RamView, December 12, 2011
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #13: Seahawks 30, Rams 13

Two NFL coaches were fired Monday after getting blown out Sunday – will Steve Spagnuolo join them soon? Or did the Ram offense save him for another week by scoring a TD from inside the one-yard line on its EIGHTH try?

Position by position:
* QB: I don't know what, if anything, was accomplished by rushing Sam Bradford back into the starting lineup for this game. His bad ankle required special support and had to be numbed before the game. The medical maneuvering left him as mobile as Marc Bulger in quicksand and unable to get a pushoff on any of his throws, and Bradford was suitably terrible as a result: 12-for-29 (41.4%), 193 yards, over a third of that coming on two long screen passes, and a passer rating of 49.9 that barely beat out Marshawn Lynch. Almost anything he threw downfield looked like a lob, and very little of it was accurate. He threw behind receivers, overthrew them, threw one-hoppers. He was intercepted once, when Brandon Browner dived for a poor pass behind Brandon Lloyd to start the 2nd half, but should have been picked off at least three other times. OK, he did hit Lloyd, the only Ram receiver who ever got open all night, twice on the sideline to set up the Rams' first FG. And he hit Lloyd for 40 down the sideline with a pretty touch pass to set up the Rams' ONLY TD. Bradford helped salvage that TD by improvising a poor play call. 2nd-and-goal at the 8, seeing the Seahawks have blown up the stupid TE screen, he hung in the pocket and fired for Danario Alexander in the end zone instead, drawing an interference penalty. Other than about three plays, though, the Ram passing game was awful all night, and there was little point or sense in having Bradford on the field at all. Yes, I know Chris Long also played on a bad ankle and is also a young, highly-paid, franchise player. But it's a lot clearer that Long can play successfully with his injury without increasing his overall injury risk. I'll salute Bradford for his old-school toughness, but not his decision-making, nor that of the Rams' higher-ups. They took a stupid gamble with their franchise player and it didn't come close to paying off.

* RB: Another wasted effort in the tragically-wasted career of Steven Jackson, gamely pounding out 123 yards of total offense for a team that never had a chance of winning. He crashed up the middle for 11 on his very first carry and ended the 1st quarter with an 11-yard bolt through a huge hole on the right side, getting big blocks from Harvey Dahl both times. That, along with another 10-yard run, a cutback behind another big block from Dahl, helped set up the Rams' first FG. He set up the second FG with a 50-yard reception, sprinting away with a perfectly-set-up screen pass. That was a FG after the Rams failed to score a TD from the ONE YARD LINE. With Jackson on the bench in the 4th, the Rams failed from the one AGAIN but were let off the hook by a dumb Seattle penalty. First and goal from a foot away and Jackson STILL on the bench, they have Bradford firing passes which are incomplete. Third-and-goal. What does Jackson do about then? Same thing we were all doing at home. He snapped, but in a good way. Making easily the best call of the game by anyone on the Ram sideline, Jackson hollered at the coaching staff to get him in the game so he could score the TD from a foot out and this franchise could quit embarrassing itself on national TV. Jackson surged in off right tackle for the Rams' ONLY TD. Cadillac Williams made a successful comeback, with 49 yards, but I'm sure Jackson is as baffled as any of us why he has to lobby to get on the field, let alone get the ball, when the Rams are a foot from the end zone.

* Receivers: The only receivers who could remotely get open, Lloyd (5-82) and Jackson (3-60) were the targets for 60% of Bradford's throws and represented 2/3 of his completions. Lloyd made two nice sideline catches on the Rams' first FG drive, a kneeling catch for 13 and a nice grab for 15 on 3rd-and-5. He set up the Rams' TD with a 40-yard catch, getting open by putting a wicked double-move on Browner. As usual, though, he got almost no help from the rest of the unit. Lance Kendricks (1-26) got a big play out of the against-the-grain route that worked so well for the Rams in Denver last season, but TEs were thrown at twice all night. Austin Pettis had one catch for seven yards and a drop. Danario Alexander (1-12) was no use stretching the field or as a big possession receiver, dropping one pass in the back of the end zone and killing another drive with a false start. Alexander's become the millionth person in the organization you have to wonder has much of a future here. You could say this about just about this whole unit, which shows signs of needing a total makeover as much as any other unit on the team.

