RamView, 11/18/2007: Rams 13, Whiners 9 (Long)
RamView, November 18, 2007
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #10: Rams 13, ***** 9
Neither team really deserved to win this game, but as Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven, "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it." And so the Ram defense made the offense's one decent drive stand up and hung on for a 13-9 win over the hated *****, in a game that mixed a little of the good with a lot of bad and the ugly.
Position by position:
* QB: I know what you're thinkin'. Did Marc Bulger get sacked six times, or was it only five? In all the excitement, Marc may have forgotten himself, but it was six, as he was really in the line of fire in a performance that was far from an artistic success, 21-32-155, with a whole lot of throws under pressure and/or off his back foot. Fortunately, Marc had enough perfect throws in him to muddle the Ram offense through. Though he's not noted for getting off to strong starts, Bulger did today. He hit Drew Bennett with a perfect sideline pass to convert a key 3rd-and-7 on the Rams’ opening TD drive, followed by a 15-yarder to Isaac Bruce at the 3, setting up a pass Marc put up high and Torry Holt snagged for the score. Thanks to a variety of heavy 49er pressure and tight 49er coverage, Bulger never really got going after that. He survived a near-pick by Jeff Ulbrich in the 1st. He was sacked three times in the last 2:00 of the first half. A couple of the six sacks he took for the day were coverage sacks where he had plenty of time to get rid of the ball. And I know Marc is slow, but three times, he can’t run away from Bryant Freaking Young? Young is slower than the brontosaurs that were born the same day he was! Bulger’s biggest play after the first quarter came in the 4th when he found Bruce on the sideline with a perfect pass to (eventually) convert a 3rd-and-14. That set up Jeff Wilkins’ 3rd FG, which turned out to be the game-winner. The game was a true struggle for Bulger. He got sacked far too often as the Ram offense was once again far too helpless against the 49er blitz and as his receivers again frequently failed to get open in the 49er secondary. Good thing he made the handful of big plays he did, but Bulger and the Ram coaching staff had better quickly come up with answers to the questions that made the offense look so poor and out-of-sync today.
* RB: Steven Jackson ran the gauntlet, with 23-92 rushing and 4-20 receiving, with 58 of his yards coming on 2 plays. His biggest play came early, a 37-yard run that set up the Rams' first and only TD. He came off right guard behind a fine lead block by Brian Leonard and got a BIG block downfield from little Dante Hall to gain the last half of the run. Jackson made an important play on his own in the 2nd, whirling out of a Tully Banta-Cain tackle five yards behind the line and gaining a yard on 3rd-and-inches on the ole 90-flip. That led to a Wilkins FG. He busted loose for 21 late in the half, using a good pull block by Nick Leckey and a good block by Joe Klopfenstein to explode into the 49er secondary. But after an 11-84 first half, Jackson’s running room disappeared, and he was stuffed for only 8 yards on 12 carries in the 2nd. Four of his six 4th-quarter rushes went for losses. With the Rams needing a lone first down in the last 2:00 to clinch the game, the ***** dropped Jackson for losses of 2 and 4. Jackson and the Ram offensive line couldn’t grind out the clock the way they would have hoped, but their solid work in the first half turned out to be enough today.
* WR: Though neither was spectacular, Torry Holt (7-55) and Isaac Bruce (5-54) carried the load for the Ram passing game as they've done many times before. After Drew Bennett kept the opening drive alive with his only catch of the day, Bruce walked the tightrope at the 49er 3-yard line with an impressive 15-yard catch, and Holt got inside (80-) million dollar baby Nate Clements on a drag route and snared a high fastball for the opening TD. Later in the 1st, Bruce made a 1st down with a 17-yard catch that moved him past his position coach, Henry Ellard, and into 6th on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list. Bruce’s last catch was also clutch, a 14-yarder on the sideline in the 4th. He again showed Astaire-quality footwork, and got the first down thanks to having the veteran savvy to have the ball in his outside arm as he went out of bounds. Isaac’s smarts set up the, in effect, game-winning FG. Dante Hall didn’t have a catch, but he made two key plays during the opening TD drive. He gained 9 on an end-around, but more impressively, the 170-lbs-soaking-wet (the Rams roster lists him as 187?????) BLASTED Marc Roman to get Jackson the last 20 yards of his long run. There were a lot, too many, plays again today where Bulger didn’t have any open options downfield. The ***** have been winning that battle for about 3 years running now. But since the Rams won, we can give credit to the WRs for the important plays they made instead of casting blame.
