RamView, 10/14/2012: Dolphins 17, Rams 14 (Long)
RamView, October 14, 2012
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #6: Dolphins 17, Rams 14
Live by the Leg, die by the Leg. The Rams dominated the Dolphins everywhere but the scoreboard, done in by dumb mistakes, poor special teams and inability to finish drives. Too bad it's cost them a W finding out they need to play smarter, score TDs and not always rely on their rookie kicker to bail them out.
Position by position:
* QB: When his line gave him a chance, Sam Bradford (26-39-315, 91.3 PR) was usually superb. Unfortunately, on his second pass attempt of the game, he got drilled from both sides on 3rd-and-5 and the Rams had to settle for a FG. Bradford put the Rams back in FG position the next time out with the longest completion of his career, a near-perfect 65-yard toss to Chris Givens. Nobody got open after that, though, and the Rams took another threebie. Sam contributed to a powerful running attack with a 21-yard scramble, another career best, on 3rd-and-8 in the 2nd. But failure to adjust properly for a Dolphin blitz a couple of plays later led to another sack, and settling for a FG this time meant no points. Bradford drove the Rams in close again before halftime, with a splendid sideline pass to Brandon Gibson for 16, and a laser to a tightly-covered Lance Kendricks down the seam for 22. Somehow, though, he missed Gibson, open at the goal line, badly from the 19 and sent the FG team back in again, for another miss. 300 yards of offense at halftime and six points to show for it. The Dolphins then came out of halftime with a TD drive where I don't think Ryan Tannehill threw a single pass that traveled more than 5 yards in the air. So they're the team with the dominating lead, and the Rams are the team that can't finish drives. In fact, their next two drives ended with another sack and a pass deflection. Bradford finally got a TD drive together in the 4th. He hit Gibson on a slant for 8 on 4th-and-2. Next play, a screen against a blitz FINALLY works like it should, for 26 yards down to the 7 by Daryl Richardson. Bradford, who again used his mobility as an effective weapon this week, ran down to the 3, and on 4th-and-inches, broke the plane with the ball despite getting his head almost snapped off his torso by a flying Karlos Dansby. Having survived getting twisted up like a Chinese acrobat, Sam scrambled right and worked perfectly with Steven Jackson for the 2-pointer to make it 17-14. Starting from their own 3 with 2:00 left, the Rams drove across midfield on the strength of sideline throws from Bradford to Steve Smith and to Gibson, but one last near-instant sack left them settling for a Hail Mary FG prayer, left, unanswered. Hard to ask for more from Bradford this week. First week without his favorite receiver, he threw for 300, threw a great deep ball, hung tough in the pocket, made good plays passing and running while on the move; pretty much the whole package. The missed blitz and the missed goal-line opportunity for Gibson loom large, but the Rams got enough from Sam Bradford to earn a win.
* RB: The Rams flashed a dynamic, balanced speed-and-power running attack that really should have won them this game, and can win many more to follow. Splitting touches almost evenly, Steven Jackson (12-52) and Daryl Richardson (11-76) torched the NFL's top-ranked run defense for 128 yards (Bradford added another 34). D-Rich exploded around right end for 44 on the second play of the game to set up a FG. He tacked on a 12-yard run around left end later in the 1st. While D-Rich attacked the edges, Jackson ground up the Dolphins in the middle of the field. He ran through Koa Misi for 12 and got 11 more behind Brit Miller, that, added to a couple of Bradford scrambles, set up a (missed) FG attempt. The backs both had solid all-around games. Jackson slipped out of the backfield on 3rd-and-13 in the 3rd, waving frantically to Bradford for the ball, and turned a short pass into a 22-yard gain. In the 4th, a few plays after Jackson gained 7 by stiffarming a couple of Dolphins to the ground, D-Rich beat a blitz on a screen pass for 26, using his blocks well and showing some nifty sideline footwork to set up the Rams' 2nd TD. Running, receiving, blitz pickup, speed, power... a little bit of everything, but another winning effort not rewarded with an actual win.
