RamView, 11/15/2009: Saints 28, Rams 23 (Long)
RamView, November 15, 2009
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #9: Saints 28, Rams 23
The winning streak may be over, but after coming within a play of pulling off the biggest upset of the season, the Rams can still hold their heads high. They're on course to winning this kind of game before too long.
* RB: Steven Jackson (26-131 rushing, 9-45 receiving) is that friend you'd call if you get your car stuck in a ditch, except I think Steven would just pick the car up with his bare hands and carry it back up to the road on his back. What a dominating performance today. 30 yards on his first official touch, knifing through the hole, faking out Tracy Porter, spinning off Usama Young's shoulder tackle. Steven had some moves today. He took a play-action pass for 13 after faking Scott Fujita out of his jock. Steven also had some POWER today. It took eight Saints to bring him down at the end of that play. Jackson was everywhere on the Rams' first TD drive: left for 14, up the middle for 8, right for 8... and then he had to save the drive single-handedly. Will Smith's sack of an indecisive Marc Bulger left the ball on the Saint 29 for the whole world to grab, but Jackson swooped in from ten yards away to secure it for the Rams, and Bulger threw a pretty TD pass the next play. Jackson ground out 26 yards up the middle on 3 carries before scoring his 2nd TD of the year from the 2 late in the half. An 8-yard run in the 3rd where he ran over poor teammate Brandon Gibson helped set up a FG, but the Saints successfully limited Jackson most of the 2nd half, holding him to 55 total yards. Bulger tried him a couple of times in the Rams' last attempt to win the game, but Jackson was drawing crowds and was held to short gains. We're seeing the height of what Steven Jackson can do. He can beat a bad team (Detroit) practically by himself. He can keep the Rams in the game with one of the league's best teams for at least a half. 39 is a rock-solid foundation. The Rams need to get enough good pieces around him.
* QB: Marc Bulger (26-40-298, 93.5 rating) had a blockbuster movie type of a game. Very good numbers, a few thrills, but you're left just a little wanting at the end. No doubt some were thinking of disaster movies after Usama Young, making it sound like the terrorists won, picked Bulger off in the end zone in the first. Keenan Burton (who blew out a knee on the play) was open for a split second, but Young played it perfectly and ultimately, Bulger tried to force a throw there he shouldn't have. The Rams drive into scoring position again in the 2nd, and aagh, it looks like another disaster when Bulger fails about three times to unload to Steven Jackson, gets sacked and fumbles. But after Jackson bails him out, Bulger steps up with a dead-perfect 29-yard pass to Donnie Avery, running a corner route to the left pylon, for a game-tying TD. Bulger scrambled around forever in the 3rd before finding Daniel Fells in the middle for 19 to set up a FG. No thanks to dropped passes, the offense stalled several times after that. But with 4:25 left to play, Bulger drove the Rams 80 yards in 1:41 to pull them close. He hit Brandon Gibson (!) and Daniel Fells for 23 apiece before hitting Avery, this time at the right pylon, for a 19-yard TD. Again, it's a pretty pass only Avery could catch, thrown to his back shoulder so he could come back for it. With about 2:00 left, Bulger got a rare-lately chance to win the Rams a game. He made up for his infamous lapse of judgment in Detroit by scrambling for a first down on 2nd-and-4, heading out-of-bounds upright. That and a clutch 4th-down catch by Gibson looked like rallying points. But lacking timeouts, the Rams didn't manage the clock well. They followed an 11-yard pass to Randy McMichael over the middle not with a spike, but with a screen to Jackson for 4 yards, expending a costly 20 seconds. And on third down with 19 seconds left, another middle dumpoff to Jackson comes up short. The Rams rush a Hail Mary play with time expiring, and with Gibson STANDING ALL ALONE on the far sideline, Bulger's bomb into the opposite corner of the end zone is barely even in bounds, and the Rams settle for close-but-no-cigar. Bulger did a lot of good today. He threw well, did a pretty good job of avoiding pressure, and the passing game had good rhythm even after the loss of another receiver. At the same time, the Young INT's on him. The late passes to Jackson, though maybe not all on him, were still questionable. And it really stood out today that Bulger didn't put Jackson in good position to run after the catch. Bulger did put up better numbers today than certain Pro Bowler Drew Brees did. But there were still enough mistakes to keep him from leading the team to a win.
