RamView, 10/2/2011: Redskins 17, Rams 10 (Long)
Sorry for the long delay - unusually busy week at work. --Mike
RamView, October 2, 2011
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #4: Redskins 17, Rams 10
More of the same from the lowly Rams – sloppy, inept play most of the way, this week with a surge at the end, but not enough to overcome their woeful start. That was the Rams vs. Washington Sunday, and it also looks like the best their entire 2011 season will go. They've dug a mighty deep hole to climb out of.
Position by position:
* QB: Sam Bradford (20-43-164, 64.5 PR) can't have reckoned on this when he led team practices in the new offense back in June. Four months later, Bradford may still be the only Ram capable of playing it. He can't have figured on getting hit, pressured or sacked on half his dropbacks or more. That's the largest reason he's not even completing 50% of his pass attempts. Bradford's best attribute so far this season, unfortunately, is his ability to throw the ball away under pressure. How many of those did he have against the Redskins, a dozen? He had many more passes affected by hits and pass deflections. While it's annoying the 6'4” Bradford has as many passes tipped at the line as he does – he had Steven Jackson in the clear by ten yards in the middle of the field in the 2nd but didn't get the ball past the nose-tackle – he couldn't ever have figured on a complete reversal of last year's offensive line play, for the worse. He probably also wasn't figuring on having to spend another season with a bunch of receivers who can't get open. I can't put a lot of the abuse Bradford took Sunday on him for hanging on to the ball. I didn't see where he had open receivers, or a checkdown, or any scrambling room, on the sacks where he did. Bradford especially could never have guessed his receivers would treat his passes like he's tossing them live porcupines. A half-dozen times Sunday, Bradford put passes in his receivers' hands, and clang! to the ground they went. Bradford easily, easily could have come out of this game with ten more completions, 100-plus more yards, and 2 more TDs, without changing a thing about his own game. A healthy Peyton Manning would be challenged to lift the game of this offense. I don't know how to even evaluate Bradford on a game like this, where he's sacked SEVEN times, hit half the time he dropped back, and has 2 TD passes and at least 4 other passes dropped. I believe almost none of the problem with the offense right now lies with him. How do you help Bradford avoid bad games like this for the rest of the season? I doubt one can. You tell him to keep doing what he's doing, think about running sooner, and keep taking whatever vitamins he's taking that let him absorb beatings like the one he took Sunday. Until the o-line starts protecting and the receivers START CATCHING THE FREAKING BALL, there's more beatings in Sam Bradford's future.
* RB: Steven Jackson (17-45) looked close to 100%, though the Rams running game never did. After a 13-yard run through a big hole on the left side on the second play of the game, Jackson was lucky just to get a gain on a given play. The line didn't give him any room, especially the left side, though that never stopped the Rams from running that direction repeatedly. Repeating a question from the postgame show, the Rams's best run-blockers are on the right side; why not run behind them more? Jackson also contributed 4 catches for 19 yards and the Rams' ONLY TD. On that play in the 4th, he slipped out of the backfield and beat a game coverage effort by Brian Orakpo, who was in effect picked by one of his own teammates. The only time a Ram beat Orakpo all game. Jackson did pop up wide open over the middle a couple of times, but was denied big plays by batted balls at the line or a hit on Bradford as he threw. Steven also did yeoman work in blitz protection. I'd be surprised if any of the pressure on Bradford was Jackson's fault. He was solid. And as for the three-headed running attack, I guess it's kaput now. Cadillac Williams never made it off the bench and Jerious Norwood wasn't even active for the game. Might have been smart to run Cadillac outside a couple of times to spread out the Washington defense. Part of the reason he's here is to keep run defenses honest for Jackson. But that's far from the only promise this team has failed to live up to this season.
