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RamView, 10/13/2013: Rams 38, Texans 13 (Long)
RamView, October 13, 2013
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #6: Rams 38, Texans 13
Who were those guys in the blue and gold this week? Almost unrecognizable, in a good way, the Rams gave Houston a Texas toasting, and in two weeks, have gone from hopeless to .500. Isn't sports great?
Position by position:
* QB: Hand it to Sam Bradford: he threw for only 117 yards and still had a fine game. Three TDs and no turnovers never hurts. (Especially your passer rating - 134.6). Bradford played confidently in the pocket again this week, hanging tough when he had to, stepping up when he had to, improvising (probably ill-advised) sidearm zingers when he had to. Bradford was money at the goal line. He put the Rams ahead early with a 2-yard play-action rollout TD to Cory Harkey, avoiding trouble but remaining calm and making a good throw. Just before halftime, another brilliant 2-yard play-action TD, this time to Lance Kendricks in the left half of the end zone. Bradford kept that drive alive with a simple 4-yard scramble out of a sack near midfield, and the smart play really paid off when Brian Cushing hit him after he slid to hand the Rams another 15 yards. Sam delivered a decisive coup de grace to Houston on the Rams’ first drive after halftime. He stepped out of a sack and dumped off to Zac Stacy for 5. Hit Jared Cook for 11 on 3rd-and-6, then Austin Pettis for 12 on 2nd-and-10. Trouble kept coming and Sam kept beating it. With Houston blitzing on 2nd-11, and an oncoming train about to run over him in the form of Brooks Reed, Bradford waited until he could feel Reed’s breath before dealing a 33-yard bomb to Cook, beating single safety coverage deep on the old sluggo route. That set up a 4-yard TD pass to Brian Quick. Quick was running a slant and the DB was four yards off him; you take that every time you see it before the snap, and Bradford did. Yeah, that’s a lot of excitement over about 40 yards of offense and for a QB with fewer passing yards this week than Arian Foster ran for. But Bradford deserves a little hype, doing some things again this week he hasn’t always excelled at. He stepped out of some sacks that would have killed scoring drives. All three of his TD passes, especially the one to Quick, were recognition of mismatches before the snap. Sam has missed many of those. The passing game was as diverse as the U.N. Bradford found 9 different receivers and worked all parts of the field. Yes, even the deep part – besides the bomb to Cook, Bradford had a perfect and certain 80-yard TD bomb dropped by Chris Givens. Sam rallied the Rams to a TD on that drive anyway. And it looks like Sam Bradford has rallied from a couple of tough games. It will be interesting to see where his confident play takes him and the Ram offense from here.
* RB: For four long weeks, the Rams missed everything Steven Jackson had done for them in the running game, but the last two games, Zac Stacy has powered it back up, banging through and dragging around the Houston defense for 79 yards on 18 carries. Run-blocking took a couple of drives to find its footing, but once it did, Stacy shouldered the load. He thumped out 10 yards on 2 carries to get the Rams inside the 2 for Harkey’s TD. He popped a couple of 8-yard runs and then had a signature run in the 2nd, an 18-yarder up the gut behind a strong lead block by Harkey and a pancake by Jake Long, finishing it by dragging three Texans for five yards and inside the 10. Two plays later, Stacy drags three guys again down to the 2 to set up Kendricks’ TD. Waiter! More red meat over here! Stacy’s success created a potent play-action game for the Rams, and he was also strong in pass protection. He got a nice pop on Cushing to keep Bradford clean on the rollout on Harkey’s TD and picked up a blitz on 3rd-and-6 to help keep a TD drive alive after halftime. Next play, in fact, Stacy cuts perfectly inside Chris Williams’ pull block and crashes up the middle for 14 out to midfield, with Houston again unable to bring him down. They could only form a huddle around him and wait out the ref’s whistle. Stacy also flashed some ability to make people miss him in the hole. More of that and he’s going to become a real breakout player at RB. Daryl Richardson (3-5) took a screen for 18 on 3rd-and-10 deep in Ram territory to break a Ram TD drive open in the 2nd, a key play, but he’s clearly taken a back seat to Stacy. (Unlike Isaiah Pead, D-Rich is at least in the car, though.) That’s all to Stacy’s credit. The only thing harder to take down in Texas this week had horns and hooves.
