RamView, November 18, 2012
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #10: Jets 27, Rams 13
A colossal letdown in St. Louis sees the Rams crap the bed and turn the reeling Jets into world-beaters in front of the biggest home crowd of the season. With the Jets walking in and doing everything to the Rams the Rams were supposed to do to them, which is the franchise heading in the wrong direction again?
Position by position:
* QB: Nothing more rewarding then spending three hours of your life watching “franchise QB” Sam Bradford get outplayed by Mark Freaking Sanchez, but here we are. Sanchez (15-20-178, 118.3 PR
) was the capable, game-managing QB this week, while Bradford (23-44-170, 67.4 PR
) was the rattled mess with the 52% completion rate throwing terrible interceptions and near-picks and missing open receivers. And Bradford even got off to a solid start, going 6-8-60 in leading the Rams to a quick opening TD. He beat a blitz with a quick pass to Danny Amendola on an early 3rd-and-3, then hit Austin Pettis up the seam with a pretty pass for 36. 4th-and-goal at the 2, he connected with Brandon Gibson wide open in the end zone for the early lead, and this game looked like it was going to go swimmingly. Except Bradford drowned. Faked into thinking a blitz was coming in the 2nd, Bradford air-mailed a terrible, lazy 2-yard out route that was picked off by Eric Smith. Bradford was able at times to catch the Jets with quick snaps and with hard counts that got them to tip their hand, but he, his line and Brian Schottenheimer's miserable excuse for a game plan eventually got overwhelmed by the Jet blitz. Later in the 2nd, he got sacked and stripped by Muhammad Wilkerson for a fumble that led to a Jet TD. Bradford was looking deep and had little chance to protect the ball because Shelley Smith was beaten so badly so quickly. Looking downfield again the next drive on 3rd down, Bradford's hit by blitzing David Harris as he throws, pass flutters incomplete. Right before halftime, another sideline floater is nearly pick-sixed by the immortal Ellis Lankster, and another Harris blitz on 3rd down causes a messed-up throw that misses a wide-open Pettis. The Jets didn't have to blitz to rattle Bradford in the 3rd, as on a 3rd-and-1, he'd miss Amendola badly, wide open on a corner route. The next drive ended on a pass in the flat well over Daryl Richardson's head. Bradford had no answer for the Jets for three quarters, until he went into his rookie shell of dinks and dunks late in the game and hit Gibson for a second, meaningless TD with possibly the first perfect end zone fade pass of his career. Granted, Sam Bradford didn't get a lot of help this week from his line, his receivers or his coaches. Then again, he didn't help his receivers a ton, either, staring them down and leading them into kill shots from the Jets like the one on Pettis in the 2nd. Sam just was not good, and the Ram passing game was about as ugly as it gets. River City filed into the stadium this week expecting a win. Much of it filed out early and full of doubt in the face of the franchise. The bar's been raised for you, Sam; don't bump your head on it too many more times.
* RB: The only Ram who came to play, naturally, was the one you hear the Rams may not want to bring back next year. And this week, the Rams running game was only about keeping the Jet defense honest so the Rams could try to pass on them a lot. Steven Jackson (13-81) and the running game, though, were effective out of the box. First play of the game, Steven cuts back for 11 behind Harvey Dahl and runs through a LB. In the 2nd, a vintage Jackson run for 21 put the Rams in FG range in one play. Jackson cut back right, ran over Antonio Cromartie, and dragged Calvin Pace and a DB another 8 yards. The passing game squandered that with a fumble. Jackson had a couple of 7-yard runs during a 3rd-quarter drive, one a draw play where ran through five people. The Rams squandered that drive passing, on 3rd-and-2. By the 4th, the Rams had fallen too far behind to run, not helped by Daryl Richardson's (6-26) costly fumble, jarred out by LaRon Landry putting his helmet on the ball. The backs were still key to the Rams' last TD drive. Jackson kicked it off with a 20-yard run through a parted sea on the left side. D-Rich took a swing pass 18 yards to get the Rams near the goal line. The Jets came in as one of the worst run defenses in the league; the Rams RBs averaged well over 5 yards a touch; seems a shame the run wasn't a bigger part of the game plan. And though Steven wasn't great at it, watching D-Rich flail around trying to pick up blitzes makes one worry that the Rams' long-term running game plan could be as short-sighted as this week's short-term plan.
