Sometimes numbers can be misleading. On Sunday, the St. Louis Rams finished their portion of Week 1 with a 1-0 record for the first time since 2006. Coincidentally enough, 2006 was the last time the team ended the year at .500 or better with a record of 8-8.
How’s that for an omen.
Although the Arizona Cardinals controlled the bulk of the statistics from Sunday’s game, the Rams battled hard in the fourth quarter despite trailing by as many as 11 points and persevered to open the season with a victory. In years past that would have been an unimaginable feat for a squad coached by anyone other than Jeff Fisher.
The fight that this team showed was that of a seasoned playoff squad even though they are the NFL’s youngest roster and haven’t reached the postseason since 2004. Just for perspective, some of the guys on the Rams roster were in junior high back then. One of those players just so happens to be kicker, Greg Zuerlein, who is in perhaps the most pressure-packed position on the team at just 25 years of age. His game-winning 48-yard field with just 40 seconds left showed serious poise and illustrates just how fast the players on the St. Louis roster are growing up.
So even though the Cardinals outgained the Rams 390-366 in total yards, committed fewer penalties (7-6), and converted a higher percentage on third downs (50-36), St. Louis showed the guile and determination of a team wise beyond its years. Since they won despite the deck clearly being stacked against them, their coach has to be thrilled with the results, right?
Not so much, as after the game Fisher said:
“We have a long, long way to go. There’s a lot of areas we have to address but most of those were self-inflicted wounds.”
Those self-inflicted wounds he referred to are most certainly the penalty problems, but the team also saw several lapses in coverage and mental mistakes that must be cleaned up moving forward. Veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan was a contributor to both issues with not one but two more of his renowned personal foul penalties as well as getting beaten in coverage on a few occasions. He owned up to those issues following the game as Finnegan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“Personally, it was a poor performance, period, and I’m not going to make excuses for it. Gave up the deep ball and had two personal fouls. That’s just not acceptable. It doesn’t help our team win and if we would’ve lost, I would’ve took it solely on me.Have to get better, have to learn from mistakes and have to play better football. Fifteen more to go.”
Certainly it’s better for Finnegan to acknowledge his mistakes as opposed to denying them, but it’s about time he starts practicing what he preaches. According to a statistic from ESPN, Finnegan had the most personal foul penalties in the league since 2005 coming into Sunday’s game with 18. Now that total increases to 20, and there comes a point where his skills no longer excuse that type of punkish behavior.
There was a mixture of good and bad in terms of maturity, but it seems clear that age doesn’t dictate wisdom with this 2013 Rams squad. Don’t be surprised if this young team grows up before our eyes this season and makes the playoffs a reality for the first time in nearly a decade.