RamView, 11/20/2011: Seahawks 24, Rams 7 (Long)
RamView, November 20, 2011
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #10: Seahawks 24, Rams 7
The poorly-run, poorly-manned, poorly-schemed Ram offense puts on one of its poorest performances in memory as the Rams get dominated at home by a 3-6 team. God I hate this season.
Position by position:
* QB: It’s hard to say Sam Bradford (20-40-181, 60.5 PR) looked anything other than awful in this game. If he’s really as bad as he was this week, we’re all screwed. He certainly made his share of poor plays. His first throw of the game was behind Brandon Lloyd and should have been intercepted. That was a theme of the Ram passing game – force the ball to Lloyd – that usually didn’t work. Bradford got nothing done with his long ball and showed sporadic inaccuracy on medium passes. However, he strung a few completions together from time to time, and he hit a wide-open Lloyd in the end zone with a pretty 30-yard pass to open the scoring. Midway thru the 3rd, the Rams are still in the game, down 10-7. But at that point, the Ram offense that had been sputtering at best suddenly stepped on the gas and ran headfirst into a tree. Problems Bradford has had all season reared their ugly heads. Poor feel in the pocket and poor ball protection led to a critical sack/fumble for Chris Clemons that led to a Seattle TD. Midway through the 4th, Bradford once again fails to throw a pass over the defensive line; Brandon Mebane tips it and Red Bryant ends up with it, another Bradford turnover that led to another Seattle score. Seattle put the game in the cooler when Bradford fumbled again late in the 4th after another sack by Clemons. Those are situations where Bradford’s got to do better and elevate the rest of the offense. But before we start calling for A.J. Feeley, (or I get accused of it) let’s make sure to step back and look at the whole picture of this game. Bradford got hurt a couple of times in the 2nd half by momentum-crushing drops. You might even say there was one on his INT. The Rams lacked any running game, certainly complicating his job. He seemed to lock onto receivers and hold the ball too long on sacks. Don’t put all of that on Bradford. There weren’t a lot of receivers breaking open. The offensive line was decimated by injury and played abysmally. Just as bad, the game plan did nothing to adjust for these issues, rarely throwing over the middle, getting away from the quick passing game, calling overcomplicated downfield pass plays on 3rd-and-shorts. Several times Bradford threw dumb-looking passes towards not-open receivers not expecting the pass because it was either that or get sacked. On the second fumble, Bradford had all of 2 Mississippis before he got hit. Tom Brady wouldn’t have succeeded in Bradford’s shoes this week, and Bradford’s not going to succeed until the Rams’ offensive coordinator recognizes he’s working for the 2011 Rams, not the 2007 Patriots.
* RB: Steven Jackson (15-42) probably had room to run twice in this game. On a 3rd-and-forever in the 2nd, he bounced outside off a block by Jacob Bell, got some downfield help from Brandon Gibson and charged for a 19-yard gain. In the 3rd, he drove left for 9 after making his own hole by pancaking teammate Stephen Spach. Do the math; that’s 14 yards on his other 13 carries. Very little he could do about that, getting met in the backfield almost all game by unblocked defenders. He seemed to do all right at blitz pickup. He had little impact as a receiver (3-19) even though the game plan strangely split him out wide a lot, and though he was open for dumpoffs over the middle a lot. My biggest disappointment with Jackson was not seeing him do anything to light a fire under the team like he did during the Saints game. He seems to cede on-field leadership to Bradford, and in this game, though his effort was exemplary as always, I wanted to see Jackson rage, rage against the dying of the season. He kept that bottled up instead, and didn’t really get a chance to unleash it on anybody this week. Also not unleashed again this week: injured Cadillac Williams and perennial game-day inactive Jerious Norwood. Boy were THOSE some fine off-season acquisitions.
* Receivers: Oh great, the Rams have a bunch of receivers who can’t get open again, kind of where we started the season. Brandon Lloyd (5-67) didn’t show much field-stretching ability this week, blanketed on all his downfield sorties by an average-at-best Seahawk secondary. OK, except on his 30-yard TD catch, where he got open practically by bouncing off the turf after stumbling on his route. But lots of targets – 14 – and lots of deep targets, most unproductive. Brandon Gibson (4-37) was reliable on underneath stuff, until the Rams got away from it. Mark Clayton (3-26) still seems to be finding his way around the offense, and uncharacteristically had a pass clang off his chest in the 4th. Austin Pettis (2-12) also had a drop and muffed a chance to prevent Bradford’s 4th-quarter tipped pass from becoming an INT. The Rams got almost nothing out of TE. Lance Kendricks (2-21) didn’t even get a look until very late in the game. Stephen Spach (1-minus 1) was useless on rollout passes and went all Pon Farr on K.J. Wright for a personal foul at the end of the 1st. Um, Spach is NOT supposed to let his emotions get the best of him, right? Needless to say, this is not a very dynamic group of receivers. They struggled all day to get any separation. Unless Clayton quickly gets up to speed, or Danario Alexander ever gets healthy ever again, nothing’s going to keep opponents from giving Lloyd extra attention and keeping the Rams in the same boat they’ve been in most of the season. Which has already sunk.
