RamView, 11/1/2009: RAMS 17, Lions 10 (Long)
RamView, November 1, 2009
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #8: RAMS 17, Lions 10
On the occasion of the Rams' first win in 378 days, here's some George Frideric Handel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usfiAsWR4qU
Rams Nation, our long, long national nightmare is over. Riding their superstar RB, the Rams won, yes, I said WON, a battle of bad football attrition over the dreadful Detroit Lions. The 2008 Lions' 0-16 is safe. The expansion Bucs' 0-26 is safe. Steve Spagnuolo's Rams have slain their first dragon. Savor the bye week, Rams Nation. Savor it well.
* RB: One player can't win a football game by himself, can he? One man can't beat eleven, can he? Are you sure? Steven Jackson (22-149) was like Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon today. No matter how many henchmen (in blue and silver) you threw at him, he was going to kick their asses. We probably could have taken our cue from the way Jackson shoved the DT out of the way on his first rush of the game, but until 3:00 before halftime, it looked like he might have a slow day. But right then, from the Rams 9, he cut inside Alex Barron's block, slipped a DB at the 14, crashed into Jason Brown trying to drive a LB out of his way, and pushed him forward. Louis Delmas slid off him at the 19, and by the time Julian Peterson came and Jackson dragged him 6 yards, Steven had a 26-yard gain and lit the fuse to an unusual TD drive. He began building a head of steam late in the 3rd, with 9- and 7-yard runs to kick off a drive that Marc Bulger killed with an INT. Still, Jackson looked ready to take over the game at any time. He took a slant near midfield and ran through Delmas and Ernie Sims for half of a 12-yard gain the next drive, but that also died at Bulger's hand. Jackson saved the Rams a safety in the 4th. He broke a tackle at the goal line, broke another with help from Billy Bajema, punked Ko Simpson to the ground with a stiffarm and got the Rams breathing room out to the 13. Detroit stopped that drive, but Jackson had saved his best work for last. Game tied at 10, 2:00 left, Rams at the Lions' 42. Jackson thunders up the middle behind Mike Karney, runs over the poor umpire, and drags defenders five yards down to the 25. If Jackson had charged fare for all the Lions who took rides on him today, he could have retired wealthy on Monday. His next carry, though, was express all the way. He runs right, around Daniel Fells' dominating block, Delmas whiffs on him in the hole, and Steven is gone. A couple of Lions offered chase, but once Jackson hit the 10, Usain Bolt wasn't catching him on this run. Jackson FTW!
* QB: Jackson saved Marc Bulger's bacon after a frustratingly poor game, 17-35-176, passer rating 51.6. Bulger's had problems this year with protection and subpar receivers, but those issues were minimal today and he still almost blew the game, against one of the league's worst defenses. His decision-making looked strong early, as he hit Keenan Burton for 22 and Donnie Avery for 15 to spark a game-opening FG drive. After settling for that, the offense settled for useless short passes on 3rd-and-long until special teams lightning struck for a TD right before halftime to give the Rams a 10-2 lead. No coffee for Bulger at the team meeting tomorrow, though. Coffee is for closers. Bulger blew many opportunities to put the Lions away. Overthrowing an open Avery on a bomb in the 3rd. Scrambling in the open field on 3rd-and-6 later and sliding a yard short of the first down. After Randy McMichael dropped a red zone TD pass the next drive, Bulger stuck a fork in it. He threw a flat pass for Jackson, possibly thinking DE Dewayne White fell out of the play, but White bounced up instead and picked it off. Just sloppy. After Detroit tied the game, Bulger answered by getting a pass blocked at the line for the second time to end a drive at midfield. The Rams got the ball back with about 2:00 left, and Bulger started that drive by getting a pass batted down before Jackson took over. Are you 6'3” or 5'3”? Some good defense by Delmas broke up several passes, and receivers dropped a couple. But they were also more open today than they've been all year. Pass protection was the best it's been all year. The running game was powerful. And Bulger still blew ample opportunities. He hung McMichael out to dry a couple of times. His accuracy on shorter passes looked really shoddy. In short, the Rams won today despite Marc Bulger. There are other offensive issues, but the starting QB's game is not in a good place.