* Offensive line: Maybe eating crap for three months has started to make hamburger look a little like steak, but the offensive line didn't look as disappointing this week as it has most of the season. The Rams will risk Bradford, but apparently not Adam Goldberg, who sat out much of the game, I'm guessing due to his rib injury from a couple of weeks ago. Mark LeVoir started at LT, Harvey Dahl at RT, Bryan Mattison at RG. And you know who the most impressive blocker was? Mattison. He and Dahl had key blocks on both of Jackson's 11-yard runs in the 1st. In the 2nd, Jackson cut back for 10 behind a big block by Dahl and a certifiable PANCAKE from Mattison, which is enough to start the Bryan Mattison Fan Club in these parts. Unfortunately, that drive stalled thanks to the personification of incompetence that is Billy Bajema, who a blitzing K.J. Wright froze with a head fake to get a beeline to Bradford for Seattle's first sack. LeVoir was more credible against Chris Clemons than Turnstile Hughes was a couple of weeks ago, but Clemons still beat him badly for a sack in the 3rd, rocking him on his heels with a terrific punch and following through to the QB. Bradford had survivable but not consistent protection. Part of that was getting rid of the ball quickly, but he got all night to throw other times. But he also got absolutely mauled by Alan Branch on the 1st-quarter flea flicker after Branch easily beat Jason Brown. No new news there. Tony Wragge, THE CENTER, had another false start. Again, nothing new, though Wragge did have the key block downfield on Jackson's 50-yard reception. Rams TEs failing to pick up run blitzes all night? Been there, done that. Someday Lance Kendricks has GOT to recognize that and pick it up instead of double-teaming inside and letting the blitzer run right by. More old news - on the failed goal line wildcat run, Jackson was essentially tackled by... Goldberg. A Seahawk basically threw Adam in Jackson's path, shades of the blown shovel pass against Atlanta last season. And no Rams game would be complete without them getting embarrassed by a former teammate who was a complete failure here. That would be Anthony Hargrove, who beat possibly Dahl late in the game for Seattle's third sack and proceeded to go into an obnoxious, exaggerated wing-flapping celebration after making a play for the first time in his career. I might give the o-line a grade as good as a C-minus this week; they certainly weren't helped by having to protect a QB with next to no mobility. Still, the many times this line makes a bad play, it always seems to be especially painful.

* Defensive line/LB: Even without Fred Robbins, out due to a bad back, the Ram front seven was still the best-performing unit of the team, though maybe not as consistent this week as recently. The pass rush was all over Tarvaris Jackson some plays, but he tended to get forever to throw when he rolled out. Robert Quinn sure saved the Rams a lot of points. He got a couple of hits on Jackson to force ineffective passes and a FG in the 1st. He put on major heat in the red zone in the 3rd to force a FG that was missed, and in the 4th, nearly got to Jackson on a screen pass and broke it up to force another FG. That's potentially 15 points prevented by Quinn. Chris Long didn't have a sack, but still contributed despite playing on a bad ankle and getting held all night. In the last minute of the 1st half, he pressured Jackson despite being held and flushed him over to C.J. Ah You, who got the sack despite also being held. Long and James Hall hassled Jackson enough on a goal-line rollout in the 3rd to force a pass Rod Hood tipped incomplete, leading to a FG. There wasn't quite enough pressure on Jackson for the game, though. He got too comfortable in the pocket too often, and the Rams' only other sack was an early Christmas present for Gary Gibson, who touched Jackson down after he fumbled a shotgun snap. Run defense was just OK. Marshawn Lynch ran for 115 and eventually ground the Rams down, but it never got really ugly. He had a 12-yard run in the 3rd where about half a dozen Rams blew tackles, and he polished things off with a 16-yard TD run in the 4th. Quinn, Darell Dorell Scott and Chris Chamberlain all got blocked way the heck out of the play, and it looked like that let Lynch get to the corner so quickly that neither James Laurinaitis nor Darian Stewart could ever get a good angle on him. Can't say either of those two had a bad game - they combined for 20 tackles. Stewart blew a couple but helped out well to stuff other Lynch runs. Brady Poppinga recovered a fumble 2:00 before halftime after Jackson and Lynch bungled an exchange. The defense came to play. After the first Ram FG, they 3-and-outed the home team. Quintin Mikell sealed Lynch off with a nice play for a 2-yard loss. Long strung him out for another 2-yard loss despite being held again. Then Hall stopped Jackson for 1 yard after he scrambled out of sack attempts by Quinn and Eugene Sims. The Ram defense put on a competitive effort. Unfortunately, with this offense, they have to be the Fearsome No-Name Orange Purple-People Steel Curtain Eating Crush Doomsday Foursome to actually win a game.

