RamView, 1/3/2010: ***** 28, Rams 6 (Long)
RamView, January 3, 2010
From Row HH
(Report and opinions on and from the game.)
Game #16: ***** 28, Rams 6
The Rams began the decade as kings of the NFL but ended it the lowest of the low, capping off the worst three-year run in NFL history with another lackluster loss to another division rival. Rags to riches to rags. Dirty, smelly rags.
* QB: It was a day for Keith Null (7-17-57 yards, 50.4 rating) to forget, and thanks to a partial concussion suffered after getting battered for two-quarters-plus, he may not remember this game by the time he gets up Monday morning. And he won't want to, though the really scary thing is, I think Null did about everything he could do today. He didn't commit a turnover despite relentless 49er pressure. He scrambled (or tried) a few times after a few games of being glued to the pocket. He took charge at the line of scrimmage with audibles and did his best to keep the ***** off balance with hard counts. Null's game is still progressing. Unfortunately, though, if I may try to read Null's mind, the day went a lot like this: “OK, drop back... first option, not open... second option, he's not open, either... third option... GAAAH!” The ***** stopped Steven Jackson and Null didn't get any help from his receivers or much from his offensive line. He earns the blame for only one of the FIVE times he was sacked (and don't forget his scrambling saved a couple more). He only took about a 3-step drop during a screen play in the 3rd, and when the line turned Justin Smith loose, he was already practically in Null's lap. Deep drop on the screen, rook. Unfortunately, Smith's hit knocked Null out of the game and brought back the uninspiring Kyle Boller (4-11-23, 44.9 rating) one last time. Boller missed a couple of rare open receivers, though in his defense he was also under siege just about every play. Poor blitz recognition was Boller's downfall. Jackson ran smack into a blitz for a five-yard loss in the 3rd and immediately turned around after the play and chewed Boller out. A veteran QB's got to recognize that coming and check to something else. Boller missed it again late in the 4th when Dashon Goldson blitzed in for the SEVENTH of San Francisco's EIGHT sacks. Boller came in cold, and also avoided committing a turnover, but comparing how the veteran handled the 49er pass rush today to how the rookie did, I can't make much of a case for keeping Null behind Boller any more, or, to shorten the sentence, keeping Boller any more. The Rams didn't gain anything with him on the field this season in any capacity.
* RB: Despite a very quiet afternoon, Steven Jackson (20-63) ended the season the leading rusher in the NFC and with a richly-deserved Pro Bowl berth. Jackson was able to get outside around right end a couple of times for nice gains and got a couple of decent gains off Randy McMichael blocks, but the ***** dominated the line of scrimmage and Steven usually didn't get any help up front. That resulted in some painful moments. He ran right into a blitz in the 4th for a 5-yard loss. I'll say this: when he turned and screamed at Boller after the play, Jackson had the whole crowd behind him. The Rams blew a crucial 3rd-and-1 at the 49er 10 later in the 4th after Parys Haralson blew up the Ram line and met Jackson for another loss. This is the kind of day Jackson had: he'd try to run up the middle behind Mike Karney and gain nothing after the ***** backed Karney up in the hole. I trust Steven will have a lot better blocking in front of him in Miami. After all the hard work he's done this season, he deserves a nice opportunity like that to showcase his skills.
* Receivers: A unit that's been a disgusting mess all season ended it with another disgusting performance. Donnie Avery (2-23) was the only receiver to crack 20 total yards but had to leave the game in the 2nd after a hard hit with a possible concussion. No one had more than three catches. Null didn't miss open receivers today and Boller didn't miss them much. They simply weren't there. Any time you looked downfield after the Ram QB got in trouble, everybody was still covered, and San Francisco was doing it with their best guy out injured. This receiving corps was so poorly equipped from the beginning to take on an NFL season, it's truly laughable. Avery's never looked any better than a #3 slot receiver in 2009. He and Laurent Robinson and Keenan Burton all have significant injury histories. Brandon Gibson's (3-18) very raw, though his back-to-back catches late in the 2nd helped set up a FG attempt. Danny Amendola (3-18) and Jordan Kent (1-5) are best suited to exclusive special teams roles. The TEs can block a little, but lack speed, and in Randy McMichael's (1-7) case, hands, though he didn't drop any today. They all lack the speed and skills to get open or create big plays after the catch. It's been a disaster the Rams should have seen coming and one they're going to have to clean up after significantly in the offseason. After you kick the special teams guys over to that unit, I'm not sure anybody other than Gibson's worth keeping. What a disaster.
