RamView, November 11, 2012
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #9: Rams 24, ***** 24
What a weird game, and what a missed opportunity for the Rams, who must have let it slip from their grasp a dozen different times, and come away from it with a tie that feels a little more like a loss than a win, despite the good they did. At least the ***** have used up their luck for the season.
Position by position:
* QB: Sam Bradford makes a difference. In three starts behind him (26-39-275, 104.1 PR
), the Rams have taken the ***** to OT twice in their place, and are a couple of penalty flags from being 3-0 in those starts. Uncowed by one of the NFL’s best defenses, Bradford took the Rams straight downfield the first time they had the ball and came away with 7 points, on a 36-yard sideline strike to Brian Quick. He had two completions the next drive as the Rams marched out front 14-0. Bradford made several key plays in the 3rd to get the Rams an insurance FG. On an early 2nd-and-10, the ***** blew up a backside screen for Steven Jackson, but Bradford quickly found Austin Pettis on the opposite sideline for 8. On 3rd-and-7, a key quick out to Steve Smith for 7. 3 plays later on 3rd-and-14, Bradford hit Steven Jackson to kick off an epic play and get another first, and a smoke route to Old Reliable, Danny Amendola, got 15 more and put the Rams in easy FG range. Bradford’s reward? Defense and special teams almost immediately squander that 10-point lead. So it’s up to Sam to rally the Rams back in the 4th quarter, though he first has to get some fake punt magic from Johnny Hekker, who could be the Rams’ 2nd-best QB. On 3rd-and-9, Bradford caught the ***** napping, quick-snapped them and hit Amendola for 17, then Brandon Gibson for 14, at the 14, at the 2:00 warning. A quick slant to Amendola got the Rams to the 2, then Bradford appeared to complete the comeback by finding Pettis in the back of the end zone for a 24-21 lead. But no, the defense can’t hold that lead, either, not even for a minute. So we go to OT, and on the first play, Bradford fires a perfect deep strike to Amendola, who flies down the sideline for 80 yards, and this game is all but done. BUT NO. Gibson lined up illegally. Bradford has to try again later in OT. His 10-yard laser to Amendola on 3rd-and-4 set up a 53-yard FG attempt for Greg Zuerlein. And it’s good! Rams win! BUT NO. Delay of game, go kiss your sister. Bradford couldn’t have done a lot more. He did blow a snap that killed a promising drive at midfield. They settled for the 3rd-quarter FG because he failed to read a blitz and handed off to Jackson for a big loss. Thought he could have checked out of that and thrown to Amendola again. Bradford did far more right this week anyway. He stood strong in the pocket all game and fired darts. No deer in the headlights, he didn’t flinch at this opponent or at any game situation. Turns out what the Ram offense has lacked against the ***** in recent games is leadership. With Bradford running the show, they compete.
* RB: Speaking of leadership, and competing, those wanting to run Steven Jackson (29-101) out of town after this season first need to re-watch this game tape, and explain to me who’s going to replace that. The Rams knew they’d have to answer the *****’ physicality, so they brought their #39 sledgehammer and bashed them with it over and over. Jackson pounded out a 10-yard run to kick off the Rams’ first TD drive, and scored their 2nd TD from the 8, both times behind knockout blocks from Lance Kendricks. Jackson dictated tempo with many punishing, tackle-breaking 3- and 4-yard runs. Daryl Richardson (7-58) was used only lightly, but made the most out of his time on stage, setting up Jackson’s TD with a 32-yard lightning bolt of a run. He found a little crease behind another Kendricks block, withstood a face-mask penalty, shot upfield and split three ***** attempting to close on him, with only Aldon Smith’s shoestring tackle saving the TD. But the signature moment of this game, of his career, even, was Jackson’s in the 3rd. 3rd-and-14 from the 37, he’s wide open for a pass in the seam. Gaining steam, he’s met at midfield by Patrick Willis. And Chris Culliver. Steven’s not stopping. Other ***** arrive. Still not stopping. The Ram o-line cavalry arrives, and Jackson is in the middle of a giant scrum now, a swarm of large, angry men. His helmet comes flying off. Still not stopping. First down. And THAT wasn’t even Jackson’s biggest play. A minute left in this slugfest of a game, the Rams are two yards from paydirt, and here comes Willis blitzing in clean on Bradford for what looks like a game-changing play. But Jackson, an excellent blitz protector, steps in front of the oncoming train and absorbs the blow. It was like two bighorn sheep colliding at full speed in the wild. But Steven is the Ram, Willis was stopped dead in his tracks, and Bradford completed the TD pass. Steven Jackson doesn’t have forever here as a Ram. Nobody does. But tell me who is going to replace that. Maybe nobody. Ever.
