped back to pass 52 times, and of those 52 pass attempts, St. Louis only managed a pressure 23 percent of the time.
Outside linebacker Rocky McIntosh and reserve defense end William Hayes recorded the only two sacks the Rams defense could muster. As a unit they were able to hit Lindley two other times and hurry him eight other times, yet 12 total pressures against the league's worst offensive line just isn't good enough.
The interior pass rush of Michael Brockers disappeared after strong back-to-back showings against the 49ers and Jets. Chris Long and Robert Quinn also had trouble with Arizona's rookie bookend tackles, Nate Potter and Bobbie Massie.
The last time these two teams met, Quinn piled up a total of three quarterback sacks, two quarterback hits and six quarterback hurries. Not to mention Long had one sack, one hit and seven hurries. Combining for 20 pressures between two players isn't something you see everyday. So, it wouldn't have been fair to expect the same result in Week 12.
However, most would have expected more than six pressures between the two of them. St. Louis' defense was lucky they didn't have to rely solely on the pass rush to force the rookie quarterback into making mistakes—Lindley did that on his own by throwing four interceptions.
As the Rams head back to the Edward Jones Dome for their Week 13 matchup against the 49ers, it will be essential that they put pressure on undefeated starter Colin Kaepernick. They have already squared off against him once in Week 10, but by now they should have a better sense of what he is trying to do under center.
Stock Watch (Week By Week Evaluation)
Rising: Rodger Saffold
I mentioned Saffold's strong performance at the point of attack in the run game, yet he had an equally impressive day in pass protection. He didn't surrender a sack, hit or hurry. This marks the second time in three games where he stonewalled the opposition in pass protection.
Falling: Scott Wells
By no means did he have a valiant return to action since being sideline with a hurt foot, yet he came out of Week 12 unscathed. His foot seemed like a non-issue by game's end, yet it will be interesting to see what happens between now and the end of the season. Can he play up to the level Turner was playing at? Only time will tell.
Rising: Janoris Jenkins
Jenkins' slump is finally over. All it took was a matchup against a rookie quarterback who has making his first ever career start. The cornerback became the fourth rookie in league history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game.
Falling: Bradley Fletcher
I guess after the San Francisco game the Rams decided they were going to replace Bradley Fletcher full-time with Trumaine Johnson. Fletcher has only logged six snaps over the last two weeks. Prior to that he was St. Louis' left cornerback in nickel situations.
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