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RamView, 11/6/2011: Arizona 19, Rams 13 (OT) (Long)
RamView, November 6, 2011
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #8: Arizona 19, Rams 13 (OT)
Many things may be remembered about Sunday's maddening overtime loss to Arizona, but it's most likely to be remembered as Steve Spagnuolo's Waterloo. Questionable coaching decisions helped the Rams take a game they had won and turned it into an utterly bewildering, utterly avoidable loss. Amazing.
Position by position:
* QB: I give Sam Bradford (23-36-255, 73.3 PR) credit for being willing to play hurt, but he probably came back at least a week too soon. He'd had half a day of practice in three weeks before stepping back in against Arizona, and it showed. His long passing game was pretty terrible. In the 1st, he underthrew a flea-flicker for a well-covered Brandon Lloyd and gave Patrick Peterson an easy INT. Austin Pettis was open deep for what should have been a 60-yard TD the next drive, but Bradford badly overthrew him. Bradford got sacked at least a couple of times by holding the ball too long. LB Darryl Washington nearly picked him off a couple of different times. In the 3rd, he took so long calling an audible he got the Rams a delay of game. The Rams did what they've done all season with Bradford guiding the offense – get into enemy territory and then sputter into a FG attempt or a punt. No TDs yet again this week for Bradford. And it's not like he warmed up during the game. In overtime, when the Rams desperately needed a momentum swing, he overthrew Lloyd by five yards on one play and brought the punt team in two plays later with a what-the-hell-was-that throw nowhere near anybody on a blitz read. The Cardinals won the game immediately after that. Bradford didn't have any play that made you say “Wow” or “Only Sam Bradford could have made that throw”. Instead, Rams Nation was left with the nagging feeling that two things could have won the game for the Rams this week: a) a dialed-back passing game and b) A. J. Feeley.
* RB: Though his teammates could have used another conspicuous dressing-down from him this week, Steven Jackson (29-130) let his play do the talking instead, and told quite a story. After 8- and 9-yard draw plays in the 1st, he got the Rams into FG position again in the 2nd with a 12-yard gain, crashing off the left side behind Jacob Bell's block and winning a huge collision downfield. Unfortunately, Adrian Wilson tripped Jackson up for a big loss on a sweep on 3rd-and-inches to end that drive. That wouldn't be Jackson's last failed sweep of the day, but he did bring some of his best game for the closing stretch. On 3rd-and-8 in the 4th, the Rams completely fooled Arizona with a direct snap to Jackson, and he took it over the left side for 18. But the offense didn't advance from there. With time running out in regulation, Jackson again cut back inside with a shotgun handoff for 9, and got 19 up the middle the next play off a huge block by Harvey Dahl. That practically put the Rams in FG position. They had 3rd-and-1 at the Arizona 42. Jackson's running strength typically isn't on sweeps, but the Rams ran him outside not only on this play, but on the ensuing 4th-and-short. The blocking wasn't there either time, and both plays failed. The Rams got one more crack before the end of regulation. With Josh Brown facing a 50-yard FG with 0:12 left, Jackson crashed off right guard for 8 to give Brown a relative chippie, only to have the team's blocking let everyone down again. Same story almost every week for Jackson. He leaves it all on the field, plays every play to the whistle, carries the offense and then has squat to show for it at the end of the day. Squat is also what Britt Miller did at fullback, where he surprisingly got quite a few plays. He failed on a key block late in the game, missed another, and got nowhere trying to convert on 3rd-and-1 in the 2nd half. The Rams' short game lacked quite a bit of starch this week. Maybe a decent lead blocker could remedy the situation.
* Receivers: Good grief, haven't the Rams had enough injuries for one season? Danario Alexander couldn't play due to a hamstring injury. Lance Kendricks (1-7) was lost early in the game due to a foot sprain, which deprived the Rams of one of their better run blockers. And, of course, just when he's rounding into fine form as a slot receiver, Greg Salas (7-59) is lost for the season after breaking his leg. That job appears to be Austin Pettis' (4-43) now, especially after he survived a big collision with Michael Adams near the end of regulation. Brandon Lloyd (5-80) ran a Greatest Show on Earth-sweet deep curl for 22 just before halftime, making a plant that left rookie phenom Patrick Peterson slipping to the turf. Peterson didn't get any worse than a draw out of that matchup on the day, though. And is it just me or does Lloyd dive for every pass thrown to him? The lack of work for Bradford and Lloyd together showed, too. They weren't on the same page at least a couple of times. Brandon Gibson (5-54) had a nice game. He had an excellent full-extension grab for 22 in the 1st and did some nice blocking. I'd give the receivers about a C-minus this week. No dropped balls (!), nice running after the catch. Bradford took at least a couple of coverage sacks, but the significant missed opportunities this week were more on the front end of passes than the back end.
