RamView, 11/19/2006: Panthers 15, Rams ZERO (Long)
RamView, November 19, 2006
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #10: Carolina 15, Rams ZERO
A complete disaster in Carolina sees the Rams shut out for the first time since the offense was run by Tony Banks and the incompetent Jerry Rhome. Nice work, Scott Linehan. The 28th-ranked Panther rushing game runs for not only a season-high, but a team record, 242 yards. Nice work, Jim Haslett. It's the Rams' fifth straight loss, they are now decidedly worse on BOTH sides of the ball than they were before Linehan took over, and they won't win another game this season the way they're playing. Nice work, team.
Position by position:
* QB: This was easily one of the worst complete games of Marc Bulger's career, 19-34 for a woeful 142 yards, an INT and an awful 53.8 passer rating. Marc couldn't do much today, with a Panther in his face nearly every time he dropped back, and a disinterested receiving corps dropping an unacceptable number of passes, but he still did nothing, and shouldn't be let off the hook for the loss. This was as mentally bad a game as I've seen him play. He missed an open Isaac Bruce on the game's first play. The offense went nowhere today, 111 miserable net yards, and will continue to go nowhere until Bulger figures out he can't hold the ball all day. He started the next possession by holding the ball so long Richie Incognito had to commit a hold to keep him from getting killed. The Rams had 14 total yards in the first quarter. Bulger was sacked five times before halftime, but his pocket presence, or lack thereof, didn't help the offense, either. He had chances to avoid at least a couple of those sacks, especially the fifth one just before halftime, but he held the ball FOREVER and got dropped by Thomas Davis. Amazingly, the Rams were down only 10-0 at halftime, but Marc's play got even worse. On back-to-back plays in the 3rd, Bulger held the ball long enough to be considered its common-law spouse. One was an 18-yard sideline completion to Joe Klopfenstein, admittedly Marc's best throw of the day. The next, though, was Carolina's sixth sack, Davis' 2nd. Does Alex Barron deserve the blame there when Bulger's posing with the ball long enough to have his portrait painted? (And a true likeness at that - not one of those Leroy Neiman swirly messes.) Late in the third, near his own goal line, Marc finally did unload one quickly to beat the rush. Naturally, it was a lousy throw, behind Kevin Curtis and picked off by Christian Morton to set up a FG. Down 13-0 midway through the 4th, Marc finally strung a few completions together, and got the Rams across midfield for the SECOND time all game before Torry Holt "fumbled" a pass away. Pinned at the goal line the next possession, with Mike Rucker right in his face, Marc ridiculously pump fakes instead of throwing or running the hell away, and Rucker finishes the game off with a sack and a safety. There is so much blame to go around for today's fiasco, it's hard to pick a place to start. And I wouldn't start at Bulger. But did Marc play a good game? Far from it.
* RB: Quiet game for Steven Jackson, only 7-27 rushing to go with 7-30 receiving. But Steven hurt the Rams the most with several failures to pick up blitzes or get chip blocks on rushers. Rookie Joe Addai made some super pickups in the Colt-Cowboy game; maybe somebody should embarrass Steven into blocking better by showing him that footage. Late in the first half, Jackson needed to chip Mike Rucker, but basically whiffed, and Rucker whipped Joe Klopfenstein for Carolina's third sack. Their fourth sack came the next play, as Jackson likely blocked the wrong man on a slick double-dog blitz that brought Chris Draft to Bulger untouched. Jackson got eaten alive by Davis the next drive for Carolina's fifth sack, though Bulger held the ball too long on the play. But it wasn't exactly max "protection" with Steven back there, and to compound things, he was practically a non-factor with the ball, with only four impact plays, and one was a 16-yard dumpoff-and-run on a 3rd-and-23 where the Panthers didn't exactly need to play him close. Fourteen touches is way too few for Jackson; then again, he averaged just four yards per touch he did get. On the kind of day where Jackson needed to do the little things to make an impact, he didn't get the job done.
* WR: I never ever thought I'd say this, but the Ram receiving corps was an embarrassment today. I don't know where their heads were; my guess is proctological in nature. Isaac Bruce (1-6) was said to have experienced blurred vision, which may explain a career-worst game in which he dropped several passes. Isaac dropped the most, but wasn't alone. Shaun McDonald killed the opening drive with a drop. Torry Holt (6-77) had yet another quiet day and dropped a pass late in the first. Give Torry credit for stiffarming a DB away to get 13 on 3rd-and-8 on the 1st series of the 2nd quarter. Isaac followed that with a brutal drop, though, and added another one on the Rams' late first-half drive, which Torry kept alive with a smooth veteran play, extending the ball across the first-down line to convert a 3rd-and-16. Joe Klopfenstein had the game's longest reception, but it was just 18 yards, as the Rams continue to play shortball. The passing game all but disappeared after halftime. Bruce dropped his FOURTH ball. Bulger got picked off. Kevin Curtis dropped a pass. When the O finally moved a little in the 4th, Holt bobbled a pass that ended up being called a fumble. Bruce's vision problem seems fitting, because with six or seven dropped passes and sloppy play against a secondary starting rookie Richard Marshall, Ram receivers really lacked focus in this one.