* Offensive line: Poor Nick Leckey – though sometimes the RG looked like a magnum force out there, just as often, he got turned every which way but loose, and to my incurable nausea, by 9,900-year-old Bryant Freaking Young, who has 6.5 sacks this year, ALL BUT ONE AGAINST THE RAMS after scoring a ridiculous 2.5 today, his first sacks in OVER SEVEN GAMES. EVERYONE ELSE IN THE NFL can block the guy; why not the Rams? Leckey set the stage for Jackson’s first long run with a good block at the line, and pulled effectively for Jackson more than once. A real team effort got Jackson the 1st down on the early 4th-and-1 at midfield. Leckey pulled, Milford Brown got his man, and Randy McMichael and Richard Owens also forged a gap for Jackson to pounce through. But after good blocks from Leckey and Klopfenstein sprung Jackson for 21 in the 2nd, things rapidly spiraled downhill. Parys Haralson flattened McMichael and tackled Antonio Pittman for a 6-yard loss. Bulger’s protection varied wildly. Sometimes he had enough time to escape from Alcatraz, other times were like the last drive before halftime, where he was sacked three times. B.F. Young knocked Leckey on his ass with a forearm shiver to get the first. Brandon Moore blitzed in untouched for the 2nd after Leckey couldn’t disengage from a double-team on Young. The 3rd went to Roderick Young, who ran right by a clueless Brown to end the Ram offensive line’s first half on a sour note. Marques Douglas got his turn after halftime with a coverage sack. Jeff Ulbrich beat a fairly powerless Andy McCollum to stuff Jackson and end a 3rd-quarter drive. Young killed another drive with a coverage sack of his own, and got Bulger AGAIN on the Rams’ last FG drive in the 4th. That drive stalled when Leckey was too slow on the pull to stop Banta-Cain from dropping Jackson for a big loss. And with a couple of opportunities to run out the clock, the Rams established nothing up front, with Jackson getting pinned for losses several times. There was enough good work in the first half, and enough plays where Bulger had eons to throw, to get the win. But given the second-half troubles and the six sacks, the Rams have to search for more consistency up front, or they’ll be searching hard for any more wins this season.
* Defensive line/LB: The impressive turnaround of the Ram defense continues, led today by the LBs, who are playing as well as a unit right now as any set of St. Louis Ram LBs. Frank Gore might as well have been Al Gore, what with his 32 yards on 15 carries. (Al Gore will probably give the ***** an award after the season for the low amount of energy their offense expends.) Adam Carriker stopped Gore twice to help hold the ***** to a FG after a long punt return in the 1st. The LBs started bringing it shortly thereafter. Brandon Chillar knocked down a pass and La’Roi Glover stuffed Gore to end the 1st. Next drive, Pisa Tinoisamoa grabbed Gore’s foot for a 2-yard loss, and on 3rd-and-5, Will Witherspoon beautifully knocked down a short pass over the middle for Arnaz Battle. Will sacked, heck, assaulted, Trent Dilfer, tenaciously dragging him down for a big loss 3:00 before halftime. Will finished off the series by swatting down a screen pass. Glover opened the 2nd half by flashing through for a coverage sack. On 3rd-and-1 the next drive, Chris Draft SLAMMED Gore for a loss, a sudden impact that made the ***** 0-for-7 on 3rd down, on their way to 0-for-9. The Rams did not fall victim to the *****’ frequent lame screen passes. Pisa blew one up to Gore and Chillar stuffed one to the fullback as the Rams continued to force the ***** 3-and-out throughout the 3rd quarter. Victor Adeyanju nearly started the 4th off on a high note, but missed a sack, and with Jim Haslett largely calling off the dogs, the Rams’ 4-man rush once again and not surprisingly failed to pressure the QB adequately, and the ***** drove for their 2nd FG. That, though, was forced by good pressure from Eric Moore (!), as Dilfer missed connections with wide-open Battle under duress. Haslett responded to the FG by finally blitzing again, and Corey Chavous got the Rams’ 3rd and final sack with about 3:40 left, but the Rams went soft the rest of the way and nearly let the ***** win it before OJ Atogwe sealed the game with an INT on the last play of the game. Once again this week, the Rams’ defensive dominance for 3 quarters was blunted when they played soft in the 4th. But Carriker and Cliff Ryan have turned run defense from a team weakness into a team strength, the linebackers are everywhere, and they’re making it hard for the opposition to throw downfield. What more can I say, except, keep it up, fellas!
