NFC West: St. Louis Rams

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After an early evening Thursday practice, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher made it clear that a decision on the starting quarterback will again be made before Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Hill
But the decision could be a little more difficult this week with veteran Shaun Hill making progress toward a return from an injured thigh. Hill remains limited on the official injury report but did more Thursday than he did Wednesday. Austin Davis continued to get the vast majority of the work with the first-team offense.

"Shaun was limited today," Fisher said. "He did more, but we're still day to day. It will most likely be a pre-game decision like it was last week."

The Rams worked Hill out before last week's game against Tampa Bay and decided he could be active as a third quarterback capable of taking shotgun snaps in an emergency. He could follow a similar path this week if the Rams decide to go with Davis on game day.

Elsewhere on Thursday's injury report, the Rams did not have guard Rodger Saffold because of an illness and cornerback Brandon McGee was downgraded from limited participation to did not participate because of a foot injury. Center Scott Wells, who did not practice Wednesday, returned to full participation Thursday.

Here's the full breakdown:

Did not participate: WR Tavon Austin (knee), TE Cory Harkey (knee), CB Trumaine Johnson (knee), OL Barrett Jones (back), Saffold (illness), McGee (foot)

Limited participation: Hill (thigh/calf)

Full participation: Wells (not injury related)
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Per the St. Louis Rams' policy, quarterback Shaun Hill hasn't been available to speak to the media since after the regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

Hill
 Injured players are off-limits until they start doing more in practice. But Hill, who practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday, was made available for the first time since after that game and injuring his thigh/calf.

That's because he's starting to make genuine progress toward a return. While Hill has yet to do any work in 11-on-11 team drills, and his status for this week remains uncertain, he said Wednesday he's making strides.

“Better and better every day, absolutely," Hill said. "That’s about all I can say about it. It certainly is getting better every day.”

Wednesday's practice offered the most tangible evidence since the injury that Hill is indeed improving. He was also listed as limited in last Friday's practice though that was a bit generous given how little he did. In Wednesday's workout, Hill did more in individual drills and appeared to be moving around better than he did late last week or even in pre-game warmups last week in Tampa Bay.

Since he suffered the injury, coach Jeff Fisher has been clear that Hill is still his starter so long as he's healthy. The question has been when Hill will meet that standard. Fisher has also emphasized the need not to rush Hill back to avoid making the injury worse.

Asked Wednesday what he needs to see from Hill to plug him back into the starting lineup, Fisher reiterated those thoughts.

“More than what we’re seeing right now," Fisher said. "Again, this is about not setting him back so we don’t want to put him in position out here on the field to where we’re risking setting him back. He’s day-to-day, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Austin Davis, who started last week against the Buccaneers, took the vast majority of the reps with the first team Wednesday with backup Case Keenum getting a few more reps. Davis led the Rams to a win in that game and will start again this week in the event that Hill doesn't show Fisher and the coaching staff what they need to see.

“I think that’ll be determined later in the week," Hill said. "But, the idea going in is to just keep progressing and see what happens when we get later in the week.”

Hill opened the first game against Minnesota 5-of-5, but the lingering memory of his interception near the end of the first half has persisted.

Hill and Fisher have said that interception was due in part to the injury, offering that Hill was trying to throw it away but couldn't get it out of bounds because he lacked the leg strength to drive it that far while on the run.

For Hill, whose last start (prior to this season's opener) came in 2010, the injury has been frustrating even if it isn't a severe one.

“That is something I struggled with, big time, originally when it happened," Hill said. "It’s been hard for me to get on the field, especially the last few years. And finally when you get the chance, for that to happen, it’s harder to come back off. What can you do? You pick yourself back up and get yourself back as quick as you can.”

Cowboys vs. Rams preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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The St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys put together two of the league's most dubious Week 1 performances, but both teams rebounded with road victories last week.

This week, the teams meet for the second consecutive season in search of their second win. The Cowboys thrashed the Rams 31-7 in Dallas in 2013.

ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner preview Sunday's matchup.

Wagoner: Todd, if DeMarco Murray ever goes into the Hall of Fame, he should probably say thank you to the Rams in his speech. He has shredded them in the past and it looks like he's off to a good start in 2014.

Does he look better now than he has in the past? And what is it that has made Dallas' running game so effective so far?

Archer: He really turned a corner late last season well after he ran for 175 yards on 26 carries against the Rams. He ran with more conviction and had a better feel for the scheme and what the linemen were doing in front of him. But it's more than that. It's understanding where the defensive fronts can give him some trouble before the snap. He has run with power but he's shown the ability to bounce plays and get more positive yards so far. The offensive line helps. The Cowboys have three first-rounders up front in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. After years of talking about wanting to be a physical team but not actually doing it, the Cowboys are actually doing it and it's because they believe more in the line than they have since making the playoffs in 2009.

Not to get too carried away here, but did Austin Davis work at a grocery store after toiling in the Arena Football League? I thought the Rams were in trouble when they had to go to Shaun Hill after Sam Bradford's injury, but how is Davis getting it done?

Wagoner: Does serving a few weeks as a quarterbacks coach at the Westminster Christian Academy here come close enough to stocking shelves at the grocery store? A year ago at this time, that's exactly what Davis was doing. Seriously, though, Davis took most of us by surprise with his performance last week against Tampa Bay. He didn't put up any jaw-dropping numbers, and a rash of injuries limited Tampa's defense, but the most impressive thing about his performance was how cool he was under pressure. Time and again he faced pressure, stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball.

For Davis, that has been the biggest change. When the Rams released him in 2013, it was in no small part because he struggled to recognize coverage and was too quick to take off running without keeping his eyes downfield. He was much improved in that area against the Bucs. Whether he starts remains to be seen because coach Jeff Fisher says Hill is the starter so long as he's healthy. But Hill hasn't proved he's back to 100 percent and the Rams have a bye next week, which would allow Davis another go.

The Cowboys' defense took a lot of heat before the season started but seemed like it found some answers against the Titans last week. What do you make of that group so far? And what are some areas of weakness we should be watching for?

Archer: I still have my doubts. It has been better than I or many thought. But I need more visual evidence. Maybe it's just not wanting to be fooled so much. In Week 1, I believe San Francisco really shut it down in the second half and just wanted to avoid the big mistakes with a 28-3 lead. Last week at Tennessee, Jake Locker was terrible. Now some of that was the Cowboys' making. They got a good rush on him at times and the coverage was solid, but he also missed some throws. If they have another good game this week against Davis (or Hill), I'm still not sure I would get carried away. But it would give the Cowboys confidence and that's more important than anything I would say.

One of the matchups I want to see this weekend is Robert Quinn vs. Tyron Smith. Both guys received giant contracts recently. What kind of start is Quinn off to, and how is Chris Long's absence affecting him?

Wagoner: Quinn doesn't have any sacks yet but that single stat is really a disservice to the work he has done. Tampa Bay and Minnesota made it a point to get rid of the ball quick and both teams used screens, slants and other short routes as a way to help negate Quinn and the Rams' pass rush as a whole. Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel had the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in the league in Week 1 and the Rams had no sacks.

But Quinn is still wrecking offensive lines and creating pressure despite the lack of sacks. Teams are throwing multiple blockers at him on every play and linemen are desperately clutching and grabbing him to keep him from getting to quarterbacks. He's not always getting the calls but the attention going to him should open things up for others. Of course, he also hasn't seen a tackle as good as Smith in the first two weeks, either.

Tony Romo has also had some big games against the Rams in the past. What have you seen from him, coming off his injury? And do you expect him to return to his usual levels of production?

