Bernie Bits: Time Now For Rams To Play Their Best
Bernie Bits: Time now for Rams to play their best
BY BERNIE MIKLASZ
Saturday, January 1, 2011 12:20 am
Final thoughts on the Rams-Seahawks matchup:
• If the Rams play their best game, or close to it, they will prevail. The Seahawks are a mess right now. They've lost seven of the last nine games, with all seven losses deteriorating into ugly blowouts.
• The advantage of Qwest Field hasn't helped much as of late; Seattle has dropped three of the last four at home. Since the start of the 2008 season, the Seahawks are 10-13 at home.
• Not that it's a comfy venue for visiting teams. The place can cause chaos and confusion for offensive linemen. Since 2005, visiting O lines have twitched for 105 false start penalties. The Rams have committed 28 false starts this season, the league's third-highest total. Rookie offensive tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith have five apiece. If the Rams are jumpy up front they'll fall through the trap door at Qwest.
• Accordingly, the Rams will have to remain steady early on, tune the fans out and take Seattle's best hit. The Seahawks usually get off to a decent start; in the seven losses they've had the lead or been tied in four of the games at the end of the first quarter. (And they've been within a touchdown of the lead in two others.) The energized crowd will get the home team pumped. If the Rams can ride it out early, they'll be fine. When a game turns on the Seahawks, they tend to collapse. In their last seven losses Seattle has been outscored 211-76 after the first quarter.
• The Rams' defense must be aggressive, and that's a specialty of a Steve Spagnuolo defense. I think the Rams defense can, and should, win this game. During this 2-7 stretch Seattle has committed 20 turnovers, allowed 21 sacks and been penalized 56 times. Seattle quarterbacks have a passer rating of 68.2 over the last nine games, with 19 turnovers. The Rams' disruptive style of defense should be able to take advantage of Seattle's error-prone offense.
• When the teams met in St. Louis on Oct. 3, the Rams had four sacks, two takeaways, 10 combined quarterback pressures and knockdowns and limited the visitors to three points in a 20-3 win. And the Seahawks were much better then -- at least compared to how they are playing now.
• Seattle offensive tackles Russell Okung and Sean Locklear have been on the wobbly side. So if Rams defensive ends James Hall and Chris Long can get the locomotive breath going, it could be an overwhelming experience for the Seattle OTs. Long and Hall have combined for 19 sacks and 56 quarterback hurries and knockdowns. On the other side of this equation, the Rams have to put the lock on Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons. He's good. Really good.
• I'm sorry, but did Seattle coach Pete Carroll really think he was conning the Rams by pretending that Matt Hasselbeck was a no-go, and that backup Charlie Whitehurst would be the starter at quarterback? Not a single person at Rams Park expected Hasselbeck to sit this one out with a hip injury. And sure enough, he practiced Friday. And does it matter? If the Rams defense swarms the pocket, the Seattle QBs will be under fire.
• According to STATS LLC, the Rams' defense has caused 99 "negative" plays this season — plays that lose yards. Only five NFL defenses have forced more negative plays this season. That's why I like hearing this from Rams cornerback Ron Bartell: "We're not going to sit on our heels. It's do or die right now. We don't need to go in there and be kind of soft."
• Chris Long said it best: the Rams have to stop Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. With so much turmoil at the QB position, the Seahawks probably will try to win a low-scoring game by running the football and cutting down on mistakes. If the Rams can keep Lynch and the struggling Seattle rushing attack in check, they'll put the home team in some terrible third-down predicaments.
• Seattle's defense allows a lot of big plays and quick-strike scoring drives, but the Rams are not a big-play offense. It'll be interesting to see the approach taken by Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. The Rams need to keep running back Steven Jackson busy and maintain some balance. The Seahawks have given up 100 yards or more rushing six times over the last nine games and twice were pounded for more than 200 yards rushing. An effective run game will set up play-action passes and keep the Seahawks from crashing Sam Bradford's pocket.
• Can the Rams lose? Of course; they aren't a proven road team. And they're a young team that's still trying to build an above-average talent base. And they have a ways to go. But this is a no-excuse kind of game; Seattle has been playing poorly for more than two months now. The Rams can't match up with the league's elite teams, and they aren't better than many NFL teams. But the Rams are the superior team in this matchup. The Rams will lose if they commit too many penalties, don't take care of the football, fail to take advantage of too many scoring opportunities and blow assignments on defense. If the Rams play a disciplined game, they'll win.
• Leon Washington is among the best and most dangerous return men in the league. He can change the game for the Seahawks. It's imperative for the Rams must reign him in. They cannot have a special-teams debacle cost them an 8-8 season and a division championship.
• If he's physically ready to go, Rams rookie tight end Michael Hoomanawanui looms as an important player in this game. The Seahawks don't cover tight ends well. And Illinois Mike can get behind their linebackers.
• Bottom line? The Rams are facing a declining team that has won two games since Halloween. A team that has serious QB issues, a sluggish running game, turnover problems and a defense that's giving up 27 points per game. The Rams are hardly a finished product, but this is a game they have to win.
Playing under the bright lights shouldn't bother Bradford on Sunday night — not if you go by how he performed in night football during his college career at Oklahoma. Bradford was 14-2 in night games and threw 47 touchdown passes with only six interceptions. "I love playing at night," Bradford told me earlier this week. "My favorite games were those Saturday-night games on ABC."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is friends with Spagnuolo and a big Rams fan. La Russa believes Spags' background has prepared him well for Sunday's game in Seattle. "His experience as a defensive coordinator in helping the New York Giants win the Super Bowl (over New England) is invaluable," La Russa said. "That Giants team had to play every playoff game on the road that year and won them all. Spags knows what it's like to get a team ready for a game like this."
In an interview with Rich Eisen of the NFL Network, St. Louisan Jon Hamm the award-winning actor who plays Don Draper on "Mad Men", explained he's ambivalent about the Rams and has remained loyal to the football Cardinals. "Growing up, I was a football Cardinal fan in the heady days of Dan Dierdforf, Roger Wehrli, Pat Tilley, Mel Gray, Conrad Dobler," Hamm said. "And then they broke my heart and bailed out in the late '80s when they moved to Arizona. But I still weirdly have a crazy connection with the Cardinal franchise. It's hard to give it up.''
And the Rams? Hamm said he never adopted them but 'sort of rooted for them" during the Greatest Show on Turf years. "They scored points in bunches and it was a fun team to watch," Hamm said. And now? "They've kind of got an interesting team this year," he said. "I was not a big (Sam) Bradford fan when he came in. He kind of proved me wrong. It was like 'This kid's going to break.' He had a bum shoulder and he was a little unproven to me. But man, he's looked pretty danged good. I think he surprised a lot of people in the league, too."
Re: Bernie Bits: Time Now For Rams To Play Their Best
Every time I see Bernie's name, I think of Nemwan on Seinfeld.