* Offensive line: Another disaster today was the o-line, which should have been expected, really. Rams season in a nutshell: Season-long practice-squadder Roger Allen started at guard. And got hurt in the second quarter, which moved the paripatetically-out-of-position Adam Goldberg to LG and put another season-long practice squadder, Phil Trautwein, in at RT for his first professional action. Hoo boy. The ***** were all over that like Joey Chestnut on a platter of franks, and the Rams wound up allowing a dreadful EIGHT sacks, FOUR of them by Justin Freaking Smith, and gave Jackson very little running room. Some of the sack problem was quarterbacking mistakes, but most of it was the Rams being just plain overmatched. Allen was awful in his limited action. He gave Smith a free run at Null for the 2nd 49er sack and got smoked by Demetric Evans for another. Evans didn't even put that much of a move on Allen, who looked like he was just guessing where to try to block. Goldberg had a surprisingly poor game. Haralson beat him at RT for half of the first sack of Null, and Smith just knocked him to the ground at LG en route to the 4th sack of Null. I think Goldberg was also responsible for Smith's fourth sack. He picked up Patrick Willis blitzing on the outside, but his responsibility was probably Smith on the interior rush after Alex Barron let him go. Jackson gave up the eighth and final sack to Dre Bly, his first poor blitz pickup in several weeks. Chemistry, continuity and experience are all vital to having a good offensive line. The Rams have talent on their line but end the season way short on those other qualities. It's easy to see why they've struggled but fair to say they can become better.
* Defensive line / LB: The Ram defense played what might have been its best three-and-a-half quarters of the season but looked for all the world like they'd quit after San Francisco took a 14-6 lead in the 4th. They forced a ton of 3-and-outs or similarly short possessions. James Laurinaitis set one up by blitzing up the middle untouched for the first sack of Alex Smith in the 1st, and got another in the 3rd by breaking up a 3rd-down pass to Vernon Davis with a solid hit. Chris Long got one by swatting down a 3rd-down pass. Craig Dahl helped set up another with a free run at Smith for a sack off a safety blitz. Long and James Hall were solid against the run. Hall stuffed Frank Gore several times as the Rams held him to just 31 first-half yards. Hall got the Rams' 3rd sack, and started another 3-and-out, by pouncing on Smith as he recovered his own extremely lame fumble in the 3rd. The ***** couldn't put together any offense at all and the Rams had Smith on the run. In the 3rd, though, the ***** started finding some cracks. Gore went up the middle for 34 after David Baas pulled and engulfed Laurinaitis and James Butler's utter inability to tackle Gore doubled the length of the play. Gore followed that with a 22-yard screen inside the 5, breaking away after Long and Ron Bartell ran into one another. That led to their first TD. The second TD was a lightning bolt from Davis after the Rams had settled for their hundredth FG near the goal line of the season, and after that, I'm pretty sure the defense was mainly thinking about tee times the rest of the way. Except for Long, who had enough fire left to get into a head-butting incident with a 49er lineman late in the game and get ejected. Ejections (usually of the head coach or manager) have been known to fire up basketball and baseball teams but the Rams saw no such effect. Gore chugged through them for a couple of short TDs meeting very little resistance in the middle and an unpleasant lack of pursuit when he bounced outside. It was 28-6 at the end of the game but 14-6 when the game was done, the Ram defense doing itself a brief disservice after at least 50 minutes of excellent effort today and a season where they'd played almost every game hard from start to finish.
* Secondary: The secondary paralleled the front seven, a good first half but a meltdown in the 2nd half. Justin King continued his strong work defending short passes by breaking up a pass to Vernon Davis with Ron Bartell to kill the first 49er threat of the day near midfield. A possession after he sacked Alex Smith, Dahl broke up a 4th-down pass to Michael Crabtree with a good hit to save the Rams another score. The meltdown started on the first 49er TD drive. Bartell inexcusably let Crabtree catch an 8-yard sideline pass right in front of him on 3rd-and-6. Josh Morgan then found a hole in the Ram zone for 17, then Gore took over. The pivotal play of the game came midway through the 4th. Davis split wide and drew single coverage from the lamentable Butler, who he burned badly for a 73-yard go-route TD. Game over, man, game over, but not before Crabtree burned Dahl for 38 to set up the next TD, the rookie turning the veteran inside out with a fake. An interesting development came in the 3rd when an apparently new player – John? Johnny? - Wade got some playing time and made a nice open-field stop on a pass to Gore. Wade may actually have been the nickel back today; I don't remember seeing Danny Gorrer at all. Hard to figure why Wade was the coaching staff's red-headed stepchild all season when Butler's the one who can't play, and for a big price to boot. Can't tackle, can't cover, burned the Rams with both inabilities today. What's it going to take for this franchise to get a decent strong safety?
* Special teams: The Rams weathered a plague of flags on a punt sequence in the 2nd quarter but still managed a decent day on special teams. The highlight of the day was the punting clinic put on by Donnie Jones and Andy Lee. Jones ended the day with a sick 50.1 average on a sicker 11 punts. Josh Brown hit a 54-yard FG to open the scoring but mysteriously missed a 45-yarder at the halftime gun, though I do not believe he missed it by much. Amendola set up Brown's other FG with a 56-yard punt return. He got up the sideline thanks to David Roach's seal block and got by the punter this time. Amendola has been a fine pickup for the Rams and should be their kick and punt returner next season. Let's just hope the offense will someday make it less regretful when Amendola just misses a TD.
