RamView, 11/16/2008: ***** 35, Rams 16 (Long)
RamView, November 16, 2008
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #10: ***** 35, Rams 16
The St. Louis Rams donít just need to be rebuilt. Blowing them up and restarting from scratch isnít a clean-enough break. This team needs to be shot in the head, buried in the back yard and never spoken of again.
Position by position:
* QB: Take away a couple of plays and Marc Bulgerís day (34-53-295, 69.3 passer rating) might not have been the disaster it was. He was actually better than last week in a couple of ways. He threw more accurately today and moved better (that is, at all) in the pocket. He probably took a couple of sacks on plays where he had time to get rid of the ball, but overall, he showed better pocket awareness than usual for this season. He made quite a few good, quick passes, like a 16-yarder to Derek Stanley up the sideline and a 14-yarder to Donnie Avery to set up the Ramsí first FG. For seemingly the first time all season Bulger worked the middle of the field successfully. And he strung together several lengthy scoring drives, usually with a bunch of dumpoffs. Unluckily for Bulger, though, his grade for the day has to include the second quarter. If the Ramsí chances at winning reached the precipice then, Bulger gave them a firm push into the abyss. They were already down 14-3 when Bulger bungled a snap deep in Ramsí territory and turned the ball over to set up a 49er TD. Two plays into the very next possession, Bulger got all day to throw but underthrew a deep ball for a double-covered Avery and was intercepted by Walt Harris to set up another 49er TD. And he sank the Rams even deeper the next possession, winging a 3rd-and-12 pass at a completely-blanketed Torry Holt and getting picked off by Nate Clements to set up yet ANOTHER 49er TD. Three possessions, three turnovers, three San Francisco TDs. Bulger set up more points for the opponent in the 2nd quarter than he got for his own team the whole game. Thatís a bad game by any measure. Hereís another measure: Bulgerís passer rating for the first half was 43.0. 49er QB Shaun Hillís was 158.3 (perfect). Marc Bulger continues to be a much larger part of the Ramsí problem than the solution. For the money heís getting, he damn well ought to be able to be competitive with guys who couldnít beat out J.T. Freaking OíSullivan in training camp. Instead, he continues to play like a guy who doesnít deserve to start in the NFL. And shouldnít.
* RB: For what itís worth, Antonio Pittman (14-95) may be developing into one of the better players on the team. He was about the only big-play weapon today, with a couple of 20-yards-plus runs in the first quarter. Pittman is faster than Steven Jackson and is a better cutback runner. And like Jackson, he runs hard and doesnít stop after first contact. If the planets ever align and the two are healthy at the same time, Jackson and Pittman will make a good 1-2 punch. Good enough I doubt the Rams need to address backup RB in the upcoming draft. Pittman was poor on a couple of blitz pickups, though thatís hardly a new problem among Rams RBs. He also dropped a couple of passes, including one at the goal line, so Kenneth Darbyís eight catches for 83, though racked up as a frequent target in the second half (or as we now call it in St. Louis, garbage time) were welcome, and just as welcome, Darby was secure with the ball. The Rams passed over 70% of the time today, but it wasnít because they were forced to by an ineffective running game.
* WR: Donnie Avery led the receivers with nine catches for 93 yards, at least four of them off smoke routes, only one of which he got much out of. Bulger tried him deep several times but he seemed to draw a pretty fair share of double teams. Avery made a nice, if disputable, sideline catch for 28 in the 3rd to set up a FG. He had very little room to rein in his momentum and just barely, maybe, slipped his back foot in bounds. Some Torry Holt-worthy footwork either way. Holtís 5-60 was pretty quiet. He did help them get in FG range after Averyís disputed catch. His effort on Bulgerís 2nd INT may not have looked great but I doubt he ever had a chance at it. The throw looked behind him and it needed to lead him. Dane Looker vultured a TD Holt usually gets, scoring on a curl just beyond the goal line in the 4th. Whether by design or not, this wasnít a day where the passing game looked to establish much downfield. 11 passes went to RBs and many of the passes to WRs were short shots thrown with the hope theyíd rack up some YAC. Between that and good coverage by San Francisco, a quiet-to-average game from the WRs wasnít a surprising result.
