RamView, November 5, 2006
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #8: Chiefs 31, Rams 17

Closer than the usual Rams-Chiefs game, but no less dissatisfying, as the Rams bury themselves under three early turnovers to lose for the third straight week. Half a season in, I don't know what kind of team we've got any more. They don't look ready to play, they've quit forcing turnovers, they continue to get run over. If those things and the offensive turnovers keep up, what we've got is a team that won't be playing in January.

Position by position:
* QB: It was another spectacular day for Marc Bulger (31-42-354), but it was marred by a big mistake in the 2nd quarter that helped bury the Rams in a 14-0 hole. Knowing Jared Allen was bearing down on him, Marc nonetheless failed to unload the ball, as he too often does, and this time, he coughed it up for a turnover the Rams never really recovered from. As also happens too often, Marc took a while to really get rolling. The Rams were already down 17-0 in the 2nd before Marc engineered a TD drive, which featured a couple of long passes to Isaac Bruce, including a pinpoint sideline strike. Marc ran the no-huddle offense reasonably well for over half the game, though it was much more “mosey-up” than “hurry-up”. He drilled a pass to Kevin Curtis at the sideline on 3rd-and-1 late in the 2nd to set up a FG that pulled the Rams within 24-10. Marc started an 80-yard TD drive in the 3rd by hitting Torry Holt for 27, and firing a couple of bullets, to Holt for 6 on 4th-and-1 and to Curtis on the goal line to end the drive. Remember when Marc never used to check down? Well, he may have overcompensated today, hitting Steven Jackson 13 times. Bulger and Jackson really kept the offense moving, though. Bulger got the Rams into scoring range a couple of times in the 4th. The first time, though, a poor OPI call on Bruce and two Alex Barron false starts killed the drive out of FG range. The second time, now down 31-17, Bulger got the Rams down to the KC 5 with a lot of dumpoffs and a smart scramble, as the Chiefs had vacated the middle of the field, but he went 0-for-4 from there, throwing a ball Jackson wasn’t looking for and forcing three passes into tight coverage which all fell incomplete, essentially ending the game. Marc played very conservative football today, and the statistics show it was effective, but he didn’t play mistake-free ball. That fumble was a killer.

* RB: Steven Jackson definitely got enough touches today, and some eye-popping numbers: 32 touches, 13 receptions for 133 yards, 219 total yards. The Chiefs didn’t seem real interested in covering him out of the backfield, and he took full advantage, serving further notice that he has become an all-purpose back. Unfortunately, Steven also lost his first fumble of the season in the 2nd to Jared Freaking Allen. That led to a Chief FG, as they would gain 17 points off turnovers for the day. But Steven was still damaging by air and by ground. He muscled in a 2-yard TD run for the Rams’ first score. He kicked off a FG drive with a 16-yard reception, one of 14 plays where he gained more than 5 yards. He set up the Rams’ 2nd TD in the 3rd with a 22-yard run he kicked outside nicely and used a solid downfield block by Torry Holt. The next play, he gamely tried to leap about 10 feet for a TD, but was stopped at the 2. With the Rams driving for a tying score early in the 4th, Steven dislocated a finger on a 10-yard gain, a more important injury than anyone thought, because he missed most of the rest of the drive, and it bogged down. He returned to add 20- and 13-yard catches, but the Rams were down 31-17 by then, and he missed on a likely TD catch from the 5 with 2:00 left, not realizing a pass was coming. That aside, Steven Jackson is delivering just about everything Rams fans hoped for. His effort is palpable, any dancing was limited to early in the game, he was a rushing and receiving weapon, and today, he had a Marshall Faulk-like game statistically. He’s luckier than Bulger since his fumble only led to 3 points, and we’re left to worry a little since he put the ball on the ground twice. But today’s was one of Steven Jackson’s most dominating performances.

* WR: It’s not asserted often enough, so I’ll assert it again: Torry Holt is the best WR in the league, and the Ram offense goes as he goes. So what did the Rams do today? Not only did Holt not have a catch while the Rams fell behind 24-7 in the first half – there wasn't even a ball thrown his way. I iso'ed on Torry a lot, and in the first half, Bulger rarely even looked for him. Holt had 3 catches for 50 yards in the 2nd half, but talk about leaving your best weapon in the holster. Isaac Bruce mirrored Holt – 3 for 61, all in the 1st half. He carried the 1st TD drive with a nice sideline catch for 33 and a 23-yarder to get the Rams in the red zone. Kevin Curtis (7-59) led the WRs in receptions. He got inside the DB at the goal line for a tough sliding TD catch to make it a 24-17 game and got annihilated by Sammy Knight on the last play of the game. I'm impressed he's still alive after that shot. The Rams spent the second half in no-huddle, which got a ton of catches for Jackson, but also seemed to confuse the heck out of Joe Klopfenstein; at least, it looked like Bulger had a lot of difficulty getting the play explained to Klop’s side of the field, which I think slowed down the no-huddle offense a lot. Klop’s a rookie, but we’re halfway into the season, too.

