RamView, 12/11/2006: Bears 42, Rams 27 (Long)
RamView, December 11, 2006
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #13: Bears 42, Rams 27
The Rams fought hard for a half, but that was nowhere near enough to prevent a handy victory by the Bears. Their efforts were largely sabotaged by a special teams unit that didn't act like it knew there was a game tonight, and largely ignored by tens of thousands of St. Louis "fans" who disgracefully sold their tickets to Bears fans and stayed home. "I believe"? I believe St. Louisans are a bunch of quitters.
Position by position:
* QB: They say Monday Night Football is a good showcase for players trying to make the Pro Bowl, so Marc Bulger picked a good night to have good numbers (34-55-356, 91.2), which would have been dumbfoundingly good if not for a half a dozen drops by Ram receivers. After a couple of Ram drives were killed by drops, Bulger led the Ram offense on a 99-yard TD drive for the game's first score, highlighted by his best pass so far this season, a perfect bomb to Kevin Curtis for 42. After Chicago immediately moved ahead 7-6, Marc responded with another TD drive, with two big completions to Isaac Bruce for 32. Down 14-13, the Rams failed twice at retaking the lead at halftime, once because of Bulger holding the ball too long and taking a bad sack. Announcers often mention a "mental clock" that a QB has to pay attention to. I'm convinced Marc has no such clock. He either has a mental sundial, which doesn't work too well indoors or at night, or he has a Stonehenge-like mental megalith and is waiting in the pocket for the moon to reach the proper angle in the sky. Like the rest of the team, the offense came out cold after halftime. A 4-play drive ended on a no-gain pass to Steven Jackson on 3rd-and-3. The next was 3-and-out on a 3rd-and-1 Torry Holt drop/uncalled DPI. Another 3-and-out followed that included a Curtis drop. Before you know it, Chicago has rolled ahead 35-13, so the offense finally picked up the tempo again, going no-huddle the whole 4th quarter. Bulger opened the 4th by dinking, dinking, dinking the Rams to a TD in 5:30. He zinged the TD pass to Holt in the back of the end zone so hard it looked like a rare throwaway. Bulger led another TD drive right after that, featuring a nice 22-yarder to Curtis on 4th-and-3 and a 6-yard TD pass to Jackson. But that only brought the Rams within 42-27, and after that, Bulger really started getting battered, and he finished the game with a desperation INT. Trailing only Drew Brees in NFC passing yards, Marc Bulger's playing well enough to get to go to Hawaii. But his team's not good enough to play in January anywhere.
* RB: Steven Jackson (18-81) had to know going in that he would take a beating from the Bears, and he took it like a man. Bear LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs clocked him several times, but he bounced right back up. The Ram running game didn’t really get going until the 2nd quarter, though, when they surprised Chicago with an inside handoff on 4th-and-1. Stephen Davis (3-29) charged upfield for 16 to set up the next play’s 1-yard TD to Holt. Jackson opened the next drive by bouncing outside with a 21-yard run with a solid block from Joe Klopfenstein and great downfield blocking by Isaac Bruce. 39 finished that drive with a 2-yard TD run, again bouncing the play outside. Jackson ran very decisively tonight and found his cutback lanes better than any game this year. The Rams didn’t run much falling far behind in the 2nd half, and Jackson missed a stretch of it with cramps, but the two Steves combined for 14 catches and 95 yards, with Jackson taking a short pass in for the Rams’ last TD. Though a loss, the game was a good showcase of the Rams’ RB depth and Jackson’s depth of skills.
* WR: The former Greatest Show on Earth has devolved lately into an unsuccessful juggling act. Shaun McDonald (0-0) killed the opening drive with a 3rd-down drop. Jackson (10-58) and Kevin Curtis (4-77) also killed drives with drops, though Curtis made a couple of big plays, including a 42-yard bomb in the 2nd. Isaac Bruce (4-62) came up big on the 2nd TD drive and moved up to 8th in all-time receiving yards. Torry Holt (6-75) caught a soft touch pass and a bullet touch pass from Bulger for 2 TDs. He continued a frustrating slump with 2 or three drops himself, but maybe pulled out of it with an astounding one-handed grab while on a dead sprint in the 4th. For the Rams to come out of this downward spiral, they'll need Torry to return to his A game, and more open opportunities, fewer mistakes from the supporting receiving cast.
