RamView, October 21, 2012
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #7: Packers 30, Rams 20
The standings said both teams were 3-3 coming into this week's game, but forgot to mention that the Packers are in a different league than the Rams. To join that league, and stay with teams like the Packers, the Rams have to start making a lot more plays, and a lot less mistakes.
Position by position:
* QB: Sam Bradford had a pretty average game (21-34-255
, 82.4 PR
), and the Rams don’t appear to have the kind of offense that’ll win games with Bradford being just average. Goes both ways, though, which is where I’d rather see the focus going instead of the blame-the-QB analysis that’s starting to germinate here in the fan base. I see Bradford making clear progress this season. He’s finding receivers open downfield that he wouldn’t have considered open in college or as a rookie. He’s staying with the play longer, and standing taller in the pocket, but also uses his mobility better to extend plays or get out of trouble. Opening drive of the game, he beats a blitz with a perfectly good throw to a deep corner route, but Lance Kendricks incorrectly cut off his route instead, ending the drive. Another drive ended with the Rams trying a screen pass on 3rd-and-7. Not happening. Bradford had a TD dialed up to Austin Pettis in the 1st, but Pettis got tangled up by Casey Hayward instead and hit the deck. No six, just an incomplete. Bradford’s got the “make-it-happen” ability some think he lacks; on a 2nd-quarter flea-flicker, the toss barely got to him, and he had to step away from a blitz, but he still fired a back-footed pass to Chris Givens for a nice gain, a play a safety-first QB never makes. Later in the 2nd, 4th-and-2, he throws a ball right into Brandon Gibson’s hands. Clank. Bradford did kill a drive at the end of the 1st half after taking his eye off a shotgun snap, but he had the presence of mind to scoop and scoot with the ball out of bounds to preserve a FG. And though heavily pressured on his interception in the 3rd, Bradford still made a pretty bad play, really just chucking the ball up for grabs. It doesn't step out and announce itself every week, but the Rams are a young, improving team with a young, improving QB. The two things aren't independent of one another.
* RB: The Rams opened the game with a pretty classic running attack, and with Steven Jackson (12-57) leading the charge, you got some classic Jackson in the 1st quarter, running strong and crashing off defenders. The time-sharing with Darrell Richardson is keeping Jackson fresh, and he’s been a stronger runner lately. After Jackson softened the Packer defense up, D-Rich (8-36) hit them for a first down on 3 tough inside runs, followed by a sweet play and play-call to open the 2nd. They lined up with tight ends trips right and tossed right to D-Rich with Barry Richardson and Harvey Dahl pulling. 11 of the easiest yards you ever saw. And the cheese kept softening. Jackson ran away from a blitz and around left end for 19 in the 2nd, followed a little later by an 11-yard run he bounced outside. The Rams had 93 yards rushing at halftime and were down only 10-6, but couldn’t re-launch the ground-and-pound attack in the 2nd half because the Packer offense played keep-away too well. But one of their 6 runs (for just 15 yards) was the first TD by a Rams RB this year, Jackson’s 6-yard run right up the middle to make it 20-13. Other than Brit Miller’s terrible dropped pass in the 3rd, the Rams got excellent all-around play from the backfield. Jackson and D-Rich pass-protected well, and D-Rich (3-43 receiving) turned a couple of short passes into big gains on the Rams’ final scoring drive. This game would have looked a lot different had the Rams been able to keep two of their best weapons on the field.