* Receivers: Why did the chicken with the bad paint job drive across the road? To get to the other Scheib. Want a worse joke than that? Have you seen Mike Sims-Walker? In one series of downs in the 1st quarter alone, Sims-Walker (1-6) dropped a pass that would have beaten a blitz for a nice gain, and got outmuscled by a DB he had position on for a drive-killing incompletion. We've noted in section 414 all season that MSW often seems to have no idea where to line up on a play. He was the source of an illegal formation that the referee charged to Jason Smith when MSW was the one who simply didn't line up correctly. He was unofficially the source of three dropped passes, including a 2nd-quarter bomb that Bradford put perfectly over the trailing DB's shoulder and in, ER, off, MSW's damn hands. Should have been a touchdown. The only thing keeping MSW from beating out Drew Bennett for worst Rams free agent of all time is that the Rams front office was at least smart enough not to spend relatively much on him. The Rams win this game if they just catch their freaking TD passes. Lance Kendricks (4-33) dropped TWO end-zone opportunities, one a mighty tough catch, but Bradford all but gift-wrapped the other. Kendricks' day was a mystery, because he was the rare Rams receiver to get off to a good start Sunday. The guy who seemed doomed to be cut in August, Austin Pettis (4-32) was the most reliable WR against Washington. He at least has continued to show the terrific hands he showed in camp, and he was effective on underneath routes. For the second time this season, Danario Alexander (3-46) got the Rams inside the 5 on a drive that wouldn't even end in a TD. He already plays his butt off, but I hope he'll finish off future opportunities. Brandon Gibson (1-14) was targeted only once, as was Michael Uhohanotherinjury, who dropped a perfectly good pass that hit him in the hands on a deep seam route. And he got a concussion on the play. Illini Mike has the injury luck of South Park Kenny. The team ran aground today on the shortcomings of its receivers. Sam had a lot of time, and not much of anyone open, many of the times he was hit or sacked. His receivers' hands are too poor to help him on marginal throws, and he can't even trust them half the time when he throws perfect passes. The Rams were charged with another SIX drops Sunday. They're a sad, pathetic joke. How many Rams receivers does it take to screw in a light bulb? From the way these clowns drop things, I'd have to say seven.
* Offensive line: There wasn't a lot of push up front run-blocking, and the tight ends were especially poor at exposing Jackson to enemy fire, but Bradford took the brunt of the punishment the Redskin D doled out. Protection was fine while Washington wasn't doing much blitzing, but that didn't last much past the first quarter. Bradford was sacked SEVEN times and took in the area of 20 hits, most of it in the second half. The line started falling apart before halftime with stupid penalties. Rodger Saffold false started on a Bradford hard count. Um, that's supposed to make the defense jump. A face mask on Jason Smith took the Rams out of FG position in the 2nd. On 3rd-and-a-mile the next play, while Brian Orakpo ate Saffold alive, rookie Ryan Kerrigan shredded through Kendricks and... Pettis?!?!?! on the blind side to nail Bradford for a sack/fumble. That led to a Redskin TD and opened the floodgates. 3rd-and-7 2:00 before halftime, Kendricks false started, then Jason Brown, THE FREAKING CENTER, false-started. Exhibit A of a terrific “Four Pillars” player but a lousy football player. By halftime, Saffold had turned into a swinging gate. He'd barely get out of his stance, and zip! there goes Orakpo, who'd land another sack on Bradford before halftime. The second half was just ugly. Orakpo spun Saffold like a roulette wheel. He ran over Brown for a sack in the 3rd. On the Rams' first chance to tie the game in the 4th, Orakpo and then Stephen Bowen ran over Saffold for back-to-back sacks. The Rams go from the red zone to punting. I'm not sure who Adam Freaking Carriker beat to end the Rams' day with one final sack. Probably Saffold, who was holding on the play anyway. Has a player coming off a promising rookie season ever turned so bad, so fast, as Rodger Saffold? He eclipsed Smith as the Rams' worst tackle Sunday. Not that the guards get off scot-free. They're actually worse at pass pro now that Tony (Ruh-Roh) Wragge has replaced Jacob Bell, who'll miss several games due to a hamstring injury, and Harvey Dahl's turning out to be another overrated signing. He's just going to be an expensive Richie Incognito before too long, judging from the cheap-shot head-butt he threw on London Fletcher after one first-half play. It's an offensive line with the skill of a rec-league team and the discipline of a prison riot. Both those better turn around fast, before Bradford pays a long-term price.
