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RamView, 10/28/13, Seahawks 14, Rams 9 (Long)
RamView, October 28, 2013
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #8: Seahawks 14, Rams 9
The Rams’ luck continues to run bad, as they dominate Seattle but still lose to Russell Wilson pulling another lucky play out of his, um, out of thin air. Both teams’ luck has to run out sometime. Doesn’t it?
Position by position:
* QB: Kellen Clemens (15-31-138, 36.8 PR) might not have been the main reason the Rams lost, but it didn’t take long to see the Rams miss Sam Bradford’s red zone efficiency and low interception rate. Instead, they settled for three red zone FGs and two bad Clemens INTs, one of which led to a Seattle TD. Jeff Fisher didn’t blame Clemens for either INT. On the first, he said Jared Cook ran the wrong route. All the same, Cook wasn’t open for a nanosecond as Clemens forced a pass up the sideline that Bruce Irvin picked off, with Zac Stacy all alone underneath. The next drive ended with Clemens throwing well over and well behind Austin Pettis but directly to Richard Sherman. Fisher said the problem was that Pettis slipped, though it looked like he slipped trying to adjust to the throw. Clemens ran into a LOT of bad red zone luck, but missed some opportunities. He showed a clear mobility advantage over Bradford, buying a lot of time on 3rd-and-9 to hit Pettis for 26 to put the Rams in the red zone for the first time. But once there, he threw a pass away although Chris Givens looked open in the end zone, then on 3rd and long, Givens can’t get the 1st after slipping on that diabolically treacherous FieldTurf. Send in Legatron. The Rams returned to the red zone in the 3rd, got pushed back out by Jake Long lining up wrong, then couldn’t get anyone very open. Send in Legatron. Clemens got the Rams in close in the 4th after a 19-yard completion to Cook. On 2nd-and-goal from the 3, though, he’s got Corey Harkey open on an out route, but ends up scrambling and throwing another pass away. Sack on 3rd down, sigh, send in Legatron. Clemens drove the Rams back into scoring range in the 4th, but with Seattle blitzing on 3rd-and-7, threw incomplete to a hot read, Cook, who didn’t know he was the hot read. (ESPN then brilliantly cut to a sideline shot of Bradford, whose body language completely said, “Yep, been there, brother.”) Send Legatron back in, but he misses, forcing Clemens to look for a TD to win in the final minutes, starting from his own 3 to boot. Kellen drove the Rams 96 yards, highlighted by a couple of nice play-action throws. He got the Rams to midfield with a 22-yard deep hitch to Givens, then into the red zone with a nice 16-yard pass to Lance Kendricks behind coverage. But on 3rd-and-goal, Givens DROPS a slant that should have been a TD. Then on the final play, with an all-out blitz coming, Clemens tosses a ball into the back corner for Brian Quick to run under if he knows what he’s doing… Oh. He doesn’t. Game over, one Clemens would have won with even remotely competent receivers, one Bradford would have won because he would have made one of the plays Clemens couldn’t. It’s pretty late in Clemens’ career to expect him to improve enough to compensate for poor receivers. For the Rams to have any success the rest of the season, though, somebody has to improve.
* RB: The Rams have an excellent rushing weapon in Zac Stacy; now, if he could just stay intact for a whole game. The rookie wrecking ball cut an unexpected 134-yard path through the Seahawk D on 26 carries and really opened the play-action game up for Clemens. Stacy continues to spark the offense with tough middle running and refusing to be brought down easily. With his offensive line mowing the Seattle defense down like an ugly green and white lawn, and fullback Harkey doing some impressive weed-whacking, Stacy cruised to 4 carries of more than 10 yards in the first half. It wasn’t all bull-in-a-china-shop running, either; Zac took off for 13 just before halftime after making a nice cut inside Scott Wells’ block. In bell-cow fashion, he opened the Rams’ 2nd FG drive with 4 straight carries up the middle for 22 yards. Stacy opened the Rams’ final drive with a 9-yard run through a massive hole on the left side and steamrolled for 17 more the next play, breaking a tackle to get the last 5. And getting hurt. Enter Daryl Richardson (8-39), who did a nice job keeping the sticks moving with 5 carries for 31, the last a draw giving the Rams 2nd-and-goal at the 2. Then the Rams missed their heavy hitter. Another middle run got D-Rich stuffed at the 2, and though Stacy returned for the final 4th-and-goal play, he motioned out of the backfield and wasn’t a factor. Stacy, though, has put talk of the Rams' “missing running game” in the past.
