RamView, 11/12/2006: Seahawks 24, Rams 22 (Long)
RamView, November 12, 2006
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #9: Seahawks 24, Rams 22
Questionable coaching decisions, porous run defense and a 4th-quarter special teams meltdown lead to a sickening loss in Seattle, the Rams' FOURTH straight loss to the Seahawks, the second in a row they have had won and squandered away. Oh, and Orlando Pace is out for the season. Have a nice week!
Position by position:
* QB: Marc Bulger has gone into Seattle and won games single-handedly before, but today (26-40-215) was not that day. The Ram offense bogged down repeatedly in the Dread Zone and squandered golden field position opportunities. Marc did a fine job eluding the Seattle pass rush – he could have been sacked many more times than the four he was – but never delivered the big play the Rams needed. 3rd-and-13 from the Seattle 29 in the first, only 6 to Kevin Curtis vs. a blitz. Rams settle for FG. In the 2nd, he got a drive going with a bullet to Torry Holt for 14, and made a great play on 3rd-and-2, deciphering several fake blitzes and avoiding Bryce Fisher to hit Holt for 7. 18 more to Holt got the Rams to the Seattle 20, but the drive bogged down, with Marc getting sacked, then missing a dumpoff to Steven Jackson. Rams settle for a FG, but trailed just 14-13 at halftime. The Rams dominated the field position battle in the 2nd half but did nothing with the advantage. Getting to the Seattle 30 right after halftime, Bulger was nearly picked off on 2nd down, hit another useless short pass on 3rd down, and was intercepted on 4th down, mainly because Ken Hamlin was dumb enough to field the deep pass. They got inside the 10 later in the 3rd, but Hamlin knocked down a 1st-down pass, and Bulger got sacked on 3rd down. RAMS SETTLE FOR FG. After Seattle fumbled in their territory at the end of the 3rd, the Rams didn't even make them pay. Holt dropped a 2nd-down pass. Bulger bobbled the snap on 3rd down, then hit Curtis for just 5. The ensuing 4th-down play was curious in many ways, including Bulger trying to force the pass to a very well-covered Joe Klopfenstein. NO POINTS. The Rams started the next drive in Seattle's half of the field, but Bulger got sacked back across midfield. They started the following drive near midfield, but on 3rd-and-9, it's just a 6-yard pass to Isaac Bruce, and Seattle then returned the punt for a TD to move ahead 21-16. The Rams moved smartly downfield down the stretch in the 4th, countering a ton of Seattle blitzing with quick passing. Key plays were Marc's 8-yard scramble on a 2nd-and-4 and a 6-yard pass to Holt on 3rd-and-3, setting up a Jackson TD the next play. Unfortunately, the Rams never got the ball back, emphasizing how important is to do something with it when you have it. Credit Seattle's defense, blame Orlando Pace's season-ending injury, but Marc Bulger didn't pull the Ram offense through today, despite many good chances.
* RB: Another strong game for Steven Jackson (18-93). He got the Rams going early, with 2 rushes for 13 and 2 catches for 21, before he lost 3 on an ill-conceived screen pass to kill the drive. Steven's probably going to catch a lot of fan flak for failing to convert a 3rd-and-1 the next drive, but it didn't help that Todd Steussie whiffed on a pull block right in front of him. Steven's 2nd half efforts were almost enough to win the game. He set up the Rams' third FG, and a 16-14 lead, with a 30-yard run. He ran left, away from a blitz, and behind a big pull block by Alex Barron. He got the Rams' last TD drive going with an 11-yard catch, and finished it with one of the best power runs in recent Rams memory, a 14-yarder where he ran through FOUR different Seahawks trying to stop him at the goal line. Jackson had four plays for no gain or loss, which doesn't really look that bad. His worst play as I see it was when he ignored Chuck Darby to go out into the pattern early in the 4th. Darby sacked Bulger to end a Ram drive that had started across midfield. Other than that, Jackson was a valuable rushing and receiving threat, with 140-plus total yards. The Rams should really be winning more games, considering the production they're getting out of Jackson.
