RamView, October 18, 2009
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #6: Jagwires 23, Rams 20 (OT)

Make it 16 straight losses, a YEAR without a win, for the Rams after a surreal amount of bad luck in Jacksonville. Untimely injuries, dropped interceptions, crap pass interference calls by crap referees, even the coin toss conspired against the gallant but near-luckless Rams today. Hey, “football gods,” you owe us one after today. Big time.

* QB: Marc Bulger (22-34-213, 79.7 rating) started this game with a hot hand left over from last week's performance off the bench. His first pass was a superb sideline cover-2 beater to Keenan Burton for 21. And after Steven Jackson drove the Rams into the red zone, Bulger hit Donnie Avery in the corner of the end zone with a pretty 17-yard pass for the Rams' FIRST first-quarter TD of the season, a 7-0 lead, and what appeared to be the start of a promising afternoon on offense. Not so fast. Next possession, Bulger went deep for Avery, who had a step, in the end zone, but the pass was slightly underthrown and intercepted by Rashean Mathis. Avery left the game injured a little later and it was all downhill from there. The offense's options the rest of the way: be carried on Jackson's broad shoulders or have Bulger throw a 5-yard pass (if that). Bulger spent most of the afternoon dumping off on 3rd-and-long. This may well have been due to lack of open, or healthy, receivers. Burton and Danny Amendola were the only WRs who could even take the field for stretches. A couple of times near midfield, though, in the 1st and again in the 3rd, Bulger could have kept a drive alive with better third-down throws to Amendola. Both times Amendola had to come back for a short, low ball, thrown by Bulger on the run, and he couldn't get the first. In Jagwire territory near the end of the first half, Bulger slightly overthrew Daniel Fells (and hung him out to dry), who was open on a promising deep middle route. In the second half, the Rams had one (rushing) first down until the final 2:00, when they finally sustained another drive. Bulger hit Amendola for 13 on 3rd-and-5 at the Jagwire 35. Then, after having a certain TD pass to Daniel Fells knocked down by LB Daryl Smith, he hit Randy McMichael for 14 to get the Rams inside the 10. But with one shot with 15 seconds left, Bulger couldn't make anything happen, the Rams settled for a FG and never saw the ball again. This game's filled with a lot of what-ifs. What if Bulger hits one of those 3rd-down passes to Amendola? What if he puts another foot or so on the intercepted TD bomb for Avery? Seems like small potatoes, but more and more, the Ram offense doesn't appear to have even that small a margin for error.

* RB: Called on to carry the Ram offense by himself with 10 or 11 Jagwires clawing at him, another heroic effort by Steven Jackson was wasted. He ran for only 50 yards but totaled 128 thanks to success with the screen pass. He kept the first Ram TD drive alive on 3rd-and-8, taking a screen 19 yards and running over a DB after getting a big block from Richie Incognito. He powered most of the Rams’ FG drive late in the 2nd, with a couple of 9-yard runs off the left side and a 7-yard run behind Mike Karney up the middle. The Karney-Jackson combo was successful several times. Jackson started the 3rd quarter powering right up the middle for 15. Unfortunately, it would be another lost 3rd quarter for him from there. He only had three carries for minus-1 and two incompletions between that run and the 1:49 mark of the 4th quarter, when he made the Rams’ offensive play of the day. Off play-action at the Rams 22, he got another block from Incognito, and with at least three Jagwires whiffing along the way, rumbled off for 38 yards, dragging four defenders the last five yards. Efforts like that made it a real shame the Rams could only tie the game in regulation. Jackson ran hard against a Jagwire D stacked up to stop him all day. He was dangerous as a receiver. He even picked blitzes up well today. The guy’s just about doing it all. And getting nothing to show for it.

