RamView, December 1, 2013
From the Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game 12: ***** 23, Rams 13
By far the biggest disappointment of 2013 has been the Rams' failures against the *****, getting blown out again this week and to the tune of 58-24 for the season. Might want to have a better plan for playing these guys next year.
* QB: Pressure turns coal into diamonds; this week, it turned Kellen Clemens (19-37-218, 67.2 PR
) into possibly creosote, or some extract used in industrial varnishing. The ***** and lack of competent receivers really had Clemens off his game compared to his most recent outings. The running game didn't support him as well and he didn't have the room to make plays himself that he'd had the last couple of weeks. At its heart, though, quarterbacking is about throwing and catching, right? And, yikes. A sack killed the opening drive in 3 impotent plays, and a brutal drop by Jared Cook killed another. Next drive on 3rd-and-long, Clemens underthrew Chris Givens open on a deep comeback route, a not-difficult throw Kellen really needs to hit. Down 13-0, the Rams drove to a FG before halftime despite Clemens’ mindless bomb into double coverage that should have been an early Christmas gift for Eric Reid. Clemens’ and the Rams’ day would have gone a lot better had a 3rd-and-1 play in the 3rd gone as it should have. Givens got behind coverage, his man fell, Clemens put the ball on him, all he has to do is catch it and run about 70 yards to tie the game at 13. Instead, it’s The Worst Catch of All Time. Clemens’ 4th quarter was not inspiring. He airmailed a sideline pass well out of bounds from an open Stedman Bailey. Down 23-6, Clemens overthrew Cook in the middle and missed Zac Stacy wide open with a terrible pass. 3rd-and-11 in scoring range (thanks to the running game), Clemens again misses Givens on the sideline with a poor throw, then on 4th-and-11, the one time it’s OK to force a throw if you have to, eats the ball and runs out of bounds. Holy cats. I care less about the Rams’ very late and ONLY TD drive than the ***** did while not defending it. Kellen Clemens had a poor game. His protection wasn’t great but was better than he made them look. His receivers stunk on ice but a lot of his throws were off. Would a healthy Sam Bradford have won this game? Probably not. There wasn’t enough offensive support to think many QBs at all would have led the Rams to a win this week. But Clemens sure never would have.
* RB: The Rams were not really able to get the running game going. Zac Stacy’s numbers (19-72) look respectable, but he got about 1/3 of his yardage after the game was well in hand. Stacy didn’t get a lot of push from his blockers, ran into too many stacked boxes, and was met in the backfield by unblocked LBs too often to be as effective as he’s been. The 49er defense deserves the most credit, but this week had me wondering about Stacy’s vision as a runner. He had opportunities to cut a couple of nowhere runs back during the Rams’ FG drive, big lanes left out on the edge by the overcommitting Niners. Stacy can move the pile and muscle out small gains on plays that would be losses for other backs, but he can be much more. I thought we’d see more of Benny Cunningham (2-16) than we did. His first carry, also on the first FG drive, was a 14-yard blast off LT that showed more speed than Stacy has. If the big lanes were there that I thought I saw, Benny can hit those. It’s fair if blitz pickup is an issue limiting Cunningham’s snaps; unfortunately, though, Stacy struggled at it this week as well. You can blame him for two of the three sacks the Rams allowed. NaVarro Bowman flattened him for one, and in the 4th, he left his feet to try to stop Patrick Willis on another and bounced off him like a bug off a truck windshield. Plays like that make it feel fair, but not urgent, to ask if Stacy's long term future as a RB needs to have a little more zip and a little less bang.
