RamView, 1/1/2006: Rams 20, Cowboys 10 (Long)
RamView, January 1, 2006
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game 16: Rams 20, Cowboys 10
What could have been? What should have been? To the dismay of Ram draftniks, the Ram defense has possibly its best game in two years, and Joe Vitt and staff get a 20-10 win as a going-away present.
Position by position:
* QB: Jamie Martin achieved Backup Quarterback Nirvana tonight, that state where a backup QB doesn't do much to win the game (19-32-158, no TD, 1 completion over 20 yards), but doesn't do anything to lose it, either (no INTs, just two sacks). Jamie's ability to hang tough against the rush and pull out a play at the last possible moment really did help win the game, though, and is reason plenty to want him back in blue and gold next season. He kept a FG drive going in the 1st, avoiding a sack by sidearming a pass to Aveion Cason for 11. He set up a 2nd-quarter short FG attempt with two completions to Torry Holt and a super 3rd-down play in the red zone, threading a 9-yard pass to Kevin Curtis with Demarcus Ware bearing down on him. That drive failed but Jamie made the next drive work with excellent 3rd-down play. He hung tough against a blitz to hit Shaun McDonald for 12 on 3rd-and-10 and found Arlen Harris over the middle for 17 on 3rd-and-11 to set up a Cason TD, putting the Rams up 10-7. The offense found the going tough in the 2nd half, but Jamie cashed in on a Dallas fumble in the 4th with a nice 29-yard toss to Brandon Manumaleuna. That set up a Harris TD which put the Rams ahead 17-10, and to stay. Jamie Martin wasn't exactly Peyton Manning tonight. Dallas defensive pressure forced a lot of bad throws from him, and he didn't exactly stretch the field. But as Joe Vitt would say, it is what it is. Martin did what you want your backup QB to be able to do. He "managed" the offense and didn't commit any stupid mistakes. He did his job.
* RB: Steven Jackson should watch this game every day this offseason. He was inactive due to a hip pointer, while Marshall Faulk (11-25) was limited by the flu, but still had an early 9-yard dash between good blocks from Madison Hedgecock and Alex Barron. On a 3rd-and-1 in the 1st, Aveion Cason (10-65) turned the corner and utilized Torry Holt's block for a 14-yard gain, leading to a FG. In the 2nd, Faulk kept a drive alive with a blitz pickup that allowed a 3rd-down completion to Shaun McDonald. Cason finished that drive with one of the Rams' best runs all year, running right, cutting back inside a good block from Jerome Collins, spinning off of Roy Williams and driving into the end zone. With the game tied at 10 in the 4th, Arlen Harris (10-15) followed a long pass to Manu with a churning 10-yard down to the 1 and took it in the next play. Without much blocking room, the Ram running game struggled in the 2nd half, but that doesn't excuse Steven from watching film, because what this three-headed monster did tonight, Steven was a little too inconsistent at this year. They followed their blocks, especially those of Hedgecock, a sprouting star at the fullback position, if not a budding one. They picked up the blitz well, and they ran strong upfield without a lot of dancing. Not that Steven hasn't improved in some of those areas recently. But if he's the only one of the four Ram tailbacks coming back next season, he may need a reminder.
* WR: With Martin dumping off a lot, the Ram WRs did not get to contribute much. But with 4 catches for 40, Torry Holt topped 1,300 yards for an unprecedented sixth straight year. More importantly, Torry set the tone for the Rams, challenging his teammates to win prior to the game and setting an example with his run blocking and encouraging the defense from the sidelines. The players will not have a leadership vacuum with Torry around next season. I've ripped Manu so much for being soft, he deserves credit for his 29-yard catch in the 4th. He hung on to the ball and took a huge wallop. Isaac Bruce had just 1 catch for 8 and ended the season with a stunningly low 36 catches. While I don't want the new coach to come in and throw 4 times out of 5, I'm still eager to see what most of this crew can accomplish next year with Marc Bulger back.
