The St. Louis Rams came to town to greet the Oakland Raiders for their home opener. Last week, the Rams fell short of victory against the Arizona Cardinals while the Raiders looked to rebound from an embarrassing effort against the Tennessee Titans. Let's see how this contest went for the two former Los Angeles franchises each looking for the first victory of the season.
First Quarter: The St. Louis Rams won the coin toss, but deferred and elected to kick off to the start the game. Kamerion Wimbley and Tyvon Branch made huge impacts on the first drive for the Raiders with each getting a sack on rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams were forced to punt and Johnnie Lee Higgins made his presence felt for sure. A 53-yard return by the former UTEP wide receiver set up the Raiders with fabulous field position. After a Darren McFadden run, Darrius Heyward-Bey caught his first pass of the season for a first down. Three straight McFadden runs had the Raiders looking at a fourth down and inches to go. Instead of taking the three points, head coach Tom Cable pushed the envelope with a predictable run up the middle for no gain at the most. St. Louis took over at the six yard line. Running back Steven Jackson smashed through the Raiders on running plays and a screen and basically carried the Rams into Raiders territory all by himself. Then, through the air, Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt was flagged for an illegal contact penalty and then Bradford hooked up with Daniel Fells for a 36-yard gain. Fells made a beautiful catch with one handed, but was injured on the play. After Jackson was stuffed on back-to-back runs, rookie defensive lineman Lamarr Houston sacked Bradford forcing a field goal attempt by kicker Josh Brown. Kicking off the infield dirt from 36 yards out, Brown's kick had the distance but was not successful in getting between the uprights. Getting the ball back, McFadden gained 13 yards on a pitch to the right side. After an incomplete pass to Heyward-Bey, quarterback Jason Campbell hit wide receiver Louis Murphy on the right side who was wide open. That took Oakland into St. Louis territory. After another pass intended for Heyward-Bey fell incomplete, a third down run by McFadden was stopped short and kicker Sebastian Janikowski failed on a 46-yard kick from the dirt infield. Defensive lineman Jay Alford was whistled for encroachment and Steven Jackson found a big hole and ran it down to the Oakland 35 to end the first quarter.
Second Quarter: The quarter began for Jackson where he left off. On third down, Jackson picked up 23 yards on a swing pass from Bradford setting up a goal-to-go situation. Jackson had amassed 100 total yards in just a bit over a quarter. On second down, a play fake to Jackson set up a seven-yard strike from Bradford to a wide open receiver in Mark Clayton. St. Louis had drawn first blood (after first blood probably should've been drawn three times prior) with a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. Rookie wide receiver Jacoby Ford, who is now the kick returner after wide receiver Yamon Figurs was cut earlier in the week, returned it to the 22. On first down, Murphy drops a pass and then new left tackle Jared Veldheer was flagged for holding. McFadden was stuffed, but then Campbell dumped it off to Reece for a 19-yard gain and then picked up a first down on a pass over the middle to tight end Zach Miller. A few plays later, faced with a third down, Campbell scrambled right and ran for a nine-yard first down into St. Louis territory. Campbell dumped off to McFadden and then hit Reece on a screen pass, but Oakland needed five more yards for a first down; however, the yardage needed for a new set of chains doubled thanks to a false start penalty on right guard Cooper Carlisle. Before Campbell could even look to throw on third down, linebacker James Laurinaitis brought down Campbell. Punter Shane Lechler booted it to wide receiver Danny Amendola and Amendola just called for a fair catch at his own seven yard line. The Rams failed to pick up a first down as Jackson was stuffed twice and Bradford threw an incomplete pass. Punter Donnie Jones' boot wasn't a good one as it took a Raider bounce and the result was even worse for St. Louis than expected after a chop block penalty tacked on 15 yards for Oakland after that punt. The Raiders would begin their next drive at the Rams' 29 yard line. McFadden carried it for a healthy six-yard gain and then a pass intended for Murphy was incomplete although a personal foul penalty took the Raiders to just outside of the 11 yard line. Oakland only went backwards after that, however, as Campbell was sacked and lost the ball. Veldheer pounced on top of the football securing possession and Janikowski's field goal made it to a 7-3 game. Former University of Cincinnati standout Mardy Gilyard returned the kickoff back to his own 26. Amendola picked up a first down working on Routt following the two-minute warning and the Rams were searching for points before the half. On the ensuing play, though, Amendola committed an offensive pass interference and was flagged for it and it all started to go backwards. St. Louis ended up gaining only six total yards on that drive and punted it Oakland as the second quarter was just about done. Two plays later, Rams defensive end James Hall continued to wreak havoc and forced a fumble on Campbell who continues to get no time to throw. Campbell grabbed the ball, ran for a few yards and then hit Miller short of the first down before Miller ran over defenders for a first down. Just two plays later, Rams defensive back James Butler killed the drive as he intercepted an ill-advised pass intended for Murphy over the middle in St. Louis territory. A simple give to Jackson went nowhere and the half was over.