* Offensive line: This past month, Alex Barron has gone into a sophomore slump that has me wondering if it wouldn’t be better to go with Todd Steussie and Adam Goldberg on the right side for a few weeks. Alex is like a spooked horse right now, flinching any time somebody throws out a blitz look. With the Rams in KC territory in the 4th, down only a TD, Alex killed the drive with back-to-back false starts. Adam Timmerman and Orlando Pace added false starts, and the Rams let Jared Allen beat them yet again. Allen killed the Rams’ opening drive with a sack. Barron may have blocked the wrong man, because Allen came up inside of him and on the outside, Joe Klopfenstein had no one to block. Allen’s second sack was critical, as he got a direct line to Bulger for a sack/fumble in the 2nd that set up a Chief TD. Bulger held the ball way too long there, but I also can’t explain why the line just let Allen go. If you’re a lineman, why would you ever quit blocking on a play? The good news: there were just the two sacks (helped by use of a lot of no-huddle), and the ground game gained over 100 yards. But the Rams have got to get Alex Barron right again, and the line has to quit having mental breakdowns right when the offense needs to make a big play.

* Defensive line/LB: Even though the Chiefs lost their starting LG with a broken leg, even though they've lost great blockers this past offseason like Willie Roaf and Tony Richardson, even though Kyle Turley looks only slightly larger than Dante Hall, even though they ran twice as often as they passed and should have been kind of predictable, they steamrolled the Rams anyway, as Larry Johnson rumbled for 172 (116 in the first half) and a TD. The Rams had KC pinned on their own two on their first possession, but on 3rd-and-9 – third and freaking nine! – LJ launched a 45-yard run. Brandon Chillar and Leonard Little got pinned inside. Turley pancaked Jimmy Kennedy. OJ Atogwe, who had a simply awful game, overpursued. Will Witherspoon, for reasons I cannot explain, took on a blocker and let LJ run right by. And the Chiefs ran away from a weakside blitz. Hard to imagine a play where more things go wrong. The Chiefs turned that into a TD, via a muffed punt and 6 straight Johnson runs from inside the Ram 15. Kennedy was able to get into the Chief backfield a couple of times for stops, but most of the day was like Johnson's run in the 2nd, a 3rd-and-17 draw play where he weaved through traffic for 16 and put KC back in FG position after a Leonard Little sack had put them out of it. Little had both Ram sacks today; interestingly, one from LDE, one from RDE, both against John Welbourn. But there was no rush at all on Damon Huard's bomb to Samie Parker that set up KC's 2nd TD, and little rush from Ram linemen not numbered 91. There was too little of anything the last 2:00 before halftime. LJ swept for 9 behind a block from Turley. (I've already listed more blocks by Turley than he made his entire Ram career.) 15 more for LJ the next play, spinning neatly off Dexter Coakley and running through a diving Kennedy effort. The rest of that drive was all Tony Gonzalez and no Ram pass rush, including a Travis Fisher blitz that failed miserably on a Gonzalez TD that put the Chiefs ahead 24-7. The third quarter went much better, though. LaRoi Glover stuffed LJ. Little got his second sack. Huard and Johnson blew an exchange, though three Rams somehow managed not to corral the loose ball. This all allowed the Rams to get back into the game, and with 10:00 left, the Rams were within 24-17 and had the Chiefs pinned at their own 6. And the Ram defense went pfffffft. 12 on a screen to Dante Hall. DPI on Coakley for 17. 16 for Johnson, with Little way overshooting the handoff and getting blocked by the fullback. Face mask on OJ for 5 more. 15 more for LJ on a well-executed play that Victor Adeyanju, Coakley and Witherspoon all get blocked out of. An easy 3rd-and-3 completion to Gonzo is followed by a nifty Huard TD pass to Kris Wilson, and far from keeping the Rams in the game, the defense has instead allowed KC a 94-yard TD drive that didn't even take 4 minutes. Game, set, match. Leonard Little said after the game that he didn’t feel the Rams were outschemed. And he’s right. The Chiefs execute their blocking masterfully, and just hit the Rams in the mouth all day. As the last two weeks have made painfully clear, this defense is not physically capable of stopping a power running game.