* Receivers: The Rams won a game where their leading receiver had two catches and most of the offensive scoring was done by blocking tight ends who tallied 2 receiving yards apiece. Lance Kendricks’ and Cory Harkey’s goal-line TDs were pretty similar play-action plays. Harkey really sold his down-block before squaring out right for an easy TD; Kendricks dragged left across the formation for his as Houston lost him in traffic. Jared Cook (2-45) cleared out the back of the end zone on Harkey’s TD and had two big catches on the Rams’ third TD drive, beating Shiloh Keo deep for 33 to set up Brian Quick’s lone catch, a classic big-man quick slant to the goal line for a 4-yard TD. Again this week the big receivers led the way. That included Quick’s excellent lead block on a 14-yard quick screen to Chris Givens (2-20) to set up the first TD. Givens’ day, sadly, will be remembered much more for the bomb that went off his hands after he beat everyone deep in the 2nd. Later in that drive, though, you had to love Givens getting in Cushing’s face after the late hit on Bradford. Tavon Austin (1-3) converted a 2nd-and-2 off a quick screen in the 1st, with no lead blockers, the only time he was even targeted. I think the Rams need to quit thinking Austin is just going to take the ball and fake out 9 guys every play. Where Austin is concerned, the game plan and its execution seem to be a lot of watching him and standing around. The big guys were enough to lock down a win this week, but in its evolution, the passing game is still stuck in the primordial ooze.
* Offensive line: Once they got done literally running into one another at the start of the game, the Ram offensive line laid down some serious run-blocking. Jake Long ran into a teammate when Stacy was stuffed on his opening carry; next play, same thing, with Chris Williams running into Joseph Barksdale. Barksdale got whipped by Brooks Reed to force the 3-and-out, then when Lance Kendricks whiffed a cut block attempt on J.J. Watt, nearly getting Stacy stuffed for a 5-yard loss, Rams Nation was filled with the sounds of here-we-go-again forehead smacks. No bother. Barksdale got out well to help Quick spring Givens on a quick screen and the Rams seemed to settle in. Long consistently collapsed his side of the line and pancaked people like on Stacy’s 18-yard run in the 2nd. Kendricks and Harkey were solid lead blockers. Scott Wells got the nose tackle turned to open up lanes. Harvey Dahl got out front nicely. The two both kept Cushing off D-Rich on his key screen pass before halftime. Dahl and Long just pushed people around, each having his best game of the season to date. With the Rams mostly double-teaming Watt, the work Long did on Reed and Whitney Mercilus was crucial. Reed gave him some trouble with speed, but against Whitney, Jake looked mostly like a merciless wall. Chris Williams killed a drive in the 2nd with a false start but blocked effectively on the pull. Barksdale got beaten inside by Watt to get Stacy stuffed in the 3rd, but handled him with ease all by himself while Bradford and Cook converted a 3rd-and-6 to keep a TD drive alive. This is more like the offensive line Rams fans expected when the season started. Bradford was not sacked and – are you sitting down? – didn’t have a pass batted down. Jake Long looked like a Pro Bowl tackle, and having that up front makes a big difference.
* Defensive line: The Rams won on defense behind strong pass rush on flighty Matt Schaub and green T.J. Yates, so let’s start with that. Robert Quinn drew a facemask penalty on Duane Brown and got strong rush on Schaub despite it to kill Houston’s first drive. Michael Brockers, who has been playing best-of-his-career ball, opened the next drive by stumping Schaub for a coverage sack. Jermelle Cudjo kept the Texans moving with the first of two idiotic penalties, but near the red zone, Quinn’s manly splitting of a double-team influenced a Schaub dumpoff to Deandre Hopkins, who fumbled it away. The Rams made a goal line stop in the 2nd after Quinn got moderate, but enough, pressure on Schaub to force a sideline pass despite open options in the end zone. Houston was in the red zone quickly the next drive, but Brockers, who pushed Wade Smith around all day, scored a second coverage sack, then just-ok pressure scared Schaub into a bad end zone throw with better options again open. Chris Long bull-rushed Derek Newton and put Schaub out of the game in the 3rd with the Rams’ third sack. As the game got out of hand, so did the discipline of the Rams D, with several stupid penalties handing Houston their only TD, but Quinn got rewarded on the final play for being a menace all game with a sack, the Rams’ fifth and his 6th of the season. If the Rams hadn’t gotten that great pass pressure, though, we were looking at another Dallas game, because run defense was once again awful. Arian Foster gashed the Rams for 141 on only 20 carries, and I’m pretty sure Jodie Foster could have burned them for 100. Other than frequently unfavorable alignments, though, the line didn’t look like the biggest culprit. There are still way too many plays where Kendall Langford looks completely ineffective and they run right by him, but I can’t ignore the cool play he made in the 4th to tackle Foster AND his blocker for no gain. The line showed it could dominate the line of scrimmage with pass rush while making enough clutch plays to hold a very talented offense to 13 points. I’ll take that.