* Defensive line/LB: Given the state of their secondary, which actually managed to get infinitely worse while I was writing this, the Rams can't afford to be a heavy-blitzing team. They have to be able to generate a four-man rush. The Washington game offered little promise of this coming about. I don't even want to think about the next home game, against New Orleans, when Rex Grossman looked every bit like Drew Brees Sunday, dropping back on half-rolls and getting what seemed like 6-7 seconds to throw every time. Good thing Rex is nowhere near the passer Brees is. Chris Long had his quietest game of the season. Robert Quinn offers hope, and got pressure on Grossman at times, but is still in search of that elusive second sack of the season. James Hall made a handful of good run plays but is still a non-factor in pass rush, while I doubt Eugene Sims belongs in a pro uniform. Needless to say, Grossman was not sacked; if Long ain't getting it done, no one is. Fred Robbins has been hurt (so has Hall) and gets no push up the middle at all, and nobody lining up next to him offers enough of a threat to prevent Fred from getting double-teamed on every pass play. Justin Bannan offers some solidity against the run, but that's about all the help Robbins has. So maybe the Rams could help themselves by stopping the run and at least forcing offenses into predictable passing situations? HA! They continue to be the WORST run defense in the NFL, and by a good 35 yards a game. Hall was a long shot better than Long this week at holding the edge, but I wouldn't doubt that you can pin most of those 35 yards on LB Ben Leber, who is in crying need of being replaced during this bye week, probably permanently. He repeatedly gets caught out of position on cutback runs, he gets run over in the hole all the time, he blows tackles the rare times he does get into the backfield... it's play like that which allows the Ryan Torains of the world to gain 7 yards a carry and top 100 yards IN HIS FIRST ACTION OF THE SEASON. Just for good measure, Leber blew an INT opportunity that hit him between the numbers. They may have burned by a run blitz on Torain's easy 14-yard TD run, but there was Hall getting pushed around inside and Leber getting mauled at the point of attack. This game could easily have been more out of hand than it was. Grossman made his usual share of WTF?-throws, and Tim Hightower dropped a wide-open pass to kill a drive. So even one big play was enough to give the Rams a chance, and James Laurinaitis made that play late in the 4th, dropping back into the weeds where Grossman never saw him and snagging himself an interception, showing better hands than most of the Rams' receivers in the process, and returning it inside the 20. Whereupon the offense choked like the Red Sox and the Braves combined. If the bye week rejuvenates Hall and Robbins a bit, the Rams may have enough up front to compete, IF they get this ridiculous nonsense with cutback runs cleaned up. This liability first turned up in August; eight weeks later, Steve Spagnuolo still doesn't have that ship righted. Don't take two weeks longer.
* Secondary: Without the immortal Torrey Smith to haunt them this week, the Ram secondary fared a lot better. Though Justin King still managed to get beaten by about a mile on a TD pass, this one a 6-yarder to Santana Moss to open the scoring. They're at the SIX and King is laying five yards off the receiver at the line. Maybe things are about to pick up for King, though. When he picked off a pass Moss flubbed away in the 4th, you could almost see a very large weight lifted off him on the sideline. The Rams got pecked to death Sunday by short passes underneath their very soft zone coverage, but hey, they held the 'Skins to fewer receiving yards this week than Torrey Smith had by himself two weeks ago. Darian Stewart followed a dreadful game against Baltimore with his best game as a pro. He broke up a slant pass in coverage and a screen pass on a blitz to end Redskin possessions, was solid against the run and came oh, so close to a pick-six right before halftime. With a lot of soft zone apparently in this secondary's future, the defensive backs are going to have to capitalize when opponents give them those kinds of chances.
* Special teams: When Austin Pettis became the punt returner, it was for his hands and definitely not his depth sensation. Three times, he opted not to fair-catch punt with defenders in powerful striking range, and he got creamed all three times, losing the ball twice, but with the Rams keeping possession due to penalty. Pettis was knocked so woozy by the third time that Quinn Porter took over and got the crowd's standing ovation of exasperation for having to good sense (and depth perception) to fair-catch the next. But then things went the other way, with Porter shying away from everything. Two of Sav Rocca's late punts probably rolled as far as they flew and cost the Rams important field position. The Rams didn't coach up the rookies they've tried at this position, and probably need to scavenge the waiver wire the next couple of weeks to get a veteran who won't get killed or cost the Rams 20 yards every punt.
