RamView, September 30, 2012
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #4: Rams 19, Seahawks 13
The 2012 Rams keep finding ways to win at home, getting unlikely contributions from across the roster, doing just enough on defense, and scoring all 19 points on special teams to match last year's win total before October even starts. What a big, big difference good coaching makes.
Position by position:
* Special teams: Andrew Luck, RG3, whatever. The rookie of the year is Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, who has already become one of the NFL's most reliable offensive weapons. Zuerlein put the Rams on the board with a 58-yard FG blast that had enough steam to hit the net. That was a team record, for maybe half an hour. The Rams more than likely won this game in the last 2:00 of the first half. Lining up for a gimme FG from the 2, former high school QB Johnny Hekker takes the snap at holder, stands up and fires a pretty pass to Danny Amendola, putting the Rams up 10-7 with the very play that ***** special teams coach Brad Seely had used to burn the previous two Rams coaching regimes. The Rams even got the ball back with enough time for Zuerlein to drill a 48-yarder at the half-time gun. At that point, the Rams' special teams were clearly in Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's head, and he decided to try an onside kick to start the second half. That would have fooled every Rams special teams unit since about 1999, but here, Trumaine Johnson made a play on the ball in a crowd of white jerseys, and Josh Hull covered it up. Since that was as good as a turnover, Jeff Fisher used the opportunity to send Zuerlein back out for a what-the-heck 60-yard effort, and the kid hit that one, too, just clearing the bar for a new team record. Special teams weren't perfect; Leon Washington followed that kick with a 70-yard return, but who slowed him up enough to allow TruJo to save a TD? That's right, Zuerlein. And the Rams got too fancy on a later return, with a reverse handoff from Danny Amendola to Chris Givens that Amendola should have just kept. Instead the Rams got pinned at their own 5. Zuerlein, though, later tacked on a chippie to culminate a 7-minute drive and put Seattle down 6. The rookie is a clear difference maker, scoring probably 9 points last year's team wouldn't have, and giving the Rams a significant advantage in field position they wouldn't have had last year. Zuerlein for MVP!
* QB: Wasn't always pretty for Sam Bradford (16-30-221, 63.3 PR
), but, finding eight different receivers on the day, he made plenty of clutch plays to keep Rams scoring drives alive. The Rams' opening drive looked dead in the water until Bradford zinged a pass with enough mustard on it to survive a tip at the line and go to Brandon Gibson to convert a 3rd-and-13. The Rams went on to score a (very long) FG. 3rd-and-14 in the 2nd, Bradford does excellent work to step up from the edge rush and hits Austin Pettis (!) for 17. Same drive, 3rd-and-10, Sam steps up again from a blitz and hits Brian Quick (!!) at the 10 for 19 yards, setting up a Johnny Hekker (!!!) TD pass. After Seattle chipped the Rams' lead down to 16-13 in the 4th, Bradford and the Rams offense were on the spot, but they delivered. Bradford opened what would be a 15-play, 74-yard, 7:00 FG drive with a perfect 15-yard slant to Danny Amendola, which they duplicated a couple of plays later on 3rd-and-10. Next series of downs, it's 3rd-and-13 when Bradford finds Lance Kendricks alone on a seam route for 26. With a blitz coming, Sam and Steven Jackson execute a screen pass to perfection to get in very close and make the lead just big enough to prevent a successful Seattle comeback. Bradford's prettiest play of the game didn't even lead to a score; that was a dead-on perfect bomb to Chris Givens for 52 at the end of the 1st. That was followed, though, by an interception. With another blitz coming, Bradford expected Gibson to break off his route to the sideline. Gibson, though, went on into the end zone, and the only receiver Bradford had at the sideline was the CB, Richard Sherman. That may not have been Bradford’s fault, but he’s got other faults to clean up. The next drive ended with Bradford missing Amendola with just a foul pass with Danny open on a quick out. Bradford has to make that throw. He’ll also hold the ball too long at times and isn’t helping himself enough with his feet, though he looked better this week in those areas. He’s locking in on receivers even before the snap and missing opportunities. 3rd-and-goal before the last FG, Gibson’s matched up on a LB, ends up wide open in the corner of the end zone; Bradford never looked over there. Sam even shares some blame for difficulties in the running game this week; run plays are easy to jump if the snap is always on one. Bradford’s still mastering the fine art of playing QB in the NFL. But he can paint some nice pictures with what he’s learned so far.
