RamView, October 9, 2005
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game 5: Seahawks 37, Rams 31

Well, the worm has turned in the NFC West, and in a bad way, as the Rams do an awful job of defending their home turf against the Seahawks. The 2005 season is getting harder and harder to pull out of the fire.

Position by position:
* QB: Going into the season, I'd have never thought I'd be saying by week 5 that Marc Bulger (26-40-336) needs to play more like Matt Hasselbeck, but it's true. Bulger is hurting the Rams with his season-long poor pocket presence. He was sacked four times today, most because he held the ball too long. Does Marc always have a release valve to go to when he's in big trouble? No, which I see as a major flaw of the Martz offense. But Marc also almost never chooses to run downfield, and today, he barely even dared to run outside the pocket. Damn, Marc, even a little scramble gives your receivers an extra beat to get open. Hasselbeck's no Michael Vick, but he beat the Rams' heads in today just by getting a little outside when he got in trouble. Bulger has become a cigar store Indian in the pocket, allowing opposing DBs to never worry they might have to come back upfield. Marc's voluntary immobility takes a big piece away from his game. Bulger is also killing his team with his now-trademark slow starts. He started 2-for-8, and by not scoring until their 4th possession, the Ram offense kept Seattle in the game instead of capitalizing on the momentum of Chris Johnson's opening kickoff return TD to put them in a big hole. Not that Marc isn't doing many things well. His field vision was impressive on first-half TD passes to Kevin Curtis and Torry Holt, passing up dumpoffs to make the big play downfield despite heavy pressure. And yeah, those plays fly in the face of what I was just arguing about. But at the same time, there were many times that Marc took sacks or threw dubious passes instead of hitting wide open (once by ten yards) Steven Jackson with the dumpoff. Certainly Steven's a better option than taking a sack or one-hopping a sideline pass. And Marc has to do a lot better than the awful pick he threw to Lofa Tatupu (my spell checker says that should be Loaf Taupe) in the 3rd. Not only did that pass look ten yards away from any Ram, it led to the Rams going down 34-21 when they could have been driving to go up 28-27. Despite his likely good fantasy numbers, Marc Bulger is slipping. He is far from a complete QB right now. He has to make better use of his feet under pressure, and he has to drive the Rams farther than ten yards at the start of games if the team still entertains playoff aspirations.

* RB: Steven Jackson didn't have a bad game at all, 77 yards rushing and 62 yards receiving. He bulled his way in for a 1-yard TD in the 3rd to get the Rams within 34-28. He put the Rams in scoring position all by himself on their 2nd drive, taking a screen pass for 27 and a well-blocked run for 16. He helped set up his rushing TD with a well-designed 15-yard run and an 11-yard reception. And Steven took a 90-flip for 16 yards on 4th-and-1 to set up the Rams' last score, a FG. Steven had 23 touches, and could have had a lot more, since he was open almost every time he ran a circle route, and since Marshall Faulk got looked at maybe once and doesn't show up on the stat sheet today. Though he probably picked the wrong hole on a couple of failed runs, and could stand to cut back more on others, Steven showed good hands, good speed, and wasn't slowed down at all by his recent sternum injury. Madison Hedgecock can use some work at fullback, though; pretty disappointing that a guy of his bulk just gets stood up in the hole all the time.

* WR: Big day for Torry Holt, 9-126 and a TD, and an outstanding, spinning, one-handed grab of a sideline pass Bulger threw behind him. Torry's right hand never touched the ball; it was just snag, tuck with the left. Torry also burned Seattle for a TD in the 2nd when his defender slipped. He was slowed in the 2nd half with a bruised knee. Kevin Curtis (5-63) had a 25-yard TD catch in the 2nd, a nice catch despite tight coverage, but hasn't been a deep threat at all despite having some of the best speed on the roster. Jackson's good day took work away from the receivers. Shaun McDonald was 5-55 and Dane Looker didn't get any looks. Jeff Robinson's first catch of the season was a nice sliding catch for 28 that helped set up Curtis' TD.

