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RamView, 10/20/2013: Panthers 30, Rams 15 (Long)
RamView, October 20, 2013
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #7: Panthers 30, Rams 15
The Ramsí 2013 roller-coaster ride bottoms out and crashes in Carolina, with multiple player meltdowns and the end of Sam Bradfordís season. Well, THAT was not fun while it didnít last.
Position by position:
* QB: The in-between was all right, but Sam Bradford's (21-30-255, 93.1 PR) day got off to an awful start, and ended unimaginably worse, with the end of his 2013 season due to a torn ACL. Attempting to fire deep on the opening play, Bradford got hit by blitzing QUINTIN MIKELL and fluttered a wounded duck to Captain Munnerlyn clear on the other side of the field for the fourth pick-six he gave up this season. Bradford responded to adversity with a 66-yard drive, with an outstanding 24-yard pass to Brian Quick in a crowd to get the Rams near the goal line, which got them everything except a score. Primary receiver Jared Cook was blanketed on a couple of goal-line downs, including 4th down, and Bradford had nowhere to go. Drops, turnovers and penalties vexed the passing game all day. Bradford had a perfect 64-yard TD bomb to Tavon Austin called back. The Rams settled for a FG. Down 15 after a controversial Carolina drive after halftime, Bradford immediately hit Quick with a perfect damn bomb that covered 73 yards and set up a slick TD pass to Zac Stacy. Sam had the deep ball and the short game working. Take away the first play, the cruelly-timed penalties, and have his receivers catch damn balls in their hands, like Quick didnít on a perfect 24-yard end zone pass in the 4th, and Bradford would have had a brilliant game and kept the Rams close. Instead this, very late in the game. Heís flushed on 2nd-10 and runs for the sidelines. Safety Mike Mitchell, an a-hole even among a-holes, grabs him just in bounds. It looked clean, but Bradford somehow got his left knee torqued, the ACL gave way and left him writhing on the Rams sideline in a pitiful heap. It looks like thatís going to be the lasting image of the Ramsí 2013 season. Kellen Clemens (2-4-19, 63.5 PR) showed some arm strength but took all of two drives to commit his first turnover, fumbling after a Greg Hardy sack that cued the Panthers to go into victory formation. RamView hasnít always been on the front of the Bradford bandwagon, but his improvement as a pro has been obvious. He set passing records as a rookie, came back from a season lost to injury to break them in 2012 and was well on track to break them again in 2013, without having great pass protection or the great key receiver every great QB has had. 2014 training camp is about nine months away. The Rams will need Sam Bradford ready for it.
* RB: Zac Stacy (17-53) really had to work this week. Run blocking again took a while to get going, but with 87 total yards, he made plays and kept the Ram offense moving. He faked out Thomas Davis to get 25 out of a swing pass on the Ramsí 2nd drive. Stacy showed outside speed again right after the Ramsí safety, turning the corner on a pitch right for 22. The Panthers are a lot tougher up the middle than the Texans, though, and Stacyís middle game didnít work this week except for an 11-yard run behind Scott Wells. In pass protection, Stacyís what Mike Mayock would call a ďwilling blockerĒ. Heís assignment-sound and will stick his nose in there but is likely to get knocked back. He probably grades fine for the Carolina game because he made nice blocks on both the 73-yard bomb to Quick and the 24-yard pass to Givens, each of which led to scores. But he also all but got run over by QUINTIN MIKELL on the first play of the game, allowing MIKELL to hit Bradford and send the ball flying the wrong way for a pick-six. Stacy shows a lot of promise; the Rams werenít afraid to put a load on him running, receiving and blocking, and he mostly delivered. Not enough reason to worry yet, but Stacy canít let plays like the first one happen often.