* Receivers: Speaking of heart (and in a body half Jackson’s size at that), welcome back, Danny Amendola. Bradford wasted no time welcoming Amendola (11-102) back, hitting him with his first pass of the game. That was followed by an impressive Brian Quick cameo. Quick put Chris Culliver on the ground when he tried to jam him and cruised wide open up the far sideline for a 36-yard TD. But this is Amendola’s passing game. Heck, running game, too; he helped spring D-Rich’s long run in the 2nd, then his 12-yard red zone catch, where he juked Navorro Bowman to the ground, set up Jackson’s TD. One of the key plays of the Rams’ 3rd-quarter FG drive was a 1-yard smoke route that Amendola turned into a 15-yard gain, running through Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson. Danny had three catches on the Rams’ late TD drive, including a 17-yarder on 3rd-and-9. Covering him must be a lot like catching a greased pig. He’s too quick, too slippery. You think you’ve got him and he runs right by you. Amendola’s success came despite Chris Givens’ DNP for disciplinary reasons. It should have been a triumphant comeback. On the first play of OT, Amendola sprinted past Rogers and took a Bradford bomb 80 yards to put the win at hand. Brandon Gibson (3-47), though, who’d already dropped a pass, who regularly fails to adjust routes correctly on blitzes, did not line up correctly on this play, putting the Rams in an illegal formation. KHAAAAAAAAN! Amendola added a catch in OT to put the Rams in FG position that was also squandered. But put him together with Givens to stretch the field, and hopefully Quick or Austin Pettis (who caught the Rams’ late TD) to keep Gibson’s incompetent butt on the bench, and the Rams may yet have something special in the passing game.
* Offensive line: The Rams had a strong day up front, unexpectedly so. The left side did a nice job against the 49er attack of Justin and Aldon Smith. The Rams knew a key to gaining control of the LOS would be in slowing Justin down, and they weren’t afraid to double-team him. Shelley, though, pushed Justin around at times on his own. Aldon got both of the *****’ sacks, one before halftime, one in overtime, both times looping inside while Justin HELD Shelley to keep him from getting a chip on Aldon. This game, though, was night and day from recent meetings where the ***** have dominated the trenches. Rodger Saffold returned at LT and did some good work, as did Harvey Dahl, but the stars were Shelley, Robert Turner and Lance Kendricks. Shelley and Turner did a lot of impressive drive blocking to make room for Jackson and D-Rich up the middle. Kendricks was the impressive one on Jackson’s longest runs. On Jackson’s TD run, Kendricks drove nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga to his knees, Dahl engulfed Patrick Willis and Shelley Smith handled Justin Smith solo with little problem. Kendricks decleated Sopoaga to spring Jackson for 10 early in the game. These are the kind of plays that work when you finally have physical linemen and get blocking from your tight ends you haven’t gotten since Ernie Conwell. With Scott Wells possibly returning to the lineup next week, the Rams may actually have a surplus up front. Turner vs. Shelley at LG suddenly has become a difficult decision. I’m leaning toward Shelley, but I won’t argue with anything Paul Boudreau decides. A line that’s been through a lot of changes is becoming very steady.
