RamView, October 2, 2005
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game 4: Giants 44, Rams 24

Mike Martz returns from the hospital, but his defense plays like they belong in intensive care, in yet another road disaster, a third straight loss to the Giants. Looks like 2004 all over again.

Position by position:
* QB: Marc Bulger is likely to need arm-reattachment surgery Monday after throwing 62 times, ending up 40-62-442, 2 TD. Unfortunately, the Rams opened the game with a 123-out, and were in a 10-0 hole before they struck back with their first TD. Bulger set it up with a perfectly timed pass to Shaun McDonald for 29. Proving football is a game of inches, Bulger throws a swing pass a couple of plays later that barely misses Michael Strahan's hands and lands in Steven Jackson's for a 13-yard TD. The Rams failed to maintain that momentum on either side of the ball, though. The offense sputtered badly with another 123-out and a turnover, and the defense might as well have been chalk outlines of themselves, as the Giants rolled to a 27-7 lead before Bulger could muster another TD drive in the 2nd. Bunches of short passes to Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk and Dane Looker got the Rams in close for Jackson's rushing TD. Near the end of the first half, Marc's perfect sideline pass to McDonald for 21, and a Giant penalty, got the Rams within 10 for a FG. Marc even got the Rams in position for another FG before the end of the half, hitting Looker for 17 and hitting Kevin Curtis nicely on the sideline for 13. (Bulger hit eight different receivers today, including himself.) Even though Jeff Wilkins couldn't convert the late FG, Bulger drove the Rams right back down-field after halftime. Short passes and a key scramble to convert a 3rd-and-9 got the Rams in scoring range, or from the Giants' standpoint, scaring range, before a brutal call by the coach flatlined the Rams' momentum for good. The offense went into flail mode the last quarter-and-a-half, and Bulger made a bunch of dumb mistakes, three interceptions, keeping the Rams out of the game. He tried to force one to Jeff Robinson in the 3rd; bad idea. Late in the 4th, he tried to force one to McDonald in triple coverage; BAD idea. And Marc ended the game with a brutal interception that missed McDonald by a good five yards. Marc deserves some credit today; the Ram passing attack was missing Isaac Bruce and two TEs, and the Giants basically knew he'd be throwing every play the last three quarters. Not fair to say Marc had a bad game, but with the interceptions, too many misfires and too slow a start, you're still left with an empty feeling.

* RB: Steven Jackson (10-17) was understandably tentative – the guy's got a crack in the big bone that protects the human heart, you know? – but the Rams' complete inability to run was one of several killers today. The running game was dead on arrival. Jackson danced for minus-4 on the Rams' first play, was stuffed the second play, and the Rams would be 3-and-out and down 10-0 before they could even blink. Jackson was effective in the red zone, with two TDs. He showed great concentration on the Rams' first TD, a nearly-intercepted 13-yard swing pass. He scored the Rams' 2nd TD on 2 runs from the 7, a nicely-called draw play and a 1-yard outside run behind Adam Timmerman's excellent blocking. But Jackson hurt the Rams with several drops of catchable balls, and receiving is a pretty serious deficiency in his game right now. Faulk had 40 yards on 6 touches, including a 12-yard draw where his fumble bounced back into his arms. But in a game where you throw 62 times, Faulk, one of the top 20 receivers in the history of the NFL, ought to be on the field a lot more than Jackson, who's still trying to polish that part of his game.