* Offensive line: The offensive line struggled some with the Dallas blitz, but struggled more with a beast called Demarcus Ware. O-linemen get pancakes, but I guess Ware got a tortilla for what he did to Alex Barron before sacking Martin on the Rams' first possession. Ware won that rookie-vs.-rookie matchup pretty decisively. Orlando Pace fouled up a screen to Manu by releasing Chris Canty too soon, for a 5-yard loss. That forced the Rams to settle for an early FG. Manu got revenge for that in the 3rd by blowing his millionth career block on a play where Faulk lost 5. Wasn't a 2nd half for Faulk'll want to remember, as he also got bodyslammed by Ware the drive before that, after Demarcus punked Madison Hedgecock. Hedgecock had a good game, though, with several key blocks on successful runs. In the 2nd half, the Rams didn't control Dallas with the run, as the Cowboys seemed to stuff every attempt. But, even with Ware running wild, they kept Martin's jersey fairly clean, yielding just two sacks, the other coming on a blown-up screen pass. A big factor was that they were able to pick up or slow down the Dallas blitz, which I see as a critical factor in getting this game in the win column.
* Defensive line/LB: The Ram defense deserves praise for an inspired and dominating performance, but WHERE THE HELL WAS THIS ALL SEASON? They held Julius Jones to 35 yards rushing, and 28 of that came on one play. Where the hell was that last week when Maurice Hicks ran for 73 on the first play? Leonard Little emerged from a season-long funk tonight and played like his hair was on fire. He put a huge rush on Drew Bledsoe on the opening play and stuffed Jones for no gain the next play. Pisa Tinoisamoa helped get the first of many three-and-outs the next drive by stuffing Jones for a 2-yard loss. Dallas then drove for a TD, despite back-to-back stuffs of Jones by Ryan Pickett and blitzing Corey Ivy. Pickett's stuff was impressive, as he drove his blocker back into Jones like he was nothing. After a long kick return in the 2nd, they stuffed Dallas again. Anthony Hargrove put a MANLY bull rush on Bledsoe for a 1st down sack, and a big blitz on 3rd-and-9 saw Little, OJ Atogwe and Adam Archuleta meet at the QB. Trev Faulk's stuff of Jones for minus-2 fueled a 2nd straight 3-and-out. Dallas got close late in the first half, but settled for a FG. Pisa stuffed a screen to Jones for -6 and Atogwe stuffed a run for -2, but the key play was Little's, as he got a piece of Bledsoe on a pass from the Ram 4 that fell incomplete. The defense didn't slow down after halftime, as DeJuan Groce forced a Keyshawn Johnson fumble. That was a prime example of the Rams making extra effort to strip the ball loose, which you really noticed them trying tonight, and where the hell has that been all season? In fact, Dallas did nothing in the second half, as the Ram defense continued to bury them. Little, who fought through uncalled holding penalties and double-teams better than he has in two years, stuffed Jones for a loss in the 3rd, followed by Pisa stuffing Julius again for a big loss on a screen pass. Hargrove ended that drive storming in all alone for a sack on a huge blitz. I don't know where Hargrove has been for fourteen weeks, but with two sacks tonight, 4.5 the last three weeks, there's reason to hope he can have a Bryce Fisher-like season next year, remembering Bryce's late-season tear last year, which carried over into this year. OK, Little's had a tough year personally, and Hargrove's had a lot to learn, but when freaking Adam Archuleta actually made a tackle in the 4th, stuffing Marion Barber, all I could think again was, where the hell has THAT been all season? Another big blitz paid off after that, with the dominant Little and Pisa sharing a sack. A bunch of errant tosses from a very-rattled Bledsoe later, the Rams had the win. They got a dominating performance from Pisa, with 10 tackles, several for loss. The defensive line dominated. The Rams had 5 sacks; 1.5 by Little, 2 by Hargrove; both made big run stuffs. Even Damione Lewis got pressure on Bledsoe. The Rams missed very few if any tackles, to the point where ESPN's Paul Maguire had to ask where all the missed tackles were. The Rams were so dominant up front, unlike anything they did the previous 15 weeks, the secondary didn't get many chances. As great a performance as it was, where the hell was this all season? How is it they can play for pride now, play for their jobs now, after playing with so little pride or ability all season? Though tonight's game should leave hope it'll carry over to next year, especially for Little and Hargrove, it mostly leaves me with a hollow feeling. Do it when the games matter. Do it against San Francisco and Arizona. Don't expect a pat on the back for one good game after at least a dozen terrible ones.
