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  1. #1
    r8rh8rmike's Avatar
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    Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB

    Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB

    BY BERNIE MIKLASZ
    Monday, November 29, 2010


    Good morning ...

    The win at Denver was important for the Rams, and the players deserve a lot of credit for hanging in there and surving a late comeback for a 36-33 victory. But clearly the Rams' coaching staff has to reconsider its late-game strategy and philosophy on offense.

    On the final three possessions at Denver, the Rams went three-and-out each time. They ran the ball on seven of the nine plays. Those runs picked up only 11 yards. Both passing attempts were on 3rd down. The Rams ran it on first and second down every time. The Broncos knew what was coming and they loaded up to stop Steven Jackson.

    There was all kind of things the Rams could have done instead. With Denver crazed to stop the run, go ahead and exploit it by faking the handoff and throwing relatively safe, low-risk play-action passes. The Broncos were vulnerable to that strategy.

    Of if you want to run it, then spread the formation and loosen up the defense to give Jackson some running lanes. I've been writing it and offering the stats for weeks now; Jackson averages 4.5 yards per carry when the Rams go with 3 WRs. He averages 5.2 yards per carry when the Rams go with 4 wides.

    But for some reason, HC Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur still believe the Rams can go into a standard alignment, or use a power formation -- tank up -- and muscle their way to yards on the ground. The problem is, the Rams aren't very good at that. Not even close. The interior of the O-line doesn't move the big guys out of the way. The blocking from the tight ends isn't great. Jackson breaks some tackles, but he doesn't make defenders miss. A speed-back type has the potential for breakaway runs when the defense is stacked up front. But Jackson is a big target, and they're going to slam him. That's the reality.

    So why do the Rams insist on doing something that doesn't work very well? The approach is stubborn. I know what the coaches are thinking: we have a lead, we're in control, so now we'll just pound it with SJ39 and work some clock. We'll eat up the yards and the minutes on the ground. That's basic football. Old-school football. But again: it isn't working for the 2010 Rams. They aren't a strong running team. And while no one is suggesting that these coaches abandon the run, it's pretty obvious that they're overestimating the team's ability to grind it out when everyone in the stadium knows it's coming.

    Some numbers for you from STATS LLC:

    -- In the 4th quarter this season, Jackson is averaging 3.2 yards per carry. He had 8 carries for 17 yards in the 4th at Denver.

    -- When the Rams are ahead in the game, Jackson has carried 116 times for 359 yards, an average of 3.1 per run. He has 1 TD in those situations and has been stuffed 14 times.

    -- In the 4th quarter, when the Rams are ahead by no more than 7 points or down by no more than 7 points, Jackson has rushed 32 times for 86 yards (2.7 per.)

    -- When the Rams are winning a game by 7 points or less, Jackson has rushed 69 times for 197 yards, an average of 2.9 yds per carry. In the last four games, he's picked up only 1 first down in those scenarios.

    -- When the Rams are winning by 8-14 points, Jackson has done better, averaging 3.8 yards on 40 carries. (That's his season average on all carries.) But that's been inflated by three carries that generated between 15 and 20 yards. On the other 37 runs, Jackson is 37 for 105 (2.8 avg.)

    Hey, it would be great if the Rams could do the old Washington Redskins thing, back when The Hogs and John Riggins roamed the earth. But the Rams simply aren't that team. Not yet, anyway.

    And by being so timid and playing it so safe in the final 10 minutes at Denver, the coaches left the gate open for a Broncos comeback. Thankfully for the Rams, DE Chris Long, MLB James Laurinaitis and the Rams defense came up with big plays to make the stop on Denver's final drive.

    * So what should the Rams do instead? Again, no one is suggesting that they become one-dimensional. You have to mix in the run. If the defense can't stop the run, then you keep banging with the run. But at Denver, the Broncos made it obvious that they were going to do everything possible to limit Jackson. And Shurmur and the Rams offense took advantage of this by giving QB Sam Bradford a chance to make plays and control this game until it ends.

    * Shurmur's first-half creativity was outstanding. The Rams ran some reverses, some well-designed screens, and a clever throwback pass that also worked the week before vs. Atlanta. The Rams managed to score on five consecutive first-half possessions. They had 26 points at the half -- their most first-half in a game since the 2000 season. And Bradford, with three-first half TD passes, was playing magnificently. The Rams had a great plan, and Sam and the offense did a wonderful job of executing it.

    * So if something is working, then why in the world would you stop doing it? How does that make sense? If Denver is intent -- overly so -- on stopping Jackson, then make them pay for it. They're doing you a favor. So accept the favor, give the football to Bradford, and let him pick the defense apart. As he was doing in Denver until the Rams' coaches went into the scared-to-death mode.

    * Here's the irony: Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Richard Curl have done a sensational job of preparing Bradford. I worried about that, but Shurmur and Curl put all of those concerns to rest. They're really good at mentoring Bradford. Same with Coach Spags. So when the Rams have a lead and a chance to finish a team off, then why don't they trust Bradford? Why don't they have absolute faith in him to make the plays and avoid mistakes and deliver the knockout punch? Heck, they've helped develop Bradford into becoming that type of QB this early in his career. The coaches should respect their own work.

    * Here's what I mean by that: Bradford isn't going to do anything stupid. He's already excellent at playing to the score, playing to the clock, understanding game situations. He isn't a flaky kid who is going to start running around, helter skelter, and throwing the football up for grabs. Bradford has remarkable maturity and intelligence for someone who has played in 11 NFL games. He's already earned trust. He's someone you can rely on late in games.

