RamView, October 23, 2011
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #6: Cowboys 34, Rams 7

Football at its heart is all about blocking and tackling, and when your team does none, you get games like today's. While the Ram offense was overwhelmed as usual, the defense turned a rookie RB into Emmitt Smith, and if they didn't quit, you couldn't tell the difference. These Rams aren't competitive at anything.

Position by position:
* QB: The Rams probably got as much out of A.J. Feeley (22-30-196, 64.7 PR) today as they were going to get. He got the ball out quickly, looked good throwing on the move and hung well in the pocket. The Ram offense was far from in sync, though. Their opening drive ended after Danario Alexander broke one way and Feeley threw the other. After a Dallas offsides penalty during the second possession, the Rams immediately took a delay-of-game penalty. After a dead ball? Down just 14-7 in the 2nd and trying to get out of their deep end, Feeley got all day to throw on 3rd-and-long and launched a terrible pass, right at Dallas CB Michael Jenkins. Even if Feeley and new wide receiver Brandon Lloyd weren't on the same page on that play, which is likely, Lloyd never would have gotten to the poor throw instead of Jenkins. The offense did almost nothing but sputter in the second half. After hitting Michael Hoomanawanui for 27 in the 4th, Feeley 3-and-outed the Rams with a bunch of poor throws. He'd hit Lloyd for 34 on a slant very late in the game, but even that didn't lead to a score. Feeley looked fairly composed most of the time, and wasn't a disaster coming off the bench like too many Rams backups from the past, but for a veteran QB, it's not unfair to have expected better execution, fewer mental mistakes.

* RB: Steven Jackson (18-70) spent most of the day taking handoffs out of shotgun and slamming into a stacked-up line of scrimmage for no gain. The Rams did not control the middle of the line at all, and I doubt they picked up a run blitz all day. How challenging a day was it for Jackson? As a receiver, he had four catches for three yards, with a long of 8. If not for a two-play explosion in the 2nd, Jackson's day might have been a total loss. Near midfield, he blasted up the middle for 40 to put the Rams in scoring position, then did the deed himself with a 6-yard TD run he scored untouched off right tackle. Not for nothing are the Cowboys #1 in the NFL against the run, though, and not for nothing is the Rams' offensive line still the most underachieving unit in the league. Jackson's day mostly resembled a crash-test video. Cadillac Williams (2-1) looked like a lemon yet again, getting nothing done on the ground and killing a promising Rams drive late in the 1st with a fumble. And if the turnover wasn't bad enough, Jason Smith had to be carted off the field due to a neck injury incurred diving after the fumble. About all Williams accomplished today was making fans wonder why the hell Jackson wasn’t on the field instead.

* Receivers: It took Brandon Lloyd (6-74) all of one week to establish himself as the Rams’ best receiver. His speed, route-running and hands made him look like Isaac Bruce compared to the rest of the motley receiving crew. He made an impressive leaping catch of a high slant pass in the 2nd and an impressive catch of a screen pass at his shoe tops in the 4th. A couple of plays after that, he ripped through the blitzing Cowboy D for 34. Look, ma, yards after the catch! Lloyd was targeted a team-leading 12 times, and that didn’t feel like enough. I see reports charging him with two drops in the end zone, but come on. One was broken up from behind by Jenkins, the other was a bad low pass Feeley barely got off with Demarcus Ware draped all over him. Those weren’t Lance Kendricks drops. Speaking of the Rams’ 2nd-round pick, where the hell was he (0-0) today? Michael Hoomanawanui (3-44) got free downfield for 27 in the 4th, and Feeley hit Billy Bajema (2-20) a couple of times early on well-set-up bootlegs. Until Feeley tried to hit him in the end zone late in the game, I’d thought Kendricks was a game-day inactive, like Brandon Gibson. Danario Alexander was more effective as a blocker than a receiver, with 2 catches for 9 yards on 6 targets. Greg Salas (2-37) should have been thrown to more. He turned two smoke routes into big gains and looks like a good fit for the Danny Amendola role, if the Rams haven’t gotten rid of it. Looked like they did today.