* WR: The Rams missed Isaac Bruce, though the numbers don't show it. Shaun McDonald (9-121) made the most of his opportunity, with many clutch catches. He got the Rams 10 on a 3rd-and-10 early in the first TD drive, and extended the drive with a 29-yard catch. Shaun set up a late first-half FG with a sweet 21-yard sideline catch. Dane Looker (8-90) also came up big. He got credit for 6 on 4th-and-6 with a gutsy dive to save the Rams' 2nd TD drive. He added a couple of diving sideline catches, but those efforts weren't rewarded by leading to scores. Kevin Curtis was a quiet 6-78 and really hurt the Rams with a critical but hard-to-avoid fumble with the Rams down 17-7. Gibril Wilson really hammered Curtis on the play. Torry Holt (7-84) didn't catch a ball until the 2nd quarter. Little coincidence that the Rams fell far behind while Holt was catchless. Torry made a nice grab for the Rams' last TD, but that was too little, much too late. Isaac won't be back quickly to deflect defensive attention from Holt. It's up to Holt and Curtis to step up their games like McDonald and Looker did. The Rams are now decimated at TE. Brandon Manumaleuna sat out; Roland Williams was carted off, and Jeff Robinson was good for little besides false starts.

* Offensive line: The offensive line had its best game of the season, pass-blocking, at least. Even though the Rams passed 62 times, Bulger was sacked only once, and that was clearly a coverage sack. Michael Strahan beat Adam Timmerman on that play, but in the way the Union beat the Confederacy at Petersburg – it took a long siege. That was about all you heard from Strahan today, because the Rams neutralized him. When Alex Barron wasn't holding his own, Timmerman did a great job helping him out. This was easily Timmerman's best game of the season. Jackson got big blocks from Adam on his TD run and on the big 13-yard 4th-down run that set up… a very stupid coaching call, but that's not on the offensive line, either. Pass protection was solid. None of Bulger's passing mistakes came because he was hurried. The offensive line failed to establish early, but for the pass-happy Rams' game "plan," they did all you could ask for and more.

* Defensive line/LB: Whatever goodwill the Ram defense had stocked up after the first three games is completely gone after today's flashback to 2004. The Giants took barely 3:00 to score the opening TD, helped by Jimmy Kennedy (offsides) and Travis Fisher (face mask) penalties. Tiki Barber (24-128) ripped off big runs throughout the game, as Chris Claiborne (1 tkl, 1 assist) and Dexter Coakley (0 tkl, 2 assists) were woefully absent defensively. The offense made it 10-7, but even that meager momentum didn't last, as rarely-pressured Eli Manning rolled out the very next play and hit Plaxico Burress with a bomb, then Tim Carter ran inside the 5 on a reverse that Anthony Hargrove badly overpursued, and Pisa Tinoisamoa failed to stop because he was blocked in the back. Giants move on and up 17-7. The Ram defense failed on almost every down-and-distance you can think of. Pisa clocked Jeremy Shockey on a 2nd-quarter 2nd-and-15, but he still gained 13, and got 15 more on a Michael Hawthorne face mask penalty. New York's 2nd-and-17 a couple of plays later, but with still no pressure on Manning, two Burress receptions, and New York's up 24-7. Leonard Little was double-teamed all day and did very little, and had no teammate who could discourage the double-teaming. Hargrove had a sack late in the first half, but was just about as useless today as he has been all season. The Rams failed to stop the Giants three times after 1st-and-20s. There was a Brandon Jacobs run where he carried several weakling Rams for seven yards. The Rams sure could have used a stop after a blown reverse cost them at least 3 points in the 3rd, but the defense instead just let the Giants walk 87 yards downfield to go up 34-17. They made that 37-17 after Pisa blew a tackle and allowed Barber to RUN for 12 on THIRD AND 10, and the defense later failed to hold on FIRST AND 25. The piece de resistance was Barber running right through a blitz from the Ram 16 late in the game, dragging total weakling Hawthorne into the endzone. This defense didn't come to play in any aspect today. They couldn't pass rush or stop the run. They didn't create any turnovers. They didn't play smart, with poor tackling and a bunch of stupid penalties, and they sure as hell didn't play tough. You couldn't fail worse as a defense if you tried.

