Week Nine: Post-Game Observations
What a difference a week makes.
Last weekend, Rams fans were celebrating an incredible victory over a team many felt overmatched the winless Rams in numerous phases of the game. Somehow, the Rams dug deep and mustered enough willpower to get their first victory of the season.
Coming off such a highly-charged, emotional win, it was natural to predict the Rams would come down from Cloud Nine What fans were hoping, though, was that the descent wouldn’t be a free fall back into the hapless, frustrating team from the first quarter of the 2011 season.
The return of Sam Bradford was a game-time decision that left many fans scratching their heads. While most acknowledge that a healthy Bradford gives this team the best chance to win, the Rams would not be fielding a healthy Bradford on this day. Nor would they feature a Sam Bradford who had the benefit of a full practice week with his team. On the contrary, Bradford participated in limited practices leading up to the game, after missing a number of weeks with his ankle injury.
Needless to say, you could see the results on the field. Bradford often looked inaccurate with his throws, not in sync with his receivers, particularly Brandon Lloyd. Sam did not see the field particularly well, and was at least partially responsible for two of his four sacks. His interception, a deep pass off of a trick play, was underthrown, allowing Patrick Peterson the chance to recover and make a play on the ball. Needless to say, it was not #8’s best day.
The offensive line had an okay but unspectacular day, not only protecting Bradford but also opening up holes for Steven Jackson. The line helped Jackson run for a 130-yards at an average of 4.5 yards per pop, but when the chips were down and the Rams needed to make a hole on third and fourth down conversion attempts, the line frequently could not muster up enough strength to win in the trenches. Too many times, Bradford was left scrambling for some more time, not something you want a quarterback with an injured ankle to have to do. Still, we’ve seen worse performances from this unit in the season.
Steven Jackson did his best to bring the Rams their second victory in a row, running hard and often lunging for more yardage in important situations. Why the Rams elected to run Jackson wide to the left on a critical fourth-quarter fourth-down conversion rather than pounding him inside is a bit baffling to me, though I respect the decision to go for it in that situation. Still, I would have liked to see the Rams call a play that had a better chance for success.
Along with Jackson, the Rams’ receivers did an admirable job today. Brandon Lloyd led the group with 80 yards, a number of those coming in the two-minute offense before halftime. Greg Salas was really coming on, so naturally it was time for the injury gods to end his season with a broken leg. Brandon Gibson made some nice plays, but this group still lacks a playmaker in the receiving core. We can only hope that, as Bradford gains more comfort with Lloyd, he’ll become that guy. He’s the closest (and probably only) hope the Rams have.
Defensively, the Rams did not play perfect, but played well enough to deserve a win. John Skelton’s numbers weren’t awful, but he clearly wasn’t being handed anything and the two Rams safeties showed they were getting to him when they needed to. That Skelton was also the team’s leading rusher tells of the kind of performance the Rams’ defense had in terms of shutting down Beanie Wells (2.0 yards per carry on 10 attempts). Stud receiver Larry Fitzgerald was held to four receptions on twelve targets, though a number of them were slightly off due to the quarterbacking situation. Still, Fitz managed to come up when his team needed him, grabbing a wonderful touchdown reception to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
This brings me to the most disappointing part of this game – one team made plays when they needed to, and another didn’t. The Rams had the ball with 51 seconds to go at the end of the game, needing only a field goal. They managed to get into range, but the Cardinals made the play, blocking the kick and forcing overtime. The Rams had previously kicked three successful field goals in the game, but after the Arizona touchdown, something in my gut just gnawed at me as I wondered if this, the most important attempt, would somehow be ruined.
But that’s okay, because the Rams won the overtime coin toss. They could simply march down the field into field goal position – they don’t even have to worry about finding that ever-elusive endzone – and kick the game winner. As Steven Jackson ran for a 15-yard gain, I began to wonder if they were going to do it. Was Sam going to take this team on his shoulders and will them to victory? Was Steven going to pull this team onto his back and carry them to glory?
A first down pass from Bradford sailed too far for Brandon Lloyd, who was just breaking open down the right sideline. On second down, a minimal advance from Steven Jackson, who had little room to run. And on third down, Bradford decided against throwing to a wide-open Brandon Gibson, instead throwing too far for a double-covered Billy Bajema. The Rams would be forced to punt.
And punt they did, forcing Patrick Peterson all the way back to his one yard line. He wouldn’t field it, that would be crazy. No experienced return man would field a punt at that point on the field, in overtime, where the risk of something bad happening was so great. Well, something bad did happen… to the Rams. Peterson hauled the ball in, broke through four of the weakest arm tackles I’ve ever seen, and in one 99-yard play, buried the Rams’ hopes in this game.