* Receivers: Who knew that Brandon Gibson was the red-zone receiving weapon the Rams have been searching for? Though he had just 3 catches for 9 yards, two of them were for TDs, including a nice overhead grab over Antonio Cromartie in the corner of the end zone late in the game. Speaking of overhead grabs, Austin Pettis (2-46) made a very pretty one in the 1st for 36 to set up Gibson's first TD. But the Ram receivers did not get open downfield much. Chris Givens' (4-17) big-play streak is over; he was well-blanketed every time he went deep. Danny Amendola (7-41) continues to battle with his collarbone injury and picked up a heel injury to go with it. After a couple of first downs on the Rams' opening TD drive, he had a pretty quiet game. With him and Givens shut down, the rest of the slow-footed Rams receivers were never going to get anywhere, including 33rd-pick overall Brian Quick with his weekly catch (1-9). Lance Kendricks (2-14) showed a little life, but he had a poor game blocking, and his best play, a 17-yard gain off a short drag route, came back because of illegal motion on Amendola. But hey, the receivers did line up correctly every play this week. Sure wish they had a hell of a lot higher floor than that, though.
* Offensive line: The offensive line didn't have a strong game pass-protecting, but was probably the least of the Rams' problems. The Jet blitz collapsed the pocket on Bradford with regularity, but he still had a chance to throw most of the time. They only let Bradford get sacked once, but it was an absolute killer. Muhammad Wilkerson had his way with the Ram line all day, and on a 2nd-and-8 in the 2nd, he whipped Shelley Smith off the snap and hacked at the ball from Bradford's blind side to create a game-changing turnover. Sam gets the pass away if Shelley makes Wilkerson take more than 2 seconds to get there. Barry Richardson also struggled with Wilkerson, never more so than on the play in the 3rd where B-Rich more or less tackled Jackson for a 4-yard loss, getting the tackle by getting steamrolled 4 yards into his own backfield. The Rams also did a poor job accounting for David Harris on blitzes. Rodger Saffold got thrown to the ground to give Harris a blitzing lane to splatter Bradford in the 1st; Kendricks couldn't handle him on a throw near halftime where Bradford missed Pettis wide open. Run-blocking was significantly better, if only the Rams had been allowed to do more of it. Harvey Dahl and Robert Turner made a lot of good blocks for Jackson on his long runs. B-Rich completely stonewalled Calvin Pace on Jackson's 21-yard run in the 2nd. We'll never know, but this might have been a good week to let the Ram o-line thrive on what they do best.
* Defensive line: They didn't stop the run, they didn't force any turnovers, and after the first quarter, they barely put any heat on Sanchez. Other than that, great day for the overrated Rams defensive front. Shonn Greene (18-64) rumbled for 10 to open the game, with conspicuously-quiet Robert Quinn blocked out of the play. Greene made like Steven Jackson a few plays later for 10 more, running over Craig Dahl after William Hayes overpursued badly and Jo-Lonn Dunbar whiffed. Quintin Mikell shut down that drive by safety blitzing for a sack, and jarred the ball from Sanchez, but standard Rams luck this season, it bounced right back to him. Chris Long got the Rams' second sack early the next possession, bulling through Greene's cut block and forcing Sanchez to dive for safety. James Laurinaitis, though, got burned by Joe McKnight on a wheel route for 18 to let the Jets in FG range. The defense saved Bradford's, um, bacon after his poor INT in the 2nd. Janoris Jenkins stuffed Greene and Long whipped Austin Howard with a great bull rush for the Rams' third sack to help force a FG attempt, which Jenkins blocked. Laurinaitis killed a drive by stuffing a fake punt attempt at midfield, but that was about the last time we heard from the Ram defense. Sanchez had no one anywhere near him on either of his long 2nd-quarter passes. That pump-fake play that burned Trumaine Johnson takes time; the Rams gave Sanchez plenty. There was no push up the middle at all as Sanchez hit a dumpoff to get the Jets into FG range. Howard got revenge on Long in the 3rd by blowing him off the line to free Greene for 14. The runs made the Rams brutally vulnerable to Sanchez' 8-yard bootleg later in the 3rd. That kicked off a TD drive. The Jets waltzed into the red zone, caught the Rams overplaying run with a big TE pass, then at the goal line, caught the Rams idiotically overplaying pass, setting Bilal Powell up to walk in with a 5-yard TD. Powell wasn't even touched till he reached the 1, thanks to the Rams playing three down linemen. The Rams remained off-balance in giving up another TD in the 4th. An end-around to Clyde Gates completely fooled them for 12. A screen to Powell burned them for 11 on THIRD AND NINE. Why are the Rams the only team these long-yardage down screen passes ever work on? Meanwhile, third down at the 10, first-round draft pick Michael Brockers gets thrown to the ground to create the hole for another TD run by future Hall-of-Famer Powell, assisted by a lineman turning Dunbar, who barely made a play all day, inside out. All the Rams had to do against the Jets was stop the middle run and put heat on Sanchez, and the rest would have taken care of itself. They only did the latter for a quarter, didn't do the former at all and got pushed around by the sputtering offense of a 3-6 team instead. Pathetic.
