The Rams got their preseason off to a decent, relatively healthy start on Friday, dropping a 26-24 contest to the Saints on Friday night.
As an exhibition game -- especially the first one -- the score does not matter as much as the way the teams played, and the individuals who made an impression.
Veteran defensive end Chris Long is firmly entrenched as one of the most important pieces of the Rams’ defensive attack. But new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has said that he’d like for Long to get his hands up more when he’s rushing the passer. Apparently, the big defensive end has been listening.
On the first drive of the game, Long came rushing from the left side, got his arms up, and picked off a short Luke McCown pass to give the Rams the ball at the New Orleans 47.
“I think [we] played pretty good,” linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “We definitely have to still work on our run things and stuff. But overall, we had a turnover and it went good for us.”
Long wasn’t in much, so it was one of the few plays he even had a chance to make. Robert Quinn did not see many snaps either, checking in for only a couple of third-down passing situations. But Long’s big interception certainly made it look like the Rams’ defensive front is picking up right where it left off.
FIRST ROUND EXPECTATIONS
Yes, Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald have lofty expectations attached to their names. And yes, they both looked impressive in their first live NFL action -- even though you won’t see that reflected in the box score.
Donald repeatedly broke through the offensive line to cause some disruption in the backfield. It was easy to see his high motor, and why so many have been giving him so much praise.
On the other side of the ball, Robinson started off the game at guard before moving over to tackle later in the first half. While at tackle, Robinson made a terrific block to spur running back Benny Cunningham for a 19-yard run. The big man cleared a gaping hole on the left side for Cunningham to burst through for the big gain.
“Without seeing the tape, it’s really hard for me to comment specifically, but it looked live like he was doing OK,” head coach Jeff Fisher said. “He was making adjustments in the run game. When he got to tackle, it didn’t look like he had any issues with the protection.”
There’s a long way to go before even the regular season. But both first-round picks cleared their first hurdle with ease.
Cornerback E.J. Gaines had a particularly strong first half, especially tackling. The sixth-round pick made a big stop near the goal line early, and another nice tackle on the sideline later in the half. The rookie lit up Twitter as well, with plenty of fans happy about how the rookie looked in his first NFL action.
“It went real well for me,” Gaines said. “Just trying to get back into the feel of things, playing an actual game. It’s been a while.”
Gaines finished with a team-leading six total tackles on the game.
And it would be remiss not to mention seventh-round pick, Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay athlete to play in an NFL preseason game. Sam played at left defensive end for most of the game and had a couple moments, including a QB hit in the second quarter.
“It was amazing,” Sam said. “As a child, I never thought I would be here. And when I took my first snap, it was amazing. It’s a dream come true.”
…The Rams got through the game reasonably healthy. But Fisher announced after the game that converted tight end Mason Brodine had suffered a fractured ankle. The injury ends Brodine’s season.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Fisher said. “We switched Mason over to tight end early in the offseason, and he did just a tremendous job working and learning the offense. Had a chance to help us and be a swing player for us.”
…Tight end Cory Harkey finished off the Rams’ first drive with a touchdown reception reminiscent of his big scoring catch against the Saints last season. Harkey again caught the ball in the flat and ran it a good chunk of yards for six. The differences? In this game, Harkey ran it down the left sideline and he could’ve driven a Mack Truck through the clear space on that side of the field.
…It took him a little while to warm up, but Tre Mason showed why you might be excited to see him play this year. The third-round pick broke off a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter to put the Rams in New Orleans territory, setting up an Austin Davis touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Austin Franklin.
“It was good to get my feet wet out there,” Mason said. “Now I know what to expect.”
…Officials told assembled St. Louis media last week about the new points of emphasis for the season, and they were enforced during Friday’s contest. There were four flags thrown for defensive holding, and three flags for illegal use of hands in the game.