* Receivers: Is it time to wonder what Donnie Avery (1-17) is ever going to amount to? Shortly after beating two Jagwires in the corner of the end zone and making a nice catch for the Rams’ first TD, he left the game, injured AGAIN (hip-related), and the line of scrimmage became a black hole from which the Ram passing game could or would not escape. The injury made Keenan Burton (5-37) the ersatz #1, but after a fast start, he did nothing, with just one catch for two yards in the 2nd half. Danny Amendola (3-25) had a couple of shots to convert 3rd downs but Bulger’s throws appeared to pull him in short of the mark. He did convert a 3rd-and-5 to extend the game-tying FG drive. Randy McMichael (3-32) turned a couple of short passes into 10-yard-plus first downs; maybe the Rams should have looked his way more. Daniel Fells (2-11) got clocked the first time Bulger threw his way and wasn’t much of a factor. Tim Carter (0-0), who’d been back about three days after originally being cut in training camp, was thrust into action but got hurt himself, leaving Burton and Amendola the Rams’ ONLY healthy WRs at times. Injuries don’t help, but save the Laurent Robinson signing, the Rams haven’t made a good decision at the position since drafting Kevin Curtis in 2003. This year’s decision to woefully understaff the position is certainly included.

* Offensive line: The offensive line wasn’t outplayed today as much as it was outnumbered. When the defense can load up the box with impunity, the linemen simply can’t pick up everybody, and so Jackson fell often to slashing LBs and DBs. Strictly line-vs.-line, the Rams held up all right. Surprised by Derrick Harvey dropping back in coverage during the opening drive, Bulger held the ball and was sacked after Atiyyah Ellison beat Jacob Bell AND put Alex Barron ON HIS ASS, but that was the only time Bulger was taken down, and he had great protection for stretches. And right after that sack, a great block out front by Richie Incognito sprung a Jackson screen for 19 and a first down anyway. Run blocking was up and down. Barron set the edge nicely for a 9-yard sweep left late in the 2nd but drew a false start in the 1st. Jackson ran behind Mike Karney for 9 and 7 during the Rams’ first-half FG drive and also got a nice block from Bell on that first run. Then again, he got dropped for -3 inside the 2:00 warning after Randy McMichael got no block on Clint Ingram at all. The Rams opened the 2nd half on offense with a 15-yard run for Jackson up the middle, with big blocks by Jason Brown, Incognito and Karney. Two plays later, Bell gets beaten badly on the backside and Jackson can only gain 1 after spinning out of a big loss. I didn’t keep careful track but it looked like Adam Goldberg and Jason Smith switched in and out at RT. Smith looked good run-blocking, but on the Rams’ final 3-and-out, both he and Barron got eaten alive on a Jackson run that lost three. Ingram then bulled Barron right back into Bulger to foul up a screen pass the next play. The Rams did get back to tie the game after the big 38-yard screen to Jackson, sprung by a decent block again by Incognito. Richie had a good game. Smith and Jason Brown I’d say were ok. Bell and Barron I’d call inconsistent. You’d have liked line play to be a little better, but you’d also have liked Jacksonville not to have stacked the line of scrimmage all day, either.

