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RamView, 10/8/2006: Rams 23, Packers 20
RamView, October 8, 2006
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #5: Rams 23, Packers 20
So, are the Rams lucky, or good? They beat Green Bay today in a finger-biter (I know I had no nails left) despite getting outplayed for large stretches of the game, committing several near-turnovers, and turning in by far its worst-coached game of the season. But they also got clutch play from Marc Bulger, solid play from Steven Jackson, and while Green Bay failed to make the most of their chances, the Rams forced two turnovers, including the crucial game-winner. Maybe they're both lucky and good?
Position by position:
* QB: Marc Bulger didn't rack up a huge day statistically (18-28-220) but turned in a number of clutch plays. On the Rams' opening possession, he scrambled for 13 on 2nd-and-8, hit Kevin Curtis (!) for 10 on a red zone 3rd-and-3, and threw a perfect 6-yard TD to Torry Holt, a ball to the back of the end zone that only Torry could catch. The game turned into a battle from there, though. The Ram offense answered Green Bay's ensuing lengthy TD drive with a weak 3-and-out. Then in the 2nd, Bulger threw a pass directly to LB AJ Hawk, but the rookie dropped it. Marc re-entered the groove after the Packers missed a FG later in the 2nd. Holt made a superb sideline grab on 2nd-and-8. Charles Woodson's long DPI helped get the Rams back to the red zone, where, on a 2nd-and-6, Bulger danced out of Aaron Kampman's sack attempt to hit Stephen Davis for 10. Then on 3rd-and-goal at the 3, Marc led Curtis perfectly on a deep square-in for a TD to put the Rams up 14-10. Bulger couldn't extend the Ram lead of 14-13 after halftime. He hit Isaac Bruce for 18 on 3rd-and-10, but took a sack two plays later. After first half success, the Rams made the red zone their enemy in the second half. They settled for a FG after getting inside the 10 in the 3rd. Marc made a wise throwaway on 2nd-and-goal but got sacked by Kampman on 3rd down. FG, 17-13 Rams. They turned a short field the next drive into only three more points. Bulger hit Holt for 22, and from the GB 15, looked for Torry again in the end zone, but threw a BRUTAL INT to Al Harris at the goal line. Except even more brutally, Harris dropped it. Ironically, that gave Marc the tie for the team record for most consecutive passes without an INT. The Rams settled for a 20-13 lead. They drove 79 yards to Green Bay's 1 in the 4th but settled for three AGAIN. Bulger hit Joe Klopfenstein with a sweet-n-low pass for 25, then Tony Fisher took a screen for 40. But Marc couldn't run in a bootleg from the 1, and the Rams went up only 23-13. That score actually swung momentum back to Green Bay, who quickly made it 23-20. With just over 3:00 left, Marc couldn't complete passes on 2nd or 3rd down to keep the clock running. In fact, the 3rd down pass should have been picked off. That left the Ram defense to (barely) hang on for the win. He didn't dominate, but Bulger was resourceful and composed in the pocket, and made just enough plays to see his team through.
* RB: Steven Jackson (23-98) made some explosive 2nd-half plays after a pretty quiet 1st half. He set up the Rams' first FG with a couple of long runs. He got 14 behind a great block by Orlando Pace and survived getting his helmet ripped off at the end of the play. He took the next handoff for 11, bouncing a stuffed middle run outside for 11, diving over an ankle tackle attempt to get the 1st down. Steven powered through a couple of other ankle tackles today, and seems to be answering that weakness in his game. He churned out a good amount of yardage right up the middle and was smart about taking outside runs when he had nothing developing. After Tony Fisher gamboled for 40 off a screen pass in the 4th, Jackson nearly dove for a TD the next play, but was out at the one, and he couldn't punch it in on 2nd down. Jackson dominated the Rams' day on the ground, but Stephen Davis kept a TD drive going with a 10-yard catch, and Madison Hedgecock managed a yard on a 3rd-and-1 catch to keep the Rams from immediately fizzling after halftime. Like Bulger, Jackson didn't dominate, but he played well enough to give the Ram offense winning balance.
