RamView, 12/11/2005: Vikings 27, Rams 13 (Long)
RamView, December 11, 2005
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game 13: Vikings 27, Rams 13
Ryan Fitzpatrick struggles through a very tough game, making the Viking secondary his second-leading receiver in a 27-13 loss.
Position by position:
* QB: Rookie or not, Ryan Fitzpatrick (23-45-235, 5 INT) was terrible today and lost the game almost single-handedly. The Rams got him great field position and good pass protection almost all game, but, showing some of the worst passing accuracy we've seen from a Ram QB in a long time, Ryan did almost nothing with those opportunities. He was nearly picked off on the Rams' very first possession. Isaac Bruce dropped a pass well behind him to kill the next drive. In the 2nd, Torry Holt preserved a FG drive by taking a Fitzpatrick pass away from Darren Sharper and making a great play. After that FG, Ryan started giving the ball away like his alma mater's professors give away good grades.* A 50-yard bomb meant for Kevin Curtis was underthrown and picked off by Brian Williams. Next possession, inside 2:00 before halftime, a poor pass meant again for Curtis floats to Antoine Winfield instead, deep in Ram territory. To Ryan's credit, he led the Rams to a half-closing FG in under a minute right after that pick. He maintained that momentum after halftime, tying the game at 13 with a TD drive in which he starred. After a 20-yard completion to Bruce, Ryan executed a superb play-fake to Steven Jackson and bootlegged right for a 14-yard TD. But after that, mistakes by Fitzpatrick took the Rams out of the game. His third INT (Williams again) of the day probably would have come even had Bruce not slipped and fallen Ė it was well high. The next drive-killer was Fitz fumbling the snap on 3rd down. In the 4th, handed excellent field position for the umpteenth time, Ryan blows it again, registering his 4th INT (Fred Smoot) with an awful underthrow intended for Bruce in the end zone. Fitzpatrick came up short two more times in scoring territory, with a 4th-down pass from the Viking 5 low and behind Bruce in the end zone, and lastly with his FIFTH pick of the day, a poor, high pass from the 25 for Shaun McDonald at the goal line, with Shaun's tip attempt ending up in the hands of Darren Sharper. That ended a dreadful day for Fitzpatrick, who did as little right today as he did wrong in Houston two weeks ago. He threw a catastrophic mix of underthrows and balls well behind his receivers, over his receivers' heads, or to the other team. He hasn't shown the arm for a decent deep ball for two weeks. Yes, he's a rookie, but we did not see NFL-worthy skills from Fitzpatrick today. I can see the reasoning if Joe Vitt leaves Fitzpatrick in the rest of the way to take his lumps. Hard to believe he won't learn from this season and refine his throwing. But there are going to be a LOT of lumps to take yet this season.
* RB: Run blocking was better than itís been lately, and the running game was somewhat effective, but a 2nd-quarter breakdown by Danciní Steven Jackson (19-67) was a turning point of the game. Marshall Faulk chipped in five rushes for 25, which seemed to inspire Steven into running harder than he had the last couple of weeks. He ran a lot more up the gut, too, with a couple of 8-yard runs in the first quarter. Faulk had a couple of 10-yard runs; one got a late-first-half FG drive moving. The other got the Rams into the red zone early in the 2nd with a chance to tie the game at 7. But then Steven got tentative. On 3rd-and-3 from the Viking 10, Jackson got a nice hole from Orlando Pace and Brandon Manumaleuna, and simply didnít hit it. Not only that, he got taken down by the much older and smaller Corey Chavous. The Rams went for it on 4th-and-2, and Stevenís game got weaker. Instead of trying to work for 2 yards behind Pace, Hedgecock and Cam Cleeland, he freaking danced around and got slammed for a loss by an unblocked Darrian Scott. Steven should become one of the Jackson Five, he dances so much, and if he isnít willing to grind out tough yardage behind 850+ pounds of teammates who have made him some room, heís in line for a lot of Massengill Player of the Week awards. Steven, this isnít Fame, itís pro football Ė get your head out.
