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Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
BERNIE MIKLASZ | Posted: Monday, October 18, 2010 9:17 am
* The Rams and their coaching staff are on parallel tracks. Many of the young Rams are experiencing things in the NFL for the first time. Steve Spagnuolo had never been a head coach before. Pat Shurmur had never been an offensive coordinator. Ken Flajole had never been a defensive coordinator. So whether we like it or not, there are going to be ups and downs. Good days and bad. Excellent stretches, followed by puzzling phases of games.
It was a lot like that Sunday in the 20-17 win over San Diego. Spags did an absolutely perfect job of getting his guys mentally and emotionally ready to go after the 38-point wipeout in Detroit. For those of you who ridiculed me and others in the media for praising Spagnuolo last season beause he was able to keep the players together and working hard despite the gloom of a 1-15 record -- well, now perhaps you'll know why we believed that was a positive sign. Hopefully you've been enlightened. Because this is a coach who connects with his players. They want to play for him. They want to make him happy. And in the sport of football, sustaining good morale is a big plus because (1) there will be lots of adversity along the way, and (2) this is a brutal game physically, and players are always hurting, and if they are ambivalent about their coach, they won't be motored up to put their bodies on the line again. That's just the way it is. So yeah, when Spags showed an ability to keep his guys going during a cruel sequence of bad losses last season, it offered solid evidence that he had the necessary motivational skills. The Rams' players really respect this guy and want to do well for him.
That said, Spags is also a work in progress. For whatever reason, he wasn't able to convince his guys of the dangers that awaited them in Detroit, and the young Rams took a 44-6 loss on the jaw. But even that defeat had value; I think this team learned that they have to take an aggressive, desperate mindset into every game. And so a young team found that out the hard way and carried that lesson forward. It's part of an evolving team personality. And if anyone thinks this happens overnight, or that it's automatic, then they know nothing about football.
Sunday, the Rams played about as well as a team can do it during the first half against San Diego. They overran a more talented Chargers squad and rolled to a 17-3 lead. That gap could have been bigger, but the Rams weren't able to maximize their opportunities.
But the second half was a different story. And hopefully Spagnuolo and Shurmur took something from this experience that will cause them to reflect and handle it differently, and better, the next time the Rams take a two-TD lead into the second half.
The Rams went way too cautious on offense. Way too conservative. The approach sent the wrong signal to the team: hey, we're afraid of mistakes. We don't want anything bad to happen. We don't trust you. We're going to play it safe, really safe. And the Rams completely got away from the offensive mindset that helped build that 17-3 lead. Shurmur tried to sit on a 14-point lead with two quarters to go. Look, SD wasn't going to go down quitely. You knew they'd respond and come back. The Rams needed to try and get more points. No one is saying that they should have opened up the offense and gone crazy, but you can't retreat and stop attacking. You can't try to run out the clock with 30 minutes left to go. No one does that. In the second half the Rams were cautious to the extreme, attempting ony 7 passes and completing 3.
Shurmur opened things up again in the 4th quarter on the drive that ended with a crucial 48-yard field goal by Josh Brown. The Rams called several passing plays on the drive. Shurmur came up with a beauty on 3rd and 9 from the Chargers' 44-yard line. Bajema stayed in as if to pass block, briefly engaged a SD pass rusher to slow him up, then headed toward the right sideline for an 18-yard catch and run to produce the first down. It was a great call by Shurmur. And it wasn't anything nuts; it was actually fairly safe, but it also showed some imagination. The Rams could have run more of those type of plays in the second half.
In the end, the Rams got away with it, because the offensive line dug after a passionate Steven Jackson pep talk and pounded the Chargers defense for two game-sealing runs of 9 and 12 yards. But I hope Shurmur and Spags understood the irony of what happened: by playing things so safe, they actually put their team and the victory at risk.
