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RamView, 10/29/2006: Chargers 38, Rams 24 (Long)
FRamView, October 29, 2006
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #7: Chargers 38, Rams 24
The week off didn't do the Ram defense any good. In a game Rams Nation expected to be at least close, they laid an egg as big as any they laid last year, and got scrambled but good by LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers. They're still tied for the NFC West lead, and their playoff hopes didn't necessarily depend on pulling off an upset today, but this game sure wasn't encouraging.
Position by position:
* QB: Marc Bulger (27-40-327) wowed fantasy football “owners” again this week, but a lot of his production came late in the game with San Diego protecting a big lead. The offense answered an opening Charger TD with a poor 3-and-out. Bulger ate the ball on a Shawne Merriman sack on 2nd down and threw a long sideline pass out of Isaac Bruce’s reach on 3rd down. Down 14-0, they bounced back a little. Getting lots of time, Bulger hit Torry Holt for 12 and wide-open Kevin Curtis for 21. Then Merriman struck again, sacking Bulger on what appeared to be a developing deep pattern. Marc was clutch after that sack, hitting Curtis for 7 on 4th-and-3. He stepped up in the pocket to hit Curtis for 12 down to the 7 to set up the Rams’ first TD. The offense sputtered the rest of the half, though. Another 3-and-out followed the TD drive, with Bulger throwing low to Holt and overthrowing another bomb for Bruce. Marc’s long ball was not on today. Holt had to save Bulger from INTs a couple of times, outfighting Quentin Jammer for one catch and turning into a defender on another poor long pass from Bulger. After halftime, the Rams stalled another time as Merriman found Bulger loitering in the pocket yet again for his third sack. I thought Bulger could have avoided a couple of the sacks he did take, but the passing game’s tempo was not very quick today. After that third sack, though, Marc started hitting. He hit a sideline bomb to Bruce for 37. That drive ended in a TD; for San Diego, unfortunately. Down 21-7, Bulger can only muster a FG drive despite a perfect sideline pass to Holt for 20 and leading Bruce perfectly for a 44-yard catch-and-run. After that, another of many sideline throws for Holt fell incomplete, and Marc missed wide open Paul Smith badly on a screen pass, as heavy pressure forced him to throw on the backpedal. And down 24-10, the Rams stalled again, as Charger rush ate up a 1st-down screen pass (one of many times that happened) and forced an incompletion on 3rd-and-2. The Rams next fell way behind, 31-10 and 38-17, which led to Marc successfully getting the Rams a couple of quick TDs out of the no-huddle offense. He hit Steven Jackson a bunch of times, hit Shaun McDonald for a short TD, and avoided the rush nicely to hit Curtis for the last TD. The quick tempo helped a lot, and it’s too bad there wasn’t more quick passing earlier in the game. Instead, the game plan called for many long routes and sideline jump balls, which weren’t Marc’s strengths today.
* RB: The turning point of the game came on a running play, but Steven Jackson wasn’t on the field. Stephen Davis got into the game in the third and got on a roll, bouncing a handoff outside out of the fullback position for 14, then throwing a block on Merriman that helped Bulger complete a bomb to Bruce. The next play, though, Davis got the ball punched out for a critical fumble, which became fatal after Joe Klopfenstein wasn’t aware enough to touch Marlon McCree down, inspiring McCree to get up and take the fumble back 79 yards for a backbreaking TD. The insertion of Davis was a little curious, because Jackson was having a good day and didn’t look tired, and we didn’t see Davis at all last game against Seattle. Jackson ended up with 84 yards rushing and 55 receiving. He did a lot of hard work, grinding out a lot of yards right up the middle. He was stopped for no gain four times, a big improvement over the Seattle game. In the 2nd, he followed a Madison Hedgecock block, something he rarely did last year, and stretched out to put the ball across the goal line for a 3-yard TD. Nice third effort, let alone second. Jackson was effective on draw plays, and had 11 gains of 5 yards or more. He kickstarted a late TD drive by stiff-arming a DE to the ground and taking a screen pass upfield for 28. As with Bulger, you’d have to say a good portion of Steven’s yardage came in “garbage time”, but I thought the Ram running game was effective enough to win the game today, even though it may not have been called upon as much as it usually is.