* Receivers: Tight ends were targeted a lot, with mixed results. Randy McMichael (2-16) could have had two TDs. Louis Delmas knocked him into next week at the goal line to break up one; McMichael dropped the other, a catch an NFL TE has to make, at the front right pylon in the 4th. McMichael did draw a DPI critical to the Rams' decisive TD drive. Daniel Fells (1-36) was all alone downfield for the Rams' first TD, making the easy catch and stiffarming Cliff Avril to the ground to stun Detroit right before halftime. Well, the stunner was that Josh Brown, not Bulger, threw Fells the pass, on a fake FG attempt. Billy Bajema (2-43), of all people, made a nice grab of a ball thrown behind him and beat the safety downfield for 27 in the 4th. Keenan Burton (5-54) was the leading receiver, but in a familiar pattern, the Rams went to him a lot early, he made nice catches and showed the best YAC ability on the team, and the offense then forgot about him most of the rest of the game. His sliding, spinning, Curly-Howard-style 8-yard catch kept the Rams' game-winning drive moving forward. Danny Amendola (1-13) wasn't a factor and missed the 4th quarter after getting injured on a kick return. Also a non-factor: Donnie Avery (1-15), who dropped as many as he caught. Hopefully Avery will pull it together during the bye week; this sure has been a lost season so far.
* Offensive line: Jackson didn't really win the game by himself, of course. The offensive line played its best game in perhaps three years. They paved the way for Jackson's 147 yards. Bulger not only wasn't sacked; he was rarely even touched and got forever to throw at times. Alex Barron may have had his best game as a Ram. Julian Peterson beat him a couple of times early, but Alex was solid otherwise. I can't remember a game where so many successful runs came off of Barron blocks. Jason Smith played well, delivering some punishing run blocks and keeping speed rushes directed behind Bulger for the most part. There were plays where the Lions just quit rushing because the Rams had them stymied, with Barron and Smith looking around for guys to hit. It's been a long time since the Ram offensive line so resembled a wall. Jackson got blocks from Barron, Jason Brown and all three WRs on his 26-yard run before halftime. Most of the tight end blocking was terrific. Fells dumped a Lion on his butt to give Bulger time on the 15-yard completion to Avery in the 1st, and he sealed the right edge but good on Jackson's winning TD run. Right before that run, Jackson got good blocks from Brown, Adam Goldberg (RG for injured Richie Incognito) and Mark Setterstrom (LG for injured Jacob Bell) on a 17-yard blast up the middle. Bajema blocked two Lions to help Jackson get out of the end zone on the near-safety in the 4th. Setterstrom got beat on that play, but line breakdowns were few and far between. Larry Foote blitzed between Fells and Bell to drop Jackson for a 4-yard loss in the 2nd. But that was about it. The Lion d-line may not present the highest level of difficulty, but the Ram offensive line dominated the trenches today and have earned themselves at least a couple of nice steaks during their week off.
* Defensive line / LB: A win for the Ram defense today despite an ugly start. They didn't really stop the run; Detroit ran for 127, and killed Ram blitzes with screen passes for at least another 68 yards. They put very little pressure on Matthew Stafford until late in the game despite Detroit's bad offensive line. They couldn't stop a cutback run to save their lives. The Lions ran through them like crap through a goose in the first half but killed every drive themselves with brutal dropped passes or penalties. Leger Douzable (!) may have been the star of the first half, with a couple of tackles for loss, but his linemates didn't make them stand up. Aaron Brown ran around Chris Long for 11 late in the 1st as TE Will Heller dominated Long at the point of attack. Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris gashed Ram blitzes off screen passes, with NO ONE covering Morris on a 3rd-and-11 screen that gained 19. But that drive ended (sort of) in a Stafford interception, and Detroit's ensuing drive was promising until ending in another dropped pass. The Rams forced their first 3-and-out late in the 2nd, with James Hall's pressure forcing Stafford's high, and dropped, pass. They got another in the 3rd, thanks to LaJuan (WHO?) Ramsey coming through unblocked to stuff Smith for a 4-yard loss. They followed with another 3-and-out. Stafford back-body-dropped Cliff Ryan to briefly avoid trouble, but Long cleaned up to get his first sack of the season and end an Andy-Stitzer-like streak of not getting some. The 4th quarter did not start well, though, as Detroit tied the game. Stafford beat them with a bomb, then a 4-yard TD run made possible by Leonard Little's