Archer: Romo has not looked the same, despite what he, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett say. I think he's working his way back into game speed after being limited so much in the offseason and in four preseason games because of back surgery last December. He has not had the same zip on passes. He has not moved around as well as he has in the past. It's all intermittent right now. The back can be a tricky thing and it takes some time to heal. Romo has been sacked seven times and had only 73 pass attempts, so clearly the line isn't protecting him as well. He needs to play better. I think he will get there eventually this season -- maybe even this week -- but it's a good thing the Cowboys look to have a ground game they can rely on.

Michael Sam spent the summer with the Rams and had a productive preseason. Cowboys fans have asked me about how Sam has done since joining the practice squad, but it's hard to judge development there. You saw him in the preseason. What kind of player can he be?

Wagoner: Sam really just kind of is what he is -- a high-energy, all-out effort player who has a motor that constantly runs. He's never going to wow anyone with an array of pass-rush moves or overwhelming power to win with a bull rush. He has to win by getting to the edge with his speed and/or by chasing down quarterbacks or ball carriers, because he simply never quits on a play. Because of that, his upside is limited but it's also a quality that should eventually earn him a chance to play in the league.

Dallas once added a former highly touted college performer who was a seventh-round pick of the Rams in George Selvie, and he turned into a pretty decent NFL player. I see no reason Sam couldn't eventually follow a similar but slightly lessened trajectory.

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Breaking down Robert Quinn's contract

September, 17, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn inked a four-year contract extension with the team on Saturday, a deal that is actually a new six-year contract worth $65.6 million.

Quinn
Now that the details of the contract are available, we can see that Quinn's deal does indeed contain $41.2 million in guarantees though they aren't all technically guaranteed.

As we reported Saturday night, Quinn's salary-cap number for this year is mostly unchanged by the deal. The real big money starts kicking in in 2015 with a salary-cap number reaching in excess of $16 million, which is about $10 million more than it would have been under the fifth-year option the team exercised in the offseason.

"I was really happy for Rob," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "As we said we really appreciate (Rams owner) Stan’s (Kroenke) support and approval on this. Rob’s got a chance to be an outstanding defensive player for us for a lot of years, so much deserving of it.”

Here's the full breakdown of Quinn's deal, which is heavy on palindromes and courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:

2014

Base salary: $608, 608 (prorated for rest of the season from original number of $646,646, all of which is fully guaranteed)

Bonus: $2,296,001

Roster bonus: $0

Cash value: $5,488,731

Cap value: $3,077,958

2015

Base salary: $5,555,555 (Fully guaranteed for injury and becomes fully guaranteed regardless on fifth day of league year)

Signing bonus proration: $955,354

Roster bonus: $10,233,201 (Fully guaranteed)

Cash value: $15,788,756

Cap value: $16,744,110

2016

Base salary: $7,777,777 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Signing bonus proration: $955,354

Roster bonus: $2,424,242 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $10,202,019

Cap value: $11,157,353

2017

Base salary: $6,161,616 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Signing bonus proration: $955,354

Roster bonus: $3,633,363 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $9,794,979

Cap value: $10,750,333

2018

Base salary: $10,333,301

Signing bonus: $955,358

Roster bonus: $1,111,111 (due on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $11,444,412

Cap value: $12,399,770

2019

Base salary: $11,811,121

Signing bonus: $0

Roster bonus: $1,121,211 (due on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $12,932,332

Cap value: $12,932,332
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams began preparing for the imminent return of wide receiver Stedman Bailey on Monday when they released defensive tackle Matt Conrath to create a roster spot.

Bailey
On Wednesday morning, the NFL announced the completion of a new policy on steroids and performance-enhancing substances, which made Bailey's return official just halfway through the original four-game punishment.

In the announcement released by NFL communications, Bailey is one of three players named as eligible to return to his team right away.

From the release:
Discipline of players for certain violations in the 2014 league year will be adjusted to reflect the new policy. Wes Welker of the Denver Broncos, Orlando Scandrick of the Dallas Cowboys and Stedman Bailey of the St. Louis Rams will be eligible to return to their teams this week.