* WR: Isaac Bruce (5-105) and Kevin Curtis (7-79) carried the passing game. Curtis made a 4th-down catch to keep the Rams' first TD drive alive. Bruce got going in the 2nd half with a 37-yard sideline bomb, and had a catch wide open over the middle for 44 yards to set up a FG. Curtis got wide open several times, including a 21-yard catch during the Rams' first TD drive and on a long bomb he bobbled in the 4th. That late drive still ended in a Ram TD, as Shaun McDonald got great separation from Marlon McCree on a square out and scored an easy 8-yard TD. Curtis tacked on the Rams' last TD, a 7-yard catch. Where's Torry Holt? I'd like to know that myself. Once again, the Rams went as Torry did; his 5 catches for 48 yards was not "Big Game" material. He made a super 20-yard sideline catch in the 3rd, and saved Bulger 2 or 3 INTs by playing defense, or by winning a dual possession duel with Quentin Jammer on a 9-yard catch late in the 2nd. Bulger tried a lot of long jump-ball-type passes to Holt, but Torry was usually draped by either Jammer or Antonio Cromartie. Quiet game for Torry; a big weapon defused by the Charger defense on this day.
* Offensive line: As Kenny Rogers vexed the world champion Cardinals last weekend, Charger LB Shawne Merriman, an outstanding player but also an accused cheater, was in the Rams' hair all day today, and more often than not, the Rams had no answer for the budding superstar. Merriman had all three of the Chargers' sacks, getting started right away on the Rams' first possession by powering straight through Tony Fisher for a sack. He added a sack on the Rams' first TD drive, ignoring some attempted misdirection to defuse a Bulger bomb attempt. Late in the half, with momentum swinging the Rams' way, Merriman ate up Adam Timmerman and blew up a screen pass to kill a drive. More of the same after halftime, as Shawne fought through Alex Barron's uncalled illegal-use-of-hands and made the Ram RT look weak en route to dropping Bulger for the third time. A dominating game by a dominant player. Barron struggled again today. The quality of his play has really sagged, an impression not helped by two false starts with the Rams inside the Charger 10. The one time the Rams could solve the Merriman mystery, it was double-teaming him with Stephen Davis and a pulling Todd Steussie on a long bomb to Bruce in the 3rd. The offensive line had a decent day outside of Merriman. The running game was fairly effective, Bulger had a lot of time on the majority of his throws, and three sacks was a big improvement over the Seattle game. Richie Incognito even saved a TD drive by recovering a Torry Holt fumble. But Merriman was just too hot to handle.
* Defensive line/LB: The Ram defense was never in this game, almost from the start. After Victor Adeyanju blew up an Eric Parker reverse and Corey Chavous blitzed an empty backfield for the Rams’ ONLY sack of the day, the Chargers drove 8:00 for an easy TD. That drive, like the rest of the game, was marked by little resistance to runs up the middle, poor/soft pass coverage and little or no heat on Philip Rivers. And poor stopping power on 3rd down has become a hallmark of the Jim Haslett defense; San Diego was 7-for-13 today, third straight game an opponent has been over 50%. The Rams sleepwalked the whole first quarter. Next possession, Antonio Gates badly outclassed Brandon Chillar on a 15-yard catch, followed by a 39-yard TD burst by LaDainian Tomlinson. No Ram laid a hand on LT until OJ Atogwe’s awful downfield whiff, his 2nd of the quarter. The defense quit hitting the snooze button in the 2nd. Will Witherspoon, who still had by far his worst game of the year, strung out an LT sweep on 3rd-and-2 to force a punt. LaRoi Glover was getting an outstanding jump just about every play, but what’s with the pants? My grandpa doesn’t hitch his pants up that high. Anyway, the blitz was effective in slowing the Chargers down in the 2nd quarter, and the Rams shut down San Diego’s first drive after halftime, with Witherspoon stopping Gates on 2nd down and a rarely-heard-from Leonard Little panicking Rivers into a bad high throw on a hot read on 3rd down. After San Diego’s big defensive TD, the Ram defense didn’t help the Rams get back in the game. They gave up a completion to Gates on 3rd-and-4, as Brandon Manumaleuna picked up a blitz for the first time in his freaking career. Next play, here comes, no, there goes, LT again, with a 51-yard blast. FB Lorenzo Neal creamed Brandon Chillar, and Fakhir Brown, caught badly flatfooted, flopped ineffectively at LT’s feet. OJ Atogwe did save 4 points with the downfield tackle, because Little got another big rush on Rivers on the ensuing 3rd down to force a goofy incompletion. With the score 24-10, things started getting very rough for Witherspoon. Non-factor Jimmy Kennedy got shoved aside on a 15-yard LT run, then Will was yanked down by Manu on a 3rd-down blitz. 23 yards to Parker. On 3rd-and-9, LT smoked Will for a 26-yard catch, and Michael Turner finished with a 14-yard TD, breaking pathetic tackle attempts by Dexter Coakley (filling in for Pisa Tinoisamoa), Chavous and Brown. Will’s long day wasn’t over. After the Rams failed on an onside kick down 31-17, Neal blasted Will on a 14-yard run by LT, who beat Will downfield a couple of plays later for a 25-yard TD catch. There’s a lot of reasons behind giving up 38 points in a game, and the Rams found just about all of them. They gave up 216 yards rushing (183 to LT). Tackling was poor; pass rush was worse. They continue to choke on 3rd down, and forced no turnovers. And it’s just inexplicable how flat they came out after having an extra week off. No doubt they missed Pisa, but the rest of this defense simply has to toughen up. San Diego handed them their lunch today.