Head coach Steve Spagnuolo has to be frustrated. He’s fielding a defense that, for the second week in a row, probably played well enough to win. He decided to put his star quarterback on the field despite a limited work week, hoping to spark an offense that really didn’t need much of a spark after a great performance the previous week. And once again, that offense could not convert drives into touchdowns. Of the 13 offensive drives for the Rams on Sunday, only three of them ended in points, seven in punts. I will be the first one to point out that this team would have really benefitted from an offseason to learn Josh McDaniels’ offense, and should this coaching staff stay around for 2012, I think we’ll see improvement as they continue to learn the nuances of the scheme.
But in the meantime, Spagnuolo needs to break out the shorts, because his rear is definitely heated. The excuses are starting to run out. The tough part of the schedule is in the rear view mirror. Based on the way the Cardinals’ offense played, this should have been a winnable game. Heck, most of the remaining contests should be winnable at this point, save a few here or there. At least, winnable for a competent team that shows up every week. But that, the Rams are not. And who holds the blame? Obviously the players have to be responsible for their play first and foremost, but we can’t hide behind the fact that this is largely the team Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney have assembled. If these players aren’t getting the job done week in and week out, then you have to start thinking about who decided to bring these players in.
If the Rams don’t start playing better football, if they don’t find a way to recapture the magic that helped them win their first game a week ago, then the excuses won’t be enough to save this regime. Good coaches find ways to get their players to play to their best and win winnable games, especially against equally questionable competition. That should be Spagnuolo’s goal from this point forward, because believe me, despite the 1-7 record, every one of these games counts.
Re: Week Nine: Post-Game Observations
Nice post as always Nick...
I agree we are in the portion of the schedule where we need to win and should start winning. last week no one thought we could win and we pulled of the biggest upset of this season, this week we had a winnable game and we came up short. We controlled the clock and pretty much dominated a team on the road, we just came up short.
The Brown's are up next, no excuses are left for this staff. We can ride the strengthen of our defense. IMO they have played to back to back solid games, really have done well against the run in the last two weeks. Long and Quinn are starting to lead the front four and the LB are playing much better. Chris Chamberlain has out played Ben Leber, this is one of the biggest errors we made in the shorten off-season... The three vet LB really set us back.
The offense will be bad the rest of the year, I'm afraid. The TE's has been a huge disappointment. Kendricks has played poor. Iron Mike has done nothing and Bajema has done nothing but make mistakes.
I wish we would have kept Daniel Fells, he and Sam made some nice plays last year and I saw him make some nice plays in Denver a few weeks ago. Again this staff has missed in the roster moves IMO more so then in the draft. Don't even ask about Avery being let go and MSW doing nothing and then being cut.
If Spags is going to keep his job he is going to have to earn it... his defense played well enough to win last week, but this defense is going to have to play lights out if we are going to win, I don't see the offense score a whole lot of points no matter who we play.
I think if we get blown out by the Saints and then beat the Cards, most fans would think we are just beating bottom feeders... If we would had got blown out of the Cards I would be done, but we played a solid game on the road and just came up short. Three weeks ago the defense looked as bad as the offense, looks like we have stepped up the defense.. I have little faith in McD offense right now.
Re: Week Nine: Post-Game Observations
I almost started a thread questioning the decision to start Bradford before the game. I suppose Spags and J-Mac felt Sam gave us the best chance to win, but did he really? For the last 2 weeks A.J. had been taking all the reps with the first team, and against the Saints proved he could manage a game well enough to grab a win. Feeley apparently split reps with Sam a day or maybe two before last Sunday's debacle in Arizona, but prior to that he was taking all the reps. So had Feeley played against the Cardinals, he would have had the benefit of 2 weeks practice taking reps with the first team - that and the fact that he was healthy is not without significance. It might have afforded him the time and reps to hone his timing with Brandon Lloyd on deep routes - something we'll never know now.
Originally Posted by Nick
Would it not have been wiser and safer (Sam's ankle) to start Feeley, and give him the chance to manage and win another game against a conceivably lesser foe? If he struggled badly, Sam could have come in and relieved him - nothing to lose there, as there will never be a qb controversy over Sam and A.J. Before the game both my wife and I questioned the decision to start Bradford. My inclination would have been to start A.J. and give Sam another week to heal along with the benefit of having Sam take all the reps in practice with the 1st team this week as J-Mac installs the game plan for Cleveland .. Whatever .. it's all hindsight now ...