Bailey was originally suspended four games on May 13 for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. He missed the team's first two games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay but wouldn't actually have been scheduled to return until after Week 5 because the team has a Week 4 bye. Now, he'll not only be back before the bye but have the opportunity to play this week against Dallas should the Rams opt to go that way.

We'll find out the extent of Rams coach Jeff Fisher's plans for Bailey for this week after practice later Wednesday, but it stands to reason he could be involved in the game plan given the way the Rams planned ahead for his return and Tavon Austin's sprained knee.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- No matter how many times the question is asked or in how many different ways it's phrased, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has never wavered in his response: Shaun Hill is his starting quarterback and Austin Davis is the backup.

It goes something like this:

Hill
Davis
“If Shaun is healthy and able to play and not going to subject himself to re-injuring this or making it worse, then Shaun’s our quarterback and Austin’s our backup," Fisher said. "That’s just the way it is.”

Well, then what about the possibility for a change of heart after sleeping on it?

"I won’t visit with you guys (Tuesday), but I will Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, so you can ask me again, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, if you want," Fisher said. "You’re going to get the same answer.”

Once again, Fisher has reiterated that he's never had a quarterback controversy in his many years of coaching and he doesn't plan to start now. Of course, there are a few factors at play here that need to be taken into account.

The key word in Fisher's response is "healthy." Hill will start when healthy. In other words, when his injured thigh is healed.

That didn't happen last week and there's no guarantee that it will this week. Fisher said Hill probably wouldn't practice Wednesday and might be able to do limited work Thursday. Until he can get back on the field in practice, there's no need to rush Hill back, especially with Davis now having some experience and a good performance as a starter last week under his belt.

Until Hill is healthy, there's really not even much reason to discuss a possible quarterback controversy. If Hill is close to healthy but not all the way there, there's no reason for the Rams to even ponder playing him. That's especially true with the bye week coming after this week's game.

According to Fisher, the impending bye week could be a part of the decision should Hill be close but not all the way back.

“Well it would be a factor," Fisher said. "Again, this is not coach speak, it’s day to day. We’re going to see how he is.”

If indeed Hill isn't able to return this week, the Rams would have an additional week to get him healthy to play in Week 5 against Philadelphia. That would serve the purpose of not only allowing Hill to get to 100 percent but give the Rams another opportunity to evaluate Davis.

If Davis starts again and struggles, it could remove any lingering outside doubts that Hill should be the guy moving forward. If Davis starts again, plays well and leads the Rams to another win, perhaps Fisher will have to reconsider over the bye. Perhaps he won't. But if that's the case, rest assured, the questions will only continue.

Harkey's toughness energizes Rams

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have already lost key players such as quarterback Sam Bradford, and defensive end Chris Long to serious injuries that will require rehabilitation.

Harkey
 Bradford is out for the season with a knee injury, and Long is on injured reserve but designated to return after ankle surgery. But neither of those injuries looked as bad when they happened as the one tight end Cory Harkey suffered on Sunday in Tampa Bay.

Late in the third quarter, Harkey caught a pass from quarterback Austin Davis in the left flat, but Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson quickly closed in on Harkey and hit him square in the left knee. Harkey managed to limp off the field, but the hit looked bad enough that it could keep him out for a long time.

"That was a rough hit," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "Now when you saw it, that’s a byproduct of the league and the rule changes. Goldson’s a good football player, and that’s one that you just don’t like to see. We feared, I feared for the worst on it until he got to the sideline."

For his part, Harkey said even he was shaken up by the hit.

"Obviously, it was a shock. It was scary, but I knew once I was able to get up and kind of walk off that I was going to be OK, which is a good thing," Harkey said. "And God is looking out for me. But yeah, it was scary."

When Harkey returned to the sideline, he wasted no time lobbying to return to the game, a campaign that proved successful. He was on the field on the next drive and caught a pass for 6 yards about 15 minutes (in game time) after taking the hit.