* Offensive line: The good news: the Rams held Julius Peppers to no sacks, no tackles. The bad news: the rest of the Panther defense was on Bulger like paparazzi on the Holmes-Cruise wedding procession route. Damione Freaking Lewis sacked Bulger late in the first; Peppers tied up both Alex Barron and Adam Timmerman, letting D-F-Lew get in alone. The next drive, Freaking D-Lew, unblocked by Adam Goldberg, got a half-sack along with Kindal Moorehead, who eluded both Todd Steussie and Goldberg. Goldberg was so bad, and so dominated by the otherwise-ordinary Mike Rucker, he's not even the second-best Goldberg I'd want at LT now. I'd prefer pro wrestler/former Ram draft pick Bill Goldberg, or Goldberg from The Mighty Ducks. At least they wouldn't get knocked on their ass like Adam did. I liked Richie Incognito's game, though he turned a veteran play into a rookie play in the 2nd, when he quick-snapped to try to catch the Panthers offside, but forgot Bulger was in the shotgun, resulting in a humorous Eephus snap. Still, Andy McCollum's never made that play. The Panthers got Bulger three times late in the first half. Mike Rucker beat Joe Klopfenstein (NOT an optimal matchup), then Chris Draft came in on a double-dog blitz the next play. I think Jackson messed up on that protection, and I know he's the one who got eaten up by Thomas Davis on sack #5. And Carolina wasn't done; Davis beat Alex Barron for a sack in the 3rd, though that sack was much more Bulger's fault. I think Rucker beat Goldberg to force Bulger's INT in the 4th, and I know Rucker destroyed Goldberg to sack Bulger for the game-ending safety. Little surprise the offensive line struggled mightily without Orlando Pace, but today does NOT bode well for the rest of the season. At all.
* Defensive line/LB: Another banner day for the Marmoset Defense, which allowed 242 rushing yards to a team that had been averaging 92.3. If you had a Panther uniform and both feet, you were going places today. DeShaun Foster took a draw for 31 on Carolina’s first drive, as outside containment was non-existent. Fortunately, the Rams stopped the Panthers by blowing up a screen pass with a blitz and good coverage by Dexter Coakley and a Jerome Carter INT the following play. After a punt pinned Carolina at their own 1, the Rams did what they’ve done all season: squander excellent field position. Brad Hoover immediately gashed the Rams for 17, as Will Witherspoon got crushed, Jimmy Kennedy once again proved useless and Victor Adeyanju bit on a fake in the backfield. Foster followed that with 16 on a flip play, again with no outside containment. DeAngelo Williams then ran away from an overshift and Witherspoon’s and Pisa Tinoisamoa’s overruns for 14. Pisa had a terrible game, possibly his worst as a pro, and appeared to be the main man blowing the outside containments all day. The Rams stopped the drive, though, with a LaRoi Glover sack and a Leonard Little sack/fumble (recovered by Carolina). The Panthers scored a FG the next drive, another terrible one for Pisa. Foster got 19 on 3rd-and-3, as Pisa got decimated by Hoover. Williams then put a brutal fake on 5-0 on a 17-yard screen, and Keyshawn Johnson finished off the humiliation by crushing Pisa on an 11-yard Foster run. The Rams limited that drive to 3 with another blitz, but trailed 10-0 at halftime. The break didn’t help Pisa any. Needing a stop to trap Carolina deep in their end, they instead let Nick Freaking Goings blast for 28. Pisa was apparently catching flies. He coasted/loafed into the gap to get blasted again by Hoover as Goings roared through. Good pass coverage kept the Rams in it a while; Carolina 3-and-outed most of the 3rd. Adeyanju batted down a Jake Delhomme pass. Carter made a great third-down stop to kill a drive, and Brandon Chillar duplicated that a drive later by stopping Hoover on 3rd down. Bulger’s brutal INT resulted only in a Panther FG thanks to Glover’s second sack. Pass rush was good today, with three sacks and plenty of good pressures. Run defense? Not at all. Williams and Hoover marched for 7, 6, 7 and 6 after Holt’s 4th-quarter “fumble” before OJ Atogwe stripped Hoover inside the 5. That was the defense’s last chance to make a play, though: Carolina got a safety and ran out the clock. The D didn’t lack big plays or pass rush, which was good, but it continues to kill itself with its pathetic play against the run. If you’re not going to hold an opponent under six yards a rush, if you’re repeatedly going to give up one big gain after another, you’re never going to get your offense in decent scoring position, which God knows this offense needed today. The LBs and Kennedy especially seem to disappear on these big plays, and they’d better get their acts together before they’re replaced by unexpectedly-high draft picks.