* Receivers: The Rams needed someone to step up at wideout with Danny Amendola gone for at least a month, and Brandon Gibson (7-91) did, with possibly his best game as a Ram. He killed early momentum for the Rams by bobbling a pass out of bounds on the first series, but atoned with 3 catches for 40 during the last drive of the first half. Gibson should have had a TD opportunity, too, breaking wide open at the goal line on a slant, but Bradford apparently never saw him and threw a pass away in his direction instead. Gibson made a nifty clutch grab on a 4th down slant to keep the 2nd TD drive alive, and he made the big play of the Rams' final drive, a 22-yard, diving, one-handed, description-defying sideline grab. Big-time game for Gibson. Chris Givens (3-85) continues to thrive as a deep threat, splitting the safeties on a deep flag route for 65 yards to set up the Rams' 2nd FG. Givens also chipped in a good downfield block on D-Rich's 44-yard run. He made another nice catch in the 1st for 13 but sort of disappeared after that, and got a gift from the referee in the 3rd after not being called for a fumble on a play where he kneed the ball out of his own hands trying to spin away from a defender. Lance Kendricks (4-40) caught all 4 balls thrown to him and had a big 22-yard catch, with Kevin Burnett draped on him, before halftime. What the Rams are lacking is a red zone receiver. No one actually stepped up into Amendola's slot receiver role, so important for the Rams near the goal line. Austin Pettis (1-11) did nothing. Steve Smith (2-18) didn't do anything until the final 2:00. Brian Quick (1-1) couldn't even score on a slant from the Miami 2 in the 4th, getting knocked off his route and not even thinking of trying to break the plane with the ball until well after he'd been taken down by Sean Smith. Appreciate Gibson's effort, and the Rams are going to need more from him like that, but one of the others needs to start showing up for the Rams where it matters the most.
* Offensive line: The offensive line didn't have a poor game, but after special teams, seemed to be the unit where the Rams had the costliest breakdowns. Barry Richardson made an excellent block to spring D-Rich's long run to start the game, but he and Wayne Hunter both were beaten a few plays later by Cameron Wake and Koa Misi for a drive-ending sack. Protection was perfect on Bradford's bomb to Givens, especially Matthew Mulligan stoning Wake, a rare win for a TE against a pass rusher. On D-Rich's 12-yard run, Lance Kendricks was strong sealing the interior, while Brit Miller dropped a slobberknocker of a block on the edge. All that helped the Rams get up 6-0. Zuerlein's first miss, though, was as long as it was because of protection errors. Wayne Hunter cleared Olivier Vernon well beyond Bradford to spring his long scramble early in the drive, but Quinn Ojinnaka gave up a hands-to-the-face penalty, and Vernon struck back with a sack that turned a 44-yard attempt into a 52-yard miss. No one blocked Vernon; he ran by Hunter untouched. Both Hunter and a shocked Bradford appeared to have expected an outside blitzer, but he dropped into coverage, and they left Vernon unaccounted for while Ojinnaka correctly picked up an inside blitzer. Penalties kept the Rams from doing better than a FG attempt to end the half: a false start despite Miami's quiet crowd, holding on Mulligan, ANOTHER hands-to-the-face for Ojinnaka. Wake beat B-Rich again in the 3rd, despite falling down, and appeared to get a sack/fumble/turnover, but the Rams got bailed out by the tuck rule. They quit shooting themselves in the foot long enough to put together a TD drive in the 4th. Hunter had a key block on the 4th-down pass to Gibson; Robert Turner followed with one on the screen to D-Rich, also helped by Mike McNeil's block downfield. That momentum lasted until the last play of the game, when Hunter got trucked by Vernon for his second sack, making the game-tying FG attempt impossibly long. That play's on Hunter; Vernon was on top of Bradford too quickly for Sam to get rid of the ball. The Rams gave up just three sacks, and tore up the top run defense in the league on the ground; that's good enough for a win. But they also kept stalling out drives by getting in their own way, and let themselves get beaten by a jabroni who had a whole half-sack all season before this week. That's how you lose.