* Coaching: The Ram offense didn't live up to its playcalling in the first half. Reviewing the game, you see that Jackson's very involved, Bradford's protected and getting the ball out quickly for the most part, and the ball's being thrown to a variety of receivers in a variety of areas on the field. The concept was there, but the execution was terrible. Different story in the second half, with Haslett bringing more pressure and Josh McDaniels turning into “Mad Mac”, channeling Mike Martz at his Martziest. McDaniels sent in way too many plays that sent all of the mediocre Ram receivers deep without leaving Bradford a release valve, oblivious to the idea that Bradford was never going to get six seconds in the pocket to throw. The second half would have been the time for lots of quick slants, screens, designed rollouts to counter high-pressure Haslett, but instead, there was just a lot of send-everybody-deep, and was it any wonder Bradford got killed? Josh McDaniels' 2011 season is going to be a colossal failure if he doesn't make smarter adjustments than that. To think a deep-throwing game plan was going to work with this offensive line and these receivers bordered on lunacy. Steve Spagnuolo's first appointment this bye week better be to remind McDaniels to rein the offense in before he turns Bradford into David Carr. The first-half strategy was the right one for this team. Pound the ball, ball-control passing, take a shot when you can get one. Like they ran early in preseason. Give full offensive rein back to McDaniels next year when the team has a full offseason, and probably Justin Blackmon with the first or second pick overall. Assuming this coaching staff's still around then. Getting Bradford battered in the name of running an offense this team can't run is unforgivable.
Spagnuolo's team has more problems than he has time to get fixed, even with a bye week coming. This team's fundamentals are awful. Why is a veteran defensive front beaten time and time again by simple cutback runs? What will it take to get the offensive line to play with enough focus that the freaking center at least knows the freaking snap count? How does Rodger Saffold go from one of the best technique linemen at the 2010 Combine to the wreck he looks like now? Why don't the kick returners appear to at least know the basic skills necessary for the position? The various players may be the ones to blame for dropped passes, but why do dropped passes seem to follow WRs coach Nolan Cromwell from team to team? Why does this team commit the unforgivable number of penalties it does, across the roster? Spagnuolo at the postgame press conference looked and sounded like a head coach on the edge. If he has what it takes to pull this team back from the brink, sometime in the next two weeks would be a good time to find it.
* Upon further review: I feel like I must have missed something, but Walt Coleman and crew are actually getting the best grade of the season from me so far. There aren't any bad calls that stand out. The hit to the head calls on the Pettis punt returns were especially good calls. Everyone except my especially perceptive nephew thought the call was going to be for interfering with the catch. They did more to protect Bradford than his line did by calling roughing. They also got Grossman for grounding, though about five minutes after I made the call originally in the stands. On TV, Tim Ryan did call out a grounding call Coleman should have made, but this was far from the awful officiating we were subject to the last two weeks. B
* Cheers: Another thing the Rams have managed to accomplish this year is to turn St. Louis into Philadelphia. Yes, that was the home fans booing a breast cancer PSA during the game, well, actually, booing brutal drop machine Sims-Walker, since he was unlucky enough to pop up on the Jumbotron right after multiple drops on the field. Jason Smith got booed later during a PSA about saving energy, and if Santa Claus had shown up, we would have booed his ass, too. The crowd has really turned on the home team in the space of a month. The team was booed hard with or without the ball. Sims-Walker's only catch brought the strongest derisive cheer I've ever heard here, and Quinn Porter successfully executing a fair catch of a punt, after Pettis' misadventures, received the first mock standing ovation I've seen here. Booing will get a lot less loud in future home games, because I doubt they're selling anything out the rest of the season, even by the NFL's generous definition that calls a game a sellout while the stadium shows 10-15,000 empty seats. With the *****, Cardinals and Seahawks all at least playing competitive ball, the theory that the NFC West race doesn't really start till November is going by the boards, too. I don't know about you, or them, but me, I'm kind of relieved the Rams don't have another home game until the end of October.
* Who’s next?: Is a detailed preview of the Rams' next game even necessary? They have as much a chance against the Green Bay Packers as I do with Scarlett Johanssen. Sure, the Rams have a bye week before they play the Packers. You could give me two weeks with Scarlett, too. Still not gonna happen.