* Secondary: Pass coverage was not good at all, especially that of Justin King, who, if not for the billion other injuries the Ram secondary has had this year, surely would have played his way out of the league by now. With Tarvaris Jackson scrambling for his life on 3rd-and-11 in the 1st, King got completely faked out by Golden Tate along the sideline and gave up a 21-yard first down. With the game still close at 13-6 in the 3rd, Doug Baldwin (7-93) turned the Ram secondary into his personal playground. He burned Darian Stewart and a blitz on 3rd-and-11 for 21, then scored a pretty easy 29-yard TD the next play. King had just left the game due to cramps (in Seattle's 39-degree heat), so Jackson picked on Chris Smith, who got not even fashionably-late help from James Butler. Baldwin made King an even worse joke than he was already in the 4th, repeatedly burning him on bubble screens. Made him look lost for 9. Ran right by him for 10. On 3rd-and-7 on Seattle's final TD drive, burns him for 12. King didn't have a clue all night. The Rams also had a little trouble defending the tight end. Somebody named Anthony McCoy burned Poppinga for 23 in the 4th. Laurinaitis had a chance for an interception in the 2nd but couldn't hold on. The Rams' largest problem, though, was their inability to contain Baldwin, much of which falls on Justin, King of poor coverage.

* Special teams: All of Seattle's touchdowns trace back to poor special teams play. They scored a TD off a blocked punt that happened because Chris Smith didn't know he had to block Doug Baldwin, who walked in on Donnie Jones after motioning down from gunner and took the ball right off Jones' foot. Smith followed Baldwin inside and then didn't block him at all. Didn't help that the snap on the punt was high, either. Good thing the Rams went cheap and got rid of Chris Massey. Seattle's second TD came after Leon Washington returned a kickoff to midfield. Stewart wiped out and missed an early tackle, and Josh Hull blew one after that before Smith temporarily saved the TD. And their third TD drive was also a short field after Josh Brown, faking left and then going up the middle, failed to kick an onside kick far enough, and Mikell fell on it for reasons I can not determine. Jerious Norwood made a nice cutback and returned an early kickoff across the 40 but that was about the only highlight of the night on special teams.

* Strategery: For Josh McDaniels, it's been a rapid trip through the German dictionary from wunderkind to dummkopf. I honestly believe he has surpassed Jerry Rhome as the worst offensive coordinator of the St. Louis era. A flea-flicker in the 1st only succeeded in getting Bradford killed, and McDaniels ended the drive with a draw play for Norwood. So he's willing to run on 3rd-and-9. Maybe that's why there was play-action on 3rd-and-13 a couple of drives later. But correctly suspecting the Rams unlikely to run on 3rd-and-13, the Seahawks proceeded to jump all over the stupid TE screen instead and held the Rams to a FG. 4th-and-1 in the 2nd, Jackson just ran for 4, surely McDaniels is running here... no, it's a rollout and bombs-away, incomplete, for Alexander. (Ron Jaworski wanted that call, too, if you're looking for people to scratch off the OC list for next season.)

Do we even want to talk about the play-calling at the goal line? Sigh. 3rd quarter, 1st-and-goal at the 1, a direct snap to Jackson in wildcat formation. I'm pretty sure Jackson was alone in the backfield, which pretty much takes the mystery out of wildcat formation. No gain. 2nd-and-goal, an additional lineman is very late getting on the field, no one calls timeout, Seattle blitzes over RT and forces Bradford, who it appears was supposed to be rolling out, to chuck a pass into a vacant corner of the end zone, and since he hadn't even had enough time to get out of the pocket, he got flagged for grounding. Two plays from the 1 and the Rams LOSE ten yards. I don't know if the play was a designed naked bootleg for Bradford or a tackle-eligible play that the tackle didn't realize was on. Either play was a ludicrous call; even without the blitzer, that was putting a burden on Bradford's mobility. 4th quarter, Bradford makes the best out of another stupid TE screen call and gets the Rams 1st-and-goal at the 1 again. And things get even loonier. The Rams attack the goal line with Cadillac Williams instead of Jackson, their best runner. No gain. Then they go for a QB sneak. Bradford has a bum ankle, can't push off, remember? Apparently McDaniels didn't. No gain. 3rd-and-goal, 36 inches away, it's a rollout pass for Alexander. Jackson never takes the field. Seattle breaks up the pass, but then stupidly draws a taunting penalty. It's now 1st-and-goal from a foot out.

