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    Monday Morning QB

    Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning QB
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    Story Discussion BERNIE MIKLASZ | Posted: Monday, September 13, 2010 1:00 pm | (33) Comments

    Monday Morning Stream of Consciousness ...

    Lots of day-after observations on the Rams/Cardinals game:

    * Let's talk about the Rams' coaching:

    -- Positives: The team was amped, and came out with an aggressive attitude. You want to see the coach put a personality into a team, and I think that's happening at Rams Park with the coach and his players. That's an important ingredient for future success. I loved the attacking style on defense. Steve Spagnuolo and the defensive staff went crazy with the blitzes, and it was fun to watch. Yes, the Rams have to blitz, simply because they lack a natural pass rush. But it's one thing to mix in some blitzes, and another thing entirely to go berserk and bring the heat on so many plays. The Rams didn't hold back. And it was great to see Spagnuolo entrust his rookie QB the way he did. Not only with the 55 passing attempts, but with the decision to go for it on 4th and goal at the end of the first half -- and to rely on Sam Bradford to make the play. It was if Spagnuolo and the Rams tried to send an early message to the league: there's still a lack of talent here, but we're getting after it, and to put us down you're going to have to deliver a knockout blow, because we plan on coming after you all day. I like that. And anyone who doesn't recognize the immediate difference in mindset between last year and this year is utterly clueless.

    -- Negatives: No. 1, I didn't care for some of the play-calling, but I won't overreact to it, simply because the talent limitations on offense. I wanted to see Steven Jackson get the ball more early on. But this is not as simple as some would make it out to be. The Cardinals basically had no fear of a downfield passing threat. They had no fear of getting burned by Rams receivers on deep stuff. So they played one safety high the entire game and stacked the box with defenders. This made it so much easier for Arizona to smother Jackson. Again: this will not change until the Rams find, and install, a dangerous wideout who will not allow a defense to play one safety high for an entire football game ... No. 2, the clock management in the final two minutes was baffling; the Rams had two timeouts left and Spagnuolo let 20, 21 seconds run off the clock between plays at one crucial juncture rather than use one of the timeouts. No, it wasn't an ideal situation. You had a rookie in his first NFL game leading a two-minute drill against one of the league's better defenses. But that two-minute offense has to go more smoothly than that, and if the rookie is a little slow to get to the line and get a play off as quickly as he needs to, then the head coach needs to intervene and call a timeout. Bradford even looked to the sideline, as if expecting to see the coach signal for a timeout.

    But I also think that some of the more short-sighted Spagnuolo critics are missing part of the point here. Spagnuolo is going all in with Bradford, as he should. And he's empowered the kid to take charge. And he wants Bradford to lead. And part of that is letting him run this team at critical times in the game so he can learn how to make quick decisions, and do it under duress. I don't think this coaching staff wants to baby Bradford. And I like that. This was a valuable experience for Bradford; I'm confident he'll better at the two-minute offense next time out. To sum up, in short: (1) though he's rather limited in scope, I'd like to see more creative play-calling from offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. One idea is to go with four wideouts to spread the defense a little and then run Jackson; (2) Spags has to reassess how he uses the clock late in games. I think he needed to call one there. By the time the Rams called and ran the next play, they had only 20 seconds remaining. Not enough.

    * Bradford was up for the challenge, he was tough enough to handle it, and I really do like the fact that these coaches did not put the harness on him. But 55 passing attempts was too much. Actually Sam attempted 57 passes when you figure in his two sacks. Granted, many of these throws were short -- the dink and dunk variety. But two things here: (1) three QBs attempted 50 or more passes Sunday, and all three -- Bradford, Indy's Peyton Manning and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer -- lost. (2) if Bradford attempts 40, 45, 50 passes per game, he won't make it through 16 games.

    * I took a quick look at the record book, and Bradford's 55 attempts put him tied for 83rd (unofficially) for most passing attempts in a single game in NFL history. Bradford, by the way, never attempted as many as 55 passes in a game during his career at Oklahoma. He did chuck it 53 times in a game against Baylor in 2007.

    * And now Bradford plays for the NFL equivalent of Baylor. Well, sort of.