massive overpursuit. They tied the game with a 2-pointer that saw James Laurinaitis bite HARD on play-action and leave Morris wide open in the end zone. The Lions got the ball back with the game still tied and appeared to have unstoppable momentum. Morris took a pitch right for 13, with Little getting blocked by the TE and Ryan getting knocked down. Morris then cut back for 15 more, as Ramsey and Little got pancaked and David Vobora ran himself out of the play. At midfield, though, Ryan made the play of the day, defeating his man soundly and blowing up Morris' attempted outside run. Morris tried to cut back, but right into Little for a 7-yard loss. Now the Rams had momentum, and kept it. With the Lions pinned at their 6 with 4:00 left, Ramsey stuffed a Morris run, then Little beat Gosder Cherilus with a sweet spin move for the Rams' second sack, helped by pressure alongside from VICTOR ADEYANJU. The Rams got good field position after the punt and turned it into a TD lead, and the D-line got to pin its ears back with 1:30 to play. Hall nearly got Stafford a couple of times; I believe he was the one drawing the two holding penalties on Jon Jansen. Long got up in the rookie's face. Little finished it off with good late pressure to force a wild pass on 3rd-and-20. Yep, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. The Lions had every opportunity to run the Rams right off the field early, but didn't take advantage, and paid for it. It's not how you'd script the defense's performance for the first win of the season, but I'll by-God take it.
* Secondary: It is very difficult to grade the Ram defense today, with Lions receivers dropping passes as if Matthew Stafford was throwing them live cacti. Bryant Johnson burned Ron Bartell deep on the opening drive but flubbed the catch. That wasn't the first time Johnson would burn Bartell with just a simple move at the line. He did it again on a 36-yard catch down to the Ram 5 to start the 4th, as the Ram defense was completely unalert to a team trying a big play to start off a quarter. But the Lion receivers were the Rams' best weapons. Will Heller dropped a pass to kill a drive. Brandon Pettigrew killed a drive by dropping one right into James Butler's hands late in the 2nd. And in classic Ram DB form, Butler didn't catch the ball that was right in his hands. And oh, hell no, that wasn't even his worst play of the day. Early in the 2nd, he made a nice diving catch of another Lions muffed catch (think they didn't miss Calvin Johnson today??) and assumed the fetal position just inside the goal line. Major threat averted, right? No, the dumbass gets up and runs the ball out of the end zone! Then the even dumber dumbass runs BACK INTO the end zone and gets tripped up there by Kevin Smith for a safety! James needs to knock off the rust and play a lot more like a veteran the 2nd half of the season. Quincy Butler became the latest DB to leapfrog Jonathan Wade on the depth chart. He broke up a couple of deep passes (including one where James Butler really jacked up Pettigrew) and was all right in run support, though not a very physical tackler. Late pass rush brought a lot of wild throws from Stafford, so we're left hanging wondering how the Rams would have fared today against a competent passing game.
* Special teams: Tom McMahon wins today's coaching game ball for dialing up the play that changed the game late in the first half, running a fake instead of trying a 54-yard FG. The play was executed almost perfectly. New long snapper Ryan Neill fed Donnie Jones a perfect snap for the play. Jones and Josh Brown sold it beautifully. None of the Lions paid attention to Daniel Fells heading downfield off the end of the line. Brown rolled left and threw Fells a little hook shot of a pass, and the TE took care of the rest with a 36-yard TD rumble. Special teams winning games for the Rams: who'da thunk it? Jones had a fine day punting, averaging 44.4 and pinning Detroit inside the 15 three times. Brown was responsible for 11 of the Rams' points and has a perfect career passer rating of 158.3. The only downer was Amendola getting CLOBBERED on a kick return in the 4th. Quincy Butler replaced him and is clearly from the Shaun McDonald school of punt returns. He's not qualified to do it.
* Coaching: Congratulations to Steve Spagnuolo on his first NFL coaching victory. Let's not wait so long for the next one. The key decision of today's game was obviously the decision to fake the FG. I sure wasn't expecting it as a fan; when the Rams lined up to go for it on 4th-and-8, I grumbled that they're sure paying Josh Brown a lot to not try 54-yard FGs indoors. Obviously, they're paying him for his passing skills. I do hope we all would have liked the call even if it had failed, after the many what-did-you-have-to-lose? questions for Spagnuolo after the Jagwire game.