* LB: Ever been on a 3-hour roller coaster ride? Welcome to the life of a Rams LB and this week’s wacky combination of spectacular and spectacularly bad play. The “plan” this week appeared to be to invite the Texans to run into specific gaps, which would have been great had a LB been there very often to fill them. FIRST play of the game on defense, Arian Foster runs for an easy 18 after James Laurinaitis can’t beat the fullback in the hole and Jo-Lonn Dunbar gets eclipsed by a lineman. Foster for 11 more two plays later, with Alec Ogletree wandering too far out of his gap. But Ogletree pounced on Foster like a cheetah on a downed impala the next three snaps to snuff out the drive. Laurinaitis made Brockers’ first sack possible by superbly snapping off his blitz attack to cover Foster on a leakout, forcing Schaub to eat the ball. His reward for that a few plays later: a long return of Hopkins’ fumble to set up a Ram FG. Ogletree struggled on the ensuing drive. Foster, pitch left for 12, taken out by Hopkins. Foster right for 23, handled by the TE. Foster 22 more, with blitzing Rams running themselves out of the play and the D continuing to make Hopkins look like John Hannah, this time erasing Trumaine Johnson. That drive was held to a FG, but at the 2:00 warning, here comes Foster again, ripping for 41 on a screen, with center Chris Myers wiping out Ogletree at the start of the play and Laurinaitis whiffing late at the sideline to get Foster the last 10. Right after halftime, though, a 4-and-out thanks to textbook zone D by Laurinaitis and Rodney McLeod on 3rd down. The Rams roared ahead 31-6 but still couldn’t silence Foster, who ran by each Rams LB for solid gains the next drive before Schaub was injured. In comes T.J. Yates, and on 4th-and-3 at the 6, Ogletree makes up for everything, jumping Yates’ telegraphed pass to double-teamed Garrett Graham and sprinting away with a 98-yard TD to pour the last shovel of dirt on Houston’s hopes. There was less middle ground with the Rams’ LBs than there is in Washington, D.C. right now. They were either making a big play or getting run over for one. Don’t ask me, I’ve still got motion sickness from the whole thing.
* Secondary: Janoris Jenkins also had an up-and-down game. He kept Keshawn Martin out of the end zone to force Houston’s first FG. Then he got faked to the ground at midfield on Foster’s long screen pass. Early in the 4th, he sacked Yates on a scramble and picked him off in the end zone the next play, part of the Rams’ excellent commitment this week to blanket the TE in the red zone. Then he ran in the end zone for 40 yards before idiotically bringing the ball out and only making it to the 2. Trumaine Johnson changed the game in the 1st by stripping Hopkins for a fumble at the Ram 26 but had trouble not getting blocked by Hannah, ER, Hopkins on some of Foster’s big runs. Rodney McLeod had a strong game in his hybrid role, closing well on short passes and stopping DeVier Posey short right before Ogletree’s pick-six. Soft zone coverage generally did its job. Hopkins burned one for 22 early, but he didn’t accomplish anything as a deep threat, and Andre Johnson was a very manageable 7-88, close to half of it in garbage time and the rest mainly on plays where the front four hadn’t gotten much pressure. Not a bad day’s work for a pretty depleted group.
* Special teams: Are you sitting down? Rams special teams committed NO penalties this week. NONE! They even put the game away with impressive kickoff coverage after the Rams went up 24-6 in the 3rd. Daren Bates flattened a sucka, then arrived at returner Keshawn Martin just as Rodney McLeod jarred the ball out of his hands and right to Bates, who was clownishly diving across the goal line before Houston fans could say “Wait, what?” Martin probably was in the game because Danieal Manning had earlier made a bad decision to bring out a deep Greg Zuerlein kick and got stopped at the 12 on a clutch open-field tackle by Darian Stewart. Zuerlein had no trouble hitting a 46-yard FG (and also ran Martin out of bounds across the 30 on one return), Benny Cunningham had a couple of good kick returns and Johnny Hekker only had to punt twice vs. getting to hold for 6 scores. Did I mention no penalties? ZERO!