That Harkey returned and contributed was a surprise to everyone except those who have seen him go from undrafted rookie to a valuable, multipurpose piece of the offense -- and one of the team's resident tough guys.

“We knew, we knew Cory was a tough guy," Fisher said. "He loves the game, and the docs felt structurally he was going to be okay. We were going to change some personnel groups and Cory said, ‘No, don’t change them. I’m going back in,’ so very impressed with him."

On Monday, Fisher revealed that Harkey actually suffered a mild knee sprain on the play. Fisher went on to say that he wouldn't rule out the possibility of Harkey playing against Dallas this week despite the injury.

Based on what Harkey did last week, it would be more surprising if he didn't.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams made it through Sunday's win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers without much in the way of injuries but the two they did have looked like they could potentially do some major damage.

Austin
Receiver Tavon Austin and tight end Cory Harkey both suffered knee injuries against the Bucs, but Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Monday night that the news was relatively good on both fronts.

"I guess you could say we got good news," Fisher said. "They've got mild sprains, nothing requiring surgery. And I wouldn't rule either one of them out for this weekend. They're both, as you can imagine, stiff and sore today but it was good news."

Harkey
Austin actually attempted to return to the game as he warmed up with his teammates after the 51-minute lightning delay. But the Rams opted not to press their luck on the sloppy field and Austin did not re-enter.

Harkey did return to the game after taking a hit that had many, Fisher included, fearing the worst. Late in the third quarter, Harkey caught a pass from quarterback Austin Davis in the left flat but a Tampa Bay safety quickly closed on Harkey and hit him square in the left knee. He limped off the field but successfully lobbied his way back into the game.

As for quarterback Shaun Hill, who has been dealing with a thigh injury and was only available in an emergency against the Bucs, Fisher said he had no setbacks and remains day to day.

"He's still rehabbing," Fisher said. "I don't know how much he'll do Wednesday but he's got a chance to get out there and do some things on Thursday."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- ESPN NFL Insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported Monday afternoon that upon the completion of the new NFL drug policy, St. Louis Rams receiver Stedman Bailey is one of 20 players who will be reinstated.

According to the report, the deal is expected to be finalized in the next 24 hours. While Rams coach Jeff Fisher isn't yet sure of the specifics, he did confirm Monday night that the team is taking steps to prepare to welcome Bailey back to the fold.

Bailey
"We have been hearing for four or five days that they're going to vote and they have a list of those who should be reinstated," Fisher said. "There was some talk about it even as late as Friday and Saturday. I haven't heard anything.

"We released (defensive tackle) Matt Conrath to clear the roster spot in the event that it does happen over the next couple of days."

Bailey was originally suspended four games on May 13 for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. He has served half of that suspension so far but wouldn't actually have been scheduled to return until after Week 5 because the team has a Week 4 bye.

A third-round draft choice out of West Virginia in 2013, Bailey didn't play much early as a rookie but got more opportunities near the end of last season. He finished with 17 catches for 226 yards and had a rushing touchdown.

During the preseason and training camp, Bailey was one of the team's better performing receivers and if he's reinstated soon could factor into the mix quickly. That's especially true considering Tavon Austin is dealing with what Fisher called a sprained knee suffered in Sunday's win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Fisher did not rule out Austin playing this week but getting Bailey back would certainly provide some insurance in case Austin is unable to play.

The Film Don't Lie: Rams

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
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A weekly look at what the St. Louis Rams must fix:

We talked about penalties last week and they remain a problem as the Rams return home to take on the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3, but there's another issue the Rams had better rectify in a hurry before the Cowboys come calling.

St. Louis allowed Tampa Bay to put up 157 yards on 30 rushes in Sunday's 19-17 win, including 144 from little-known back Bobby Rainey. Through two games, the Rams are allowing 5.52 yards per carry and 171 yards per game on the ground, which is 30th in the NFL through Monday afternoon.