* RB: The story of the season for Steven Jackson (18-55): he needs blocks, but is finding mostly blockage. He spent much of his afternoon running into an ugly silver and greenish wall. Jackson did find some room toward the edge early; he hit a wide-9 gap for 23 for the big play of the Rams' first scoring drive. Harvey Dahl had a good seal block and Lance Kendricks got a good block downfield. Dahl got him another block for a 9-yard gain to start off the Rams' only TD drive. Jackson makes the most of what he's got, running guys over, running through ankle tackles. He and Bradford botched an exchange later in the TD drive, but Jackson still churned out 5, and got another 8 to put the Rams inside the 3-yard line, getting superb drive blocks by Dahl, Barry Richardson and Matthew Mulligan. But Seattle dropped him twice for five-yard losses. He did nearly score with a screen pass against a blitz on the Rams' last FG drive, and had a 10-yard tackle-breaking run to try to run the clock out at the end, of the game, but he'd lost a yard on 1st down the play before, and got met by several Seahawks on 3rd-and-short. Daryl Richardson (6-16) is used more to rest Jackson than to be a change-of-pace RB, if that makes sense. He took a short pass 10 yards and a draw another 5 to get the Rams in FG range (which, today, meant “in the state of Missouri”) before halftime. I'd hoped there would have been more opportunities taken to get him outside. The Rams are doing service to the running game by sticking with it, but it's proving to be hard, hard work.
* Receivers: Danny Amendola (6-55) continues to be the Rams’ most clutch receiver. He caught the Rams’ only TD, and kept the Rams’ final FG drive alive with two tough catches in tight coverage, including a 15-yard catch on 3rd-and-10. Amendola got help this week from a variety of unexpected sources. Austin Pettis (2-22) made a critical 17-yard catch on 3rd-and-10 to keep the TD drive alive. Brian Quick (1-19), who sent Steve Smith to the inactive list this week, also had a critical 3rd-down catch over the middle to get the Rams to the 10-yard line. Both of Brandon Gibson’s catches (2-28) came on the opening FG drive, the first a 14-yard catch on 3rd-and-13 that was tipped at the line; Gibson showed good concentration hauling that one in. With the Rams up only 3 in the 4th and not quite in Zuerlein’s FG range, Lance Kendricks (2-22) got all alone up the seam on 3rd-and-13 and cradled a Bradford throw for 26 to set up the last score. Chris Givens (1-52) took the top off the Seattle defense a couple of times, catching a bomb at the end of the 1st and just barely missing another with a diving attempt in the 3rd. There were a couple of rough spots. Gibson didn’t make a blitz adjustment in the 2nd, got Bradford intercepted, and seemed to disappear from the game plan afterward. Quick somehow managed not to catch his first pass in bounds despite being about 5 yards in bounds when the ball got to him. There wasn’t a single person who emerged as a consistent option to Amendola, but when the Rams needed clutch plays, somebody was there to make one. Solid team effort.
