Friday, September 2, 2016

The Los Angeles Rams Weekly

With the Rams’ 27-25 loss to the Vikings, the 2016 preseason is now complete.

1) Good start, not-so-good finish
Quarterback Jared Goff started his first game of the preseason and things went well for his opening drive. The rookie out of Cal completed three of his four passes, including converting both third downs the Rams faced. On the first — a 3rd-and-2 play — Goff recognized the rush and got off a quick pass to running back Chase Reynolds in the flat that ended up going for 22 yards. Then on 3rd-and-goal from the one-yard line, Goff hit wideout Kenny Britt with a back-shoulder pass on the right side of the end zone to cap the drive with a touchdown.

But from there, the quarterback struggled to find a rhythm, including a particularly rough stretch inside two minutes in the second quarter. On 3rd-and-7 from the Los Angeles 12-yard line, Goff dropped a shotgun snap that went right to his hands. The Vikings would recover on the L.A. eight, but managed only a field goal with some solid defensive play.

On his next play from scrimmage, Goff would throw an interception to diving defensive lineman Toby Johnson off a pass tipped at the line. This time, Minnesota would capitalize on the turnover with a touchdown. 

Playing the entire first half, Goff finished 6-of-16 passing for 67 yards with a touchdown, an interception, and a fumble. His preseason ends 22-of-49 passing for 232 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

2) Vikings, meet Morgan Fox
Defensive tackle Morgan Fox may have been a relative unknown heading into the fourth preseason game. But you can be sure Vikings quarterbacks Joel Stave and Brad Sorensen will remember his name going forward.

The undrafted rookie out of Colorado State-Pueblo dominated the Vikings’ offensive line in the first half, racking up three tackles — two for loss — 2.0 sacks, and four quarterback hits.

His first outstanding play came when he sacked Minnesota quarterback Joel Stave. Fox beat the right guard with a swim move, bringing down the QB in another step or two. Fox had another run stuff midway through the second quarter when he beat the center off the line knocked down running back Jhurell Pressley for no gain. Later, Fox burst through the interior of the line to sack the second quarterback up, Sorensen — on his first play, no less.

Who knows how much Fox may have helped his case to make the initial 53-man roster, but he certainly didn’t hurt it.

3) Rushing the passer
By and large the Rams got after the Vikings quarterbacks well on Thursday night. In the first half alone, Los Angeles tallied 3.0 sacks and nine quarterback hits.

Ethan Westbrooks was the other Angeleno to take down a quarterback in the first half, sacking Stave to begin the second quarter with an eight-yard loss on third down. Westbrooks registered two quarterback hits in the first half.

Defensive end Matt Longacre got in on the action in the fourth quarter, taking down Sorensen for a six-yard loss on third down. As did linebacker Josh Forrest, who registered a sack for a four-yard loss with just over four minutes remaining in the contest.

Linebacker Akeem Ayers, linebacker Brandon Chubb, and safety Christian Bryant also recorded quarterback hits in the contest.

4) Run stuffs and TFLs
Maurice Alexander missed some time in the preseason due to injury, but made his presence felt when he was on the field.

On 2nd-and-7 from the Minnesota 35, Alexander knifed his way through the offensive line to stop running back C.J. Ham for a one-yard loss. A few plays later, Alexander earned another run stuff up the middle by halting a play for just a one-yard gain.

Overall, the Rams had eight TFLs on the night — two from Fox, and one each from Alexander, Longacre, Forrest defensive tackle Cam Thomas, and a team TFL.

5) Extra points
— Los Angeles held many major contributors out of this game, including Todd Gurley, Case Keenum, Tim Barnes, Lance Kendricks, Tavon Austin, and Benny Cunningham. Defensively, the only two starters on the field were Alexander and linebacker Akeem Ayers.

— Right tackle Rob Havenstein played a few series on offense for his first preseason action after being taken off the physically unable to perform list last week.

— Minnesota returned a kick 106 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter, marking the second score surrendered on a Rams kickoff this preseason. That’s an unusual mark for special teams coordinator John Fassel’s unit. Los Angeles also muffed two punts that the Vikings recovered inside the red zone.