* Secondary: Larry Marmie picked his poison, and got killed by a toxic dose of Plaxico Burress (10-204). The plan was to give extra attention to Jeremy Shockey, which worked for a while, but left Burress and Eli Manning basically alone to play pitch-and-catch, because the Ram secondary damn sure wasn't offering any resistance. Burress opened the scoring with a 31-yard TD by stepping in front of Adam Archuleta for the catch and running untouched for an easy TD. 7-0. DeJuan Groce made his one good play today the next drive, doubling back from a blitz to catch Shockey for -1 on a screen pass. Archuleta followed by nicely knocking down a pass for Shockey to force a FG. 10-0. Immediately after the first Rams TD, the entire defense bit on play action and Burress got behind everyone for 46. The Rams forced a 4th-and-goal from the 2, but Chris Johnson got turned around on a jump ball TD to Amani Toomer. 17-7. Giants get ball back at midfield, and Burress, a big-but-ordinary WR until the Rams turned him into Terrell Owens and Randy Moss combined today, gets 15 on 2nd-and-14 as Groce blows a tackle. On 3rd-and-7 from the 17, yes, let's SINGLE COVER Burress with Groce, and hey, DeJuan, make sure to let him get in front of you at the goal line. Way to go, guys – you only gave up 27 points, and Burress had only NINE catches for 174 yards and 2 TDs. AT HALFTIME. The game was really over once the Rams failed to stop the Giants after the blown reverse in the third. Johnson gets a 22-yard penalty trying to cover Burress. Another blown tackle by Groce allows Toomer 10 on 3rd-and-10. Then after doing a good job on Shockey (4-57) most of the day, Archuleta gets scorched on a 31-yard TD where he never knows the ball is coming. Hawthorne stood and watched that play. He did a lot of that today. He watched Burress' first and second TDs. He certainly got a good look at Barber's last TD, since Tiki dragged him far enough to require a towing permit. Not that Hawthorne lacked impact. There was that face mask penalty to Shockey. Did Hawthorne do anything right today? Sure seems good at watching, though. Maybe he could start doing a LOT of watching from the bench?

* Special teams: Jeff Wilkins doesn't miss many, but his 47-yard miss right before halftime may have been critical. If the Rams were down 7 instead of 10, Martz might have played it safer when the Rams got close to stop the third. Instead, well, you know. All of us waiting to see Chris Johnson's "speed", especially after he got drilled by a defensive end at the 15 to stop his second return, were glad to see him return a couple of kickoffs across the 40. Maybe this unit is getting a clue. Kick coverage looked good, especially Drew Wahlroos whaling on Willie Ponder on the opening kickoff. The punting game stunk, though. Neither of Reggie Hodges' punts ended up across midfield, including a 29-yard plop that set the Giants up for a short TD drive. Keeping the Ram special teams in sync is probably about as easy as plate spinning.

* Coaching/discipline: Mike Martz's Worst Play Calls is a crowded list, but he managed to add a new one today, one that blew up in the Rams' faces and became the turning point of the game. Early in the third quarter, the Rams are down only 10, and have a 3rd-and-3 at the Giant 6. The Giants are clearly back on their heels. Even a FG keeps the pressure on them. But Martz's call in this need-I-say-critical part of the field is a risky reverse pitch to McDonald. And who's making the pitch – Jackson, you know, the guy who's flubbed a shovel pass earlier this season and dropped a couple of passes today? What in Steven's skillset makes him a good candidate to make this pitch? And the pitch is so bad, McDonald loses it, the Giants fall on it, and the Rams lose the game right then and there because the coach got too damn cute at the wrong time. That was one of many plays where Faulk really should have been on the field instead of Jackson. Faulk is unmistakably still the better ball handler and receiver of the two. I'll give Martz a tough guy award for coaching today being hospitalized Thursday night (sinus infection). There was finally a blocking scheme that gave adequate help to the RT, a big part of keeping Bulger's jersey clean today, and the draw to Jackson to set up the 2nd TD was a nice call. Martz was playing to win; by that, I mean going for it on 4th downs instead of settling for punts or FGs. But I hardly think even this blowout called for a pass-run "balance" of 80/20, and I can't heap enough scorn on the stupid reverse call that lost the game.
Not to let Larry Marmie off the hook. The main concern was stopping Shockey, and they shut him down almost completely until his third quarter TD. But Marmie's plan ignored Burress, offering no double-teaming help, and not putting significant pass rush on Manning to help the secondary out. New York only even slowed down a little in the first quarter when Marmie finally started blitzing, and he didn't do much of it. The early passing success forced Marmie into the nickel package a lot, which limited Claiborne and Coakley's impact, and yielded some of Barber's big runs. And soft zones sure weren't the answer for slowing Burress down. Major failure for the Marmie defense – no pass rush, no run defense, no pass coverage, no nothing. As feared last week, the Rams' defensive philosophy was ideal for a big day for the Giants.