* Secondary: In a reversal of recent roles in the Ram defensive backfield, Tye Hill was thrown at a lot, while Fakhir Brown had a quieter day. Brown almost made a big play on an early bomb to Darrell Jackson, but he unluckily tipped the ball up and to the 49er WR. Dilfer only threw for 78 yards in the first half, and Hill sank his passer rating to 36 when he stepped in front of a pass for Jackson and picked it off just before halftime. The ***** really went after Hill after halftime, though he successfully jousted with Jackson on another sideline bomb to end Frisco’s first drive after the break. After a bunch of screens failed, and the Rams assumed a 10-point lead, the Ram coverage got soft, and Dilfer started completing short passes in front of Hill, driving the ***** for their 2nd FG in the 4th. Down 13-6, Battle then started finding holes in the Rams’ soft zone, putting Frisco in scoring range with 2 catches for 44. With 2:12 left, Pisa luckily broke up a pass to Vernon Davis at the goal line, backhanding the ball away. The next play, the Rams got enormously lucky, as Brown was beaten by Jackson in the end zone, but D.J. classically dropped the TD pass. Hill broke up another bomb for Jackson to force another FG. Davis was generally kept quiet, but he caught a 22-yarder in front of several Rams at the Ram 21 with time running out. Thing was, he expended too much time fighting for extra yards and ran the clock down to :06. After a spike, Dilfer had no choice other than a desperation throw into the end zone, which OJ Atogwe stepped in front of for a game-ending INT. For the second straight week, the Ram secondary was near dominant for three quarters before the defensive strategy got soft and let the opponent back into the game. Brown got very lucky on Jackson’s TD drop, or a very solid game by the Ram DBs would have turned into a very big disappointment instead.
* Special teams: Special teams played a large role in both scoring points for the Rams and giving up points to the *****. On the Rams’ first punt, Travis Minor was the only Ram within five yards when Michael Lewis handed off to Nate Clements. Minor dived and missed; Donnie Jones saved a TD by forcing Clements out of bounds after a 41-yard return. That set up a FG. Jeff Wilkins’ first of two crucial FGs was a 49-yarder he squeeeeeezed inside the left upright in the 2nd. Dante Hall did little on kickoff returns, and nearly muffed away a punt in the 3rd, but had a big 29-yard punt return in the 4th to set up Wilkins’ 2nd FG. After pinning Maurice Hicks nicely in the corner with his kickoffs all day, though, Wilkins hooked the ensuing kickoff OUT OF BOUNDS, settling the ***** up nicely at the 40 for a FG drive of their own. A poor Jones punt of 37 yards gave the ***** fine field position for their third FG drive. McMichael made a super play on the *****’ onside kick, leaping to grab the high bounce like a basketball player going up strong for a rebound. And despite plonking two touchbacks earlier, Jones came through big with 1:37 left, dropping a punt at the 49er 7, forcing them to travel almost the whole field for the potential game-winning TD. A very clutch play by Jones, since the Rams needed all of those yards to stop the ***** once and for all at the end.