* Offensive line: Seattle matched the Rams with four sacks, but it wasn't like the line allowed a jail break on Bulger all game long. The sacks he took were mostly his fault. He had plenty of time to at least throw the ball away on most of them. Former Rams Grant Wistrom and Bryce Fisher did next to nothing, but Seattle countered that by getting a lot of heat on Bulger right up the middle. That probably led to Adam Timmerman getting replaced by Claude Terrell for most of the game. On an 11-yard Jackson screen that set up his rushing TD, Andy McCollum and Terrell both did a great job getting downfield and leveling defenders. Orlando Pace did a great job clearing out space on the late 90-flip to Jackson. Unfortunately, the next play, Wistrom smoked Pace, and Chuck Darby cleaned up the sack, beating Alex Barron and Cam Cleeland. Barron and Terrell, both rookies, also both committed false starts. Even so, Bulger got sufficient time to throw, and Jackson got sufficient running room; with the glitches, the line still earns a B today.

* Defensive line/LB: Pass rush was almost completely ineffective even with Leonard Little in, and he missed a lot of the second half with back spasms. Tyoka Jackson came through with a couple of sacks, and the Rams blitzed for a couple others, but the defense was badly outmatched for the second straight week, even against Seattle's undermanned offense. Where Seattle wasn't undermanned was on their offensive line, which blew the Ram DTs into nothingness all day long, shades of last year. Dexter Coakley (2 tackles) and Chris Claiborne (3) were once again near-nonfactors, and Shaun Alexander rolled to 119 yards and 2 TDs on 25 carries. Any time the Ram front put on a little pressure, Matt Hasselbeck would just roll out, and the Rams made him look like Michael Vick. Hasselbeck was unstoppable as a passer every time he rolled out. And Anthony Hargrove bit on every run fake that set up Hasselbeck bootlegs like a total amateur. Hargrove stuffed three runs but has been nowhere near the pass rush threat it was thought he would be. One of Tyoka's sacks forced a FG, and if anybody was the Ram defensive player of the game in this effort, it was probably him. And it's unfair to put total blame on the defense when the Rams' worthless punter sets up the Seahawks near midfield all day long. But at the same time, the defense gave Hasselbeck all day to throw, and allowed 13 Alexander runs of 5 yards or more. The lack of pass rush is completely exposing the completely weak Ram secondary, so some folks better start getting the job done up front.

* Secondary: Start researching the college DB prospects, Rams fans, because the way the Ram secondary is playing, they're going to get a chance to be joined by a high 2006 draft pick. The Ram secondary proved it cannot cover anybody today, yielding 316 yards to a Seattle offense missing its top two receivers and roughly 65% of the team's passing offense. Joe Jurevicius (9-137) more than doubled his receiving output FOR THE SEASON, most of it on crossing patterns, a not-that-complex play the Ram defense never figured out. Jurevicius beat Brandon Chillar on a, yep, crossing pattern for 24 and Seattle's 3rd TD, with no Ram DB ever picking him up. Travis Fisher is so bad he had to interfere with one D.J. Hackett (in his first professional game) in the end zone, setting up Seattle's first TD. Seattle's 2nd TD was a 29-yard cakewalk for TE Jerramy Stevens, since Michael Hawthorne was busy looking for someone to blame for leaving Stevens wide open instead of actually covering him. That fiasco got Hawthorne pulled (FINALLY) for Mike Furrey, whose attempt to tackle Alexander on his 2nd TD run was pathetic. Alexander also steamrolled Corey Ivy (I think) at the goal line. Seattle had no-name receivers wide open the entire game, and no one in this secondary except maybe Adam Archuleta would be worthy of starting anywhere in the NFL right now.