* Offensive line: After the Seahawks sacked Aaron Rodgers 8 times, in the first half, Monday night, Bradford’s chances of coming out of this game intact didn’t look great, and especially didn’t after Jason Jones ran right through Quinn Ojinnaka on the Rams’ opening series to sack Bradford (and Ojinnaka). In the 2nd, Alan Branch beat Barry Richardson and put a hit on Bradford that nearly created an INT. Branch was back the very next play, sacking Bradford after the left side of the line failed to pick up a stunt. But that was it for Seattle, a two-sack game, with nothing for feared rushers Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin. Clemons had one whole tackle. Irvin had a 3rd-down pressure that forced the Rams to settle for their last FG. You have to call that a major win for the Rams on the edges. Bradford got the ball out quickly a lot of the time, which helped the line out, but they also opened up a lot of room in front of him to step up into the pocket. Harvey Dahl sprung Jackson’s two longest runs, and TEs Kendricks and Matthew Mulligan provided good blocks, but the Rams still had major problems run-blocking. Especially up the middle, where Brandon Mebane whipped Robert Turner over and over and over to drop Jackson in the backfield for losses. I also don’t believe they laid a hand on rookie LB Bobby Wagner all game, as he walked through untouched several times to drop Jackson for losses. Unable to do a thing up the middle, the Rams had to try Jackson on the edges, which didn’t work, either, when they needed it the most, with 3:30 left to play. Wagner knifed in to drop Jackson for a loss on 1st down, and on 3rd-and-1, Mebane, whipping Turner for the hundredth time, and multiple other Seahawks were in the backfield before Jackson could even get going, grabbing back another chance to win the game for the visitors. The Rams deserve credit for their effort; compared to last time, it’s pretty brilliant how effective they were against the Seahawk ends. The next challenge: keep that working, but also have a running game…
* Defensive line/LB: The offensive line wasn’t the only line that struggled in the running game. The d-line was downright weak at it against Seattle, offering about 90% of the “Marshawn Lynch is hard to tackle” footage we’ll get to see for the next few years. The Seahawks sashayed for 80 yards and a TD before the game was barely 4 minutes old. The Rams had no answer to rookie QB Russell Wilson’s ability to get outside. Seattle felt free to run at Robert Quinn a lot, and Quinn didn’t usually offer a lot of resistance. Lynch (20-118) opened the scoring with an easy 18-yard TD run, with Quinn getting moved out like he was on wheels, Kendall Langford dominated and Jo-Lonn Dunbar getting blasted out of the hole. That could have been Seattle’s M.O. for the whole game, but they hurt themselves by getting cute. Eugene Sims (!) and Janoris Jenkins were not fooled by a 3rd-and-short 90-flip, though, defending it perfectly for a loss. James Laurinaitis, who has been blitzing noticeably more this season, deflected a 3rd-down pass at the line to bail out the offense after Bradford’s INT. Seattle wisely went back to Lynch the next drive. He ran through Laurinaitis and Quintin Mikell for 9, then gained 15 around a wide-open left end opened up by Quinn and Dunbar getting thrown around like a pair of socks in a dryer. Back from a preseason ankle injury, Michael Brockers spent most of his first pro game unable to get push or get off blocks, but made a play that stopped the drive. He arguably jumped offsides, but blew up the middle and dropped Wilson for a 5-yard loss, leading to a 3rd-and-long, where the Rams forced an INT. Wilson’s mobility made him hard to sack most of the game. The Rams finally got to him right before halftime, when Quinn forced Wilson outside and into the path of the Sims Express for a sack. Seattle came back out running, though. And running. And running. Rookie Robert Turbin (6-45) through McIntosh and Laurinaitis for 9. Turbin through Mikell for 11. Lynch through a big gap in the formation for 9, with no one on the right side able to shed their blocker. The Rams hardened up in the red zone, though, with Mario Haggan making a big play to stop a Wilson scramble, and a too-quiet Chris Long pressuring him into a wild throw (with Sidney Rice pretty darn open in the end zone, too). That still didn’t spare the D from getting Lynched, and by the end of the 3rd, they not only couldn’t tackle him, they couldn’t even lay a hand on him. 7-yard sweep left where Craig Dahl is the first Ram to touch him, at the sideline. Mikell barely makes a shoestring tackle to save a 8-yard screen from becoming a TD. On a 9-yard run, Turbin makes Mikell and Cortland Finnegan look like scarecrows attempting to bring down a tank. 13 more for Turbin with Laurinaitis and the whole line just getting manhandled. William Hayes put the don't break in bend-but-don't-break, though, sniffing out and stuffing a 3rd-and-short option run for Wilson to force a FG. Quinn killed the next drive with the Rams’ second sack, riding Russell Okung around the corner until pressure ran Wilson right to him, and the secondary closed out the win with one of several big plays. Um, the Rams are may get slaughtered next time they play Seattle if their lines play like this week again, but for another week, the defense made just enough clutch plays to survive.
