After setting a NFL rookie record in making a catch for 50-plus yards in five consecutive games earlier this season, word spread quickly of Rams receiver Chris Givens’ legitimacy as a dangerous deep threat.
And with each passing week, teams were noticeably moving further and further off Givens at the line of scrimmage in hopes that they wouldn’t be the next victim in Givens’ version of home run derby.
“Oh yeah, more and more every game from when I first started that streak they have been backing up,” Givens said. “But they are starting to come up and press me a little bit and give me different looks so it’s just something I will have to adjust to.”
Over the course of the past month or so, Givens has begun to show with each passing week that he’s far from a one-trick pony. While the deep ball will remain his bread and better because of his 4.3 speed, he’s shown a much more diversified portfolio in recent weeks.
Two weeks ago in Arizona, Givens had his first career 100-yard game, going for 115 yards on five catches against the Cardinals.
Then, last week against San Francisco, with slot receiver Danny Amendolanot playing with a foot injury, quarterback Sam Bradford went looking for someone to fill his shoes on more of the short and intermediate routes.
Enter Givens, who promptly caught 11 passes for 92 yards, effectively wrecking his gaudy yards per catch average but doing whatever’s necessary to help the team.
“It’s the downfield speed that really is the reason that everything else has fallen into place for him,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “In addition to more practice time and more experience he gets, the better feel he gets. One thing he likes is balls that are easy to catch and most of the balls that are thrown to him are right on target. So he’s doing a good job with the other things, other than just the deep pass.”
For his part, Givens is more than happy to just get his hands on the ball no matter what route it comes from or how it happens.
In fact, the former high school running back actually prefers to get the ball and go rather than longer-developing plays.
“My favorite route is just a simple quick screen,” Givens said. “That’s my favorite route over everything is just real quick get it and let me work. That’s my favorite. I played running back up until college so anything that gets the ball in my hands quick.”
Givens has flashed the ability for picking up big chunks of yards with his run after catch skills.
For the season, Givens has 33 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns. The yardage total ranks third among all rookie wideouts. And though the five deep passes make him one of the biggest downfield threats, he’s proved more than capable of taking shorter grabs and turning them into big plays.
In fact, 23 of Givens’ 33 catches have come either behind the line of scrimmage or within 10 yards of it for a total of 217 yards.
“It’s been fun just being able to get more calls and to know that the coaching staff is depending on me to be there to make those intermediate catches as well as get open on those short and intermediate routes,” Givens said. “So for me, those type of expectations and things like that are just fun. It’s just another element of the game I love and I am just having fun growing and trying to become the best receiver I can.”
Indeed, Givens is the first to acknowledge that it hasn’t been an easy transition from running go routes almost exclusively to hitting all the branches of the NFL route tree.
But it’s clear he’s picked up many of the necessities to do it successfully and begin establishing himself as a go-to receiver regardless of the route.
“It’s been a huge learning curve,” Givens said. “I am watching more and more film on the DB’s and their techniques on different routes and just trying to be more patient and trust myself in those spots.”
ZUERLEIN HONORED: For the second time this season, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein has earned the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award.
Zuerlein received the honor Wednesday morning in exchange for his record-setting performance Sunday when he became the first player in NFL history to boot a 50-plus yard field goal to tie it as time expired in regulation and then hit again from more than 50 yards to win it in overtime.
Not that the ever-humble Zuerlein is thumping his chest about the accomplishment.
“It’s all the same,” Zuerlein said. “It’s good to get the award but better to get the win. Everyone is a bit happier. It’s a two-game winning streak.”
In earning his second such award of the season, Zuerlein and punter/roommate Johnny Hekker have now combined for three on the season. Zuerlein also is the first Ram since 2001 to win a weekly award twice in the same season, joining Kurt Warner and London Fletcher in that distinguished company.
Zuerlein does concede that though shelf space might be getting tight, he and Hekker would have no problem taking the awards on a more regular basis.
“We’d like more awards,” Zuerlein said. “If we are getting awards it means we are doing our job on special teams, not just us but the guys on special teams, Jake, all the cover guys, they make our jobs a little easier so the more awards we can get, it’ll be better.”
BROWN’S PROMOTION: Late last week, the Rams promoted linebacker Sammy Brown from the practice squad to the active roster. With veteran Mario Haggan still ailing from an injured elbow, Fisher felt it necessary to move Brown up to help out.
“What we want to do is give Sammy a chance to contribute on special teams because we were just a little bit light,” Fisher said. “Sammy had been doing a great job as a scout team member working against our group of teams. He can run, he’s athletic, he can tackle, he also has some pass rush ability. We feel like, in a week or so, if we need to put him out there and let him rush a little bit, he can do that as well.”
To make room for Brown, the Rams released cornerback Quinton Pointer. Pointer was brought back to the practice squad to take the spot Brown vacated on Wednesday. Also, the Rams released receiver Saalim Hakim from the practice squad and signed tight end Cameron Graham to take his spot.
INJURY REPORT: The Rams had no real surprises on their Wednesday injury report as once again they have a mix of guys simply getting some extra rest and some guys still recovering from previous injuries not practicing.
Amendola and Haggan continue to recover from foot and elbow injuries and did some light work on the side Wednesday.
Center Scott Wells (knee) and running back Steven Jackson (foot) were rested again but expected to be OK this weekend much like they were last week. The only new addition came in the form of tight end Mike McNeill, who did not practice because of a thigh injury.
Buffalo, meanwhile has a whopping 22 players on its injury report, including come key pieces not practicing such as end Mark Anderson (knee), receiver Stevie Johnson (hamstring) and defensive tackle Kyle Williams (ankle).