RamView, 11/22/2009: Cardinals 21, Rams 13 (Long)
RamView, November 22, 2009
From Row HH
(Report and opinions on and from the game.)
Game #10: Arizona 21, Rams 13
A disappointing letdown in St. Louis, as the Rams start out flat as a doormat and fall too far behind Arizona early to catch back up. And a doormat's all they'll be – 13 straight losses in the NFC West – with games like today's.
* RB: Steven Jackson (24-116) made franchise history by recording his fifth straight 1,000-yard season , in just 10 games this year to boot, but had very tough sledding along the way today. Arizona had the middle of the field clogged up like mall parking lots will be this Friday. Jackson got early running room from Alex Barron and Brandon Gibson (!) on an 11-yard gallop around right end in the 1st, but a lot of his day was short slams up the middle, some of which didn't go well. Near the Arizona 20 in the 2nd, Jackson couldn't eke out a yard in two tries. LB Gerald Hayes appeared to win a big collision on 3rd down and Jackson couldn't get much of a launch on a 4th-down dive attempt with Jacob Bell in his way. Karlos Dansby swallowed him up to get Arizona the ball back. Jackson's 48-yard explosion late in the 3rd appeared to get the Rams back in the game. He worked around a double-team block at right end, really turned on the jets, and was almost gone for the TD. Too bad Arizona tracked him down inside the 5, because later on 3rd-and-goal, they did it again, with Antrell Rolle denying Jackson the left corner on a screen pass that had TD written all over it. Jackson kept a TD drive alive later with a twisting, backwards 4th-and-1 dive, and scored with a plunge off left tackle, but was a limited factor down the stretch. The numbers may not quite say it but Arizona did a good job limiting Jackson. They took the middle of the field away and won some key confrontations.
* QB: It was a very tough day to be a QB in the Dome. Kurt Warner got knocked out of the game by Oshiomogho Atogwe before halftime, and Marc Bulger got knocked out by Darnell Dockett at the end of another frustrating performance (19-37-215, 57.8 rating). Like the rest of this season, there's plenty of blame to go around, but plenty of limitations on Bulger's part to ponder. Even at age 38, Warner's at least twice as mobile as Bulger, who transitions to a runner about as effectively as any Hanna-Barbera character. Bulger killed a drive in the first trying to scramble and then clanging the ball off Daniel Fells' hip. Dockett ended the next drive by smacking a Bulger sidearm pass backwards. Why is a QB's height a big deal to NFL GMs again? Bulger ended the first half on a sour note, throwing an INT right to Adrian Wilson. Fells was open, but with Dockett bearing down, Bulger rushed a just-awful throw that would have fallen two yards short if Wilson hadn't been there. So no, Bulger did not get the Rams off to a strong start, with 77 yards at halftime, only 12 in the first quarter. The offense continued to melt down after halftime, with drives ending on a Donnie Avery drop and a coverage sack. Bulger found Danny Amendola on 3rd-and-9 to prolong the next drive, which would have ended in a TD had Brandon Gibson not lost track of a perfectly good fade pass. He set up a TD in the 4th by just uncorking a throw to Amendola between 2 defenders inside the 5. The Rams finally gathered some rhythm and momentum. They got the ball back down 8 and Bulger hit Avery a couple of times for 50 yards, the second for 21 by pump-faking the crap out of Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, getting him to squat on the short route. But then from the Arizona 7, another failed connection with Gibson, despite Bulger putting the ball right in his breadbasket. The TV broadcast blamed Bulger for underthrowing the pass, not an invalid point, but that ball practically caught itself. C'mon, rook. Failure there left the Rams in desperation mode with 1:01 left, and who knows where that's left Bulger. Dockett jacked him up on first down, leaving Bulger so woozy he could barely stay on his feet. Little surprise he missed Randy McMichael by a mile on 2nd down, crossed wires with Gibson again on 3rd down and ended the game with a goofy, failed scramble. And a concussion. The surprise was that he finished the game, a testament to his toughness, though not necessarily the alertness of the Rams' sideline. Other than his tenacity there wasn't much to like about Bulger's game while he was conscious. He looked unsteady in the pocket, locked in on receivers, didn't appear to read the field well. You understand what's going on because of Marc's sack and injury history and his inexperienced group of receivers. He is a legitimately tough player. That should never be questioned. But nothing's getting better here, either.