* WR: No Ram had more than three catches or 51 yards, but almost all had clutch plays in a total team effort. Torry Holt (3-40) caught the opening TD on a play that looked a lot like his TD catch last week. He also seemed to spark a Ram offense that was floundering with an amazing catch for 13 in the 2nd, nabbing a knee-high pass at the sideline with arms fully extended. That helped the Rams move to their 2nd TD. Torry's 22-yard catch, on which Charles Woodson fell down, kickstarted a FG drive, though he appeared to get a twisted ankle on the tackle. Kevin Curtis' little 3-21 was actually huge. He converted a third down on the first TD drive, caught the second TD on 3rd-and-goal, kept a FG drive alive with an end-around and threw a key block on Tony Fisher's 40-yard screen play in the 4th, setting up another FG. Fisher's catch was preceded by Joe Klopfenstein's 25-yard sliding catch. Isaac Bruce (2-23) and Shaun McDonald (2-30) added to a passing attack that didn't dominate, either, but had a knack for the key play.
* Offensive line: Another solid if unspectacular outing for the Ram offensive line. Bulger was only sacked twice, both in the 3rd, and one was his fault for holding the ball forever. The other came when Aaron Kampman beat Alex Barron to force a FG. That figured to be a tough matchup for Barron, and was, but he wasn't dominated, either. Orlando Pace kept the KGB off of Bulger, and made a big block on Jackson's 14-yard run in the 3rd. On 2nd-and-goal from the 1 in the 4th, though, he got stood up at the line as AJ Hawk stopped Jackson for no gain. Despite a couple of penalties, the middle of the line looked good. Jackson did a lot of damage up the gut. No bad snaps for Richie Incognito, and Todd Steussie, though leaky sometimes, held up well enough at LG. Bulger usually got a solid pocket to throw from, a key to victory today.
* Defensive line/LB: Paul Hornung. Jim Taylor. Ahman Green. John Brockington. NOAH HERRON. Which of these names doesn't belong? Don’t ask the Ram defense; who made Herron look like any other Packer great today. Funny thing is, Herron never comes in if the opportunistic Ram D doesn't pounce on Vernand Morency early. Brandon Chillar stripped Morency on his second carry, and Victor Adeyanju recovered the fumble, setting up the Rams' first TD. But then the Rams couldn’t handle NOAH HERRON, usually running at Anthony Hargrove for big gains, 7-38 on the Packers’ first TD drive. That drive was also aided by stupid penalties: Victor Adeyanju offside on 2nd-and-10, LaRoi Glover inexcusably offside on 3rd-and-3, Travis Fisher holding in the end zone. Jimmy Kennedy stuffed a couple of runs this drive, and had a super game, co-leading with 6 tackles, but nobody else could stop NOAH HERRON, who ran by OJ Atogwe and past Dexter Coakley (who had slipped) for a 2-yard TD. On a lot of pass plays, Leonard Little was more of a linebacker than he was a pass rusher. He held GB to their first FG by shadowing Favre on a 3rd-and-goal rollout and tracking him down for a sack. It was again not a good day for the pass rush, with little blitzing in order to protect the Ram secondary and Little being deployed frequently as Favre’s “spy”. NOAH HERRON was the first-half story though, with 73 yards, including 5 where he carried Claude Wroten on his back. And he opened up the second half with a 19-yard draw past (useless) Hargrove and Glover. The Rams finally held, though, with Adeyanju and Ron Bartell (!) stuffing the next run for -2, and Pisa Tinoisamoa making a major third down play to blow up a sweep left, with Adeyanju and Chillar cleaning up Herron’s cutback for a loss. That gave the Rams the chance to extend to a 17-13 lead, after which the defense finally got to shutting Green Bay down, with two straight 3-and-outs. Unfortunately, that good work, including Little blowing up a 3rd-down screen pass, only resulted in a 23-13 lead, which Favre dramatically chopped down to 23-20 with a TD bomb. With 4:00 left, Wroten helped stop Green Bay’s first chance to take the lead by stuffing a screen, and Hargrove (finally) pressured Favre into a near-pick for a 3-and-out. Game mismanagement sent the defense right back out, though, and the snowball began to roll. A questionable DPI on Will Witherspoon got it rolling. Koren Robinson caught an 8-yard sideline pass on 3rd-and-2. (The Rams were lousy on 3rd-down, letting the Packers go 9-for-16.) NOAH HERRON got 9 on a draw to put the ball on the Ram 20 and himself over 100 yards on the day. 9 more to Greg Jennings, and not only is a game-tying FG imminent, but the Pack now have a couple of shots to win it with a TD. But with 0:44 left in the game, Little puts one of the rare pressures of the day on Favre, and a big one it is. He swats the ball off Favre's hip for his (and the team’s) second sack and a game-winning fumble. Talk about bend-but-don’t-break, as the Rams sandwiched two big turnovers around about 57 minutes of rope-a-doping, getting away with another game of inconsistent pass rush and run-stopping to pull off the win.
