10.18.2009 5:27 pm
Oct. 18: Spags Had to Go For It
By Bernie Miklasz

My Stream of Consciousness flow on the Ramsí 23-20 OT loss @ Jacksonville.

* Make it 0-6 on the season and 0-16 since Oct. 19, 2008. Monday is the 1-year anniversary of the Ramsí last regular-season win. And now Indianapolis and Peyton Manning come to STL on Sunday. The Rams are 5-33 since the end of the 2006 season. This, presumably, is some sort of karmic payback for the Miracle of 1999.

* This is a bottom-line business. It isnít high school. In the NFL they donít hand out trophies and ribbons for trying hard. And 0-6 is really bad. And 16 consecutive losses is unacceptable. But I respected the Ramsí effort and determination and several aspects of their performance at Jaxville. There have been many times since the start of the 2007 season when Iíve wanted to stop watching the game, because the Rams have been so weak in terms of competitive character. Iíve seen too many Rams games where the players donít care, and these no-shows are disgusting. Watching Sundayís game, I saw a group of players who were doing everything and anything they could to win a game. And I respect that. I think the Rams are getting better. I know that isnít enough, and that it doesnít count; there are no moral victories. But if nothing else I at least want to come away from a game with a some respect for the players and their desire to win. And that happened Sunday. A team thatís been ravaged by injuries fought like mad to win a game. I appreciate that part of it.

* Coach Steve Spagnuolo had to go for the win at the end of the 4th quarter. His offense had battled and scrambled and survived its way down the field and had a chance to win in regulation. The Rams defense ó on the field for a remarkable 51 snaps during the second half ó was gassed. You just knew if it went to OT and the Jaguars got the ball first, the Rams defense would be too worn down to make a stop. So you had to go for the win, go for the throat, right then and there. Seven seconds left, at the Jax 9, and one timeout left. You have to take a quick shot into the end zone. If it fails, and the ball is thrown out of the end zone or is incomplete, you donít need the timeout. You kick it on the final play. Or if you make a play thatís short of the end zone, then you call the timeout and kick it. And if you turn the ball over or take a sack, so be it ó at least you went down taking your best shot, and most people would respect the attitude. I would not criticize Spagnuolo for being aggressive there, even if hs decision blew up on him. You have to go hard there, let it roll. You were 0-5, and the organization had lost 15 in a row, and thereís no reason in the world to be safe and conservative.

OK, even if you disagree ó and as a guy who tries to be fair I recognize that thereís a reasonable case to be made for what Spags did ó then answer me this: how you can have a final drive with the game on the line and matriculate from your own 22 down to the other teamís 9-yard line and still exit that possession with one timeout remaining in your pocket? Perhaps with better clock/game management by the coach and QB Marc Bulger the Rams would have had more time to work with there. Even if you agree with Spagnuoloís decision to boot the field goal, I donít think thereís much of a defense for running low on time when you still have a timeout at your disposal. The Rams should have been able to run at least an additional play or two along the way.

* QB Marc Bulger was not only fortunate that he didnít have a pass picked off on the final drive; he wasted precious seconds in the sequence near the end. I canít be too hard on Bulger; this team is devoid of any kind of difference-making wideouts. Heís trying to win a game with Tim Carter and Keenan Burton and Danny Amendola as his receivers. And if Jackson is used properly, that onlt helps Bulger or any QB. But not utilizing Jackson only makes the QBís mission even more diffcult and problematic. Bulger did a nice job of running the West Coast attack in the first half, completing 14 of 17 for 125 yards. Shurmur made good use of his personnel in the first half, but the offense really bogged down in the 2nd half. I have no idea what the strategy or approach was in the second half. I know they are short on quality wideouts, but still. And why not use the fullback more in an effort to be more physical in the run game?

* I do not understand why this offensive coaching staff continues forget about the teamís best player, RB Steven Jackson. It is incomprehensible. The Rams kept SJ39 busy in the first half with 17 touches (12 runs and 5 catches). But in the second half of a very close game, Jackson had only five touches. How can that be? On the Ramsí first play of the second half, Jackson rushed for 15 yards. He had only two three carries after that. They did try to throw the ball to Jackson three times in the second half, but two were incompletions. And that inspiring 38-yard catch and run on the final drive of the fourth quarter was Jacksonís only reception in the 2nd half. I know the Rams didnít have the ball much in the second half, but maybe they could have moved the chains and extended some drives if theyíd gotten Jackson more involved.