* Receivers: Brandon Gibson's (5-61) impressive game last week kind of made us forget he's still raw as sushi, and he certainly looked it today. He was confused whether or not to be on the field a couple of times, including the first play of the game, starting the Rams off with a penalty. Gibson fought about every part of his game. He fought his timing with his QB. He must have zagged when Bulger zigged half a dozen times. He fought the ball in the air, appearing to lose the ball in the lights on an end zone fade late in the 3rd that landed harmlessly a yard in bounds. He fought the ball in his hands, with a couple of critical drops, including another pass in the end zone in the 4th that was right in his breadbasket. He fought the referees, seemingly (and immaturely) pleading for a penalty flag almost every time he didn't make a catch. All that said, the kid still made some good plays. He's an aware and strong blocker. He's a good YAC receiver and makes nice moves after the catch. The Rams have just been so desperate at WR that they've thrown too much at Gibson too soon. Donnie Avery's (4-65) resurgence, and Danny Amendola's (4-61) reckless abandon, will help there. Avery set up a chance to tie the game in the 4th with 29- and 21-yard receptions. The first was a smoke route where he took off like a Maserati after excellent blocks by Amendola and Randy McMichael (2-17). Avery couldn't out-wrestle Rogers-Cromartie in the end zone on 4th down for that tying score, though. Amendola made the 2nd FG possible by spinning out of a tackle to gain 15 on a smoke route and with a 3rd-and-9 downfield catch. He made the Rams' TD possible with an impressive catch, snagging the ball over his head with Velcro-like hands in a crowd at the 1-yard line, a 25-yard gain on 4th-and-11. Receiver mistakes were a big problem in today's loss, but this unit is still gelling despite its inexperience and injuries. There's a good future here.
* Offensive line: Offensive line mistakes really botched the ending of the game. Dockett clubbed his way around RG Mark Setterstrom like he wasn't even there on the play that concussed Bulger. Alex Barron got whipped right off the snap on the Rams' last play. Setterstrom was at RG because Jason Smith appeared to suffer a concussion and Adam Goldberg, who'd already played RG and a little LT in the game, bounced out to RT. Where he committed a critical penalty, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct very few living humans actually saw, to throw up a big roadblock in the Rams' 4th-quarter comeback attempt. Pass protection was good enough. Arizona had a strong outside rush but the Rams kept it behind Bulger and gave him room to step up. Jackson hasn't been getting enough credit for his improvement picking up the blitz. The other two Cardinal sacks were coverage sacks; Bulger got plenty of time to unload. Run-blocking was the problem today, with Arizona controlling the middle of the field. Jackson got stuffed several times running into Jacob Bell or Jason Brown getting knocked backward. Bell ended up on the ground on the failed 4th-and-1 run in the 2nd, and I think that messed up the plant for Jackson's leap. I'm not sure Jackson had a middle run over 3 yards all game. His success was bouncing outside. Barron helped him get 11 in the 1st. Smith and McMichael's double-team was the linchpin to Jackson's 48-yard run. Bell sat on his man and Barron cleared out the left side on Jackson's TD run in the 4th. They're faring decently despite injuries and shuffling around, but the late mistakes and losing out to Arizona up the middle were critical factors this week.