* Receivers: The Rams had the right idea when they drafted Chris Givens (3-73), and they know how to use him. Defenses have to respect his deep speed, which we saw with the huge cushion he got on the flea flicker play that gained 19 in the 1st. He’s the one Ram WR who’s dangerous after he’s got the ball, so the Rams smartly used him on an end-around that gained 14, and on the 4th-quarter screen pass that, due mostly to his speed, he broke wide open for a 52-yard gain, giving Givens an unprecedented 4th straight week with a play of 50+ yards. No other Ram receiver really posed a threat this week, except to his own team. Brandon Gibson (5-60) had a couple of catches to convert 3rd downs early, but dropped a 4th-down slant in the 2nd, and as usual after a Gibson drop, dropped off the face of the earth afterward. He did surface late in the game to drop another ball thrown right into his hands. Lance Kendricks (2-5) should have been wide open on a corner route against a blitz in the 1st but broke his route off instead. Austin Pettis (2-17) caught a late meaningless TD, but missed a chance for a meaningful TD in the 1st after tripping up. No one’s proving capable of filling Danny Amendola’s slot receiver role. Pettis or Steve Smith (4-26) would be ideal for it, but late in the game, you’ve got Smith brilliantly running a 3-yard route on 4th-and-5. That’s some veteran savvy right there. Brian Quick (2-31) only got off the bench for the last two minutes, catching a slant for 22 and making a tough catch against Davon House to set up Pettis’ TD. Unlike Givens, though, the Rams are getting a pretty poor return on their draft investment in Quick so far. They could use somebody besides Givens who can be a playmaker the first 58 minutes of the game.
* Offensive line: The offensive line held up quite well despite starting a whole new left side, with Joe Barksdale at tackle and not-ESPN’s Shelley Smith at guard, bumping the just-cut-again Quinn Ojinnaka. Clay Matthews burned Barksdale for a sack in the 3rd, but that was the only “real” sack of the 3 charged to the Rams. There was pressure on Bradford throughout the game, but nothing he couldn’t handle. On passing downs, the center of the line pretty consistently created solid pockets for Bradford to step up into. Smith was actually pretty impressive, especially as a run-blocker, but he also pancaked the DT to allow Bradford to step up and hit Gibson for 14 on 3rd-and-long in the 1st. He had strong blocks on both of Jackson’s long 2nd-quarter runs. Robert Turner also had good blocks on those runs, and on Jackson’s TD run, Steven ran through a hole Turner opened up on the other side of a real wall created by Smith and Barksdale. Matthew Mulligan’s drive block and Lance Kendricks’ seal block opened up D-Rich’s 11-yard toss right nicely to open the 2nd, with Harvey Dahl and Barry Richardson doing nice jobs on the pull. Though Turner had trouble with Ryan Pickett a couple of times to get Jackson stuffed for losses, the Rams ran and run-blocked well. There was double trouble on Bradford’s interception, where he got hurried from both sides. Eric Walden got B-Rich off-balance with a stutter move, and Mulligan got beaten badly by Matthews on the left side, but I think the whole problem there is trying to have Matthew Mulligan block Clay Matthews one-on-one in the first place. Why do that? When matched up properly, despite taking the makeshift line concept to the next level, the Rams had a pretty solid, pretty impressive game up front.
* Defensive line/LB: RamView found one player pretty disappointing this week, but let’s not let that spoil a lot of the good the team did up front. Run defense excelled throughout the game. James Laurinaitis was all over the place and stuffed Alex Green repeatedly. Robert Quinn whipped LT Marshall Newhouse the whole first half. The Rams 3-and-outed the Packers immediately, with Kendall Langford stuffing a run and Quinn sacking Aaron Rodgers despite being held by Newhouse and despite missing the Packer QB the first time. And the Rams held the Pack to a FG after their onside kick recovery in the 1st thanks again to the pass rush. Quinn and William Hayes flushed Rodgers and Jo-Lonn Dunbar induced him into taking a slide for safety behind the LOS. Next play, Chris Long (mostly) and Quinn collapsed the pocket on Rodgers and directed him right to Michael Brockers for the rookie’s first career sack. Quinn missed other chances at sacking Rodgers in the first half, which was a shame, because the pass rush died after halftime, with the Packers sending blocking help out to the edges and the Rams