* Secondary: The Rams continue to get Pro Bowl-level play from rookie Janoris Jenkins, though this week he provided it in other ways than just pass coverage. He stuffed Lynch on an ill-conceived 90-flip to kill a Seahawk drive and was also an effective blitzing weapon. He came in clean and hit Wilson as he threw in the 3rd, turning a pass attempt into a harmless pop-up fielded by Rocky McIntosh for an INT. That wasn’t the Rams’ first INT. That came when Trumaine Johnson blasted Doug Baldwin in the 2nd and took the ball right off him. The Rams weren’t done intercepting Wilson, either. In the final 2:00, for the second straight home game, they got a big play from the Turf Monster, tripping TE Anthony McCoy and leaving Bradley Fletcher the receiver for Wilson’s last pass, with Fletcher finally catching a ball for a change. The Rams have 8 INTs in 4 weeks; they had 12 all of last season. The front office put a lot of resources into this unit this offseason, an investment that is paying off handsomely. The secondary is carrying the whole defense.
* Strategery: Credit to Brian Schottenheimer for getting back to what worked the first two weeks. As opposed to the Bears game, Bradford got the ball out quicker, empty backfields were fewer and the gameplan was much more balanced, nearly 50/50 run-pass. Encouraging that he found ways to use the young receivers and played to their strengths. Impressive that the Rams kept Clemons and Irvin as quiet as they did, though probably at the expense of the running game. Where Schottenheimer could have helped Jackson a lot by not trying to run behind Turner as often as he did, or by using D-Rich as a true change-of-pace back. I wouldn’t change the workloads much, but I think it would help to get D-Rich into more than the 1-2 drives per game he appears limited to currently.
This was also a case of the Rams' coaches beating Seattle's. Several times Seattle got away from the ground-and-pound that was clearly working to try something fancy like a 90-flip or a QB option. And failed. Then, when the Rams' special teams trickery worked to perfection before halftime, Pete Carroll felt he had to try to up the ante, calling for an onsides kick, a high risk that failed and cost Seattle three points. It's been well too long since the Rams scored this clear a coaching victory. Now they're the team fooling the other guys with the trash fake FG play. Jeff Fisher has this team playing with more attitude than three years of Steve Spagnuolo raised to the power of three years of Scott Linehan (which math tells us may actually result in a fraction). They never play like they’re out of a game. They bounce back from their mistakes. Fisher’s built a team with winning character in what, two months? What the hell took everybody else so long?
* Upon further review: A hearty welcome-back to Mike Carey and crew; the presence of real NFL referees played a significant role for the Rams. Fisher seemed to suggest in a postgame interview that they wouldn't have tried the fake FG without the regular referees in the game. If that was the line judge who threw the flag after the fake, I'm not sure why; it's kind of his job to keep track of Amendola, but the crew conferred quickly and got the call right. After Seattle benefited richly from refs who couldn't do their jobs Monday night, they were hurt by refs doing their jobs right this week. Breno Giacomini killed two Seattle drives with personal fouls for chippy play the players all got away with the first three weeks, leading to games getting out of control. Carey and crew, though, kept the lid on that kind of thing. Love 'em or hate 'em, real referees make a big difference. Grade: A
* Cheers: Took just a little bit to warm up, but the Dome quickly returned to ear-splitting sound levels that should have TV sideline reporters breaking out the decibel meter before too long. Seattle only false-started once, but imagine what we can do in St. Louis if we ever actually sell out the place. 50,000 is probably a generous number for yesterday’s crowd. (Here is where I’m obliged by law to note the Cardinals are in a playoff race and were also at home Sunday.) The entertaining thing about D'Marco Farr on radio and Mike Martz on TV was how much they sounded alike, dropping terms like “bare fronts” and “the bubble” on running downs, and getting over Bradford for failing to mix up his snap counts. No wonder the Martz-era Rams were so good: he and his players shared minds! Good thing, as he told on TV, that Martz eventually figured out that Kurt Warner was not the guy who was supposed to help him move into his office, though. Rams victory plus Mike Martz Greatest Show on Earth stories FTW.