* WR: Pretty quiet day for the Ram receivers, though Isaac Bruce's 7-66 marches him up to #9 on the NFL's all-time receiving list, and Torry Holt's 7-73 moved him past Randy Moss for best 8-year career start, which should remind everyone of the historic nature of Torry's accomplishments, and just maybe that he's the NFL's best receiver. The Rams got Torry going early this week; he had three catches for 39 on their first FG drive, including an 18-yarder on 3rd-and-10. Isaac's 22-yarder the next drive was the long of the day. Bulger missed several long connections with Bruce and Holt, including Ken Hamlin's INT in the 3rd. And they were well-covered on all of those, as Hamlin and Marcus Trufant had good games. They also settled for too many passes short of the first down. 1st quarter: Kevin Curtis (3-22), 6 on 3rd-and-13. 3rd: Shaun McDonald 4 on 3rd-and-9. 4th: Curtis 5 on 3rd-and-6, Bruce 6 on 3rd-and-9. Though Bruce caught a tipped pass and Holt had a key catch to convert third downs on the Rams' last TD drive, Seattle's secondary won the day. Bulger struggled to find open receivers in many clutch situations, whether on 3rd down or in the Dread Zone. The whole Ram pass offense has been "settling" too much in the last month. Time to start going for it again.
* Offensive line: The offensive line was shaky, with four false starts, and four sacks allowed, with Bulger preventing several more himself, and it looks much shakier ahead with the knowledge that Orlando Pace will miss the rest of the season after tearing his left triceps in the second quarter. Instead of shuffling the line, the Rams simply replaced Pace with Adam Goldberg, who had been a backup guard. LG Todd Steussie turned out to be the line's weakest link. He and Alex Barron (surprise!) had false starts on the opening possession. Steussie killed the next drive by whiffing on Leroy Hill on a 3rd-and-1 Jackson run that Hill stuffed for no gain. After Pace left the game, Goldberg immediately got whupped by Julian Peterson on a play that counted as a sack, though a Bulger scramble and a big backside block from Barron kept it from being much of a loss. The Rams entered the Dread Zone later that drive, but Goldberg false started, then Steussie and Richie Incognito both got beat for a sack that went to Grant Wistrom. Jackson had a 30-yard run later in the 3rd behind a big pull block by Barron and a good block by Goldberg. That got the Rams inside the 10, but Chuck Darby forced a FG with a sack for a big loss, beating Steussie, who was on the ground. Darby smoked Incognito for a second sack in the 4th, with Jackson completely ignoring him to go into a pattern. Incognito drew a couple of critical penalties after Jackson's TD put the Rams ahead 22-21. One, a cheesy roughing penalty (more on that below) forced the Rams to kick off from the 15. But perhaps more importantly, Richie held on a successful 2-point conversion after that, and the subsequent try from the 12 failed. Richie got a bit of a bum rap on the roughing penalty, but it was a killer that the 2-pointer came off the board. Not just Incognito, but the whole Ram offensive line has got to improve its discipline in coming weeks, because with Pace out, the talent's not there to be able to afford a lot of stupid mistakes.
