RamView, December 16, 2012
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #14: Vikings 36, Rams 22
The Rams playoff train has gone off the tracks for this season, derailed by yet another poor start and by big, sleek, fast, unstoppable, purple Engine Number 28. Yo, Adrian. Nice game.
Position by position:
* QB: Sam Bradford finished the game with gaudy numbers (35-55-377, 94.3 PR
), but did most of that from far behind and against soft coverage, and it looks all too familiar that he had to run an OU-like no-huddle attack to get the Ram offense moving. Time to graduate to the pros, Sam. But once again, the Rams came out of the locker room spinning their wheels, dug a big hole, and this week, it was too big to climb back out. Bradford had obvious pass protection problems all game, but also missed a disappointing number of throws. He missed very makeable sideline throws to Chris Givens and Brandon Gibson in the 1st. Bradford went into a tailspin in the 2nd that sank the whole team. After taking a big hit from Antoine Winfield and Chad Greenway on a 9-yard scramble, Bradford bungled a snap away to Minnesota that set up a FG. Bradford delivered the next points himself, falling for the zone blitz opposing QBs never fall for against the Rams, throwing a terrible pick directly to DE Everson Griffen. TD for the big man and a 24-7 hole for the Rams. Right before halftime, Bradford overthrew Givens, wide open behind the secondary, missing out on a TD. He nearly overthrew Brian Quick on the one TD opportunity he did convert in the 1st half, but the rookie bailed him out with an excellent leaping play. Sam was much more comfortable in the 2nd half with Minnesota calling off the dogs, but mostly moved the Rams with dinks and dunks. He hit Amendola with a 6-yard bullet for the Rams’ 2nd TD, and again the next drive with a pretty 26-yard ball over the middle that led on to a well-timed goal line TD to Lance Kendricks. Late in the game, though, he missed Amendola and Austin Pettis open on back-to-back plays as the Rams turned it over on downs. Bradford got the Rams in the red zone a last time late in the game with several nice throws but then missed Quick open on the sideline on 4th-and-3. Besides the disappointingly spotty accuracy, Bradford also had a number of passes tipped or knocked down at the line, which is really getting intolerable for a 6’4” QB. I’d bet he’s got more of those this year than six-inches-shorter Russell Wilson. Bradford didn’t answer the opening bell well, made major blunders that put his team behind and didn’t get comfortable until garbage time. Yeah, his line let him get beat up like he’d been sparring with Clubber Lang, but it’s fair to expect better from Sam Bradford than the Rams got this week. That wasn’t a franchise QB performance.
* RB: Lucky thing Steven Jackson (13-73 rushing, 8-73 receiving) broke the career 10,000-yard mark this week, or this game would have been a bleak affair indeed. The Rams’ demolition man took it to the Vikings by ground and by air. He opened with an 11-yard gain on a screen pass and was effective enough with those all game that he probably should have gotten more. He got the Rams’ 2nd drive off to a strong start with a 13-yard run off right guard and a 15-yard up the middle behind Barry Richardson and others. He ripped 13 more off the left side in the 3rd behind Harvey Dahl’s pull block, and later in the 3rd, surged for 9 behind good middle blocking to become SJ10K. Steven ran well and wasn’t stopped often; yet, just 13 carries. Darryl Richardson (3-5) got a healthy amount of snaps but mostly made you wish Steven was in the game. D-Rich has become more of a dancer than a runner lately, and didn’t offer a lot of resistance as a blitz protector. Minnesota felt free to blitz whenever D-Rich was in the backfield. Chad Greenway really punked him for a sack in the 3rd quarter in what was supposed to be max protection. D-Rich doesn’t lack the eye of the tiger, but he does lack Jackson’s size and strength, which the Rams once again failed to lean enough on this week, even though it’s carried them for about 5.7 miles and counting now.