* Secondary: Finding the ball is a pretty important skill the young Ram DBs would do well to develop quickly. Tye Hill would have been beaten by Steve Smith for an early TD on a ball he was slow to find, but he was saved by an illegal man downfield. OJ Atogwe was not as lucky, getting beat by Smith for a 62-yard TD on an underthrown bomb from Jake Delhomme I’m not sure he ever located. Pass coverage was quite good otherwise. Career-best game from Jerome Carter, who beautifully stepped in front of Drew Carter to pick off a pass and kill an early drive. He killed another in the 3rd with a great open-field stop of Smith on 3rd-and-8. Atogwe saved a late TD by stripping Brad Hoover inside the 5-yard line, with Kennedy recovering. Tye Hill won an entertaining exchange with Keyshawn Johnson in the 4th. He was beaten for a 34-yard pass on 3rd-and-9, but Keyshawn face-masked him to give back some of the yardage. The next play, Tye picked off Keyshawn, who badly underthrew a gadget pass. The secondary had a pretty good outing against one of the NFL’s elite receiver pairings, and was probably the team’s strong suit today.
* Special teams: Hopefully making him punt NINE times today didn’t deaden Matt Turk’s leg for the rest of the season, because he had a fine game. His hang time was excellent, and his 46.2 yard average included a 60-yard blast late in the 2nd. Punt coverage excelled; they allowed only a 4-yard return on that bomb. Ron Bartell made an excellent play in the 1st, swatting a madly-bouncing punt out of the end zone to Hill at the one-yard line. Willie Ponder carried a guy six yards while returning the opening kickoff 28 yards, but he only averaged 19.3 a return. With almost all of Jason Baker’s punts going into the end zone, the Rams started a whole lot of drives right around their 20, so not much has changed yet in the return game.
* Coaching/discipline: The Rams seem to turn in a worse coaching performance every week now. Morphing “Mad Mike” into “Loony Linny” can’t be what John Shaw had in mind this past offseason, but Scott Linehan called FORTY-ONE passes vs. only EIGHT runs, a less balanced game than many of Martz’s wacky losses the last couple of years here. The imbalance was a terrible idea given the state of the offensive line, and was the main thing that lost the game. Failure to run didn’t keep the Panther blitz honest, so the makeshift Ram line could never protect Bulger well enough to make deep passing feasible, if Linehan even called for any. With the deep ball nullified, the Panthers could shorten the field and jump all over the screens, quick passes and rollouts that otherwise would have been good calls against the blitz. Linehan needed to run to set up the deep ball, but abandoned the run completely even though the Rams were down only 10 most of the game. Linehan can’t catch the ball or block for his guys out there, but he has to give them a better chance than he did today lurching into a predictable game plan. And how was a slow-developing pattern with a pump-fake near the Rams’ own goal line a good idea? It’s fine if you haven’t encouraged Carolina to blitz every play, but Linehan completely mishandled this game and encouraged tons of blitzing instead. Coach, when we hoped you’d reawaken the echoes, we didn’t mean 1998.
One of Jim Haslett’s many blitzes saved the Rams an early TD, because it blew up a screen pass and drew an illegal-man-downfield penalty. But far differently than the Rams, Carolina attempted to, and did definitely, establish the running game. The Fox broadcast pointed out how often a run broke through the line directly into the secondary, which I am baffled to explain. Why can’t Haslett get his linebackers in position to make plays? Wasn’t he a linebacker himself? Oughtn’t he know the position? Though I know Witherspoon was out of position on one of DeShaun Foster’s big early runs because Haslett had him blitzing. Maybe not the right player to blitz with on third-and-3. Haslett’s gotten pass coverage cleaned up quite a bit, but you can never single-cover Steve Smith with a safety, a move that cost them a big TD. Defense wasn’t the biggest culprit today, but it doesn’t speak well of Haslett that this run defense is still at the bottom of the league, and worse than last year, after the team spent a lot in the offseason to fix it.