* Secondary: Speaking of lunch, Ram pass coverage, and tackling, were certainly bad enough at times to make me lose mine. Once again, coverage was way too soft way too often. Eric Parker had a key 16-yard catch on 3rd-and-12 between the LBs on the Chargers’ first TD drive, with Fakhir Brown a good 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. Antonio Gates beat Will Witherspoon for 27 a few plays later, with OJ Atogwe blowing a tackle badly, to set up a short Tomlinson TD run. Will did not look like a cover LB today. Brown made a big play late in the 2nd, making a MANLY stop of Parker for 2 on a 4th-and-4 in Ram territory. Brown’s presence seemed to embolden Jim Haslett into doing a lot more blitzing than last week. The Rams stopped San Diego again before halftime, despite Travis Fisher giving up repeated completions. Tye Hill blanketed Gates to stop San Diego’s last chance before halftime. Atogwe saved the Rams 4 points by chasing LT down on his 51-yard run. A couple of plays later, Chavous taunted Charger fans after covering Gates on an end zone pass. That’s a nice touch when you’re down 21-10 and the defense you’re on hasn’t stopped much all day, knucklehead. In the 4th, the Chargers put the game away. Rivers and blind referees beat a blitz and Fisher for a 23-yard 3rd-down completion to Parker, after which Tomlinson started just abusing Witherspoon as a receiver. The secondary is better with Brown back, but Rivers picked on Fisher all day. Some of the problem is soft coverage schemes, but Fisher doesn’t look aggressive out there, either, and what sometimes looks like soft coverage is Fisher just losing people. The Rams don’t have much to lose there by giving his spot to Hill. It’s not like Travis is making any big plays out there.
* Special teams: JR Reed was inactive again, and Tony Fisher, while he held on to the ball, didn't fare a lot better than Kevin Curtis did last week. His longest return was out to just the Ram 26. Special teams play of the day was by Dane Looker, who downed a Matt Turk punt at the 4 in the 2nd. Turk's average was an effective 40.8, though Eric Parker looked a move away from breaking a couple of returns for the distance. Kickoff coverage was good but the Rams failed twice to convert onside kicks in the 4th quarter. Since Bob Ligashesky seems to have kick coverage shored up, it's a good time to get that play working better.
* Coaching/discipline: I roundly criticized Jim Haslett after the Seattle game for not blitzing more, because the Rams were wielding no pass pressure with their 4-man rush. Haslett did seem to blitz a lot more this week. Unfortunately, the Rams put on little pass pressure even with their blitzes, leaving the Ram secondary to get exposed again like last week. You know you're having a bad week when Brandon Manumaleuna is picking up your blitzes. When the Rams can't pressure opposing QBs with a 7-man rush, I honestly don't know what to say except to chalk it up to superior play on San Diego's side of the ball. I would still like to see tighter coverage called for throughout the game. You can't use a soft zone if your blitzes aren't getting there. I'd also like to see Travis Fisher not play everyone like he's in a soft zone. Actually, I'd like to see Tye Hill starting regularly. Even with rookie mistakes he can't be much worse than Fisher. Burn him in.