* Receivers: The passing game struggled to get much going until the 2nd quarter. Brandon Gibson (6-76) has become a much tougher receiver lately, pulling tough catches in again this week while drawing crowds. But he’s winning battles with the ball in the air, and did on an 11-yard catch at the 5 in the 2nd to set up the Rams’ 1st TD. Chris Givens helped set up that TD with his only catch, a 22-yard drag route where he was open from the snap. Bradford missed him later open behind the secondary for a TD, and Givens never seemed the same after trying to tackle Griffen on his pick-six. Brian Quick, who actually had TWO catches this week (2-12), scored on his bread-and-butter play, an end zone jump ball, going up way high and just barely coming down with a foot and an elbow in bounds. Great play. Danny Amendola (6-58) may not have been 100% but could have had a much bigger game. Bradford missed several open opportunities for him, and Amendola wasn’t a major contributor until garbage time. He caught a 6-yard laser for the Rams’ 2nd TD (and about took out a stadium usher with the spike), and made a pretty 26-yard catch over the middle to set up the 3rd TD, which Lance Kendricks (3-35) scored on a goal line curl. Austin Pettis (5-55) actually picked up some of Amendola’s and Givens’ slack, but again, all in garbage time. He caught a 4th-down pass to keep the 2nd TD drive alive and set up the 3rd by drawing a DPI on a deep route. So optimistically, the Ram receivers showed a lot of “my ball” attitude with tough and clutch catches. Pettis and Amendola showed some ability to stretch the field. But this isn’t an offense or a passing game that can come back from far behind. You need a cobra-quick attack for that; the Rams are more of an anaconda.
* Offensive line: To their detriment, the Rams o-line was called upon to do much more pass-blocking than run-blocking this week, and they were much worse at it. Rodger Saffold didn't give up a sack, but struggled with Jared Allen all the same, giving up a lot of backside pressure and committing a couple of drive-killing blatant holds. The Rams surprised by not choosing to double-team Allen a lot, but that still couldn't stop Brian Robison from whipping Barry Richardson for a sack on the opening series of the game, and it couldn't stop them from turning someone named Christian Ballard into Alan Page. Saffold whiffed on him in the 2nd to get Jackson stuffed right before Bradford's pick-six. That disaster was followed by a sequence of two sacks in three plays. Erin Henderson went right through Lance Kendricks for the first; two plays later, Ballard comes steaming up the middle, beating Robert Turner badly to his inside shoulder. Both blockers knew who to pick up on those plays; they were just badly beaten physically. Things only improved after halftime because Minnesota backed off the pressure with a big lead, and they still gave up a sack to start the half, despite having “max protection” on the play. Chad Greenway got through the line and went through D-Rich in the backfield for the 4th Viking sack. The Rams couldn’t handle the Viking blitz, which was especially prevalent with D-Rich in the backfield. They got beaten physically, and they weren’t sharp mentally. Turner hurt a drive with a false start. Shelley Smith came into the game late and promptly committed TWO false starts. And the Rams once again have managed to find a center who can’t remember the damn snap count. Scott Wells got one false start trying to snap too early, and another by comically staying over the ball while the rest of the offense tried to start a play in the 3rd. FOCUS! Wells and Bradford also blew an exchange in the 2nd for a turnover that led to 3 points. A Jason Brown-like game for Wells. Run blocking was a different story. Kendricks Ram-bowled Robison over with a massive block and put him out of the game early on. The line continues to down-block very effectively. B-Rich has run-blocked pretty well all season. Harvey Dahl continued to do an excellent job clearing out room for Jackson on the pull. So why was Shelley at RG late in the game? Bad news, Harvey tore a bicep and is done for the season. So he’ll be replaced by a guy who false-started twice in relative silence at the Dome and now has to play two games on the road, including Seattle, the kingdom of the false start. (facepalm) The Ram o-line is in some trouble. They’re facing a lot of defensive speed the rest of the way. If the Rams don’t stay in games long enough to stay with a balanced attack, those are going to be a long last two games up front.