* Receivers: Billy Devaney can find receivers, huh? Brandon Gibson (7-93) stepped off the bench and into the spotlight with an impressive game. The Saints became afraid to line up within even ten yards of him most of the 4th. He juked the safety to turn a short catch into 20 yards in the 3rd. A little later on 3rd-and-9, he twisted out of a tackle and lunged for the first, a veteran-like play. Gibson started the Rams' late TD drive by slipping a tackle and sprinting upfield for 23. Then there was the impressive falling catch he made on 4th-and-4 on the final drive. Good hands, great ability after the catch; quite the coming-out party, though unfortunately, it had to come at the cost of losing Keenan Burton for the season with a knee injury. Donnie Avery (4-67) may have broken out today, pwning Randall Gay on 29- and 19-yard TDs. Good routes by Avery, with impressive footwork and hands on the 2nd one. But hands would be a big problem for the receivers today. The Rams settled for a FG in the 3rd after drops by Avery and Randy McMichael (2-30), his millionth this season. Danny Amendola had a soul-crushing drop on 3rd-and-1 in the 4th. He was open on a shallow cross, and the field opened up for him like the Red Sea for Moses, and then, doink! Daniel Fells (3-51) had big catches on each of the 2nd-half scoring drives but dropped the 2-point attempt after the Rams' last TD. It's true the Saints had three starters out much of the game, but Ram receivers are (finally) getting open and playing with some confidence. Positive steps, but they'd better get a lot closer to Six Sigma certification handswise.
* Offensive line: Even with the starting RG out injured and a rookie manning RT, the Ram offensive line is jelling into a capable unit. Bulger was sacked just twice and Jackson had running room on almost every handoff. Both sacks came in the 2nd quarter. Will Smith stripped Bulger for a fumble early in the quarter after eluding Alex Barron, but Bulger had a couple of chances that play to unload to Jackson. The other sack came late in the half with the pocket breaking down after Jacob Bell appeared to miss his assignment. Not to worry, both drives where Bulger was sacked ended in Ram TDs. Protection was good enough most of the game; the time it needed to be better was the Rams' very last drive, where Bulger was flushed once and hit as he threw a couple of times. That wasn't the line's only difficulty down the stretch, as a series of 3-and-outs threatened to drop the Rams out of contention. Barron false started to kill a late 3rd-quarter drive. Charles Grant punked Jason Smith a couple of times to stuff Jackson and slow up drives. Though timely for New Orleans, those were anomalies. Jackson started the game busting off for 30 off blocks by Karney, Avery and Barron, on the right side in a “heavy” alignment. (That drive ended when Kenneth Darby couldn't handle a Jonathan Vilma blitz.) A big block by Barron got Jackson 14 to start the 2nd. More strong blocking by Barron, and McMichael, helped Jackson convert a 3rd-and-9 late in the half. Jason Brown had a strong game. Anthony Hargrove was not a factor, and Brown threw some good blocks on the Rams' 2nd TD drive. His and Adam Goldberg's surge was key to Jackson's TD plunge. The Ram linemen all blocked well. Bell and Smith had some good moments. Brown and Goldberg impressed in the middle. And Barron is starting to scare me, because his run-blocking has been so eye-opening lately, chances are improving that he'll be back in a Ram uniform next year. Let's also not overlook very solid supporting efforts by McMichael, Karney and Fells. The Ram offensive line is improving to the point now where they can dictate the tempo of the game, and that can only lead to good things.