* Offensive line: The line was hurt by penalties and injuries. Orlando Pace and GAAA! Alex Barron had false starts. Pace left in the 2nd due to a sprain after getting sort of leg-whipped in the knee. (Late word is heíll be out a month.) Adam Goldberg replaced him. Richie Incognito came out in the 2nd half due to a shoulder injury. Brett Romberg (!) replaced him. Blocking held up pretty well on the whole, though. Incognito and Barron sprang Pittmanís 24-yard run in the 1st. Pittmanís 22-yard run later in the quarter came off good blocks by Incognito, Anthony Becht and Jacob Bell. The Rams averaged nearly 6 yards a RB carry, though you have to factor in the success of draw plays into soft prevent defenses in the second half. Bulger was sacked three times, but had plenty of time to throw on two of them. Hard to blame Barron for Parys Haralsonís sack in the 3rd when Bulger had six seconds to unload. Hard to blame Nick Leckey for the blown snap/fumble in the 2nd, unless we find out later he was on the wrong snap count or something. The snap itself looked fine. Bulger also had plenty of time to throw on his INTs. He was protected well most of the game, if forced to step up from a collapsing pocket a few times. It helped that the passing game spent some time in the no-huddle and Bulger got the ball out quickly a lot. It didnít help that Pittman was run right through by Michael Lewis for a sack in the 2nd. That turned a 2nd-and-2 into a 3rd-and-12 and Bulger forced an INT the next play. That wasnít the only time they struggled with blitzes. A blitzer came clean up the middle to force Bulger to dump off on the opening drive, and the Rams settled for a (missed) FG. They got inside the 5 early in the 2nd, but Bell and Dan Kreider didnít do much against a run blitz that dropped Pittman for a loss, and the Rams went to the air from there and wound up with a FG. They got into scoring range in the 4th before Manny Lawson, coming in clean on a blitz, not for the only time, dropped Darby for -5. Goldbergís false start on 4th-and-6 then pushed them out of FG range and led to a punt. The line made mistakes, but looked like they could have established the run had the Rams not fallen so far behind. At least for today, they were far from the teamís worst problem.
* Defensive line/LB: Which is right here, the disgracefully-bad Ram defense that for the second week didnít remotely come to play. OJ Atogwe and Jason Craft briefly saved their bacon by forcing and recovering a Frank Gore (18-106) fumble at the end of a 42-yard run on the opening 49er possession. The Rams got caught blitzing and a double team on Cliff Ryan created a huge hole that Quinton Culberson couldnít fill. Gore bounced back with a 5-yard TD walk to cap a short-and-sweet ensuing drive. A double-team tied up Ryan again, Joe Staley (who looked dominant) pancaked a Ram, and unsurprisingly, Will Witherspoon got picked off and couldnít bring any help. After Bulgerís fumble down 14-3 in the 2nd, the defense appeared to quit, or else I never want to see what quitting really looks like. Witherspoon and Pisa Tinoisamoa blew tackles as Gore rumbled for 12 down to the 5. Gore scored a couple of plays later, bouncing a run outside after Chris Long blew a tackle, with Fakhir Brown blowing a tackle outside to further enable the score. Iím very happy with Longís season so far, but he looked worse today than he did this preseason. Shaun Hill (15-20-213) rolled to hilariously modest career highs thanks to the Ram pass rush barely pressuring him at all. In the 2nd, he rolled right, stopped while Leonard Little breezed right by him, and lobbed a shot put to DeShaun Foster, behind the whole defense for 31 down to the 1, and ran it in from there out of a pass play. An obvious choice since the Rams had no one in the middle and both DTs were manhandled. Similar story next possession. Hill actually had to scramble out of trouble from the Ram 37, but then found Michael Robinson beating Witherspoon badly downfield for 36. Another inevitable short TD and itís THIRTY FREAKING FIVE TO THREE before the halftime gun has even fired. Blitzing by Craft blew up three straight 49er possessions in the 2nd half, and Frisco ROFLingly killed another themselves with three straight false starts. But Robinson ran for 18 on 3rd-and-5 the next drive after humiliating a newly-injured (neck?) Witherspoon with a ridiculous shake and bake. The ***** then embarrassed the Rams some more with some plays out of ďWildcatĒ formation, a very bad sign with Miami coming up in a couple of weeks. Robinson gained 10 after a terrible miss by Long. Foster next gained 12 after Long and Witherspoon blew tackles in the backfield. Fortunately for all the breakable things in my house, Pisa forced a Foster fumble to shut down the last 49er scoring threat of the day. Hard to take solace in that when the now 3-7 ***** had their second string in by then. And guys like Witherspoon and Long were still blowing tackles like Pac-Man Jones blows money on Vegas strippers. There continues to be little or nothing from the back seven in run support. They could barely even pressure the QB of one of the leagueís most sack-prone teams. Everytime you think this defense canít possibly get worse, they pull a performance like todayís out of their ass. What to even do here? Thereís a lot of youth already playing. Witherspoon should be shut down, but with Draft out, do you want David Vobora at MLB for six weeks? Who do you even put in if you shut Little down? C.J. Ah You? Maybe somebody could light a freaking fire under the players they do have?