* Coaching/discipline: Jim Haslett would be under the gun had the Rams lost this game. The Ram defense was much too vanilla throughout the 4th quarter. Dilfer threw for nearly 2/3 of his yards in the frame; what’s making Haslett think it’s a good idea to keep doing what he’s doing down the home stretch of these games? Haslett accomplished all the objectives he could have wanted to, though. They silenced Gore and kept Davis in check. Dilfer was pressured into making many throws before he wanted to. Witherspoon’s continuing to play like a beast out of the hybrid-DE slot. Haslett relied less on the blitz than last week, and though he shouldn’t have turned it all the way off in the 4th, he’s had good game plans and a defense with a mean, nasty attitude since the bye week. The really questionable coaching today came from the opponent’s side of the field. What was with all the lame screen passes and inside handoffs on 3rd-and-long? Who’s the 49er OC, anyway, Jerry Rhome? Unmistakably, the Ram defense played a solid game, but the *****’ lousy offensive playcalling should definitely count as a winning factor for the Rams today.
Scott Linehan, at least, was bolder in his playcalling. The early end-around to Hall put the ***** on their heels and set up Jackson’s first long run. Going for it on 4th-and-1 late in the 1st near midfield was extremely risky, and didn’t show that Linehan learned anything from Sean Payton last week, or from his short-yardage misadventures against Cleveland. This time, at least, he had the H-back Owens on the move to help pry open the hole. Another call Linehan got away with was the 90-flip to Jackson on 3rd-and-short in the 2nd. Steven made a great play to keep that from being a 5-yard loss and the Rams drove on for a score. Sometimes your iffy calls work; sometimes your perfect calls fail. Linehan had Jackson set up for a screen against a 49er blitz in the 2nd, a play that likely would have gone 40+ yards for a score, had Bryant Young not knocked the pass down. The offense went way south in the 2nd half, in part because Linehan, like Haslett, got too conservative and predictable. There was a sequence in the 3rd where they ran the same handoff to Jackson / fake end-around to Hall two straight plays, netting only 2 yards and a punt. Playcalling was much too predictable in the half, and though there were a lot of quick slants and screens in the playbook to combat the 49er blitz, there were also too many plays where Linehan sent everybody downfield and didn’t leave Bulger any extra protection, or a checkdown receiver. Maybe that’s newfound confidence in the offensive line, but for now, it seems mainly a strategy to get Bulger killed. And Linehan wasn’t hired here to get the QB smacked around a lot. That and Linehan’s wire-to-wire playcalling need to improve if his long-term prospects at Rams Park are going to be any good. After all, a man’s got to know his limitations.
Upon further review: Ed Hochuli and crew were a mixed bag, but that's a lot better than the Rams usually get from them. In the 1st, Holt dove for a 1st down at midfield but got only got credit to where his elbow touched, at the 49, even though the ball was across the 50. I won't understand that call any time soon. Hochuli and crew were unusually helpful after that, though. They saved Bulger an INT late in the half with a flag for illegal contact with McMichael, though the trip of Bennett that created the INT also should have been flagged. Early in the 3rd, they nailed a tough call on a sideline bomb to Moran Norris, whose toe just caught the sideline for an incomplete pass. On 3rd-and-17 the next play, Hill jousted deep with Darrell Jackson and got a no-call that I doubt the majority of officials would give. In the 4th, they did a great job to call Bruce's feet in on the 3rd-down sideline pass, but then blew the spot by a yard, which had to be fixed with a replay challenge. They helped and hurt the Rams in the final 22 seconds. The Rams forced the ball loose from Vernon Davis, but no fumble was called due to his forward progress stopping. Third straight week that call has loomed large. In the process, though, a LOT of time ran off, and the Niners had only 6 seconds left to score. Overall, enough good and bad to score the officials a "C" grade.
* Cheers: The Rams winning sure makes my day, but no thanks to the Fox broadcast's catering to 49er fans. One-time 49er Rod Woodson did color; if you're going to raid the NFL Network for ex-players from one of the teams, why not Marshall Faulk? And every time the ***** got the ball, Chris Myers tried to comfort 49er fans by saying they were just one big play away from tying the game. He said it a dozen times if he said it once. Hell, when the Rams went ahead 13-3, Myers cooed the ***** were just TWO big plays away! Some of Woodson's analysis was entertaining, but he blew the Holt non-1st-down in the 1st worse than anybody, calling his elbow down at a point when it pretty obviously wasn't. Not even the sideline presence of Diana Ross lookalike Michele Turner could keep the broadcast from being a supreme disappointment.