* Defensive line/LB: Another dominating defensive effort wasted. Chris Long got to Ryan Tannehill early, with a sack to slow up Miami’s first drive after John Jerry whiffed on him. Reggie Bush (12-17) had very little success. Kendall Langford dropped him for a 5-yard loss in the 1st on a play made by Robert Quinn and Jo-Lonn Dunbar perfectly setting the edge. As a team, the Dolphins only ran for 19 yards. Jermelle Cudjo put Jonathan Martin on the ground and tackled Lamar Miller for a loss, Richie Incognito lost it and committed a couple of penalties, and early in the 2nd, after Dunbar sacked Tannehill on a delay blitz, all was well for the Rams D. But despite Long and William Hayes holding Bush to no gain a couple of times, they couldn’t overcome crucial secondary and special teams mistakes. The Dolphin drive out of halftime was like getting eaten to death by moths. 62 yards worth of dinks and dunks, with a middle screen to Bush beating a blitz for the “big” play to set up a much-too-easy Anthony Fasano 1-yard TD. A 12-play drive; Miami averaged barely 5 yards a play on it, but the Rams couldn’t stop them. The Rams did everything they could in the 4th to get the offense back in the game, even after Long’s dumb swipe at Tannehill’s helmet gave away a free 15 yards. Dunbar came in untouched and crushed Tannehill to force a 17-yard “backward pass” the Rams couldn’t pounce on before it wobbled out of bounds. Langford then batted a pass that nearly deflected into Long’s arms for what could have been a pick-six. After pulling to within 3, the Rams let Miami put together a couple of first downs, including a fake punt, before Quintin Mikell stopped Bush on 3rd-and-1 to force a punt and one last possession. The run defense has righted the ship the last two weeks, and pass rush has been strong; there’s not a lot more to ask for from these guys. They need to force more turnovers, as they said themselves after the game. Witnessing the offense lately, though, the D doesn’t just need to force more turnovers, they’ll need to score off them themselves.
* Secondary: A solid effort by the secondary, with the exception of one bizarre, costly breakdown. Almost all of Ryan Tannehill's throws were short, and they held league-leading receiver Brian Hartline without a catch. Quintin Mikell showed no effects of the concussion that put him out of the last game, spiking a screen pass and drilling Marlon Moore short of a 1st down to break up early Dolphin drives. Miami finally got on the board in the 2nd. Janoris Jenkins badly blew a tackle of Anthony Fasano on 2nd-and-long, then on 3rd-and-short, Mikell and James Laurinaitis both missed shots on Davone Bess running a drag route. Moore, who entered the game with no catches all season, then beat Jenkins for 12, and then comes a play I can't explain. From the Ram 29, Jenkins just stands there peering into the backfield while Moore runs past him for a TD catch. Did Jenkins not know the ball had been snapped? What the hell, rook? Miami extended that lead to 17-6 after halftime, helped by a B.S. DPI call on Bradley Fletcher on 3rd-and-4. Reggie Bush then did 23 yards worth of damage on dumpoffs to get Miami to the 1, where Josh Hull fell completely asleep on play action and left Fasano all alone in the end zone. Mikell was definitely awake in the 4th, making a couple of key run stops to get the ball back to the offense one last time. That wouldn’t prove to be enough, though, thanks to Jenkins’ “rookie moment”. Not to put the loss on him, but that play proved critical.
* Special teams: Greg Zuerlein put the Rams ahead 6-0 with 48- and 32-yard FGs right down the middle, setting an NFL rookie record by starting his career with 15 straight made kicks. But we end the day having to hope that Zuerlein hasn't developed a case of the yips. His first career miss went barely wide left from 52 in the 2nd. That's a forgivable miss, but it unfortunately opened the door for Miami to take a 10-6 lead. The troubling miss is the 37-yarder before halftime. That's a gimme, regardless of the last kick, or the opposing head coach calling an icing timeout. Instead, now you have to wonder if the previous kick or Joe Philbin were in Zuerlein's head on a pretty bad miss. Little excuse for that kick not to be right down the middle. Instead, Zuerlein's now playing everything with a draw, including his 66-yard attempt at the gun. Remarkably, it looked like he had distance to spare on the kick. Regrettably, it again made a left turn before reaching the uprights. Kickers tend to have fragile eggshell minds, and now the Rams have a kicker who's only going to know for the next week that he's missed his last three in a row. Time for the offense to bail out the kicker for a change. Jenkins was mostly a disaster waiting to happen on punt returns and got crazy lucky not to lose a fumble late in the 1st. And the game was lost on special teams by Brit Miller as much as anybody, as he STUPIDLY fielded a squib kick OVER HIS HEAD and then lost the ball about five yards later, giving Miami a FG in a game the Rams lost by 3. What the hell, Brit? And Miami’s not even squibbing there without Craig Dahl’s stupid penalty on the previous PAT, and Josh Hull’s holding penalty forced the Rams to start their final drive back at their own 3. Disappointingly sloppy day on special teams, and anxious times ahead for Rams Nation now with the kicking game. Good vibes, Greg, good vibes.