* Offensive line: The Ram line had a solid 1st half but was back on its heels a lot in the 2nd. Adam Goldberg threw the big block on Davis’ 4th-and-1 run. I focused a lot on Richie Incognito, who held his ground extremely well. I don’t think the Bears blitzed successfully up the middle all night. Richie knocked Brian Urlacher backward on one blitz attempt; Urlacher looked like he was falling over backwards on roller skates. Incognito looks like he’ll be an anchor of the Ram line for a long time, though I’m not real sure that future is at center. Bulger’s going to have to start using an infielder’s glove while in the shotgun; nearly all of Richie’s snaps were right at Marc’s shoetops, messing up the timing of more than a few 2nd-half pass plays. The Bears knew the Rams would be passing the whole 4th quarter and really teed off on the o-line. Alex Barron had a false start caused by VISITOR crowd noise, so he gets a pass for that. He’s also playing with a knee injury, so it’s not terribly surprising he got smoked by Chicago’s lightning-fast DEs right off the snap several times and for a couple of sacks. Looked like Todd Steussie had a solid night at LT; I only saw him beaten badly once. Bulger was under a lot of heat in the second half, but with the Rams allowing just 3 sacks in 58 dropbacks, and one of those was Bulger’s fault due to his recurring separation anxiety, and with the RBs averaging 5.0 an attempt, the Rams weren’t too badly overmatched in the trenches tonight.
* Defensive line/LB: In the first half, the Ram defense actually looked good for a change. Brandon Chillar stopped Thomas Jones three times to slow down drives. Corey Chavous was active against the run. Fakhir Brown blew up a Bernard Berrian reverse. After a scoreless first quarter, though, Chicago went to Cedric Benson, and the big back, who dragged Rams behind him all night like a boat dragging water-skiiers, wore the Rams down with repeated nice gains. More air went out of the Rams’ sails right before halftime when incompetent refereeing turned a hard-earned Rex Grossman fumble into an incomplete pass. Leonard Little and Dexter Coakley’s hit on that play was about the only time the Rams got to Grossman all night, even with a decent amount of blitzing. Things got even worse after halftime. Little was struck in the throat and had to leave the game, which left Brandon Green as the only lineman who could get even moderate pocket penetration. The Rams also lost Pisa Tinoisamoa, who broke his good hand, and now has more broken bones than Evel Knievel. Jimmy Kennedy and LaRoi Glover were useless in the middle as usual; they get no push in the pocket and are good only for drawing defensive holding penalties. I know that’s an unusual call, but my God, you’re veterans, surely you can figure out what you’re doing wrong. Not that I should expect that from guys who both jumped offsides in the second although THEY’RE LINED UP OVER THE BALL. The Rams would be better off in the middle with Danny Glover and Jamie Kennedy. After Benson softened the Rams up in the 2nd, Jones pounced on them in the 3rd, with a 24-yard run where Kennedy unsurprisingly whiffed on him before he also spun out of a Tye Hill tackle. Jones immediately followed that with a 30-yard TD. Will Witherspoon missed him in the hole so badly I’m not sure his eyes were open, and Muhsin Muhammed kept Brown from making a play. After that, more doses of Benson, a couple of jolts from Devin Hester and a couple of scorched blitzes would prove more than sufficient for Chicago. A good first half, but the Rams once again demonstrated their significant weaknesses on defense. They’re not physical enough in the back seven, they have not even a glimmer of a pass rush without Little, and their interior line play is so poor they might as well just drop a couple of bean-bag chairs there and see what happens.
* Secondary: The secondary’s play was almost as gooey-soft as the middle of the defensive line. I don’t recall anyone getting beaten deep, but Rex Grossman had a passer rating north of 110, after a 1.3 last week, no doubt helped by Ram DBs madly back-pedaling 10 yards off the line on practically every snap. OJ Atogwe got some early pressure blitzing, and he and Corey Chavous started out well against the run, but Tye Hill’s really the only bright light of this unit. He nicely defended a bomb for Bernard Berrian in the 1st and probably deserved an OPI call attempting to intercept it. Berrian burned a Ram blitz for a 34-yard TD in the 2nd, though, a play blown by Atogwe taking a terrible angle. Muhsin Muhammed then got going in the 2nd half, with two big catches on the drive for Chicago’s 3rd TD, and vastly overmatching Fakhir Brown for a 14-yard TD for the Bears’ 4th score. A soft, soft game by the Ram secondary, which spent too much of the game watching Bears make catches in front of them, or going on Cedric Benson rides. Even the depleted Bear secondary hit harder and covered better than the disappointing Ram DBs.