* Secondary: Sanchez only threw for 178 yards, but the Rams still managed to give up big plays. Trumaine Johnson may not hold on to that starting job I'd thought he earned very long. Sanchez made him look like the rank rookie he is in the 2nd with a pump fake that got the feared Chaz Schilens (4-48) wide open on a double-move for the first Jets TD. THIS MONTH. TruJo helped set up another Jets FG in the 2nd by leaving Jeremy Kerley (3-43) all alone up the seam for 32, though Quintin Mikell was well late coming over and appeared to take some blame for the play. Mikell was effective in the box and had the Rams' first sack, but also got flattened at the LOS by Konrad Reuland for the wide-open 18-yard pass that set up the Jets' 2nd TD. Janoris Jenkins returned from Jeff Fisher's doghouse and played well. He played the run well and killed the Jets' 2nd drive with a pretty diving play to break up a sideline pass. He blocked a FG attempt in the 2nd, and blanketed Stephen Hill on a deep route before halftime (though they both lost track of the ball). I'm not terribly down on the secondary, even with TruJo's poor play, because of the lack of pressure on Sanchez. Even Cortland Finnegan got beat for a couple of first downs, which hasn't happened much this season. Sanchez played (barf) well, but the Rams were beaten up front by the Jet RBs much more so than by him.
* Special teams: The Rams didn't lack for impact special teams plays. Jenkins blocked a FG attempt, and Laurinaitis stuffed a shovel pass from Tebow out of punt formation (the Rams left the regular defense on the field for that play, though). Chris Givens returned a kickoff for a TD right before halftime but had it called back for a dubious holding penalty on Rodney McLeod. Most of Givens' other returns were poor, with no blocking, though he got a late one across the 40 with good 2nd and 3rd effort. Unfortunately, he and Johnny Hekker (excellent 50.2 average) got a lot more work than Danny Amendola or Greg Zuerlein. And even with Givens' explosive potential, John Fassel has got to get the blocking on kickoffs figured out a lot better. Special teams' biggest contribution this week was to put the Ram offense repeatedly in poor field position.
* Strategery: Leading up to this game, Jets writers cracked wise about Rams OC and former Jets OC Brian Schottenheimer looking like Bill Walsh compared to current Jets OC Tony Soprano. Rams Nation's resounding sentiment after this fiasco? You can have him back. Schottenheimer's play-calling was Al Saunders-bad, if not Jerry Rhome-bad, and frustrating to death. Schottenheimer showed little clue he'd ever seen a Rex Ryan defense – you know, the defense he just got done practicing against EVERY DAY the past three years? You have to get the ball out quickly against that blitz, but almost every third down, Schottenheimer's got Bradford looking for slower-developing stuff downfield for receivers who can't get open, just inviting Rex Ryan to come get the QB. Another invitation was the number of times the Rams ended up with a TE or a RB trying to block a rush end. Sometimes the TE would barely chip the DE before going out into the pattern, leaving him a clean run at Bradford. In what universe it that a good idea? It's not like Bradford was consistently throwing right back over there. Some more fouled-up X's and O's when Pettis got drilled by Cromartie in the 2nd. He's running a quick out, and a few feet away, Amendola's running the same pattern. What kind of route combination is that? Was the goal to get Pettis killed? But enough of the ticky-tac-toe; the big question: as well as the Rams ran the ball, against one of the worst run defenses in the league, why didn't they run a lot more? Why the diversion from the game-plan that worked so well last week? Schottenheimer's game plan just wasn't a smart one at all. He short-changed the run (though admittedly that has been his pattern here so far), and his third-down play selection was miserable.