* Receivers: The latest incarnation of the Rams’ receivers unit is not only as bad as any of the last five or six before them, they’re also apparently dumber than a box of rocks, sinking a winnable game into a loss this week. Jared Cook (3-31) may have run more incorrect routes than correct ones. The opening drive ended with an incomplete pass and Cook about running over intended receiver Tavon Austin (2-9). Fisher blamed Cook for Clemens’ first INT; it’s also worth blaming Cook’s inability to get open at all against Bruce Irvin. LOL, the Rams paid $35 million for a TE who can’t even get open against a DE. Cook killed the first drive out of halftime with a drop and killed another not knowing he was the hot read on a blitz, letting a 3rd-down pass clang harmlessly to the ground without ever looking for it. LOL, the Rams paid $35 million for Cook, and Lance Kendricks (2-23), with a key catch on the final drive, is still their best TE. Chris Givens (4-59) beat zone coverage for a couple of 20-yard catches but was frustrating otherwise. He failed to lead-block at all on a quick screen in the 1st and got Austin buried for a loss. Austin Pettis’ (2-33) 26-yard catch got the Rams into the red zone, but a promising slant to Givens on 3rd down ended when he slipped and fell at the 15. Givens had a chance to win the game in the final minute on a 2-yard quick slant and dropped it. Brian Quick (0-0) was barely even involved, until the last play of the game. Naturally, he broke one way while the ball went another. It’s been reported that Quick has had problems learning the offense, and now Monday night, we’re regaled with stories that the Rams’ play-calls “sound like Spanish” to Austin. Que pasa? He can’t learn the playbook, either? Is Brian Schottenheimer’s system really so much harder to learn than other teams'? Watching these guys run the wrong way, run into each other, drop passes, fall over their own feet, miss assignments, run bad routes, run wrong routes, they sure come off looking like a bunch of idiots. Where’s receivers coach Ray Sherman in this complete cluster, um, bomb? He’s the one who said Quick was the next T.O. He’s the one who’s supposed to coach these guys up. He’s accountable for what has been a clown show of guys who can barely walk and chew gum at the same time.
* Offensive line: The Rams really deserved to win the game the way they dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball. The offensive line's work looked cut out for them against Seattle's impressive and deep d-line, especially since they appeared to rotate Joseph Barksdale and Rodger Saffold at RT and Harvey Dahl was probably not close to 100% at RG. He run-blocked well on the move, but struggled with pass protection and penalties, and didn't hold up well at the point of attack, before leaving in the 3rd due to a knee injury. The left side of the line, though, was magnificent. Scott Wells had key blocks on four of Stacy's long runs. He and Lance Kendricks blew open an 11-yard run for Stacy in the 1st and had dominating blocks to spring his 17-yard run at the start of the final drive. Wells and Kendricks also gave up 2 of Seattle's 3 sacks. Wells compounded a terrible shotgun snap by also losing Cliff Avril on a stunt in the 2nd. Kendricks picked up Bruce Irvin initially with Clemens scrambling in the 3rd, but Irvin got there with his second move to force a loose ball. Seattle's other sack, which forced a FG in the 4th, came by blitzing an empty backfield, not the last time that maneuver would pay off. Jake Long, though, had just an outstanding game, and Chris Williams had his best game of the season in Jake's wake. Over and over, Long pushed the Seattle line aside like a cheap motel room curtain, the kind of blocking that gets your team 200 rushing yards against one of the league's best run defenses. Long and Williams were like a moving wall as Stacy pounded out yards on the 2nd FG drive. Seattle probably got a little too much pressure on 3-man rushes, and Saffold and Long both had annoying pre-snap penalties. But look at the line's work in the 4th quarter. Superb, wall-like protection as Clemens hit Cook for 19 to set up a FG. On the final drive: Long and Harkey, who popped people all game and is rapidly becoming a top-flight fullback, blow open a big hole for 9. Then Long, Wells and Kendricks blow open a bigger one for 17. Shelley Smith's mauling block frees D-Rich for 6, then Long and Harkey pop him for 6, and Long and Kendricks get him another 9. Of all the places for a slip-up, it comes at the 1-yard line, as Smith doesn't get Heath Farwell blocked, and he drops D-Rich for a loss to force 4th-and-goal. Still, given the opponent and the extent that the Rams controlled the line of scrimmage, this has to go down as the offensive line's best game of the season. With room for improvement!