* Receivers: If foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, the Ram receivers, with little consistency of any kind, must be geniuses. Brian Quick (2-97) let the first pass to him into his body like a complete amateur and it clanged off his chest. In the 3rd, though, Quick fakes the safety into thinking heís running a corner route and turns inside for a beautiful long ball from Bradford, gaining about 20 of the 73 yards while two Panthers try to swat the ball out instead of tackle him. Probably the best route heís run in the NFL. But, on back-to-back plays in the 4th, Quick dropped a slant thrown behind him and let a perfect 24-yard pass clang off his hands in the end zone. First time Tavon Austin gets the ball on offense (5-39), he finally gets something going on a quick screen (with lead blockers!), then loses the loaf of bread, ER, ball. Next drive, itís a TD bomb! as Austin burns single coverageÖ never mind, PENALTY, Jake Long. Later, the Rams went back to the quick screen to Austin with no lead blocking and lost 4. Even his best play, a 24-yard diving catch in the 4th, didnít look like it should have counted. Chris Givens (1-24) had all of one catch. Jared Cook (4-33) wasnít a lot more help. The erstwhile Ramsí red zone weapon was blanketed twice with the Rams targeting him at the goal line in the 1st, forcing Bradford throwaways. Actually, what was I talking about? These receivers are consistent. They consistently canít get open. They consistently drop the ball. The jinxed Austin consistently gets bad plays run for him or gets big gains taken away. Foolish consistency, indeed. Was Ralph Waldo Emerson a Rams fan?
* Offensive line: Carolinaís defensive line was too strong end-to-end for the Rams to cope with well. After bad blitz pickup put the Rams in a 7-0 hole, the offensive line struggled to get the running game going, and especially struggled with the quickness of DT Kawann Short, who beat Scott Wells and, two plays later, Joseph Barksdale to stuff Stacy for big losses. Harvey Dahl, though, picked off Luke Kuechly downfield to break open a 25-yard swing pass to Stacy. The next drive opened with a pitch right Stacy took for 22 thanks to Corey Harkey getting a block on TWO Panthers. Wells helped spark the Ramsí 1st FG drive with forklift-like blocking on Colin Cole to clear open 11-yard runs for both Stacy and Daryl Richardson, but Cole redeemed himself with a coverage sack at the 10. The end of the half did not go well. Barksdale got whipped by Charles Johnson, which not only got Bradford sacked but Jake Long also rolled up on. It was a pretty forgettable game for Long. He blew a tackle on Carolinaís game-opening pick-six, ruined the Ramsí day with a tripping penalty that took away a TD bomb to Austin, and got flatout whipped by Greg Hardy on the Ramsí last offensive play to get Clemens drilled for a sack/fumble. By definition itís a bad day for an offensive line that loses its QB for the season, but if Bradford had gotten sacked in the pocket on that play Iíd have called it a coverage sack. Dahl took two second-half personal fouls responding to the Panthersí second-half shenanigans, though I salute him for getting in Mitchellís face after Bradfordís injury, and Carolina should thank God that the Rams donít still have Richie Incognito. Even mellow yoga Richie would have committed some kind of felony in the 4th quarter.
* Defensive line: First off, a tip of the cap to Robert Quinn, who dominated on nearly every snap. Jordan Gross likely needed a neck collar after the game from the cumulative whiplash he got getting beaten by Quinn. Robert got the Ram D off to a fast start with his 7th sack of the season the first time Carolina had the ball, though he was set up by Chris Long's pocket-collapsing bull-rush on the untalented Byron Bell on the other side. Quinn had the line's only sack, but they didn't lack pressure on Cam Newton. Quinn got a legal pop on Newton on every option handoff and knocked him out of the game for a play. The Rams gave up over 100 rushing yards but still had their best game of the year against the run, allowing only 2.7 ypc. Quinn's speed allowed him to blow up several carries in the backfield. With the Panthers backed up at their goal line in the 1st, Eugene Sims took advantage of Michael Brockers' excellent penetration to stuff Mike Tolbert for a safety. Some plays came from usual players in unusual places. Quinn stuffed DeAngelo Williams late in the 1st from the 3-technique in the 4-DE package. Long stuffed Williams for a loss in the 3rd coming from right end instead of his usual left. Kendall Langford had easily his best game of the season against the run, with several stuffs, including a majestic one at the goal line where he submarined an impressive attempt by Tolbert, who tried to leap the line but ended up looking like a very large bird flying into a window. Things broke down on Carolina's drive out of halftime. The Panthers weren't happy that Newton got briefly knocked out of the game. The Rams then got frustrated by an awful offsides call that should have been a false start. A couple of plays later, Quinn and talentless Bell get into a shoving match that both teams jump in on, and as a hockey game breaks out, the refs hit Long for the ONLY penalty AND kick him out of the game. That was a game-changing call. William Hayes couldn't hold the edge as well against the run, and pass rush was no longer good enough to mask the awful play of the Ram secondary. Carolina also knew they could get away with about anything they wanted to, and did, putting the Rams off their game on both sides of the ball. Line play on its own was still good enough to be a winning effort, but it would have taken the Fearsome Foursome to cover up the Ramsí problems on the back end.