* Defensive line / LB: You may have noticed the Ram defensive line on Chris Long's MANLY sack of Drew Brees in the 4th quarter. Long drove LT Jermon Bushrod backward right into Brees and took both Saints down in what might have been his most impressive play so far as a pro. If you didn't notice the d-line any other play today, I can't blame you. That was the only sack, Brees was rarely pressured otherwise, and the Saints gouged the Rams for 201 on the ground. Reggie Bush took a 90-flip for 16 on the Saints' first play, as they caught Leonard Little stunting inside. The Saints converted four straight third downs on their first TD drive. The rare times Little even made Brees step up, the QB still had a very solid pocket to step up into, as the Ram DTs were anonymous and invisible today. Saint misdirection killed the Rams again in the 2nd as Robert Meacham took an end-around for 41. Chris Long didn't stay home and Chris Chamberlain ate an inside handoff fake. NO-body out there for the Rams. Bush exploded for 55 off the left side late in the 3rd. Little got blocked, and the RG went right through the gap in the Rams' over formation and picked off James Laurinaitis. That run was right at C.J. Ah You, a big liability against the run when they line him up inside as a pass rusher. Laurinaitis looked good in coverage but only had 4 tackles. The Saints went up 28-17 in the 4th on Brees' TD pass to Meacham where there was no Ram WITHIN FIVE YARDS of Brees when he threw. Brees is a tougher sack target because he throws a lot off half-rolls, but this was ridiculous. The Rams weren't even getting close enough to Brees to violate a restraining order. Except for Long's sack, the best they could do was make him step up, sometimes. Pressure from Little did help force Brees' 2nd INT, and the D did turn up the dial late in the game. After Little batted down a pass in the 4th, a special teams penalty on Dahl emboldened the Saints to go for it on 4th-and-2. But LaJuan (WHO?) Ramsey and Paris Lenon stuffed a fullback handoff that had worked for 8 earlier in the game. Long's sack got the Rams the ball back for a TD drive. And after an onside kick failed, Cliff Ryan's run stuff on 2nd down helped get the Rams the ball back one last time. The Rams didn't seem to commit extra people to the box; you almost want to cut them some slack for the 201 rushing yards, a decent chunk of which didn't lead to scores. But the front four has to be far more solid than they looked today. When the Saints do lose a game, Brees will be sacked more than once and pressured more than a handful of times.
* Secondary: I wouldn't have picked Jeremy Shockey as the focal point of the Saint passing game, but the Rams appeared determined to keep him in check today, and succeeded. He was just 3-42, and with Marques Colston just a shocking 2-17, the Rams were able to limit Drew Brees to just 223 yards despite the lack of pass pressure. David Vobora set the tone at LB in the 1st by lighting up Shockey as a pass arrived, with Oshiomogho Atogwe collecting the rebound for an INT. Brees' 2nd INT was also intended for Shockey, in the 3rd, but James Laurinaitis had the TE blanketed and James Butler fielded the overthrow, returned to the Ram 40 and humorously went into the fetal position he should have stayed in in the Ford Field end zone two weeks ago. Atogwe saved a TD the next possession by headbutting the ball out of Colston's hands at the goal line; it rolled out of bounds in the end zone for a Rams touchback. For all that, the Rams hurt themselves by forgetting about H-back David Thomas (5-45). Despite getting drilled by Atogwe for a near fumble, he converted two of the four third downs on the Saints' first TD drive, helped by terrible tackling by Justin King. He came out of the backfield completely uncovered (again) for 16 during the Saints' 4th TD drive, capped by a perfect Brees throw to Robert Meacham, beating both James and Quincy Butler. Playing the role of goal-line hurdle, Atogwe got flattened by Colston on Bush's TD run. Craig Dahl got burned by Bush on his TD catch. Bush faked right then ran a drag left, and Dahl was never, ever, ever going to catch him. I'd say the Rams achieved a lot of their goals against New Orleans. They limited Shockey and Colston and kept Brees' yardage down. But this game was a matter of the Saints having just too many weapons.
* Special teams: Just when you think special teams have turned a corner – bang! they played a pivotal negative role today. The turning point of the game was the start of the second half, when Courtney Roby – seriously, Courtney Roby? - returned the kickoff 97 yards to put the Saints up 21-14. He got a run at the ball falling short of the goal line, good Saint blocking negated two Rams rightside defenders to give him a lane, K.C. Asiodu got decleated, opening the lane wider, Josh Brown ain't Jeff Wilkins in the tackling department, and Roby's gone and the Saints are back in charge. Brown's next kickoff was deep into the end zone for a touchback, and thanks for thinking of doing that a touchdown late, geniuses. The week off appeared to hurt Donnie Jones more than it helped. None of his punts had anything on them and he averaged just 36 yards per boot. His first punt, from just across midfield, came down at the Saints' 25. Yay, you pinned them inside their 30! Big advantage to the Saints today on special teams.
