RamView, 10/25/2009: Colts 42, Rams 6 (Long)
RamView, October 25, 2009
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #7: Colts 42, Rams 6
Well, the Rams know what it was like to be the Japanese air force during the Godzilla movies. They knew they would have to play a perfect game today to stand a chance against the Colts, but as the final score makes plain, they were pretty much their normal 2009 selves, even as the Colts weren't really trying that hard. 17 in a row!
* QB: Every football show you watch lately hails 2009 as the Year of the Quarterback. For Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, 2009's been a year to forget. Today's stat line was the most dreadful one yet of a season gone bad: 14-26, 140 yards, no TDs, 2 INTs (one returned for TD), passer rating 37.3, worse than if he had just thrown every pass attempt into the ground. And this includes a 50-yard bomb to Donnie Avery the Rams' first series! Indisputably, Bulger has to get better help from his receivers than he did today. There were at least four dropped passes. The opening drive fizzled into a FG after Tim Carter dropped a 2nd-down pass and had no clue where he was going on a 3rd-down end zone incompletion. Mike Karney and Kenneth Darby dropped passes the next drive. Avery topped the day off by dropping a 4th-down pass. Bulger got pretty good protection a lot of the day, but three drives were killed by sacks. You can pin a lot of Bulger's bad numbers on his receivers and maybe a little on the offensive line. The brutal passer rating, though, belongs a lot to him. In the 3rd, rookie Jacob Lacey jumped Keenan Burton's out route to pick off Bulger deep in Rams territory and ran it in for a TD to put the Colts out of reach, 28-6. CBS’ analyst said Burton didn't come back for the ball hard enough, but still – isn't that play usually the veteran DB picking off the rookie QB instead of vice versa? Why's Bulger throwing that pass into a group of Colt defenders when he's got Steven Jackson open in the middle of the field for a checkdown? Surely Bulger knows where Jackson's going to be on every play, so why's he trying to force a much more difficult pass to Burton, on first down? I understand Bulger's end zone INT in the 4th even less. No doubt, as pointed out on TV, Burton ran a terrible pattern. But why did Bulger throw to him? After he pump-faked and froze the safety, he had Randy McMichael open in the middle of the field on a post route down at the goal line. Inside shoulder throw to the TE is a TD there. Why's Bulger throwing into “crowds” on the sidelines when he has open options in the middle of the field? It's been very popular to blame the inexperienced Rams receiving corps for the team's woeful offensive performance, and that argument holds a lot of water. But I'm not sure Marc Bulger didn't cost his team 14 points today. A lot may be out of Bulger's control; he may be just the “manager” of the offense, but the Rams don't have the margin of error to absorb big mistakes from their QB, and I believe there's going to be at least one “Doh!” moment when they review tape Monday.
* RB: Paradoxically, the better Steven Jackson plays, the worse the Rams do, as he’s coming off his best game of the season in an otherwise-pitiful blowout. This week the second half was his strong half, and he thrived despite an utterly predictable game plan that had him running up the middle on nearly every first down. Jackson owned the third quarter. He started by spinning out of a tackle in the backfield and gaining 11. The Rams' second FG drive was all Jackson, gashing the Colts over the right side for 12, 11, and 13 more, before getting Josh Brown into position with 8 yards on a 3rd-down inside handoff. He opened the next drive with a 14-yard run off the left side, and the way Jackson was piling up yards now, the Colts' 21-6 lead was starting to topple like a Jenga tower. Indy salted the game away, though - Jenga! - with a pick-six the next play. That didn’t slow Jackson down much. He powered up the middle for 9, then behind Jacob Bell for 14, to ignite a Rams drive that got back into the red zone. And fizzled. Badly. Not much later, Indy's up 35-6 and Jackson's coming out of the game with what I think was a shoe problem but scarily looked a little like a foot injury. We're near the time of year for scary stuff, but I can imagine little scarier than the Ram offense without Steven Jackson, whose 134 yards on 23 carries were nearly as much as Marc Bulger passed for. Kenneth Darby did chip in 16 yards, most of it on a 2nd-and-a-mile draw play, while I'm not sure Samkon Gado (4-5) has actually run forward for a gain this season. The Ram backfield, no, the Ram offense, no, the whole Rams team without Jackson would be like the Doors without Jim Morrison.