* Offensive line: The offensive line did some good work, but not nearly enough, and failed at the worst possible times. Harvey Dahl and Adam Goldberg each had one of their better run-blocking games. Heck, Goldberg had a pancake block to spring Jackson for 8 in the 2nd. How often does that happen? Jacob Bell just engulfed Washington to get Jackson 12 on the next drive. Michael Hoomanawanui and Billy Bajema each made some key run blocks and blitz pickups. Brandon Gibson helped spring Jackson on the 18-yard direct snap play. Bradford was sacked four times. He would have been protected better by not holding the ball too long; I blame the first and last sacks on that. The rest was the line's problem, in particular, their failures to adjust correctly for blitzes and stunts. The Rams settled for their 2nd FG after Adrian Wilson's run blitz dropped Jackson for a 3-yard loss on 3rd and an INCH. Two sacks in three plays doomed the Rams to another FG before halftime. Calais Campbell beat Rodger Saffold on a stunt for the first one. Two plays later, Goldberg turned inside and ignored Richard Marshall blitzing off the edge, and he was able to trip Bradford up before he could scramble. The line continued to play a sizable role in killing Ram drives in the 2nd half. Saffold ignored Sam Acho, the RDE, on his side, leaving him a free run at Bradford to force a throwaway and kill the drive after the Rams' first safety. Run blitzing helped 3-and-out the Rams after the 2nd safety. The Rams kept 3-and-outing in the 4th, with Britt Miller getting stuffed on 3rd-and-1 behind the non-power of Bell and Jason Brown. That wouldn't even be the Rams' worst short-yardage failure of the quarter. Fast-forward to the back-to-back failed Jackson sweeps in the final 2:00. Bell got knocked off the line both plays. On the first, O'Brien Schofield made the tackle after Miller couldn't get him moved, and Jackson had to flatten out his run because Bell and others got moved back. Bell held his ground a little better on 4th down, but backside blocking was poor, Miller went through the hole and blocked nobody. Darryl Washington got in behind him and was in on the tackle. Rashad Johnson spun off Saffold's 2nd-level block and was in on it. And so was Darnell Dockett, who the whole right side of the Rams line missed. Brown was on the ground, Dahl's block was poor, and Mark LeVoir whiffed at him in the first of his two epic fails of the day. You know, we can look at Bradford, we can look at the receivers, we can look at the play-calling, but so, so often, the Rams' offensive inconsistency, their inability to finish off drives, comes back to these guys on the front five. Who's going to be held accountable here?
* Defensive line/LB: The Rams defense can hold their heads high after a performance even more impressive, even more dominant, than last week's. They held Beanie Wells to 20 yards rushing and made Arizona abandon their running game. They sacked John Skelton three times and pulled off one of the rarest feats in football, two safeties in the same game. Arizona started their first drive at the Ram 37 but James Hall batted down a pass at the line to save a possible TD and force a FG. James Laurinaitis blanketed Early Doucet on 3rd-and-8 for a 3-and-out. 3rd-and-1 the next drive, Fred Robbins blows up the Arizona backfield and forces Wells into Chris Long and Darian Stewart to force another 3-and-out. Robert Quinn blew in unblocked for his third sack of the season to kill the next drive. James Hall scored not just a sack, but also a safety, beating both linemen on his side to drop Skelton in the 3rd. The Rams D answered with a safety the very next drive. Long smoked TE Jeff King to flush Skelton, then C.J. Ah You seriously outquicked Arizona blockers and panicked Skelton into a goofy grounding penalty in the end zone. Utter dominance up to that point. I wonder, though, if the defense wasn't flagging a bit by the time the 4th quarter rolled around. Pressure on Skelton dropped way off, and when they did get to him, they'd miss the sack. Arizona went to the no-huddle in the 4th, and the Rams dropped into a dime shell, moves which would prove telling. The backed-off D gave Skelton huge scrambling lanes for a couple of big first downs, then Skelton hit Larry Fitzgerald for a TD with his best pass of the day, over Laurinaitis' tight coverage. (Laurinaitis and Chris Chamberlain were excellent in coverage even though they drew Fitzgerald's number quite a few times.) The D rallied after the offense turned it over on downs in the final 2:00. Long bull-rushed Jeremy Bridges and dropped Skelton for a huge loss to force a punt. Skelton also fumbled, but naturally for this year's Rams, the freaking ball bounced right back to him. I don't know what more you can ask a defense to do. They held the opponent to 13 points. I don't remember any missed tackles. They dominated the game for three-plus quarters. Hell, they even scored twice. This effort should have been rewarded with a win.