also running more contain rushes, trying to limit Rodgers’ mobility, and failing. On one play in the 2nd, Quinn chased Rodgers around like a dog chasing his own tail, but Rodgers hit Green for an 8-yard gain after a couple of laps in the backfield. Quinn at least put some heat on Rodgers. The big disappointment was Long, who almost didn’t even register on the stat sheet, unless you count stupid offsides penalties. After Brockers inhaled Green for a big loss in the 1st, on 3rd-and-3, Long jumped offside, and Rodgers took advantage of the free play to hit Nelson with a 52-yard bomb to set up Green Bay’s first TD. Randall Cobb got away from Quinn and Jermelle Cudjo for 22 to set up a FG immediately after that. The Packers took over the clock in the 2nd half, holding the ball for over two-thirds of it. They countered the Ram blitz successfully with draws and quick screens. Cobb converted a couple of 3rd downs that way, breaking bad tackle attempts by Dunbar. Green Bay converted after having 2nd-and-20 late in the 3rd, leading to a FG. Green turned a little dumpoff into 13, then on 3rd-and-7, Long jumps offside AGAIN to make the 3rd down that much easier. The dagger came with 3:30 left to play. On 3rd-and-9, guess what Long does? JUMPS OFFSIDE AGAIN, along with Langford. Rodgers says, yay!, free play, rolls right and hits Cobb with a 39-yard laser beam for the coups de grace TD. Aaron Rodgers is one of the elite QBs of this era; give him an inch and he’ll take a mile. Or, in this case, 91 yards and a TD, courtesy of boneheaded play by Long. Not just this week, this season, is starting to look like a disappointment for Long compared to his breakout 2011 season. Playing like Jimmie Jones for 60 minutes this week doesn’t help.
* Secondary: Probably this week's most disappointing development is the completion of Janoris Jenkins' recent slippage from Pro Bowl-quality play to Justin King-quality play. That sure looked like Justin in the #21 jersey in this game. Jenkins didn't cover anybody all day. Jordy Nelson (8-122) whipped him off the line early for a 15-yard slant, then did it again on a go route for 52 later in the 1st. And Jenkins' poor coverage had nothing to do with Long jumping offside. He just got beat. Badly. This may have led to a fateful decision to lay the corners five yards or more off the Packer receivers the rest of the game, which in turn led to Jenkins and Bradley Fletcher getting tiki-takaed to death. Neither of them seemed able to close on a route to save their lives. James Jones (6-53) wide open in front of Jenkins for a 1st down on 2nd-and-8 in the 2nd. A little later, it's Nelson wide open in front of Fletcher, who gave him a SIX yard cushion on 3rd and THREE, for a 1st. The Rams opened the 2nd half by forcing a 3rd-and-8 but did themselves in again with soft coverage. Nelson wide open in front of Fletcher for the 1st. A big gain by Jones off a slant with Fletcher laying five yards off him. Jones in front of Jenkins in soft zone coverage for 17. Even Cortland Finnegan got beat this week, by, who else, Nelson, to convert a 3rd-and-6 inside the 10. That set up Randall Cobb's (8-89) first TD, made very possible by Jenkins looking into the backfield AGAIN instead of paying attention to his man. Same thing that got him burned in Miami for a TD. Same thing that has been a very well-known problem of his since at least the Senior Bowl all the way back in January. This isn't something he's regressed to; it's something somebody hasn't coached out of him. Might want to get cracking there. But King, er, Jenkins, wasn't done getting beat. He's FIVE yards off Jones on 3rd and TWO in the 4th. Surprise, first down. Later that drive, at least EIGHT yards off Nelson on 3rd and FOUR. Surprise, another first down. Jenkins was an absolute horrid mess this week. Fletcher wasn't much better. He got close to defending Nelson's first TD catch, but again, gave him too much room to start out with and was at least a step late. Trumaine Johnson broke up a TD attempt to Jones in the 4th and was the unlucky sap beaten by Rodgers' 40-yard laser to Cobb for the final Packer TD. Craig Dahl actually broke up a TD attempt to Jones in the 4th – yes, that's Craig Dahl actually getting over to provide safety help in time on a deep pass – but also kept the first Packer TD drive alive with an illegal contact penalty. The Rams blitzed a lot, putting pressure on the secondary and perhaps also affecting the strategy back there. Hopefully the kind of pressure the Packer offense puts on a secondary is unique, because the Ram secondary simply could not handle it this week.
