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One-dimensional game plan plays into 'Skins hands
By Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Dec. 04 2005
In a Rams season that stopped making sense a long time ago, a significant
mystery remains: Why did the Rams bother to utilize a No. 1 draft choice on
running back Steven Jackson?
Jackson is being wasted in the STL. He's become a nice decoration, and little
more. He looks good in a uniform, an imposing figure with size and presence.
But in this offense his role is that of a human speed bump, forcing the Rams to
slow down now and again so they won't throw the football on every single play.
Those who bemoaned the lack of balance when Mike Martz orchestrated the show
have to be losing their minds over what Steve Fairchild is doing with his
finger on the play-calling button.
Sunday when the Rams kept Washington's season alive by bowing down in a 24-9
loss, Fairchild and the coaches made it ridiculously easy for the Redskins. The
Rams put the game in the hands of rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in his
first NFL start.
Understand this is PRECISELY what the Redskins wanted.
"When you're one-dimensional, or you know what they're going to do, it puts
them in a tough bind offensively," Redskins defensive end Renaldo Wynn said.
"Pretty much we could pin our ears back and go after them."
The smart way to deal with this, of course, is to try and prod the Redskins'
18th-ranked rushing defense with Jackson. Naturally, the Redskins opened by
loading up the box to dissuade the Rams from running. And the strategy worked
perfectly. When the Redskins stuffed Jackson for a 2-yard loss on his first
carry, Fairchild abandoned the run. And interim head coach Joe Vitt didn't
order Fairchild to alter the course.
The Rams kept Jackson's gear in neutral, and put all the pressure on the rookie
QB. With great help from Fairchild and Vitt, Washington defensive coordinator
Gregg Williams, an unofficial candidate for the Rams' head-coaching job, was
able to produce this game-video resume for team president John Shaw.
And sure, Williams' defense was impressive in limiting the home team to 191
yards. But let's be honest: this wasn't much of a challenge for Williams. He'd
have to be a seriously flawed hack to flunk this particular test.
All Williams had to do was get some blitz heat on the Harvard hero, and
everything would fall into place. The Redskins didn't have to account for
Jackson's potentially explosive running because the Rams took their big back
out of commission.
Jackson had 11 carries overall, only three in the second half, and just one run
after the opening drive of the third quarter. And this was in a close game; the
Redskins entered the fourth quarter with a 10-7 lead.
Rams guard Adam Timmerman requested a post-game breakdown on the stats.
"How many rushing attempts were there?" Timmerman asked.
Well, 12, if you don't count the scrambles by Fitzpatrick.
"I mean, that's not a lot of runs," Timmerman said. "It's hard to establish the
running game if we don't run it more than that."
Indeed. This time, Fitzpatrick was facing a real defense instead of the dogs in
Houston. This time, the Ivy League was a solar system away.
"I felt like a rookie out there," Fitzpatrick said.
Which is why the Rams had to make Jackson a big piece of their game plan. But
Fairchild freaked as soon as he saw a stacked defense.
"We needed to make this game as one-dimensional as possible," Williams said.
"And how you protect a rookie quarterback is to be able to run the football. We
over-committed in the run front, we put more in the run front then they were
able to block."
Well, you can chip away at that front with two tight ends and the fullback,
cracking open some space for Jackson. Or you can use four wide receivers to
spread the defense out and slip the ball to Jackson.
In a low-scoring game, as this was for three quarters, there is no reason to
lose patience. And here's what you cannot do under any circumstances: quit on
the run and serve a rookie QB up on a brunch platter for the Redskins.
Jackson has been given 20 or more carries in only three of 12 games this
season. How can the second-year back fully develop and work out his
shortcomings, including the tendency to dip outside instead of driving forward
inside, when he doesn't get a consistent number of carries?
"I'm not making the play calls," Jackson said. "I'm not going to go against my
coaches, so I've got to do what I've got to do."
Jackson was testy after the game. He asked Rams media relations director Duane
Lewis to shoo reporters away from his locker, and the Rams placed one of the
equipment men in front of Jackson to block reporters. After a terse Jackson
responded to a few questions, Lewis jumped in with an amateurish intervention
to terminate the Jackson interview.
All of this to protect a running back who rushed the ball 11 times for 24
yards? That's impressive. If the 5-7 Rams were this hard-nosed on the field,
they wouldn't be viewed as one of the softest teams in the NFL. It seems like a
better idea to block the Redskins instead of reporters, but we didn't devise
this inept game plan.