* Defensive line / LB: The Ram defense played with a lot of heart but couldn’t have had a lot of lung left after spending most of the 2nd half and all of OT on the field. It’s no wonder they had trouble stopping the Jagwires late. Unfortunately, though, they didn’t really stop them early, either. They sacked David Garrard three times but still gave him far too much time to throw. The 4-man rush rarely got there – Chris Long’s presence in the Ram defense was barely a rumor – and the Rams blitzed a lot and it didn’t get there a lot. The 41-yard bomb to Torry Holt beat a blitz, and Maurice Jones-Drew ran through Bradley Fletcher the next play for the first of three TDs. The Rams were terrible on 3rd down, stopping only 5 of 16 chances. Garrard scrambled through the gaping lane Leonard Little left for 9 on 3rd-and-8 at the end of the 1st. Good news, though; Ron Bartell forced a Jones-Drew fumble the next play. The D really asserted itself the next drive. Cliff Ryan came in unblocked to drop Jones-Drew for minus-3. James Hall followed with a MANLY play, going right through Eugene Monroe and grabbing Garrard for the Rams’ first sack. Little then discarded Eben Britton with ease and sacked Garrard again to end the drive. Ryan got a sack early in the 3rd thanks to LaJuan (WHO?) Ramsey collapsing the pocket single-handedly, and a blitzing Fletcher hit Garrard on 3rd down to end the drive. The Rams still held a 10-6 lead, and were looking solid, but the offense kept coming straight off the field. The Jagwires had the ball at least 20 minutes of the 2nd half and wore the Rams down. Another big factor was an injury that put Hall out of the game. C.J. Ah You was nowhere near as staunch against the run, which the Jags exploited. Ah You did make a big play at the end of the 3rd. With Garrard getting simply all day to throw by this point, Ah You tipped a red-zone pass at the line for an INT by James Laurinaitis. But the offense put the defense right back out there, and now they really started getting gashed. Garrard faked Ryan out of his jock and ran through Little’s vacated area for an 11-yard scramble. Then the killer blow, a Jones-Drew 26-yard draw down to the three. The entire d-line was pushed right and destroyed. Six Rams screwed tackles on the play, including a near-horse collar by Laurinaitis that Jones-Drew ran through. On 3rd-and-goal, Jones-Drew bounced off Larry Grant and through Ah You’s spot – he had been driven nearly all the way to the center – to give Jacksonville a 13-10 lead. The offense 3-and-outed AGAIN, though, and the Rams looked dead, if not for a moment of brilliance by Little. He stepped out on an intended screen pass for Greg Jones, plucked the ball from the receiver’s hands, sprinted 30 yards down to the 5 and DIVED for the pylon for the TD and a 17-13 lead. Sadly, that momentum wasn’t enough to energize another stop. Garrard scrambled for 13 through a lane left this time by Long. Jones-Drew swept right for 18 with DBs missing tackles and Ah You getting dominated by a TE. An unhurried Garrard hit Mike Sims-Walker for 26. Jones-Drew beat a zone blitz, and Little in coverage, on a 13-yard screen down to the 10, and he and his o-line just overpowered the Rams on their way to a go-ahead TD. The game was probably in effect over when the Rams lost the overtime coin toss. Two plays into OT, the Rams lost Bartell AND Will Witherspoon to injuries. Garrard hit Sims-Walker for 22 to get the Jags close, and Jones-Drew continued to overpower the Rams’ right side for another 20 yards to make Josh Scobee’s game-winning FG a chippie. The D was certainly gassed by the end of the game, but could too have helped itself out with more consistent play earlier in the game, especially pressure on Garrard. They played with great heart, but could be said to have expired today due to arrhythmia.

* Secondary: In a disappointing season, I don’t know that there’s been a more disappointing Rams player than Ron Bartell. Bartell was Torry Holt’s (5-101) bee-yotch today, as the future Hall-of-Famer chalked up his first 100-yard game since 2007. Holt turned Bartell inside out on a 41-yard catch in the first like it was training camp 2005 all over again and Bartell was a rank rookie. Holt also drew two (legit) DPIs off of Bartell, including one on a two-yard slant on 2nd-and-10 that had me screaming to put someone else on Torry. For the love of Taje Allen, just let him catch that! Well, it was hardly a banner day for any of the Ram secondary. Mike Sims-Walker (9-120) burned Craig Dahl and O.J. Atogwe for 35 before Bartell redeemed himself (a little) by forcing a Jones-Drew fumble to start the 2nd. Soft zone coverage was ineffective all day. Sims-Walker got the Jagwires in (very long) FG position right before halftime with a 22-yard catch – how can you let that happen? As much as poor offense kept putting the defense back on the field, the secondary didn’t help them get off quickly. A six-minute Jagwire drive in the 3rd should have been stopped earlier, but Dahl dropped an interception, Bartell and Jonathan Wade committed DPIs real and imagined, and Wade was 10 yards off Mike Thomas on a 3rd-and-4 completion. Quincy Butler (!) finally ended the drive by breaking up a pass to Sims-Walker. But Sims-Walker broke wide open underneath the too-soft zone for 26 on the last Jagwire TD drive, and he did it again on a 3rd-and-6 in OT, all but sealing the Rams’ doom. 335 yards passing by David Gerrard? TWO 100-yard Jacksonville receivers? Terrible game by the Ram secondary today. Terrible.