* WR: A landmark day for Torry Holt (10-95, 600th career catch), Isaac Bruce (5-66, 800th career catch) and Faulk (4-32, the NFLís all-time receiving yardage leader among RBs). Holt made a stellar play in the 2nd to save a FG drive. On 3rd-and-7, he took a pass behind him away from Darren Sharper, fell, pivoted on his hand and then made a swim move between two tacklers to get the first down. Thatís helping your QB out, which I wish Isaac could have done a little more of, but he seemed to have a lot of trouble with the variety of inaccurate passes Fitzpatrick threw his way, leading to several drops of catchable-though-far-from-perfect passes. Kevin Curtis (2-13) and Shaun McDonald (2-18) have all but disappeared during Fitzpatrickís tenure, probably due to the need to run more and shore up pass blocking.
* Offensive line: The offensive line had one of its better games of the season. Jackson and Faulk combined for 92 yards. Fitzpatrick was sacked just once and usually had plentiful time to pass. Orlando Pace wins Warrior of the Week for having a solid game despite his recent injuries and adding a groin injury to the list late in the 1st half. The line got better push than it has for many weeks. One major problem was untimely penalties. Claude Terrell and Rex Tucker killed 1st quarter drives with penalties. Pace false-started late in the 1st half. Tucker killed a 4th-down play in the 3rd with a false start. Rex was the line's weakest link, playing a critical role on two failed plays. Darrian Scott stopped Jackson on the 4th-and-2 because Tucker's diving block attempt missed him completely. The Rams had driven to the Viking 33 the next drive before Tucker let Scott in clean for an easy sack. They ended up settling for a long FG. Other than Tucker's struggles, though, the offensive line was solid. They blocked better than the rest of the offense performed.
* Defensive line/LB: Much better game than usual out of the Ram defense. Benefiting from a MUCH more aggressive game plan than usual from Larry Marmie, they "held" Minnesota to 113 yards rushing, and 259 total. Ryan Pickett opened the game with the first of many stuffs of screens to Michael Bennett. Anthony Hargrove extended the next drive, though, with an offsides, and Minnesota capitalized with a 13-yard end-around TD by Koren Robinson, with Adam Archuleta badly blowing a tackle in the backfield. Archuleta had a strong game in run support other than that, ending the next two drives with textbook safety plays. If he hadnít stopped Ciatrick Fason for 2 on a 3rd down early in the 2nd, Fason wouldíve run all the way to Duluth. They held Minnesota to a FG after K-Robís long kickoff return. Even though Leonard Little badly blew a backfield tackle on another end-around, Arch and Pisa Tinoisamoa stuffed Mewelde Moore, and Arch stopped Jim Kleinsasser just short on 3rd down. They only allowed three points off of Fitzpatrickís two first-half INTs thanks to successful blitzes and Pisa stuffing Bennett. After halftime, they forced the Vikingsí 7th failed 3rd down in 8 tries. Blitzing Trev Faulk forced a grounding penalty from Brad Johnson, Little blew up Jermaine Wiggins on 2nd down, and the Vikings dumped off on 3rd. That allowed the Rams to tie the game at 13. At that point, though, the defense seemed to relax, with fatal effect. Minnesota quickly drove 80 yards to retake the lead, with Bennett punching it in with 2 runs from the 13. On the 7-yard TD, Pickett was driven aside easily and Trev got caught in traffic instead of filling the gap. Fason did the work after Fitzpatrickís 3rd INT, with 7 on a 3rd-and-short and a 1-yard TD plunge to put Minnesota up 27-13. The D had a good 4th quarter and nearly kept the team in the game. Pickett stuffed a Bennett draw. Trev put a BIG hit on him on the next drive to force a fumble (recovered by Brandon Chillar). The d-line stuffed Bennett three straight times to get the offense the ball right back, and stopped Fason on three runs to do it again, but it wasnít enough. This was a solid defensive effort. The strategy was aggressive. The Rams pressured the QB a lot and stopped the run as well as they have all year. But today underscores the importance of sacks and turnovers. The Rams forced none of the former and just one of the latter. Even with all the good play, they still needed to make more impact plays. But they havenít done that all year.