* Receivers: I had this dream. I was at Rams Park and the hotel across the street caught fire. Rams players and I ran in and out rescuing people. Jared Cook and Chris Givens were helping a little old lady out the front door. I noticed she only had one arm. I heard and found a crying infant on the fifth floor. Suddenly, flames blocked my exit! I was forced to a window with no fire escape! The old woman yelled Please, please save my grandbaby! I waved at Cook and Givens to get under my window and did the only thing I could do. Toss the baby to the little old one-armed lady. I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waitress. The Rams officially have no receiver they can count on for anything. Cook (3-49) opened the game with two brutal drops and did his best to botch Clemens’ third pass to him, bobbling a 20-yard catch several times before pulling it in. Routinely blanketed on deep balls, Tavon Austin (4-25) I think had a whole 30 yards receiving against the Niners this season. He also bungled a pass off his hands to Carlos Rogers for a late INT. So, you’ve got a first-round pick who can’t beat Tramaine Brock deep, and you’ve got a 2nd-round pick, Brian Quick (3-41 and a TD), who can only get on the field in garbage time when all of your receivers are struggling. Stedman Bailey (3-46) was the only one who looked like he had any long-term promise at WR this week. Givens (2-30) did get open several times only to have Clemens miss him with bad throws. I still wanted him cut on the spot for the play he butchered in the 3rd. On 3rd-and-1, he’s behind the secondary, his man falls and Clemens puts the ball high, but right on him. All he has to do is catch it and run for a probable 70-yard TD to tie the game at 13. Instead, Givens acts like ball is a live porcupine. It looks like he’s recoiling from it as it goes off both hands and his knee before clanking harmlessly to the ground. People don’t look that goofy when they’re trying to imitate someone dropping a pass. Well, now they do, for Chris Givens has just won the award for The Worst Catch of All Time. The Rams’ offseason needs imo include at least 3 WRs and a receiving TE. Holy cats.
* Offensive line: The Rams may have lost the battle up front, but they didn’t get blown out, which is to the credit of a lineup getting juggled more than a ball a Rams receiver is about to drop. This week’s starting right side was too finesse to slug out a running game against a tough front like San Francisco’s and the whole line struggled to get push and establish the run. Isn’t your RT supposed to be your mauler tackle? Because I think I’ve been waiting all season to call a dominating run block from Joseph Barksdale. And no wonder NaVarro Bowman is a Pro Bowl LB; if Rams-***** games are any indication, NO ONE EVER BLOCKS HIM. He repeatedly came in unblocked to stuff Stacy and the Rams never made the ***** pay for overloading up front. Shoot, their heads were spinning from the very start of the game, getting Clemens sacked on the second play, as Justin Smith ran over Chris Williams and threw him into Clemens to set Ray McDonald up for the sack. Clemens was typically protected well after that, though, and the Rams got the ground game going a little late in the 1st half. Rodger Saffold’s block got Stacy 6 yards, and Jake Long and Chris Williams sprang Cunningham’s 14-yard dash. The drive melted down once the Rams approached the red zone, though. Lance Kendricks whiffed on McDonald and got Stacy stuffed, and the ***** blitzed and sacked Clemens the next play, another one set up by J.Smith, who trucked Long like a little, um, girl and flushed Clemens to Bowman, beating Stacy easily on a blitz. Then the musical chairs started. Scott Wells was done at halftime due to a leg injury, bringing in Tim Barnes. A little later, Long went down to a concussion, forcing Paul Boudreau to shuffle Saffold to LT, put Shelley Smith at RG, and now you’ve got exactly one starter, Williams, at the position he started the season. This group held up pretty well, though the Niners losing interest with a big lead couldn’t have hurt. Truck #52, Patrick Willis, ran over Stacy and froze Clemens in his headlights for their 3rd sack, but Saffold and Shelley got Stacy some decent running room in garbage time. This group has some tough challenges ahead beyond just the challenge of fielding a healthy unit. Let's hope Boudreau can continue to work his magic.