* Defensive line/LB: The Ram defense got off to a horrible start, and was horrible yet again against the run. At the same time, the pass rush was as good as it’s been all year and delivered big plays for the first time in several weeks. The defense dominated much of the second half and handed the offense one great opportunity after another, only to see them all squandered. Seattle did the squandering early on, failing to score after driving immediately to the Ram 1 to open the game. LaRoi Glover whiffed on Maurice Morris on an 11-yard draw. Morris followed that with a 12-yarder which Will Witherspoon overran, with only Fakhir Brown’s ankle tackle saving a TD. Which was huge. After a blatant DPI on Brandon Chillar put Seattle at the 1, Leonard Little came in unblocked on third and goal to DRILL Seneca Wallace and jar the ball loose. Victor Adeyanju scooped it up and sprinted away with an 89-yard TD, reminiscent of Grant Wistrom’s INT TD in Atlanta in 1999. 7-0, Rams. Seattle took no time to even the score, though. Morris opened the drive with a 20-yard run behind a guard taking out Witherspoon AND Pisa Tinoisamoa. Travis Fisher took care of the rest; 7-all. Down 14-13, the D came out firing after halftime, repeatedly stopping Seattle and giving the offense the ball near midfield. After Ken Hamlin’s INT, Adeyanju stuffed Morris, and Little smoked Tom Ashworth on 3rd down to get Chillar a sack. The offense tacked on three points for the lead. The next drive, Morris ran for 14 after Witherspoon tripped, and 15 after non-factor Jimmy Kennedy missed him, but Will then stepped it up. He “sacked” Deion Branch on a WR option attempt, and impressively got after Wallace on a rollout and batted down a pass. On 3rd-and-13, Jim Haslett brought everybody, and OJ Atogwe got through for a big sack/fumble. The offense? Didn’t score. Witherspoon opened the next drive by stuffing Morris, leading to a 3-and-out. The Rams got the ball back near midfield. The offense? Didn’t score. So the D stuffed Seattle again, deep in their territory, behind Little’s 2nd sack, the Rams’ SIXTH, and it came off a three man rush. They got the ball back near midfield yet again. And the offense? DIDN’T SCORE! The defense didn’t take the field again until the final 2:30, after special teams handed Seattle field position too good for the Ram D to do much about. Two Morris runs for 16 didn’t help any, though, setting Josh Brown up for another game-ending, game-winning FG. True, the Rams inexcusably made Morris (21-124) look like Walter Payton – Seattle was minus two starting offensive linemen! – and they made Wallace look like Steve Young in the first half. But you know what, they did more than enough in the second half to turn things around. Their poor start and poor run defense are definite reasons for the loss, but today, the Rams ought to be more red-faced on the other side of the ball.
* Secondary: After recent weeks of bad play, OJ Atogwe showed he still belongs on the field today; Travis Fisher didn’t. Atogwe blanketed Deion Branch on 3rd down to stop a Seattle 2nd-quarter drive, saving Little the embarrassment of a horribly-blown sack opportunity. He collared (NOT horse-collared, Seattle fans) Wallace at the end of a long scramble in the 2nd, briefly saving the Rams a TD. OJ also delivered a big sack/fumble late in the 3rd to stop a Seattle drive. Fisher was more of a Seattle enabler. They scored their first TD mostly off of him. Darrell Jackson made Travis a ***** for 30, as Travis’ coverage was so bad, he was rarely within 5 yards of the receiver. DJ beat Fisher again for a short TD. Seattle’s 2nd TD drive went 94 yards, and they can thank the Rams’ lack of clutch play. Branch beat Fakhir Brown on 3rd-and-5, then after the Wallace scramble, Jackson scorched Tye Hill’s awful coverage for 30. Jerramy Stevens scored the next play, putting a sweet move on Pisa while being ignored by Witherspoon. Um? With Fisher out in the second half with an arm injury, the defense was unsurprisingly better. OJ forced the fumble. Corey Chavous helped stop a drive with a big hit on DJ. Hill stuffed a Morris run to help stall another Seattle drive. Can we now say there’s a cause and effect? Secondary with Travis Fisher = bad? Secondary without Travis = good? Wallace’s passer rating with Fisher on the field was 140.8; without Travis to pick on in the 2nd half, he was just 4-8-23. Have we learned anything here, or should I put in for the Nobel Prize?
* Special teams: I just had to compliment these guys last week, didn't I? The Rams had the league's third-best punt coverage until the 4th quarter today, when the slumping Will Witherspoon and Kay-Jay Harris, who rode the Scott Linehan pipeline in from Miami, both whiffed on Nate Burleson at the Seattle 10, Dane Looker got crushed, and Burleson was gone for a 90-yard TD. They use starters, they bring in special teams specialists, and the unit STILL SUCKS. Kicking off from the 15 after the go-ahead TD with 2:30 left, the Rams proceeded to give up a 33-yard return across midfield to Josh Scobee. Scobee got a big lane after Kay-Jay slipped and fell in the middle of the field. Good thing HE was immediately plugged into the starting unit. Jeff Wilkins drilled four FGs in less-than-ideal conditions, but despite him, the Rams were done in yet again by a special teams meltdown. To borrow the great John McKay line: What do I think of the special teams' execution? I'm in favor of it.