* Secondary: Damon Huard completed just ten passes for the Chiefs today. So the Ram secondary had a good game, right? No, THREE of Huard's completions were for TDs. Tony Gonzalez was uncovered on two of those TDs. Uncovered! On a 3-yard TD completion in the 2nd, Gonzo was all alone in the back of the end zone for the TD, with at least four Rams passing up on covering him. Corey Chavous, worried about the fullback, passed him off to OJ Atogwe, who was worried about a crossing receiver. Somehow, nobody was worried about Gonzalez, even though it's no secret at all he's a favorite target near the goal line. That TD was set up by Samie Parker beating Fakhir Brown for 43. Yeah, not shutdown corner work, that. Late in the first half, Gonzalez turned Will Witherspoon inside out for an embarrassingly easy TD, a TD that never should have happened, but Travis Fisher made THE WORST TACKLE OF ALL TIME. Travis was sailing in untouched on a blitz. Huard never saw him coming. And Travis whiffed on him! Missed him completely! Travis Fisher is such a bad tackler he can't even hit a stationary target! That's like a PGA pro whiffing on a tee shot. Well, in Fisher's case, a Nationwide Tour pro, but you get the point. KC put the game away with a late TD to third-string TE Kris Wilson, a well-designed play that Atogwe seemed to figure out but brutally misplayed anyway. The Chiefs threw 15 times, and still the Ram secondary managed to blow assignments, play confused, get beat for big plays and tackle miserably. Is Seattle's secondary coach available?

* Special teams: As much as special teams have improved, the game still partially turned on a critical special teams mistake, as Dane Looker muffed a punt return in the first to put KC in golden position for their first TD. That seemed to end the Rams' oddball punt-returner-by-committee practice, as Shaun McDonald fielded the rest of the punts. Ram kick coverage has dramatically improved. Dante Hall got nothing going on kicks or punts. Contrast that to the KC game in 2002. Looker even tackled Hall on a couple of kicks and downed a punt at the 2. Dane has emerged as the leader of a pretty good special teams unit, but the muffed punt is impossible to overlook and drowns out the good plays.

* Coaching/discipline: Late for Halloween, the Rams still started this game playing like zombies, the second straight week they’ve come out flat for a game, which drives me nuts. Coaching 101 is motivation, and if the Ram coaching staff can’t have the team ready to answer the opening bell, they’re no good to anyone in Rams Nation. I hereby dub the Rams’ D the “Marmoset defense”, a gross re-enactment of the Larry Marmie era by Jim Haslett and company. There’s little scheming around the punishing running game the Chiefs put out there today, but this defense still has a lot of correctible problems. They appeared surprised by every pass play. It is mind-boggling how poorly they covered Gonzalez when he’s the first guy to look for on any KC pass. The secondary had one breakdown after another. I’m not sure Atogwe did anything right all day. Coakley is too doggone small to help this defense, and Travis Fisher is too, well, Travis Fisher. The Rams just had a bye week, a seemingly ideal time to make some lineup moves or coach the youngsters like Atogwe and Tye Hill and Adeyanju up some more. I hope Haslett enjoyed his fishing trip or whatever he was doing instead. The Rams’ recent play in no way resembles the play of a well-coached defense.
Scott Linehan didn’t distinguish himself today, either, as his formerly high-flying coaching star has become more of a meteor lately. Conservative playcalling is one thing, but a game plan that doesn’t even look for its star WR for the entire first half is as loony as any goal line TE reverse Mike Martz ever called. Torry Holt has to get the ball. Pretend he whines about it like T.O. does, Linehan, and act accordingly. If Linehan had coached the 1991 Chicago Bulls, he would have pounded the ball inside to Horace Grant 50 times a game. Michael Who? The running game has gotten far too predictable. We shouldn’t be able to call out ¾ of the runs from the stands. And 13 dumpoffs to Jackson, while successful plays, tell me that Linehan has gotten Bulger too conservative. Get the ball downfield, coach! He was smart to go no-huddle in the 2nd half, and smart to FINALLY get Holt involved. Those two things had the Chief D severely on its heels, so much so that Linehan should have gone for it on 4th-and-11 from the Chief 36 in the 4th. But he went with a pooch punt instead, which had its merits as far as being a play for field position, but we saw how well it worked out. KC was at the 35 two plays later and drove on 94 yards for a TD. At the end of the game, down 2 TDs with :07 left, Linehan should have just taken his booing like a man and run Jackson, but he has Bulger flinging deep in an impossible situation instead. My concern was the Ram QB would get injured in a futile gesture, but instead it was Kevin Curtis paying a pretty stiff price trying to salve the coach’s ego, getting trainwrecked by Sammy Knight on a tackle made easier because Curtis had run the identical route the previous play. I’m madder at Linehan for that play than I am that Knight put something extra on it. Halfway through the season, Scott Linehan suddenly has a lot to change to make this season a successful one. It’s on him to have the team better prepared for games, to attack more aggressively on offense, and to do a far better job protecting his players at the end of games.