* Upon further review: The Rams had to break in another new referee today in Jerome Boger, and not surprisingly, it didn’t go real well. The second Ram drive ended because they didn’t flag Marshall for whacking Bruce in the back well before the ball arrived. I’m amazed they called an OPI on Steve Smith later in the 1st, a much less obvious PI than Marshall’s. And that call doesn’t make me confident that Smith didn’t push off on his TD catch against Atogwe, though I think I (like OJ) got fooled by the underthrown pass. They let Matt Turk get run over in the 4th without even a five-yard penalty – how does that work? The Panther clearly was not blocked into him. And on Incognito’s bizarro snap, did he not catch the Panther offsides anyway? Why not offsetting penalties? (Speaking of Incognito, how in the HELL can the NFL fine him, and Bruce, for last week’s end zone rhubarb without fining a single Seahawk?) Bulger was hit late by a blitzer on a completion to Holt early in the 2nd to boot, and Holt decidedly did NOT fumble that pass in the 4th. He never got the ball tucked away, and it should have been an incomplete pass. I have no idea why Boger couldn’t see that. Maybe he was out partying with the Carolina cheerleaders. (And they know how to party.) Short of that, this was yet another inexcusably poorly-officiated Rams game.
* Cheers: Maybe it was because I didn’t hear them over my own shouting at the TV, but Fox’s team of Kenny Albert and Brian Baldinger seemed to do a good job. Baldinger’s analysis was good, though I wish he’d kept the spotlight on the Peppers and Little matchups longer than he did. Baldy certainly did a better job going over Holt’s non-fumble in the 4th than the referee did, and Albert hit almost all of his spots for a change. The production did a good job putting up relevant statistics, like “first shutout since 1998” and “first time in white pants since Los Angeles”. You may now BURN the white pants, by the way. Watching the Charger-Bronco game cost me big as far as seeing local coverage of the Ram game. KSDK spent less time on it than they did interviewing Cardinal pitcher Cris Carpenter or showing the Billikens lose a basketball game BY THIRTY-SIX. “Sports Plus”, my ass. More like “Sports Minus Football”.
* Who’s next?: The heck with the team; Ram cheerleaders Erin and Angeline are in the finals of the NFL Cheerleader Playoffs! Can the Ram cheerleaders use their kayaking experience to overcome the athleticism and superior choreography of the Charger Girls? Can they outmaneuver the power of Atlanta's tall-and-short attack? Will the Rams make adequate use of their formidable "kicking game"? The Chargers won decisively last week, but any given Sunday, right? (Thursday at 6 p.m. EST, actually, on NFL Network.)
I know I’d much rather watch Erin and Angeline next week than the actual game. The ***** are playing their best football of the season, and the Rams are playing their worst. Bulger had a poor game in a 20-13 loss in San Francisco in September, - gee! - failing to unload the ball quickly. Is that going to change? It better. The offensive line played most of that game without Orlando Pace, and proved completely unable to stem the 49er blitz, particularly – gee! – Steussie and Goldberg. Is that going to change? It better. Seeing today's game tape, the ***** will have no fear blitzing the Rams every play. The Ram receivers, Holt in particular, have played uninspired ball against the ***** in recent games, a lot like today. Is that going to change? It better, because I don't see anything happening next week other than ***** pouring through the line all day and clocking Bulger while he spends too long looking for receivers who aren't open.
Frank Gore gashed Seattle for 212 yards today, which doesn’t bode well at all for a run “defense” that couldn’t hold Al Gore, Lesley Gore, or Gore Vidal under 100. If Frank can get 212 off Seattle while overcoming a mild concussion, the 127 he had in September is the low end of what we can expect the Marmoset Defense to yield to him next weekend. San Francisco’s offensive line is healthier than it was in the first meeting, which no doubt will help Alex Smith look good again against the Rams, the only team that ever makes him look good. I don’t think we’ll see the hideous coverage breakdowns we saw in Candlestick in September, but I don’t think the young 49er QB is saying anything short of “Woo-hoo!” at seeing the Rams next on the schedule, either. If Haslett can’t get blitzing to work better this time than last time, it’ll be four straight losses to the *****, and it’ll smell more like 1998 around here all the time.
If the Rams are going to do anything other than get run off the field by the ***** next week, and bury themselves in third place in the process – and boy, is that going to be a bitter pill to swallow if it comes to be – if there's going to be ANY of this season left to salvage, there'd better be some attitude adjustments at Rams Park in a hurry. Some guys need to get their heads straight, the quarterback and the head coach chief among them. The receivers need to pick up their intensity a lot, and start playing like they care. More intensity wouldn’t hurt the o-line or defensive front, either. That should come easily for a key game against a division rival, but motivation hasn’t been a strength of this coaching staff. Actually, this whole team lacks any strength right now except its kickers, who I probably just jinxed. If Scott Linehan wants to prove he’s more Dick Vermeil than Rich Brooks, he and his players better step it up right now.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 11/19/2006: Panthers 15, Rams ZERO (Long)
Re: RamView, 11/19/2006: Panthers 15, Rams ZERO (Long)
You overwhelmingly hit the nail on every head my friend.