But Jeff Fisher was an even bigger, more bitter disappointment. Nothing more rewarding than watching the head coach who's supposed to save your franchise made to look like a clown by offensive genius Tony Freaking Soprano. Soprano mystified Fisher and the Ram defense with an apparently brand-new tactic that I believe the Jets have named the “draw play”. The Rams reacted to this revolutionary play like pee-wee players seeing it for the first time, even though Soprano called it probably a dozen times. Here's how big of fools our coaching staff was made to look by the brilliance of the highly-regarded offensive maestro of the Jets. Up 13-7, the Jets have 3rd-and-3 at the Ram 20. The Rams completely sell out against the run, and Soprano completely fools them with a pass play. Sanchez has two receivers so wide open he doesn't know which one to pick. 3rd-and-goal at the 5 a few plays later, the Rams completely sell out against the pass, only lining up three down linemen. That's especially brilliant in that area of the field. And here comes Soprano with that innovative new draw play again, for a simple TD. Soprano had Fisher more off-balance than Lindsay Lohan at a rave during an earthquake. Getting completely outcoached by the NFL's (now second-) worst offensive coordinator is not why Stan Kroenke is paying Jeff Fisher the big bucks. Fisher didn't restore any confidence in his game management, either, going straight to Bizarro World and calling for a 2-point conversion with the Rams down 14 in the 4th. What the hell was that? Was Fisher's “card” smudged or something? A ten-year-old could have told Fisher to kick the PAT there, get within 13, and you can still win with 2 TDs. Somebody find Fisher a ten-year-old, I guess.
The one thing Fisher got right against the Jets: he was ready for the Tebow package. Tebow lost six yards net on the day. Maybe the Rams spent too much time preparing for Tebow; it would have been nice to have been ready for the other fifty plays or so. The Rams took the early lead, then went completely flat. Fisher tried to rally them on the sideline before the 2nd half started. That obviously fell flat. The Rams haven't won in four weeks, have looked poorly prepared for most of bad losses to the Patriots and Jets, and poor game management by Fisher likely cost them the 49er game. Of all of the Rams who need to get it together quickly, the one who needs to most urgently is Jeff Fisher. I don't want to hear the “young team learning to win” line, either. Rams rookies didn't lose this game (no, TruJo sure didn't help). The Rams lost this game first and foremost because of poor coaching. And that is completely unacceptable.
* Upon further review: That loud “Oh no” emanating from Sec. 414 during pre-game? Yours truly, spotting that Jerome Boger, the worst head official of the NFL's worst crew, was getting the call this week. And they made their presence profoundly felt with a garbage call before halftime, taking a kickoff return TD off the board for the Rams with a holding call on Rodney McLeod that the official who threw the flag couldn't have seen. All he was in position to see was the Jets player's back. McLeod's just locked out and driving the guy, but here flies the flag, and a gigantic momentum change in the game with it. Thanks there, eagle eyes. The Rams caught a little life in the 4th thanks to a roughing-the-passer call, which Boger, after a two-minute committee meeting, wiped out with a grounding call on Bradford, claiming there was no eligible receiver in the area, even though the ball whistled by D-Rich's head. And Bradford was hit by a defender while he threw anyway, which also usually rules out grounding. No, Boger goes 0-for-2 on the play. And once again, home-cooking officiating only ever seems to apply when the Rams are the road team. D
* Cheers: The Rams had their highest attendance of the year for this ludicrous spectacle, probably close to 60,000. Way to energize the fan base, fellas. The crowd was out of it by the second quarter thanks to sloppy turnovers and lousy run defense and never really recovered. The Rams were modestly booed off the field at halftime and deserved worse than they got in the second half. This game was so frustrating for the home fans that there were two near-fights in my usually-sedate section, and both fights would have been Rams fans fighting other Rams fans. I've never seen anything like that. Our section is usually about as unruly as book club night at the Buddhist temple. (Non-Shaolin.) That's the kind of negative energy this major letdown created. The Rams cheerleaders, who have not dressed for Halloween for years, wore camouflage in honor of the military. The green made them look more like the road team's cheerleaders than the home team's. Then again, it's possible they were trying to hide from the team's terrible performance.