* Defensive line: The ***** pulled off the rare feat of holding Robert Quinn and Chris Long without a sack, but the Rams were still very effective up front, far better against the run than the first meeting, holding Frank Gore to 42 yards. And while the edge rush was limited to decent pressure at best, the middle of the Ram line came up huge in pass rush. The tackles got washed out a couple of times early to give up Colin Kaepernick scrambles, but as the first half progressed, they held firm and allowed the pocket to close like a fist on the 49er QB for four sacks by halftime. Michael Brockers must have had his best game as a pro, landing 7 tackles and playing a role in all four sacks, two of which were his. The Niners had to settle for an initial FG after Kaepernick tried to step up, but Brockers flushed him outside to William Hayes, who tracked down the sack. Brockers held the ***** to their 2nd FG almost single-handedly. He burned Adam Snyder, who mistakenly turned away expecting help, for an easy sack. After the secondary bungled that advantage away, Brockers made a couple of clutch plays to push the ***** out of the red zone, drawing a hold on 2nd down, and on 3rd down, closing the door on another Kaepernick scramble to set up Kendall Langford, who reached over his man to grab Kaepernick and sling him down. Langford batted down a pass, and Brockers, abusing Snyder, got his second sack on S.F.’s second TD drive, at which point it was apparent that the d-line’s most unsolvable problems this week were going to be horrid officiating and the Rams’ even more horrid secondary. They did their jobs up front. Quinn did a lot of overpursuing, and it’s lamentable he didn’t feast on Joe Staley’s backup Alex Boone after Staley had to leave the game, but he kept the pressure on Kaepernick and added several nice run stops. Chris Long got pancaked by Anthony Davis on Vernon Davis’ TD catch, but he made a couple of big run stops, including stuffing Gore at the 5-yard line, that held the ***** to a FG in the 3rd. Plenty of good work up front, and redemption for the first game, but not enough to carry the team the second time around.
* LB: The defensive front got excellent backing, a key to holding Frank Gore to 42 yards. Alec Ogletree (10 tackles) and James Laurinaitis (9) were brilliant against the run. Laurinaitis stuffed Gore for an early 2-yard loss and stuffed him twice inside the 15 to help hold the Niners to their first FG, a drive helped by a dubious roughing call on Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Dunbar atoned by blowing up a handoff at the beginning of a 2nd-quarter drive, but the Ram front 7 couldn’t overcome bad pass coverage and bad officiating repeatedly keeping drives alive. Gore would eventually run over Ogletree at the goal line to put his team up 13-0. Unfortunately, Ogletree was an unhealthy part of the problem in pass coverage. He stumbled and slipped around and got beaten by Davis and Anquan Boldin a lot. The ***** got another scoring drive going in the 3rd after Laurinaitis was late getting out to cover Bruce Miller on a 21-yard dumpoff, but down at the goal line, James’ blitz move drew a false start and held the ***** to a third FG. After a 60-yard bomb to Michael Crabtree, Ogletree saved the day by stripping Gore at the end of a run inside the 15. Chris Long tried to jump on the ball but did manage to knock it to Rodney McLeod. It didn’t matter much by then, but Ogletree added a couple of nice plays on the edge late to blow up an Anthony Dixon run and a Kendall Hunter sweep. Run defense was there this week. That’s often enough to bog the 49er offense down. Except…
* Secondary: Does anyone in the Ram secondary have a clue what they're doing? Seriously, do they? The ***** have basically two receivers, and the Rams refused to cover either one. The nonsense started almost immediately. On the *****' initial 3rd-and-10, Janoris Jenkins gives Anquan Boldin (an inexplicable NINE for 98) ten yards of cushion and is back-pedaling at the snap, and no one on earth should have been surprised to see Boldin beat that idiotically soft coverage for 12 and a first down. Having breathed life into the drive for the Niners, the Rams made sure they got their FG after Vernon Davis (4-82) got behind Ogletree for 23. Next drive, flag on Trumaine Johnson trying to cover Boldin. Then 20 to Davis, who hurdled Rodney McLeod making sure to check off every box on the “how not to tackle” list. See what I