* Receivers: If there’s a sadder joke right now than the Ram receiving corps, I don’t want to hear it. Things got off to a hot start today when Donnie Avery (2-58) caught a 50-yard bomb from Bulger off a flea-flicker, though I don’t know why he couldn’t keep his feet under him on the play. The pass led him, he should have been on his way to the end zone; instead, he goes down in a heap and is injured (AGAIN) on the play. He did come back in time to drop a pass in the 4th. His replacement, Tim Carter (0-0), butchered the end of that opening drive by dropping a 2nd down pass and breaking the wrong way in the end zone on 3rd down. Why is he here again? Keenan Burton (3-28) earned some of the blame for both of Bulger’s INTs – he sure ran a poor route on the 2nd one, cutting behind the defender. It’s apparent the Rams have NO downfield threat without Avery on the field. It was just sad watching the DB outrun Burton on an attempted go route late in the game. With the tight ends chipping in only 3 catches for 16 yards combined, the only sort-of-bright spot was Danny Amendola (5-39), who did some damage with quick screens. As for the guy who’s so great the Rams traded Will Witherspoon for him, even though he couldn’t beat out Jason Avant at Philadelphia, even though the Rams drafted UNC’s third-best wideout – you know, the one with the broken leg? – instead of him in this past draft’s FIFTH round? Yeah, he was inactive. Answers at WR remain few and far between.
* Offensive line: The offensive line looked pretty good for stretches. They held the dangerous Colts DEs in check much of the way. They also had their best run-blocking game of the season. Jackson was only stopped for no gain or a loss twice. Richie Incognito got a strong block in front of Jackson on a 9-yard draw in the 2nd. A LB got through but great surge by the whole line got Jackson 11 after he broke that tackle early in the 3rd. Then they really started taking it to the Colts. Jackson went right for 12 behind Mike Karney and Randy McMichael. He went right for 11 the next play behind McMichael and Adam Goldberg. Then, right again, 13 more, behind Goldberg, Karney and Billy Bajema. Waiter, more RED MEAT over here, please! They got Jackson running left later, a couple of 14-yarders behind dominating blocks by Jacob Bell, and if even Bell's bringing it like that, the line must be having a great day, right? Well... Bell helped kill two early drives, once with a holding penalty, once with a missed block on a promising screen to Amendola. Jason Smith split time with Alex Barron at LT; in the 2nd, he whiffed on Dwight Freeney completely - no spin required on that play – and got Bulger splattered at the 1-yard line. Bulger was sacked again the next drive. As Bulger's trying to step up from the rush, Eric Foster knocks Barron back SIX FEET, into Bulger's way, giving him nowhere to go. Holy cats, Alex. Barron then held a spinning Freeney brutally on third down (no flag) and still couldn't stop him from getting to Bulger and forcing an incomplete pass. And guess who false-started to kill the Rams' first drive after halftime. As the Rams neared the red zone in the 3rd, no one blocked Robert Mathis on a 1-yard Samkon Gado loss; that was probably Bajema's block to make. Next play, Daniel Muir whips Jason Brown with a swim move and drops Bulger for the third time. I'd say most of the line played ok. Goldberg actually had a pretty good game. The weak(est) link was Barron, and now that we see Smith starting to get snaps over there, there's little reason not to keep him at LT the rest of the season. They're taking way too many lumps with Barron over there anyway. Smith needs the work and can’t be that much worse.