* Strategery: Ultimately, this game was a team loss. Every unit did enough to deserve a win. But just about every unit had that one play or sequence that was enough to keep the team from winning. That extends to the coaching staff as well. Brian Schottenheimer has called pretty good games all season, and did for the most part against Miami. He was deadly-effective with the change-of-pace running game. But where was that running game when the Rams got in close? First drive, they run 55 yards on 3 carries, then go incomplete, sack once in scoring range. After the bomb to Givens gets them to Miami’s 11? Incomplete, incomplete, incomplete. That drive was 1 run, 6 passes. The Ram game plan ends up looking balanced, but the closer they got to the goal line, the more pass-heavy they got. Schottenheimer had the red zone offense working earlier in the season, but the past couple of weeks, it’s been 2011 all over again. I didn’t pick up on a lot of red zone play-action; that would at least give the undermanned receiving corps a better chance.
Defensive playcalling’s been super. This defense blitzes at the right times, throws out a lot of different looks, and didn’t get so blitz-happy that it forgot about the QB’s mobility. Sure, Bush beat a blitz on a middle screen on 3rd-and-6 from the STL15 before Miami’s last TD, but that was still a good down and field position to bring something extra. Dunbar’s sack came on a delayed blitz, always a good call to throw at a rookie QB. The Rams shut Hartline down completely and held the Dolphins under 20 yards rushing. Jeff Fisher has this defense operating at a high level, and is overdue for recognition for it from these quarters.
The big disappointment this week, though, was the team's sloppy play. Dumb penalties on special teams (Hull had two). 11 penalties total. An up man fielding a kick over his head. Getting pulled offsides THREE times by hard counts from a rookie QB. Leaving a slot receiver uncovered on 3rd-and-3. Standing frozen in place while a WR runs by you for a TD catch. A lot of mental errors this week, far from all by rookies. It’ll be hard to ride with Fisher if he says this is still a team that needs to learn how to win games. If they’d have played the game even a little smarter this week, they would have won.
* Upon further review: Gene Steratore will be hoping not to see this game tape at his annual review. For all the penalties called on the Rams, they left some big ones on the table. Dunbar clearly went to Tannehill’s head on his sack and James Laurinaitis tackled Jovorskie Lane about a mile out of bounds in the 3rd. Steratore must have set a record for illegal hands to the face calls; let me guess, somebody complained to the league this week? The Rams got a couple of gifts that were originally called fumbles. Bradford got reprieved by the tuck rule after a sack in the 3rd, a difficult call corrected on review. Givens got a refund on an apparent fumble later, Steratore apparently ruling he didn’t have possession yet when he wheeled and kneed the ball out of his own hand. Iffy. The most valuable gift, though, was the DPI on Bradley Fletcher that kept Miami’s last (winning) TD drive moving, ruling that Fletcher had pushed Hartline to the ground when Hartline had to have been diving to try to make a play on the ball. For a crew that’s supposed to be one of the best in the league, this wasn’t a strong showing. They did make a perfect spot on the late 3rd-down play where Bush tried to flip over Finnegan and got caught by Dunbar, though. Grade: C-minus
* Cheers: Happy as I am that the Rams are good enough now not to get stuck with Fox’s “D” team every week, I am ready for a break from Tim Ryan. Ryan proclaimed Jake Long’s hold in the first wasn’t a hold, even though Long wrapped his arm around Quinn’s neck and tackled him. Oh no, said Ryan, Quinn was going to the ground on his own. Poor. Then later, when Fletcher got DPI’ed after Hartline was obviously diving under his own power after an errant pass, no similar comment. The star of the broadcast wasn’t even in the booth. That was Mike Pereira, who beat Ryan and Chris Myers to the tuck rule call in the 3rd, and also Bradford regaining possession across the plane on his 4th-quarter TD sneak.
