Random Thoughts from Week 10
Well, where to begin? Many fans were optimistic that this would be the game where the Rams would correct their road woes, and sure enough, St. Louis once again blew a lead and allowed the ***** to get back into the game and eventually win it. I really don't know what the issue is-- scratch that, I have a couple ideas of where the issues were specifically in this game, but overall, it's a bit harder to identify. Let's go ahead and get started though.
-On the whole, I thought Bradford had a pretty good game. For the most part, he seemed to take what the defense gave him and was efficient (71%). His touchdown throw to Amendola was nice; clearly Danny is his go-to receiver at this point. He had a great pass to Gibson on play-action in the intermediate middle part of the field, and then his sideline pass to Jackson near the end of regulation was well delivered. He showed good ability to move around in the pocket and buy time, even running for a first down. His command of the two-minute offense at the end of regulation was pretty impressive for a rookie making his ninth start. He did throw behind his receivers a few times, most notably on the Daniel Fells crossing route that could have won the game. He also missed a wide open Danny Amendola down the deep middle of the field on what would have been a touchdown. These miscues seemed to represented a minority of Bradford's day, but two of the misses could have paid big dividends. Bradford is playing exceptional for a rookie quarterback, but these are the kinds of passes you want to see him make to help lead this team to a needed road win. The fact that expectations are so high for him shows you the kind of season he's having and skill he displays.
-Steven Jackson faced some tough competition, and he pretty much had to earn every yard he gained. Aside from some holes in the third quarter, there really was not much running room to speak of today, leading some critics to harp on Jackson for stutter-stepping while he looked for a hole to pop through. I thought Jackson did about as much as he could; I especially liked seeing how the Rams used him as a receiver. For a guy with a hand injury, Jackson was dangerous catching the ball in the open field and it certainly brought a different dimension to the offense when he could make a play outside of the backfield. He had some nice long runs today, including a 13 yard touchdown in the red zone set up in part by an earlier 26-yard rush off the left side of the line. Kenneth Darby's lack of involvement in the offense was telling, especially when you consider Jackson missed some time with arm cramps. Darby had one catch for six yards, but is absent from the stat sheet in the rushing category. The Rams' need for a viable second punch to Jackson's primary haymaker is pretty evident; St. Louis either can't find situations to use Darby on a week to week basis or doesn't trust him enough for that role.
-If fans didn't think we needed more talent at the receiver position prior to this game, then I would hope this contest cemented it for them. Danny Amendola did well in the slot (7 for 51) and Brandon Gibson came down with eight catches, but his biggest impact of the day was probably on two receptions where he failed to convert very easy first downs by trying to juke or outmaneuver defenders rather than simply running a yard or two upfield. That lack of awareness of the first down marker really cost the Rams on two drives in the second half. Laurent Robinson was pretty quiet, and even looked like he gave up on a go route on one of the few times the Rams threw deep down the field. Mardy Gilyard remains a non-factor. Fells and Hoomanawanui had a few grabs but not much impact on the day. Simply put, the Rams lack playmakers in the passing game.
-This wasn't an absolutely abysmal performance by the offensive line, but it wasn't good by any stretch of the imagination. Pass protection was okay at best; Bradford was sacked three times and had to buy time with his feet more than you'd like. A holding call on Roger Saffold negated a third down conversion on a drive that could have resulted in a touchdown; instead the Rams settle for a field goal. Jason Smith had a rough day, and was beat cleanly by Patrick Willis for one sack while getting pushed around by other defenders on multiple plays. The run blocking was pretty poor, aside for some nice holes in the third quarter. Jackson simply did not have much running room, which starts up front. The Rams did not seem to win many battles in the trenches. The line completely failed in overtime, as Jackson had little room to work on a second down run and then Bradford was sacked on the subsequent play primary due to breakdowns on the left side of the line, where Foster replaced an injured Saffold.