* Coaching: End-of-game time management looms large today. The Rams expended a timeout at the 2:50 mark after a 23-yard pass to Fells. My guess is Steve Spagnuolo was concerned about the offense getting lined back up for the next play in time. The timeout was followed immediately by a TD, so it was successful, if costly, because they spent only two timeouts getting the ball back from the Saints. And with no TO's left the last 2:00, they did almost nothing but throw over the middle. After the completion to McMichael with 0:42 left, the best move is a spike. But you can't spike out of shotgun formation, which is where they kept Bulger, and a screen pass will NEVER be worth TWENTY seconds in this situation, but away it goes, for four whole yards. Bulger didn't get out of shotgun the entire drive. There was no way he was going to improvise a spike play. Pat Shurmur's supposed to watch the clock, too; he needed to order up a spike, but I guess he got too caught up getting Bulger multiple play calls and/or trying to bleed time off the clock so the Saints couldn't have any if the Rams scored. Bulger probably should have thrown it away instead of hitting Jackson the second time. Either way, the Rams tried to cut the endgame way too fine, and they're much too wet behind the ears to try that. Hell, look at how big an idiot Belichick made out of himself in Indianapolis last night trying it. Right now the Rams need to worry about scoring, period, in late-game situations before they move on to more advanced material. Another problem for Shurmur today was the offense again failing to get back out of the blocks after halftime. Both Jackson after the game and D'Marco Farr during the game mentioned alignment and stunting changes the Saints made after halftime. A rookie coordinator's going to get outschemed by Gregg Williams, and there was a lot right with today's offense, in balance, distribution and catching the Saints in defenses they wanted to catch them in. But the halftime letdown is still a Shurmur trend.
I believe Ken Flajole's strategy today was to keep men back in coverage and blitz very little. It's an understandable strategy against that passing attack, and the Rams held the Saints to a season “low” 28 points, and Brees to a very modest 223 yards. But they got gashed on the ground for 201, put very little pressure on the QB, and still lost. Spagnuolo and Flajole have to realize by now that their front four guys aren't going to get it done without help. The conservatism of the Ram offense has chafed at a lot of Rams Nation this year, but I'm not sure that the conservatism on defense hasn't been worse. Was this the defense you expected? Bailing out at the snap? Playing pass prevent on 1st-and-goal at the 3? Maybe I'm just too impatient to wait out a talent upgrade, but the best this defensive approach was going to achieve today was to slow the Saints down. It was never going to beat them.
* Upon further review: The home crowd wanted a lot of calls today we didn't get. Unfortunately for us, Gene Steratore and crew got the calls right. We wanted a fumble when David Thomas got flipped and lost the ball. His arm hit the ground first, though. Wanted DPI on that weird cross-field throw to McMichael that Roman Harper broke up. Well, Harper was playing the ball. Wanted roughing when Tracy Porter fell on a prone Jackson after a good run. Nope, Jason Brown blocked him into Jackson. I don't know why the call on Jackson's TD run took so long, but they got it right, and they also called Gibson's 4th-down scoop on the final drive correctly without replay. Probably the best-officiated Rams game of the season. They sure out-reffed the crowd, at least. A-minus.
* Cheers: It took an extra day extension from the league and an infusion of, um, shall we say exuberant Saints fans, but the game did sell out, and the crowd was very good. St. Louis has got nothing to be embarrassed about when they've got 50,000-plus showing up for a 1-7 team. The crowd was great, too, at least until special teams killed the mood right after halftime. From my sampling, Saint fans can pride themselves on making today's the drunkest, fightingest crowd of the year. Who dat, indeed. Military was the theme of the day, from the dog tag giveaway to Navy officer / gospel singer Generald Wilson nailing the National Anthem, to the traditional parade pass at halftime. Guess I can't complain about that, though it sure couldn't have cost the Rams much to put on.