* Special teams: Surprisingly strong day for Josh Brown, who hit a 52-yarder I was certain he’d miss just before halftime, and the 27-yard game-tying FG with :07 left in the game. Most of his kickoffs boomed deep into the end zone, too, which makes Donnie Jones’ poor day even more puzzling. Jones shanked punts all day for a pedestrian 41.8 average and can kiss the Pro Bowl good-bye, missing several opportunities to pin the Jagwires back with even-decent punts. The broadcast blamed a swirling wind. Enough to take almost ten yards off a guy’s punts? Amendola had a 57-yard return, getting good blocks in the “wedge” area (and some Jagwires out of their lanes) and picking up a block downfield by Billy Bajema. But Jones was a big impediment today in the Rams’ battle for field position.

* Coaching: It's certainly fair to wonder whether the Rams could have safely taken another shot at the end zone with seven seconds left in regulation, especially with a timeout in hand. For those who believe so, what play do you call? The previous play took 8 seconds. If Bulger gets flushed again, game's over. If you're throwing a fade pass into the end zone, who's the receiver? McMichael maybe? Maybe run what the Titans tried at the end of Super Bowl 34 and hit Burton on a slant? I’m fine with the FG because I just don’t know that they would have had a successful play to run for the TD. And you’ve got to rely on the hometown timekeeper not to have an itchy trigger finger. In full hindsight, that last TO probably should have come after McMichael's catch with 0:23 left. A couple of other game-management issues can probably be chalked up to Steve Spagnuolo being a rookie coach. Why freeze Josh Scobey before the 58-yard attempt at the end of the first half? Wouldn't you rather have him rush that try? It looked like Jagwire HC Jack del Rio really got away with pushing the officials around, browbeating them into more than his fair share of calls. I'd like to have seen Spagnuolo bow up more against that kind of stuff. Without the other guy fighting back, veteran coaches like del Rio are going to run roughshod over the referees all day.

It looked like Pat Shurmur's play-calling got off to a good start. The opening drive was the Rams' best drive of the season. The offense looked nicely balanced and the no-huddle kept the Jagwires on their heels. Once Avery was gone for the game, though, the passing game went back into the shell it's been in all season. And the offense’s second-half woes continued. After an initial first down, they didn’t get another until the final 2:00 of regulation. They essentially three-and-outed the entire half. Shurmur tried to get the ball in Jackson’s hands each possession, but there was nothing to discourage the Jagwires from putting everyone in the box to stop him. The Rams’ longest completion the first 28:00 of the second half was seven yards. Bulger had one attempt longer than ten yards. Instead of stretching the field, Shurmur wrapped it up tight and put a double rubber band around it. I know he was down to Amendola and Burton at WR for a while, but what, neither of them can run a 15-yard route? The tight ends can only catch 4-yard passes in the flat? The Rams have no way to get an RB downfield for a pass? Did Shurmur know he was up against the worst pass defense in the league? As much as I want to cut Shurmur some slack for the injuries at WR, an offense relying heavily on Donnie Avery remaining healthy probably isn’t operating on the right premise.

* Upon further review: I've never been a Jeff Triplette fan and today did nothing to change my mind. Some of the DPI calls were horrendous, coming WELL after the play was over, and with heavy lobbying from the Jagwire sideline. Wade's play in the 3rd was no DPI – he was within five yards and released contact before the pass was thrown. Laurinaitis didn't interfere with Jones-Drew in the 4th, either. There is no faceguarding penalty in the NFL; James was guilty of nothing except good coverage. I wouldn't be complaining if he were still a Ram like he should be, but the sideline “catch” by Holt late in the 3rd was completely a reputation-based call. Torry can make that catch. Has many times before. DIDN'T THIS TIME. He had a toe out of bounds and the ball was still moving in his outstretched hands. What was Triplette watching on the replay monitor after the Rams challenged? Playboy After Dark? The fumble called on Garrard in the 3rd was also an awful call. How did the official think the ball ended up where it did if Garrard's arm wasn't in motion? Luckily, none of these questionable calls contributed to scoring drives, so I'll score Triplette and crew a D-minus and hope they don't do any other Rams games this year.