* Who’s next?: The task gets no easier for the Rams from here, as the schedule-maker has given them a whole four days to prepare for a stupid Thursday night game against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. I doubt I need remind anyone that the Rams have not beaten the Big Dead in St. Louis since 2004. I also doubt I need remind the Rams coaching staff that they should KICK THE HELL AWAY FROM PATRICK PETERSON; being too stupid to figure that out themselves helped hasten the last staff's exit. Another reminder: don't put too much stock in preseason games. The Big Dead of August were bland on both sides of the ball, and their shaky quarterbacking and porous offensive line made them look very beatable.
The September Cardinals, though, have thrived on a blitz that has left offenses gasping for air and wondering what just hit them. It's also made its architect, Ray Horton, the hottest coordinator in the NFL. Horton rendered the Eagle offense all but helpless last week. Arizona pretty much brings somebody every down, and with lightning-quick rushers like Daryl Washington, O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho, has been lethal with blitzes right up the middle. Arizona will blitz anybody from anywhere at any time, but if the Rams don't have an answer for that middle blitz, it's going to be a very long night. One thing they're going to have to do is attack the edges. The ball has to get out quickly. Arizona's formidable defensive speed makes that easier said than done, though, so the other thing the Rams are going to have to do is run, run, and run some more. I'd especially run at Acho, who's much more interested in rushing the passer. Let Daryl Richardson use his speed to get outside, keep Steven Jackson in on passing downs; he needs to have a near-perfect game in blitz protection and can be a weapon on the counter-attack. You're probably saying, the Cards always blitz all the time, what makes them so tough now? Horton's gambling is backed up by a suffocating secondary. Peterson's already approaching elite shutdown corner status, and veteran safety Kerry Rhodes has filled in more than ably for injured Adrian Wilson. Seattle hung around for 60 minutes in Arizona by sticking to the running game. Philly's pass-happy attack got them blown out. Brian Schottenheimer's strategic options should be pretty clear. (Then again, I wrote this before Brian Freaking Hartline burned the Big Dead for 250 yards receiving. I hope Schottenheimer DVRed that game.)
Arizona's D may even be enough to make up for their offense being Larry Fitzgerald and ten just-a-guys. Defenses almost always seem to get caught taking their eye off of Fitzgerald, which, don't. Keep a safety over the top of him all game and make them beat you with somebody else. The Rams ought to have ability in their secondary to spare to handle Andre Roberts. The Cardinal o-line is limited beyond handling 4-man rushes,with the ball coming out quick. The right side of the line, rookie tackle Bobby Massie and veteran guard Adam Snyder, has been pretty much a joke, Lyle Sendlein's play has dropped quite a bit at center, and D'Anthony Baptiste looks in over his head at left tackle. And the guy they're protecting, Kevin Kolb, has the kind of pocket presence that makes Jay Cutler look like Ben Roethlisberger. The Ram d-line needs to unleash the fury and feast on these guys. The Rams defensive staff should flex some creativity Thursday night, hit them with plenty of blitzes and twists and stunts. But the D had better play a WHOLE lot better against the run, than both this week and than last year's Arizona game here, when they let Beanie Wells break loose for 220. Wells, predictably, is out injured; he's replaced by Ryan Williams, basically a rookie, built in the Ray Rice mode, a bowling ball-type with a strong lower body. Just get your tackling shoes on and don't let him roll too many strikes.
Jeff Fisher’s done an excellent job turning the Rams into a team that punches above its weight. They’ll be doing that from the get-go Thursday night, with little time to prepare for one of this year’s NFL heavyweights, as weird as it may be that Bill Bidwill’s Cardinals are in that role. Both teams have been good this season at bouncing back up from knockdown blows. The key on Thursday may be to be the guy who throws the last one.
Game stats from nfl.com