* Secondary: The key sequence of the game occurred after the Rams tied the game at 13. DeJuan Groce allowed Koren Robinson to catch a dying-quail pass from Johnson for 16. The next play, Marcus Robinson left Groce flat-footed with a Bruce-like cut, and Chris Johnsonís poor angle turned a 20-yard catch into a 49-yard play to set up a TD. Secondary play was solid other than that, thanks to Adam Archuletaís return. He was strong against the run and defended the TE well. (Odds are heíll be doing it next year in a Texans uniform, but anyway.) Corey Ivy had a strong game, too, defending a couple of end zone passes. OK, he got away with pass interference on one of the defenses, but he got caught another time, setting up Minnesotaís final TD. Ron Bartell didnít get off to a good start. On Minnesotaís first TD drive, he allowed 2 12-yard catches in front of him, committed a 12-yard interference penalty, and got blocked out of the way too easily on K-Robís TD run. Ron seemed to have a good game after that. The secondary looked good other than those lapses, (Johnson threw for just 146 yards) but the lapses were still too much.
* Special teams: As usual, the story of this game was the Ram special teams giving up a huge play. Right after Jeff Wilkins nailed a 51-yard FG to cut the lead to 7-3, Koren Robinson pranced off with a 61-yard kickoff return that let Minnesota re-extend the lead to 7. Koren got a huge gap after one Viking pancaked both Jeremy Loyd and Ron Bartell. With Chris Johnson dominated downfield by a much smaller guy (groan), it was left to Wilkins to do just barely enough to get Koren to step out of bounds. Saved them four points, anyway. Lousy Viking punts gave the Rams good field position much of the day, but even then, the Rams did their best to fail on special teams, with both Mike Furrey and O.J. Atogwe making stupid plays by fielding and attempting to advance bouncing punts. How good can the special teams coaching be when two players are willing to commit such a big no-no in the same game? Iíd have no problem bringing David Allen back as the punt returner (6.7 avg, long of 12) today, but he didnít do much on kickoffs (21 avg.) Thirteen games in, and Rams special teams arenít any better than last seasonís trainwreck.
* Coaching/discipline: If the Ram coaching staff is going to give Fitzpatrick his best chance to succeed, they might be wise to adjust the passing game. What was with all the deep throws on 2nd-and-shorts? What's wrong with 5- or 10-yard patterns in those situations? How many deep balls could Fitzpatrick throw poorly before Steve Fairchild quit calling for them? Fairchild showed good offensive balance, until garbage time, at least, and the Fitz bootleg TD was a nice call. Glad to see Fairchild taking advantage of Fitz's mobility; maybe he'll roll him out more in future weeks. But if this staff does get cleaned out in the offseason, it sure will be nice to have somebody around who knows a damn thing about a hurry-up drill. In the last minute of the half, WITH TWO TIMEOUTS REMAINING, they let over 30 seconds burn off the clock during two Faulk runs. Thanks to that lack of urgency, the long pass interference penalty Holt drew at the 6-yard-line came with no time on the clock, and they settled for a chippie FG. By keeping their last timeout in their pocket, the Rams blew a chance at a TD before halftime; horrible, horrible clock management.
Larry Marmie was uncharacteristically aggressive today, and though he couldn't coax any sacks of Brad Johnson, the aggressiveness paid off with a lot of poor and missed throws. Marmie got away with blitzing big on 3rd-and-longs, situations where you don't really like to blitz, likely feeling Johnson would be rattled anyway, and he was. Minnesota converted just 1 of their first 8 3rd downs. Marmie perfectly schemed the Vikings' first possession after halftime, with a successful Trev Faulk blitz on 1st down, then faking a big blitz on 3rd down and dropping everyone into a zone that kept Johnson's completion harmless. That was Marmie at the top of his game. Other than a couple of long runs through the inevitable Marmie Gap, I didn't see much wrong with the Rams' defensive scheme today. Sure, they gave up 27 points, but short fields had a lot to do with that. I just hope, with QBs Mike McMahon, Alex Smith, and fencepost QB Drew Bledsoe left on the schedule, that Larry keeps remembering to blitz.
* Upon further review: Not much to say about the Larry Nemmers crew today because they seemed to do an excellent job. Pivotal calls like the long pass interference call on Smoot before halftime, both fumbles on the double-fumble play, and Ivy's pass interference against Koren Robinson all looked right from my vantage point. This'll probably get me kicked out of the Referee-Haters Club, but this was probably the best-officiated Rams game of the season. (But I'm still a card-carrying member of the Umpire-Haters Club.)