* Cheers: I guess we're going to get a lot of Ron Pitts and John Lynch on game calls this year, huh? Like them or not, anything's better than Matt Vasgersian. Pitts was all over Donnie Jones' off-day punting like he had money on him or something. Can't remember the last time a play-by-play guy was so obsessed with a punter. Play-calling was pretty sloppy at times, especially regarding carries by Jones-Drew, who Pitts sometimes called “Jones” or “Drew” instead of using his correct name. The Jagwires have Greg Jones at RB, too; Pitts should know better than to get lazy with Jones-Drew's name in the booth. Lynch's points about Avery's absence hurting the offense were good, and he agreed some of the DPI calls were cheesy, but yes, John, I know Torry Holt wanted to get back at his old team. Lynch beat that dead horse so much that by the end of the game he was beating a bottle of glue.

* Who’s next?: Who made up this schedule, anyway? “Let’s see, your team struggled to the second-worst record in the league last year, so, next season, we’ll schedule three of your first four games on the road, and we’ll have two of your first three home games be against possibly the two best teams in the league. We’ll make sure both those teams are undefeated when you play them, and that you’ll play one that’s on a 14-game winning streak and got a bye the week before so they’re nice and rested up for ya. Lotsa luck, Spags!”

At least next week will give St. Louis fans the rare treat of seeing Peyton Manning in person. True, you can see him half-a-dozen times during a commercial break in any televised sports event (has Peyton ever turned down a product endorsement? Seriously, LifeLock?), but he’s well on his way to becoming the greatest QB in NFL history, if he isn’t already. His arm, accuracy and football intelligence put him in a Hall-of-Fame class by himself, and he’s succeeded despite an everchanging cast of supporting characters. Nobody makes his whole team better as much as Manning does. This year, he’s thrown for over 300 yards every game and has a passer rating of 114.1. How do you stop the guy? Hey, don’t ask me. Or Arizona (lost 31-10). Or Seattle (lost 34-17). Or Miami, who lost to Indy despite holding the ball for FORTY-FIVE minutes. If you can’t even beat Peyton by denying him the ball, what can you possibly do? I wouldn’t blitz. Peyton’s killed the blitz his whole career, and rookie RB Donald Brown has been terrific at blitz protection. Losing a man in coverage won’t be a good gamble; it won’t give Manning less time. I'd consider rushing two, double-covering Reggie Wayne and septuple-covering Dallas Clark, who I can’t see the Rams holding under 100 yards, or 2 TDs. Maybe sneak a 12th guy onto the field every now and then, see if the referees notice (Hey, they almost didn’t against Seattle!). Maybe blitz all 11, or 12, guys whenever Indy gets inside the 10. I'm almost serious about some of these ideas. It's going to take something radical for this Rams team to hold the Colts under 30 points. At the very least, bend-but-don’t break, hope you can hold them to a FG every now and then.

Dwight Freeney has a remarkable streak for this remarkably-streaking Colts team: a sack in every game this season. He has to be one of the fastest defensive ends in NFL history, the reason he’s been able to turn his back to his blocker with his patented spin move thousands of times in his career without getting punished for it. If there’s a better 1-2 pass rush punch in the NFL than Freeney and Robert Mathis – 16.5 and 16 sacks respectively since the beginning of last season – I can’t name them. And the Colt defense that didn’t use to blitz much when Tony Dungy was head coach, likes to bring it now. The Rams are going to have their hands fuller than Nadya Suleman's babysitter. Colt defenses have been known to struggle against the run, so the Rams have a chance to run ball-control offense with Steven Jackson, if they can get promising young play-making OLB Tyjuan Hagler blocked. And the Ram passing game has to be able to sustain something against a young but underrated Colts secondary. If they didn't have enough for Jacksonville's league-worst pass defense, it's hard to see them having enough for Indianapolis.

In the 322 years since Sir Isaac Newton discovered its laws, there may never have been a more lopsided case of momentum than the one we'll have next week. The Colts have won 14 straight. The Rams have lost 16 straight. Sure, an ant can move a rubber-tree plant, as Spagnuolo'll no doubt be whistling at Rams Park all week.

But can a gnat stop an on-coming train?

--Mike
Game stats from nfl.com