* Secondary: The best performance by a Ram safety this season turns out to be O.J. Atogwe's eye-opener this week. He's been an effective blitzer in limited action all season and scored a half-sack tonight. In the 3rd, Atogwe recovered a fumble DeJuan Groce stripped from Keyshawn Johnson, and late in the game picked off a terrible pass from Bledsoe and returned it all the way to the 2 to set up the Rams' last FG. O.J. was active against the run and cleaned up after a lot of bad special-teams tackling. He has earned a much longer look in the days ahead. Groce got beat a couple of times, but won his matchup with Keyshawn, which I'd think gave Bledsoe a lot of trouble on the plays where he couldn't find a receiver. Corey Ivy had another good game. He stuffed Jones in the 1st. made a nice pass break-up in the 2nd, and finished off the game with an interception. They didn't have a perfect night. Terry Glenn got 30 on Dallas' TD drive when it appeared Ivy bit on Bledsoe rolling out. The TD pass went to Jason Witten, who put one move on Adam Archuleta and made him look like a total rube. That play had nothing to do with Adam's back, by the way. They gave up 18 to Patrick Crayton on 3rd-and-17, again, Ivy appeared to be slow picking him up. But like many drives, that resulted in nothing for Dallas. In the 4th, Glenn beat Mike Furrey for 16 on 3rd-and-15, but the Rams foiled three straight shots at the end zone, and after Keyshawn smoked Ron Bartell for 36 later in the 4th, Bledsoe threw three straight incompletions to end that drive. After 16 weeks, we finally got to see how this secondary could play with a good pass rush in front of it, and they generally didn't disappoint.
* Special teams: Despite making FGs from 49 and 20, this was easily Jeff Wilkins' worst game of the season. He came up short on a 53-yarder and brutally DOINKed a 27-yarder in the 2nd despite a good snap and hold. Jeff's kickoffs were lousy, rarely even getting inside the 10, which only complicated things for the Rams' lousy kickoff coverage. Dallas probably would have returned the opening kickoff for a TD had Brandon Green not lunged, got his hand on the ball and popped it loose. A terrible tackle attempt by Furrey allowed one long return. Dallas' longest return came late in the 2nd, immediately after the Rams had gone ahead 10-7. The Dallas wedge blew the coverage up. Drew Wahlroos got around it, but didn't go after Tyson Thompson aggressively, so he whipped around Ivy for a 44-yard return. But it was just ridiculous that Wilkins didn't get his kicks deeper. Party much New Year's Eve? Not sure why Furrey returned punts after Dane Looker's recent successes, but he did all right, and Cason looked all right returning kickoffs. The Rams were helped a lot by Dallas special teams penalties. For instance, the first Ram TD drive started from the Ram 45 after a penalty erased a 65-yard punt, costing the Cowboys about 30 yards of field position. So while they didn't play that well tonight, they didn't really get outplayed, either.
* Coaching/discipline: Nobody deserves the where-the-hell-was-this-all-season? question more than Larry Marmie, who blitzed Drew Bledsoe's head off tonight with excellent results. The Rams blitzed practically every play, and blitzing had Bledsoe throwing bad and dumb passes, like the pass Atogwe picked off in the 4th. The Rams were also really trying to strip the ball out on every tackle, which paid off in a couple of fumbles, including the one Groce forced in the 3rd. For the first time all year, Marmie had his players aggressively playing an aggressive scheme, and thanks for taking 16 weeks to figure that out, Larry. Good luck at whatever Arizona junior college you end up at.
Joe Martzmann, er, Theismann, said at one point what the Ram offense really needs is Mike Martz. That noise heard 'round the country was me scoffing. Martz would have had Martin dropping back 4 out of 5 downs and gotten him killed. Steve Fairchild I thought wisely adapted the gameplan to what Jamie can do. Even given the Rams' depleted state at RB, he mixed the run and pass well (which Martzmann also confessed later), and didn't make Jamie try to make long throws downfield. He relied too much on screen passes, going to them repeatedly after nothing but failures, but in all, I don't have much complaint about the offensive playcalling for a change.
And just a last word and a tip of the hat to Joe Vitt, who had his men ready to play tonight and who has handled a difficult situation he inherited suddenly with professionalism and a good attitude.
* Upon further review: The Tony Corrente crew didn't butcher this game as badly as usual, but had their moments. Corrente made a ridiculous intentional grounding call on Martin in the 3rd. Martin was hit on the throw, Holt and McDonald had clearly crossed up their routes, and I've seen passes farther from receivers not called for grounding. Martin drew two roughing calls, one appropriate, one pretty cheesy. The crew did a super job on tough back-to-back incomplete passes by the Cowboys in the 4th, including the challenged diving sideline play Keyshawn didn't quite make. But Little got held a lot without drawing a call, and Rams on both sides of the ball got away with downfield contact that often gets called. C-minus job at best.