* Special teams: I have no idea what Bob Ligashesky did this past week – Christmas shopping? Scan the help-wanted ads? Because he sure wasn’t preparing for Devin Hester, who is a secret to no one in football save Ligashesky, and is a player who must be game-planned for. Against Hester, you’d be best off kicking deep for touchbacks, or kicking knuckleballs, or even some dreaded directional kicking, but instead, every kickoff to Hester was short, down the middle, and straight to him. Brilliant strategy, coach! You held him to 2 TDs! What was greater about special teams – Ligashesky’s complete ignorance of strategy, or the way Hester just walked through all 11 Rams on the 2nd return, on which he had NO blockers because they were guarding against an onside kick? Aside from Matt Turk, who averaged 45.8 with excellent hang time, special teams were a Stockesque, Aprilesque, Pasqualeesque disaster. Jeff Wilkins yanked a 47-yarder before halftime that he normally makes. Chris Massey fouled up the snap and aborted the Rams’ first PAT attempt, which he never does. And if Willie Ponder is too stupid to take a knee on a ball kicked (smartly, I might add) 5 yards into the end zone, I have little use for him. He pinned the Rams inside the 20 twice instead of taking a knee. Nothing like a good old-fashioned special teams meltdown.
* Coaching/discipline: Radio commentary in the 2nd half mentioned that the Ram offense had slipped back into a bland and predictable pattern after halftime, and that the Rams needed to go back to attacking the Bears like they did in the 1st half. That insightful analysis came from Warner Brothers recording artist Brian McKnight, and the notion that the halftime entertainment has a better feel for what the team needs to do than the coaching staff does is not a comforting one 13 games into the Linehan Era. Maybe the Jazzercise ladies can take over the play-calling next home game.
Can’t fault the coaching in the first half. The team was ready to play for once, and duked it out evenly with a 10-2 team for 30 minutes. The Rams had a rare extended period of trying to throw downfield, and succeeding at it. Scoreless in the 2nd, 4th-and-1 from the Bear 17, Scott Linehan got uncharacteristically aggressive and went for it, and Greg Olson’s call got the reward out of its risk. The line blocked right, except Steussie, who went left along with Jackson. This sold the Bears’ right side on Bulger’s fake 90-flip to Jackson, while Davis, who’d lined up at fullback, took the handoff right through the big gap for a near-TD. The Rams used a lot of fake handoffs in multiple-back sets meant to take advantage of the aggressive pursuit of Lovie Smith’s defense, a nice wrinkle that helped loosen up the cutback lanes. The Ram defense contained the Bear running game in the first half (43 yards by RBs) by getting a safety up in the box a lot, a maneuver I wasn’t actually expecting. Blitzing wasn’t effective, though, even though Jim Haslett called for a fair amount of it. The Berrian TD beat a big blitz. Even so, the Rams were even at halftime.
Then I don’t know what happened after halftime. Mainly, the Rams seemed to run out of gas. The play-calling sure did, going back to the dump-n-chase, while the Rams 3-and-outed the whole 3rd quarter and fell way behind, ending up passing on ¾ of the plays. A critical call was the 3rd-and-1 failed slant pass to Holt, a call I absolutely hated. They panicked because Jackson had left the game the previous play, and yes, DPI should have been called the way Holt was dragged down, but Stephen Davis was born to run on 3rd-and-1, and there’s little reason not to have given him the ball there. Haslett didn’t have a great night play-calling, either. The big Adrian Peterson screen pass also beat a blitz. I liked the idea of going aggressively after Grossman, but I’m not sure about constantly leaving the DBs 10 yards off the WRs. That seems to defeat the goal of forcing Grossman to make mistakes. It couldn’t have helped to have Little gone half the game. But the game was reflective of how the whole Ram coaching staff undermined their aggressive strategies with their vanilla-conservative strategies. Wishy-washy won’t work in the NFL.