If the Rams' efforts at Lambeau Field are to exceed “Hey Scarlett, want to see my mini-helmet collection?”, they'd better be ready to run the ball. Green Bay has the #1 rushing defense in the NFL, but a lot of that comes from playing against pass-happy play-callers like Sean Payton, and of course, Mike Martz. Steven Jackson is the best RB the Packers face in their first six games. Pound him at the Packers D, work the clock and keep that lethal offense off the field. It's hardly revolutionary, but nobody's tried it yet against the Packers this season, either. The most important player for the Rams to watch is sackman extraordinaire Clay Matthews. He's far too fast to use a pulling guard against in the running game, so don't even try it, and the Rams tackles have no chance against him in pass rush. They have to come in with a plan to double-team Matthews or chip-block him every pass play. This is safer to do because with Cullen Jenkins in Philadelphia now, the Packers don't have much else in pass rush besides Matthews. Green Bay is not shy about blitzing. Charles Woodson may be their #2 pass rusher. He blitzes more often than he drops back in coverage, or so it seems. The Rams have two weeks to prepare for the Packer blitz and beat it with downfield throws. The Packer pass defense is one of the worst in the league; a big part of that again is because of their opponents and game situations, but their LBs don't pass-cover well, and Tramon Williams is off to a poor start, belying his impressive 2010-11 postseason run. The middle of the field was there all day for the Bears in week 3; Jay Cutler was just terrible. Attack them there, then close to the goal line, they proved vulnerable to the TE and to the kind of routes Danny Amendola loves to run. The Packers may well prove this theory wrong, but for the Rams to even stay in this one, they better plan to pound Jackson and keep them off-balance with play-action.
They do it against the rest of the league; there's little reason to believe the Packers won't score on the Rams at will. The Rams' typical strategy – blitzing backed up by “press coverage” - especially doesn't stand a chance. Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the league at handling the blitz, and though Carolina stayed close to Green Bay week 2 by getting physical with their receivers, there's little evidence the Ram secondary actually has the talent to do such a thing. Especially against matchup nightmare Jermichael Finley, a TE who's essentially a 6'5”, 250 wide receiver and will frequently line up outside. He beat the Bears for THREE TDs in week 3 – Craig Dahl's going to cover this guy? Mismatches all over the field make it critical for the Rams to get an effective 4-man rush so the rest of the defense can drop back into zone. Scheming Rodgers has to be what it was like to game-plan against Kurt Warner in his prime, except in this case, imagine Warner getting outside the pocket and beating you with his feet, too. (And we know how great Steve Spagnuolo defenses are at stopping THAT.) Which forces you to be cover receivers even longer. You have to pick your poison with Rodgers. He's patient enough to take underneath stuff all day if you give it to him, so let him. The Bears were at least moderately effective at getting the Packers off the field with 4-man rush, keeping Rodgers' deep options covered, and staying on top of the dumpoff passes. Do the Rams have the straight-up rush to make that happen? We'll see. RT Brian Bulaga was injured against Chicago, which may give Chris Long a favorable matchup. Chad Clifton isn't what he used to be at LT; I'd give Robert Quinn a good chance of doing some damage over there. The Packers were largely a middle-rushing team against the Bears, lots of draws, traps and inside handoffs, even to James Starks, who lacks the acceleration to do a lot on those. Ryan Grant's a more dangerous runner in those spots. That's a good counter to Quinn's exuberant rookie style, so the Rams LBs better have it scouted out and actually have their line's backs for a change. I'd key on Finley and fullback John KUUUUHN at the goal line. Also track that green and “gold” wrecking ball Kuhn in the running game. And if that wasn't enough to look out for, the Packers are also extremely dangerous on special teams, with rookie Randall Cobb doing his best Dante Hall impression every time he touches the ball. Might want to just kick it away from him. The job in two weeks isn't to try and stop the Packers; it's to limit the damage.
I apologize for the soft bigotry of low expectations, but maybe somewhere in there is the key to turning the Rams' season around. Maybe they've been too tight the first four weeks, weighed down by visions of playoffs and division titles. Maybe they should just kick back for a week now, come back and prepare for Green Bay like they've got nothing to lose, which they don't. It seemed too early when the schedule originally came out, but the bye week is coming for the Rams at the right time. There's no reason not to be a much looser team when they come back. And if that translates to a close contest in Green Bay, maybe that's the launching point for an unlikely turnaround.
Game stats from nfl.com