* Defensive line / LB: Not a good day at all to be a Rams defensive player. Today looked more like an 11-on-11 no-contact scrimmage than it looked like an actual game. I kept checking to see if Peyton Manning had a red jersey on. Leonard Little was the only Ram to even remotely pressure Manning, landing a couple of hits. He got Manning’s arm on one play, but of course, Peyton completed the pass anyway. Chris Long maybe got close enough once to hail a cab that could get him closer to the QB for minimum fare. Long usually does some good stuff that doesn’t get noticed on the box score, but today it was hard enough just to notice him, vs. either the pass or the run. With Indy already up 7-3, Long ate up the fake like a rube to set up a screen to Dallas Clark for 11. If Long stays home, Manning can’t even throw the pass! Next play, Clark manhandles Long, Reggie Wayne blocks James Butler and the LT wipes out Ron Bartell with a kickout block, leaving Donald Brown a huge hole to run through untouched for 45. It was depressing how easily the Rams were taken out of plays today, especially by tight ends. James Laurinaitis had just 4 tackles and got blocked out of a lot of plays. Joseph Addai scored an EASY 6-yard TD to put Indy up 21-3. The Rams had NINE in the box and still couldn’t touch the ballcarrier. Mike Pollak picked off O.J. Atogwe AND Laurinaitis. Ryan Diem easily drove off Little, a bit of a liability against the run himself. Clark easily drove off Paris Lenon. It was cake for Addai from there. The Colts’ 5th TD drive wasn’t pretty for the Rams. Their best stop of the drive only came because they had 12 men on the field. (Hey, I told them to try it.) Long got driven out of the way like a lightweight on a 12-yard Addai run. Addai went Little’s way for 8 after Leonard was flattened by yep, TE Gijon Robinson. That led to another passing TD, but the Colts weren't done on the ground, as somebody named Chad Simpson put the bow on the ugly package with a 31-yard TD run around left end to make it 42-6. Long got stopped by a double-team, but Larry Grant got blocked and looked out of position, Laurinaitis wasn't quite fast enough to keep Simpson from turning the corner, and as with a lot of the day, I don't know what James Butler was doing. I think he was trying to play the cutback, so no safety help on the play when Simpson shot up the sideline. C.J. Ah You lined up as an inside pass rusher a lot and led the defense with seven tackles. They also dropped him back in coverage a few times. Those seven tackles equaled the rest of the line’s output combined, according to NFL.com. I was surprised to see Long had as many as he did, 3. Little? None. Dominated ain’t the word for what happened to the Ram front seven today. The Colts just steamrolled them, with TD drives of 90, 78 and 93 yards, with little sign the Rams were ever going to stop them. Like I said up top: Japanese air force, meet Godzilla.
* Secondary: In some ways, the secondary played better than Manning’s 3-touchdown day made it look. Yes, Clark beat Ron Bartell and James Butler for 27 and the Colts' 2nd TD. That, however, was a damn perfect pass by Manning I'm not sure anybody could have defended. To open the game, Gijon Robinson beat tight coverage by Laurinaitis for 19 on 2nd-and-15. Then Reggie Wayne began abusing Bartell, beating him for 25 and 17 to set up his 5-yard TD where he just cut in front of Bradley Fletcher at the goal line. Wayne and Bartell may have been in the same ballpark today literally, but they sure weren't figuratively. Only an injury to Wayne gave Bartell much relief in that matchup. Bartell had a full plate; he was also called on to cover Dallas Clark a lot, and the Rams did hold him to 3 catches for 44. Butler and Craig Dahl hammered Clark to help get a rare defensive stop to start the 2nd. Bartell nearly intercepted a pass for Clark a little later; I still don't know how he managed not to catch the ball. Possibly he didn't see it until too late. Midway through the 3rd, Bartell and O.J. Atogwe perfectly bracketed Wayne on a 3rd-down deep pass to get the Rams the ball back, and a little hope, down 21-6. We know that didn't last long. Fletcher appeared to have the best day of any of the DBs. He was very strong in run support, and you have to notice that Manning didn't go after him a lot. Then, as he's smartly breaking up a sideline bomb for Pierre Garcon in the 4th, his leg buckles in holy-mother-of-God fashion, though it's been diagnosed as a hyperextended knee. Let's hope he heals fast; he's starting to look pretty good out there. Back after several weeks on the shelf, Butler looked mostly rusty. He wasn't a factor against the run (1 tackle), he took a bad angle on the Simpson TD run, and he bit on the play-fake on Austin Collie's TD like Lassie chomping on a Milk-Bone. The Rams need a lot better safety play than that; hell, they need a lot better defensive play, period, than they got today, or they're going 0-and-60, let alone 16.
* Special teams: Funny thing – one area the Rams may be settled in is their traditionally-awful special teams. The Colts didn’t do very much on returns. Donnie Jones pinned Indy inside the 15 four times, inside the 5 twice. And the defense actually made all of those stand up! Josh Brown did all the Rams’ scoring, from 30 and 45. Worst news of the day was a season-ending ACL injury to long snapper Chris Massey covering a punt in the 2nd. It’ll be up to Billy Bajema to replace Massey the rest of the way. What a shame to lose a favorite player, one of the team’s most consistent, and yet still unsung worker like Massey in a game like this one.