* Defensive line: In their best performance since last year's home win over Arizona, the Ram front four sacked Russell Wilson SEVEN times and dominated Seattle's overwhelmed backup tackles and light-blocking tight ends to the point that the other 7 defenders almost didn't have anything to do. The d-line stuffed the run and the whole Seattle offense, limiting them to MINUS-1 total yards in the 1st quarter and just 38 by halftime. Robert Quinn absolutely owned the first half. On Seattle's first play, he nearly took the handoff from Wilson and stopped Marshawn Lynch for a 3-yard loss. A few plays later, Quinn blew up LT Pat McQuistan so bad that Lynch tripped over him. The next play, Quinn beat McQuistan inside for the Rams' first sack. After another 3-and-out and a sack by William Hayes, the Rams had held Seattle to a loss for the quarter. Seattle then cashed in on an INT for their first TD, set up by Chris Long blowing containment on a 17-yard designed Wilson rollout. That was the only time that happened all night, though. Jermelle Cudjo stuffed Lynch, who ran for only 23 yards, to kill another drive, then it was time for the mighty Quinn to take center stage. Right before halftime, he forced a bad throw on 1st down, sacked Wilson on 2nd down, beating the center on a stunt, and on 3rd down, sacked Wilson AGAIN, his 10th of the season, whipping McQuistan with classic lean around the edge. Long didn't have a bad first half, but with Quinn drawing double-teams in the 2nd half, it became Chris' time to shine. The Rams opened the half with a 3-and-out as Long whipped TE Zach Miller to down Wilson. They missed a safety by inches the next possession. With Jo-Lonn Dunbar coming through on a delay blitz, Long went through Miller and Lynch and ripped Wilson down by his sleeve at the one-inch line. At that point, four of Seattle's last five pass attempts had ended in sacks. Holy cats. With Seattle up 14-9 late in the game, Long got the Rams the ball back almost single-handedly. Why the Seahawks kept trying to block him with Miller, I'll never know, but Long toyed with him one last time to engulf Lynch for a loss, then landed the Rams' seventh sack, whipping around Michael Bowie, losing his balance and still bouncing off the ground to bounce Wilson one last time. What a dominating performance. They had the Seattle line spinning like roulette wheels and didn't give Wilson or Lynch any room to breathe. There have been high expectations for the d-line; this week, they shot past even those.
* LB: Linebackers stood out the most this week as effective blitzers. Alec Ogletree blitzed off the right edge on Quinn's first sack and came off the left edge on the Rams' 2nd, trapping Wilson in the pocket and flushing him to William Hayes. Ogletree had the answer to Wilson's quickness most of the game. On back-to-back plays at the goal line in the 2nd, he and Rodney McLeod blew up Wilson's attempts to option run right. Long's first sack came with James Laurinaitis collapsing the pocket on a blitz, giving Wilson nowhere to go. Had to be a fun week to be a Rams LB. The front four took care of everything, including the running game, and allowed the LBs to run free. Let's hope they have this much fun the rest of the season.
* Secondary: Janoris Jenkins came within a step of making a play that might have led to a win. I don't know if he was baiting Wilson or had bit on play-action, but on a long bomb in the 3rd, he looked burned early but closed rapidly and got there in time for a game-turning INT... then stumbled and fell, allowing Golden Tate to race off for an 80-yard TD and a 14-6 lead Seattle would never lose. I don't know why Rodney McLeod wasn't in the same zip code on the play. That's not even my biggest complaint. What Jenkins needs to do is shut the hell up. His smack talk is firing up past-their-prime midgets like Steve Smith and lunchbucket-at-best chumps like Tate, and they're making big plays. All Rams fans get out of this is losing the game and getting taunted. What has Jenkins done to earn the “right” to talk smack? You just gave up TWO TDs to Golden Freaking Tate! The first one was a 3-yard TD where Jenkins lined up five yards off Tate, in the end zone, leaving the slant route from outside across the slot so wide open, you or I would have scored! Janoris, how's about next week, instead of exchanging driving tips with Kenny Britt, you just shut the hell up and try to prove your play speaks for itself? Coverage was fine otherwise. Couldn't have hurt that Sidney Rice got injured, but Cortland Finnegan returned and I don't recall him getting beaten on anything. Behind the dominating d-line, the secondary quietly had a good game. Quietly, Janoris. Quietly.