* Defensive line / LB: Despite Chris Long's third sack of the season and a mind-blowing 16 tackles by James Laurinaitis, the Ram front seven was woeful and bears the brunt of the blame for today's loss. Arizona gashed them for 183 yards rushing and the Rams mounted little pressure with their 4-man rush. They started out fast, with a fumble, then a sack, to kill Arizona drives. Leonard Little whipped Levi Jones and James Hall split a double-team to drop Warner for a big early play, but they were little heard-from the rest of the day, as Arizona commenced with the ground gashing. For all his tackles, Laurinaitis got erased from a lot of plays, too. Deuce Lutui knocked him back five yards on a 12-yard Tim Hightower run. Hightower (14-110) took off for 50 the next play, as Laurinaitis tripped over the feet of LaJuan Ramsey, getting thrown around like a nobody. Arizona went on to a TD, got the ball back quickly and scored again. Beanie Wells (14-74) got 16 on a pitchout Paris Lenon never saw coming. Hightower beat a nickel package for 11 more, with the center knocking Laurinaitis back. Then TE Ben Patrick beat the rookie MLB for 27 to set up the TD. More of the same the next drive. Hightower counter left for 10. You know it's a bad day when your defense is getting blocked by Dan Kreider and Anthony Becht, who couldn't block to save their lives as Rams. The Rams burn themselves with a zone blitz a couple of plays later, leaving Little on Anquan Boldin downfield. Yeah, not a good matchup. Boldin gained 38 down to the 1, and Wells ran through Larry Grant for the Cardinals' third straight TD, and even though the Rams had unknowingly knocked Kurt Warner out of the game that drive, game over. The bashing continued for another drive in the 3rd before the Rams realized that Matt Leinart is such an awful QB they could sell out against the run. Victor Adeyanju stuffed a run to start a 3-and-out. David Vobora stripped Becht to force a turnover. Long's tenacious sack – he got knocked backwards at the start but never quit, re-collecting himself and making a beeline for Leinart – forced another 3-and-out. Only two sacks for the game, though, with Adeyanju, Hall and Long blowing golden chances. They couldn't do anything against quick passes, usually just getting stood up. Warner got enough time on some deep drops to start another charity. The Rams didn't get anything going without blitzing. Granted they're banged-up, but the tackles were useless for the second straight week. Little was a liability against the run again. OLB play was awful, with Grant blowing tackles and Lenon getting blocked out of plays. Vobora provided spark while he was in, and should have played more; the other OLBs sucked. Laurinaitis can't do it all. Think they win this game with Will Witherspoon and Chris Draft? Or if they're not playing flat for at least a half? Even Long said after the game that they came out too flat today. If the Rams are supposed to have a defensive identity right now, I can only assume it's been stolen.
* Secondary: The Rams again laid back in coverage this week to limit deep damage by Arizona's stud WRs but ultimately still got damaged, 8-103 for Anquan Boldin, 8-87 for Larry Fitzgerald, a TD apiece. Boldin beat Ron Bartell with an inside move at the goal line for the first Cardinal TD. Justin King'll get blamed for Fitzgerald's TD the next drive. Let's see, Fitzgerald charges downfield ten yards with his arms up, his elbows out and gives King a big shove at the goal line to get open. Yeah, that's not offensive pass interference. The Rams' problems against the run started opening even bigger holes in the zone, and Warner (15-19-203, 146.3 rating) completed passes, mostly to the two big WRs, at will. Atogwe was one defender who kept the Rams in the game. He recovered a pitchout Wells dropped to set up the Rams' opening FG. He delivered big hits to Warner on the blitz and knocked him out of the game, keeping the Rams in the game by forcing future Draft-Bust-Hall-of-Famer Leinart off the bench. James Butler recovered a fumble to set up the Rams' TD drive in the 4th. The DBs aren't the main culprits today, but with 2 TDs allowed and a couple of big coverage breakdowns, at least one more big play would have been welcome.
* Special teams: Special teams got back on track today and will hopefully stay there. Amendola was the big story, nearly breaking a couple of kick returns big-time, setting the Rams up near the 40 a couple of times. Donnie Jones blasted three 60-yard-plus punts and averaged over 56 a kick. Josh Brown's kickoffs were strong and he hit both FG attempts, unpopular as the second one may have been. Chris Chamberlain's really making his mark on kick coverage the last couple of weeks. Even Kenneth Darby contributed a good stop on a kick return. Keep it up.
* Coaching: Little bugs me more than the Rams coming out flat for a game, which is exactly what I believe happened today. Whatever Steve Spagnuolo says Monday, the crowd, half the radio booth and at least one of your players thinks you came out flat. To the team's credit, that's the first time it's happened in a very difficult year, and they worked hard in the second half and made the game respectable. But this is a home game. This is a division opponent. It's surely your fans' most hated opponent. Throw us a bone here and make us believe you're putting urgency into divisional games instead of losing 13 in a row or losing 6 in a row to freaking Bill Bidwill and losing this game AT HOME FOR THE FIFTH STRAIGHT YEAR. I cannot think of a more unacceptable losing streak to have to live with as a St. Louis sports fan. Somebody at Rams Park show that you get that.