* Spagnuolo later said that he was busy working with the defense in the third and fourth quarter and left Shurmur and the offense on their own. With all due respect to Spags, but he's got to supervise the way things are going on the other side of the ball. Which he nornally does. But not in this situation. I appreciate Spags' talent in devising defenses; we've seen the value of that this season, because the Rams have developed a helluva pass rush. But at times -- like the second half on Sunday -- Spagnuolo will have to do what every good HC does. And that's to intervene when necessary to make sure his assistants are doing the right thing. A big part of being a head coach is coaching your assistants, too. But again, I honestly believe the Rams' coaches will learn from this.
* Spags briefly reaffirmed that late in the 4th quarter, when he ordered Jackson to get into the huddle and get the offensive line fired up before the final drive. Spags new his offense needed a push. Wish that had come sooner. But again: this second-year coach is doing a really good job. We can see that he's coached the players up, and he's making them better. And we can see his ability to cultivate an endearing team personality. And we can also see his skills as a defensive tactician. Some fans don't want to hear it -- they expect a guy with 22 games of head-coaching experience to be a finished product, as if he should be as astute as Bill Belichick -- but it simply does not happen right away. For goodness sake, Chuck Noll went 1-13 in his first season as a head coach at Pittsburgh. We should always try to remember that.
* Major props to Ken Flajole. He's done an impressive job with his blitz schemes, and in the timing of calling those blitzes. Philip Rivers had never been sacked more than 5 times in a game during his career; the Rams nabbed him 7 times Sunday. The pressure was outstanding. And in came from a lot of areas. It's unrealistic to expect a defense to blitz on every down, or virtually every down. The DBs would crumble under the burden of so many 1-on-1 responsibilities. But Flajole certainly seems to have the touch in picking his spots. The Rams are also getting some push up front from their D-line when they rush four. Here's the bottom line on the Rams defense: they have played six games. They have had one all-out stinker (Detroit) and one poor half (2nd half at Oakland.) But toss aside the loss at Detroit, and the Rams have have allowed 17 points to Arizona, 16 points to Oakland, 16 points to Washington, 3 points to Seattle and 17 points to San Diego. One bad game. In the other five the Rams have allowed 13.8 points per game. Well done.
* By the way, I don't want to hear about the injuries to Chargers receiving weapons Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd. Injuries are a big part of the NFL. The Rams have had to endure their share of them this season, and no one on the other side sent sympathy cards across the field. This is a game of survival. Everyone has to go through trauma. When you have key people hurt, no one feels sorry for you. No one puts an asterisk next to a victory -- or a loss, for that matter. You lose guys, you suck it up, and you get it done -- or not. That's all. So don't tell me about injuries. Tell me if the team won or lost.
* Bradford has completed passes to 13 different receivers this season. That's outstanding. As we've noted before, one of the Rams' plusses on offense is the strength in numbers among their receivers. They may not have the so-called superstar, but there are lots of options. When Bradford has been at his best, it's been when he's distributed the ball to many targets. His worst game came in Detroit, when he locked onto Danny Amendola for 19 passing attempts. That just makes it easy for the defense. Against the Chargers, Bradford tried to connect with 10 different receivers, hitting 9 of them for completions.Here's a good number: vs. San Diego, no Rams' pass catcher was targeted more than 5 times. Bradford attempted 5 passes to Danario Alexander, Billy Bajema, Brandon Gibson and Amendola. He threw 3 to Mardy Gilyard, and 2 each to Daniel Fells, Big Mike Hoomanawanui and Steven Jackson. Mike Karney and Kenneth Darby were each targeted once. Or to break it down another way: 18 attempts to the wideouts, 9 to the tight ends, 3 to the running backs, 1 to the fullback. That's exceptional balance. The defense really has to work when the defenders don't know where the ball is going. It makes a huge difference.
* With Bajema and Big Mike back in the flow, and with DX joining the crew, and with Gilyard making some progress, Bradford probably has more appealing options available to him now than he's had at any point this season. No, he doesn't have WR Mark Clayton. That's a blow. But look at it this way: at least the season-ending loss of Clayton was alleviated a bit by the fact that the Rams were able to put three new targets (DX, Big Mike and Bajema) into the lineup vs. San Diego. Bajema and Big Mike each had missed several weeks due to injury.