* Offensive line: Sigh. Overmatched, thy name is Kevin Hughes. Promoted from the practice squad Saturday and thrust into the left tackle position in the 2nd quarter after Mark LeVoir left due to an injured shoulder, Hughes was about as ready for his pro debut as the guy Derek Wallace onside-kicked at at the end of Waterboy. Hughes wasn’t even a revolving door trying to block Chris Clemons, because you have to make contact with a revolving door. Hughes was more like a pinwheel, blowing in the wind created by Clemons flying by him. Almost every pass protection involved Hughes diving wildly in Clemons’ direction after getting beaten by a good two steps. Clemons beat him not just for two sacks, but for two sack/fumbles. Clemons literally got to Bradford in two seconds on the last one; Hughes isn’t even skilled enough to get in his way effectively. You or I would have been as effective at LT. Hughes was put in a terrible situation here, and the Rams have to find an upgrade for next game who is actually ready for the pros. The Rams protected Bradford well for a while when LeVoir was still in the game, but the level of play this week was terrible across the line. Jacob Bell was terrible run-blocking. He couldn’t budge the nose tackle on the initial 3rd-down failed inside handoff. He was blown up so badly by Brandon Mebane on one run in the 2nd that Adam Goldberg couldn’t get down the line to make his pull block. When Adam Goldberg is giving someone a “What the hell, dude?” expression on the field, that guy must suck. Goldberg sucked in the 4th, beaten regularly in pass protection and looking as bad as Hughes did when Clemons and Red Bryant beat them and met at Bradford for a sack. Tony Wragge let the nose tackle go right by him on a big loss for Jackson in the 1st, and let Leroy Hill run right past him for the first sack of Bradford, though Spach, no help in blitz pickup, wouldn’t have found Hill with a tricorder. Rodger Saffold’s ill-timed injury Friday night really hurt the o-line this week, but I can’t let them off the hook with any grade short of epic fail. They made life in the pocket miserable for Bradford and gave Seahawks free runs at Jackson all game long. The biggest cause of this blowout victory lies in Seattle's domination of the Ram offensive line.
* Defensive line/LB: Little or no fault with the Ram defense this week, as they continue to play at their highest level of the season. They kept Marshawn Lynch in Least Mode, holding him to 88 yards on 27 carries with one of their most impressive gang-tackling games in years. James Laurinaitis was everywhere and had 13 tackles. Quintin Mikell and Darian Stewart brought a ton of help from the backfield. The middle line held up extremely well against the run; Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan both had their best games of the season. C.J. Ah You, who had a strong game, blew his chance at the Rams’ first sack after torching LG Pat McQuistan in the 1st, but James Hall got Tarvaris Jackson on the rebound. The strength of the Ram defense, though, continues to be the Pro Bowl effort being put on by Chris Long. He was strong against the run, whether chasing plays down the line or blowing them up in the backfield. The next play after Hall’s sack, Robert Quinn got to Jackson on a rollout to make it back-to-back sacks and force a punt. He never does it without Long, though, who, like an animal, had tied up three Seahawk blockers in front of Jackson. Long injured his ankle on that play but played through the whole game with the injury. He was an effective threat from the (dreaded) “wide 9” alignment, which the Rams used more this week than any other time this season for sure. Long got one of the Rams’ four sacks late in the 2nd, with Stewart adding one on a blitz. Yes, Lynch beat a tied-up long and a slow Craig Dahl for a short TD, and Justin Forsett made embarrassing mincemeat out of Mikell, Marquis Johnson and Justin King on the final, 22-yard TD run. But the Ram defense was eventually bound to pay for the offense’s inability to stay on the field; Seattle had the ball for 35 minutes to 25. Long’s transcendent play is still lifting this defense, along with his own career, to its highest levels.