hit? No. Square up on my target? No. Wrap up at all, ever? No. Stay on my feet? No. Bingo! A sack helped force 3rd-and-long, only to see Jenkins give it all away because the glacier-quick Boldin completely lost him at the line and he had to grab his jersey to slow him down. The Ram d-line did all it could to limit the Niners to a 6-0 lead, but they can't go back and cover for the idiots behind them. Though maybe it's worth a try. Midway into the 2nd, 3rd-and-10, Boldin burns a putridly soft zone for 21. Two sideline routes to Boldin in front of TruJo, and on 3rd-and-5, they go to him for the 3rd time in 4 plays and TruJo hits him in the head for an automatic and idiotic first down. Another sack forces a 3rd-and-15, where, since the ***** flood the field with so many Pro Bowl receivers, as opposed to having TWO guys that you have four or five men to cover, the Rams end up with Ogletree covering Boldin. Alec slips, another huge first down, ***** go on to a TD. The nonsense continued into the 2nd half, even after T.J. McDonald delivered a message to Davis at the end of a 22-yard catch, that message being to WEAR A CUP. But Boldin beat TruJo in soft coverage for 11 on 2nd-and-10, then again undid fine work up front by converting a 2nd-and-11 two plays later. I have no idea why the ***** quit going to Anquan on that drive. The Rams were NEVER going to cover him. It was as ridiculous a defensive failure as I have seen this team pull off. You can time Anquan Boldin with a sundial. Most teams have at least one coach who can cover him 1-on-1. But the Rams' pathetic excuse for a secondary turned him into Randy Moss and T.O. and Jerry Rice rolled into one. And they weren't done. TruJo welcomed Michael Crabtree back by biting on a double-move like a bad high school player and getting burned for 60. Davis made the Rams pay immediately after a blown fake punt with a 17-yard TD. Ogletree slipped again – check your damn shoes, huh? - and Davis hurdled past Jenkins, whose “tackle” “effort” at the goal line was predictably weak. I don't know if it's coaching. I don't know if the unit got too young too fast. All I know is this has to be the worst secondary in the NFL, and I never expected to have to say that this season.
* Special teams: The kicking game went well. Greg Zuerlein striped two FGs right down central and his kickoffs were not returnable. Johnny Hekker had a pretty brilliant game; his punts were barely returnable. He averaged about 49 a punt and probably about 48 net. Austin was rendered all but useless on kickoffs. He got no blocking and barely even achieved a jog on several early returns that didn't even make the 20, then spent the rest of the game kneeling with kicks 3 yards deep in the end zone. Yeah, that's play-making top-ten draft pick stuff. Like too many other plays this week, the fake punt in the 4th should have worked but didn't. After a direct snap to up-man Matt Giordano, the ***** got good left-side penetration. Bailey was supposed to sweep right behind Giordano and take a toss from him, but though the Rams got everyone blocked, the penetration threw off the timing and Giordano panicked and ate the ball instead of making a toss I feel he still had time to get off safely. Bailey would have had the whole right sideline to run, too. Instead the Rams botch a play deep in their end so badly it you wonder if they'd even practiced it.
* Strategery: Nothing made Jeff Fisher look smarter than those fake punts hitting in San Francisco last season. Few things make a head coach look dumber, though, than botched fake punts like this week’s. I “get” Fisher making the call; as with the blown fake punt in Dallas, the Rams were working with a “free” possession, and needed a spark. The issue is that the ***** out-executed the Rams on a play where the Rams were the ones calling the fake. Other parts of Fisher’s game management didn’t thrill me. The ***** are going backwards trying to run out the 1st half, pinned at their 10, and Fisher sits on his timeouts with plenty of time left to flip field position for a chance at a long FG. But down 17 at the end of the game and nothing meaningful to be gained, the timeouts are a-flyin’. The same timeouts he sat on while the offense stumbled into a delay-of-game and had to settle for a FG in the 3rd. On 4th-and-11 in the 4th and down 3 scores, taking the short FG would have been the right call; instead, you wind up looking really bad after Clemens runs out of bounds with a 5-yard gain.