* Defensive line: Adrian Peterson (24-212) may eat lightning and crap thunder, but he actually got off to a rocky start, and it looked like the Rams might have his number. William Hayes stuffed AP’s first two carries, with the tackles clogging the middle well, and the LBs successfully forcing Adrian back inside. Chris Long stuffed him at the goal line. Janoris Jenkins tracked him down for a big loss around left end. Peterson had only 8 yards after his first 8 carries. But that first quarter was only the calm before the storm. Christian Ponder was already fooling the Rams D badly with play-action and Vikings linemen were starting to get out and take over the second level. Robert Quinn allowed Ponder to draw first blood by brutally blowing a sack on 3rd-and-goal, with Ponder escaping for a TD scramble. I think Quinn missed a couple of big plays looking for the highlight-reel hit instead of just making a solid wrap-up tackle. The Rams did tie the game at 7, but how long did the defense allow that score to stand up? One damn play. The Vikings caught the Rams zone-blitzing with a draw to Peterson, so already, Quintin Mikell and Jo-Lonn Dunbar, blitzing, and Kendall Langford, dropping back in coverage, are all out of the play. John Sullivan has little trouble handling Michael Brockers, fullback Jerome Felton picks off James Laurinaitis with no trouble, no help from the secondary, and Peterson raced off with an 82-yard TD that pretty much decided the game. The offense bungled away another 10 points, though a coverage sack by Eugene Sims helped keep the damage down. Handed a big lead, the Viking running game became an Ivan Drago-like machine. Peterson cruised as the middle of his line dominated the Rams’ tackles and his fullback Felton occasionally walked Laurinaitis over to the visiting sideline. The Rams also used ill-conceived alignments that gave Peterson big holes at the snap through which to tango and cash 8-10 yards at a time. The Viking line so controlled the line of scrimmage AP often had 5 yards before he had to make any decision. NORM Peterson would have had a good day behind that blocking. Brockers, Long and Hayes combined for a handful of plays, but with center Sullivan dominating Langford and Felton and guards Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco knocking Rams LBs around like bowling pins, Peterson had a field day. Adrian put the Vikings over the top with a 50-yard run in the 4th. Quinn AND Dunbar blew tackles in the backfield, letting Peterson swing back and cut a swath through a secondary Vikings receivers had run over. The Ram defense was knocked off balance by Minnesota strategically and physically, overmatched by the Viking ground game, served poorly by their coaching staff, and almost didn’t stand a chance this week as a result.
* Secondary: The secondary, and especially Craig Dahl, showed poorly on Peterson's long runs. On the 82-yard TD, once AP cleared the first wave, Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan both got blocked, and Dahl, faked by Peterson's cutback, got sucked in completely and took himself out of the play. On the 50-yard run, a TE put Quintin Mikell on his butt, a WR put Finnegan on his butt, and Dahl again charged in way out of position. Good defenses prevent big plays like those because their safety comes up and makes a play; Dahl was completely inadequate for the Rams against Minnesota, and for the most part, always has been. Mikell played better but wasn't as effective blitzing as he was in Buffalo. He did get credit for one of the Rams' two sacks in the 3rd by forcing a wild backward throw/fumble from Ponder that lost about 20 yards. Minnesota didn't provide a stern coverage challenge, but the Rams didn't ace it, either. Their first TD drive stayed alive because Trumaine Johnson laid 10 yards off the immortal Stephen Burton on 3rd-and-14. TruJo gave non-burner Michael Jenkins similar cushions to keep a FG drive alive in the 3rd, a drive he failed to stop by dropping an INT attempt. (Their DEs return pick-sixes; our CBs jump slant routes perfectly and then drop the ball.) In the end, coverage was good enough overall for the little threat the Vikings currently pose. The corners made a couple of good open-field plays, but the secondary came up short this week by failing to add the extra spark the front seven sorely needed against the run.
* Special teams: One of the sobering realizations of this game is that the Rams only had the 2nd-best rookie kicker on the field. Blair Walsh was the kicker tying the NFL record for 50-yard FGs in a season, hitting from 50, 51 and 53. He’s 8-for-8 from that distance this year, and his 42-yarder before halftime, one of his FIVE FGs on the day, was set up by Greg Zuerlein’s awful attempt from 57 that had as much chance as Apollo Creed did against Drago. Johnny Hekker’s starting to look like one of the Rams’ expendables, getting booed off the field for an awful 25-yard punt that put Minnesota in excellent field position for a FG drive. Return teams did little except leave the Rams in bad field position. Amendola’s best return was called back on a Viking player’s Oscar-worthy dive to draw an illegal block flag on Cory Harkey. Givens did nothing with kickoffs except make bad decisions, and the Rams didn’t block any kick return well. No mistaking the Rams got beaten in all three phases of the game this week.