The rumor is false that I paid David Roach to run into Pat Shurmur on the sideline while covering a punt in the 2nd and knock some sense into him. That collision followed this sequence: Lion blitz blows up Jackson handoff for a loss; screen to Jackson on 2nd-and-14 (incomplete); 4-YARD QUICK OUT to Amendola on 3rd-and-14 (also incomplete). The Lions had just held the ball for the better part of 11 minutes; the Rams needed a lot better than that right then. They didn't get it the next drive, either, with a pass SHORT OF THE MARKER for Avery on 3rd-and-8, but that was followed by the fake FG TD, and after that, maybe Shurmur stopped gripping his playcard quite so tightly. The Rams stayed balanced in the 2nd half, and a couple of long passes would have worked with better execution: the 2nd-and-15 bomb for Avery and the end zone pass to McMichael. I liked the expanded use of the TEs, which reminds me: the Rams need some decent TEs. In the end, sometimes football strategy really is as easy as letting your best players do what they do the best. As simple as a give-it-to-Jackson! game plan may be, I credit Shurmur for sticking with it. One thing that puzzled me: as much as the Lions like to, and did blitz, the Rams didn't try a lot of screen passes or draws, and the ones they tried didn't work well.
Meanwhile, Scott Linehan drove yours truly absolutely nuts with the same thing. Any time the Rams tried to blitz in the first half, here comes the screen pass to the tailback for ten yards or more, AND I CANNOT BELIEVE THE RAM COACHING STAFF IS GETTING SCHOOLED BY SCOTT FREAKING LINEHAN. Linehan also remembered how vulnerable his old defensive players were to cutback runs, fed the Rams plenty, the Rams rarely stopped it, and OH MY GOD I CANNOT FREAKING BELIEVE THE RAMS ARE GOING TO LOSE TO SCOTT FREAKING LINEHAN. The Rams stopped all that in the second half, though, I think simply by turning the blitzing dial down. Linehan certainly missed Calvin Johnson, but unlike most of his 2.25 seasons here, today it was the Rams making the necessary halftime adjustments and turning them into a win.
* Upon further review: Penalty calls were key to two of the Rams' scoring drives, and I believe Ron Winter and crew got both calls right. Julian Peterson did grab Bulger's helmet on the way by on 3rd-and-9 to extend the FG drive in the 1st. That's an insta-call that the refs should, and did, make. Barron should have been called for illegal hands to the face blocking Peterson on the play, though. The game-winning drive was extended on 3rd-and-2 by a DPI on Delmas defending McMichael, also a proper call, I believe. Delmas cut off McMichael's route without playing the ball. Full disclosure, though: my signal cut out during the live play so I only saw the replays. Hall got away with catching Kevin Smith in the head at the end of a long screen in the 2nd. It didn't look like the usual grab-and-twist 15-yard facemask penalty to me, but it was still contact with the head and Smith was injured on the play. Hall deserved some kind of 15-yard penalty there but got away scot-free. I thought the Winter crew got the key calls right but I can't give a crew a good grade when they fail to protect players in that fashion. C-minus.
* Cheers: First of all, do not get mad at me, male tennis players. I respect your athletic skills and do not question your manliness. However, as an NFL head coach, Steve Spagnuolo simply CANNOT wear girly tennis socks on the sideline. Football is a crew sock sport, coach; you can't wear socks that are just girl's socks minus the little puff ball on the heel. Fox again gave us the official TV crew of the Rams – Ron Pitts and John Lynch. Pitts sounds more and more a mess by the week. He missed spots by as many as five yards and frequently missed by a couple. He called a Jones punt as “angled toward the sideline”; Dennis Northcutt fielded it smack in the middle of the field. The broadcast didn't pay attention to Winter's announcements a bunch of times, including a 5-yard Lion penalty in the 4th that gave the Rams a first down. Pitts had little clue. And I don't remember either announcer saying anything about Chris Long finally getting a sack; you'd think they've done enough Rams games to know that's been an issue. They made up for some shortcomings by showing Jackson a ton of respect, and Lynch almost always agrees with me on replays of officials' calls, which has to be a good thing, right? But this crew is starting to coast a little bit.