* Secondary: You would have hoped Tye Hill would have done a better job against fellow rookie Greg Jennings, but Jennings owned the day, 5-105 with a couple of long catches. He beat Hill for 38 to set up a Packer FG and beat Hill again for the 46-yard TD that pulled the Packers within 23-20 in the 4th. That is not not to say that Tye was hopeless. Both bombs were good throws by Favre and great catches by Jennings, with Hill right on him. Hill and Travis Fisher made nice pass breakups on the first Packer TD drive, Hill’s in the end zone, but Fisher sustained that drive with an end zone holding penalty. OJ Atogwe made the first bomb to Jennings worse by grabbing his helmet. On one hand, that drive should not have ended in a score; Will Witherspoon dropped an INT in the end zone. On the other hand, Favre missed Bubba Franks wide open on that same play for an easy TD. 3 points seems a fair compromise. Up 10-7, Green Bay started the next drive at midfield, but the Ram secondary held. Ron Bartell, who had a very solid game, broke up a pass for Jennings, Corey Chavous broke up a long end zone pass, and Fisher’s tight coverage of Robinson forced a FG attempt (which went wide). Jennings and Koren Robinson both made a nasty habit of getting lost by the Ram secondary for sideline catches. Robinson’s two catches set up a late-first-half FG to pull Green Bay within 14-13. Defensive stops helped the Rams get up 23-13 before the TD bomb to Jennings. The Rams stopped the next drive, in part because of Robinson hearing Jerome Carter’s footsteps. Favre drives them all the way back to the Ram 11 with time running out, though, and just when you’re wondering where Jerametrius Butler’s been all season, there he is! showing up for the first time all game, falling on Favre’s fumble after it squirted away from a Packer lineman. Truly an up-and-down day for the secondary, which gave up big plays, but kept Donald Driver (3-24) quiet and held Favre to 220 yards.
* Special teams: Jeff Wilkins' run at NFL MVP continued with three more FGs: 31, 26, and 20, but his kickoffs were crazily inconsistent. He banged two deep kickoffs, but snap-hooked one out of bounds to set up Green Bay's FG right before halftime, and I'll wait till next paragraph to talk about the pop-up kicks. Matt Turk averaged 44+ but was also inconsistent, shanking a 34-yarder that got a lucky roll in the 3rd and failing to pin the Packers deep with about 4:00 left with a 41-yard punt that found the end zone. Shaun McDonald made the biggest special teams play, a 28-yard return in the 3rd that he actually started by running forward! That set up a FG, as did a poor Packer punt and penalty on the next possession. JR Reed was nowhere near as effective on kickoffs, struggling with directional and squib kicks. Probably would have been a good day on special teams if not for some strategic, um, quirks?
* Coaching/discipline: None of the Ram coaches get off scot-free today, though Jim Haslett turned in the best work. He didn’t blitz a lot, apparently in favor of protecting the secondary, which was minus its leader, Fakhir Brown. Haslett used Little in interesting ways, playing him like a LB or in “contain” mode as much as a regular down lineman. And Little broke up several wide plays like screens or Favre rollouts. Remember how Larry Marmie’s defense could never stop a QB rollout? Ever? But look at Haslett, who, just like the Denver game, took the opposing offense’s favorite rollout play away from them. The staff’s faith in Ron Bartell was well-placed. He turned in a very good game. Claude Wroten also got a lot of snaps and made a couple of good plays. I’m docking Haslett because the Rams gave up 9 out of 16 third down conversions, but he seemed to have the right approach today.