* Who’s next?: One of the repeated messages of sports is to never take anything for granted. Maybe sports fans will actually listen to that message someday. The Green Bay Packers nearly went undefeated last season; a trip to the Super Bowl was taken for granted. Instead, they choked at home to the Giants. And this season, who predicted they’d have the same record as the Rams when the teams meet in week 7? Um, hands down, everyone on planet Earth. Next Sunday’s clash will in fact be between a pair of .500 teams. It hasn't been a very even series lately, though; the Packers have won 4 of the last 5, including a 36-17 win here in 2009 where Greg Jennings had 50 and 53-yard catches, and Donald Driver added a 46-yarder.
And, bad news for the Rams: the Packers broke out of an offensive slump this week against a very tough Houston defense, and they may be in bombs-away mode again. After getting sacked 8 times in Seattle in week 3, Aaron Rodgers had played like a rattled QB, not staying calm in the pocket, missing too many open receivers. Injuries to Jennings and Jermichael Finley hurt continuity in their passing game, and when Cedric Benson went to IR with a foot injury, their running game went down the tubes. Houston should have killed them. But there I go taking something for granted in sports again. Rodgers threw for SIX TDs, and the Packers destroyed the Texans instead. Lord help the Rams if Rodgers is back on his game again. They probably won’t have Jennings, and Finley won’t be 100%. Without those two, until the Houston game, Green Bay struggled, or didn’t even try, to take the top off defenses, turning Rodgers into a dink-and-dunker. Mission #1 for the Rams D is to take away the deep stuff, which means Janoris Jenkins keeping up with Jordy Nelson. Mission #2 is for the front four to do their best Seahawks impression. Seattle and the Colts didn’t do anything very tricky to get to Rodgers in their recent wins; they mainly just had too much speed on the edges for tackles Brian Bulaga and Marshal Newhouse to handle. Ding! Ding! And Jeff Saturday’s shown his age just a little bit at center. Getting to Rodgers and making him settle for dumpoffs will be key to slowing the Pack down. The Rams have a secondary now that can back up an aggressive approach to going after Rodgers. If nothing else, they should look a lot different than the marshmallow-soft scheme Steve Spagnuolo was basically forced to deploy up in Lambeau last year. Jeff Fisher’s Rams can actually try to beat the Packers instead of try to keep the score down. (Note to special teams: have your chinstraps buckled; Randall Cobb returns everything. Everything. Be alert.)
Of course, the offense is going to have to do something for anything the defense does to matter. Mission #1 is to have a plan for sackmaster Clay Matthews. Teams have neutralized Matthews lately just by running and throwing away from his side, which is not a half-bad start. Rookie Nick Perry hasn’t looked like a strong run defender yet anyway. Dom Capers runs a blitz-heavy attack, and Matthews and Perry collapse the pocket consistently, but with B.J. Raji likely still out with an ankle injury, the Packers won’t have the push up the middle to stop Bradford from stepping up. Ryan Pickett’s never been a pass-rush factor and rookie Jerel Worthy is still wet behind the ears. Getting someone open in Green Bay’s sticky secondary is going to be another problem. Seattle struggled at it, at least until Golden Tate started giving people two-handed shoves in the back. Someone is going to have to show up for the Rams in the slot to dissuade Charles Woodson from blitzing every down. Brian Schottenheimer should already have seen on film how often Andrew Luck was able to go to his TEs against the Packers. Exploit that. That would certainly help near the goal line, as would power running, as would play-action. The Rams can’t settle for FGs against an Aaron Rodgers-led offense. That would be like bringing a soap-bubble wand to a gunfight. At least bring a knife.
The Rams are about to hit the hardest part of their schedule. A home game against the Packers that’s going to feel like a road game. A home game against the Patriots that’s going to be nowhere near home. Then they’ll need the week off before their first road division game, at San Francisco. We’re about to find out how far along the young Rams really are. They’ll need to be more ready for prime time than they were this week.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 10/14/2012: Dolphins 17, Rams 14 (Long)
Brilliant. . . As always.
Look forward to the review every week.