* Coaching/discipline: Scott Linehan's popularity rating around here is falling faster than George W. Bush's. Linehan is having about as good a November as the President, and he really hurt his team today by breaking from his conservative principles at the wrong time. With Jeff Wilkins lining up for an 35-yard FG attempt early in the 4th, Linehan suddenly threw the red flag to challenge the previous play. This was a successful challenge, since Kevin Curtis had in fact caught the pass, but all the better it did was make it 4th-and-1 instead of 4th-and-6. Just kick the FG now? No, Linehan suddenly gets the wild hair to go for it instead of taking a lead that Seattle would need a TD to overcome. OK, the percentages are pretty good on 4th-and-1, but, does Linehan put the ball in the hands of his stud RB, or throw it to either of his Pro Bowl wideouts? No, it's what TMQ would definitely call a wacky pass into the end zone for Joe Klopfenstein, the rookie, who hadn't been thrown to all day. You (essentially) take three points off the board to throw a 12-yard pass on 4th-and-1? Egads! That's Linehan's dumbest decision of the season to date, and one that did as much to lose today's game as any special teams or run defense foul-up. Linehan went for it earlier in the game, passing up a 48-yard FG attempt that apparently would have been into a substantial headwind. But the call is wacky again, a sideline bomb (into said headwind) to Holt in double-coverage, which is only mildly successful if Hamlin is dumb enough to catch the INT. Which he was. I appreciate that the (usually) conservative offensive approach by Linehan keeps the Rams in most every game and turns over the ball very little, at the same time, Marc Bulger's been as conservative as Rick Santorum this month, with similar success. The passing game is barely getting the ball downfield at all, which helps lead to lots of short passes on third down and lots of Dread Zone troubles. And can we get rid of the stupid fake end-arounds to Bruce? Defenders are likelier to buy feminine protection at this point than they are to buy that play. Hell, the fake led the defense TO Jackson on a 3-yard loss in the 1st. Among other things, Linehan better figure out how to beat a blitz for more than 4 yards on 3rd down; the Rams are going to see a lot of it with Pace gone. To finish the season even 8-8, they’re going to need a lot sounder coaching than they got out of Linehan today.
What to say about Jim Haslett? The ex-Saint is certainly no savior; the Ram run defense is as bad, or worse, than it was under Larry Marmie. Marmie. 2-0 vs. the Rams this year, with a secondary playing twice as well as ours. <PUKE> Where was I? Witherspoon made a lot of mistakes again today and isn’t playing anything like he was the first five weeks. Maybe somebody’s buddy could get him right again? And why does it take an injury to FINALLY get Travis Fisher off the field? Haslett’s gotten the pass D cleaned up a lot; pass rush was actually good today, and there weren’t the usual ton of busted assignments. But the run defense continues to kill the team, and Haslett hasn’t shown he has any answer for it.
* Upon further review: The Gerry Austin crew called a personal foul on Richie Incognito after Jackson's 4th quarter TD, and it set up a big kick return that put Seattle in position to win the game, so that better be a flawless call, right? Let's see. Steven has scored, but in the pile of Seahawks who didn't stop him, Ken Hamlin appears to knock his helmet off and continues to try to bend him backwards, with the play well over. THAT is roughing: where's the flag? Coming to defend his RB, Incognito gets a glancing shove on Hamlin, and appears to whiff on a punch. Maybe that drew the flag. I'll buy that. But not only does Hamlin then get to shove Incognito back with no penalty, Julian Peterson gets a shot in, too, a two-hander, the hardest blow of the exchange, and one where he was lucky to miss Incognito's head. Complete and utter BS that Incognito got the only flag there, when he was the third-worst offender on the play! There should have been at least one offsetting penalty, but instead, the refs made a call based on Incognito's reputation, and it's a critical part of the endgame. A rotten way to finish off what appeared to be an otherwise well-called game.