* Upon further review: Jim Hanifan put it best: if he was on the sidelines, he would have turned Jeff Triplette into a quadruplet. Triplette’s renown as one of the NFL’s worst referees did not suffer tonight. I saw Kennedy, on a rare pass penetration, get flat-out tackled, with Triplette looking right at it. No flag. The Bears stopped one Atogwe blitz by hauling him down by his jersey. No flag. The last 2:00 of the first half was brutal. Coakley drilled Grossman to force a fumble. But upon further review, Triplette decided Grossman’s arm was in motion. Sure it was. Because Coakley hit him! And wasn't the pass lateral or backwards anyway? (NFL.com says Rex “threw” from the 30, and the ball was first touched at the 30.) Was Triplette also ruling that Grossman intended to throw it forward? I wouldn’t put anything past this crew. 1:00 later, Bruce clearly slid out of bounds, untouched, under his own power, and the morons kept the clock running. Pisa got screwed on his “roughing” penalty, too. The QB still had the ball when Pisa left his feet. Bulger gets hit much worse, and later, than that all the time. When Marc hit the umpire with a pass in the 4th, I think it was an attempt to knock some sense into somebody in this worthless crew.
* Cheers: Marc Bulger called guys out last week; I guess it’s up to me this week… St. Louis ticketholders are a bunch of quitters and should be ashamed of themselves. The Dome was at least half full of Bears fans. My own section, 414, was at least 75% Bears. At least the Bears fans I encountered were good fans and gave the Dome a real football atmosphere that St. Louis’ weak ticketholders (can’t call them “fans”) haven’t given it for a good three years. Bear fans are arrogant off the charts, though; do they really think Grossman’s going to do well in the playoffs against a team that can get in his face more than once a quarter? I’ve defended St. Louis fans for a long time; naturally, I’m one. And I’m far from perfect. But tonight was as disgraceful a fair-weather fan performance as you’ll see anywhere in sports. Thanks for showing, on national TV, that St. Louis is a dogcrap football town, you bunch of quitters. It’s not hard to yell for your team. It’s not hard to show up for a game you already have tickets for. It’s also not hard to find a Rams fan who wants to go if you don’t. You ***** about players who don’t go all out, when you won’t even show up at games. You complain when athletes jump teams and just chase the fattest contract, instead of being loyal, then ***** your own seat out to the other team’s fans. Shut the hell up, and I’d better see none of you at the Dome in two weeks. And you fans who aren’t PSL holders, you’re not off the hook, either. Local fans have every opportunity to acquire tickets off faithless PSL holders as road fans do. Actually, you have an advantage being local. Spend your time finding tickets instead of making wiseass Internet fan board posts or calls to sports radio. Tickets are easier now than they’ve ever been, and you can probably get them cheap. Drag a friend to the game. The couple of dozen of us real fans need all the help we can get. The quitters missed some good stuff, like free t-shirts and hats, though the hoped-for “whiteout” failed miserably. And deservedly so, as it was over-commercialized, poorly promoted, and, doesn’t Russell Athletic know the Rams wear blue? They also missed a good halftime performance by Brian McKnight and a tribute to the late Jack Snow, who was added to the Ring of Honor, right under the broadcast booth. But I’m almost glad Jack wasn’t there to see St. Louis castrate itself nationally as a football town tonight. Disgraceful.
* Who’s next?: Los Angeles' former sibling franchises have a not-very-happy reunion planned in Oakland next Sunday. There will be next to nothing on the line; the Raiders are 2-and-11, losers of 6 in a row, and a win here would only hurt their chances for the #1 pick in the 2007 draft. Their schedule has been tough, but their home losses to fellow NFL dregs Cleveland and Houston still make this game look very winnable at first. But as the Rams are 0-for-3 on the Pacific coast this season, and are playing the dreaded road game after a Monday night game, this game’s more of a tough cookie than a piece of cake.