As the leader of the team, Scott Linehan gets the brunt of my criticism for their lackluster play. All the early penalties, the awful early 3-and-out and sloppy play – this team had its head up its butt and wasn’t ready to play today. Linehan tried a lot of weird plays that failed. A screen to Jackson out of a 4-WR set got stuffed. A 90-flip to Jackson, with the Rams trying to put the game away late, failed miserably. I was expecting that play, let alone the Packers. And the red zone play-calling? Yecch, in the second half, at least. On 3rd-and-4 from the 9, a forced end zone pass for Curtis is incomplete. Why not just try for the first down? FG instead. Next drive, 3rd-and-goal from the 1, and it’s – Bulger? On a bootleg? That’s a deception play that works a lot, but not this time – at least two Packers didn’t buy the fake handoff. And with 3:10 left, Linehan seemed to be trying to LOSE the game, throwing on 2nd and 3rd down, both incomplete, taking a pathetic 29 seconds off the clock and leaving Brett Favre 2:41 and a timeout to try to win the game. Horrible clock management! You have to run on 2nd down to at least force the last timeout to be used. Now for good calls: I loved the play where Bulger play-actioned to Jackson to set him up for the swing pass. And the Rams burned two early timeouts, but used them well. Bruce got 18 on 3rd-and-10 after a timeout, and Fisher took a screen pass for 15 on a 3rd-and-15 after a timeout, though it was called back by a penalty.
I don’t know if Linehan or Bob Ligashesky dictates the special teams playcalling, but somebody needs a thump on the head after today. Wilkins had buried two kickoffs for touchbacks, but with the lead in the second half, suddenly everything is a popup kick. WHY??????? Why do that and set up the Packers at their 31 and 36, WHEN A TOUCHBACK ONLY COMES OUT TO THE 20????? Some very dumb decision-making there. Linehan got away with one today. There aren’t many teams in the NFL you’re going to beat when you don’t have your team ready and you’re making a lot of bad calls. Oh, he’ll learn from it; let’s hope he can do his utmost and prevent days like today from happening very often.
* Upon further review: Ron Winter and crew did their best impression of a bad college basketball crew – call all the penalties on the visitors – and earn RamView's second straight failing grade. 10 Ram penalties vs. 4 for Green Bay. Eight flags were thrown at the Rams before one was thrown at the Packers. The biggest one was the poor DPI call on Witherspoon to start off Green Bay’s final drive. Yet, the Packers could get away with two blocks in the back on a punt return in the 2nd. And Ram receivers could get tackled before the ball arrived with no flag. And Charles Woodson could RIP THE HELMET CLEAN OFF JACKSON'S HEAD without any call whatsoever! Hey, Winter, you moron, Woodson's holding the helmet BY THE FACE MASK – can you even guess how that came about? The most dangerous play you can make on a football field, and the referees are completely asleep. They didn't get the memo during the week, either: the Ram defense had to burn a timeout when GB went no-huddle and the referees didn't hold the ball to allow the Rams to make their substitutions, LIKE THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO NOW. Incompetent buffoons.
* Cheers: Kenny Albert and Brian Baldinger were so nondescript on the Fox broadcast they're barely worth commenting on. Baldinger made salient points about the new Ram regime's emphasis on running and avoiding turnovers, but nothing we didn't know already. I like that he pointed out the bad call on the Witherspoon "DPI". Didn't like his definite declaration that Madison Hedgecock didn't gain the first down on the close play in the 3rd, while we saw the play from a very inconclusive angle. Kenny Albert's okay, I guess – he doesn't bite anybody, at least – but he sure missed a LOT of spots, sometimes by as many as three yards. Nice job with the jinx graphics, by the way. Fox displayed that Rams were 2-for-2 in the red zone with 2 TDs; Rams only had FGs the rest of the way. Later they displayed that Favre was a perfect 46-0 at Lambeau Field when he did not throw an interception. 46-1 now; that was a powerful jinx.
* Who’s next?: First place will be on the line in the NFC West when the Rams host the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks next Sunday. The Rams vexed the Hawks three times in 2004, including a playoff game in their place, but Seattle took both contests last season. Will the worm turn again this year in what has turned out to be a very good rivalry? There's reason to think it can, beyond the Rams’ 4-1 record so far and their home field advantage next week.
