RamView, November 27, 2005
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game 10: Rams 33, Texans 27 (OT)

Ryan Fitzpatrick leads the Rams on a Bulger-like comeback for the ages, as the Rams escape Houston with an overtime win after trailing 24-3 at halftime.

Position by position:
* QB: With the Rams down 14-0, and Jamie Martin (2-3-14) off to a poor start, with two sacks, including one where he held the ball so long I think he was going to elope with it, the cry grew loud in Rams Nation for Ryan Fitzpatrick. And when Martin came down with a concussion (yeah, the same one Kurt got in '03 in the Meadowlands), "the Fitz was in". Fitzpatrick led the Rams to a late 1st-half FG, GUNNING one to Torry Holt for 9, hitting Isaac Bruce for a 17-yard screen, and scrambling for 10 to the Houston 19. Ryan had to throw the ball away twice to end that drive. The Rams started the 2nd half with a drive that ended in a TD despite an interception. Fitzpatrick's arm was hit on a 4th-down INT, but Bruce forced a fumble, the Rams got it, and Fitz followed with a beautiful 19-yard TD pass to Holt to make it 24-10. A Pisa Tinoisamoa INT set up the Rams to pull within 24-17. Fitz hit Madison Hedgecock for a 16-yard catch-and-nice-run. After next taking one of his five sacks on the day, on 3rd-and-18, Fitz hit Torry at midfield for 19, an amazing clutch play. The Rams would need more of those down 10 with 2:42 left, and Fitzpatrick made them. A 12-yard scramble on 3rd-and-10. A perfect slant pass to Torry for 8 on 4th-and-1. After that, the Rams appeared charmed. A Fitzpatrick fumble rolled out of bounds. Shaun McDonald snagged a 2nd-and-14 pass one-handed for 8. And on 4th-and-6, Fitzpatrick shook off a rusher who'd grabbed his throwing hand and uncorked a PERFECT bomb to Bruce for a 43-yard TD. It's 27-24, and Fitzpatrick's not done. The Rams recovered an onside kick, and Fitz hit Torry for 19 to set up a game-tying FG. And he still wasn't done. 3rd-and-9 from his own 11 in overtime, Fitz hits Torry for 11. Another completion to Holt took them to the 44, where White Lightning took over, as Kevin Curtis turned a well-designed screen pass into a game-winning, 56-yard TD. Fitzpatrick's performance was transcendent, 19-30-310, 3 TD. He threw accurately, his long throws were superb, and he turned in one clutch play after another. He never got rattled, and his ability to scramble is a welcome quality in a Ram QB. Calm as Marc Bulger, cool as a cucumber, Ryan Fitzpatrick looked nothing like a 7th-round rookie in his first NFL game in leading his team to a memorable comeback.

* RB: Big turnaround for Steven Jackson (25-110) today. He started off with a 17-yard run up the middle behind a big block by Madison Hedgecock. Despite draw plays for 13 and 9, Steven wasn't a big factor the rest of the 1st half. He was much more so after halftime, providing early fuel for the Rams' first TD drive. After a 7-yard run, he charged for 19 between good blocks by Manu and Alex Barron, and added 10 the next play with a nice cutback. Steven preserved the Rams' TD chance by recovering a fumble Isaac Bruce forced on an INT return. Down 24-10, the Rams got inside Houston's 10 and ran 7 plays before scoring. From the 7, Steven lost two yards by dancing outside instead of following Hedgecock into the hole. Whoever the RB coach is next year BETTER work with him on that in the offseason. A stupid Houston penalty gave the Rams a new set of downs. Steven promptly false-started (argh) before 3- and 4-yard gains got the Rams inside the 1, as a Jackson fumble was fortuitously ignored on the 2nd run. After failing to punch it in on 3rd-and-1, Steven did so on 4th-and-1, lunging in behind Adam Timmerman's pull block. After a rough start at it, Steven's blitz pickups got better in the 2nd half. So unlike last week, Steven provided the offensive punch the Rams needed today, with breakaway plays, blocking and tough running at the goal line.