* Offensive line: Pass protection was good enough again this week for what the Rams offense was trying to do. Feeley got the ball out quickly and even got decent time on a lot of his deep drops. He was only sacked once, late in the game, when Demarcus Ware beat a Rodger Saffold/Jacob Bell double-team to get a sack/fumble. Despite all the hype, Ware wasn’t really noticeable until garbage time. He also broke up a screen pass in the 4th and foiled a late TD pass attempt by hitting Feeley after not being blocked AT ALL by Adam Goldberg. But the Rams kept Ware pretty quiet and kept Feeley’s jersey pretty clean. Goldberg entered the game in place of Jason Smith, who suffered a scary head/neck injury while diving for a loose ball in the 2nd. Certainly that can shake up a team. But the Rams’ run-blocking was utterly ineffective even before Smith’s sudden departure. Jay Ratliff pwned (are the kids still using that word?) Jason Brown. He merely brushed Brown aside to drop Jackson for a 3-yard loss the opening drive. He did it again to blow up a screen for Jackson the next drive. Drive. It’d be nice if Jason Brown would show some. Ah, he’s not alone. The middle of the Ram line mostly got stood up all day, and Jackson mostly got bounced backward whenever he tried the middle. Wasn’t this where Harvey Dahl was supposed to make a difference? Bell and Goldberg had fine blocks on Jackson’s 40-yard run, and Bajema gave Jackson a rare solid block from a TE on his subsequent 6-yard TD run. Other than those two runs, though, the Rams averaged barely a yard-and-a-quarter a rush. Jackson couldn’t even average more than a yard a catch. The Cowboys dominated the Rams o-line and certainly showed why they’re the best run defense in the league.

* Defensive line/LB: I give you Exhibit A – Demarco Murray. A promising rookie RB, but not good enough yet to be ahead of the great Tashard Choice on the Cowboy depth chart. But in the most worthless effort I have ever seen by a Ram defense, they turned him into Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith combined. Murray set a Cowboy record, humiliating the Rams for 253 yards. Think about it. The Cowboys have had Dorsett, Smith, Herschel Walker, Duane Thomas, and the Rams turn a rookie who’d had about 70 yards all season into the all-time record holder. This was the most atrocious tackling game on the Rams part I can ever remember. There’s not enough room on the Internet to point out each terrible play. The safeties were terrible. Quintin Mikell’s forte is supposed to be run support and tackling. He was hideous from the first play, tackling guys too high, blowing tackles in the hole, taking terrible angles and getting turned around like a fool the way he did on Murray’s 91-yard TD run in the 1st. Also on the play, James Laurinaitis got stonewalled by the fullback, and attempting to fill the gap, Darrian Stewart apparently mistook the game for the World Series and attempted to slide into second. Stewart blew the tackle on a 90-flip that Murray took for 19 in the 3rd. If Cowboys ran through Chris Chamberlain once today, they did it a dozen times. Talk about grab-and-hold tackling. Do you remember the Rams having a player named Robert Quinn? Murray took a pitch left for 19 in the 3rd after this Quinn guy totally gave up the edge to the damn fullback. Murray ran through CB Josh Gordy, who’s clearly overmatched at run defense, any number of times. Here’s a Dallas TD drive in the 4th quarter. Murray runs through Chamberlain and Mikell for 5. He then blows up for 43, running through Gordy in the hole and turning Chamberlain and Mikell around like whirling dervishes. A couple of plays later, it’s the immortal Phillip Tanner taking off for 18, with Mikell whiffing and Stewart missing. Then Tanner runs through Chamberlain for a 5-yard TD. Phillip Freaking Tanner. D.J. or Stephanie Tanner would score on this worthless defense! The highlight of the day was a sack by James Hall, who dropped Tony Romo for an 11-yard loss after about knocking Doug Free right off his pins. And the next play, the Rams gave it all back, thanks to poor tackling by – yep – Mikell on a wide-open crossing route to Dez Bryant. Gary Gibson had a sack that helped hold Dallas to a FG in the 3rd. And Fred Robbins broke up a pass to be heard from for maybe the second time all season. Heard from almost as rarely, Chris Long might have gotten a couple of good pressures at most. He did force an incomplete pass. Hall was probably the “best” Ram up front; he at least played a little run defense. But with Chamberlain not proving the solution he looked like at WLB last week, and the whole team’s tackling dropping to sub-pee-wee level, you could blow this whole defense up tomorrow, play with 11 new guys next week and not do any worse. I’m not convinced this defense didn’t up and quit this week. Tackling that poor, the lack of physical conviction – aren’t those signs of a team that doesn’t want to play? I actually hope I’m right, because if this team really didn’t quit against Dallas, I never want to see the game where they do quit.

* Secondary: Al Harris was probably the best player on the Rams this week. He recovered a fumble and broke up a couple of attempted TD passes, one in the 2nd simply by getting a proper jam on Dez Bryant. Harris made a very nice breakup of a pass to Miles Austin to force a punt late in the 3rd. His physical style is more than welcome in this secondary. Not only can the ragtag bunch of DBs on the active roster learn from Harris, Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher should be taking some notes at home, too. Harris unfortunately couldn’t prevent all the TDs. Chamberlain appeared to be the culprit who blew his assignment on Jason Witten’s wide-open TD in the 2nd, and it was the same old song when Bryant beat Josh Gordy on a 20-yard toss to close out the scoring. The Rams’ pass coverage approach wasn’t the problem this week, though; lack of run defense wins that honor hands-down.