* Coaching: I really did not understand Steve Spagnuolo's 4th-down philosophy today. 4th-and-1 at our 42 early in the game, we're going for it. 4th-and-2 at the 49er 11 down 7-3 late in the game, we're kicking the FG. 4th-and-18 from our 27, down 21-6, we're going for it. Hell, we're even burning timeouts. Then 4th-11 at our 25 down 28-6, boom goes the punt. The postgame radio show linked the Rams' quitting in the 4th quarter to the moment Spagnuolo chose to kick down 7-3, and that's hard to refute. There's little reason outside of abiding admiration for Ndamukong Suh not to go for it there. Spagnuolo has to let go of a lot of his conservatism of game management next season. The great ones didn't get there without taking intelligent risks. That conservatism pervades the offensive game plan, where Pat Shurmur's still calling two-yard smoke routes on 3rd-and-6 or running Jackson up the middle three straight times after a big play. The staff reminds me of when you're first starting to drive and you think you're moving along really fast, then Dad tells you to look at the speedometer and you find out you're going 30.
Coaching may be overrated in the estimation of how games are won and lost, but it's fair to demand the coaching staff show a tangible positive effect. Spagnuolo has done that this year as a leader. His team has played hard all season with the exception of about a quarter. They've been in games they probably didn't deserve to be in. They're on the right track motivationally. Pleyer development looks like it's getting there. All of the draft picks improved as the season went on. Special teams have gelled into something, well, special. The team's getting there developmentally, though with the glaring exceptions of WR and RBs to back up Jackson. But they're getting there. They need to get there strategically, too. Step on the gas next season, Coach.
* Upon further review: Mike Carey's already looking ahead to the playoffs, which I assume he'll be working as one of the NFL's top referees, though today's game may have lowered his crew a percentile or two. They threw flags on 49er special teams several times for blocks in the back but picked them all up. That got mind-boggling after a while, because some of them sure looked like illegal blocks. The missed call on Gibson's catch right before halftime, which the replay booth had to correct, was poor. NFL officials shouldn't miss calls I can get from 250 feet away. And Long was ejected from the game for retaliating against a late block that the official was looking right at. Hell, he got caught up in it. For Long to get the only penalty there was WWE-quality officiating, and I guarantee that had that 49er lineman been Richie Incognito instead, every official on the field would have tossed their hankies. D-plus.
* Cheers: The main reason most of the fans filled (half of) the Dome today was to salute Isaac Bruce in what appears to have been the final game of his brilliant career. So it was a shame there wasn't better publicity about how the ***** planned to use him. Very little of the crowd suspected Isaac was only going to be on the field for the first offensive play, particularly since they didn't throw to him, running away from him instead. Otherwise we would have been on our feet when he came off the field and did a leaping celebration with several 49er receivers the way he used to do with Torry Holt. The crowd also had little idea Isaac had spent the second half in street clothes, trying to call him onto the field late in the game instead. We finally got to pay tribute to the greatest Ram WR thanks to some quick stadium camera work on the Jumbotron around the 2:00 warning. Bruuuuuuuuce. Though they may rely a little too much on pee-wee football for halftime shows, the Rams' P.R./game day people have been one of the franchise's strongest units this season. They marked Fan Appreciation Day today with discounts on concessions and an impressive array of prizes, giving away Super Bowl tickets, 50+ game-worn jerseys, and so many TVs I thought everyone in attendance was going to get one at one point. No, I didn't win anything, but my nephew and I had a blast at his 2nd Rams game, even though it was positively awful on the field. The Rams are getting some things right.
* Fearless postseason prediction: This ought to be one of the most exciting postseasons in many years. Look at the QBs in this year's playoffs: Manning, Rivers, Brees, Favre, Warner, Romo, Brady, Rodgers, McNabb. Look at some of the potential matchups. Patriots-Colts again? Favre vs. Packers, part III? Kurt Warner's postseason return to New Orleans? The Colts, Saints, Vikings will be hard to beat in their home domes. The red-hot Chargers and Cowboys will be hard to beat anywhere. And if the playoffs are really about running and defense, why not the Bengals or Jets or Ravens? OK, now that I've hedged on everybody, how about a prediction? I know the Chargers have the Colts' postseason number, but I'm not betting against Peyton, not this year. Another long Arizona postseason run sure looks unlikely after the Packers mopped the floor with their backups today, but I also hate betting against Kurt Warner. Plus I don't mind jinxing the hell out of Bill Bidwill. Sorry, Kurt. Colts over Cards in the Big One.