Rams Announce First Round of Roster Cuts
The Los Angeles Rams trimmed their roster to meet the mandatory 75-man roster reduction by splitting ways with defensive end Quinton Coples and 14 undrafted free agents Tuesday.

NFL teams must reduce their roster to 75 players by 1 p.m. PT on Tuesday. The final 53-man roster will need to be set by 1 p.m. PT on Saturday.

Tuesday Roster Cuts:
- K Taylor Bertolet, Texas A&M
- TE Benson Browne, NC State
- DB Michael Caputo, Wisconsin
- DT Zach Colvin, Bowling Green
- DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina
- OL Brian Folkerts, Washburn
- LB Darreon Herring, Vanderbilt
- FB Zach Laskey, Georgia Tech
- S Jordan Lomax, Iowa
- WR Marquez North, Tennessee
- LS Jeff Overbaugh, San Diego State
- WR David Richards, Arizona
- TE Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
- OL Jordan Swindle, Kentucky
- QB Dylan Thompson, South Carolina

The Rams also announced that T Rob Havenstein has been taken off the physically unable to perform list (PUP).

Some good news out of LA today about Rams RT Rob Havenstein. He appears to be on schedule to play in the opener.

Today, it was learned that injured Los Angeles Rams RT Rob Havenstein would be coming off the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list, allowing him to rejoin team activities:
Havenstein had been nursing a foot injury, and was placed on the PUP list back in July. It’s great news that he’s on course for the opener, as the Rams will want to get their starting five some preseason reps and allow Rodger Saffold to move back to LG, where he can help OT Greg Robinson:

Havenstein was one of the unheralded rookies of 2015, having been the only rookie OL to not allow a sack. Hopefully Havenstein is able to build on his quick start and provide some much needed stability at RT.

Rams Sign WR Tavon Austin to 4 Year, $42M Contract Extension

The Los Angeles Rams locked up their most explosive WR today with a massive contract extension.

This is significant news for the Rams and shows that they're willing to monetarily invest in the offense. The Rams offense was based on the combination of Just Todd Gurley and Tavon running jet sweeps as soon as Rob Boras took over in the middle of last season. So if nothing else you can be sure to see more of that in the future.
Tavon is an elite athlete, bu that's a shitload of money for a player who's never broken 1,000 yards from scrimmage in a season. I hope this is the Rams getting out in front of the situation, but Les Snead's history doesn't bode well for this.

Kudos to the Rams for learning from their mistakes this offseason. The onus is on Tavon to now play up to this contract.

Hard Knocks, Ep. 4: Rams take human approach to cuts. A few weeks back, I placed a call to Hard Knocks director Matt Dissinger, who was nice enough to give me five minutes as he put the final touches on the season premiere set to air the following night.

I wanted to get Dissinger's take on a comment from Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, a vocal Hard Knocks critic who had told me weeks earlier that his issue with the popular documentary series was rooted in what he called "the sensationalism of guys getting cut."

Dissinger rejected the notion, countering that the public pink slips had always been presented in a measured manner, while pointing out that the exposure had actually helped lead to jobs for many players through the years.

"I don't believe that we take these things and exploit a player for fun," Dissinger said. "I think a documentary series is to document what happens, just the same as you would if a player has a great game or if he gets criticized in a meeting. This is not a scripted reality show. We didn't write the cuts into the show. It's just a matter of course for what happens in a training camp."

Dissinger's comments were in my mind as I watched the penultimate episode of the 11th season of Hard Knocks on Tuesday night. If you're a fan of the series, you know Episode 4 is traditionally when the Turk first comes calling. Arians' comments, and Dissinger's retort, allowed me to watch the episode with a fresh perspective.

What I took out of it was a slightly different approach by Hard Knocks. On Tuesday, we saw the focus placed less on the players who were in danger and more on the team and its process.

"Our employee that tells the player that you need to go see the head coach happens to be Rock Gullickson," Jeff Fisher explains. "And I think that's important because it should be personal. No one has worked more with our players more than the strength and conditioning coach."