* LB: Things got less solid on defense the further you went from MLB. James Laurinaitis made 11 tackles, with a couple of big ones. He sacked Newton for a big loss to force a FG at the end of the 1st. On the goal line in the 3rd, he helped Langford ground Air Tolbert on 1st down and finished Tolbert off on 2nd down to force a FG after a Tolbert personal foul. Jo-Lonn Dunbar keyed the 2nd-and-goal play by blowing up Travelle Wharton, bumping him into Tolbert. Dunbar was too hit-and-miss beyond that, though. He and Janoris Jenkins whiffed on a 19-yard screen to Williams in the 2nd. Tackling was bad on the back end, and the front seven could have been better. Tolbertís 1-yard run to put Carolina up 17-5 went through a gigantic gap the Rams left when they lined up. Is that supposed to be a viable strategy at the goal line? Dunbar couldnít fill it; the LG buried him. After pulling within 20-12 quickly in the 3rd, the Rams needed a stop but didnít get it. Poor tackling and poor coverage by Jenkins was a major culprit, but the Rams got burned for 13 when Dunbar didnít maintain outside leverage on an option flip to Williams and didnít fill the gap behind Quinn several plays later when Williams took an inside handoff for 8. The Panthers went back up 15 and never looked back. Alec Ogletree had a quiet game, losing a sack to a defensive holding penalty and blowing another in the 4th. The Rams forced a couple of quick punts in the 4th but the offense could only manufacture 3 points and a broken QB out of it. Dunbar appeared to get more playing time this week, which did help the run defense even though heís not up to his form of last season yet. If the Rams can get that along with any decent play from their secondary at all, maybe then weíre talking.
* Secondary: Carolina passed for barely 200 yards, but itís hard to call the Ram secondary anything other than a failure. Only two of Newtonís passes hit the ground. Maybe if Janoris Jenkins had spent half as much time studying Steve Smithís shimmy move as he did coming up with insults of Steve Smithís family, as Smith claims. One shoulder shake was all Smith needed to get Jenkins flying the wrong direction at the snap. Jenkins bit on it repeatedly like a rank rookie. The move nearly got Smith a 12-yard TD in the 3rd, and Jenkinsí game-long poor tackling did get him one in the 4th. Jenkins got punked to the ground by a Smith stiffarm to give up a 19-yard TD, with Craig Dahl whiffing at the goal line to be no help. Who? Matt Giordano? Not like thereís a difference. Trumaine Johnson struggled on Carolinaís 2nd TD drive. He gave up a 25-yard pass to Greg Olsen, and a couple of plays later, a 22-yard pass to Ted Ginn for a near-TD. He was 8 yards off Ginn at the snap and 10 yards off when Ginn caught the ball unopposed in front of him for a first down. ON THIRD AND 11. The Rams could have 3-and-outed Carolina after halftime if not for a 3rd-down hold by TruJo that erased an Ogletree sack. Instead, itís an 8-minute brawl/drive for a FG. Rodney McLeod, who broke up a couple of passes, is the only even half-decent defensive back the Rams have right now, which is a crying shame when they have the talent to be so much better than this mess.
* Special teams: Hey, special teams didn't commit a penalty again (sort of)! With Benny Cunningham out, Austin handled all returns, and looked good except on the first punt, which he lost in the sun and booted out of bounds. He set up his blocks very well on a 30-yard kick return before halftime and a right-sweeping punt return for around 20 in the 4th, using an Ogletree block. The Rams donít want to use Austin on kickoffs for fear he wonít hold up physically, but heís also by far their best chance of breaking one. The kickers seemed thrown off by having to play outside for the first time this season. Greg Zuerlein could only get most of his kickoffs to the goal line, affording Ginn nice returns. Johnny Hekkerís first punt was directly to Ginn, but the Rams swarmed him for a loss. Hekkerís last punt was a 25-yard shank. Great, the punter canít control where the ball goes again. Anything else that can go wrong with this team that hasnít?
* Strategery: Gains and losses this week strategically. Tim Walton adjusted the run defense to get an extra man up in the box and they limited Carolina to 2.7 ypc. They made more mistakes giving up the edge against the read option than they should have, but it didn't look like a schematic problem. Walton didn't shine in the last 2:00 before halftime. TruJo's 8 yards off Ted Ginn on his 22-yard catch down to the 1, and the Rams just left a huge gap in the formation for Tolbert to run through to finish off the TD.