* Twitter trivia: I put this out there last night, and if you missed it, here's a little factoid: Alexander became the first Mizzou wide receiver to catch a TD pass for a St. Louis NFL team since Mel Gray on Nov. 8, 1981.
* The offensive line got it done at the end. It isn't easy to run the ball to put a game away when everyone in the place knows it's coming. But that's what the Rams did.
* Once again, the people out there who malign SJ39 need to pay attention, need to reevaluate their thoughts on him. The guy is a strong leader who says the right things and does the right things. When Jax addressed the huddle before that last drive, everyone snapped to attention and responded. And he backed up the speech by putting everything he had into two carries that gained 9 and 12 yards when the Rams absolutely had to have it.
* And you know what was the first thing that Jackson said after the game? That to truly become a playoff contender, they have to win on the road -- and winning on the road is the next challenge they must conquer. This was the ideal post-game message for a young team: look ahead. Feel good about winning this game, but let's move it ahead and think about what must be done at Tampa Bay.
* It looked like Gilyard ran the wrong route a couple, three times in Sunday's game. I don't know what the problem is. We all want this guy to do well. I hope he's sleeping with the playbook. His head should be in the playbook at every free moment. But Mardy has plenty of game. He went low to the ground to make a huge 21-yard reception for a first down on a 3rd and 17 play in the second quarter; the grab kept alive a drive that ended in an SJ39 touchdown run and a 17-0 lead. Gilyard may want to work a little on his celebration. That hand on the hips, hand in the air thing ... well .... Richard Simmons would like it.
* How good does Rams GM Billy Devaney look right now? We're not gonna put Danario Alexander into the Pro Football Hall of Fame just yet. But 31 other teams had a chance to sign him to a contract, had a chance to sign him to the practice squad. The Rams were cautious, and they did their due dilligence, and took a low-cost risk to bring Alexander aboard. This was a small gamble -- no gamble at all, really -- that could lead to a big payoff.
* I will say this about Billy D: I have questioned his aggressiveness, and I wonder if he plays it too safe. Those questions remain. But you have to like the return the Rams have gotten out of the receivers brought in by Devaney. Amendola was picked up for nothing. Same with Alexander. The Rams traded a player they weren't going to re-sign, LB Will Witherspoon, to Philadelphia for Gibson. Clayton was secured from Baltimore for an exchange of late-round draft picks. (And though he's gone for the rest of 2010, let's not forget the extraordinary job Clayton did in easing Bradford's transition to the NFL.) Laurent Robinson was acquired from Atlanta for a late-round pick. Gilyard was a 4th-round draft pick. As for the tight ends: Fells was a low-cost free-agent pickup, Bajema was signed away from the ***** in an economical free-agent deal, Big Mike was a 5th-round draft pick, and project Fendi Onobun was chosen in the 6th round. For a team that's lost three wideouts to season-snuffing injuries -- Donnie Avery, Clayton and Dominique Curry -- the Rams and Devaney have done a good job of filling the unexpected holes.
* Clutch kick by Josh Brown. The Chargers were armed and dangerous and making a move when Brown lined up for the 48-yarder, which obviously is a difficult, challenging kick. Let's face it: because the Rams have been so bad during Brown's time here, he hasn't been required to take many money kicks. I know that he hit a big one at Washington in 2008 at the end of the game to give interim coach Jim Haslett a victory. But nailing that 48-yarder against the Chargers was huge. The Rams desperately needed it. Turned out to be the final margin of victory, too.
* The Rams have won three in a row at The Ed. That's the longest home winning streak since they won their last four home games of the 2004 season. The Rams were 2-22 at home from 2007-2009, so yeah, being 3-1 there this season is a pretty big deal.
* In the Rams' three wins, this is what Bradford has done on third down: 23 of 36 (64 percent), 7.36 yards per attempt, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 18 first downs, a passer rating of 104.5.
As always, thanks for reading....
Re: Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
Already, who is this guy and what did they do with the original Bernie M? Actually, I don't care what they did with him.
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