* Secondary: Darian Stewart looked like a promising find last season. The last two weeks, he's looked like a Pro Bowler. On one possession in the 2nd, he swooped in from the back of the defense to drop Wells for a four-yard loss, then broke up what would have been a big gain for Fitzgerald up the seam with a big hit. He forced Early Doucet to fumble in the 3rd; naturally, Arizona fell on it and advanced on for a FG. Stewart prevented a bomb to Jeff King by tipping the pass deep downfield, and chased Skelton out of bounds to force a 3-and-out in the 4th. I don't think there's anything Darian Stewart doesn't do. He even had a couple of key special teams tackles. The secondary got the job done for the most part. Skelton only threw for 222 and had noticeable trouble finding receivers. Fitzgerald only had 4 catches. Still, give them an inch and they'll take a mile. Justin King fell and gave up a 25-yard completion to Doucet in the 3rd that led to a FG. Doucet got Arizona's TD drive going in the 4th with a 20-yard catch despite Stewart deflecting the pass. Too-soft defense allowed Skelton a couple of long scrambles. Josh Gordy got a bogus illegal contact penalty, and two plays later, Skelton found Fitzgerald in the back of the end zone to tie the game. There's criticism that no corner came to help there, but you know what? Laurinaitis' coverage was still darn tight. You'd take a game like this from your secondary any week you could get it. Both halves of the Ram defense appear to be rounding into top form. If the Rams would only follow that example on the other side of the ball...
* Special teams: Josh Brown hit his first three FG attempts from decent distances. Donnie Jones' punts were excellent all day. Austin Pettis set the Rams up nicely with several good returns, doing most of the work himself by putting on moves. Quinn Porter returned kickoffs like he had a piano on his back, and got the Rams stuck inside their 15 at least twice. But all that will be forgotten in the wake of the special teams meltdown that lost the game. Brown had a 42-yarder lined up with :04 left to win the game in regulation, but Calais Campbell pushed Mark LeVoir and Harvey Dahl backward, and when you're 6'8” like him, you don't need a lot of surge to be able to block a FG. The block sent the game into OT, where Jones outkicked his coverage with a 54-yard shot to Peterson at the 1. Containment was terrible; Porter overran the play, Dominique Curry got pancaked; as Peterson shot upfield, James Butler, Eugene Sims and Chris Chamberlain missed diving tackle attempts, Jones couldn't slow things down, Peterson scored, and why the HELL that ball wasn't punted out of bounds inside the 20 like Jones has been doing all season is beyond me, and more than one person is going to wonder that come January, too, while they're printing out resumes.
* Coaching: I'm convinced the Rams lost this game with 1:48 left in regulation, when Steve Spagnuolo chose to go for it on 4th-and-2 instead of attempting a 51-yard FG. That's certainly within your kicker's range. There's no wind – you're basically indoors anyway – and your team is paying him a heck of a lot of money for the purpose of hitting kicks like this. Brown was on a 3-for-3 roll and looked strong and true on his other attempts. Is missing the kick a risk? Sure. But why not trust your defense to get you to overtime if that happens? Who proved most worthy of the head coach's confidence up to that point, the defense, the kicker or the offense? Spagnuolo chose the third-best option. Sure, the Rams stopped Arizona and got the ball back anyway. But that justifies going for the FG the first time. The defense showed they would have forced OT or stopped Arizona with a 3-point lead, which would have let the offense kneel out the game. But as he's done I think every other of the rare times he's had the opportunity, Spagnuolo botched the endgame.
