The good news is that there is plenty of room for improvement.
The better news is that the St. Louis Rams have the chance to show that improvement Saturday afternoon when the Green Bay Packers visit for a 3 p.m. NFL preseason game.
The Rams (0-1) are coming off a 26-24 loss last Friday to the New Orleans Saints.
In that game, the Rams had two chances to win late in the contest. However, neither Greg Zurlein field goal attempt hit the mark and the Saints escaped with the victory.
“It looked like a lot of preseason games, especially at the start of the year,” New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton said. “There’s a ton of things for us to coach off of. No. 1, I am glad we got a win, but we had far too many penalties. I think we are at 10. Lot of silly mistakes we are going to have to clean up in all areas.”
St. Louis Head Coach Jeff Fisher said the plan was to look at a lot of the players as both teams will have to start trimming down to the 53-man opening day roster.
“I hope that when you get in preseason games that there’s enough things that take place there that you can learn from and learn lessons and teach from and we got our share today, I’ll tell you that was something,” Fisher said. “We set out to play a lot of people.”
Neither team looked crisp in the game and penalties were a massive problem. St. Louis was whistled 14 times for 118 yards, including two key penalties which stalled drives in the fourth quarter, while New Orleans took 10 flags for 104 yards.
The Rams jumped onto the scoreboard first when Shaun Hill, getting the start in place of Sam Bradford, hit Cory Harkey on the left side for a 16-yard pass. Zurlein kicked the extra point to make it 7-0 with 8:10 to play in the opening quarter.
“At times, yeah, but it’s the first preseason game so there’s still some learning for me and some comfort in the offense that needs to come,” Hill said. “But, that’s what the preseason is for and I’m very glad that they still have four preseason games. I know there’s been a lot of talk about pushing them back to two, but for young guys or any new guy to the team, having four preseason games is great just to get that experience.”
Both teams rested a number of projected starters for the game and it’s possible some of the Rams who missed the New Orleans game could play against Green Bay this week.
Following the opening score, the Saints maneuvered into field goal range and Shayne Graham cut it to 7-3 with a 37-yard kick with 3:28 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Khiry Robinson’s one-yard run put New Orleans on top with 8:32 left in the half. Graham hit the left upright on the extra point. The kick was much longer than normal as the league is experimenting with longer extra-point kicks in the preseason.
Hill brought the Rams back on top by threading a pass through to Stedman Bailey with 5:59 left in the half. Zurlein’s kick made it 14-9.
The Saints rolled back on top with Mark Ingram scoring from 22 yards out with 2:37 to play in the half. Graham’s kick made it 16-14 in favor of the visitors.
Garrett Gilbert took over and led the Rams to a 45-yard Zurlein field goal at the intermission to give the Rams a 17-16 advantage.
In the second half, more of the reserves got into the action and the game became one of players looking to make a mark and survive the first round of cuts. Derek Dimke hit from 37 yards out to give the Saints the lead with 10:31 to play in the third quarter and a 25-yard pass from Ryan Griffin to Brandin Cooks with 3:43 to play in the quarter added to the lead. Dimke’s kick made it 26-17.
The third St. Louis quarterback, Austin Davis, hit Austin Franklin with a 15-yard touchdown pass with 11:07 to play. Zurlein’s extra-point kick cut it to 26-24. Despite two more chances to score, the Rams couldn’t overtake the Saints.
Griffin led all quarterbacks with 179 passing yards. He was 16-23 with one touchdown.
Davis led St. Louis quarterbacks with 134 passing yards while hitting 10 of 16 attempts. He had one touchdown. Hill was 5-7 for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
Rookie Tre Mason led the Rams with 51 rushing yards on 15 carries. Chase Reynolds ran six times for 46 yards.
“It was good to get my feet wet out there,” Mason said. “Now I know what to expect and we definitely need to work on finishing. We had a chance to put the game away and win it, but we failed in that. So now there are certain things we need to (improve on).”
Ingram led all runners with eight carries for 83 yards. Robinson had five carries for 23 yards.
“I was encouraged with our ability to run the ball and their efforts,” Payton said. “I thought they played with good pad level. It was good to see through both of them. Again, we will get back and kind of look at some of the run and protection phases of it. Overall, we knew we would be splitting the better part of the half because Pierre (Thomas) was not going to play, and we end up doing it.”
Alex Bayer was the top St. Louis receiver with five catches for 71 yards while Emory Blake caught three balls for 41 yards.
Cooks led New Orleans with five catches for 55 yards and one touchdown.
Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald, the two St. Louis first-round draft picks, both played. Robinson saw time at offensive guard and tackle. Donald showed promise on the defensive line.
“It was a great feeling and I really just missed being in front of a crowd and playing,” Robinson said. “It was something good to get back at. I really was looking forward to it, and even though it was a preseason game, we have to still hold ourselves accountable.”
Mizzou’s E.J. Gaines started for the Rams and was tied for the team lead in tackles.
“It was crazy, kind of surreal, like a dream come true,” Gaines said. “I’ve been thinking about this moment since I was really young. So coming in and being able to start my first preseason game, it felt good.”
Another Mizzou product, Michael Sam, saw considerable time at defensive end. He’s drawn considerable attention as the league’s first openly gay player.
“Mike played hard,” Fisher said. “I didn’t watch him individually, but I saw him on the hurry and the great effort outside the pocket. I saw him involved in a couple other plays. He slanted down, made a play in the run game that stood out, but we’ll watch the tape see how he did. I know he was tired and it seemed like (Defensive Line) Coach (Mike) Waffle was pleased with his performance.”
Sam said he did not hear the cheering.
“I didn’t really hear the crowd,” Sam said. “When I’m in game mode, I’m in game mode, but if the crowd was yelling for me, that’s cool.”
Sam said he knows he can play in the NFL.
“That I can play in this league — that’s the most important thing,” Sam said about what he learned. “I was kind of nervous. I got the nerves out today. It was a very good learning experience and I can play in this league.”
The Rams suffered one injury of note as second-year tight end Mason Brodine was lost for the season with a fractured ankle. The Rams signed Brad Smelley, formerly of the Houston Texans, in his place.