* WR: Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, you rock. Two of the biggest plays of the game weren't receptions, but were plays the never-say-die veterans made. Isaac saved the day after Fitzpatrick's INT in the 3rd, making the best Rams defensive play of the game by tomahawking the ball loose from Marcus Coleman. Jackson recovered and the Rams drove on for a TD. Bruce (4-94) obviously wasn't done, getting behind the Houston secondary for a 43-yard TD with 0:26 left. Holt (10-130) already had a TD catch, but perhaps his biggest play was recovering the onside kick after Bruce's TD. That, plus a 19-yard catch, set up Jeff Wilkins for a can-you-believe-this, game-tying FG. Shaun McDonald (2-18) made two clutch catches on the last-minute TD drive. And in overtime, it was White Lightning to the rescue. On his only catch of the day, Kevin Curtis motions left to right and grabs Fitzpatrick's quick screen. He gets a solid block from Brandon Manuma-leuna, another from Andy McCollum, and background interference from Claude Terrell, which lets him motor upfield, run through an ankle tackle, fake a Texan DB right out of his jock and step on the gas and smoke the Houston D the last 40 yards for the 56-yard game winning TD, leaving Texans giving up in his wake. But when things got dire, the Rams' veteran WRs made big plays. Their leadership stands out today.

* Offensive line: The Rams struggled with the Houston blitz and offensive line injuries but held together. Orlando Pace gamely made a go at it with a bad hamstring, but had to leave the game, putting Alex Barron at LT and Rex Tucker at RT. Rams QBs were sacked SEVEN times by a team that had all of 14 coming in, which is pathetic, but not all the line's fault. Jackson got punked by Morlon Greenwood to give up the first, and Marshall Faulk got steamrolled by DaShon Polk to give up the 2nd. Hedgecock blew the pickup on the last sack of Fitzpatrick, also by Polk. Fitz held the ball too long on one sack, and Houston blitzed an empty backfield on another. The only sack against a lineman I saw was Claude Terrell getting beat by a blitzer in the 4th. No question, though, that the Rams MUST improve against the blitz. This game was won with big blocks: Timmerman's on Jackson's 4th down TD, Manu's and McCollum's on the game-winning TD. They led Jackson to 110 yards. So despite all the sacks, the line held together well today in the face of adversity.

* Defensive line/LB: The Ram defense plumbed new depths, even for them, by allowing 24 first-half points to the NFL's worst offense, a team that hadn't scored 24 in a GAME all year. As usual, poor run defense, poor pass rush and poor strategy turned a bottom-of-the-league offense into a juggernaut. Joe Vitt said before the game the Rams prepared for David Carr's mobility, yet this defense had no idea how to defend a bootleg or a QB scramble. Larry Marmie's suspect defensive alignments handed Houston its first TD. Domanick Davis ran through a big gap in the middle of the line for 13, and Jonathan Wells rumbled through a gigantic gap on the right side of the Ram line for 11 to set up the Andre Johnson TD. Pisa Tinoisamoa was blocked out of both runs, but what's a defense to do when the "strategy" is to hand the opponent a five-yard hole in the middle of the line? The Rams also reeked on third down, giving up 5-of-7 in the 1st half, 3-of-3 on Houston's 2nd TD drive. David Carr scrambled for 11 on a 3rd-and-10 thanks to slow recognition by Brandon Chillar and Pisa. Carr bootlegged for 12 the next play as Jerome Carter got sucked in like the play-action was a black hole. Shortly after, on 3rd-and-10, Marmie proved he doesn't read TMQ, as he blitzes big on a non-blitz down, and drops LEONARD LITTLE back to cover Davis, who catches the ball, girl-slaps Little away and hurdles Mike Furrey for a 30-yard TD. The Rams did well to hold Houston's next drive to a FG. Wells got 19 on a 3rd-and-10 dumpoff after making Chillar look like an idiot with a head fake that wasn't even that good, but the Rams defended a halfback option, and on 3rd-and-2 from the Ram 16, Ryan Pickett's sack saved the Rams 4 points. If this defense has one star, it's Pickett. Better find a way to keep him. After a disaster of a first half that saw them trailing 24-3, though, the Ram defense got it together in the 2nd half. Pickett shut down the run all half. MR. Kennedy knocked down a pass on 2nd down to stall a Texan drive that ended in a missed FG. In the 4th, Houston drove to the 15 before Dexter Coakley became the first Ram to stop a Carr sprintout all day. Then on 3rd down, Carr's pass to Davis bounces off him to Pisa, who tips it, dives and hauls it in for a BIG INT. That led to a Ram TD, making it 24-17. Houston appeared to put the game away after that, as a Damione Lewis offside and ANOTHER Carr bootleg for 11 set them up for a FG and a 10-point lead, but offensive heroics ensued. In overtime, Houston effortlessly drove to midfield before the Rams knuckled down. Carr's 2nd-and-5 pass was tipped at the line, and on 3rd-and-5, a blitz results in a sack for – who? O.J. Atogwe! Nice tackle, and the offense gets the ball back for the winning drive. Luckily for the Ram defense, the team's strong finish will obscure their horrible start.