* Who’s next?: Something's gotta give when the Rams hit the Arizona desert for the rematch with the Big Dead next week. Arizona was 4-0 until the fateful Thursday night they hit St. Louis in October. The Rams made them pay for their porous offensive line to the tune of NINE sacks in a 17-3 pounding. The Big Dead haven't won since and are now 4-6. The 3-6-1 Rams obviously haven't won since that game, either. Who will prevail in Glendale, the resistible force, or the movable object?
The Arizona offense has sputtered throughout their losing streak, driving head coach Ken Whisenhunt into putting unsuspecting rookie QB Ryan Lindley into Sunday's game in Atlanta to blow a 13-0 lead. Arizona eventually lost 23-19, but at least gave the 8-1 Falcons a far more spirited battle on the road than the Rams did at home with the 3-6 Jets. Lindley shows pocket poise and a very pretty, very accurate deep ball, but that was in preseason and at the NFL Combine. He's also prone to bouts of wildness. Help may be on the way for the Cardinal offense, though. The line that gave up all those sacks in October is playing a little better. Rookie Bobby Massie has improved and 7th-round pick Nate Potter has taken over at RT for the woeful D'Anthony Batiste. The center of the o-line is still gooey soft, but Arizona may have an answer there, and a revival of their heretofore non-existent running game, with the return of Chris “Beanie” Wells. Wells has been out almost all season due to turf toe, but has been targeting this very game for his comeback. And that's probably because of his last outing against the Rams, when he set a franchise record with 228 yards. LaRod Stephens-Howling should be the change-of-pace back; though he can't blitz-protect to save his (or his QB's) life, he slashed Atlanta for over 100 yards this week. They'd probably get a potent 1-2 punch from Wells and LSH even if they weren't playing the Rams. And improved blocking and running will only open the field up for the feared Larry Fitzgerald, who has had to suffer quietly behind weeks of bad quarterbacking and worse blocking. Outside of Fitzgerald, Arizona has gotten TE Rob Housler a little more involved, but WR Andre Roberts has been poor and butterfingered lately. Still, after falling down the last six weeks, pieces may be falling into place for the Big Dead, just in time to take on the Rams.
Arizona's losing streak may have slowed down DC Ray Horton's run to become the next head coach of the Eagles (or whoever); it also appears to have slowed down the pace of his blitz attack. He hasn't blitzed near as much lately as he was early in the season. He still very much favors that Steeler favorite fire zone blitz a lot. The Rams appeared to do well against that in October. But seeing the problem they had with Jet overload blitzes, and knowing that it'll be harder for Bradford to communicate blitz adjustments as a road QB, it would seem silly of Horton not to go full throttle. Opponents have beaten that inside blitz lately by running or throwing screens around it, which challenges Arizona to get more done with straight-up rush that just hasn't been there this year. However, Calais Campbell has looked resurgent lately after a slow start, and Darnell Dockett, who's played hurt all season, is getting a little better. Dan Williams continues to be a disappointment in Arizona at DT, however, and the Rams better have the common sense to run at him. Another reason Horton may have had to turn down blitzing lately is that tackling in his secondary has been terrible. Cardinal DBs have all been getting repeatedly faked out of their boots after the catch; there's little excuse for the Rams not to score good YAC next week, especially if Amendola is healthy. Patrick Peterson's been exposed this season, too. He got off to a strong start but his hype has grown bigger than his substance; you can go after him, though (AHEM) preferably not as a punt returner.
Coherent game-planning and game management can get the Rams their first road win of the season in Arizona. The plus: they've been very good in the division and against rookie QBs. The minus: they haven't done enough in the past month to inspire confidence they can find the right path against the Cardinals, or anybody. If the Rams are to go down in Arizona, let's make damn sure it really is because of youthful player mistakes and not because of the coaches continuing to fail to put them in position to make plays and win.
Game stats from espn.com