Rams-Jaguars: What we learned

Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- Zac Stacy's stats Sunday of 78 yards on 14 carries were good but not great. However, the St. Louis Rams rookie running back was just what a struggling offense needed.
Getting the running game it had lacked in the first four games, St. Louis snapped a three-game losing streak Sunday with a 34-20 victory over winless Jacksonville at the Edward Jones Dome.
Quarterback Sam Bradford threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns, while the much-maligned defense contributed three takeaways, including Matt Giordano's 82-yard interception return score in the first quarter.
But it was Stacy, a 5-foot-8, 214-pound product of Vanderbilt, who stepped into a starring role in his first NFL start. A one-cut runner who primarily works between the tackles, Stacy had no run longer than 12 yards but consistently churned out 7- and 8-yard runs.
That was a blessing for an offense which entered the game ranked last in the NFL in rushing at just 47.3 yards per game.
"We came into the game looking to establish the run," Stacy said. "You have to give credit to the guys up front who did that. So overall, it was a good team win today."
It was a win the Rams (2-3) desperately needed. Marked as a team which could surprise Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West, St. Louis instead followed up a Week 1 win over Arizona by getting outscored 97-42 in its next three games, including 66-18 in losses against Dallas and San Francisco.
Things looked no better early as the Jaguars (0-5) pushed the Rams around in the first quarter, outgaining them 156-27 in building a 10-7 lead. But St. Louis tallied 17 unanswered points in the second quarter and nursed its two-touchdown advantage through the second half.
After Jacksonville pulled within 27-20 when backup quarterback Chad Henne tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts with 10:22 left in the game, Stacy got the game-sealing drive started with runs of 12 and 8 yards.
Bradford took over from there, hitting passes of 17 yards to Cory Harkey and 9 yards to Austin Pettis to set up the clinching score. Pettis beat Will Blackmon's coverage down the right sideline and Bradford lofted a perfectly thrown 31-yard score to him with 5:45 remaining.
"Being able to establish the running game was big for us," said Pettis, who also caught a 4-yard scoring strike with 27 seconds left in the first half. "Zac was great. He gave us a big lift."
While the Rams breathed a collective sigh of relief, the Jaguars not only mourned another loss, but took more injury hits a talent-thin roster didn't need.

What the Rams said

"Regardless of whether we win all 16 games or lose 16 games, we're all we got. We circle the wagons when things don't go right. We create our own energy." -- OT Joe Barksdale when asked if he's heard mounting criticism of the team during a three-game losing streak.

What the Jaguars said

"When you have five opportunities inside the 5-yard line and you don't convert, it's disappointing." -- Coach Gus Bradley on his team's inability to score a TD in the third quarter, trailing 24-10.

What we learned about the Rams

1. The offense works a bit better when it can run the ball. St. Louis ran for 143 yards Sunday, nearly matching its cumulative total of 189 yards in the first four games. It may have found a starter at running back in rookie Zac Stacy, who rushed for 78 yards on 14 carries. Stacy has probably earned a start for next week at Houston as long as a late-game rib injury doesn't hamper him in practice.
2. Special teams continue to be not so special. The Rams committed five of their six penalties in the kicking game, one wiping out a 48-yard punt return from Tavon Austin. St. Louis has been the most-penalized team on special teams over the last year-plus, regularly costing itself with an inability to play clean football. That routinely puts the offense in bad field position.

What we learned about the Jaguars

1. Justin Blackmon is a difference-maker. In his first game back from a four-name NFL suspension, Blackmon caught five passes for 136 yards and a TD, a 67-yarder in the first quarter. He has the size to post up and outmuscle cornerbacks and the speed to make big plays, as he showed early on Sunday. He and Cecil Shorts are actually a pretty nice 1-2 punch at wide receiver.
2. The offensive line is in trouble. After trading LT Eugene Monroe to Baltimore, Jacksonville put rookie Luke Joeckel at left tackle. That lasted less than a quarter as Joeckel was carted off the field with a season-ending hairline fracture of his right ankle. That will make life considerably tougher for quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, who don't need additional pressure as it is.

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