* Secondary: Not a bad effort by the Rams’ depleted pass coverage, either. After Josh Gordy got burned for 55 by a perfectly-executed trick play, Chris Chamberlain jumped a Mike Williams route just as perfectly for an INT. Quintin Mikell did the same the very next drive, jumping a route for an INT that set up the Rams’ ONLY TD. Tarvaris Jackson’s no Dave Krieg, but it’s still worth noting the Rams held him under 150 yards. The Rams apparently are going to have to pitch a shutout on D to win any more games in 2011, though, which means they’re going to have to play perfect zone defense. There were too many big breakdowns this week. Sidney Rice popped wide open to convert a 3rd down on their first TD drive, and scored the first TD on a slant, sort of off Justin King, but Laurinaitis didn’t get a good drop at all, which is unusual. Marquis Johnson let Doug Baldwin by unguarded for a huge gain to set up a Seattle FG right before halftime, with King committing an end zone DPI on Rice to make it a chip shot. Still, the Rams’ defensive players and coaches are getting a lot out of the little they have. (If you’re invited to Rams Park for Thanksgiving, I do not recommend eating the chicken salad.)
* Special teams: The Ram punt return team had a much stronger week than the punting team. Robert Quinn got his hands on a punt for the second time this month, whipping past the long snapper to partially block a kick in the 1st. The rest of the day, Seattle's struggles to block Quinn were comical, as they drew false starts and holding penalties while trying to slow him down. Donnie Jones couldn't replicate that advantage, though, setting up several long Leon Washington returns with poor, short punts. His average for the day was a subpar 44 and his net a dismal 34.7. Maybe Donnie's coming down with a dead leg; the Rams did send him out TEN times this week.
* Coaching: The lockout and/or the hiring of Josh McDaniels are turning out to be the worst things to happen to the Rams in 2011. This had to be McDaniels' worst play-calling game of the season. He turned Jackson into a 15-carry receiving decoy. After LeVoir left the game, the Rams mysteriously seemed to get away from the quicker, shorter passing game, and the Ram passing game ceded the middle of the field to Seattle early on. What about Kevin Hughes' performance made it seem a good idea to call plays that made Bradford (try to) stay in the pocket longer? Or to send little or no blocking help to Hughes' side? Why abandon the middle of the field? Where were the quick slants? Where were the slot routes this offense (used to be) good at? Why wasn't Jackson thrown to more if you weren't going to run him? As Lincoln might have said to McClellan, if you aren't going to use Jackson, can we borrow him for a while? This was as miserable a failure of adjusting a gameplan to the personnel as I can remember here. McDaniels has pulled this crap all season. The inability to get his offense fully installed and functional isn't anybody's fault. Well, the NFL owners, for the lockout, and the football gods for the number of injuries inflicted on this year's Rams. But McDaniels has refused to adjust to any of these conditions, calling plays like he's still in Foxborough and it's 2007 all over again.
I'm not even that confident McDaniels' play-calling would be all that good even with his system fully installed, given some of this week's stinkers. 3rd-and-4, opening possession, shotgun handoff to Jackson running behind Bell. Bleh. 3rd-and-1, end of 1st, McDaniels sends everybody deep downfield, Bradford has to wait forever for anyone to get open, pass knocked down. 3rd-and-1 again in the 3rd, it's the bootleg pass to Spach that has already failed once today, Seattle smothers it and Bradford, on 3rd-and-1, has to throw the ball away. McDaniels is as culpable in this game's offensive failure as anyone.
Steve Spagnuolo has the Ram defense playing extremely well after a (very) slow start, and he deserves credit for it. He's a heck of a defensive coordinator. Unfortunately, he's supposed to be a head coach. He's supposed to be in charge of both sides of the ball. Yet he appears unable or unwilling to take McDaniels aside and tell him to run a safer, saner offense that won't get the franchise QB's body and psyche battered until he becomes the next Marc Bulger. Unless he puts McDaniels on a short leash, and influences him to run an offense the Rams actually have the personnel to run, he's complicit in the offense's complete failure, whether or not he actually cares about that side of the ball. I wonder sometimes. A leash shouldn't be hard for Spagnuolo to find, as far deep as he is in the doghouse anyway.
* Upon further review: Almost as poor a game by Carl Cheffers and crew as it was by the Rams. On Washington's first long punt return, Chris Chamberlain got blocked low and from behind right at the point of attack. Should have been called a trip or a block in the back. No call. The personal foul on Spach was a B.S. NHL call. Spach was retaliating for Wright standing over him and taunting him, which by itself should have been a 15-yard flag on Seattle. They pretty much let Brandon Browner run over Lloyd on a deep route in the 3rd. Nope, no call. At least they got Kam Chancellor for the headshot on Kendricks at the end of the game, which should bring him a nice, hefty fine from the league. All I have for Cheffers, though, is a D.