* Defensive line/LB: Dammit, if only they’d played four quarters. The Ram defense had an impressive first three. Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers sacked Alex Smith to force a 3-and-out on the opening series. Jermelle Cudjo(!) stopped the next drive by storming into the backfield and dropping Frank Gore for a big loss on 3rd-and-2. Jo-Lonn Dunbar crushed Alex with a clean hit on a scramble late in the 1st that eventually forced the QB out of the game. Couple of plays later, make it 1.5 sacks for Brockers, who got off the ball in a flash and whipped center Jonathan Goodwin. That was still a TD drive for the *****, though. Gore had a couple of 11-yard runs, through and past a very ineffective James Laurinaitis. Chris Long – welcome back, btw – stopped Gore short on 3rd-and-goal, but the Rams accepted a penalty and got burned blitzing the next play for a TD. Then Dunbar’s big hit on Smith turned out to work against the Rams, because it brought fleet-footed Colin Kaepernick into the game, and the Rams showed little ability, or even a clue, towards containing him. Good pressure by Long and pursuit by Quinn stymied Kaepernick early, but Kaepernick soon started taking advantage of their repeated overpursuit by scrambling, running for 66 yards. To that frustration, add the Rams’ perplexing inability to come up with a turnover, EVER. Quintin Mikell stripped Kyle Williams on a screen in the 3rd, Williams falls right on top of it. In the 4th, after a sack by Quinn, Kaepernick dropped the snap, but the ball freaking bounces right to Gore, who runs 12 yards with it. Mario Haggan sacked Kaepernick a couple of plays later, but the Rams squandered that by giving Vernon Davis a free run off the line for 17 on 3rd-and-18. Haggan had a marvelous chance to stuff the 4th-and-1 Gore run in the backfield but couldn’t get off the fullback’s block. 2 plays later, it’s Kaepernick around right end for a 7-yard TD, a play Laurinaitis sniffed out but was too slow to do anything about. Instead of holding a ten-point lead, the Rams fall asleep. And when Isaiah Pead bumbles the ensuing kickoff away, they hit the snooze, letting Gore score in ONE PLAY, a 21-yard run where Long got pinned inside again, Haggan couldn’t get off a block again, and Laurinaitis was a day late and a dollar short, AGAIN. And after the offense grabbed a late 3-point lead, the D couldn’t hold it for even a minute. Quinn and Long get pushed past the pocket, Kaepernick runs for 18. Quinn and Long get pushed past the pocket, Kaepernick for 11. Kaepernick steps up from Quinn and Long again, 13-yard completion. WHERE IS THE CONTAINMENT? The sleepwalking Rams were lucky just to keep the ***** out of the end zone at the end. They didn’t rally in OT, either, giving up ANOTHER big Kaepernick run to set up a FG attempt that David Akers amazingly missed. The D FINALLY made a couple of plays late in OT. Laurinaitis stuffed Gore at the 2:00 warning, then Long landed the Rams’ 5th sack after Mikell broke down the pocket with a blitz. The frustrating late play of the defense makes the tie feel like a loss. They failed in the clutch. Laurinaitis was disappointing and Kaepernick repeatedly ran by Long and Quinn. Did no one know Kaepernick can run? Unlike the offense, the defense did not get enough this week from its leaders. That’s how W’s turn into, well, other letters.
* Secondary: Pretty quiet day in the secondary. Alex Smith hates to/can’t throw deep, and Kaepernick ran first, asked questions later. Janoris Jenkins was suspended before the game for disciplinary reasons. They did a great job limiting Vernon Davis (4-30); if only we could say the same for fakeass diva Michael Crabtree (5-70). Craig Dahl lost Crabtree badly twice on the 1st 49er TD drive. The Rams struggled far too much with shallow drag routes; Crabtree beat Dahl, late by a mile, for 14 on 3rd-and-15, setting up a QB sneak on 4th down. As predicted here last week, Trumaine Johnson started, but, laying 10 yards off Crabtree, he got beat for 21. 3rd-and-goal a few plays later, it was Crabtree for the TD, with Dahl well out of position AGAIN and then getting juked with ease. TruJo didn’t always tackle well, and he stopped the clock for the ***** late in regulation with a cramp, in that punishing November Candlestick heat. Bradley Fletcher did break up a sideline pass to Crabtree to save a FG attempt before halftime. Quinton Mikell was effective in the box, forcing a fumble, and as a blitzer, and Quinton Pointer even got on the field without allowing too much damage. Um, don’t count on that very much in the near future. But ultimately, the secondary’s biggest problem this week was that their best cover safety was on the sideline. Well, and that he’s Jeff Fisher.
* Special teams: A manic day on special teams saw punter Johnny Hekker have a more effective game with his arm than his foot. 5 yards deep in his own end zone just before halftime, Hekker sees the ***** drop inside to play for the block, leaving gunner Rodney McLeod all alone wide right for a perfect throw for 21 yards and a 1st down. The punter! Throwing to a backup safety! From his own end zone! And Hekker pulled it off again in the final 2:00 of regulation, with even more on the line, to keep the Rams’ last TD drive alive. After a fake end-around to Amendola, Hekker rolled left and hit Kendricks, wide open for 19. The rest of Hekker’s day was worse, though. He had a brutal 13-yard shank in the 2nd, and he’s ultimately responsible for the delay penalty that killed Greg Zuerlein’s 53-yard attempt in OT. Zuerlein got another crack, from 58, but he overkicked it and faded it right. Isaiah Pead was ineffective on returns and cost the Rams a TD after a critical fumble in the 4th. Amendola had an 62-yard punt return negated, though possibly created, by an illegal Justin Cole block. Though exciting, special teams hurt themselves with too many mistakes this week.