- The defensive line had a pretty good game, highlighted by a standout performance by Chris Long who looked nearly unblockable. Long finished with three tackles and a sack, but was disruptive and had to be accounted for on a number of plays and forced a holding call or two. Long also had nice coverage on Vernon Davis in the endzone on what could have been a touchdown. The typically active Fred Robbins only really showed up with a nice pass deflection at the line of scrimmage; he was rather quiet the rest of the day. C.J. Ah You and George Selvie made a couple of nice plays. James Hall forced a fumble that ended a San Francisco drive in the third quarter. If there's one complaint about this unit, it's that they got pushed around a decent amount in the running game, especially the right side of the line. Frank Gore's 3.95 yards per carry isn't anything to write home about, but he had more than his fair share of running lanes at times. The Rams also didn't seem to pressure Smith very much on bootleg or rollout passes; the former Heisman candidate had a lot of time when they moved him out of the pocket.
-Laurinaitis made some plays early, most notably contributing on a sack, but didn't stand out as the game went on. Diggs had a couple of nice plays in the running game, but was completely Scooby Doo'd by Vernon Davis on a delayed release that went for a big gain. Chris Chamberlain saw some time with the defense but didn't make much of an impact; the same could probably be said about Bryan Kehl. The Rams had trouble covering tight ends and running back Frank Gore in the passing game, and didn't seem to do much to fill holes and stop Gore running off of the right side. Aside from Laurinaitis, this unit doesn't have anyone who stands out and makes some legitimate plays. Diggs may be adequate at the SAM position, but the WILL linebacker has been pretty quiet in this defense.
-Well, this was a bit of a rough game for the defensive backs. Kevin Dockery inexplicably got the start instead of Bradley Fletcher, and was burned by both Vernon Davis and Josh Morgan for big early gains, though to be fair Dahl was late with safety help on the Morgan pass. Bartell was called for a big 38-yard pass interference penalty for some hand contact with Crabtree without turning to look for the ball, and played Crabs pretty loose on a 15-yard reception and 21-yard crossing route later in the game. The Rams did not do a good job covering tight ends on short routes; both Davis and Walker led the ***** in receptions and did plenty of damage. Dahl had a nice pass break up in the red zone, getting in front of Morgan to disrupt the pass. He finished with team leading 13 tackles on the day, which isn't ideal since he's a safety. When Bradley Fletcher did return, he stood out most for stumbling while trying to cover TE Walker on a big completion right the right sideline. Perhaps the biggest breakdown for the Rams' defense came late in the fourth quarter, when the ***** gained 14 yards on a 3rd and 32 followed by converting a 4th & 18, both with completions to Frank Gore. To be fair, the defense was gashed and tired at that point; the Rams' offense went three and out on the previous four drives. But there's really no excuse for letting your opponent convert on those attempts with the game on the line; rookie Jerome Murphy was playing a deep zone at the first down marker and did not come up to cover Gore on the left side, only making contact with him as he crossed the first down line. The very next play, Crabtree caught a touchdown at the goalline against Bartell. In overtime, OJ Atogwe was called for a VERY questionable pass interference call that helped extend the eventual game-winning drive. Not a great outing for the secondary, but down the stretch, you have to wonder if some more rest time on the sidelines brought about by some longer offensive drives would have helped.
-Special teams was fairly solid. Josh Brown had a kickoff go out of bounds, but was 2/2 on field goals. Bryan Kehl got his hands on a punt and tipped it; Donnie Jones was a stud and consistently had some good distance on his kicks. There wasn't much to speak of in the Rams' return game; Amendola had a long of 25 yards and didn't do much on two punt returns. Given how much Sam depends on him on offense, it'd be nice if Gilyard could take over that role at some point. I guess he's not even ready for that.