The Rams are springing leaks at all levels against the run right now with poor run fits and tackling at the heart of the matter. Pro Football Focus had the Rams down for eight missed tackles against Tampa Bay, which was an improvement over the 18 from Week 1, but still not enough to slow Rainey & Co.

Those numbers surely have Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray salivating. He has rushed for 428 yards and scored two touchdowns against the Rams in two career matchups, including a 253-yard outburst in 2011.
TAMPA, Fla. -- St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis wasn't the only Austin who had lingered toward the bottom of the depth chart only to come up with big plays in the team's 19-17 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Wide receiver Austin Pettis took full advantage of an expanded opportunity after a second-quarter knee injury toTavon Austin. Once one of the team's starting receivers, Pettis entered the season fifth or sixth among the team's wideouts.

Pettis
But just because Pettis' role has decreased doesn't mean his ability to come through in important situations has faded. After coming on in relief of Austin, Pettis finished with three catches for 46 yards, including an acrobatic 27-yard grab down the seam to set up the game winning field goal.

"We have a lot of good receivers in the room, a lot of talent we can put on the field, and I’ve been kind of put in a backup role," Pettis said. "Unfortunately Tavon got a little banged up today but for us we have been rotating a lot of guys throughout OTAs and camp preparing for different scenarios."

Even with that work being done in practice, there's no way to simulate a scenario like Pettis provided Sunday. On third-and-9 from the Rams' 48 with 1:55 to go, the offense spread things out with four receivers running vertical routes straight down the field. Davis looked off receiver Kenny Britt and fired down the seam for Pettis, who went up to get it over cornerback Leonard Johnson.

As Pettis came down with the ball, however, Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson came over and delivered a crushing blow only to see Pettis find a way to hang on to the ball.

"At that point in the game you want to make a big play and I kind of thrive in those kind of situations," Pettis said. "I came off the line and kind of had a feeling the ball was going to come to me on that play so I knew I had to come down with it no matter what."

Three running plays later, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein booted the game-winning field goal. Considering that just last week Pettis played a total of 10 snaps without so much as a target, it would seem far-fetched for him to provide such big plays. But it actually has been something of a theme for Pettis to come up with quality over quantity with his catches.

In 2012, Pettis made a difficult catch on fourth-and-1 to keep a game-winning drive going against Buffalo in Week 14 and also had a touchdown grab late in the fourth quarter to briefly give the Rams a lead in an eventual tie at San Francisco in Week 10.

“Pettis is a team player," coach Jeff Fisher said. "He helps the young guys. He knows exactly what to do. Every time you give him a chance to make a play he makes one.”

 

Special teams give Rams a boost

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Any wins the current version of the St. Louis Rams can come up with likely won't qualify them for many beauty pageants. The way the team is constructed, they're going to have to find ways to win, even if it's ugly.

That means low-scoring games in which everyone contributes and not just on offense and defense but special teams, too. It's something the Rams freely acknowledge and was readily apparent in Sunday's 19-17 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Whether it was kicker Greg Zuerlein making four field goals on the rain-soaked field of Raymond James Stadium, safety T.J. McDonald coming up with a blocked punt and field goal to set up two of those kicks or punter Johnny Hekker providing his usual yeoman's work, the third phase was all that it needed to be for the Rams on Sunday.

McDonald
"We’re kind of in that mode right now as they talked about, we are scratching and clawing and everybody has got to contribute," coach Jeff Fisher said. "All three phases have to contribute and make plays."

And make plays they did against Tampa Bay, with nobody coming up bigger than McDonald. The second-year safety is an emerging piece on the defense but proved to have even deeper value on Sunday.

In the second quarter, McDonald knifed around the edge and blocked Michael Koenen's punt to give the Rams a first down at Tampa Bay's 28. At the beginning of the fourth, McDonald again found a way into the backfield along with cornerback E.J. Gaines and deflected kicker Patrick Murray's 24-yard field goal try to keep the Bucs' lead at one rather than expanding to four.