Injuries are a key factor for the game, since it appears the Seahawks will be without defending NFL rushing champion Shaun Alexander. Maurice Morris has been effective in spot duty in the past, and let’s face it, the Rams are once again turning everybody into Jim Brown lately. NOAH HERRON? ARE YOU SERIOUS? But Alexander’s absence will more than likely have the little devil that sits on coach Mike Humgrum's shoulder jump up and down, yelling, "Pass, Mike! Pass!" Humgrum's got four good reasons to listen to that devil: Darrell Jackson, Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and Bobby Engram. They may have the best depth at WR in the league, and the Ram secondary once again definitely has its hands full. Especially if (Unca) Fakhir Brown is back, I see Jim Haslett blitzing more next week. Sure, I'm a blitz freak, but lots of 4-wide formations will leave Matt Hasselbeck with minimum protection. Seattle's offensive line is not what it was last year, with Steve Hutchinson gone and Walter Jones not looking like his old self. Hasselbeck appeared to crack under the pressure of having to carry his offense in Chicago last week, and though Seattle had this week off to regroup from that 37-6 drubbing, there's little question in my mind that Haslett can get in Hasselbeck's head. It could be a big game for Witherspoon, who I'd suspect will do some blitzing but will also have to cover WRs when Haslett brings a DB. He'll make or break the Ram blitz on Sunday.
Injuries were a key factor for the Rams in last year’s games. Bulger and Bruce were just coming back from injuries before the second loss. Holt missed part of one game, as did Leonard Little. Big pieces to have at less than 100%. Holt’s ankle bears watching, but the Ram offense is basically healthy coming into this game and should be able to compete better than they did last year. The Seahawks had seven sacks in the two games last year, most of them against the interior of the Ram line, but the Rams are playing better there right now than they did last year. If Barron can keep Bryce Fisher out of Bulger’s face in what is probably the key LOS matchup, Bulger could have enough time to throw. I have to qualify that because Seattle’s key player, Julian Peterson, is certain to cause problems. He’s had big games against the Rams in the past, and these days for Seattle, he’s lining up everywhere, and the Rams won’t know where until the snap. Not to dismiss superb young LB Lofa Tatupu, but the Rams will have to account for Peterson at all times, and pass protection helpers like Jackson and Klop will have to be on top of their games. If Holt’s near 100%, and the Rams protect Bulger better this time around, the Rams have almost always shown they can move the ball on Seattle, which puts them in good position to win, or at least match the Seahawks in a shootout.
Sunday will mark Scott Linehan’s first “big game” as Rams head coach. It was already going to be big as a division game; few anticipated it would also be for early supremacy in the NFC West. They haven’t always been convincing doing it, but Linehan’s Rams have shown they can consistently beat the league’s lesser lights. How will they do when the whole marquee lights up? Linehan got away with mistakes today; will he clean that up, and will his team be more ready for Seattle, a team way too good to play sloppily against? The rest of the league has to look at the Rams as a playoff contender at this point. Whether they’ve achieved an elite level will be answered next week.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 10/8/2006: Rams 23, Packers 20
Great writeup as always, but to be fair to money, i think you need to point out (which the announcers failed to do all game) that there was a wicked wind whispering and moaning (like the eagles analogy?) on one end of the field. THus, moneys kicks and the punts on both sides went booming in one direction and basically nowhere in the other direction. Note the 66 yard punt by green bay and the terrible punt by the pack that set up the mcdonald runback. Note also how big the missed field goal by the pack turned out to be.
Ramming speed to all
Re: RamView, 10/8/2006: Rams 23, Packers 20
Thank you, I agree with the wind being the key factor. Please ignore my
complaints about the "pop-up kicks", since those were kicks affected by the
wind, not poor coaching strategy. I'll thump myself on the head later. :x
Re: RamView, 10/8/2006: Rams 23, Packers 20
Thanks you covered every thing that I wanted to know very in depth coverage kinda felt like I was watching the game when I was reading letsgorams for elite supremacy beat the sqwaks lets go 5-1 stlouisTorry Holt Dont play that
Re: RamView, 10/8/2006: Rams 23, Packers 20
Great point about the wind GC. MFranke, I look forward to your analysis every week. I would have just sent u rep points, but it wouldn't let me from where I sent them last week.
Re: RamView, 10/8/2006: Rams 23, Packers 20wind whispering
-10-10-2006 #8THEFIELDGOAL Guest
Re: RamView, 10/8/2006: Rams 23, Packers 20
Knowone is surprised because the announcing crew is not top notch.
But Mike is right- Are we looking at a Haslett helped team.
Always close or just winning. The Saints started hot and then run cold.
I hope this team is not that team. Because he has had trouble in the past
where he gets burn a lot in crucial set ups with big plays. His Saints teams
were those type.
I saw the game and i was just panicking at the end. Because we have all the
weapons and we are playing not up to par and letting teams hang around.
This team truly scares me at this stage. They are unpredictable week to week.
As for the 4-1 . Hey i will take it for what it's worth. Instead of the Raiders record.