Sending in the FG unit on 4th-and-goal from the 2 in the 3rd quarter was EXTREMELY unpopular. Spagnuolo wanted to cut it to a 2-score game, but what's the downside of going for it? I'd happily have taken my chances with Matt Leinart backed up on his own goal line. The spot on Jackson's third-and-1 run in the 2nd should have been challenged. It's a critical play, you're trailing, you're in scoring position; it's worth the risk of losing a timeout. Speaking of risk, what the hell was Bulger doing in the game the last minute when you could see from 100 feet away that he could barely stay upright? The excuse I heard was that the clock was running so they couldn't get Kyle Boller in the game. Has anyone on this staff ever heard of the play where you spike the ball to stop the clock? It's legal, you know! They had as much a chance of a comeback with a cold, off-the-bench Boller as they did with an off-his-pins Bulger, without putting anyone's long-term well-being at risk.
Ken Flajole's X's and O's seemed fine this week; execution was the problem. Blitzing Warner up the middle was effective strategy, and the blitz knocked him out of the game. The Rams didn't blitz willy-nilly, either; Flajole generally picked the right times. The Rams got their first sack on a zone blitz – Long was dropped back in coverage – but the zone blitz also got torched; see, Little v. Boldin in the 2nd. The Rams smartly ran away from Adrian Wilson at times but could have rushed more effectively. More outside running could have unclogged the middle, though some of the smoke routes were probably meant to loosen the field. It's been noted the Rams didn't have Mike Karney on the field in many short-yardage situations, pretty dumb unless he was injured. Jackson runs well behind him, and the Rams got him because of past failures on short-yardage downs. John Lynch on Fox lobbied for some play-action in those situations, with Arizona stacking 9 in the box. If nothing else, it would have loosened up future short-yardage downs. Simple is best, but Pat Shurmur still does things too simply sometimes.
* Upon further review: Bill Leavy's crew left plenty to complain about. I've seen nothing to convince me the spot wasn't off by at least half a yard on Jackson's 3rd-and-1 run in the 2nd. It's spotted as no gain, and the Rams don't convert on 4th down, either. Fitzgerald always gets away with pass interference, but what he did to Justin King on his TD bordered on cartoonish. The crowd really, really wanted DPI on DRC on the 4th-down end zone pass to Avery, but seeing it on TiVo, it looks like a fair call. I sure hope the 15-yard penalty on Goldberg, whatever it was, was worth calling at that juncture of a close contest, though I rather doubt it. I'll levy Leavy a C-minus.
* Cheers: Even in a loss to the hated Cardinals, this game had one of my favorite Dome moments. The stadium was eerily, nervously quiet waiting for the Rams to start their potential game-tying drive in the 4th. What should happen to pop up on the video board to break the silence? John Belushi rallying the Deltas. Over? Did someone say, Over? NOTHING IS OVER UNTIL WE DECIDE IT IS! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! The crowd went nuts. When Bluto asked, “Because when the going gets tough?” we all yelled back, “The tough get going!” Avery started making plays a minute later and the crowd stayed bonkers. We had our moment, until the Rams failed to convert at the end. Still, more Bluto rallies, please. Who's with me? Let's gooooo.... Up until then, there was little mistaking the crowd's dissatisfaction. The Rams were pretty much booed off the field at halftime, and Spagnuolo's decision to kick the second FG was booed as hard as I've ever heard that booed here. The halftime show was by the stylish Willard (S.W. Mo.) High School Band. The Rams generously bought up 4,000 tickets to put the game on TV, but I doubt three poor quarters and a belated rally will spark much walk-up traffic for Seattle next week. Expect a blackout Sunday and a much-less-detailed-than-usual RamView on Monday.
* Who’s next?: When we last left the Seattle Seahawks, they had just crushed the Rams 35-0 for their NINTH straight win in that series. They looked like they were back on their way to the top of the NFC West after that resounding Opening Day victory. Well, that didn't last long. They've only won twice since, and one of those was pretty much handed to them by the Lions. Seattle's Exhibit A against judging a football team based on one week.