Not a lot of questions for Brian Schottenheimer this week; it’s not like he can go down there and throw it and catch it for them. Austin’s disappearance from the offense again is a concern, and I’m also curious why he’s the main deep option instead of Givens, who actually gets open deep. I think it’s fair to ask John Fassel what went wrong on the fake punt, but even more so, why can’t anyone get Austin a block again on any return? Tim Walton got some effective blitzing done but the coverage behind it was atrocious. Somebody PLEASE explain to me why, on 3rd-and-10, you would EVER lay TEN yards off and backpedal away from the slowest starting WR in the NFL when the entire WORLD knows he is not going to take you upfield. He is going to come back for the ball. I hesitate to even call what the Rams did this week a coverage “scheme.” When I think of someone scheming, it’s because they’re trying to succeed at something. Yeah, Walton does succeed at something. Giving up easy first downs.
* Upon further review: I thought the NFL had enough officiating crews that teams didn't get the same one twice in the regular season. That proved false in the most hideous way possible, as the Rams got the same incompetents who butchered their loss in Carolina, Bill Vinovich and company. We all knew we were in for a long day right away when they called Dunbar for a hit to the head for barely grazing Kaepernick's shoulder during their opening drive. But hey, at least the Rams were actually offsides when they called it, unlike in Carolina. Yeah, that worked the other way this week. After the free 15 yards, they ignored a false start on Alex Boone on a 23-yard pass to V.Davis. Stedman Bailey got an OPI call for barely even a shove, a move receivers have gotten away with since shortly after the invention of the forward pass. On the same play, Aldon Smith knocked Jake Long's helmet clean off his head. No call. To call Vinovich's work sh*t at this point would be to insult the good name of manure everywhere. Anthony Davis had at least three false starts. False-starting was the main reason he could even block Long a couple of plays. Never called. Supposedly there were so many flags because play was so chippy, yet, just like in Carolina, the home team got away with a lot more than the visitors. By the time the ***** went up 13-0, the Rams had drawn 7 penalties in barely over a quarter, to S.F.'s 3. As for player conduct calls, C.J. Spillman threw a punch after a punt and wasn't ejected like Chris Long in Carolina. And late in the game, when A.Davis kept blocking after the whistle, Long knocked him down and OF COURSE got the only flag on the play. Thanks for calling it both ways, eagle eyes. Grade: What are you doing here? I fired you six weeks ago
* Cheers: I don't know why a former Bucs/Broncos safety and the Mets' field reporter would go deep into the tank for the *****, but John Lynch and Kevin (who?) Burkhardt did. What didn't make this an awful broadcast? How about Burkhardt orgasming any time Vernon Davis hurdled or jumped at a Ram defender? Gawd, get a room, man. Good thing he didn’t call the end of the Auburn-Alabama game. Maybe it was Burkhardt claiming Bill Vinovich and crew have “done a fine job this year.” A theme of the broadcast, which Mike Pereira even broke in from L.A. to emphasize, was that the refs had to throw lots of flags because of chippy play. No analysis, though, of the quality of the calls made or the calls that were missed left and right. Well, except when Brockers got pulled down by his jersey late in the 1st. When the flag correctly flew there, Lynch accused Brockers of “selling” that he got held – no, he got held – then Burkhardt inanely said the flag shouldn't even have been thrown because Brockers had no chance of catching Kaepernick running on the play. WHAT? Lynch didn't even criticize the ridiculous call on Dunbar for “roughing” Kaepernick on their opening drive. What happened to defensive guys sticking together? Speaking of sticking, I wouldn’t mind Burkhardt sticking to baseball in the future. Or at least non-Rams games.
* Who’s next? At the start of the season, the Rams were supposed to be the third-party alternative in the NFC West's push for three playoff spots, and things played to form opening week when they beat Arizona for the third straight time, 27-24, with two performances we'd hoped would be patterns for the whole season: Robert Quinn had three sacks (HIT) and Jared Cook had 141 yards and two TDs (MISS, by a country mile).