-There wasn't a whole lot about the coaching to be impressed with today. Coming off of the bye, you expect a team is going to be prepared and focused. The Rams were anything but. Their 12 penalties for 135 yards is simply excusable, but thankfully the ***** took some attention away from Rams miscues by being flagged 14 times and looking just as unprepared. If you were paying attention, you could already see signs of Pat Shurmur getting his nice comfy shell ready for a second half retreat as early as the second drive of the game; after a false start penalty pushed the Rams back to 1st & 15, Shurmur calls the standard bootleg to the right and draw. Only on third down did he try to stretch the field, but Robinson gave up on the play. The end around to Amendola was a well timed response to the ***** touchdown, but unfortunately a Bradford sack/fumble set up a 3rd & 14 where the pass went to a receiver running a ten-yard route. The "take what the defense gives you" philosophy is fine, unless the defense isn't giving you the first down. At some point, don't you have to take it from them? We'll get to that. On one Bradford incompletion, the play call was a long developing pump to the fullback, throw to the running back... except Bradford didn't think Jackson was open, I guess, because he pulled down and forced it over the middle to the tight end. Very long developing play. With three timeouts and 1:44 on the clock before the half, you kind of expected the Rams to try and get some points before halftime, especially since the ***** got the ball to start the third quarter. Instead, the Rams opted for three straight runs and a punt. The Rams did come out in the third quarter and managed to get some gains on the ground (halftime adjustments!?), with rushes of 10 and 26 yards followed by an eventual 13 yard touchdown run by Jackson. After that, the wheels came off, and Shurmur couldn't dial up anything that his players could execute well enough to keep drives going. Whereas the ***** drew up an offensive gameplan that surprised the Rams with new wrinkles, the Rams stuck to the same ol', same ol' - bootlegs, inside handoffs and draws, bubble screens. The ***** seemed prepared for it all. The Rams went three and out on four drives after the Jackson touchdown; to be fair, two of them could have been extended had Brandon Gibson displayed better field awareness. But the bootlegs and screens to Amendola weren't fooling anyone, and after running well at times in the third quarter, Shurmur couldn't dial up a way to get Jackson some open space with room to run - during this span, Jackson carried four times for two yards. When the defense needed a rest, the offense couldn't find a way to convert for a first down, in part due to execution and in part because Shurmur seemingly didn't want to take many chances. The Rams simply have to find a way to be more effective in the second half if they want to win these close games.
-I'm not going to say too much about the officiating, as I thought most of the calls were pretty fair for both sides. But the OJ Atogwe penalty deserves some special attention in my mind. Simply put, it was an awful call, in my opinion. From the limited angles I've seen when trying to rewatch this video, it appears as if OJ Atogwe is playing the ball. His head is turned to look at the pass, which is one of the reasons he runs into Walker whenever the tight ends tries to reverse field to move towards the errant pass. Contact or cutting off the path of a receiver can be flagged as interference when the defender is not playing the ball, but it appears OJ was. Besides the fact that an argument could be made for the pass being uncatchable, NFL officials are - according to the Rules Digest on the NFL website - supposed to rule against interference if there is any question whether the contact is incidental. What else do you call a play where the ball is thrown way behind the players and the receiver does as much to initiate contact as the defender by reversing course? This penalty extended the ***** overtime drive, putting them in position to kick the winning field goal. It'll be interesting to see how the NFL addresses this one, if they even do.
Re: Random Thoughts from Week 10
Another great post Nick.
IMO, above all else, this is the reason for yet another road loss yesterday, because it's such an obvious, chronic issue.
Originally Posted by Nick
What was most revealing was Bradford's performance on the last game tying drive in regulation. It was a thing of beauty to watch, but it was made possible only after Shurmur had no choice but to go up tempo and open up the playbook. Another revealing point - on that last drive - why didn't Shurmur go all-in with a shot at the endzone on 3rd down @ SF 15? IMO, it's because Shurmur was taking the take-what-the-defense-gives-you philosophy too far to the extreme, again.
Here's an idea, why not change things up just a little bit by going up tempo - like going no huddle a few plays - while having a 2nd half lead? As in everything in life, if you assume little risk, you will receive little achievement.
With that said, I'm sure Shurmur will loosen things up a bit (vertically) when the Rams get better targets for Bradford to throw to... that is... if Shurmur is even around by then.
Re: Random Thoughts from Week 10
I totally agree on what you wrote about Gibson!
I was really irritated at Gibson yesterday. Instead of just figthing for the last yard he takes a step backward and tries to make a big play.......Damn I screamed at the TV.
Somebody should tell him that he should fight for that yard to get the new first down like if it where the line at the endzone!
But at least the Rams have me pumped up again :) The losses are at least close (except that Lions fluke game).
But what Bradford is doing with the WR's he has around him is simply amazing.
If Bradford and Long continues playing at this level I thing I will have to buy two Rams shirts this year :)