The offensive playcalling is what I wasn't too impressed with today, and unlike Moose Johnston, I'll continue to credit it to Scott Linehan until it's explained differently. I felt Linehan was too pass-happy even before the Rams fell way behind. There was a weird obsession with sideline jump balls to Holt, a play which went 1-for-5, and the one was a near-miraculous catch. I wanted a lot more short, quick tempo passing, instead of long routes that gave Merriman all day to find Bulger. The game plan did a poor job of establishing Holt. Screen passes were generally a mess. Merriman's second sack came on a play with a fake reverse to Bruce, which was too bad, because Bruce had that half of the field wide open for a big gain had the reverse been real. Yes, the Rams ran up a lot of yards and a decent amount of points, but they could easily have done better. Another issue I have is with Linehan's risk management. I agree with going for it on 4th-and-4 to start the 2nd, even if the play hadn't worked. But I don't see why the Rams didn't go for it on 4th-and-2 from their 41 down two TDs very late in the third. Linehan went with a chicken **** punt, and the Chargers drove right back down the field to take a 3 TD lead. (Don't think TMQ won't have something to say about that.) I can't see why Linehan was willing to try an onside kick after the Rams' next possession if he wasn't willing to go for it on the 4th-and-short a few minutes earlier, with the same field position risk and a better chance of success. Finally, a thumbs down to the whole coaching staff for the team coming out so flat, when you’d think a week off would have had them better-prepared and energized. I don't know if the staff was watching the World Series or what, but it's unacceptable that the team didn't look like it knew it was doing on either side of the ball early in the game when they had extra time to prepare. Bear down!
* Upon further review: Walt Coleman's crew called only seven penalties. Only two flags flew the whole first half, and the Rams declined one of those. The Rams weren't even flagged until the fourth quarter. The problem is, there should have been many more flags. I'll be non-partisan and point out that Barron should have been called for hands to the face on Merriman's third sack, and that Incognito got away with an illegal snap on the last play of the 1st that probably would have killed the Rams' first TD drive. But some of this game's big plays shouldn't have happened. The right guard moved early on Tomlinson's 51-yard run in the 3rd. Much smaller flinches than that are routinely called. Later that drive, Turner ran for 6 on a play that started after the play clock ran out. Way to pay attention, dumbasses. That drive ended in only a FG, but the next drive was extended by a key 23-yard completion to Parker where a blitzing Witherspoon was held and dragged to the ground by Manu, a classic hold in every sense of the rule. Unless the refs are lousy, that is. And Schottenheimer got to challenge Holt's sideline catch in the 3rd after the Rams had run the next play! They made good calls on all three of the challenged plays, but San Diego's much too good for the Rams to have a chance in a game where the zebras are glossing over brutal holds and illegal procedure plays.
* Cheers: With the Cardinals' World Series championship parade being held today, I was concerned the local Fox affiliate would preempt the whole first quarter, or more, of the Rams game to show speeches by middle relievers. But kudos to them for tearing away and getting to the opening kickoff on time. I remember Moose Johnston as a lot better TV analyst than he was today, though. He didn’t really add anything we couldn't already see, which he's normally very good at. What was with crediting Greg Olson for good play calls? First time I've heard Olson's name on a broadcast all year. Doesn't Linehan call all the plays? And Moose saying "hats off to the Ram coaching staff" with the Rams down 3 TDs? Abba-wha? Kenny Albert continued to miss most spots by at least a yard. Tony Siragusa did nice analysis of a play that showed Merriman timing Incognito's snap, keying on Richie glancing up and down the line. Thing is, Goose didn't really have a "tell" on Cogs, which is what his analysis suggested. Richie didn't even repeat it the next play, though he nearly drew Merriman offside with what was probably an illegal snap. Goose spent as much time as anything else wondering aloud what to go as for Halloween. I recommend "Jersey mafia crew member." I also commend the Charger cheerleaders for their stupendous Halloween costumes – they had a naughty nurse, for God's sake! – while lamenting the Ram cheerleaders will miss Halloween again this year.
* Who’s next?: It has been a long time since the Rams beat the Kansas City Chiefs in a regular season game. So long, the starting QBs of the last Rams win over the Chiefs were – Chris Chandler and Joe Montana. So long, the Rams were still in Los Angeles! That's right; the St. Louis Rams have never beaten their cross-state rivals. And though St. Louis doesn't reciprocate the obsessive hatred Kansas Citians seem to have for them, twelve years is too long to go without dealing the Chiefs a blow. The last two losses, both in Arrowhead, have been especially galling: a 54-34 debacle in 2000 and a 49-10 embarrassment in 2002.