* Special teams: The good news: Legatron is back on track. Greg Zuerlein was true on both his FG attempts, neither of which was a gimme: 50 yards and 44. And Johnny Hekker’s fine rookie season continued, as he averaged just under 50 a punt. The bad news: really getting fooled by the Packers’ onside kick in the 1st. Trumaine Johnson was the only Ram to really spot what was happening, and he nearly made a leaping play on the ball, but got helicoptered by Jarrett Bush instead. And crashed. And for some reason, Austin Pettis was picked as this week’s punt returner. What does he do his first attempt? Try to return a kick with a defender bearing right down on him (granted, he was coming illegally from out of bounds) and nearly get killed. Did no one on the coaching staff see any tape of Pettis attempting to return punts last year? Same thing. Pettis fair-caught the rest of the game, which better be his last week back there. If Jenkins played his way out of the job last week, OK, but why not use Givens or Isaiah Pead? Anybody but Pettis.
* Strategery: The offensive gameplan had some good pieces, but not enough, as it ran aground on some of its same old red zone problems. Thought it was smart of Brian Schottenheimer to run and throw away from Clay Matthews’ side a lot. He mixed in effective trickery, with the early end-around to Givens and the flea-flicker. Defying recent trends, the offense was run-first, at least in the first half, but then the Rams again decide to quit doing what they were successful with in scoring range and become a pass-first attack again. And a lot of the pass plays were not effective ones. One drive ended on a 3rd-and-7 screen pass. From the Packer 22 in the 2nd, a drag to Givens out of a 3-TE set lost yardage. Then the Rams have to waste a timeout because they can’t get the play in. Then, yes, a run, but weirdly, a toss to Isaiah Pead, and it’s run into a blitz. Then a 3-yard pass to Pettis on 3rd-and-long that came up just short. And it’s still one run, three passes after getting into scoring range, including the 4th-down Gibson drop. An ill-conceived play-action screen for Kendricks once the Rams got in range slowed up the 1st half 2:00 drive. With the Rams backed up on their goal line in the 3rd, where does the idea come from to try to block Matthews with a tight end? A negative play there should not have been a surprise. Run more of that great toss sweep to D-Rich behind trips formation, and given this receiving corps’ lack of YAC, a lot more 3rd-down pass routes deep enough to get the first down, please.
After thinking the Rams had a secondary talented enough to compete with the Packers’ receivers going into this week, I was deeply disappointed to see Jeff Fisher keep the DBs in marshmallow-soft zones most of the game. How in the world can you leave DBs eight yards off the line on 3rd-and-3? If there was concern that the secondary would get burned deep, a solution I would have liked better here would have been to cut back on the blitzing. Blitzing plus soft coverage was just an invitation to Rodgers to rat-a-tat-tat on the Ram defense the way he did.
Down 30-13 late, Fisher’s decision to keep firing away caught me off-guard. The Rams’ last two head coaches would have knelt out the game on offense. So at first, I liked it. Fight to the end. But, you’re going to have to score really fast, so why is Givens on the bench the entire time? Turns out it was just an attempt to get reps for Quick, and probably also Pettis. Inventive of Fisher to use the end of a blowout game to extend preseason, but I'm not sure what message that sends when it's regular season. Always be ready to play, I guess.
* Upon further review: No major problems from Bill Vinovich and crew, though Rodgers false started for sure on one of the Rams’ offsides. You can’t run two steps forward out of shotgun and fake like you’re taking the snap; that’s the very definition of a false start. Jackson got taken down by his facemask early in the game, without a call, but the refs got Finnegan for a helmet grab late in the game. Same rule for both sides, stripes. Agreed with Brian Billick on Fox that the roughing call when Dezman Moses launched and hit Jackson high was a good one. Disagreed with Savard and Farr in the radio booth, who apparently are happy to see defenders go after Steven’s head whenever they want. Let’s give the refs a B this week.