* Who’s next?: It will look like throwback week in St. Louis in two weeks, not because the Rams will be in their old blue and yellow, but because it's going to look like the Greatest Show on Earth is back in the form of the New Orleans Saints. It's going to take more than one bye week for the Rams to figure out how to keep up with the Saints, who have already hung 48 on the Giants, for crying out loud, and just hung 46 on a Miami team that also got an extra week to prepare. The Saints average – average! - 40 points a game! The Rams scored their 40th point of the 2009 season in week SIX! And that's probably all you need to know about the looming matchup on November 15th.
The undefeated Saints bring the NFL's #1 offense and the league's hottest QB in Drew Brees, who nearly broke Dan Marino's single-season yardage record last year, and a scary receiving lineup – Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Robert Meacham, even Jeremy Shockey. Yet their rushing offense rates higher than their passing offense: 3rd in the league vs. 6th. Once their aerial circus puts them out in front, Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell wear out the defense and keep them there. No one's had an answer for the Saint offense this season. Spagnuolo will need to repeat his Super Bowl XLII game plan success just to slow this juggernaut down. The Dolphins had the best chance to beat the Saints so far in 2009 last week, taking (and blowing) a 24-3 lead. New Orleans struggled early with Miami's 3-4, and the Fins really mixed up their blitzes and coverages. They brought blitzes from everywhere but underground and had Brees confused and throwing awful, stupid passes for a half. And they still nearly gave up 50 points ! If the Saints have a weak link, it's LT Jermon Bushrod, who's there because Jammal Brown's lost for the season. To disrupt the Saints at all, James Hall and Chris Long HAVE to come up big in that matchup.
Their offense takes all the headlines, but the Saints' dominance this season is also defensively-infused. The rest of the NFL has long dreaded the day the Saints got an even-decent secondary. Well, that day is here. Jabari Greer is a terrific young playmaker and cover man; his signing was the overlooked free agent move of the offseason. Tracy Porter has made a huge leap in his second season. Strong safety Roman Harper is having a Pro Bowl season, and Darren Sharper is having a Defensive Player of the Year season, having already picked off a ridiculous six passes and returned three of them for TDs. Preventing defensive TDs is not something the Ram offense has exactly excelled at. The Saints are top-10 against the run, too, behind Harper, Jonathan Vilma and former Ram Scott Shanle. The Saint pass rush is tied with the Rams at just 23rd in the league. Jason Smith will have a big assignment against Charles Grant, though the Rams can partially slow the Saint pass rush by comping Anthony Hargrove a suite at Harrah's. The Ram offense is going to have to be themselves to stay close with the Saints. Lots of power running with Jackson and very little risk-taking in the passing game against the Saints' big-play secondary.
Will that be enough? It doesn't seem likely; this Saints game is shaping up as a redux of the Colts game, as the Rams continue to get pummeled by a brutal schedule. My advice? Don't think about the Saints until they get here, and just enjoy watching them play. You only get to see offensive greatness like theirs every ten years or so. Meanwhile, we've got two weeks to bask in a Rams victory, and we should use them well. Prosit, Rams Nation!
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 11/1/2009: RAMS 17, Lions 10 (Long)
The Lions top 2 running backs averaged 3.6 yards per carry. Your review makes it sound like they had far superior stats.
And JMO but Stafford's throws lead to plenty of those dropped passes. Several of those dropped passes would have been VERY difficult catches. For example the first Johnson DROP was to a wide open receiver who had to stop, turn around and would have had to catch it low. Drop maybe but still, a horrible throw. Also, the guy about killed Pettigrew. He didn't connect with a WR until the 4th quarter. Imagine that. The Rams gave up screen passes, that was harsh but our outside LBers aren't exactly long for the NFL most likely.
Re: RamView, 11/1/2009: RAMS 17, Lions 10 (Long)
great read Mike...you make me laugh. Screen passes and SCOTT FREAKING LINEHAN. The defense played right into those in the beginning of the game.
I played the music while I read. Nice!!!
two weeks to bask in a Rams victory!!! ahhhh.....