* Secondary: Jason Craft had a big game in place of an injured Ron Bartell, but not big enough to carry the secondary. OJ Atogwe made a nifty play to force a fumble from Frank Gore at the end of a long run in the 1st, clubbing the ball from behind for a pop-up that Craft fielded on his way out of bounds. In the 2nd half, Craft had the Ramsí only two sacks and nearly registered a third. There appeared to be hideous breakdowns that allowed Shaun Hill to shot put passes to DeShaun Foster (31 yards down to the 1) and Michael Robinson (36 yards, also down to the 1) and set up the 4th and 5th 49er TDs. Hill had so much time to make those plays thanks to the Ramsí pathetic pass rush, though, something was bound to break down in the secondary. Especially if it involved Fakhir Brown, who had a lousy game. He lost a handfight at the line with Bryant Johnson so badly in the 1st he fell down and gave up a 43-yard completion on a quick slant, setting up the 2nd Niner TD. He blew a tackle badly on Goreís 2nd TD. He typically couldnít find the ball and gave up a short TD to Johnson that made it 35-3. Imagine that, Fakhir Brown getting abused by a big receiver. Though the Rams managed to keep Isaac Bruce off the board (THANKS, he was in my fantasy lineup), they did pull off the feat of giving up a TD to a Mike Martz TE when Vernon Davis scored to make it 14-3. Corey Chavous couldnít react in time to Davisí move upfield at the goal line, and Davis caught Hillís pass for a TD between the safeties. Iím hardly suggesting the secondary was great today Ė hell, Craft was laying 15 yards off Ike at times Ė but they got so little help up front it doesnít seem fair to slam them.
* Special teams: Josh Brown set the opening tone by missing a 48-yard FG attempt wide left. Thanks, $14 million man! Brown later converted from 48 and made two other FGs. He kicked off deep and saved a likely big return by forcing Alan Rossum out of bounds on a kick return in the 3rd. From his body language, Rossum thought he was going to score every time he touched the ball, like he did for Atlanta in the divisional playoff in 2005, so I thank the Rams for at least keeping him off the board. His 29-yard punt return that set up Friscoís first TD sure looked like it was made possible by a block in the back, also by a poor punt by Donnie Jones, though. Jones averaged just 40 yards a kick, though much of it due to field position punts, including one Chris Chamberlain downed at the 4. I have no idea what the Rams are doing at returner. It was Dane Looker on punts and Travis Minor ?!?!? on kickoffs. Looker made a dangerous play on a bouncing ball late in the game. Minor had one return to the 40 but also fumbled at the 20 (he recovered it) early in the game. All around, not the quality of play Iím looking for from special teams veterans.
* Coaching/discipline: This is what I get for trying to keep an open mind. I was not thrilled Jim Haslett took over after Scott Linehan was fired. I didnít think he earned the chance to become head coach because of his defenseís poor performance while he was coordinator. Then they go on a two-week adrenaline rush and I think, hey, Haslettís supposed to be a motivator, heís showing he deserves a shot at the gig full-time next season. But now, the teamís responding to his leadership no more than it did Linehanís and is playing at least as badly if not worse. Linehanís teams at least occasionally looked prepared at the beginning of games in September. Did the Rams look remotely ready to play today? Against the franchiseís sworn worst enemy in the league? Which was also 2-7 coming in but was yanking starters in the second half like it was a preseason game? Haslett can blame the players all he wants, like he did last week, but he ought to be ashamed of his own recent work, too. He ought to be especially ashamed of drawing a penalty during a replay challenge. The Rooney Rule is going to turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to the Rams.
I wonder if that long early run by Gore put a damper on Rick Venturiís game plan. It didnít look like he blitzed much again in the first half after getting burned by a blitz on that big play. Hill got thirty minutes to play under flag-football-like pressure. When Craft got Hill for the second time in the 3rd quarter, though, you had to wonder why the heck Venturi didnít call more blitzes in the first half. Itís not like his defensive line didnít need the help! And wouldnít blitzing Hill, whoís only slightly more experienced a pro QB than you or me, have been a good idea anyway?