Brian Schottenheimer made a lot of good calls. The 24-yard drag to Givens that set up the first FG, with two different rub routes freeing him up, is as well-designed a play as he has. He finally took advantage of defenses keying on Austin with some fake end-arounds, one of which set up the short TD pass to Stacy. Nifty stuff. And I agreed with Jeff Fisher going for it on 4th-and-goal from the 1-inch line in the 1st. But now comes the problem. The Rams haven't run for a TD all year, and still haven't, and it looked like Carolina expected pass down there all day. QUINTIN MIKELL sure didn't bite on play action on the 4th-and-goal play and had Cook blanketed. Hard to know what other options Bradford should have had because Kendricks fell down on the other end of the line. The Rams settled for a FG the next time they got in close, with Carolina blanketing everyone to force a sack on 2nd down and an incomplete on 3rd. Looks like Schottenheimer has gotten too predictable down at the goal line and needs to mix things up.
Play-calling issues were minor, though, compared to the Rams' loss of composure as a team. The Fox broadcast left little doubt that Smith had gotten into Jenkins' head. Did anyone try telling him to just shut up and play? But smack talk is at least legal. So was Quinn hitting Newton cleanly on option handoffs, which it looked like he was under specific instructions to do. The league has established the QB as fair game there. Carolina had at least two ways to stop it: run different plays, or block Quinn better. Their choice, though, was retaliating after the whistle. With the referees not penalizing illegal Carolina reactions to legal Rams actions, as a coach, Fisher was left in the no-man's land of needing his players to turn the other cheek to cheap shots, which they obviously didn't. Assuming that sending Quinn after Newton like that was a planned tactic, Fisher has certainly been around long enough to guess how Carolina might react. The results, though, show that he was far from having all the bases covered. The Rams werenít mentally ready for the Panthers and the referees not being mentally ready. That probably cost them the game.
* Upon further review: There isn't a grade low enough for Bill Vinovich and crew. Carolina couldn't have gotten a bigger bunch of homers pulling seven guys out of the stands. When you let chippy after-the-whistle play go early in the game, and let just one team get away with it, you're inviting the brawling that broke out later. The tipping point was an AWFUL offside call on Chris Long in the 3rd when he had merely moved to point out an OBVIOUS false start on Carolina's right guard. The drive should have been over at that point. Nope, first down. Two plays later, Quinn and an o-lineman start shoving after the whistle. Mike Tolbert jumps in, no flag. After more pushing and shoving by both teams, Chris Long gets ejected for throwing a punch we never see at home, and somehow that's the ONLY penalty charged for the whole skirmish. It wasn't enough for Vinovich to let Carolina instigate all day and call everything against the Rams, he also had to aid and abet an 8-minute scoring drive. Well, keep your composure, says Smirking Panther Fan. Some truth there. But Steve Smith pointing at opposing players while celebrating a TD is a taunting penalty. AND MIKE MITCHELL F*CKING POSING ON THE OTHER TEAM'S SIDELINE WHILE STANDING OVER THEIR INJURED QB IS FOR GOD DAMN SURE TAUNTING. But who gets the penalty after that play? Harvey Dahl, for doing less than what Panthers got away with all day! He didn't shove Mitchell, didn't punch at Mitchell, just got in his face a couple of times. So NOW you want to get control of the game? Thanks a lot, toolbox! And no, they didn't, stuff went on the rest of the game on both sides, with Quick and Sims getting away with throwing punches. This game was under about as much control as a cattle stampede and was officiated about as fairly as an Iranian election. Grade: you're fired.
* Cheers: Dick Stockton called a better game than Vinovich, pointing out Smith taunting and getting more spots right than the officials. Boothmate Brian Billick did well noting Rams' defensive adjustments, but instead of calling Mitchell on his sideline effrontery, was obsessed with trying to throw Harvey Dahl out of the game for ďcoming back on the fieldĒ. Billick! The next play was third down! Dahl was supposed to be on the field! The broadcast was poorly directed. They never showed what got Long ejected. Stockton stammered badly when Newton was shaken up and they cut to commercial before he ever said who was hurt. Stockton mentioned the regular director was out for a medical reason. It showed. Get well soon, sir.
* Whoís next? The 6-1 Seattle Seahawks, two days fresh(er) off a Thursday win in Arizona, come to the Dome for a Monday night game that no one in St. Louis, including RamView, will watch, with the Cardinals in game 5 of the World Series. The Rams did beat Seattle19-13 in St. Louis last year, though, behind 58- and 60-yard FGs by Greg Zuerlein (!!) and a TD pass by Johnny Hekker (!!!!).