* Cheers: The crowd - maybe in the mid 40,000s again this week - arrived in a good mood, but didn't leave that way. The Rams had strong crowd momentum early, and Seattle had some difficulty with false starts. Clayton got a hearty welcome-back ovation after his first catch. Only held up until Seattle tied the game at 7, though, with the realization of the Rams' sputtering offense really sinking in at that point. There were moments in the 2nd half, though, when the crowd rallied the defense at ear-splitting levels. A good, but uneven effort, at least until the end, when the crowd switched to booing its own offense off the field. The we-give-up kneel at the end of the game was especially galling. I'm sure the intent was to get the game over without another injury, but what is the ONE thing home fans NEVER want to see their team do? Give up. You give up, Coach? Hell, so do I. Preposterous as this may sound, watch out for calls for A.J. Feeley next week if the passing game sputters for too long.
* Who’s next?: The Rams didn't have to wait long for a chance to avenge their gut-wrenching loss to Arizona back on November 4th; it comes next week when the teams meet for the second time in four weeks, here in St. Louis. Gut-wrenching is the best way to describe this whole rivalry for St. Louis fans hoping to get a measure of satisfaction in beating the Bidwill Cardinals. The Rams have lost eight of the last nine to Arizona, and haven't beaten them here, in St. Louis, AT HOME, since 2004. It's beyond appalling, really. It's not like these are the Montana/Young *****. What's it going to take for the Rams to beat these guys?
With more practice time under his belt with Lloyd and Clayton, Bradford should be more effective than he was in the first meeting. We hope. It sure as hell can't get much worse. As Bradford's ankle improves, McDaniels should be able to open the offense more with no-huddle and bootlegs. That'll give Arizona plenty to think about that they didn't have to last time. But it's just as important for Bradford to show progress in the mental part of his game, by recognizing blitzes better and getting his protection adjusted. And it doesn't apply just to passing plays; Bradford's also got to do better at spotting the run blitzes the Cardinals have been killing the Rams with for years. Maybe the Rams could check out of a 3rd-and-inches play that loses 3 yards for once? When the Rams need those difficult yards, they need to go where they're stronger, up the middle behind Dahl and Wragge, instead of sending Jackson outside to get tripped up by a blitzing safety. Arizona's pass rush will test the Ram tackles with stunts and twists. The Rams will help themselves a lot with improvement in that area. If Kendricks' injury improves, he can really help as a run-blocker and a receiver. TEs have been killing Arizona lately. We always mention Adrian Wilson as Arizona's defensive catalyst, but it's past time to recognize LB Darryl Washington, who is as hot as any defensive player in the league. He's all over the field, a lethal blitzer and more than versatile and athletic enough to make plays dropping back in coverage. Bradford needs to know where Washington is every play.
The Rams' defensive effort in Arizona certainly deserved a win. If they hold Beanie Wells to 20 yards and sack the Arizona QB three times again, you'd think they'd deserve one again. The Rams should own a lot of matchups next week. Darryn Colledge and Rex Hadnot have been poor for Arizona up the middle and Chris Long usually dominates Jeremy Bridges. This shouldn't be a game where the QBs are frequently comfortable in the pocket; the Rams and Cardinals are 1-2 in the league in allowing the most sacks. This time around, Arizona might be the team with the cold QB, if this is the week Kevin Kolb comes back from turf toe. The Rams would probably welcome that. Kolb would be rusty on top of the poor accuracy, poor ball protection and poor pocket poise he showed up until his injury three weeks ago. No wonder the Cardinals won two behind John Skelton, who appeared to be growing more confident behind center as they won in Philadelphia last week. Part of the reason for that is the weird trend of NFL defenses to forget Larry Fitzgerald is on the field. The Eagles gave up a Fitzgerald TD last week covering him with a LB, and gave up the big play that set up the winning TD covering him with a rookie safety instead of any of their bazillion dollars worth of CBs. The Rams gave up a Fitzgerald TD in the first game trying to cover him with Laurinaitis. Why do defenses DO that? Doubt the Rams forget about Fitzgerald next week; it'll probably take two of their post-apocalyptic CBs to keep tabs on big #11 anyway. Don't be surprised to see Arizona run some no-huddle, which was their most effective attack against the Rams in the first game.
As they've done so many times this season, the Rams have managed to shock us again this week not just by losing, but losing badly, not even playing competitively. Well, more bad news. Arizona's the last realistic chance the Rams have to win a game this season. They've got four games left against legitimate playoff contenders and one at a venue, Seattle, where they haven't been competitive for years. So it's pretty much do or die next Sunday, guys. Do or die, coach. Could be your last chance here. Make the most of it.
Game stats from nfl.com