* Secondary: Chris Johnson was a horror show, turning mediocre Andre Johnson (12-159, and no, I did not start him on my fantasy team) back into the Pro Bowler he was last year. Houston's first drive was initially extended by everybody madly backpedaling after the snap, with nobody defending the first-down line on 3rd-and-6. 8 yards to Jabar Gaffney. AJ beat CJ for 33, then punked him for Houston's first TD, as CJ laid four yards off of him, on 1st-and-goal AT THE FIVE YARD LINE. CJ coupled that with a poor, shoulder-pad-high tackle attempt. Houston's next time down, Mike Furrey's dropped INT at the goal line proved costly, as he couldn't come up with a saving tackle on Domanick Davis' 30-yard TD the next play. CJ gave up another TD pass before halftime, this one by Gaffney. CJ made a couple of plays against AJ in the 2nd half, but still badly lost the matchup on the day. On the other side, Ron Bartell had a better game. He usually limited Gaffney to short catches and played a halfback option perfectly on Houston's 2nd quarter FG drive. Bartell appeared to know and to do his job a lot better than Johnson. Interesting, too, that Houston ran AJ at CJ all day and didn't try to turn him loose on Bartell, the Rams' best cover man today.

* Special teams: Very mixed results on special teams. Brian Barker had a 52-yard punt, but also a 28-yarder. And the long one was returned 16, as there was NO Ram within 16 yards of the returner when he fielded it. No Ram even on the TV screen! Pathetic. The Chris Johnson Horror Show, Special Teams Edition, played late in the 1st half. A pop-up kick had induced a Jerome Mathis fumble, but CJ was idiotically offsides on the kickoff. Bob Ligashesky unwisely went back to that well, and Jonathan Wells rumbled off with a kick (that only made it to the 30) for 41 yards, as Dane Looker got blocked and Johnson got out of position, at which point we learned Jeff Wilkins doesn't tackle as well as he used to. But down 27-24, Wilkins bounced a high onside kick, Drew Wahlroos and Trev Faulk crushed the Texan returner, and Holt grabbed the loose ball, setting Jeff up for a game-tying 47-yard shot with 0:04 left, and it doesn’t get any more clutch than that. STs nearly cost the Rams the game (again), but ended up bailing the team out.

* Coaching/discipline: At the risk of beating a dead horse, this is a game the Rams would not have won with Mike Martz as the offensive coordinator/middleman. Anybody think the Rams would have had a timeout left with 0:08 in the game with Martz in charge? One of the biggest things Joe Vitt and Steve Fairchild got right today was the economic use of timeouts. Vitt also proved he learned a lesson from last week, going for it twice in Houston territory instead of settling for FGs, which paid off in 14 points. Again this week, I thought Fairchild could have done more with draw plays and quick slants to keep the relentless opposing blitz off balance, but the game-winning screen was certainly a well-drawn-up play to throw at a hyperagressive defense. The Rams have GOT to cut out the penalties, though – 9 today, 5 on the offense, FOUR false starts. But it took good coaching to have Fitzpatrick this ready, and good coaching to come out of a 3-TD hole with your 3rd-string QB and without your All-Pro LT. Good work.
Larry Marmie made a learning-disabled monkey's uncle out of me, because after that dreadful first half, the Ram defense caught a clue, limiting Houston to 3 points the rest of the way, and I'm not sure what was different. The Rams seemed to use a lot of man-to-man early in the game to counter Houston's short passing game. But Houston came out passing downfield, eating up the man-to-man, and Marmie was ice-age-slow to adjust. The key seemed to be that the Rams used more of a cover-2 look after halftime. Marmie seemed to blitz more than usual, which got him burned badly on the Davis TD, but which also worked on the Atogwe sack in OT. Not to paint too happy a face on Marmie's performance, though. The first half was a disgrace, one play after another where Marmie did not give his players their best chance to make plays, dropping DBs way too far off of receivers, or hurting his front seven by leaving gigantic gaps in the middle of the line of scrimmage. It would have been justified to fire him at halftime and would be justified to do it right now. A win doesn't disguise yet another horrible stretch of coaching from the overmatched Ram DC.