* Strategery: Actually, four, counting the coaching phase. The defense got off to a good start, but once the Vikings got to doing what they do best, Peterson running right, the Rams didn’t look like they expected it. They got fooled badly, repeatedly, by play-action. And with Peterson being impossible enough to defend in the first place, the Rams kept opening the door for him. Zone blitz vs. a draw play was about the worst thing possible for the Rams in creating Peterson’s TD run. Peterson ran away from the two blitzers over LT and had room in the middle vacated by noted pass defender Langford dropping back into coverage. 82 yards later, RamView still hates the crap out of zone blitzes. In case that wasn’t enough help for Peterson, the Rams more than any game I recall this year lined up in a lot of stacked or “over” formations which did little more than give Peterson a gigantic and immediate hole in the line to run through, or create a lovely path for a lead blocker to churn through and destroy a Ram linebacker. Hindsight being 20/20, it looked like about as bad a defensive scheme as you could come up with to defend Adrian Peterson, so I guess I wonder what the Rams were thinking. Getting schooled by Bill Musgrave isn’t a feather in this staff’s caps.
Brian Schottenheimer called a few neat plays. (Whoever called the STUPID throwback on the late punt return has to run the bleachers, though.) Opened right up with a screen at Jared Allen’s side to try to keep him honest. The screen game in general was a good counter to Minnesota’s aggressiveness. A quick out to Amendola on 3rd-and-4 where they motioned him left and wrapped him around another slot receiver, a pick that made him open from the snap. Schotty used a lot of nice route combinations again this week. The Kendricks TD was a well-conceived play. One big problem, though, was not enough Steven Jackson. The Rams never seemed to pick up on the freedom Minnesota felt to blitz with D-Rich in the backfield. That’s when they did most of their blitzing. The Rams needed Jackson in more to get that picked up. Saffold also needed more help blocking Allen than he got. And ultimately, Schottenheimer’s the one who’s got to figure out how to get the Ram offense out of its weekly early game rut, even as we at home try to figure out how another Rams OC, while far from setting the world on fire here, is supposedly becoming a hot head coaching commodity around the league. Shouldn’t the Rams have to make a playoff game or two, or Bradford a Pro Bowl or two, before the offensive staff becomes the cradle of NFL head coaches?
* Upon further review: Reports after the game criticized Alberto Riveron for missing a blatant hold on Quinn on Peterson’s TD run. I’m also curious about the blown snap play. Bradford’s flat on the turf cradling the ball in one arm up by his head; wasn’t he then down, with possession? Instead Kevin Williams rips it out of his hand and gets the Vikings the ball. Riveron and crew seemed to call a good game beyond that; they were on top of clock issues and potential grounding calls, and Riveron explained calls well to the audience when necessary. Can’t fault them for reviewing the Quick TD; definitely a close play that they got right the first time and after further review. B for now
* Cheers: The crowd for the season’s final home game approached 60,000 by my estimate and came ready to roar, but was silenced by Peterson’s lightning bolt and by Bradford’s turnovers in the 2nd. Roars didn’t take long to turn to boos, for Bradford, for the offense’s faltering “hurry-up” offense before halftime, or for Hekker’s latest round of punts that looked like they came off his knee instead of his foot. Not to complain, but Fan Appreciation Day didn’t live up to past years’. The Rams didn’t give away near as much stuff, or didn’t announce it, at least. Most years they’ve given away at least 50-60 autographed items, especially jerseys; hardly anything this year. Concessions were discounted, definitely a plus. Confidence in the team’s direction still sounds high even though we didn’t get to go home happy one last time this year.
* Who’s next?: The Rams can still finish over .500 by winning their final two games, starting next week in Tampa. This could be a matchup to dredd, since Bucs rolled the Vikings earlier this year even easier than the Vikings just rolled the Rams. But the Bucs have been in a deep funk lately, losing at home to an Eagles team that had lost 8 straight and getting destroyed in New Orleans this week, 41-0. (Wait a minute, the SAINTS shut somebody out?) The Rams-Bucs rivalry has been too one-sided for too long; the Rams have lost 5 of 6 to Tampa since winning the 1999 NFC Championship. The Rams blew a 17-3 lead in Tampa in 2010 and lost an 18-17 cliffhanger on Josh Freeman's last-second TD pass to, yep, Cadillac Williams.