* Special teams: A couple of special teams streaks ended for the Rams. The two-game penalty-free streak ended in the 3rd when Daren Bates held on a punt return. More importantly, Greg Zuerlein's made-FG streak ended when he barely missed a 50-yard FG in the 4th that helped cost the Rams the game. Especially with the offense in the state it's currently in, Zuerlein has to make that kick. Austin handled kick and punt returns again but was not noticeably effective at either. Johnny Hekker pinned Seattle inside the 10 twice, and the Rams were able to flip that field position advantage into scoring drives. More of that, please.
* Strategery: The roasting of Brian Schottenheimer began so quickly after the game, it would do better to call it microwaving. He picked the last play of the game to make his worst call. The words out of my mouth as the play unfolded: Don’t tell me you’re emptying the backfield???... That maneuver told Seattle what to expect, invited them to blitz and really restricted whatever options Clemens might have had. And the Rams had failed on the goal line earlier in the quarter almost exactly the same way! After using play-action to near-perfection throughout the game to keep the Seattle LBs off-balance, on five plays inside the 6-yard line, none at all. The shame is that Schottenheimer had called a pretty good game up until then. He was mostly undone by the bumbling of his receivers. The notion that his system is too hard to learn is bemusing. There's little pre-snap motion or shifting, almost all the runs are up the middle, how complex can it be? Compared to Mike Martz's War and Peace of a playbook, Schottenheimer's must be Green Eggs and Ham by comparison. And it seems like he's already dumbed it down once this season. Yet from the looks of things, all a defense has to do is blitz and none of the Rams' receivers will know what to do. But there is not a team in the NFL that does not require its receivers to change from the route that was called in the huddle when the defense has a blitz on. Receivers too uncoachable to get that right wouldn't still be in the league.
Too-short and too-quick praise to Tim Walton for a most masterfully-called game on defense, easily his best this season. He got blitz pressure on Wilson while still keeping him contained in the pocket. The Dunbar dog blitz at Seattle's goal line was an especially sweet call. Not only did Wilson mostly not run wild, the last two games are evidence that Walton has gotten the problems fixed with the Rams' run defense. An excellent, excellent job that deserved to be a winning effort.
* Upon further review: Gene Steratore and crew looked like Hall-of-Famers compared to the ridiculous spectacle of last week. Unlike those striped morons, Steratore's crew had flags flying immediately when Tate started taunting on his long TD. He also caught Seattle holding on running plays. On the 3-penalty play right before Seattle's first TD, the roughing call on Quinn was also correct. The DPI call against TruJo, though, was almost completely wrong. First off, he tripped, which could easily have led to an incidental contact ruling. Either way, the foul wasn't committed any closer than the 3-yard line, but Steratore teed the Seahawks up at the 1 as if it had been an end zone infraction. I was going to complain about the time-consuming review that changed Clemens' incomplete pass into a fumble in the 3rd, but I think that's a correct call now because the tuck rule changed before this season. Naturally. Grade: B
* Cheers: Trust me, I enjoyed watching the Rams Tuesday much more than the stupid World Series on Monday. Or Wednesday. Mike Tirico spoke well of St. Louis for a while, applauding that the Dome was about 2/3 full despite the stupid World Series going on at the same time, and gave Rams fans credit for their enthusiasm. Excellent job by those who went. That’s outstanding attendance with any Cardinals game going on at the same time, let alone a stupid World Series game. I don’t get why Tirico turned on St. Louis with repeated assertions of apathy toward the Rams in the 2nd half. There’s 40,000 fans in front of you while a stupid World Series game is going on downtown! What apathy? Jon Gruden was plainly bored with the game at times and complained about the number of penalties, blaming the league’s reduction of practices. Gruden also gave a big push to Robert Quinn’s bandwagon, (Chris Long’s deserves a jump start, btw), repeatedly calling him one of the most dangerous defensive players in the NFL and flat-out declaring Quinn a Pro Bowler after his third sack. At least the national spotlight did somebody in St. Louis some good.