Third Quarter: Some people were clamoring for quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to take over for Campbell, and it was indeed Bruce out there under center as the Raiders' drive started at their own 18 yard line. Gradkowski hit Heyward-Bey for a quick throw resulting in a completion for six yards. On third down two players later following a McFadden run, another quick throw resulted in yet another Heyward-Bey first down. A five-yard McFadden run was aided by a personal foul on St. Louis defensive back Rod Bartell. At midfield out of a shot gun on first down, Gradkowski fired a beautiful pass to Murphy for a big first down over the middle putting Oakland in field goal range. A run for half a yard and an incomplete pass set up a third down. The blitz was too much again and Gradkowski lobbed it for Heyward-Bey in the end zone, but a fantastic play by Bradley Fletcher saw the ball hit the turf and another Janikowski field goal made it a 7-6 game. St. Louis had decent starting position after the bouncing kickoff found its way into Gilyard's arms, but a three-and-out gave Oakland the ball right back. A 40-yard punt by Jones was downed at Oakland's 17 yard line. Back-to-back first down completions from Gradkowski to Heyward-Bey and Miller set up Oakland at the 43 yard line of St. Louis. McFadden got back into the act with a nine-yard run on the left side and he wasn't done there. The next play was a run that went for 23 yards by McFadden on the left side once more. A delay of game penalty was followed up by a tough Gradkowski run an and incomplete pass, so the Raiders needed to convert on third down if they wanted a touchdown. Falling down on third down, Gradkowski fired and found Murphy in the end zone on the right side for a four-yard touchdown pass and the Raiders had their first touchdown of the game. The crowd was absolutely okay and the "Bruce" chants filled the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. On the kickoff, returner Mardy Gilyard was absolutely drilled by linebacker Quentin Groves and Gilyard was shaken up. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly was flagged for a personal foul after the conclusion of the second play and killed some momentum for the men in silver and black. More good Raider defense continued despite the penalty. In an obvious passing situation, Wimbley drilled Bradford for what wasn't the first time and St. Louis was forced to punt. A nice punt by Jones forced Higgins to call for a fair catch at the 11 yard line. With exactly four minutes to go in the quarter, the Raiders offense was back out there and Gradkowski found Heyward-Bey once again on the right side for a huge gain as Darrius was able to break free for some yards after the grab. A two-yard run up the middle by McFadden was followed up with an incomplete pass on a screen that never developed setting up a crucial third down. Murphy was found over the middle, but couldn't stretch out an extra yard and so it was fourth down just into St. Louis territory. Lechler's punt sailed into the end zone and so the Rams would start at their own 20 yard line. Unfortunately for the Rams, for the second straight possession, a three-and-out was the result for St. Louis and the Rams had to punt it back. Jones came on and a short punt took a nice bounce for St. Louis and the end result was a 47-yard boot downed at Oakland's 29 yard line. On a toss to the right side, McFadden carried it for five yards to end the third quarter.