The offensive game plan seemed good enough today, though Al Saunders failed yet again to catch a defense off guard with a trick play when Dane Lookerís end-around/option pass attempt got stuffed in the 2nd. The Ram OCís still 0-for-the-season in that regard. The play I hated most was the swing pass to Darby on 3rd-and-1 in the 1st. Run on 3rd-and-1, for cryiní out loud. The pass-run ratio was over 2:1, but that was dictated by the huge 49er lead. Saunders got the run established early, kept the ***** off-balance with some take-what-theyíre-giving-us runs in the 2nd half, and had the passing game going to all areas of the field for a change, even over the middle. With the offensive game plan looking to be in decent shape, it sure would be nice to get any kind of help from the other side of the ball.
* Upon further review: Rookie referee Al Riveronís crew had the call this week, and like last week, the Ramsí opponent could have been called more often for pass interference. The Fox broadcast pointed out several instances of Ram receivers getting interfered with without a flag, including Stanley getting mauled by Clements in the 3rd. They tried to saddle Looker with a fumble on what I thought was a classic ďground canít cause a fumbleĒ situation in the 4th before reversing the call. The toughest call, even with replay, was Averyís 28-yard sideline catch several plays later. White shoe, white sideline, darn if I can tell if his foot was completely in or not from the angles Fox provided. I needed a replay from behind the other end zone. I will say the official looking right at Avery called him in, which ought to be worth something. So should Rams receivers getting jostled around downfield, though.
* Cheers: Given the material they had to work with, the Fox team of Matt Vasgersian and JC Pearson could have been a lot worse. This tape isnít going to the Football Hall of Fame, but it was a tolerable broadcast. Pearson pitied the Rams more than anything, particularly Haslett, for whom he lobbied all game. And unlike the last Rams game he did, when Pearson criticized Bulger for something today, it was something Marc actually did that play. Vasgersian took a welcome break from past offenses. Unlike some of his past games, today wasnít three hours of Rams jokes or three hours of him rooting for his hometown Niners. And atypical of Fox broadcasts, they seemed to be pretty on top of ongoing injury situations. Good sideline reporting there by Nischelle Turner and others. And my thanks to Pearson for the snicker-inducing moment when he called the Ram center ďNeck LickeyĒ. Wonder what Freud would think of that slip-up.
* Whoís next?: Oh great, the Chicago Bears and 20,000 or more Bears fans will hit the Dome in a bad mood next week after getting spanked 37-3 by Green Bay today. And itís going to be an ugly picture for Haslett and company if the Rams come out as flat for the first game of a four-out-of-five home stretch as they have the last two weeks. RB Matt Forte, Matt Ryanís main competition for Rookie of the Year, is having a terrific season. Youíre not going to stop the Bears without stopping him. The Rams are also going to have to lock down the Chicago TEs and keep QB Kyle Orton from getting comfortable in the pocket.
OK, so much for the Ramsí chances of winning on defense. The offense is going to have to put together some time-consuming drives, which isnít out of the question. The Bears are a surprising 21st in the league in run defense and 22nd overall. The Rams will to have to be able to ground-and-pound. Would be nice if they had a healthy RB known for doing that. With players like Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye and of course Brian Urlacher, the Bears are just too fast defensively for screens and draws to work very well. Handling Urlacherís still a key to attacking the Bear defense. He clogs the middle against the run and can line up over center and blitz you right up the middle all day long. Assuming the Rams could cope with Chicagoís blitzing and defensive speed, the Bear secondary is extremely attackable. You can throw at Nathan Vasher, and Charles Tillmanís one of those look-for-the-hit-first CBs who you can beat for a big play.
But the Rams arenít going to have Pace, which means Adam Goldbergís going to be chasing Bears back to Bulger all game long. (Theyíd be better off shifting Barron to LT and trying John Greco at RT, but Greco may have to stand in for Incognito.) These arenít the 1985 Bears Ė they are 5-5 Ė but this game still has mismatch all over it. I ask the Ram coaching staff for two things next Sunday: put a team on the field that looks remotely ready to play, willing to compete, and do not under any circumstances kick the ball to Devin Freaking Hester, or I will hunt Al Roberts down and fire him myself.
Somebody have some bail money ready for me.
Game stats from nfl.com