And McDaniels gets loonier than ever. 12 inches to go, not only is Jackson not on the field, now Bradford's IN THE SHOTGUN. A fade pass to Lloyd is incomplete. 2nd-and-goal, STILL IN SHOTGUN, STILL NO JACKSON. AND STILL THROWING, to Alexander, who can't reel in a pass behind him. I swear to God had Jackson not yelled at the coaches to put him in the game, McDaniels and the Rams would still be on the Seattle six-inch line right now trying to figure out how to get into the end zone. Offensive genius McDaniels got one touchdown out of EIGHT plays run inside the 1-yard line. I wouldn't have given him flight fare home.

Steve Spagnuolo stayed true to his usual boring, conservative, milquetoast self, which even infected the defensive game plan this week. The Rams did some run-blitzing, but hardly blitzed Jackson the passer at all. And when they did, they usually got burned by a WR screen or a dumpoff. The last two minutes of the first half was the Spagnuolo era in a nutshell. 2:00, down 10-3, they're running pitchouts to Jackson and useless screen passes and letting the clock run down. And when they get the ball back in the last 0:30, what do they do? Kneel out the half. You'll risk Bradford, who shouldn't have played at all and probably should have been benched after the INT in the 3rd, but you won't take the risk of even trying to score in the last two minutes of the half? What are you playing for?

Steve Spagnuolo still needs one win to catch Scott Linehan on the coaching career wins list.

* Upon further review: Bill Leavy made a bunch of probably bad and certainly unpopular calls against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, worked his first game in Seattle since that game Monday night, and for most of the game, officiated like he was afraid to call anything. There were callable illegal blocks on a couple of Seattle's long returns – James Butler getting blasted from behind on the opening kickoff, for instance. And the Rams' d-linemen were getting held all night. Long and Quinn were slung around by their jerseys at times. If there were still tearaways, the Rams would have gone through so many this week they would have gone broke. And not a single holding call from Leavy the whole game. A total joke. They nearly made up for that with good pass interference calls and a good call on Sherman for taunting Alexander. That was a textbook example. But Sherman clearly got away with holding Alexander, again by the jersey, on the failed 4th-and-1 bomb, and Leavy called Josh Brown for touching the onside kick at the end of the game after viewing replays that clearly showed he didn't. Don't look for Leavy in Super Bowl XLVI. F

* Cheers: Have to give the ESPN Monday Night Football crew credit for dedicating their energies toward the two teams on the field. Tim Tebow's name didn't even come up until there was about 3:00 to go. Nobody half-assed it, not even after Mike Tirico's comment that the game was “5-and-7 vs. 2-and-10, and it looks like it.” Jon Gruden had high praise for Chris Long's effort and toughness for playing effectively through a worsening ankle injury, and a good tribute to Steven Jackson and the shame it is that he's been stuck on such awful teams. Gruden and Ron Jaworski had a spirited discussion about Bradford's future. Jaws defended him strenuously, saying he's got nothing around him. Gruden said he would definitely at least take a look at the QBs in next year's draft like Robert Griffin. An interesting, lively, but brief exchange that Tirico broke up to return to play-by-play. I'd rather have heard Jaws and Gruden debate some more.

* Who’s next?: The 7-6 Cincinnati Bengals are up next for the Rams, and though the Rams can only dream of a record as good, the Bengals have not been a good roll. They've lost 4 out of 5 and needed a healthy amount of help from the inept Browns to get the win they did get in that stretch. The Bengals look very much like the Rams did this time last season: a young , improving team that appears to have hit its ceiling.