* Upon further review: Unfortunately, a questionable call by the Ed Hochuli crew weighs heavily in the game's result. A Jackson run on 3rd-and-goal inside the 1 in the 3rd was blown dead by an unusually quick whistle, making it moot when he lost the ball. A long pass interference penalty helped set up that TD, a good call; Holt was shoved several times. The game was well-officiated overall, but Houston fans have every right to complain about the extremely quick whistle on the Jackson (non)fumble.

* Cheers: Now that I've suffered through 4+ quarters of their commentary, I can finally join the folks who say Fox's Kurt Menefee and J.C. Pearson stink. Menefee misidentified players and got spots wrong all day. Pearson is slightly better in the color man role, but he blamed Bartell on Gaffney’s TD when replay clearly showed Johnson in coverage. They idiotically marveled about how good Houston's offense looked in the first half, taking nearly till halftime to reason out that maybe the worthless Ram defense had something to do with it. Menefee was a total idiot in the wake of the Jackson (non)fumble, braying on and on that the call was challengeable, when I think all the football world knows by now that it wasn't. Shut up, Menefee. If it's all the same with Fox, I'd just as soon have announcer-less Rams games the rest of the season.

* Who’s next?: The Washington Redskins come into St. Louis next week having lost 6 of their last 8, not that it makes them a piece of cake for this Rams team. After the #30 Texans got ONE-THIRD of their sacks this season against the Rams today, it isn't reassuring to see the Skins roll into town with the NFL's #10 defense. But despite that ranking, Washington has given up a high number of rushing TDs, and they don't get to the QB very often (only 18 sacks after losing to San Diego today). The strength of the team seems to be the LB corps of Marcus Washington, Lemar Marshall and LaVar Arrington, but they allow 106 rushing yards a game. They don't have a consistent sack threat on the defensive line – DT Cornelius Griffin leads with only 3. The Skins secondary picked off Drew Brees three times today, doubling its season total. They have "name" guys back there – Sean Taylor, Shawn Springs, rookie Carlos Rogers and Walt Harris – but until today, little to show for it. The Rams should start Fitzpatrick Sunday, and even given Washington's high overall rating, if they keep the blitz off of Ryan, he could have nice success against these guys.
Whole other story on the Ram defense, though. Though Joe Gibbs has managed to turn Clinton Portis from an elite back into a just-average back, Portis' speed and cutback ability are things the Rams should fear, though they have improved lately at guarding against cutbacks. The Redskin o-line is well-thought-of but not that dominating. Portis gets stuffed at the line a lot, and the Rams can't let him break loose Sunday if they're to stay in it. At QB, Mark Brunell's mobility poses the Rams problems like David Carr did today, though Brunell is much older. Santana Moss has been Washington's offensive MVP, making many big plays this year with his potent speed. Moss' speed calls for the Ram safeties to play a low-mistake game. But there's trouble for the Rams in the form of Washington's TE corps. Chris Cooley is second on the team to Moss in receptions, while Mike Sellers has been a favorite goal-line target of Brunell; five of his 10 catches this season are TDs. The Redskin offense is not dynamic, but there's more than enough weaponry there to keep Rams Nation worried. Washington has a history of success in St. Louis, and they're too good for the Rams to get away with another effort like today's. Beating the Redskins will require solid defensive scheming, a solid, complete defensive effort, and much-better protection for the Rams' young QB than he got today. Pretty basic football, when you get down to it. Time for the Rams to excel at those "basics."

-- Mike
Game stats from nfl.com