It took the coaches several games to figure out what they had in Zac Stacy, but for the most part they have got the most out of a team that ranks as one of the youngest in the league.
PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus – This grade was on its way up until QB Sam Bradford suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 7 against Carolina. Bradford had compiled a 90.9 passer rating with 14 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. The average per attempt was low at 6.44, but he was growing comfortable with his young receiving corps. After the injury, Kellen Clemens became the starter, and after a rocky start, settled down to play well, especially with two big-play touchdown passes of 57 and 81 yards to rookie WR Tavon Austin against Indianapolis. Austin is tied with TE Jared Cook for the team lead with 33 receptions, but his average was low until the plays against the Colts raised it to 10.5. Austin leads the team with four touchdown receptions.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B – The grade has been raised after a poor start thanks to the grind-it-out style of rookie Zac Stacy. He had one attempt after four games and was inactive twice before getting the chance to start against Jacksonville. He has responded by gaining 537 yards in six games, and scoring three rushing touchdowns after the Rams went the first eight games of the season without one. Daryl Richardson has been bothered by a foot injury, leaving the door open for rookie undrafted free agent Benny Cunningham to contribute. He has the long run of the season for 56 yards. The disappointment has been 2012 second-round pick Isaiah Pead, who hasn't contributed to the running attack since early in the season.
PASS DEFENSE: C – There has been some improvement after a rocky start, but the opponent passer rating of 93.0 is high, as is the 65.7 percent completion rate and 8.35 yards per attempt. One bright spot has been 11 interceptions, tied for 12th most in the NFL. Two were returned for touchdowns. CB Cortland Finnegan struggled at the beginning of the season, and was then inactive for four games because of a hamstring injury. Since he returned against Tennessee, playing mostly in the slot with Trumaine Johnson starting, the pass defense has improved. The pass rush has been outstanding with the Rams totaling 32 sacks, which is first in the NFL in sacks per pass play. Defensive end Robert Quinn is second in the league with 12.0 sacks.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus – There have been a couple good games against Seattle and Indianapolis, but there have been too many big plays allowed. The positive is the games against the Seahawks and Colts came in the three weeks prior to the bye, so the hope is that it will continue.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B – This is an ascending grade, brought down by a huge number of penalties early in the season. Those have largely gone away, and the units have been consistently good. P Johnny Hekker leads the NFL in net punting average at 43.5, and only 23 of his 53 punts have been returned for an average of 3.2 yards with a long of 17. Austin raised his punt-return average to 8.9 with a remarkable 98-yard touchdown against the Colts, but he also had two other good returns in that game with none brought back by penalty. K Greg Zuerlein is 15-for-17 on field-goal attempts.
COACHING: B –
The offensive line has been solid with Chris Williams at left guard and Joe Barksdale at right tackle, who took over when Rodger Saffold was injured. To get Saffold on the field instead of sharing snaps with Barksdale, he played right guard against Indianapolis with Harvey Dahl sidelined by a knee injury. Line coach Paul Boudreau has done a good job mixing and matching on the line. First-year defensive coordinator Tim Walton has made some adjustments in recent weeks to implement what the players do best, and the defense has played better.
Howard Balzer will be contributing to KSDK Sports throughout the 2013 season. Howard hosts "H and Friends" Monday-Friday on Fox Sports 1490 The Champ. He is also a host on SiriusXM NFL radio and one of 44 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.