* Coaching: I know the Colts scored 42, but the defensive approach today was still fine. The little blitzing they did worked in that it rushed Manning’s throw or convinced him to check down on 3rd-and-long. I didn’t notice any of the Colts’ big plays beating blitzes, unless you count the play where no one covered Collie in the flat in the 3rd quarter, and I’m not sure Fletcher was supposed to blitz there. Too much blitzing would have just exposed the Ram secondary further. The Rams had to get there with their four-man rush, and they never did.
Since I’m voting lack-of-talent vs. scheme on defense this week, I’d better do it on offense, too. Once again this week what we mainly saw was Bulger rarely getting the ball downfield, nothing completed over 10 yards, few passes even being thrown that far. Yet opportunities downfield are popping up on the radar, mine anyway, maybe I’m poorly calibrated, that Bulger’s missing. And it really does seem true that without Avery on the field, the Rams have NO ONE capable of getting open more than 10 yards downfield and stretching the defense. Burton doesn’t have the speed; Carter needs a map to find the end zone. With Avery on the field, Pat Shurmur went deep early, and with a sweet flea-flicker play, pretty much a perfect call. I liked the well-set-up quick screens to Amendola, though I think he’s got the speed to use downfield a little more. I would have liked to see Jackson and the tight ends used more – they totaled just four catches, and I have to believe those guys could help free up the WRs. But without Avery, yeah, Shurmur’s trying to chop down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring. If you guessed Jackson was going up the middle on every first down today, you were right a lot more than you were wrong. It’s a tribute to Jackson that he gained as much as he did on plays where everybody knows he’s getting the ball, and where he’s going. Shurmur seemed to mix that up better in the 2nd half, getting Jackson going right, then left, and getting big gains out of it. You’d think that with ok protection and an awesome running game to balance it, that the passing game would still work a lot better than it is. I don’t know how much play-action the Rams tried. The raging success of the flea-flicker should make play-action a Shurmur staple, shouldn’t it? Somewhere along the way, Shurmur’s got to make more happen with the pieces he’s got. King Arthur didn’t have to chop down the tree to defeat the Knights Who Say Ni, you know.
* Upon further review: The weird play involving the Carl Cheffers crew was an Addai sweep on 3rd-and-2 in the 4th. The spot always looked poor, short by about a yard, and the Colts eventually challenged it. Cheffers reviews the play and announces that they’re going to “respot the ball to the middle of the line” and re-measure. That by itself wouldn’t change the measurement, would it? Yet, out come the chains, and now we’ve suddenly got a first down. They got the play right, but Cheffers needed to describe what was going on better. The spot certainly changed, didn’t it? Instead he frustrated the home fans when he could have completely avoided that. I’ll give the crew a C.
* Cheers: Full disclosure: I was unable to attend today's game, so I'd like to thank my fellow Rams fans and an estimable number of Colts fans for keeping the TV blackout lifted, though that stuck me with Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots on CBS trying to one-up each other in the Stupid Stat of the Day competition. Harlan: the Rams have gone through 12 QBs since Manning became the Colts starter in 1998. That's important when the Rams have been in more Super Bowls than the Colts since 1998? Seems as meaningful to me as the Rams outrushing the Colts in the third quarter today. Wilcots won, though, with: Austin Collie gained 14 pounds while on a 2-year mission in Argentina, going from 196 to 220. I didn't major in math, either, but... Despite a snowstorm, last week, the Patriot cheerleaders dressed for Halloween, when Pats fans already have a lot to cheer about. A week closer to Halloween, in a climate-controlled dome, before thousands of fans with little else to cheer about, the Rams “cheerleaders” once again this year did not dress for Halloween. As this appalling lack of cheerleader professionalism continues, RamView has no choice but to call for a new Rams cheerleader coordinator. This year most of all, the Rams “cheerleaders” should be going the extra yard to spread cheer. If you're not trying to be the best, you're not trying.