* Special teams: Despite a big play to start the game, special teams played a major role in losing it. Chris Johnson returned the opening kickoff for a 99-yard TD. Excellent work by the wedge (Hedgecock, Terrell, Brandon Green) on the right, and solid blocks by Chillar and Cleeland on the left got Johnson a nice seam to hit. Unfortunately, kick returns were ineffective the rest of the game, with Johnson usually getting shut down inside the 20. Reggie Hodges' pathetic punting did as much to lose the game as anything. Hodges averaged a bad-even-for-high-school 33.2 a punt, had two less than 30 yards, and repeatedly set Seattle up at midfield for short scoring drives. You're in a freaking DOME, Hodges, there is absolutely no excuse for such lousy punting. 33.2? Jeff Wilkins got 35 on a pooch punt in the 1st! New punter, NOW! Terry Fair was active today and returned punts. Poorly, that is, running backwards all the time just like Shaun McDonald. And it gets better. With about 3:00 left, and Seattle punting back to the Rams after three straight incom-pletions, and the Rams having all the momentum, Fair suddenly decides he's too pooped to return this punt after having played a series on defense. Fair motions in a likely-bewildered McDonald just before the play, and McDonald – you guessed it – runs backward, but gets stripped for a fumble to boot, effectively ending the game. That by itself isn't the coaching staff's fault, but you can certainly blame Bob Ligashesky for not getting anything out of Hodges, and the front office for wasting a draft pick on a punter in the first place. The Seahawks signed their punter, Tom Rouen, on Wednesday, and he outpunted Hodges by 7.1 yards a kick. If anybody at Rams Park wants to think about doing some similar waiver wire work to make this team better, Toby Gowin and Micah Knorr are veteran punters with better hang time, average and net average than Hodges has shown this year. And dump Fair and sign Andre Davis to return punts. Just do something.

* Coaching/discipline: After getting his head handed to him three times last year, Mike Holmgren outcoached the Rams today, even with that three-straight-incompletion sequence inside 4:00 left in the game. With his top two WRs out, Holmgren surprisingly used the pass to set up the run, and it worked beautifully. The Rams were completely unable to deal with it, thanks to the woeful work of Larry Marmie. Seattle was repeatedly able to match WRs up on Ram LBs, and Marmie's coverage "schemes" were rendered helpless by simple crossing patterns. Blitzing was successful for a couple of sacks, but the Ram pass rush was once again ineffective most of the game, and it wasn't helped by Marmie calling stupid line stunts that take a week to develop. Either find a way to speed those up, or get them out of the playbook. One of Alexander's long runs came when Seattle ran away from the side where the Rams were blitzing three. Marmie got fooled by Holmgren all day long, and for the second straight week, little pass rush, horrible pass coverage, confusion and blown assignments, and poor tackling: hallmarks of the Marmie defense.
Mike Martz heaped blame on himself after the game, but there's not that one moment where you can say he blew it, like last week, and though the play balance was 2 passes for every run, the Rams never really went into flail mode like last week or in San Francisco. Martz got the run going today with some successful calls. There was what I can only poorly describe as a counter draw that Jackson took for 15 in the 3rd, and an altogether-too-risky 90-flip to Steven on 4th-and-1 in the 4th that he took for 16. Bulger can just fall down and get that yard, but no; let's fake to Hedgecock forever before we pitch it out to Jackson. OK, the play worked fine, and the Rams have been in bad need of inventive run plays like these this season. Martz still had some of his usual shortcomings. The Rams coughed up a couple of timeouts due to sideline radio problems, once on a 2nd-and-1. You mean there's no way in creation for Bulger to audible to a run in that situation? The defense could have used those timeouts later. More damning is that the offense got off to a lousy start for the fourth time in five weeks. Pretty sad that the Greatest Show on Earth can't raise the curtain properly. What happened to the Rams dictating to the opposing defense? Do they really have to throw away the first quarter every week for Martz to figure out what's going on? I wasn't too happy with Wilkins' pooch punt in the 1st, either. A 52-yard FG is in Jeff's range. Even going for it on 4th-and-8 would have been a better move, especially staying aggressive and keeping Seattle on their heels. Instead, Martz left his killer instinct at home. Maybe it really was a side-effect of his recent illness, but that's not the Mike Martz we've gotten to know. Tentativeness is not a sought-after quality in any aspect of pro football.