* What’s next?: The last time the Rams had the #1 pick in the draft, they drafted the winner of the Outland and Lombardi Trophies, Orlando Pace, and in his third season, they won the Super Bowl. They can try to repeat that history by selecting Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh in April, but he's only the tip of the iceberg for them to mount a postseason run in the near future. This team heads into next season very short on talent and very long on questions.
The Ram offense had a 1,400-yard rusher and was still historically, hysterically, inept. Ten years after Warner, Bruce and Holt lit up the league, the Ram passing game is a joke. Focus on the QB all you want, but nobody who lines up behind center next season is going to succeed with receivers who can't get open or catch the ball or stay healthy. The Rams paid all season for their decision to try to play the receiver position on the cheap. Upgrading at WR and tight end with competent veterans must be the top offseason priority on offense. QB's surprisingly far down the priority list, absent any thrilling draft or free agent (Jason Campbell? Really?) prospects. The Rams would be better served to build up their offensive line depth to make up for the departures of Incognito and (please God please) Barron. They also need a big play threat to back Jackson up. But the critical need is receivers. They have to be able to stretch the field, make room for Jackson, get that 8th and 9th defender out of the box. And a ball-control offense has to have a reliable TE. Without those, as we've seen all season, the offense is a dreadful joke.
The defense didn't finish 2009 much better. 29th in total defense. 27th against the run. 25th against the pass. 30th overall. The Rams' decisions to dump capable veteran OLBs early in the season were baffling, and long strides need to be made this offseason to surround James Laurinaitis with actual professional-level talent. And with Leonard Little mulling retirement, what's already an anemic pass rush threatens to become Chris Long and little else. Long may be poised for a breakout season in 2010 but not without a legitimate threat on the other end of the line, a threat that does not appear to be on the 2010 roster. For all the Rams' offensive woes, the Rams could open the 2010 draft drafting a DT, a DE and an OLB and fill plenty of needs. If injured players like Oshiomogho Atogwe, Bradley Fletcher and C.J. Ah You all come back strong, all the better, but the Rams mustn't allow returns from injured reserve to represent the biggest part of their upgrade in talent. A supplement, sure, but not the main course.
Steve Spagnuolo's going to be under a lot of pressure next year. The honeymoon's over in 2010. Rams Nation has been patient and let some things slide. But we are sick of losing at home. We are sick of getting blown out by mediocre division opponents. The Rams have got the Lions, Bucs, Redskins, Raiders, Chiefs on next year's schedule, along with the Seahawks twice. They won't win them all, but that's still seven highly winnable games, way up from maybe two this year. It's about time “any given Sunday” started applying to this team again, too. Spagnuolo's established himself as a good leader. Now he needs to show the defensive acumen that got him this far. His game management has to step up a level. His staff's got to show he hired the right guys. His and Billy Devaney's ability to evaluate players has to shine through. In short, while acknowledging that Spagnuolo's lining the Rams up on the right track; in 2010, we want some results. 6-10 won't kick-start any parades in St. Louis, but it's hardly a lot to ask for next season. Not when Cleveland and Oakland and Seattle won 5 this year, or Buffalo won 6.
Make it happen, Coach. Gotta go to work.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 1/3/2010: ***** 28, Rams 6 (Long)
Good post as always! Your weekly gamepost have been a must read each week thank you :)
Re: RamView, 1/3/2010: ***** 28, Rams 6 (Long)
Thanks for the post and for the effort all season. I ran out of gas on my good, bad and ugly weeks ago. Its so painful to watch this team.
My only observation to add is that its naive for anyone to believe that the Rams are going to turn this around completely until the ownership situation settles itself, especially with an uncapped year coming. We will pay Suh, but we arent going to pay much in the free agent market given the upcoming sale of the team.
ramming speed to all
Re: RamView, 1/3/2010: ***** 28, Rams 6 (Long)
Exactly. I don't know if drafting Suh in the first round is the ideal situation conerning the number of holes which need to be filled, but if the RAMS do decide to draft him, it is going to be interesting to see who else they can wrangle up.
But we are sick of losing at home. We are sick of getting blown out by mediocre division opponents.
We need wins next season, not excuses.
Thanks again for your game summaries. Well done.
Re: RamView, 1/3/2010: ***** 28, Rams 6 (Long)
"The ****** were all over that like Joey Chestnut on a platter of franks..." :D Heh, Another Frankian gem!!;)
I've enjoyed your musings again this year, Mike. Please don't be a stranger this offseason as we all can use some more of your insights and opinions.
Looking forward to next year. Take care.:)
WHAT SAY YE?
Re: RamView, 1/3/2010: ***** 28, Rams 6 (Long)
Nice to see someone else saying that Avery is prob. best suited for the slot. That's what I was saying last year when I pleaded on here for the team to take Crabtree.