Fourth Quarter: The final quarter opened with more McFadden and he continued to run really well as the Raiders had a first down at their own 43 yard line. A few plays later, the pressure closed in on Gradkowski and a batted ball was to be had in the air. The ball ended up landing safely on the ground and a 15-yard roughing the quarterback penalty was called on safety Oshiomogho Atogwe resulting in a huge play for Oakland. The next play was another flag on the Rams as illegal contact was the penalty. Utilizing McFadden, the Raiders went to the air on a third down play and a great pass from Gradkowski to Murphy allowed for Oakland to move the chains. There's where the drive would stall, however, as another third down pass was intended for Murphy but this time it fell incomplete. A 22-yard field goal by Janikowski extended the lead to 16-7 for the Raiders. The Rams started at their own 23 and safety Michael Huff was flagged for pass interference in on the play against wide receiver Laurent Robinson. On the very next play, Routt picked off a pass intended for Robinson once again. The Raiders didn't move the ball, though, and punted the ball back to St. Louis. Rookie safety Stevie Brown, who was just activated off the practice squad yesterday, nailed Amendola on the return after Lechler's boot. St. Louis gave it right back for yet another three-and-out. After Jones' punt bounced an accidentally hit a Raider special teams player in the leg, Higgins pounced on it for possession. Oakland picked up a few first downs thanks to Heyward-Bey and McFadden and the Raiders kept moving in St. Louis territory with now less than five minutes to go. Some plays later on third down, a tipped pass was intercepted by Rams defensive back Jerome Murphy and the Rams still had a chance to close the gap and make things interesting. Rookie linebacker Rolando McClain was flagged for unncessary roughness after picking up and slamming down Amendola and that cost Oakland 15 yards. Amendola, on the next play, picked up a huge first down. An even bigger play followed that as, for the second time, Bradford hooked up with Clayton for a touchdown. All of a sudden, it was nervous time in Oakland as it was just a 16-14 lead for the Raiders now. All the momentum was gone. McFadden went up the middle for a yard and the second pass for Gradkowski was thrown away intentionally; however, after that pass, Rams defensive tackle Fred Robbins pushed Gradkowski down and was flagged for roughing the passer. Faced with a third down, Oakland knew the pressure was coming. Out of the gun, Gradkowski fired and found Murphy on the left side for a huge first down. On the ensuing play, McFadden rushed for a first down and had compiled 145 yards on the ground at that point. That took us the two-minute warning and the victory formation killed the clock. The Oakland Raiders had defeated the St. Louis Rams, 16-14.
Pass Offense: "D+" -- Jason Campbell started the game and he was shaky. The offensive line, of course, was in flux. Everything changed in the second half, though, behind Bruce Gradkowski. The play calling was better, the offensive line looked better and the wide receivers (Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey) were a lot more involved in the passing attack. Campbell and Gradkowski combined to complete just 51 percent of their passes with an interception each.
Rush Offense: "A-" -- Darren McFadden anchored the ground attack today and was even more effective in the second half when the Raiders established a passing attack. The only thing that didn't materialize was a rushing touchdown, but that's okay when you get the win.
Pass Defense: "B+" -- Sam Bradford felt pressure and was sacked three times including getting intercepted once. He was moderately effective in terms of the completion percentage and did find Mark Clayton for a few touchdowns. Overall, though, the Raiders did a really good job with the pass defense.
Rush Defense: "A" -- Steven Jackson rushed for just eight yards in the second half and the Raiders really bottled up the St. Louis run game overall the same way they bottled up Titans running back Chris Johnson last week. The difference was that Jackson didn't break a 75-yard run for six points.
Special Teams: "B+" -- The tackling on special teams was really nice. As for the kicking game, Lechler only averaged 43 yards per punt and Janikowski's was 3-for-4. Higgins had a lovely 53-yard return off the first punt although it resulted in zero points. Overall, it was a pretty good performance all things considered.
Some Additional Thoughts and Tidbits
The biggest thing last week was the offensive line and head coach Tom Cable made some changes. Left guard Robert Gallery was injured, rookie Jared Veldheer was moved from center back to his more natural left tackle position, center Samson Satele slotted in there and offensive tackle Mario Henderson was on the bench. The Rams hurried Campbell several times in the first half and sacked him twice. In the second half, the protection was much better and some of that had to do with the plays called by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. The Raiders went to the shot gun in non-obvious passing situations and Gradkowski made the throws and the plays. Last week, I pointed out that getting Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey into the act was essential. The two combined for 12 receptions and really took off in the second half with Gradkowski. Defensively, the pressure was really nice and the Raiders need to continue to do that week in and week out. This was obviously a huge win because you cannot start 0-2 and Oakland now has a lot of momentum. Give head coach Tom Cable a lot of credit for making the quarterback switch at halftime. He deserves as much credit as anyone for the win.