* Cheers: If President Obama or Mitt Romney wanted to make a pitch to Wisconsin voters on Sunday, they could have just come to the Dome. There had to be 20,000, if not 25,000 Packers fans at the game. It not only sounded like a Green Bay home game at times, it looked like one the whole game. Whose BRILLIANT idea was it to suit the Rams up in all-white Good Humor man duds so the Packers could wear their HOME green? I’ll say this, though; Rams fans clearly won the sound battle. Either Packers fans don’t know when to cheer, or they’re polite guests. Now, if the HOME team would quit jumping early more often (three times) than the visitors actually do (one false start)…
* Who’s next?: Pack your bags, grab your passport, mind the gap, enjoy a pint or two and root on the Rams against the Patriots in the stupidest home game in the history of the franchise, 4,200 miles away from the Dome in London's Wembley Stadium. I'm not sure if the exchange rate on payback is any different in England, but the Rams' account with New England is overdue for sure. A fateful day in February 2002 started a 3-game winning streak over the Rams by the Pats, who’ve had the referees in their pocket all three games, including a 23-16 win in '08 keyed by a career passing day by... Matt Cassel. And when Jeff Fisher thinks of the Patriots, he doesn't see London fog, he sees a snowy fall day in Boston and the worst beating he ever took as a head coach, a 59-0 blistering from Brady and Belichick. Fisher's had three years to stew over that loss. Will he hold a grudge as well with the Rams as he once did against the Rams?
The Ram defense should be familiar with a lot of the Patriot offense already. They just got done playing a similar fast-break passing attack. They spent the past year practicing against an offense run by now-Patriots OC Josh McDaniels. The Patriot passing game next week figures to run through Wes Welker, from whom Danny Amendola may have been cloned. If the 1-2 tight end punch of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez is still banged up, which I doubt either a 9-hour flight or socialized health care will help, the Rams are a better fit for defending the Pats than they were for the Pack, with Finnegan shadowing Welker in the slot. Much more trouble, though, if the TEs are healthier. Not only will the Patriot offense run through them, but the Rams will be relying on Craig Dahl in coverage a lot, though they did move Jenkins over on Jermichael Finley at times this week. Another reason the Rams match up better against the Pats than the Pack: Tom Brady’s a stick in the pocket. The Rams won’t have to waste pass rush opportunities with contain rushes and won’t get killed by Brady fleeing the pocket, though he sure can kill you many other ways. Robert Quinn has an exceptionally favorable matchup vs. Nate Solder; he should be able to draw TE blocking help, which will also help the secondary. But Chris Long has to get the job done against Sebastian Vollmer. This would be a good week to get him back on track.
On most offenses, the guards are the weak link, and that’s where Bill Belichick relishes attacking with his defense. The Ram guards have to be exceptionally assignment-sound and able to disengage from double-teams to keep Brandon Spikes and Jerrod Mayo from slashing through the gaps. Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love are serious obstacles for the Rams’ middle-running game and will demand double-teams. Rookie Chandler Jones has already been good for about a sack a game, and Rob Ninkovich is one of those guys Belichick seems to always scheme into the right place at the right time. He’s a guy Bradford has to look out for on every down. If the Rams keep Bradford’s jersey clean, the Patriot secondary is poor and exceptionally attackable, relying lately on 7th-round pick Alphonso Dennard and 2nd-round pick (who most saw as a 7th-rounder at best) Tayvon Wilson. Chris Givens can get behind this secondary with ease and open up the field for the rest of the passing game. Given the Rams’ other receiving challenges, I’d like to see D-Rich getting the ball downfield a lot. Brian Schottenheimer should be familiar enough with New England to style a credible game plan. Just make sure not to quit running the ball when it’s working.
The Hoodie has tormented three past Rams head coaches, and current head man Fisher also has a three-game losing streak against him, last beating the Patriots in 2002. Can the Rams kill two birds with one stone (henge) in London? If they learn and adjust from their mistakes against the Packers, an Olympic-sized upset could be in the cards.
Game stats from nfl.com