* Upon further review: Actually looked like a close-to-competent game by the Walt Coleman crew; the Rams benefited from bad calls if anything. Two big spots went the Rams' way. In the first, McDonald's 10-yard catch looked like a good spot, but Looker's 4th-down catch in the 2nd was a good half-yard short of the sideline marker. Both plays led to TDs, so those are critical calls. The non-call that bugged me the most - on Tim Carter's reverse that set up the 2nd Giant TD, Pisa was plainly blocked in the back behind the line – no call. The Curtis fumble, Toomer's TD and Eli's almost-across-the-line late pass were close, but correct calls. Maybe the awful Ram defense blinded me, but I couldn't find much officiating to complain about today.

* Cheers: What's up with Fox? This was the second straight excellent broadcast I've heard from them. Sam Rosen knew what he was doing on play-by-play, and Bill Maas brought up few points that weren't good ones. Maas cut Martz too much slack at times, for instance, talking about him "feeling out the Giant defense" and not criticizing the Rams getting off to yet another poor start. Most pro-Rams announcer I've heard in a long time. And bonus points to Rosen for calling out key blocks during the live play. Good job.

* Who’s next?: This Sunday's matchup with also 2-2 Seattle will prove critical in deciding the winner of the mediocre NFC West, especially since it's almost a given the Colts will slaughter the Rams the following week. The Rams cannot afford to go 2-4. The good news is the Seahawks also stink on the road, and they're the road team Sunday. If Mike Martz remembers that it’s legal, the Rams can run on the Seahawks. The Rams ran well in two regular season wins over Seattle in '04, and won the playoff game in Seattle with a balanced game plan. Please don't tell me the Rams can't run at Grant Wistrom or Bryce Fisher any time they want. If Barron and Pace can't win those matchups, forget it, it's going to be another long day. Holt, Curtis and McDonald have all enjoyed past success against the Seahawks, as has Bulger, who will be fine as long as the line gives him time, which usually happened in the Rams' three wins over Seattle last year. But just as important as protecting Bulger would be getting off to a good start, FOR A CHANGE.
The Rams didn't have a good record last year of pressuring Matt Hasselbeck or slowing down Shaun Alexander – so how did they win all three meetings? Red zone defense, and Seattle choking from the coaching staff on down. But rather than count on Mike Humgrum to get nervous and pass-happy, or Larry Marmie to pull out the well-timed blitz or blitz fake (all of which helped the Rams win all three matchups last year), it's up to the Ram defense to reassert itself Sunday, to take the bull by the horns. Claiborne and Coakley are here to stop Alexander. So do it. Hasselbeck is bad under pressure, and the Hawks are very shaky at RT at present. Get after it, Leonard Little. Hargrove made some surprising plays against Walter Jones last year. Do it again. Prove you belong in the NFL. The secondary is not outclassed by Seattle's WRs. So cover them. And offense. You ran well on Seattle last year. The Jagwires, Redskins and Falcons all ran for around 120 on them this year. Run at them. The Rams were recently proclaimed "The Smartest Team in the NFL." The heck with that. No overthinking Sunday by anybody, especially Mike Martz. Take your guys and run over their guys. For a week, make football a simple game again, and see what happens.

-- Mike
Game stats from nfl.com