The Rams turned both blocks into field goals for six points that the Rams could not have won without.

"It’s like a stop so it’s a good feeling and it gives the offense a little more confidence, a little more juice going back out there on the field knowing we didn’t give up any points so it’s good for the whole team," McDonald said.

Zuerlein also provided a strong response in sloppy conditions after a shaky preseason and missing a 50-yard kick against Minnesota last week. But even with the field offering little solid footing, something clearly evident on Zuerlein's kickoffs, he managed to convert from 36, 35, 46 and 38 yards. The last of those coming with 38 seconds to go and providing the Rams with the winning points.

"Anytime you can help your team win the ball game, it’s huge as a kicker," Zuerlein said. "The guys are out there depending on you to do your job. They’ve been battling it out for the whole game and you’ve just got to pull through for them.”

It's probably a bit much to expect similar performances from the special teams every week, but any close approximations will be more than welcome for a team that needs all it can get from everyone on the roster.
TAMPA, Fla. -- St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis was always going to start Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he didn't find out for sure until about 90 minutes before the game began.

With veteran Shaun Hill battling a thigh injury that kept him out all week, Davis said he had been preparing as though he was going to make his first NFL start since Monday. But in reality, Davis' trip to leading the Rams against Tampa Bay goes back much further.

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAustin Davis was efficient and avoided mistakes in his first NFL start.
A year ago, Davis was without an NFL job, spending two or three days a week providing guidance for the young quarterbacks at Westminster Christian Academy in Town and Country, Missouri.

On Sunday, Davis was calmly and efficiently leading the Rams to their first win of the season, a 19-17 victory over the Bucs, throwing for 235 yards on 22-of-29 passing with no interceptions or touchdowns for a rating of 99.1. Rams coach Jeff Fisher awarded Davis the game ball in the locker room afterward.

"It’s special," Davis said. "I can’t really describe it. I felt at peace out there, I felt at home and it had a lot to do with the guys I was around and how well we played and made plays around me."

To be sure, Davis had plenty of help in overcoming a seemingly never-ending pile of challenges in his first NFL start.

There was the mild uncertainty about whether he'd start, though Fisher said Hill was only going to be available to take shotgun snaps in an emergency. There was the lightning delay which sent the teams back to the locker room for nearly an hour midway through the second quarter.

Every time the Bucs seemed to gain an edge, Davis never flinched and performed under pressure. The performance was a surprise to outside observers but for those in the Rams locker room, it had been gradually building for most of the past three years. Davis, who was cut at the beginning of last season, was re-signed when Sam Bradford suffered a season-ending knee injury and has remained since.

"That’s what you need in the NFL, especially coming from your offensive leader, the quarterback," receiver Austin Pettis said. "To show that mental toughness throughout the game, he kept it even keel, we were up sometimes on offense and down a little bit here and there but he kept his head in there and made all the right plays that we needed."

An initial glance at Davis' numbers don't reveal anything too overwhelming and the Rams' total of 19 points against an injury-depleted defense isn't going to be enough to win many games in the rough and tumble NFC West but a closer inspection of Davis' performance revealed a moxie that was hard to deny.

Time and again, Davis stared down extra pressure from the Bucs defense and delivered a key throw, especially on third down. Davis attempted eight third-down passes, completing six for a total of 76 yards. Five of those completions resulted in first downs.

On the fourth quarter drive to set up kicker Greg Zuerlein's game-winning 38-yard field goal, Davis hit tight end Lance Kendricks for 13 yards on third-and-1 as he took a big hit and followed five plays later by firing a strike to Pettis down the seam for 27 yards on third-and-9.

"He was very poised today," Fisher said. "He did a great job ... nothing was overwhelming to him."