* Special teams: The Rams may feel free to cut Quinn Porter after he twice returned kicks from deep in the end zone and didn’t even get across the 15 with either. He tripped over the 12-yard line on one. Austin Pettis fielded one punt inside the 5 and returned it only to the 15. Seriously, if they’re going to be this unwise about returning kicks, what the hell is the point? Donnie Jones had a decent day, opening with a 59-yard punt, but I suspect Josh Brown’s leg may be atrophying due to lack of work. Smith wasn’t even the only Ram to have a scary head injury – Darell Dorell Scott took a hit to the head blocking for a kick return in the 2nd but was able to walk off.

* Coaching: The indictment of this whole coaching staff, this whole organization, is on the scoreboard. 34 to 7. And in the box score. 294 yards rushing by a team that hadn’t run well all season. It’s this kind of game every week. A team whose head coach is supposed to be a defensive guru can’t tackle or reliably pressure the passer. They’re smart enough to know their personnel limits them from blitzing, but for the second straight week, do it on 3rd-and-long with the opponent pinned at their own goal line and get burned. (13-yard completion to Murray early in 3rd; Dallas drives on for FG.) A lot of us at home knew in the offseason this team needed to do more to address its problems at LB and its lack of depth at DT. (Though yes, I thought Zac Diles was going to be a “steal”.) We knew Hall and Robbins were getting up there in years. We’d like to see Robert Quinn contributing as much to his team as a rookie as Ryan Kerrigan or Adrian Clayborn are to theirs. But instead, we’ve got one of the worst run defenses in the history of the NFL, a country mile out of even 31st place in the league. Who would you keep if you totally blew up this defense? Quinn? Laurinaitis? Chris Long, who appears to have plateaued at about the level of a 2nd-round pick, vs. 2nd pick overall? This defense isn’t built that well, isn’t coached that well and today certainly didn’t look motivated all that well.

On offense, the Rams are paying probably $100 million for a line that doesn’t have the physical fortitude to run-block effectively, possibly not the will, and has to be babied to pass-block well. The new offensive guru’s grand plan got way ahead of the talent he had available to actually execute it. After last season, many at home felt the Rams needed to make a bold move to impove the WR unit. It took almost until Halloween for the team to finally do something. They’re battering a franchise QB into submission before his career can ever get going and wasting the career of a warrior RB who’d be headed for the Hall of Fame if Dallas would have drafted him in 2004 like they should have. Let’s totally hand off to him on 3rd-and-10, though, instead of throwing to Brandon Lloyd like we’ve been trying to establish all game.

Steve Spagnuolo and staff haven’t had the Rams in a competitive game this year. The defensive guru's defense is giving up 28.5 points a game. The offensive guru's offense manages all of 9.3. And they’re doing stuff yesterday like challenging plays fifteen minutes after the TV crew says it’s a good move not to challenge, or making sure Jerious Norwood stays inactive so Quinn Porter can return kicks to the 12, or Dominique Curry is safe to make no plays on special teams for another week. Go upstairs, too, while indicting this franchise. As far as the front office, high draft picks are failing, the o-line is expensive but poor, the defense still doesn’t have enough players. Everything is wrong with this franchise. Personnel, coaching, position coaching, players, everything.

This may sound hypocritical, but I like Steve Spagnuolo. I like Billy Devaney. I know they’re smart. I know they work their butts off. I want them to succeed. But after a game like today’s, and another queued up to go just like it next week, I’m more than ready to move on.

Please make the second half of this season count, Coach.

* Upon further review: No complaints about Alberto Riveron’s officiating job here. The toughest call was Abram Elam’s recovery of Cadillac’s fumble, and they got it right. The crew made an excellent double call in the 2nd, correctly getting Austin for OPI but also getting Stewart for a blow to the head. Not sure how Justin Bannan got away with tackling Tashard Choice before the screen pass was attempted in the 2nd – Brady Poppinga got flagged instead – but Murray made it moot with the 91-yard TD run anyway. A

* Cheers: Dallas fans did themselves proud with their encouraging applause while Jason Smith was being carted off the field. We all know a Cowboy fan, and we love to give them crap for it, but you get right down to it, they’re good football fans. The Rams would have been better off with Fox announcers Dick Stockton and John Lynch as their coaches. Before the Smith injury, they praised the Rams coaches for having enough smarts not to challenge the fumble recovery, since Elam clearly re-established himself in-bounds. Fifteen minutes after that comment, here comes Spagnuolo with the challenge flag. At least it was fun to hear Stockton try to pronounce “Hoomanawanui” without having Charles Davis there to help. I think once, it came out “Hoomanumaleuna”, and another time, he said “Ho-o” and then trailed off, like, “you know the rest.” Smart on the booth’s part to talk a lot about the World Series. The Cardinals may break double-digits on the scoreboard more times this month than the Rams do.