    * The absence of a change-of-pace back is glaring: Steven Jackson did have 22 rushing attempts for the Rams; only three NFL backs carried it more Sunday. But here's the problem: the Rams don't have that speed back to make a defense pay, really pay, for blitzing and/or crowding the box. Arizona offered such an example. With Beanie Wells out with a knee injury, the Cardinals turned to Tim Hightower as their No. 1 back. Hightower is more of a power back, but he was complemented superbly by second-year RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, who had the quickness and speed to get to the edge and catch the Rams on some blitzes for nice gains. The Rams have done a poor job the last couple of years of running the ball against blitzes. And that was true again Sunday. Part of it is a lack of creativity in the coaching; the other is not having a guy who can sub in for Jackson and present a different kind of challenge and headache for the defense. But Shurmur and O-line coach Steve Loney have to do better. The Cardinals ran counters to burn the Rams' inside blitzes; where were the counter plays with Jackson when the Rams had to go against the Arizona blitz?

    * Jackson and the STL offense need a change-of-pace back nearly as much as Bradford needs a No. 1 receiver who can stretch a defense. The Rams' front-office failure to address both of these areas is peculiar, to say the least.

    * Mark Clayton isn't the No. 1 receiver the Rams need. He isn't Larry Fitzgerald or even the vastly underrated (and dangerous) Steve Breaston. But Clayton certainly was impressive, given the circumstances, in pulling in 10 catches for 119 yards against the Cardinals. He had less than a full week of practice with the Rams since coming over from Baltimore. This is a good sign; makes you think about what the Bradford-Clayton connection can do once they've actually had time to work together. But again, perspective: if Clayton is your No. 1 guy, it just tells you how bad off you are at WR. Clayton was, at best, a No. 4 receiver in Baltimore. I'm glad the Rams acquired him, but ...

    * The Rams' defense probably deserved a better fate. They came up with four takeaways and had two sacks and repeatedly smacked QB Derek Anderson around. There were two huge breakdowns, obviously. The Cardinals ripped them apart on the ground on their first TD drive, then passed the Rams silly on the second (and winning) TD drive. There is no excuse for the first. But at that stage of the fourth quarter the Rams were down to two healthy cornerbacks, and if you have no choice but to match up against the Arizona receivers with safeties, then it's going to end badly. And that's exactly what happened. With all of the blitzing, and with two CBs (not four) the Rams had WLB Larry Grant trying to cover Breaston, and that was a big-time mismatch.

    * If Rams DT Clifton Ryan completes his journey and scores the TD with the fumble return, the Rams win that game. I am convinced.

    * Rams MLB James Laurinaitis had a difficult time on the Cardinals' counters and misdirections. It wasn't a good day, overall for Rams LBs.

    * I've been watching Adrian Wilson come into the Edward Jones Dome since he entered the NFL in 2001, and the Cardinals' outstanding safety continues to wreck the Rams in a way that few, if any, visiting players can match. After two INTs and a blocked field goal in Sunday's 17-13 victory over St. Louis, this is Wilson's docket in his nine games at The Ed: 45 tackles, 5 sacks, 5 INTs, 9 pass defenses, 2 forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one blocked FG. Rams coaches come and go, but none have ever figured out a way to account for Wilson and lessen the damage he causes. It's amazing.

    * If there's anyone out there who lacks perspective on Bradford's first NFL game, I'd offer this advice: take a look at the box scores and see what Alex Smith, Matt Moore, Kevin Kolb and Jake Delhomme did Sunday. I don't give Bradford any guff for this third interception; it was a jump-ball pass in a desperate situation. Bradford's first INT of the fourth quarter, late in the game, was deflating. But you know what? Atlanta's third-year QB Matt Ryan threw a terrible INT late in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh, and it set the Steelers up for a game-winning FG try. (They missed.) This is a very difficult position to master. For the first time out, Bradford had excellent poise. He made mistakes. He can improve. And he will improve.

    Thanks for reading ...



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    Re: Monday Morning QB

    It's weird how Bernie says to ignore the last Int because it was a fourth down jump ball situation, but he doesnt say to ignore the Int on the fourth down play where Bradford could either have taken a sack or thrown the ball. I would much rather him throw the ball and at least give the WRs a chance to make the play.

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