* Strategery: The biggest reason this tie feels like a loss is that it’s very easy to argue that Jeff Fisher blew the win. Fisher first deserves credit, though, for getting the Rams where they are. Not to lose in San Francisco after the Patriot debacle in London is still a very strong rebound. There’s a lot of good coaching going on on this team, especially when you’re willing to trust your punter and a backup safety to execute on a pass from your own end zone on 4th down, and they do, perfectly. Let alone trusting the punter again with a second fake down 4 in the 4th. The players and coaches showed no backdown from taking on the ***** physically. There’s little quarrel with the offensive game plan. Brian Schottenheimer found better run-pass balance in scoring range, and it paid off.. One surprise was that D-Rich was used so little. On defense, I didn’t catch a lot of effective blitzing, (and please never blitz again when you have Quinton Pointer on the field) but the big letdown was that they looked completely unprepared for Kaepernick’s mobility. You’d have to not have scouted the ***** at all not to know that Kaepernick is a dangerous runner. Yet, it sure looked that way, as he sprinted all over the place to keep drives alive while the Rams showed no clue of needing to play more contain with their pass rush. P.S. for next week, guys: Tim Tebow? Is mobile.
But, three times, this game was decided more by questionable game management than by X’s-and-O’s. In the 2nd, Gore came up just short on 3rd-and-2 at the Rams’ 7, but instead of taking 4th down, Fisher took an illegal formation penalty so he could blitz on 3rd-and-7. Crabtree, left all alone in the slot by a blitzing Finnegan, burns that for a TD. Let’s jump to the end of regulation. With the Ram defense rapidly losing effectiveness, Kaepernick running wild and ***** ahead 21-17, you didn’t need to be psychic to guess that if the Rams could retake the lead in the final 2:00, they had better leave as little time on the clock as possible. But when the Rams made the 2-yard line with 1:13 to go, one of Fisher’s two remaining timeouts started burning a hole in his pocket. The Rams scored the next play, which was great; leaving San Francisco a full minute to get within David Akers’ FG range? Not great. Fisher seemingly wanted to settle his offense down. That not only seemed unnecessary, but it kept the ***** alive longer than they deserved. Then, in overtime, when the play clock is running down on Zuerlein’s 53-yard FG attempt, where’s Coach Big Spender to wave around another timeout when his team crucially needs it? Sitting on his hands. This was not game management worthy of a 18-year head coach with a veteran staff. As head coach, Fisher didn’t make the plays when he needed to, and it very likely cost the Rams a win. If not that, then the ridiculous number of penalties, which didn’t go down a bit over the bye week, and for which Fisher is also ultimately accountable. Get these things cleaned up, coach; they aren’t winning football.
* Upon further review: Penalties called by Clete Blakeman and crew certainly decided the game. Zuerlein had a game-winning OT FG redacted by a delay of game flag that didn’t seem to fly till after the ball split the uprights. Amendola had an 80-yard catch in OT taken back by an illegal formation flag seemingly thrown after the play was over. Supposedly the head linesman had to wait to find out if Saffold had reported eligible, which he had to because Gibson lined up wrong. It was at least a correct call. Amendola lost a 62-yard punt return on a block in the back call on Justin Cole that other teams get away with all the time. Speaking of which, Justin Smith was holding all day, including both of Aldon Smith’s sacks. The whole league has complained about him, but Blakeman was much busier squinting at the Rams for holding and wouldn’t give that idea the time of day. SPEAKING OF WHICH. The stadium geniuses in San Francisco left the clock running in the 2nd during a measurement FOR OVER A MINUTE and none of the officials DID THEIR JOB and stopped them. By the time they figured out what happened, a play had run and by rule they couldn’t then go back and fix the clock. It takes a special kind of refereeing crew to actually lose time. Even with the number of controversial calls they made correctly, they made them far too slowly and missed too much else, any of which would have changed the outcome of the game. D-minus-minus
* Cheers: Fox gets an A-plus for the call by Chris Myers and Tim Ryan, who were on top of just about everything, though some things slower than others. Myers was all over the lost 1:12 on the clock but struggled for a long time to clear up why it couldn’t be added back on. He did eventually get there, though. He also made my inner Caddyshack fan happy with this call in the 3rd: “Gore will get nothing, and like it.” Mike Pereira’s expertise to explain the delay on Gibson’s illegal formation in OT was very helpful, though it didn’t make the call any less frustrating. Ryan was absolutely on top of his game, with too many good observations to count. They were a treat to listen to this week and highly informative.