* Who’s next? After facing Seattle on two less days of rest, the Rams next host the Tennessee Titans, who, coming off their bye week, got EIGHT more days to rest for this game than the Rams did. Thanks a lot, Commissioner Goodell! Tool! Speaking of tools, when the Titans’ jerkwad coach ran up a 47-7 score on the undermanned (Keith Null at QB) one-win Rams in 2009, besides calling him an anal orifice and a receptacle for used feminine hygiene product, RamView hoped the Rams would return the favor the next time they and the insecure, vindictive little creep crossed paths. So, can Jeff Fisher motivate the Rams to give a receipt back to the Titans for indignities he put on the Rams as Tennessee’s head coach?
I don't see anybody running up the score in the Dome on Sunday, with the Titans coming off a pretty punchless performance against the *****. Jake Locker will be helped by the extra week off to heal up from hip and knee injuries. He has developed pretty well as a young QB. In 2013 he's completing over 60% of his passes and has thrown 8 TDs vs. only 1 INT. He also averages over 7 yards a rush, but especially with the recent injuries is kept on a short leash as a runner. Locker's like Sam Bradford in that he doesn't have a very dynamic offense around him. Chris Johnson's nickname has downgraded from CJ2K to CJ3YPC and he's been demoted to splitting carries with Shonn Greene (who did win here last year as a Jet). Johnson's still only 28 but doesn't hit the hole or make people miss anywhere near as well as he did in his big seasons for Fisher. The Rams will have to watch out for CJ3YPC on screens, but otherwise, they can afford to keep the box loaded. The Titan offense focuses on running inside and throwing quickly and doesn't stretch the field much, averaging under 200 yards a game. There's no consistent threat in their receiving corps. Nate Washington is a deep threat but little else. Injuries and off-field problems have turned Kenny Britt into a shell of the player Fisher drafted in 2009. On the plus side, Delanie Walker was a Ram-killer as a 49er, and the Titan coaching staff is very high on 2nd-year slot receiver Kendall Wright, who HC Mike Munchak calls "almost uncoverable". His quickness, elusiveness and excellent hands make him a terrible matchup for Cortland Finnegan. The Rams won't feast on Tennessee's o-line like they did Seattle's scrubs, but the ***** got good pressure on Locker with a pretty banged-up group. Tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart can maul but don't really impress with mobility or quickness. Rookie center Brian Schwenke (Rob Turner went on IR this week) is as tough as a 2-dollar steak but better be able to handle Robert Quinn on a stunt. Free-agent splash Andy Levitre and first-round pick Chance Warmack may give Tennessee the best set of guards in the league, and this is an offensive line that looks like it should be very good once it gets to gel. The Rams should give them a very good test of their cohesiveness.
The main plotline involving the Tennessee defense Sunday will be Gregg Williams' "return" to face off against Fisher, a long-time friend who hired him as Rams' DC last year, let him go in the wake of his suspension for the Bountygate scandal, and fired his son Blake after the season. Will be interesting to see how that friendship has developed. All the expectations with Williams were that he'd be a blitzing maniac, and especially the way the Ram receivers fail to adjust to blitzes, I have to think Williams will bring something extra at Clemens every play. The best player on the Titan defense, and my pick for the league's most underrated player, is CB Alterraun Verner, a legitimate shutdown corner who San Francisco didn't even try to throw at. It's an underrated secondary all-around, though the Rams might have opportunities to pick on safety George Wilson, who they picked on last season when they won in Buffalo. Like the offense, the Titan defense is really short on explosive, dynamic players. The bye week should allow them to get DE Derrick Morgan back from a shoulder injury, and he is their best bet and main threat to get to the QB. But unless Williams is blitzing, nobody else I saw on that line worries me enough not to double-team Morgan if it's warranted. Their last game showed Williams still hasn't figured out how to stop Vernon Davis. You can insert a joke about the Rams' poor TE play here, but with Verner taking away an option on every play, Clemens is going to need his tight ends to help him out.
This week will definitely be all about reunions. How will Fisher and his St. Louis staff fare against his old assistants? How much will Finnegan, Jared Cook and William Hayes make their old team miss them? Fisher needs to give his old team a bad case of separation anxiety if he'd rather hear Peaches and Herb (ask your parents) playing after the game instead of the St. Louis Blues.
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