For young players fighting for a spot on the final roster of 53, the fourth preseason game serves as the final opportunity to show what they can do in the NFL. Several St. Louis Rams took advantage of the increase in playing time in Thursday's 24-21 win over the Baltimore Ravens in the Edward Jones Dome.
Second-year safety Matt Daniels took the field focused on catching the coaches' attention. Daniels picked off Ravens QB Caleb Hanie in the opening quarter and finished the takeaway with an 11-yard return. Daniels also finished the night with two tackles and two passes defensed. The secondary came up with its second interception of the game when CB Drew Thomas sealed Thursday's victory by picking off Hanie with less than 30 second remaining in the contest.
The young Rams defense came up big in the third quarter when Baltimore drove inside the St. Louis 10-yard line. Staying consistent with the unit's red zone defense during the preseason, the group did not waver with its back to its own end zone. After a penalty gave the Raven's offense new life on the Ram's 1-yard line, rookie LB Jonathan Stewart brought down RB Anthony Allen for a 1-yard loss. On the next play, Stewart forced the ball out of Allen's grasp to end Baltimore's hopes of scoring. LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar returned the fumble for 10 yards.
DT Mason Brodine showed that he knows what to do when he gets his hands on the football when recovered a Hanie fumble and returned it for 17 yards into Baltimore territory. The young defensive linemen continued to be effective as DE Gerald Rivers started the second half by sacking Hanie for a 8-yard loss. Rivers was a force to be reckoned with throughout the game and racked up a team-high six tackles and three tackles-for-loss on the night.
On the offensive side of the ball, QB Kellen Clemens put together a solid performance to make his claim for the back-up spot as he completed 13-of-18 passes for 188 yards. Clemens showed his resolve throughout the first half by eluding the oncoming Ravens pass rush and finding receivers downfield. Clemens looked his best in the second quarter when he orchestrated a 95-yard scoring drive. Clemens' consistency throughout the series kept the chains moving and the drive was capped off by a 1-yard RB Zac Stacy touchdown run.
Clemens' favorite target of that drive was WR Brian Quick who brought in four receptions for 46 yards. Clemens also connected with rookie WR Stedman Bailey for 21 yards and TE Mike McNeill for 20 yards during the series.
Out of the backfield, Stacy started the game and ran for 37 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. RB Isaiah Pead also ran well, finishing with 27 yards on seven carries and two catches for 16 yards. In the second half, RB Benny Cunningham immediately showed how much he wanted to be on the field when he took his first carry for 29 yards. Cunningham took the bulk of the carries throughout the fourth quarter and racked up a game-high 76 yards on eight touches. Rounding out the backfield action was RB Chase Reynolds who showed determination on a 17-yard screen play that went for a touchdown, breaking through three tackles before crossing the goal line.
WRs Justin Veltung and Nick Johnson also put together notable performances as Johnson caught his second touchdown pass of the preseason from four yards out and Veltung racked up 88 total return yards over the course of the night.
Now that the preseason is in the books, the coaching staff has difficult decisions ahead to reduce the Rams to their final roster size of 53 players by the September 1 deadline. Once the roster is set, the Rams will look forward to their Week 1 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals in the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams' regular season is set to kickoff at 3:25 p.m. on September 8.
“We have some tough choices, yeah, that we have to sort out, with depth at different positions," Head Coach Jeff Fisher said. "The roster may look, initially, a little different than it has in the past. We may carry more at one position and fewer at the others and look for outside help.”