One of RamViewís favorite non-Rams to watch, Marshawn Lynch plays the game the way it was meant to be played, never quits on a play, and is harder to bring down than a grizzly bear on crystal meth. Lynch had TEN 100-yard games last season, two against the Rams, and his presence should have the Rams keeping an extra man in the box again and take their chances in the backfield. We'll see how THAT goes, but it might also help contain Russell Wilson, the likeliest of the read-option QBs to keep the ball and run. The Rams succeeded last season at pinning him in the pocket, and they should be rewarded Monday night if they can keep it up. Seattleís got a tough, physical offensive line, but with backups at both tackles, Wilson was under siege in Arizona. Stunts may be risky against that running game, but the Seahawks didn't block one all night, either. John Abraham nearly got to Wilson any number of times, and heís 35. Robert Quinn should have a field day against rookie 7th-round draft pick Michael Bowie, and knowing that Chris Long will be steaming all week, Breno Giacomini might wish he could let his injured knee recover a little longer. The Rams sacked Wilson eight times last year, and Seattle hasnít protected him well this season. But thatís where Wilsonís X-factor kicks in. Some would call it uncanny instincts and elite awareness of where everyone should be on the field. I call it a lot of luck. Over and over, Wilson gets in trouble, throws a wild, out-of-control pass or a deep moonball, and one of his guys comes down with it for a big play. The critical players for the Rams will be the safeties. They have to tackle well to limit Lynch's damage, they have to account for Zach Miller, who Wilson looks for a lot lately when he needs a clutch play, and with Wilsonís excellence at keeping plays alive, they have to keep alert to the Seahawksí love for leaking receivers deep on broken plays, which beat them a couple of times last year. Seattle never gives up on a play; the Rams canít, either. Give the line that extra beat to get to Wilson, and the Rams could compete. Fail to do so, and his permanent lucky horseshoe rectal implant will work wonders again.
Kellen Clemens may wish he had his own lucky horseshoe for protection. The Rams had to max-protect against Seattle to have any passing game last season, and that defensive line has only gotten better. They throw wave after bewildering wave at you. Assuming heís back, Rodger Saffold ought to be an upgrade on Joseph Barksdale, but Chris Clemons is back, too, and Saffoldís had more than his hands full with him in the past. And if itís not Clemons, itíll be Cliff Avril or Bruce Irvin or Michael Bennett. Just impressive DE depth, and theyíve got crazy-quick guys like Clinton McDonald to rotate in at DT and generate even more pressure. Zac Stacy wonít find the going any easier. Thereís little point running at big Red Bryant. Irvin appears to have improved significantly as a run defender. Brandon Mebane dominated Rob Turner last season and controlled the middle of the line. The Ram offensive line has improved personnel over last season, but have they kept up with Seattleís front? If the Rams have to max-protect, the passing game gets that much harder against the leagueís most feared secondary, who look and hit like LBs without giving up any speed. Richard Sherman, who had a pick in both games last season, automatically subtracts an option every play. Teams finding passing success against Seattle have done part of it from out of the backfield, so it would be a good week to wake up Daryl Richardson. And everyone Iíve seen play Seattle gets a better-than-normal game out of their TEs, so wake up Jared Cook while youíre at it.
Good thing Jeff Fisher's got an extra day to prepare this week; he'll need it. He comes back home without his starting QB and with a team that has blown its cool. Seattle will demand the Rams to again find the line between physical football and out-of-control football and play up to (but not over) it. Itís high time for Fisher to get the right discipline from his team if they're to (oh Lord) rally behind Kellen Clemens and play good football. Otherwise we're just looking at nine weeks of preseason.
Re: RamView, 10/20/2013: Panthers 30, Rams 15 (Long)
RamView for the Seattle game will probably be delayed until the following weekend, unless I can figure out a way to not sleep for about a week. --Mike
Re: RamView, 10/20/2013: Panthers 30, Rams 15 (Long)
I have seen two or three stories on nfl dot com about questionable officiating this weekend, and none were about this criminal enterprise that has prevented the RAMS from having a fair chance to win a game. I guess they are all in on the act.
Re: RamView, 10/20/2013: Panthers 30, Rams 15 (Long)
"Grade: you're fired."
had me in stitches
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