* Who’s next?: Of all the streaks in all the football joints in all the towns in all the world, this one has to come back into mine. The bane of my football existence, Bill Bidwill's Big Dead, return to St. Louis next week not only having beaten the Rams five times in a row, they've won four straight in the Dome. So worthless Bidwill has more success with his franchise as the visitors in St. Louis than he ever did in 28 incompetent years here as the home team!
One trend in this series the Rams have to break is their proclivity to give up touchdowns to the Big Dead defense. Arizona has scored 6 defensive TDs in the last five games against the Rams, 5 of them on INT returns. But instead of arguing that the Rams' receivers and offensive linemen need to become better tacklers, let's take the tack that facing Arizona puts extra emphasis on the Rams to try to win with their usual offensive M.O. There's just one problem. Arizona's pretty much shut Steven Jackson down the last three meetings, and they entered this past week with the #3 run defense in the league, and their now 3-4 D under new coordinator Bill Davis has gone from the bottom of the league to the top in points allowed and third down conversions. And they lead the league in runs stuffed (per Football Outsiders), led by super safety Adrian Wilson. Carolina, though, gashed them for about 250 by lining a slot receiver up on one side, to take a defender out of the box, and running behind the tight end to the other side. NFL.com sure makes it sound easy, anyway, and seeing Billy Bajema or Mike Karney picking off Wilson all day would be a sight for sore eyes as far as this rivalry goes. Jackson should be a dangerous receiver next week either way. Arizona's aggression makes them vulnerable to screens and short passes, and a great way to defuse Wilson and Arizona's aggressive LB corps is to make them cover people downfield. The Rams'll enter this showdown at least with some outs; will they hit one this time or get flushed down the river they way they have been?
Speaking of things the Rams need to hit, another crushing trend of this series has been their inability to pressure Kurt Warner. They've sacked Kurt three times in the last four meetings and given Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin more time than they'll ever need to get open. Opponents have slowed Arizona down a little by dropping their safeties back to take away the Warner-to-Fitzgerald deep game and daring the Big Dead, with their typically bottom-of-the-league rushing game, to run on them. For the Rams to make that work, they'd better defend the run a LOT better than the last time Arizona was here, when Tim Hightower and J.J. Arrington rolled them for 170 yards. The Rams did hold that same pair to 54 yards in Arizona last December, so there's reason for hope, though rookie Beanie Wells is emerging as a big upgrade to the out-of-the-league Arrington. But that won't be enough reason for hope if the Rams don't put serious pressure on Warner for a change. More than even Jackson this week, the Rams have to get a winning effort from their defensive front. Not a very promising prospect after today.
I've said before the Rams would be improved over last year just because they changed coaches. Jim Haslett's defenses failed for three years to put much pressure on Warner. Steve Spagnuolo's here because of past brilliance pressuring the QB. Unleash the hounds, coach. This is the perfect week for an underdog playing with more intensity to knock off a talented, yet inconsistent, favorite. If Spagnuolo combines a good defensive game plan with 53 players rockin' right out of the locker room next Sunday, he can certainly catch Arizona by surprise. It's time to draw a line in the sand in this rivalry. The Rams need to let Bidwill's boys know that when they step off the plane in St. Louis, they're not stepping on a doormat any more – they're stepping into a snakepit.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 11/15/2009: Saints 28, Rams 23 (Long)
Mike, I have no idea how you get all those tidbits put together after watching a game live. I am such a simple fan compared to you.
It's good to know that the Saints spent a lot of money on alcohol. Good for the economy. I hope they left the game feeling lucky and did not start too many fights.
One name that was sticking out for me this game was Vobora. Kept seeing him making plays. Maybe it was the ball that hit him in the back that made me take notice.
Thanks for the write up. Hope we bring this same intensity for the Cardinals.
Re: RamView, 11/15/2009: Saints 28, Rams 23 (Long)
Mike, reps man. Tuesdays are big for me. It's a ritual to look up Easterbrook's TMQ. I relish his recurring themes and insight on football logic.
You, my friend, give him a go. I first look you up here for your perspective on my precious. Your unbiased commentary on this site is a jewel I look for each week. Thank you sir.
Re: RamView, 11/15/2009: Saints 28, Rams 23 (Long)
Great post as always MFranke ...Thanks
I especially like the last line....No more Doormat.....the Dome is now a snakepit. Love it!