The tide has turned a little for next week's matchup, though. This time, the game will be in the Dome, and this time, the Chiefs are the team with injury issues at QB. (Kurt Warner was injured during the 2000 game, and Jamie Martin started for him in 2002.) Trent Green (concussion) is not expected back until late November, leaving Damon Huard in charge of the Chief attack. To Huard's credit, though, he had a passer rating in the upper 90's heading into today, and like Bulger, he has thrown just one INT all season. Huard burned Seattle for 312 and a TD today. The Chief passing game shapes up a lot like San Diego's (uh-oh): an all-world TE who'll be tough to slow down (Tony Gonzalez) and a WR corps that's neither deep nor really impressive (Eddie Freaking Kennison, Sami Parker, Dante Hall), though the Chief WRs are damn quick. Most unfortunately, the Chief running game also shapes up a lot like San Diego's, if not even better, with Larry Johnson. Like LT, LJ is one of the league's dominant rushers. He's also one of his team's leading receivers. The Ram run defense has to get its act together, or this game will just be a rerun of last week, and 2005, and 2004. One thing that may work in the Rams' favor is that the Chiefs are much better at home than on the road, where their most recent effort was a 45-7 humiliation to the struggling Steelers. But HFA won't mean much if Johnson matches LT's 240 offensive yards and 3 TDs. (LJ had 181 and 4 against Seattle). Jim Haslett will likely have to keep the safety up a lot and make Huard beat the Ram defense with his arm. Effective blitzing will be a must; you have to figure that had a big role in Pittsburgh's win three weeks ago.
But given the defense’s performance today, it’s incumbent on the Ram offense to come out of the gates firing and ring up a lot of points. They can’t come out of the tunnel sleepwalking again. You’re not going to take LJ out of the game without taking the lead and preferably eating up clock while doing it. Hand the keys to the car back to Jackson; the Chiefs allow 110+ rushing yards a game. The Chief pass defense is similar to the Rams’ in sacks, TDs allowed and INTs, but allows 30 yards fewer a game. Rookie Tamba Hali and LB Derrick Johnson are their leading sackers, and the Rams have always had trouble stopping Jared Freaking Allen, so Barron and Orlando Pace may well decide the fate of the Ram passing game next week. If not them, then it could be the veteran Chief secondary, with Ty Law, Patrick Surtain and longtime Ram killer Sammy Knight. They’re capable, at least by reputation, of shutting down Holt and Bruce, a capability few defenses have. Law’s a gambler, though; I’d like to see the Rams run some routes that get him to bite, like Seattle did today on Darrell Jackson’s long TD. And instead of lots of sideline jump balls, I’d like to see quicker tempo in the passing game, I’d like to keep Jackson involved, and I’d like to get the TEs involved for once this season. Linehan needs to pull back from the aggressive end of his coaching persona and get back to effective ball control. The offense is going to have to help the defense out here.
The way most, including me, see the Rams’ playoff chances, a win at home next week is a must. Scott Linehan simply has to have this team prepared to win Sunday. They didn’t look ready much of the first half today, which was very disappointing. That can’t happen again this season. With a two-game losing streak and a porous defense threatening to put the season into a tailspin, Linehan can right the ship simply by having the Rams ready to play for all 60 minutes. Now’s the time to strike, before Seattle gets healthier. Linehan knows it. His players should know it. Get that urgency out on the field.
Game stats from nfl.com
-10-31-2006 #2Registered User
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Re: RamView, 10/29/2006: Chargers 38, Rams 24 (Long)
Thanks for the write-up and analysis, for me your weekly reports constitute the gold-standard that I hold sports journalists to (amateurs and professionals). I'm not very happy with the referees in general this year, I know it's cliche to say, but don't they look worse this year than usual? Also I have to agree that we need to put up some points on the Chiefs, take them out of their game plan and hopefully make them utilise the run less, and then play ball control with our offense to help out our ailing defense. Our defense is what it is, there's a limit to how much we can improve it now, so some help from the offense, well-chosen blitzes and tighter coverage is what we have at our disposal I think, and we need to use all of that this week.
-11-01-2006 #3Registered User
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