* Strategery: A sign of a very good coaching staff is how well most of Jeff Fisher’s staff has adjusted to what went wrong during the two-game losing streak and fixed ongoing problems. Special teams ran far more smoothly than expected. (Did I mention no penalties?) More physical game plans have breathed life back into the offensive line. Brian Schottenheimer has the offense succeeding again at what made it good last year and built on it this week with masterful play-action calls on the first two TDs. I also liked the idea to run quick screens to someone besides Austin. Defenses are waiting on Austin on that play, but not on Chris Givens. First down. Just a smart game plan all the way around. The Rams repeatedly beat Houston blitzes, were smart enough to double-team J.J. Watt, smart enough to run when Cushing was pulled off the field after roughing Bradford in the 2nd (Stacy 18 yard run)… Jeff Fisher was even smart enough to call timeouts to save two plays where the Rams had problems getting the right people on the field. Hallelujah! Now, to quit having those issues… Still, the young Rams played with composure, while the veteran Texans played like a panicked, undisciplined, poorly-coached team. Wait for it… Wait for it… Houston, you have a problem. The Rams won just by playing their game and letting the Texans shoot themselves in the foot.
Schottenheimer is still on the hook to find better ways to use Austin, though. He can start by quitting thinking that Tavon’s going to Bruce Lee his way through a hundred minions every play. And whether or not he’s Fisher’s hand-puppet, it’s time to put Tim Walton on the spot for the Rams’ woeful run defense. Something as simple as alignment led to too many of the Rams’ problems this week. Any number of times, Houston just pulled a blocker and then Foster through the huge gap the Ram defense left when they lined up. They’re also getting caught thinking pass too often. Either Foster’s ripping off big gains against nickel formations, or the Rams are getting caught running what I can only describe as all-out edge pass blitzes on first-and-10. Walton/Fisher have had some adjustments to make for some time here. Time to get it done.
* Upon further review: No complaints here for Bill Leavy and crew. The big play of the Rams' first TD drive, a DPI on Kareem Jackson, looked correct; Jackson leaned into Quick with the ball was in the air and he wasn't looking for it. Hopkins' fumble looked like a difficult call but they nailed it with no problem. They also nailed player safety calls like Bradford getting hit in the head, Cushing hitting Bradford after Sam slid during the TD drive in the 2nd, and Quinn getting facemasked. Houston's self-destructed with penalties all season and Leavy didn't let them get away with much this week even at home. Grade: A
* Cheers: Fox’s copy of the broadcast should be on its way to Canton right about now, because of this moment in the 3rd. 4th and goal at the 6. As Houston lines up, Tim Ryan circles TE Garrett Graham, expecting the pass to go to him, and says the Rams need to double-team him and force Yates to make a good throw. Ryan was right, the Rams did, Yates didn't, pick-six, Ogletree. It was hypocritical of Ryan to criticize Houston all day for not throwing to their TEs and then criticize that play for being predictable, but still a great call. Ryan does his homework and is excellent at pointing out key blocks. Only part of the broadcast that needs improvement is that there should be many, many more Jennifer Hale sideline reports.
* Who’s next?: You'd think otherwise, but Bank of America Stadium, which the Rams visit next week to play the Carolina Panthers, hasn't been that tough on road teams in recent seasons. Even after wiping out the Giants three weeks ago, Carolina's a not-scary 7-11 at home since 2011. The Rams, though, haven't won there since the Greatest Show days, most recently taking a truly ugly 15-0 skunking in 2006. Marc Bulger threw for only 142 yards while DeAngelo Williams gained 114 of Carolina's 242 yards rushing.
