St. Louis Rams Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Heading into Week 15?

Tyson Langland@TysonNFLNFC West Lead WriterDecember 12, 2012

Dec 9, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

After a 3-6-1 start to the season, head coach Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams find themselves at 6-6-1 with a strong grip on the No. 10 seed in the NFC playoff picture. I know what you're thinking—the No. 10 seed, who cares? Well, the No. 10 seed is only two games separated from the No. 6 seed.

So, if the Rams decide to finish the season with a six-game winning streak, things could get particularly interesting by season's end. However, the odds of a six-game winning streak to close out the season seem pretty far-fetched for such a young team.

Two of St. Louis' final three games are on the road. In Week 15 they host Minnesota at the Edwards Jones Dome, and in Weeks 16 and 17 they travel to Tampa Bay and Seattle. The Rams often play well at home, so Week 15 will be their best shot at garnering a victory. Coach Fisher's club has only managed to win two games on the road this season, which will make the final two games much more difficult.

Still, let's not get too far ahead ourselves. Before we look forward to Week 15, let's take a look at the good, the bad and everything in between from Week 14.

The Good

On a day when quarterback Sam Bradford and wide receiver Brandon Gibson stole the show on the final drive, there was one player who was single-handedly destroying Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills' run game.

First-round pick Michael Brockers has had his fair share of ups and downs this season, not always putting together complete games from week to week. But Week 15 proved to be a totally different story, as the light bulb had finally gone off inside his head. 

Every aspect of his game looked like it had been improved overnight—Brockers piled up five quarterback pressures total, including two sacks, two quarterback hits and one quarterback hurry. His two-sack performance tied a career high that was originally set Week 10 at Candlestick.

Still, his impressive pass-rushing stats only made up one part of his fine performance. The other part was Brockers' ability to eat up blockers through the A-gap and stop Buffalo's backfield dead in its tracks. When the Bills tried to run at Brockers on the ground, they could only muster up 1.4 yards per carry.

Their one explosive run came off left tackle Cordy Glenn's backside. But the domination at the line of scrimmage should not surprised too many people. Coming out of LSU, Brockers was regarded as a run-stuffing defensive tackle who needed to improve his pass-rushing skills.

It looks like his pass-rushing skills have improved under the Rams' new regime. He's currently tied for fourth with the most sacks in the NFL from the defensive tackle position. Also, based on Pro Football Focus' grading system, they have him ranked as the 14th-best defensive tackle in all of football.

While he may not have been worth a top-10 pick, St. Louis made the right decision by drafting him at No. 14.

The Bad

Even though Bradford's fantastic game-winning drive made everyone forget about the previous three quarters of poor play, it doesn't go unnoticed when re-watching the all-22 film. It's simple—St. Louis can't rely on its defense week in and week out. There will come a point when they will need their offense to hang 30 points on the opposition.

For the first time in quite a while, protection was sound, as Bradford wasn't sacked. Coming into Week 14, No. 8 had been dropped 28 times behind the line of scrimmage. So, you may ask, if it wasn't the protection, what was it?

Plain and simple, it was poor decision-making on many of his throws. A few of the missed connections were on throws 20 yards or more downfield and throws to his right. On the day, he was 3-of-8 on throws that traveled at least 20 yards through the air. The three completions netted him exactly 60 yards. 

Still, Bradford doesn't deserve to shoulder all of the blame—outside of Gibson, he didn't have another reliable threat. Buffalo's defense paid more attention to Chris Givens than the 49ers did, which is why Givens was limited to three catches on 10 targets.

Fellow rookie Stephon Gilmore had him on lock-down for the better part of the game. Austin Pettis had an okay game, catching all five of his targets, but he lacked in one key area—he didn't make anything happen after he caught the ball. Five yards after the catch on five catches is just not good enough.

Hopefully, for the sake of the Rams and Bradford, Danny Amendola will make his return against the Vikings. Right now, Minnesota has the 18th-ranked pass defense, and opposing quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 90.3 against them.

Stock Watch (Week-by-Week Evaluation)

Rising: Rodger Saffold

Even though left tackle Rodger Saffold was in and out of the lineup a couple of times against the Bills, he registered his fifth game of the season in which he didn't allow a sack. Five sack-less games in seven starts is as good as it gets for a Rams offensive linemen.

Falling: Steven Jackson

Tough sledding for SJ39 against the Bills. He was held to 3.2 yards per carry and only managed one run over 10 yards. While the holes weren't always there, he didn't do enough to break tackles either. The only positive was his third rushing touchdown of the season.

Rising: Chris Long

Outside of Brockers, St. Louis' best defensive lineman was defensive end Chris Long. Long finished Sunday's game with one sack, one hit and two hurries. It marked his first sack since Week 11 against the Jets.

Falling: Cortland Finnegan

In unusual fashion, cornerback Cortland Finnegan had a rough go-around with wide receiver Stevie Johnson. Johnson beat Finnegan deep once for 34 yards and forced him into a missed tackle. It's rare to see the veteran corner get beaten deep—Fitzpatrick's quarterback rating against was 97.3.

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