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Rams want to get their running game going

Monday, 26 August 2013 22:55 Published in Sports

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rams coach Jeff Fisher does not want the team's running backs to be judged solely on the preseason stats.

However, it doesn't mean he's not concerned about their production.

"That's an area where we need to improve on, but we haven't had opportunities in the games to really just line up," Fisher said after Monday's practice.

The Rams finish the preseason on Thursday against Baltimore.

The Rams are making a transition to a life without perennial 1,000-yard rusher Steven Jackson, who left via free agency to Atlanta.

They are averaging a little more than 3 yards a carry from their top four running backs, a year after the team ranked 19th in the league in yards per game with a 107.1 average.

Daryl Richardson, tabbed as the team's starter earlier this month, has 34 yards on nine carries in the first three games of the preseason.

"I feel pretty good about the running game," he said. "We've just got to execute and get better every day, all just be on the same page and eliminate penalties."

Richardson is coming off a rookie season in which he gained 475 yards on 98 carries in a backup role to Jackson.

Isaiah Pead's role might be more questionable. The second-year player out of Cincinnati carried the ball just 10 times in 2012 and is suspended for the 2013 season opener for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

He's had the most carries this preseason with 19, gaining 59 yards. He also has the only lost fumble by a running back.

"I've been trying to prove myself since I came here. Really, the only difference is that Steven's gone," Pead said. "I still come in, ready to work, trying to find a spot on the team whether it be special team or offense."

The Rams game at Denver last Saturday was another missed chance for the running backs to get work.

St. Louis planned to work on its running attack, only to change as the game unfolded.

Lineman Rodger Saffold, returning from a shoulder injury that limited his work leading up to the game, lasted the entire first half after it was anticipated he might only play a handful of snaps.

The Rams have also wanted to focus on their passing game and this year's top draft choice Tavon Austin and third-rounder Stedman Bailey at receiver. Fisher wants to enhance the downfield options for quarterback Sam Bradford.

He said if that part of the game develops, it can only serve to help his young running backs, that includes two second-year players and two rookies in the top four on the depth chart.

That has limited the chances for rookies Zac Stacy, a fifth-round choice from Vanderbilt, and Benny Cunningham, from Middle Tennessee State who signed as an undrafted free agent. But both should play a role in the upcoming season.

How much might be determined Thursday.

"I think you'll probably see some more," Fisher said. "''We'll get a chance to look at them this week. With Isaiah not being available to us in Week 1, we'll have to look at all the backs."

NOTES: TE Cory Harkey could miss up to a month with a fracture in his leg suffered Saturday at Denver. The second-year player got significant time during the preseason as top TE Lance Kendricks recovers from offseason knee surgery. ...The Rams announced 11 cuts as they close in on Tuesday's deadline to reduce the roster to the NFL-mandated 75 players. St. Louis released K/P Brett Baer, WR Demetrius Fields, WR Andrew Helmick, LS Jorgen Hus, QB Tim Jenkins, DT Al Lapuaho, LB Joseph Lebeau, TE Colby Prince, WR Raymond Radway and CB Robert Steeples.

Craig powers Cardinals past Reds 8-6

Monday, 26 August 2013 22:52 Published in Sports

 

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Allen Craig hit his first career grand slam with two out in the seventh inning, helping the St. Louis Cardinals rally for an 8-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.

Matt Holliday also had a long three-run homer as St. Louis moved into sole possession of first place in the NL Central for the first time since July 29. The Cardinals lead idle Pittsburgh by a half-game and Cincinnati by 3 1/2 games in the top-heavy division.

Rookie Carlos Martinez (1-1) pitched two innings for his first major league win and Edward Mujica worked a perfect ninth for his 35th save.

Zack Cozart had two hits and three RBIs for the Reds, who dropped to 4-9 against St. Louis this season. Jay Bruce hit his 25th homer in the eighth.

Cozart and Todd Frazier each hit a two-run triple off Tyler Lyons in the second, helping Cincinnati to a 4-0 lead. But Holliday belted a three-run drive deep to left in the third.

Holliday's 18th homer came against Mike Leake and traveled an estimated 443 feet for the longest shot by a St. Louis player at Busch Stadium this season.