Gullickson has been in the game for decades. He was close enough to Brett Favre during his days with the Packers to get invited to the Gunslinger's Hall of Fame induction this summer. The popular Gullickson feels like a better fit than what we've seen in past Hard Knocks seasons, where the turk duties are handled by a younger team assistant with no apparent tie to the player.

"When you grab 'em on that day and say, 'We've got to take this walk,' you do feel it deep inside," Gullickson said. "These kids have dreamed of playing at this level for years since they were small kids and all of a sudden it may be over."

Gullickson hands off the released player to Fisher, who has handled every final interaction with a cut player since he became a head coach. Again, this is different than what we've seen in past Hard Knocks seasons. It's a personal approach by the Rams, one other teams would be wise to follow.

The closing scene of the episode might be the best of the season so far. During a weightlifting session, Gullickson surveys the room while taking periodic glances at his phone. When a name drops in his inbox, that is his cue to grab the player and take him to Fisher.

The anxiety in the room pulsates from the screen. In a particularly deft bit of storytelling, we watch Gullickson approach the area occupied by Austin Hill, known to viewers as The Underdog Wide Receiver With The Precocious Daughter. Hill looks done for ... until Gullickson veers left and grabs another player instead. Hill is safe for another day. All of this is done in slow motion with the appropriate background music to achieve maximum effect.

Is that sensationalism? Bruce Arians may argue it is. I call it tremendous storytelling of a dramatic -- and sometimes traumatic -- aspect of football life.

Odds & Ends:
» Hard Knocks producers should have just flashed ***SYMBOLISM ALERT*** on screen each time we saw black crows chilling at UC Irvine on cut day.

» Is Les Snead OK? I believe we saw him for a flash tonight, but at this point I'm not ruling out a body double covering for a more sinister reality. Snead, the NFL's most photogenic general manager and a man front and center at various league events, continues to have no presence in this series. What gives?

» I like when Hard Knocks captures football in a way that's relatable to anyone who's played the game on any level. Forget about the money and the women and the cars and the fans, sometimes you gotta run gassers when your team commits a bunch of dumb penalties. (The Rams had nine of them in their second preseason tilt.)

» It's been a tough summer for Jared Goff, whose slow progress has been accompanied by some real pain. No. 1 overall picks are not supposed to take shots like this in a game that doesn't count:

» The practice fight, which took, which took off when linebacker Alec Ogletree leveled running back Benny Cunningham with a cheap shot, was a beautiful thing to watch unfold in slow motion. There were some haymakers in the mix!

» William Hayes' dino-truther stance is veering away from entertaining and toward exasperating. I felt so bad for poor Brittany, the dinosaur museum tour guide tasked with making a believer out of a man not interested in education.

» Rams offensive line coach Paul Boudreau on center Eric Kush: "Kush, he's got a little dirtbag in him and that's good." Only in football can the term "dirtbag" be seen as a compliment. Where I grew up, dirtbags were kids in Metallica T-shirts who smoked cigarettes and hung out behind Walgreens during school hours.

» I still can't believe the Rams gave Tavon Austin that fat contract extension, but I will say Austin is a "pint-sized but pugnacious dynamo" (to borrow a phrase from narrator Liev Schreiber) equipped with a captivating Little Man Complex. When Austin inexplicably picks a sideline fight with Hayes, defensive tackle Dominique Easley can only laugh and rhetorically ask, "Why you so little?"

» Nothing sounds better than a $74 order from In-N-Out. I'll ride or die with the Double Double Animal Style.

Dan Hanzus feels like everybody should know not to spell "fajita" with a "g." Read all Hard Knocks recaps here and follow Dan on Twitter at @danhanzus.
A satirical look at more than 75 years of Football's Rams history, combined with discussions of American Exceptionalism and almost 50 years of personal experience in the life of a Rams Fan. The history parallels and intertwines life to form a humorous, yet serious look at American HistoryWorld History, an American Footballteam, and Political Science.