* Cheers: I switched to radio after Orlando Pace's injury, but in the first half, Fox's Matt Vasgersian and JC Pearson were a lot more tolerable than the last Rams game they called. Matt's "Forget about Eric Dickerson" remark during Adeyanju's TD return was humorous. Pearson did a decent job of analysis. He didn’t just point out false starts, he suggested ways to fix them, like having linemen hold hands, or turning toward the ball to see the snap, as Pace was on one replay. The bulk of Pearson's analysis early in the game, though, appeared to be cribbed directly from Jim Thomas or Bill Coats articles during the week, on Barron's loss of confidence and the defense's problems getting alignments right. Hey, at least he picked good sources. Looked like he broke down some of the sacks well in the 2nd half well, too, but I was on radio then, where Steve Savard called the defense's 1st quarter effort their "ugliest ever." Hard to argue with that.
* Who’s next?: Over the years, Carolina has earned a reputation as a tough opponent for road teams. The Rams can vouch for that; they've lost both meetings held down there since Super Bowl XXXIV, scoring just nine points in the process. And Carolina has three straight wins in the series if you count the gut-wrenching divisional playoff classic from 2003. Carolina has been beatable at home this year, though. Dallas just came out there with a win in Tony Romo's first career start, and Atlanta won there Opening Day. Step one for the Rams if they are to pull off an upset next week is not to be intimidated by their surroundings.
Step two is to contain the man who killed them in the 2003 playoff. Steve Smith leaped into the top echelon of NFL WRs with an outstanding 2005 season, and despite missing two weeks this year, he is on his way to duplicating it in 2006. Besides his great WR skills, speed and heart, Smith is deadly on end-arounds and could even return some punts. He's a game-changing player who the Rams don't have a single answer for. I doubt Fakhir Brown is fast enough; Tye Hill isn't experienced enough; Travis Fisher isn't skilled enough. And Keyshawn Johnson can't be ignored, though he's in a slump right now. It'd be a good week to do something good on the line of scrimmage. The Panthers' right side looks very attackable, and Jordan Gross isn't a shutdown LT. The Panther ground game is just 26th in the league. DeShaun Foster is under 4 yards a rush, had just 2 TDs going into Monday night, and has been one of the NFL's more fumble-prone RBs. And Jake Delhomme (80.3 passer rating) isn't setting the world on fire. If the Rams can achieve the daunting task of slowing Smith, they can exploit Carolina's weaknesses on offense.
The exploitation idea goes both ways, though, since at first glance, Alex Barron vs. Julius Peppers doesn't look like a heck of a good matchup for the Rams. Peppers needs little introduction; the TE in a DE's body is among the league's sack leaders, with 8 already this season. Step 3 for the Rams in Carolina is finding a way to corral the Panthers' "freak". Just like Leonard Little, though, Peppers doesn't get much help from the rest of his line; he has nearly half the team's sacks. Carolina's 2nd leading sacker is… Damione Lewis. But minus Orlando Pace, the Ram offensive line really has its work cut out for it, even against D-Lew. Better health in the secondary also helps Carolina. They'll need Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas to keep up with the Ram receivers. One big statistic is that the Panthers have been outscored in every second half this year, including their 25-point meltdown against Dallas. They don't seem to have the defensive depth to prevent getting worn down after halftime. A halftime lead for the Rams would be huge, but they may only need to be close after 30 minutes. Either way, the second half could be Steven Jackson's half to shine.
The Rams kissed the division title goodbye today – hell, on tiebreakers right now, they're in third behind the freaking ***** – but this game is still a great opportunity. The game has playoff implications for both teams, and for the Rams, it's also a chance to bump off the preseason favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. That would be a nice jolt of confidence to propel the Rams into their upcoming three-week home stand. The Panthers are good, but aren't a team the Rams have to be intimidated by. When this opportunity knocks, they need to make sure to answer the door. No hiding behind the couch.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 11/12/2006: Seahawks 24, Rams 22 (Long)
Manoman, Mike; that's the best analysis I've read anywhere. I'm glad you're on my side.
It'd be way cool if Goldberg works out. We're just so paper thin.
Compared to last season at this point we're just one sack away at quarterback and it's deja vu.
Re: RamView, 11/12/2006: Seahawks 24, Rams 22 (Long)
yeah, consistently the best analysis of rams games week in and week out...