* Cheers: Fox sure does pay a lot of money for mediocre announcing. If Kenny Albert got a spot right today, I'd like to know which one it was. He and Brian Baldinger were often so busy talking they didnít pay attention to what was going on down on the field, missing penalty calls and timeouts. Baldinger predictably mixed up Holt and Bruce, and he might as well quit ever trying to pronounce "Manumaleuna", though I doubt he'll have to worry about that much longer. Fox in general spent too little time analyzing the play on the field and too much time showing us junk like James Brown's Harvard pictures or the doofus dressed as a Viking but waving pom-poms with the cheerleaders. If I never see him again, it'll be too soon.
* Whoís next?: What was a Bulger-McNabb faceoff when the schedule came out in April is now a Fitzpatrick-McMahon matchup when whatís left of the Philadelphia Eggles come to town next week. Besides losing McNabb, the Eggles also come to St. Louis minus Brian Westbrook, Tra Thomas, Lito Sheppard and a jackass-but-talented WR I wonít name. Thatís a WHOLE lot of talent to be missing, yet the Eggles still took the Giants to overtime before losing today. Of course, the Rams hope that team stays home, and the team that got humiliated 42-0 by Seattle last Monday night shows up instead. The weapons the Rams will have to stop next week are now Reggie Brown Ė uh-oh! a big WR! Ė and Ryan Moats, whose 114 yards and 2 TDs today make him the key player to stop on Sunday. The Eggles lose when Mike McMahon gets intercepted and play well when he doesnít, so the Rams can make their job a lot easier by making some of the impact plays they havenít made with regularity this year. McMahonís a QB who can run a little, but that hopefully doesnít cause Larry Marmie to retreat back into his passive shell. Essentially facing the Philadelphia second-string, this is one week the Ram defense better come up with some plays.
Obviously, Fitzpatrick canít heave multiple INTs like he did this week. With Sheppard hurt, the Ram WRs should have some favorable matchups. Philadelphia is a lot lower in the league rankings in pass defense and sacks than youíd expect, though I am not relishing the matchup of Rex Tucker (or an injured Alex Barron) on Jevon Kearse. They also give up 113 yards rushing a game, if #39 should decide to pull his head out. A balanced attack like the Rams used today ought to be effective against Philly, but that relies a lot on young players not repeating the same old mistakes. A win over Philly will depend a lot on motivation, because when 5-8 teams meet, theyíve got nothing to play for but pride. Phillyís shown both extremes the last two weeks. Itíll be interesting to see if the Rams, who still have a chance at a .500 record this year, can muster the pride the Eggles showed today and avoid some of their recent meltdowns.
Game stats from nfl.com
* Recent studies show 50% of all grades given out at Harvard University are A's. That's some curve. 90% of Harvard graduates do so "with honors". How much of an honor can it be when everyone there gets it?
Re: RamView, 12/11/2005: Vikings 27, Rams 13 (Long)
I just finished reading your analysis of the Viking game and once again would like to say thanx for the detailed info you provide. I would, however, like to make a few comments:
1.) On B. Williams first pick was K. Curtis' fault in that he stopped running. If he would have continued he might have made the catch himself or at least broken up the interception. BTW It didn't seem to me that the ball was underthrown at all.
2.) I don't see a prblem with Fitz' arm strength;t's more an issue of accuracy and timing. I agree that the offense should be scaled down to fit a rookie's abilities.
3.) I was very impressed with Marmie-lade's game plan. But wonder just what (orwhom) put something in his coffee.
4.) You mentioned Arch going to Houston, is this a prophecy or do you have inside info?
5.) I was disappoint with "special" Teams breakdown on kick return; however I just can't believe the SP's are as bad as last year.
6.) Did you see K. Curtis' drop of an easy TD pass in the 4th quarter? The Rams were on about the 6 or 7 yard line. Overall the play of both Curtis and Bruce left a lot to be desired.
WHAT SAY YE?
Re: RamView, 12/11/2005: Vikings 27, Rams 13 (Long)
Thanks RAMarkable, some follow-ups:
1. I thought Curtis had to slow down for the ball, but I can see how that was a matter of Williams playing the ball better than Curtis did.
3. There's some speculation Vitt's been running the defense, signaling in plays, at the very least.
4. My veiled prediction that Martz will be coaching the Texans next year and will go after his favorite players in free agency. In that scenario, Martz could really hurt the Rams (Pickett? Curtis?), depending on Houston's cap shape. I'm pretty leery of MM as a Rams ex-coach.
6. I didn't get a good look at Curtis' drop. I didn't realize the ball even got to him. Rough day for him.