The similarities don't stop there. A rookie QB running a system featuring a lot of carries by a power back and a lot of short, ball-control passing... sound familiar? Rookie Andy Dalton is putting Sam Bradford's second-year numbers to shame, because he's running Bradford's offense from last year. The Bengals will go as Cedric Benson goes. Benson puts the angry in running angry and has put his fumbling problem of last season behind him. He has been breaking off big runs to his left lately behind LT Andrew Whitworth and FB Chris Pressley. With Robert Quinn's rookie struggles in run defense, that's a great matchup for Cincinnati. The Bengals should love to run no matter the direction; they have the heaviest offensive line in the league. TE Jermaine Gresham is also a fine run-blocker. And it should be little surprise that a team whose line averages 333 pounds is fond of heavy formations. If the Rams can find some way of stopping the Bengal steamroller, maybe with some run-blitzing, their passing game can be vulnerable. That line has given up only 21 sacks, third-best in the league, but mainly because Dalton gets the ball out quickly and runs when he has the opportunity. The Browns and Steelers both disrupted the Bengals with blitzes, and even without extra rushers, had men frequently beating their blocker clean for unabated runs at Dalton. LG Nate Livings is an especially bad pass-protector and I would expect James Hall and/or Fred Robbins to wreak havoc. Dalton does a lot right – he hangs very tough in the pocket and reads the field well. Even in a ball-control passing game, he doesn't settle for the checkdown. He's still got a rookie's feel for blind-side pressure, though, and will walk right into a big hit or a fumble. Jerome Simpson over the middle seems to be Dalton's favorite target on 3rd-and-short, but his favorite target overall is obviously rookie sensation A.J. Green. Dalton-to-Green is the highest-scoring rookie-to-rookie connection since... Banks-to-Kennison in 1996. Green's the consistent deep threat the Rams have yet to provide for Bradford. Some weeks it looks like Green runs nothing but deep routes the whole game. The Rams ABSOLUTELY HAVE to maintain deep coverage on Green at all times. I would encourage putting Justin King on an island against him and keep him in single-coverage on Green all game. Anybody else have A.J. on their fantasy team?

Cincinnati has been a top-10 defense all season, though they appear to be tailing off a bit lately. Not that there is a good time for a season-ending injury, but Leon Hall's came at a bad time for the Bengal secondary, and Nate Clements has been playing hurt. The Ram passing game will have to try to make it rain against Pac-Man Jones and old friend Kelly Jennings. It'll be important to jump on the Bengals early; they're one of the worst opening-drive defenses in the league. They're not shy about corner-blitzing, but their pass rush seems to take a while to rev up. In an unusual twist, the leading Bengal sacker is a DT, Geno Atkins, who leads NFL DT's in sacks with 7. Atkins is a beast and a source of constant pass pressure. He should destroy Jason Brown with ease and open things up over LT for Michael Johnson, who has been an edge-rushing force for the Bengals in recent weeks. The Rams are going to have to find a way to control those two to have any chance of winning the line of scrimmage. Cincinnati's not getting a lot out of LDE, which has been Robert Geathers a lot of the season because Carlos Dunlap has been injured. Recent opponents have been able to gash the Bengals up the middle, which speaks to the heart of the Rams running game. That may be Atkins overplaying the pass, but the Bengals' LBs don't seem to make a lot of plays, either. Say what you will about Billy Devaney, but he made the right call in '09 between Laurinaitis and Rey Maualuga. If the Rams can establish their middle and right-side running game, which is their bread and butter, they should at least be competitive for the Dome fans who'll mainly be coming to see the halftime ceremony for Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk.

One last Bengal I want to mention is a 5'7" receiver, about 175 pounds soaking wet, named Andrew Hawkins. Announcers of Bengals games have called him "a pleasant surprise" and "a great kick returner." I doubt he'll return kicks Sunday. The Bengals will mainly put him on the field in 4-wide sets as the dumpoff option on very-long-yardage downs. He took a short pass 20 yards to convert a 3rd-and-19 in their win over the Browns. Why do I mention this guy? He's the Rams' season in a nutshell. He was with the Rams the first day of training camp, and caught everything thrown to him in passing drills. He had to be able to return punts to make the team, though, muffed about a half dozen in a row, and was cut after exactly one day. And now here he is, contributing for a team with a shot at the playoffs, while the Rams have had to scrape guys off the bottom of the waiver wire at his position. Another roster decision gone wrong in a season full of them, a season gone disastrously wrong. And now, it's Steve Spagnuolo and company struggling to get the second chance here that Hawkins didn't get.

-- Mike
Game stats from nfl.com