The Cardinals went ahead to stay in the seventh. Jon Jay drove in a run with a bases-loaded grounder off Manny Parra (1-3). J.J. Hoover then came in and walked Holliday on a full-count pitch and Craig drove the next pitch over the wall in right for his 13th homer.

The crowd of 35,159 roared as Craig rounded the bases. The big first baseman then came out for a curtain call.

Bruce connected against Seth Maness, but that was it for Cincinnati, which lost for the third time in four games.

Lyons settled down after the rough start and was charged with one earned run in five innings. He struck out seven and walked two.

Leake allowed five runs and seven hits in 6 1-3 innings. The right-hander is 1-1 with an unseemly 5.20 ERA in his last six starts.

NOTES: Joe Kelly (5-3, 3.01 ERA) will face Cincinnati's Mat Latos (13-4, 2.93 ERA) in the second game of the three-game series on Tuesday. Latos is 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break. ... The Cardinals are 24-3-2 in home series against Cincinnati since the start of the 2003 season.

Five things to know from Rams-Broncos

Sunday, 25 August 2013 20:44 Published in Sports

DENVER (AP) — Ever the perfectionist, Peyton Manning momentarily stepped back on the field long after his night was concluded just so he could lob a few more passes in a steady drizzle.

The Denver Broncos' quarterback made his reappearance during a break in the action to hone his "wet-ball mechanics," coach John Fox joked after a 27-26 preseason win over the St. Louis Rams on Saturday night.

Utilizing an up-tempo offense, Manning & Co. were virtually unstoppable against the Rams' starting defense.

That is, until the Broncos stopped themselves by turning the ball over four times, including a fumble from Ronnie Hillman which rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree scooped up and returned for a TD.

"It's disappointing when you don't take care of the ball," said Manning, who finished 25 of 34 for 234 yards, a TD and an interception. "Four turnovers in a game is not what you want to do."

Here are five things we learned from a game in which the Broncos (2-1) and Rams (0-3) played a bulk of their starters in the first half:

1. GROUND PROBLEMS: Just when it looked like Hillman had the starting job all but locked up, he fumbled. Again.

For the second straight game, Hillman's turnover was returned for a TD. The week before in Seattle, Hillman's miscue at the goal line was taken 106 yards for a score.

This time, Ogletree ripped the ball out of Hillman's hands and trotted 13 yards for a score.

"I still have great confidence," Fox said of Hillman.

Meanwhile, rookie Montee Ball had a productive game, rushing for 43 yards and a score. Knowshon Moreno was solid, too, finishing with 33 yards rushing. He added another 42 on three catches.

2. ELECTRIC AUSTIN: Rookie Tavon Austin showed his explosiveness, fielding a punt in the first quarter and racing 81 yards. Had his blockers been able to actually block punter Britton Colquitt, Austin could've scored. No worries, though, Sam Bradford threw a short TD pass on the next play.

Austin returned two punts for 104 yards. He also had one catch for 12 yards.

"I felt good for the most part," Austin said.

3. STILL MILLER'S TIME: Even though he's staring at a six-game suspension, defensive end/linebacker Von Miller played a majority of the first half with the first-team unit. The Pro Bowler finished two tackles.

After the game, Miller declined to talk about his performance.

With Miller soon to be sidelined for violating the NFL's drug-abuse policy, Shaun Phillips will be counted on to step up.

"I didn't come here to be a cheerleader," Phillips said.

4. ELITE COMPANY: The youthful St. Louis secondary is receiving quite an early test. Last week, the Rams went up against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. On Saturday, it was Manning.

"He's a heck of a player and it's good to see him in the preseason," defensive end Chris Long said.

It doesn't get any easier on Thursday when the Rams face Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens.

"We have a young secondary, so I think it gives our guys a chance to play against the best," linebacker James Laurinaitis said.

5. NOT SO SPECIAL TEAMS: The Broncos surrendered a long return, had a field goal attempted blocked and muffed a punt. Not exactly a stellar night for the special teams.

However, Lerentee McCray did get a hand on a Brett Baer punt late in the game that set up what would be the Broncos' winning TD.

"It's all disconcerting," Fox said. "It's something we will look at."

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