* Upon further review: One controversial call sticks out in a game that was called well otherwise by Mike Carey and crew. With the Rams driving for a tie in the 4th, Bruce was called for an OPI which reversed a key 3rd-down completion at the Chief 24. What really happened was that Ty Law was grabbing Ike's jersey downfield, and fell when he lost his grip on him. The bad call killed the Rams' momentum and was a turning point of the game. The Rams wound up not scoring, and KC went back up by 14 on the ensuing possession. Like several Ram players, one bad play really tarnished the officials' performance today.

* Cheers: I've heard contrary reports, but the Chief fans I ran across today were great, simply cheering on their team and not rubbing in the Rams' bad plays. There could easily have been 10,000 KC fans present, and it made for a great atmosphere. Noise was good early on from Ram fans, and we drew a couple of false starts, but turnovers and bad defense really took us out of the game, as often happens. Many Chief fans had better Dome seats today than many of us Rams fans will ever have a shot at. But before anybody rips Rams Nation for the number of opposing fans "allowed" in today, how many Cub fans get into Busch Stadium every time they come down here, when Cardinal fans are supposed to be baseball's best? Hmm? Both teams' fans made strong showings today, to the credit of each. The halftime show, which the Rams continue to play on the cheap, was actually pretty cool, a Marine silent drill team doing all kinds of cool rifle spins and tosses. The Ram defense could certainly use some Marine toughness, or at least a couple of those guns.

* Who’s next?: Whatever the Seahawks do tonight against Oakland, it’ll be now-or-never for the Rams when they visit the dopily-spelled Qwest Field next Sunday. If the Rams lose, they fall further behind Seattle, with decisive disadvantages in the head-to-head and division record tiebreakers. Let’s face it; the jig would pretty much be up. If the Rams win, they’re tied for first or leading the division, everything is even again, and it’s a whole new season. And a win would no doubt be a big psychological boost, as it would end a losing streak that was started by Seattle.

Seattle won the first meeting in St. Louis by sacking Bulger six times and pretty much shutting down Steven Jackson. Their defense has sagged since then, though. They allowed 170+ rushing yards to the Vikings and 190+ to the Chiefs, and only got to Huard once in that loss. Those stats won’t matter much, though, if the Ram offensive line doesn’t play a lot better than it did October 15. I don’t see how they can trust Barron at RT next week. He’ll false start ten times against the Seahawks fans’ wall of sound, and he was awful against Bryce Fisher in St. Louis. It should help that Orlando Pace will have a clear head for this game. KC and Minnesota have two of the league’s top o-lines though, so I wouldn’t just expect Jackson to run for 150 or anything. The Rams have to continue to be successful through the air. But this time, Bulger has to be a lot smarter about getting rid of the ball, and he HAS TO GET THE BALL TO TORRY HOLT. If the Rams continue to forget to do that, they deserve to continue to lose.

The Rams successfully blitzed Matt Hasselbeck early in the first meeting, then backed way off as the secondary broke down repeatedly, including giving up a Darrell Jackson TD bomb despite TRIPLE coverage and Travis Fisher failing to cover anyone in a green helmet. Fakhir Brown was out the first game, which may help in the rematch, who knows? With Shaun Alexander likely returning, and Matt Hasselbeck likely still out with a sprained knee, it’s the Ram defense’s job to make Seneca Wallace beat them. KC and Minnesota both picked off Wallace twice, and the Rams don’t have much of an excuse if they can’t make big plays against a mistake-prone QB. Though Wallace showed the scrambling flashiness of a Michael Vick while at Iowa State, he’s also prone to holding the ball in the pocket way too long and taking big losses. Seattle will make Alexander harder to stop by flooding the field with receivers, but I think the Rams first have to make Wallace prove he can hit them. And I think that has to be with plenty of blitzes, rather than relying on a defensive line where Leonard Little is the only viable rusher and Jimmy Kennedy plays like a lightweight against Kyle Freaking Turley. Jim Haslett should do what he didn’t do when Seattle was here; stay with what works.

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” Seneca (the one who lived about two millennia before there was an NFL) said that, and I can’t think of a better quote to apply to what may be the Rams’ last chance for redemption this season. Before this season becomes one Rams Nation just hopes lays a good foundation for 2007, Scott Linehan needs to have this team ready to go to Seattle for a fight. The antidote for a team that’s been flat for two weeks is to fire them up, and come out firing. That isn’t coaching 201. The meek check-offs and three-man pass rushes can wait for a week. I also wouldn’t mind hearing about a few tackling drills at Rams Park while they’re at it. Right now, this team needs to come out with high aggression and high tempo, and let the rest work itself out. Strong minds. Hard work. Win.

-- Mike
Game stats from nfl.com