Those Cardinals, though, jumped the line during the Rams' early struggles, have won 4 of their last 5 and at 7-5, they're the ones still on the radar screen for postseason honors. They're a very different-looking team from the one the Rams beat, and I don't just mean Carson Palmer's pornstache. Head coach Bruce Arians was able to do something the Rams couldn't and stayed with the offense he started installing in training camp. They've grown into it and Palmer's getting the ball out quickly, accurately and confidently. He was probably the hottest QB in the league during their recent winning streak before coming back to earth this week in Philadelphia. Like a couple of teams the Rams have already faced, Arizona will screen-pass you to death with their big receivers to get the deep ball going. Second-year WR Michael Floyd has finally arrived, with back-to-back 100-yard-plus games before Thanksgiving. They've turned TE from a black hole into a productive position. Rob Housler finally has his head in the game, getting to where he's supposed to be and catching the ball. That's finally opened the field back up for Godzilla Fitzgerald, who has regained his old menace as a red zone weapon because defenses can't afford to double-team him anymore. And the Rams certainly have no one who can single-cover him. Like the Rams, the Cardinals steam-rolled the Colts on the ground. Their blocking TEs looked outstanding, center Lyle Sendlein looked good on the move and RG Paul Fanaika looked like a first-class mauler. They were very right-handed on offense to minimize the Robert Mathis-Bradley Sowell matchup, which I'd expect again with Robert Quinn likely to devour Sowell at LT. The running game has been completely inconsistent, though. Their last 6 game rushing totals: 30, 201, 97, 14, 120, 90. That 14-yard game came against Jacksonville. Rookie Andre Ellington looks like a threat to score from anywhere on the field, and Arians will tell you that he has elite-WR skills as a receiver. Arians' efforts to preserve the smallish RB, though wise, haven't paid off. He missed this week due to a knee injury, and the Rams will likely get a heavy dose of Rashard Mendenhall. Arizona has averaged 28 points its last 5 games and will be a challenge to stop. However, Mendenhall has three fumbles; Palmer has 5, and got back to his pick-prone ways with 2 INTs this week. The Rams have to take the ball away to slow the Cardinals down.
Classic ground-and-pound would keep Palmer and the Cardinal offense off the field, but Arizona has the #2 run defense in the league. Dan Williams has finally started to deliver at NT, and ILB Darryl Washington, who really makes their defense go, missed September's game due to league suspension. Their success against the run has not come at the expense of their pass defense, which is also top 10. They blitz half the time and throw more stunts at you than a Jackie Chan film festival. If you see a Ram o-lineman blocking no one next week, it'll be because Darnell Dockett or Calais Campbell just beat him on a stunt. Arizona slaughtered the Colts with stunts and the Rams have to be able to pick them up. Their straight-up pass rush isn't half-bad, either. John Abraham (8 sacks) has caught fire lately and doesn't look like he's lost a step at 35. They play more man coverage than anyone in the league. Patrick Peterson shut down Chris Givens in the first game and has earned consideration for best-at-his-position honors. Tavon Austin will probably see a lot of the Honey Badger, who I must admit has completely surprised me with his on-field and off-field success so far. Heck, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, ILB Karlos Dansby was among the league leaders in passes defended. This defense can cover. Unless you're a tight end. Cook started a trend in week 1 that has vexed Arizona all season long. Coby Fleener just put 100 and a TD on them. The Jagwire TEs burned them for big plays. ZACH ERTZ just beat them for 2 TDs. They're vulnerable to deep posts and crossing routes – Cook's bread and butter in the first game – and they lose the TE all the time. I think sometimes they don't even know where the TE is on the field, and that includes Peterson. Cook, Kendricks and Harkey should be harbors for Clemens from Arizona's first wave of pass rush, assuming any Rams receiver actually catches the ball.
It's the time of year for turkey, Christmas preparations, and unfortunately at Rams Park, making tee times for January. This time last year, the Rams were 5-6-1 and coming off a win over the *****; this year they're 5-7 and coming off an uninspiring loss. But it's also a younger team, without its franchise QB, and weathering a lot of instability on the offensive line. There's still four weeks for Jeff Fisher to make a convincing argument that the Rams are moving in the right direction. Seems surprising to say after this week, but there's still plenty of time.