* Who’s next?: Two wins in a row is terrific; who’s for three? The Rams haven’t exactly exploited their home-field advantage this season, and their next opponent, Seattle, humiliated them 33-6 four weeks ago, but this is a different Ram team, one that should at least be able to put a scare into the current NFC West leaders. Bulger was terrible last time, and the offensive line was dreadful, yielding SEVEN sacks, but the Ram QB is healthier now, and Milford Brown won’t be playing RT and getting smoked by Darryl Tapp all day. Having played together a little bit now, the Ram o-line shouldn’t turn guys like Craig Terrill into Warren Sapp, and at home, they shouldn’t false start a ridiculous five times. The Rams didn’t run well last time, either, but this time, they have Steven Jackson, who always strikes fear in the Seahawks’ hearts. In a perfect world, the Rams’ll take charge of the line of scrimmage the way they did in the first half today and establish Jackson as an absolute power. Linehan was too slow to quicken the offensive tempo in Seattle, then didn’t stick with it long enough, even as it returned modest success. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Rams come out up-tempo right away next Sunday and also pound Jackson at the Seahawks. Put them on their heels and keep them there.
Despite the blowout, Jim Haslett’s defense had a good game against Seattle in October. Make no mistake, against Seattle’s solid offensive line, the Rams are going to have to blitz, but they don’t have the TEs or pass-catching RBs to really make Haslett worry about the consequences. Yes, Ram blitzes got gashed repeatedly in Seattle by dumpoffs to Leonard Weaver. And yes, the Ram LBs turned Will Heller into Tony Gonzalez, surrendering 2 short TDs on identical plays. This is a better defense, though. They’re improving and gaining confidence by the week. A little better discipline will eliminate the plays Seattle burned them with last time, the plays San Francisco failed to burn them with today. Seattle’s offense is beatable. They’re only 21st in rushing. Shaun Alexander has been nicked up all year and seems in rapid decline as a RB, averaging only 3.3 yards an attempt. Seattle has only 3 rushing TDs; two years ago, Alexander ran for 27 himself! Matt Hasselbeck’s carrying the offense now; over the last five games, he’s averaging nearly 300 yards and 2 TD passes. Their receivers are hard to plan for right now because all their WRs are finally getting healthy. DJ Freaking Hackett had 9 catches and a TD Sunday against Chicago, but one way they’ll keep the Ram defense off balance will be by lining up Deion Branch, Nate Burleson and Bobby Engram out there as well and force the Rams into a lot of nickel and dime coverage. If Jim Haslett doesn’t feel like gambling, the extra WRs will keep him from blitzing and they’ll effectively move the ball on the Rams. If Haslett’s feeling the rush, though, we could be in for a fun game.
Motivation shouldn’t be a problem for anybody involved with the Rams this week. They should really want to make up for the debacle in Seattle. They should really want to win their third in a row and first in front of the home fans. And frown if you want, but Scott Linehan ought to be motivated into calling a dynamic game because a win over Seattle could very well save him for next season. If he can show his team can compete with the top of the division, it’d be a very big, very good sign. It would be a signature win for the season and could give management confidence that a healthier team and a solid draft will put the team back in a competitive position from the start in 2008. Any which way they can, it’s time for the Rams to play spoiler. With focus, to the spoiler will belong the victory. So do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya?
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 11/18/2007: Rams 13, Whiners 9 (Long)
franke, your recap had me beguiled. I like your take on next weeks game and Linehan's dire predicament.
Re: RamView, 11/18/2007: Rams 13, Whiners 9 (Long)
Strangely enough, I was stuck listening to a San Francisco radio station online, and they were extraordinarily complimentary of the Rams. They praised everything from Bulger's accuracy to Linehan's playcalling.
Good read, btw.