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Linehan hurts Rams with foolhardy play
By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
SEATTLE — It was a dark, miserable day, cold and wet and nasty and unfit for any sort of razzle-dazzle nonsense. It was the sort of grim, unpleasant football Sunday that was meant for mean brute force, not clever sleight of hand. It was Sunday afternoon at Qwest Field, and the Rams had every opportunity to define themselves as a tough-as-nails football team in another down-to-the-wire thriller with their arch rival Seattle Seahawks.
No, check that.
What we'll take away most from Sunday's 24-22 loss to those hated Seahawks was not so much about the team trying to define itself as it was about rookie coach Scott Linehan perhaps revealing a potentially disturbing sign of what makes him tick in these gut-wrenching moments.
The Rams' neophyte boss had every chance to show that he was not another one of those "genius" offensive head coaches who fall in love with their X's-and-O's ingenuity. Yet in Sunday's crucial, game-defining moments, we got too many "Mad Mike" Martz flashbacks and not nearly enough common-sense moments from the guy who was brought in to be a cool, calm and sensible football CEO.
There were no shortage of reasons why the Rams lost this game and reduced their playoff hopes to faint wishes and impossible dreams. You can criticize the bad defense in the first half. You can fret over losing Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Pace to a season-ending triceps injury. You can grumble that Richie Incognito should have kept his cool.
But ultimately, the buck stops with the head coach.
It was Linehan's decision to not go for a field goal in a two-point ballgame in the fourth quarter. Even if you have no problem with him taking the points off the board, you have to wonder what was on his mind when on the biggest play of a game — probably the biggest play of the season for the 4-5 Rams — Linehan chose a play that was designed for either a rookie tight end or a journeyman fullback to win the game.
We all know how badly that fourth-and-1 play was botched. The Rams didn't get a field goal. They didn't get a first down. They didn't get a touchdown. What they got was a mess of enormous proportions. The play failed miserably because fullback Paul Smith couldn't hear the play over the crowd noise. Smith didn't run out for a pass, which meant that the Seattle cornerback who was supposed to have to choose between covering Smith in the short flat near the goal line or the deep corner route by rookie tight end Joe Klopfenstein only had to choose to impede Klopfenstein's progress.
Now maybe if Klopfenstein had been in more than nine NFL games, he might have known that veteran quarterback Marc Bulger would improvise in a case like this. A veteran like one of those Pro Bowl veteran wide receivers, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, would know instinctively that Bulger would see the tight coverage and throw it to his receiver's back shoulder, which is exactly what Bulger did.
But the kid didn't know that, and the ball sailed harmlessly to the ground.
I don't blame Klopfenstein. I blame the man who chose Klopfenstein. You have to look squarely at Linehan on this one because what he did in the fog of Qwest Field was so eerily similar to something that would have come out of the outlandish (did someone say "boneheaded"?) play-calling mind of one M.M. Martz, Esq.
Mistake No. 1: Before he really knew what he was protesting (Incompletion? Bad spot? Both?), Linehan whipped out the red challenge flag just a hair before Jeff Wilkins hit a 35-yard field goal that would have given the Rams a 19-14 lead, which took the points off the board.
Mistake No. 2: If you're going to pass on the field-goal attempt, then you better come out of that huddle with a lead-pipe cinch play that is guaranteed to work. Yet as Linehan stood on the sidelines flipping through his mental playbook, I have to imagine he must have noticed that Steven Jackson was standing there, and the 6-foot-2, 231-pound tailback was on his way to another dazzling all-around offensive game (93 yards rushing, 40 yards receiving). Maybe he noticed the stat sheet showed Jackson was averaging over 5 yards a carry. Or maybe he noticed Holt and Bruce were in the huddle, too.
So what on earth made him call a play that was supposed to rely on a fullback who hasn't caught a ball all season and only 18 in his seven-year NFL career, and a rookie who hadn't caught a pass all game and only nine for the season?
Oh yeah, but Linehan couldn't figure out that maybe at a time like this when Jackson was running as hard as he's run all season (did you notice the last time Jackson touched the ball in this game, he scored on a powerful 14-yard run where he dragged four defenders into the end zone with him?), that he would have been the preferred option?
No sir. Instead, Linehan went loopy on us. I bet just before he called the ill-fated play, he must have thought "Ooooh boy, let's try this one. They'll never expect this."
And you know why they never would have expected it?
Because it was a horrible play.
Re: Linehan hurts Rams with foolhardy play
Great read Bryan Burwall. Let Linehan have it with both barrels.[SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
Re: Linehan hurts Rams with foolhardy play
After having a night to sleep on this fiasco, figuring I might calm down and come up with an acceptable excuse for Linehan's idiotic decision. I'm sorry to say I'm still miffed at this loss. Linehan blew it....PERIOD!:x
Better days are coming............:r