Freeman had been on a good roll until just recently. He’s got a big arm and loves to go downfield, but his line isn’t protecting him well enough right now. The Eagles flustered him by rushing just 4 and dropping everyone into coverage; he doesn’t have the accuracy to beat that. When Tampa adjusted to a quick-drop passing game, the Eagles counter-adjusted by blitzing Freeman’s head off. LT Donald Penn and RG Demar Dotson struggled against speed in that game. Freeman has an elite target in Vincent Jackson, a 6’5”, 230-lb monster wideout who attacks the ball in the air as well as any WR in the league. Even with that size, look for him out of the slot a lot, especially near the goal line. The Eagles helped themselves a lot by pretty consistently rolling the safety over to Jackson’s side for double-teams. Tampa’s gotten veteran TE Dallas Clark worked more into the gameplan lately, but their receiving depth’s still sketchy. Mike Williams hasn’t built much on his rookie season, though you have to respect his speed, and the Bucs lack a decent #3 option. Tiquan Underwood looked lost the whole Eagles game and drove Freeman crazy. So it’s obviously important for the Bucs to run well. They’ve done that a lot of the season behind rookie sensation Doug Martin, just not lately. Martin is a strong runner with a strong lower body, and he’s gotten a lot of yardage after contact. But he looks like a mostly straight-ahead runner; he won’t outquick you outside, and like a lot of young RBs, has gotten a little impatient setting up his blocks. If Brockers and Langford can get back to clogging up the middle of the field, the whole Buc offense starts to unravel. They want to set up play-action and take shots deep, but that won’t work if the run isn’t working. The Rams haven't won in Tampa since 1990, but they'll give themselves a fighting chance next week if they get back to stopping the run.
Tampa’s defense has had a Dickensian season: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. #1 against the run, #32 against the pass. The Buc defense has some familiar old characteristics. Speed all over the field, everybody swarms to the ball and they get good run support from the secondary. At DE, Michael Bennett is strong, quick off the snap and plays in the opponent's backfield. DaQuan Bowers flashes excellent speed and can seal off either edge. They killed Philadelphia with their speed for a while, whipping the overmatched Eagle o-line with simple inside moves. Bennett completely disrupted their running game and looked like a guy you have to double-team. Benefiting from the outside rush flushing the QB, DT Gerald McCoy had two sacks and looked like Warren Sapp. Tampa cranks the pressure up even more by blitzing more than we're accustomed to seeing from the red and pewter. But their aggression can and will work against them. The DEs line up in a wide-nine stance much of the time, leaving huge running gaps to attack. They committed a lot of dumb penalties on both sides of the ball against the Eagles. And they may blitz too much for their own good; one of the key plays that lost the Eagle game for them was a big gain to Jeremy Maclin in the final 2:00, with the Bucs blitzing on 3rd-and-14. With Eric Wright suspended and troubled Aqib Talib sent packing, their secondary badly lacks depth. We'll see a lot of Anthony Gaitor, just off the IR, rookie Leonard Johnson and former brutal Ram washout Danny Gorrer. Jason Avant gouged these guys with regularity out of the slot; Maclin burned them with quick screens, and rookie QB Nick Foles threw for 381. If Amendola and Givens are healthy, Sam Bradford's got little excuse not to torch this defense next week, and given their sterling play against the run, he may have to.
It's time to hand the ball to Sam Bradford and tell him to go out and win one. Make good throws and smart plays. There's no excuse for the Rams to have to beat their heads against a wall for the first half. No excuse for Bradford to need to play Big 12 ball to move the offense. Sam's played good football this season. His fourth-quarter heroics have shown his ability to “lead from behind”. This week it's time to be a franchise QB. Tell the Bucs, “I will break you.” Lead the Rams to a 60-minute victory.
Game stats from espn.com