Josh McDaniels wasn't a lot of help making the same play call on 4th down that had just failed on 3rd down, though. Who was that supposed to fool? McDaniels' offense was a disaster in short yardage situations. They had drives end on 3rd-and-4 (sack), 3rd-and-2 (sack), 3rd-and-1 (Miller stuffed on play attempted earlier in game), 3rd-and-an-inch (Jackson stuffed by run blitz), and, of course, 4th-and-2. The Cardinals once again had great success with run blitzes; not like anyone at Rams Park shouldn't have known that was coming. Some aspects of the game plan seemed to be trying to protect Bradford's injury – lots of shotgun, very little no-huddle, no designed rollouts, either of which would have been useful had he been 100%. But I think there were more downfield passes called for Bradford than in the last game he played. I'm not sure that was the right move with an injured QB who'd barely practiced for three weeks. And the Rams had been getting better results out of a quicker-tempo, short passing game the last three weeks anyway. You know, the kind of gameplan than A.J. Feeley probably would have won this game with. Instead, let's get Bradford racked up trying to make plays downfield on third-and-short. By all means.
On special teams, the Rams played with fire with Peterson all day and finally got burned. You didn't have to watch hours of game tape to know that Peterson had two lengthy TD returns already this season. Nor to know that Peterson regularly risks making returns from deep in his own end. Hell, he tried one from the 2 earlier in this game. No one should have been surprised that he would try one from near his goal line. There is NO, I repeat, NO, benefit to kicking to Patrick Peterson vs. kicking out of bounds. The Rams have been kicking out of bounds in that field position situation all season. Donnie Jones didn't mess up; they wanted to kick to Peterson. They wanted to mess with the bull. And they got the horns.
After two and a half seasons, I expected better decision-making, better game management from Steve Spagnuolo than we're getting. It's been 40 games now. When exactly is this supposed to get better?
* Upon further review: Getting judgment calls wrong is one thing, but Ron Winter's crew really blew a couple of calls that didn't require any complicated thinking. In the 3rd, they picked up a PI flag against Peterson, claiming he and the ball arrived at Brandon Lloyd at the same time. No, Peterson made contact a full two steps before the ball got there. In the 4th, the Rams were called offsides when Arizona RG Reggie Hadnot had indeed flinched a full second before anyone else moved. These should not be difficult calls to get right. I also don't get the call from the booth to review the late Pettis catch, the play where Michael Adams was injured, coming a few minutes after the play was over. Isn't there a statute of limitations on those things? How long does the booth get to decide a play needs to be reviewed? Looked like a good catch the whole way, anyway, even under 1999 rules. The interminable wait getting that play and the status of the Rams' timeout taken after the play – they got it back because of the injury stoppage – resolved sure didn't help the Rams' momentum leading up to the ill-fated FG attempt. C-minus
* Cheers: Sam Rosen and Chad Pennington were a good pair announcing for Fox. Given the injury status of both teams' regular starters, Pennington was the perfect person to comment on this game, able to discuss the effect of injuries from ample experience in his injury-riddled career. He wasn't afraid to be critical of officiating, did a nice job explaining holding vs. pass interference, and did well pointing out how much more effective Bradford was in shotgun, and how it protected his injury. Rosen's a good play-by-play man who can bring the best out in a rookie, but Pennington brings a lot to the table on his own. Nice work.
* Who’s next?: A year after he left the Rams for the greener pastures of... Cleveland?, criticism of Pat Shurmur's offense hasn't fundamentally changed. Analysts around the NFL are tripping over themselves to complain about Shurmurball. The Browns need to open up their offense! They need to stretch the field! There's too much dink-and-dunk! It's all pretty humorous to hear. What did all these experts think Shurmur was going to do in 2011? Did they not watch a single Rams game in 2010?
Look at the Browns, though; what's Shurmur supposed to do? He went to the one place in the NFL with even fewer weapons than he had to use last season. Colt McCoy's no Sam Bradford (ok, 2010 Bradford); he lacks the arm for a deep passing game and isn't terribly accurate on the rest of his passes. They appear to have lost Peyton Hillis for the season due to The Madden Curse and will likely line ex-Ram Chris Ogbonnaya (!) up as their feature RB. He hasn't even been a Brown for a month. Rookie WR Greg Little, who's actually quite big, shows promise but is still adjusting to the pro game. Joe Thomas is their only o-lineman of any value. It took the ***** two plays a couple of weeks ago to start pushing these guys around. McCoy's pretty dangerous on the move (RUH-ROH), and expect him to look for his TEs and his former Longhorn teammate Ogbonnaya a lot. Huh. We criticize the Rams for lacking the talent to run Josh McDaniels' offense, but think about this: there's the very real possibility Cleveland lacks the talent on offense even to play Shurmurball. No matter, the idiots on the Rams coaching staff will probably just order kicks directly to Josh Cribbs, Cleveland's most dangerous weapon, all game and he'll score two TDs.