* Who’s next?: Up next for the Rams is one of the NFL’s most baffling teams: the New York Jets, who are more up and down than the planes they’re named after. They’ve been destroyed by the ***** but dismantled the promising Colts. They nearly beat New England last month, then lost to Miami by 3 TDs the next week. The infrequent Rams-Jets series is also odd. The Rams have won 3 of 4 since moving to St. Louis, where the Jets have NEVER won, but the last meeting in 2008, the Rams hit historical bottom, falling behind 40-0 at halftime for interim coach Jim Haslett en route to an embarrassing 47-3 defeat. There’s no telling what you’re going to get any given week from the Jets this season or in this series.
Though it's one of the least talked-about things about the Jets, the key for their offense is the middle running game, which worked against the Patriots and Colts (and how – 253 yards) but didn't against the Dolphins or *****. Shonn Greene's no big-play threat, but he picks up plenty of yards after contact. If Greene gets room behind Nick Mangold, he'll put defenses on their heels and open up play-action. And with middle run defense looking like one of the Rams' weaknesses, the Jets could move the ball here. But if you stop the middle run, the Jets are screwed. Awful Mark Sanchez, who's completed only 53% of his passes for a passer rating below 73, isn't winning anything for them with his arm. He's inaccurate short and deep, immobile, poor at reading the field and recognizing blitzes. He rarely looks past his first read and has a poor feel for the rush. He settles for a lot of dumpoffs and forces terrible throws into coverage. Jeremy Kerley's a productive slot receiver, but if Cortland Finnegan keeps him under wraps, Sanchez doesn't have much else to go to. The whole unit has hands of stone. Rookie Stephen Hill hasn't been much more effective so far than Brian Quick. Sanchez looks for TE Dustin Keller whenever he needs a clutch play; blitz and double-team him on 3rd down and you should come away with some picks. On 3rd-and-short, you can camp on quick slants. The Rams should – should – have enough talent to play tight man on the receivers. Other than his brief fling with Eva Longoria, Sanchez hasn't been around much talent this year. Austin Howard is a very weak link at RT. Jason Smith can't even beat him out. He comes in on heavy formations and on special teams (where he allowed a blocked FG against Miami). Jets fans already want to whack OC Tony Soprano; he's especially criticized because he hasn't found anything for Tim Tebow to do besides be a lame decoy WR and run dive plays out of the Wildcat. The media drumbeat is crescendoing for Tebow to take over as starter. If it happens this week, let’s hope the Rams coaching staff actually realizes he is a threat to run with the ball. The rest of the dominoes should still fall, though, as long as the Rams take care of the middle run.
The Rams have had plenty of problems in the past with Ryan family defenses, but even before the Jets lost Darrelle Revis for the season (torn ACL), their defense really didn't back up its, or its head coach's, ample talk. Maybe it's because they haven't played the Big Dead yet, but the Jets only had 12 sacks through 8 games. No player had more than 2. Muhammad Wilkerson is about their only lineman who stands out. Quick rookie Quinton Coples is one of their sack “leaders”. The Jets blitz less from the secondary without Revis, though Ryan is infatuated with his delay blitzes. Antonio Cromartie has enough speed to make up for a lot of what Revis brought, but Ryan's secondary settles a lot for soft zone coverage. And Cromartie bites on double-moves, which should set up big plays for Chris Givens, assuming no further “team rules violations”. Kyle Wilson should be very attackable man-to-man. LaRon Landry reads QBs very well and is good in run support, but offenses have neutralized Ryan's pressure D by getting the ball out quickly. Running left has also been very successful against the Jets. Success up front will depend a lot on the health of nose tackle Sione Pouha, who's battled back problems. The main hallmark I've seen of the Ryan defense this year is poor discipline and dumb penalties. Play smart and you beat these guys.
And that’s the challenge, isn’t it? The Rams lost a golden opportunity this week because they didn’t play or coach quite smart enough. You can’t get away with that against a top team like the *****. The Jets, unless Tebow is Arisen, are not in that tier. The Rams will beat the Jets if they don’t beat themselves. If those are raised expectations, it’s good to have them this early in Jeff Fisher’s term. And if he cleans up his team’s mistake-prone ways and his own game management, he’ll meet them.
Game stats from nfl.com