* Cheers: The ESPN broadcast was lacking tonight, since the Sunday night crew appeared more focused on its own broadcast farewells than on the game. And it wasn't just a few plays getting overlooked in favor of nostalgia; the Rams had a whole 3rd-quarter drive obscured by a Suzy Kolber interview with Dallas owner Jerry Jones. (And when they were going over the highlights over the years, how could they leave out Drunkway Joe Namath hitting on Suzy a couple of years ago?) There was a replay sequence where the crew couldn't tell Orlando Pace from Claude Terrell, and Mike Patrick credited a 65-yard punt by Mat McBriar to Jeff Wilkins, neither a punter nor a Cowboy. Chris Mortensen reported that Mike Martz had shown up at Rams Park this week to accuse coaches of being disloyal. Joe Theismann balanced that off by accusing the Rams front office of using Martz's health problems as a handy excuse to get rid of him. Cue Don Henley: (We can do the innuendo, we can dance and sing/When it's said and done, we haven't told you a thing.) Theismann legitimately pointed out how the Rams' lack of a (decent) TE really hurts them in the red zone. (Without adding that Martz turned TE into a do-nothing position in the offense.) Glad to see Paul Maguire's focus on Torry, though, glad to see the Rams beat the Cowboys (over the years, they owe them a few), and glad to see them actually defeat the Curse of the Blue Pants, which they still should burn.
* What’s next?: With Mike Martz's termination, what comes next is a new era in Rams Nation. Martz brought the Rams some fine seasons, but there's no question that in his absence, Rams fans are in for one of the most exciting offseasons in the franchise's history. Shoot, (just had to say that for old time's sake) almost every part of this organization has some kind of question hanging over it (even long snapper, where Chris Massey is an unrestricted free agent). Who will be the new head coach? Who will the coordinators be? How will the offensive and defensive styles change? Will the Rams acquire needed impact players drafting at #11? (They should: Demarcus Ware, Ben Roethlisberger, Marcus Trufant, Dwight Freeney, Dan Morgan, Ron Dayne, Daunte Culpepper and Tra Thomas are the #11 picks overall since 1998.) What free agents will the Rams be able and willing to keep – a list that includes UFAs Ryan Pickett, Adam Archuleta and RFA Kevin Curtis? Whose free agents will they go after? How well will the Rams' injured players rebound, especially Marc Bulger, Jerametrius Butler and Travis Fisher? Will the Rams' many young players – Steven Jackson, Bartell, Hargrove, Terrell, Atogwe, Carter, Barron, Incognito, even - move up the developmental curve? And what about the long-time fan favorites? Will Marshall Faulk come back? Will there be problems keeping Isaac Bruce on the team? Will we even recognize this team in June? Baseball calls this "hot stove" season, but it's more like "blast furnace" season at Rams Park. Unfortunately, Rams fans will be the ones who get burned if the front office can't get things back on the right track. (I know: <gulp>.) I doubt, though, that any other team is going to have as interesting, though possibly chaotic, season as the Rams, and no dedicated Rams fan will want to miss a minute of it.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 1/1/2006: Rams 20, Cowboys 10 (Long)
Hello Mike, Just finished reading your article and would like to ask a few questions.
1.) Certainly the Rams played well; but was it more because prior to kick off Dallas knew they were out of it?
2.) What do you think the outcome would have been if Wash. had lost and the Cowboys wre competing for a play off spot?
3.) Are you planning on writing on any of the off season issues like free agency or the draft? If not let me say that I have thoroughly enjoyed your commentary this year and look forward to more in the future.
WHAT SAY YE?
Re: RamView, 1/1/2006: Rams 20, Cowboys 10 (Long)
I don't think there's any doubt the Rams were up for the game and the Boys were in a funk. But also, the Dallas offensive line is worse off than I realized. If Dallas had had anything to play for, the finally inspired Ram defense still would have fared well, but the Ram offense might have been too outmanned, without Jackson and mainly without Faulk.
Thanks for asking about the offseason, I hope to do some more things but this offseason is going to move pretty fast, don't know if I'll have time to keep up.