Letís see Ö you have a stripped-down offense, and youíve lost your best receiver (Donnie Avery) in the game, and you have a RB who came into the game ranking 4th in the NFL in rushing yards and 4th in yards from scrimmage. And you give him 5 touches in the second half? Unbelievable. Only 5 touches, and one went for 15 yards, and another went for 38. Gee, you think you might want to try and put the ball in his hands and get more of that? If you keep Jackson busy, he has shown the ability to break out some 10+ runs and can be an asset as a receiver. But you canít take advantage of Jacksonís skills if you donít put the ball in his hands. I donít get. It makes no sense. Oh, say you say Jax loaded the box to stop Jackson? Hey, it happens EVERY week and itís never a reason to stop running the guy. The Rams stacked the box against Maurice Jones-Drew on Sunday and you didnít see Jacksonville stop giving him the rock. I realize Pat Shurmur is a first-time offensive coordinator, and that he is a work in progress, but this was ridiculous. And doesnít the head coach have to intervene there? At some point, doesnít Spagnuolo have to go over to Shurmur and say, ďLook, pal: we need to get No. 39 the ball.Ē

* By contrast, the Jaguars knew what to do with their star RB, Maurice Jones-Drew. In the first half, the Rams stuffed Jones-Drew who had 11 yards on 8 carries. Did the Jags forget about him or surrender on the run? Of course not. They pounded the Rams with him as the game went on; Jones-Drew had 25 carries for 122 yards and two TDs in the second half and OT. I hope Shurmur and Spagnuolo were taking notes. You want to win a game? Try utilizing your best player to make plays.

* Yes, I think coaching was an important factor in why the Rams lost this game; I really do. And game management hasnít been in play much this season because the Rams have suffered so many blowouts. I do believe there is a learning curve here for a first-time HC and OC, and it will take time. Hopefully, Spags and his offensive coordinator are learning as they go along. Spagnuolo is doing some good things. His players clearly like and respect him and want to win for him. Thatís a start. But now the Rams have to hope that Spags will develop in other areas, especially when he benefits from having more talent on the roster. In many respects itís an unfair fight for the HC. But like many of his young players, heíll have to grow in a hurry.

* Defensive end Leonard Little, who was very sick all weekend, played his tail off. Three tackles, a sack, three pass breakups and a 36-yard INT return for a TD. Little hadnít been a force like that in a game for a long time. When heís healthy and loose and getting after the QB, it really makes a difference. The Rams got some heat on the QB for a change.

* Though he faded late ó again, the Rams defense was fatigued and overrun ó rookie MLB James Laurinaitis had five tackles, a pass breakup, and an INT. He was active. The kid is a good player, and heís still learning on the job. I was resistant to overhyping No. 55, because it wasnít fair to him, but for all of the same-old, sorry drafts the Rams have had, getting Laurinaitis in the 2nd round is one of the best picks this franchise has had for a long time.

* The Rams canít catch a break with injuries. WR Donnie Avery caught an early TD pass, then injured a hip and did not return. The Rams cannot keep their receivers healthy. DE James Hall departed the game with a groin injury. On the OT drive, the Rams lost two of their more capable players, CB Ron Bartell and LB Will Witherspoon, to injuries. Youíd think that sooner or later, theyíd benefit from some luck. But it doesnít happen. Itís the fate of a bad team, I guess. When you are 5-33 since the start of the 2007 season, everything snowballs, everything bites you in the neck.

* Can Avery stay healthy in this league? Is he durable enough to withstand the hits and the punishment thatís part of the NFL experience? Fair question. Legitimate question. And so far the answer is ďNo.Ē Heís had multiple injuries in less than a season and a half of NFL ball.

* The Rams secondary was terrible for the second consecutive week. The DBs turned an old Torry Holt into a young T. Holt (5 catches, 101 yards). They dropped INTs. They gave up 335 yards passing, They allowed 15 passing first downs and a staggering completion rate of 70 percent. And the QB wasnít Brett Favre; it was David Garrard. In the last two games the Rams have allowed 48 completions in 67 attempts (71.6%) and an average yards/per attempt of 8.46 to the opposing starting QBs (Favre and Garrard).

* The officiating was incoherent Sunday. They got it wrong on a couple of pass interference calls against the Rams. Even when referee Jeff Triplette had a chance to review an onfield mistake ó the sideline catch by Holt ó he still got it wrong and didnít reverse the ruling on the field. NFL officials, for the most part, are frontrunners. (I apologize to the many good officials out there, including my friend Joe Larrew, because I know it isnít true of all officials.) They know who is good, they know who is bad, and they know who the ďnameĒ players are. It may not be something that theyíre even aware of outwardly, but itís always been my belief that the zebras give the benefit of the doubt to good teams and name players. Look, the Rams didnít lose the game because of the officials. But itís hard to imagine a more poorly officiated game than the one I saw Sunday.

* After going 73 yards for a TD on their opening drive, the Rams offense didnít reach the end zone the rest of the day and generated only 189 yards on their final nine possessions. The Rams offense has scored only 5 TDs this season. They do not have a rushing TD. And in the NFL only Cleveland (4) has fewer TDs on offense. And that wonít cut it.

* New Orleans, by the way, has 22 offensive TDs this season. In terms of style and production, the Saints are the closest thing weíve seen on offense to the Ramsí ďGreatest ShowĒ carnival that rolled up all of those points and yards from 1999 through 2003.

Thanks for reading Ö