The injury bug's more contagious in Seattle this year than H1N1. The offensive line has struggled all year with injuries and consistency, especially at left tackle, which has been manned by four different players, now by Sean Locklear, just back from a week 2 ankle injury. So Matt Hasselbeck's been taking a real beating. He's played this year with broken ribs and played against Minnesota today despite a dirty shot to the throat from Darnell Dockett last week. Hasselbeck deserves tribute for putting up decent numbers despite that, but he was also a big part of Seattle's red zone problems in their loss to Arizona. Seattle's running game has been mostly terrible. Julius Jones only averages 3.7 a carry because he got to play the Rams once. Really. He's averaged just 3.1 since week 1. The problem for the Rams next week is more likely to be Justin Forsett, a Maurice Jones-Drew-lite averaging 7 yards a touch, hard to find as a rusher and dangerous on screen passes. Seattle's veteran receivers have kept Hasselbeck's season from looking a lot more like Marc Bulger's. T.J. Houshmandzadeh has had big games recently after a slow start. And the Rams know firsthand the damage Nate Burleson and TE John Carlson can do. Seattle is one of just three teams that throws over 40 times a game, and with their ragtag o-line, Hasselbeck should see plenty of pressure if any Ram up front wants to step up and provide some. The ultimate difference-maker, though, may be the Rams keeping coverage breakdowns to an acceptable minimum, which Seattle's deep receiving squad will make difficult.
Injuries haven't left Seattle's defense alone, either. MLB Lofa Tatupu's season ended very early. Both starting corners suffered concussions in Arizona. Marcus Trufant got his concussion in just his third week back from a back injury inflicted in July. Without their shutdown corner, Seattle's defensive stats bear the hallmark of a team playing to take away the deep ball. Their 66.1% completion rate against is one of the worst in the league. But before today, they'd allowed only one completion over 40 yards and were tied for 6th in the league for completions allowed over 20 yards. They can leave their safeties back because, unlike the Rams, they're good up front against the run: 10th in the league at 105 yards per game. Brandon Mebane is a solid anchor at DT. David Hawthorne has filled in capably for Tatupu and is flanked by a lot of LB talent in rookie Aaron Curry (42 tkl) and Ram-killer Leroy Hill. The good news for whoever's QBing next week is that Seattle hasn't been creating much pass pressure with their 4-man rush lately, either. Another Ram-killer, Darryl Tapp, has just one sack this season. If the Rams control the edge rush, they'll force Seattle to blitz, and big plays may result, as long as they execute and pick those blitzes up.
On October 10, 1999, the Ram franchise got a huge monkey off its back with a victory over the *****, their first win over San Francisco in nine years, ending a colossal, demoralizing losing streak. With the great weight lifted, the Rams charged ahead to the greatest season in team history. The Rams aren't going to the Super Bowl if they beat Seattle Sunday. But Seahawks are the albatross around the Rams' necks now. They can kill three birds with one stone with a win: the Seattle losing streak, the NFC West losing streak, the home stadium losing streak. Birds, albatrosses, or seahawks, Steve Spagnuolo better be sure his team knows next week is hunting season.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 11/22/2009: Cardinals 21, Rams 13 (Long)
Thanks for the write up Mike. I have not watched the game yet, but I have a good picture of what happened from your write up and the clan's comments.
I liked the in stadium comments about the sound clips and the crowd response. Sports writers don't really comment on it, but it is a big part of the fan experience.
Re: RamView, 11/22/2009: Cardinals 21, Rams 13 (Long)
Agreed about the FG - we should have gone for it for sure. Give it to Jackson - worst case we lose the ball and Leinart is now backed up in his own endzone, best case Jackson charges forward for the TD - I liked those odds a lot.
Re: RamView, 11/22/2009: Cardinals 21, Rams 13 (Long)
Great write up, Mike. In watching this game (especially the first half) it was painfully obvious to me that we have a long way to go before we are even competitive with the Cards. 3 long drives of 78+ yards and over 120 yds rushing allowed gave me time to ponder these thoughts.
Now with the news that Bulger is injured yet again, it's going to continue to be a cold hard winter.
WHAT SAY YE?