The Raider defense, like the Rams’, ranks high against the pass (#1) but low against the run (#25). One difference is that the Raiders have *two* linemen who can rush the QB, Derrick Burgess (10 sacks) and, surprise, Warren Sapp (7). The bad news for Oakland: those two have nearly 2/3 of the team’s sacks. The bad news for the Rams: they don’t look well-equipped to slow the Raider rushers, with Burgess matching up with Steussie, though any Sapp v. Incognito confrontations should provide great sport, not to mention a personal foul or two. It will be crucial for the Rams to avoid sacks and INTs. In their only wins, back-to-back home wins over Arizona and Pittsburgh, Oakland tallied 6 of their 17 INTs and 8 of their 28 sacks. Nearly half of Burgess’ sacks came in those games. Oakland’s near the top of the league in INTs, led by Nnamdi Asomugha, a/k/a Mandy Azimuth to my spell-checker, with 7. You wouldn’t suspect it against a 2-11 team, but the Rams have their work cut out for them offensively. Teams have beaten the Raiders on the ground, and you’d hope the Rams can get Jackson rolling to set up the pass. But despite their ranking, the Raiders allow a respectable 4.0 yards a rush, and the Rams can’t push the Raiders around like other opponents have. From here it looks like the Rams will fare as well overall as they do between the tackles.
Unlike days gone by, hell, unlike the last time the Rams played them, the Raider offense gives little reason for fear. They’ve been shut out twice. Their high-water mark for the season is 22 points, and they haven’t cracked 14 since their last win six weeks ago. Aaron Brooks has had some kind of hex over the Rams in the past, but he’ll need every bit of magic he has to overcome his god-awful offensive line, which has allowed an astounding 62 sacks already this season. Randy Moss has gone from the game’s dominant WR to a disinterested shell of his former self having barely half as good a season as Mike Furrey. The main Raider RB will be Justin (SON OF HUGGY BEAR) Fargas, who’s averaging under 3.0 a rush since taking over full-time for injured Lamont Jordan. But the biggest factor playing into the Rams’ hands is that the Raiders turn the ball over a ton: 2nd in the league in giveaways (33). If the Rams can’t get a pass rush going against this team, they never will against anyone. If they can’t turn the Raiders over, they’re not trying. I know, I know… Noah Herron. Last week against the Big Dead. Everybody in a Carolina uniform running wild. But Oakland’s offense is so putrid, this is a game even the Rams have a chance to win with… defense.
If Scott Linehan’s conservative offensive approach is ever going to win again, this is the week. Taking care of the ball against a team that turns it over as much as the Raiders is more than half the battle. The normally-flat Rams even have a motivational advantage; the Raiders (also) have nothing to play for, haven’t won since October, and don’t want to win, anyway, with the top pick in the draft in sight. A loss here, though far from impossible, would be a serious indictment of Linehan and his philosophy, though it could also be an overdue epiphany. It would mean it’s time to quit playing not to lose. It worked early in the season, but as we’re learning down the stretch, it’s still not the same as playing to win.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 12/11/2006: Bears 42, Rams 27 (Long)
Funny and probably true....Marc is accurate.
When Marc hit the umpire with a pass in the 4th, I think it was an attempt to knock some sense into somebody in this worthless crew.
I love your rant on the St Louis fans Mike. I would have been furious with the season ticket holders for selling out and not showing up.
Re: RamView, 12/11/2006: Bears 42, Rams 27 (Long)
Even though I only planned on reading a bit, I read it all again. As always, a nice read Mike.
Re: RamView, 12/11/2006: Bears 42, Rams 27 (Long)
was anyone else notice how fierce Chavous was playing against the run, he was getting in the o linemen's faces and hitting people. What about Urlacher talking trash to bruce after bulger got that personal foul, all bruce had to do was wave his ring finger at urlacher.
Re: RamView, 12/11/2006: Bears 42, Rams 27 (Long)
Fantastic description.. of a forgetable match...
Liked the comments about the pathetic special teams...
we lost by 15 points...
one missed conversion, one missed field goal, TWO (I'm still having trouble coming to terms with watching them) opposition TD's from kick returns... that adds up to 18 points...:x :x :\
Re: RamView, 12/11/2006: Bears 42, Rams 27 (Long)
Yes, quite a "below average" display of football, not to mention STL fans giving up the dome to Bears fans. Very disappointed in both.