After the game, Fisher made it clear that when healthy Hill will reclaim the starting job. But even if Davis' debut wasn't enough to win a permanent job, it was more than enough to earn the trust of his team the next time it needs him.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 19-17 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Fisher
" Rams coach Jeff Fisher had plenty of options when handing out the game ball after his team's first victory, but he opted for quarterback Austin Davis, who finished 22-of-29 for 235 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a passer rating of 99.1 in his first NFL start. Fisher pointed to Davis' poise as a primary reason for Davis' initial success, a trait apparent as he converted a pair of third downs on the winning drive with clutch throws.

" Davis' performance was enough to have many wondering whether he'd done enough to earn another start regardless of the status of veteran Shaun Hill's injured thigh. Fisher quickly put those thoughts to rest after the game.

"No, when Shaun comes back, he's our starter," Fisher said. "I'm really proud of Austin but Shaun's our starter."

" Receiver Tavon Austin left the game in the second quarter with an apparent knee injury just before a 51-minute lightning delay. When the team returned to begin warming up, Austin gave it a go but ultimately did not return. Fisher said Austin will have further tests on the knee Monday morning.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Throughout the offseason and into training camp, the St. Louis Rams seemed to be in no hurry to sign defensive end Robert Quinn to a contract extension.

There were no hard deadlines to meet and Quinn was going to remain under team control for at least the next two seasons no matter what. The two sides were talking but there was no sense of urgency. None was needed.

A lack of urgency might have been the exact reason the two sides were able to come to terms on a new six-year contract Saturday afternoon, a deal that will keep Quinn in St. Louis through the 2019 season.

[+] EnlargeRobert Quinn
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams and Robert Quinn, who had 19 sacks last season, agreed to a four-year contract extension.
Without having to worry about holdouts or franchise tags, the Rams and Quinn’s representatives were able to work toward a resolution that would allow the team to keep its best player in St. Louis.

Upon reaching an agreement Saturday, the deal looks to be good for both sides. The new deal is worth a total of $65.6 million with $41.2 million guaranteed.

It’s important to note that the deal makes Quinn a Ram through the 2019 season, which means it includes the next two seasons as well. The distinction means the Rams could have a relative bargain on their hands should Quinn continue to ascend as one of the best pass-rushers in the league.

Assuming the numbers are correct, an annual average of about $11 million would be an absolute bargain for Quinn, considering he ranks second only to Houston's J.J. Watt in sacks with 29.5 since 2012.

After Watt agreed on Sept. 2 to a six-year, $100 million deal with $51.8 million guaranteed, making him the highest paid defensive player in the league, it was only logical Quinn would be next in line.

What wasn’t clear was how fast the Rams would put a deal together. On one hand, Watt’s deal offered a baseline for Quinn’s, but on the other, Quinn doesn’t have Watt's lengthy track record of success.

Getting a deal done now allows the Rams to sign Quinn for a number below what Watt received from the Texans, but offers a relative bargain should he continue to perform as he did in 2013 when he posted 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles on his way to first team All-Pro honors.

Had the Rams waited until after the season, they might have faced a price tag closer to Watt’s if Quinn duplicates his 2013 success. In signing Quinn now, the Rams struck a good balance between paying him what he is currently worth, what he could be worth in the future and protecting themselves on the off chance he doesn’t continue at his current trajectory.

For his part, Quinn landed a nice deal with a strong guarantee. That $41.2 million is really the only number that matters here, and it represents a smart play on his part, taking what he can get rather than worrying about it later should he suffer an injury or have a down season. In the process, Quinn gets the chance to set up his family, namely son Robert Jr. for life.

"You have got to take everything into account," Quinn said Saturday night. "Maybe I have another monstrous year, maybe I have a mediocre year. So like I said I am definitely blessed and honored for the Rams to even offer that to me, but I wanted to make sure my son was taken care of. I keep going back to my son because that’s what I kind of play this game for, to make him happy. I, of course, enjoy and love the game but it’s kind of just making sure he’s got a sense of security."

Only time will tell whether this is the rare deal that works well for both sides, and we still need to see the exact breakdown of the financials. But at first blush, it certainly looks like a win-win.

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