    * Over the last six games, Bradford is playing at a Top 10 level. His passer rating over the last six games is 97.1, ninth in the league. Over the last six games Bradford has 11 TDs and 1 INT. He's completed 64 percent of his throws. Over the last six games, Bradford has thrown 8 fewer interceptions than Peyton Manning, 9 fewer interceptions than Drew Brees. Over the last six games, Bradford has thrown 3 more TD passes than Matt Schaub, and f5 more TD passes than Matt Hasselbeck. Over the last six games, Bradford has completed a higher percentage of passes than Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers.

    * In other words: this Bradford fellow is pretty good. To say the least. And Bradford plays well with the lead. When the Rams have the lead this season, Bradford has thrown for 7 TDs (and 2 INTs) for a rating of 84.4. When the Rams are winning between 1 and 7 points, Bradford has completed 59 percent of his passes with 7 TDs, 1 INT and a passer rating of 95.4. He can handle any situation. There is nothing to fear.

    * I want to say another positive thing about Shurmur: his run/pass balance (up until late in the game) was very good. By sticking with the run, and by keeping Denver geared up to stop SJ39, it kept things opened up for the passing game. That balance was smart. That's why they have to maintain it for four quarters.

    * The Fox broadcasters suggested that the Rams went conservative on offense in the 4th Q because Bradford had struggled in the 4th quarter. Well, early in the season that might have been true. Bradford had two 4th quarter INTs in the opener vs. Arizona. But over his last six games, Bradford has completed 65 percent of his passes in the 4th quarter. He has a TD pass and one INT. His rating is 80.2. And I would argue that the rating would be higher if the Rams coaches the Rams allowed Bradford to be Bradford in the 4th quarters. If Bradford would be allowed to continue to go on the attack, he'd have more 4th Q TD passes. Over the last six games, when it's a 7-point game (one way or the other), Bradford has completed 65 percent and has a rating of 94.3. The kid knows what he's doing. The 4th quarter doesn't frighten him. Why should it frighten the coaches?

    * Rams rookie tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is an exciting talent. As a receiver he's strong enough to power through defenders and break tackles, and he's fleet enough to outrun smaller guys. But this isn't a finesse tight end that's really a glorified wideout. Big Mike can block. He brings it. There's only one problem: at this point, you just have to wonder if he'll ever be able to stay healthy, and in the lineup, for extended stretches of games. At Illinois, Big Mike was able to play in only 9 games in 2009, his final season with the Illini. It's one of the reasons why he dropped to the 5th round in the draft. And with the Rams, injuries have taken him off the track and into the shop for repairs on multiple occasions. His terrific preseason didn't carry over for long; Illinois Mike hurt his ankle in the regular-season opener and missed several weeks. Now he's down again, having to leave Sunday's win at Denver with ankle and rib injuries soon after going 36 exciting yards for a TD with a catch-and-run on a screen pass. That was two TDs in the last two games. He has 3 TDs on only 13 receptions this season. A great young man. A potentially elite player. But can Big Mike stay on the field? Gosh, you hope so. His luck will improve at some point, right?

    * The Rams offensive line is doing a very good job of protecting Bradford. He's been sacked 22 times this season. The team's sacks-allowed rate of 5.1 percent is the 11th-best in the NFL.

    * The Rams are a different offense with Danario Alexander on the field. But can they keep him on the field?

    * I don't know what can be done about it, but the Rams' defense is getting scorched through the air. In the last three games the defense has allowed 956 yards passing and 6 TD passes. The QB rating against the Rams defense over the last three games is 109.2. That must change. The Rams won't be able to win this division -- even though it's a junk division -- with such a glaring weakness. The cornerback play has slipped. The nickel corners have been awful. And other than O.J. Atogwe, the Rams safeties cannot cover.

    That's all for now ... I may add more later.

    Thanks.

    Bernie


  2. #2
    mcpeepants232003's Avatar
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    Re: Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB

    good article, it touches on all of our late game concerns and it kind of reinforces my opinion that SJ isn't declining. Instead it's that we are running in obvious running situations and that our guards aren't opening up holes for him.

  3. #3
    Rambos's Avatar
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    Re: Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB

    I agree with this 100%. I wonder if Spags had an all pro QB would he have the same approach with the lead or in a close game? He is a defensive coach so I'm afraid to say it, but itís not that he does not trust Bradford, it's the way he would manage a game period.

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    shower beers's Avatar
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    Re: Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB

    It seems to make sense in theory, that is the playcalling late in games with the lead, but it's obviously not working. Teams are keying in on it. I have to agree with Bernie here.

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    sonnyjames is offline Registered User
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    Re: Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB

    Bernie this season has been absolutely full of...

    ...sense.

    Can't disagree with anything there really. He's spot on. So frustrating to see us make predictable calls like we did in the fourth. Otherwise tho, we'd shown creativity and real aggression with the ball...we just seemed to clam up as the win came into sight. Hopefully now the road w is on the board, that's one trait we won't see again.

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    RockinRam's Avatar
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    Re: Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB

    IF Shurmur continued to keep the playbook open in the second half like how he did in the first half, we might have put up 45+ points on the Broncos, and they probably would not have came back with like 2 unanswered TDs.

  7. #7
    TekeRam's Avatar
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    Re: Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB

    I think that we traded the real Bernie away when we got a new QB and a new owner. This new Bernie makes a lot of sense and is very hard to argue with. We absolutely should be letting Bradford take control of the game right up to the end. If we have a lead and the defense is stoked to stop Jax, then let Bradford do some play-action and catch those safeties and linebackers looking in the backfield. Keep the balance, but give the offense a chance to win. We don't have a mauling offensive line, so we can't go up against stacked fronts. Make the defense accountable. Split out the wides and threaten the pass and the run at the same time.
    I believe!

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