* Who’s next?: Looks can be deceiving in the NFL. On one hand, just by looking at Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson, it's not surprising that they're dominant players. On the other, when the New Orleans Saints come to St. Louis next Sunday, they'll be led by a guy who looks like he should be delivering newspapers in your neighborhood, but is every bit as dominant as anyone else in the league. And Drew Brees, and Saints head coach Sean Payton, look may look like Boy Scouts, but those were some ruthless, cold-blooded assassins running up the score on the Colts Sunday night. 62-7. Are you freaking serious? 62-7? The Rams have scored 56 points ALL SEASON.

Brees is on a five-game streak of throwing for over 300 yards and has thrown a TD pass in his last 34. He's as accurate as an atomic clock and will carve your D up like a Thanksgiving turkey if you give him time. Consensus around the league is that you shouldn't blitz Brees; that only makes things worse. Usually big fans of blitzing, the Spagnuolo regime has avoided it like the plague against Brees each of the last two seasons. They held him in check in 2009 but got sliced and diced last year. And lost both games. Given the Rams' secondary injury woes, the approach to Brees is going to be very vanilla for the third straight year. To prevent big plays, they’ll need Al Harris to keep Marques Colston in check and hope their strategy for defending tight ends holds out. Jimmy Graham has been the NFL’s dominant TE this season. He had a four-game 100-yard streak broken Sunday night, but made up for it with 2 TD catches. The Rams, though, have quietly excelled at defending TEs under Spagnuolo. They held Jermichael Finley to one catch last week, and Jason Witten to just 35 yards (and a TD). IF the Rams can slow down the big receivers, they may be able to make Brees rush his throws. The Saint receivers don’t seem to react well to rushed passes. Tampa Bay didn’t sack Brees last week, but they did rush the Saints into 4 turnovers, a lot of those more on the receivers than on Brees himself. That’s how the Bucs won, though there’s serious doubt the Rams can put on any of the 4-man and even 3-man rush that Tampa did. The opening for the Rams seems to be that the left side of the Saint line struggles against speed, and center Olin Kreutz just abruptly retired, but none of that seemed to matter against the Colts Sunday night. And if they feel like it, the Saints will just run all over the Rams anyway. They’ll spread out the field and run Darren Sproles on those draws the Rams were absolutely helpless to stop Sunday, and pound them with Mark Ingram or Pierre Thomas when they get in close. Also, another good call by Rams Nation, wanting to sign Sproles in free agency before the season. The Saints did, and he’s their leading rusher as well as their kick and punt returner. The Rams have Cadillac Williams to make a crushing mistake every week, and Jerious Norwood sitting on the damn inactive list.

Could Saints DC Gregg Williams be auditioning for a future job next week? Too soon? Sorry. Anyway, Sam Bradford and the Rams struggled with Williams’ blitzes last year and will certainly see them again. (Or Feeley will. Whatever.) And Williams was crazy-blitzing Sunday night with a 55-point lead; it’s not like the Rams will see any relief if they can’t cope with it. Malcolm Jenkins’ play from safety really allows Williams to get aggressive with his blitzing, because when a pass does get completed over the blitz, Jenkins is often right there to clean it up. The Rams have a sliver of hope if they can do some of what the Bucs did last week. The middle of the field was open all day. Jenkins was actually burned twice for Buc TDs. Run some double-moves his direction. Roman Harper is a massive liability in coverage if the Rams can get their tight ends matched up on him. But besides being aggressive schematically, the Saints are stronger in the middle than they have been in years. Steven Jackson won’t get much farther against Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers and Sedrick Ellis than he did against the Cowboys. If the o-line doesn’t want to show up and run-block, there’s not a lot else the rest of the offense will be able to do in the big picture.

I wonder what Rams fans even have to look forward to next week. It’s hard to drown your sorrows when your stadium has the most expensive beer in the league. The cheerleaders haven’t worn costumes for Halloween for years. What is there to go to the game for, another Saints-Colts blowout in the making? Are we going to give a standing ovation if the Rams manage to lose only 45-7?

What a season.

-- Mike
Game stats from nfl.com