* Who’s next?: During the offseason, I happily wrote that the head coaching change to Steve Spagnuolo from Scott Linehan would gain the Rams two or three wins, simply because Linehan was so awful. Well, we’re coming up on week 8 now, the change to Spagnuolo has yet to mean even ONE win, and the Rams look more and more like they’re heading down the road of historic futility the Detroit Lions paved last season. Speak of the bedeviled, that’s the Rams’ next opponent, with none other than Scott Linehan calling the offense for HC Jim Schwartz.
Bad news: Linehan’s had a bye week to plan for the Rams. The best game Linehan called in 2.25 seasons here came off a bye, when the 0-7 Rams won in New Orleans in 2007. And the bye gets the Lions a lot healthier, giving Matthew Stafford, Daunte Culpepper and stud WR Calvin Johnson time to come back from injuries. The Rams won’t face the offense the Packers shut out two weeks ago. Thanks again for that bye week scheduling, NFL! There isn’t a big secret to defending the Lions; Linehan said as much in an interview last month. Play eight in the box and shade coverage to Calvin’s side. Linehan doesn’t have confidence in his running game yet and won’t punish a defense for directing extra attention toward #81. Kevin Smith gets just 3.2 a rush, and the Lions’ two longest runs this season are by Stafford and Culpepper. The Lions got a big game from Bryant Johnson when they beat Washington last month to break their 19-game losing streak. The Rams can’t let that 2nd receiver beat them, whether it’s him or rookie TE Brandon Pettigrew. The snowball starts rolling if that happens. In the end, though, it’s a Linehan offense; just blitz it. Stafford’s shown he’ll make the rookie-type mistake, and is still working on his accuracy. Culpepper’s a veteran but isn’t much less mistake-prone. Detroit’s o-line allowed the second-most sacks in the league thru six weeks and has a Barronesque penalty waiting to happen in Gosder Cherilus. Double Calvin, throw some pressure at them, let the chips fall where they may; some should fall right into your lap.
The main reason the Redskins lost to Detroit in September was abysmal offense, something we’re all too familiar with here. Certainly the Lions are going to stack up the line to stop Steven Jackson; it’s imperative for the Rams to open up the field with the pass. The Lions are actually among the league’s sack leaders but are still the 29th-ranked pass defense and allow a whopping passer rating against of 118.7. Yes, they’ve faced Brees, Rodgers, Cutler, Roethlisberger and Favre, but even Jason Campbell logged a 97.6! The Lions have as bad a secondary as the Rams will face this year outside practice – the Ram passing game runs out of excuses a little after noon this Sunday. DC Gunther Cunningham wants to blitz half the time but has had to play it more conservatively because his players screw up too much. Again, though, they’ve just gotten a free week to hammer out some of their defensive growing pains. Have I thanked the NFL for scheduling Detroit that bye week already? The Ram offense isn’t tasked with playing error-free ball like they were against the Colts. Their job this week is to commit fewer errors than Detroit.
Is that too high a hurdle now? Eight weeks into the season, does Steve Spagnuolo have the Rams coached up enough to outplay an offense engineered by Scott Linehan? Can they match wits and blows with the team coming off the worst season in NFL history? The answer may very well be no, and if it is, the 2009 season won’t be just a small step backward for the Rams, it’ll be a giant leap backward for Ramkind. And the moon’s going to seem nearby compared to the depth of the hole the Rams are on their way to digging themselves into.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 10/25/2009: Colts 42, Rams 6 (Long)
Thanks Mike. Great insight as always.
Re: RamView, 10/25/2009: Colts 42, Rams 6 (Long)
Bulger must be replaced, I used to defend him putting most of the blame on the o-line.
But quite clearly Bulgers good years with the team was down to the talent around him
and not vice-versa. He is incapable of making a play when things breakdown around him,
is scared to go through his progressions, often getting rid of the ball to the wrong receiver. How many times has he completed a 3rd down pass to a receiver who is short of the marker- quite often is the anwser. Quite simply, he isnt a playmaker, at the most important position on the team, and I hope and pray we draft the right one Billy Devaney.NO MORE EXCUSES FOR YOU MR.
Re: RamView, 10/25/2009: Colts 42, Rams 6 (Long)
Excellent article as always MFranke. At least the best writer covering the Rams is still at the peak of his powers, that's at least something we've got going for us. :)