* Upon further review: Ron Winter led a pretty good officiating effort. Tyoka Jackson complained a lot about getting held, which I don't doubt. And I thought Curtis was interfered with on a slant pass from the 6 in the 1st that would have developed into a very big gain. But refereeing wasn't much of a problem today.

* Cheers: The home crowd has all but turned on the home team, repeatedly booing weak defense, weak punting and ridiculous waste of timeouts. The offense is drawing regular booing now for its too-regular ineffective stretches. I can't blame anybody, either. This is a deeply disappointing team. If the Rams return to St. Louis 2-4 and start out like crap against the Saints, it is going to get 1998-ugly in the Dome, not a good sign for anybody at Rams Park. Despite all that, strong crowd noise slowed Seattle down early in the 4th, drawing a timeout and a false start to help get a defensive stop and keep the Rams' momentum going. It's not the crowd's fault the offense immediately whiffed on that opportunity. Better start playing like you're in front of 60,000 paying customers if you don't want to get booed by said customers, huh.

* Who’s next?: Sure, the Indianapolis Colt offense has not lit up the scoreboard this season the way they have the last two, but does anybody in Rams Nation feel any good at all about facing them next Monday night? Defenses have slowed Peyton Manning down this year by dropping extra men into coverage. That seems right up the Rams' strategically-soft alley, but it stands no chance of working. It means the Rams have to get consistent pass pressure from the front four, something they haven't done in two weeks, even with Leonard Little healthy, and he's hurting. The Colts have one of the league's best offensive lines, making pass rushing double difficult. Manning has been sacked once this season - the punchless Rams are going to get to him? And has the worthless Ram secondary looked capable of covering any NFL wide receiver lately, let alone Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne, no matter how many they drop back? Does the run defense of the last two weeks inspire any confidence they can concede the run to Edgerrin James and not get run out of the park? I don't see what Larry Marmie can do against Manning other than fake-blitz a lot and hope to trick him into a lot of checkdowns. Peyton kills blitzing defenses, so any Rams who are coming better get there. And, Larry, cut out the stupid line stunts; Peyton doesn't need the extra five seconds to find an open guy.
Under former Ram secondary coach Ron Meeks, the Colt defense has dramatically turned around its woeful play of recent years, a major reason the Colts are 5-0 and the current Super Bowl favorites. The Colt defense has held all five of their opponents to 10 points or less. The acquisition of Corey Simon has stabilized a formerly-weak defensive line. Indy leads the league in sacks with 19; the way Bulger holds on to the ball, that lead's only going to grow larger. Dwight Freeney has become the league's elite pass rusher, and looks unstoppable at times with that trademark spin move. What ever amount of help Alex Barron gets – from the guard, TE, RB, FB, coach, maybe a Sherman tank or two – they'll all have their hands full. If the offensive line can hold the fort, Bulger and the Ram WRs may be able to get some work done against the Colt secondary, which has just 3 picks this year, two of those off of Alex Smith today. But don't overlook the Colts' athletic LBs, who have 5 picks, or SS Bob Sanders, at least if you want to keep your head attached. The Colts aren't a great yardage defense; they do their best work in the red zone, unlike the Rams. So many of the Rams' weaknesses – turnovers, red zone, the whole defense – play right into so many of the Colts' strengths, they ought to be a 2-TD underdog Monday night, and a Rams win in Indy would be a bigger upset than another time somebody was a 2-TD favorite in a Rams game: Super Bowl XXXVI.

-- Mike
Game stats from nfl.com