Next week’s game is a matchup of Heisman-winning QBs, Sam Bradford vs. Cam Newton, who the Rams face for the first time. For the Ram defense, this will be like a Seahawk or 49er game. Even though Newton hardly ever runs out of the healthy amount of read-option the Panthers call, the edge rushers will have to focus on keeping him in the pocket. Newton is not uncomfortable there. He gets the ball out quickly, has a cannon arm to rival John Elway or Brett Favre, and his accuracy has really improved as a pro. The weird thing to me is that Newton hardly ever broke the pocket in the two Carolina games I’ve watched. I expected to see him running around like rookie Cam Newton, but OC Mike Shula really seems to have rooted him to the pocket. That’s to Carolina’s detriment in several ways. Newton is dynamic in the open field and most teams, let alone the Rams, don’t have a guy who can bring him down 1-on-1. Jordan Gross looks done at LT; Robert Quinn should beat him all day. Byron Bell isn’t much more impressive at RT. And they’ve been banged up at guard, so the Rams should be able to get pressure up the middle. Another problem is that Carolina, to borrow Mike Mayock’s annoying phrase from a couple of weeks ago, doesn’t have any “chunk” plays. 500-year old WR Steve Smith is still their #1 weapon. Even if Jenkins can’t handle him 1-on-1 as well as Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson did, the Rams can still easily afford to roll extra attention his way. Ted Ginn can be scary out of the slot, and Newton loves to go to TE Greg Olson outside the numbers, but he and Shula seem to forget the TE as the game wears on. Stopping Smith bogs down their whole offense. The typical Panther drive I’ve seen, they move the ball well with dinks and dunks, then get killed by blitzes on obvious passing downs. When Newton takes a deep drop, the deeper routes don’t get open and he pays for Carolina’s problems with blitzes and edge speed. Of course, the way the Rams have not defended the run lately, the Panthers’ chunk plays will all be handoffs to DeAngelo Williams, who’s not only still around, injuries to Carolina’s RBs have made him their bell cow. Williams loves those edge runs the Rams can’t defend, but doesn’t have to rely on those because he can also get yards up the middle behind Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. To my surprise as a fantasy league player, Carolina’s the #8 rushing offense in the league. It’s a balanced offense that makes it important for the Rams to limit big plays and do damage with blitzing, which has beaten the Panthers’ heads in all year.
Carolina is as well-manned at DE as anyone. Charles Johnson (36 sacks since 2010) is a constant pressure presence a lot like Chris Long. 2010 draft steal Greg Hardy’s (11 sacks in 2012) game isn’t too far off Robert Quinn’s. They have speed and strength off the edge to give the Rams fits, though Jake Long’s improved play is reason for hope. Carolina drafted a whole new middle of the line this year, planet-sized NT Star Lotuleilei and Kawann Short, impressively quick off the ball. You'll have to be very determined to run on the Panthers; the offseason additions have elevated their run defense to 4th-best in the NFL. Seattle really struggled with them opening week, and they’re very capable of just taking over the game at the line of scrimmage. Arizona did run for 90 on them, though, so don't look for the Rams to five up on the run. And Carolina's youthful exuberance and pass-rush-first mindset works against them with quicker-hitting stuff. Already a Pro Bowler, Luke Kuechly can make up for a lot. Like Cushing, he’s a sideline-to-sideline MLB who runs like a deer and excels in pass coverage. Look for the Rams to pull guards or H-backs at Kuechly so they can attack the Panther OLBs. Thomas Davis isn’t consistent and Chase Blackburn is a liability. That goes double for a pretty soft secondary. They’re small, lack a shutdown corner and play a lot of soft zone. (This is a reunion game for Quintin Mikell, so the Rams better be careful with ball security.) The whole key will be to keep Bradford upright long enough; if the Rams can, they can attack the Panthers with their big receivers, opening Carolina up to everything the Rams like to do in the passing game.
Last week against the Jagwires, the Rams were basically playing the 2009/2011 Rams. This week we find out if the 2013 Rams can beat the 2012 Rams. Carolina’s a conservative offense with a veteran bell-cow RB and a veteran-led WR corps that can’t stretch the field. The defense has earned some individual accolades but can be run on and is a little soft in the passing game. Sounds familiar, and like the makings of a measuring-stick game. With the 2013 halfway point nearing, how will the Rams measure up?
Re: RamView, 10/13/2013: Rams 38, Texans 13 (Long)
Great stuff as usual Mike. For some reason, this one was REALLY enjoyable to read.
Re: RamView, 10/13/2013: Rams 38, Texans 13 (Long)
Great write-up. You have some really funny analogies. The UN and DC ones made me LOL.
I hate to burst the bubble, or it could be my CRS has kicked in, but wasn't there a kick-off out of bounds?
Re: RamView, 10/13/2013: Rams 38, Texans 13 (Long)
Aw crap, you're right gap, there WAS a special teams penalty. I even re-checked before I posted by searching for PENALTY on ESPN.com's play-by-play. They didn't label it on the out-of-bounds kickoff. Argh.
Upon further review, the out-of-bounds kick isn't scored as a penalty. I went back through the pbp and found all 9 penalties and all 74 yards, the kickoff isn't included in there at all. Best as I can tell, it was just scored as an out-of-bounds kickoff. The receiving team can take the ball 30 yards from the spot of the kick or at the spot it went out of bounds. I'm not sure they can even decline and ask for a re-kick if they wanted to. Times like these are when it would be nice of the NFL to put its doggone rule book online, not the "digest of rules".
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