The Browns have been a top-5 defense statistically much of this season, but it hasn't shown the last couple of weeks, as the power rushing games of San Francisco and Houston have pretty much steam-rolled them. Steven Jackson could be on track to own Cleveland like he's Drew Carey. However, Ahtyba Rubin has had a good reputation as a run-stuffing DT, and rookie Phil Taylor is perfectly capable of blowing up plays with penetration against the gooey soft middle of the Rams' offensive line. D'Qwell Jackson's a LB who would get a lot more attention on a good team. He covers a lot of ground and can get after the passer. Chris Gocong was all over the place when they played the ***** a couple of weeks ago. They've got playmakers. They're also easy to pass against over the middle. Their DBs don't compete at all at the line of scrimmage. The Rams should be able to get a TE open on the Browns at will, assuming they ever remember to throw to the TE again. The Browns couldn't even cover the *****' tackle-eligibles a couple of weeks ago.
It will be critically important to gain the lead early in this game. Cleveland only has 6 first-quarter points this season. Shurmurball obviously isn't the style of offense that does well when it has to come from behind. Do the Rams have it in them to come out playing crisply enough to take a lead? If they do, will they have more fortitude holding on to it than they did in Arizona? This will be another week that really points out the Rams' coaching staff's ability. Or inability. Wish I had more faith in the former.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 11/6/2011: Arizona 19, Rams 13 (OT) (Long)
I also liked Pennington, though he was a bit wooden at times.
Re: RamView, 11/6/2011: Arizona 19, Rams 13 (OT) (Long)McDaniels' offense was a disaster in short yardage situations. They had drives end on 3rd-and-4 (sack), 3rd-and-2 (sack), 3rd-and-1 (Miller stuffed on play attempted earlier in game), 3rd-and-an-inch (Jackson stuffed by run blitz)
The rest was the line's problem, in particular, their failures to adjust correctly for blitzes and stunts. The Rams settled for their 2nd FG after Adrian Wilson's run blitz dropped Jackson for a 3-yard loss on 3rd and an INCH. Two sacks in three plays doomed the Rams to another FG before halftime. Calais Campbell beat Rodger Saffold on a stunt for the first one. Two plays later, Goldberg turned inside and ignored Richard Marshall blitzing off the edge, and he was able to trip Bradford up before he could scramble. The line continued to play a sizable role in killing Ram drives in the 2nd half. Saffold ignored Sam Acho, the RDE, on his side, leaving him a free run at Bradford to force a throwaway and kill the drive
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein
The Rams kept 3-and-outing in the 4th, with Britt Miller getting stuffed on 3rd-and-1 behind the non-power of Bell and Jason Brown. That wouldn't even be the Rams' worst short-yardage failure of the quarter. Fast-forward to the back-to-back failed Jackson sweeps in the final 2:00. Bell got knocked off the line both plays.
I do think Rodger Saffold can be a good RT he's a bit over matched most of the time at LT. Harvey Dahl is a good addition IMO. Jason Brown has play OK but nowhere near what he did prior to coming to the Rams. The same cannot be said for Bell he has played so bad the Rams forced him to take a pay cut this off season, I do not see him back. Smith is a BUST as far as I'm concerned you don't draft a LT 2nd overall and then the following year he gets beat out by a second round projected RT sorry the truth hurts. Smith is also injury prone suffering his second concussion in two years.
The Rams need to upgrade this O line. I don't care if they do it via free agency or the draft...
The Rams will need at minimum a new starting LT and OG next year if not we can expect more of the insanity.
Last edited by Rambos; -11-09-2011 at 10:44 AM.
Re: RamView, 11/6/2011: Arizona 19, Rams 13 (OT) (Long)
I have liked Bell's play a little better this season but your point is spot on. I'm not sure today that the #2 pick overall or whatever they get for 2012 doesn't need to be a tackle again. There's a good case to be made, and you make it, that the o-line needs to be blown up and re-built again, especially now that Brown has been benched.
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