RamView, 12/13/2009: Titans 47, Rams 7 (Long)
RamView, December 13, 2009
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #13: Titans 47, Rams 7
Titanic vs. iceberg, Titans vs. Rams, similar result. Keith Null threw five interceptions today and still may have been the Rams' best offensive player. Need to know more?
* QB: Surprise! Keith Null (27-43-157) got the start at QB today thanks to a deep thigh bruise sidelining Kyle Boller. And for the day, his passer rating was almost null - 37.8, thanks to a quintet of interceptions, most of the overwhelmed-rookie variety. A couple because he stared his receiver down. One because he didn't seem to have confidence in his initial read, double-clutched and threw a floater. The fourth one, returned by Vincent Fuller for a TD, looked like a stare-down and a bad read, expecting Fuller to follow Danny Amendola across the field instead of sitting down in coverage. The fifth one needed to be a rope to Brandon Gibson in the end zone – there was an opening in the zone coverage – but was a balloon attached to a rope instead, becoming one of Cortland Finnegan's two INTs. The only INT not on Null was the first one, which a competent officiating crew would have negated with a pass interference penalty. That alone wouldn't have saved Null's day. He floated too many long balls and double-clutched too many passes for that. He looks more an aimer than a thrower. He completed only short passes. He took a sack in the 3rd with Steven Jackson open in the middle of the field lonelier than Tiger will be at Christmas with Elin's family, and threw his 3rd INT with Jackson animatedly calling for the ball on a screen on the opposite side. On the other hand, would Boller have been much better today? Null's skillset isn't a null set. He hung very tough in the pocket and stepped up to avoid the sack when he had to, making his offensive line look a lot better than it was in the process. He got Tennessee to jump offside with a hard count. He threw a seeing-eye pass to Randy McMichael betwixt three Titans on 4th-and-7 for the Rams' only TD of the day. Null had a far worse game than Brock Berlin did in Cincinnati a couple of years ago; why don't I rip him more? Null showed us some ability he can build on, against a much better opponent than the '07 Bengals. Berlin didn't show that, and he was here as a pretty much finished product. Let's see what the kid's got the rest of the way.
* RB: The Ram running game today looked like the crowded cabin scene from Night at the Opera. Steven Jackson struggled through the crowd 19 times for just 47 yards, fewer than Kenneth Darby got in one run via a fake punt in the 3rd. Jackson may have run himself into trouble once, failing to follow Jacob Bell's pull block and getting stopped for no gain by Keith Bulluck in the 2nd. But too much of the day, the problem was Titans coming in unblocked, or barely so. Kyle Vanden Bosch in the 1st. Minus-2. William Hayes beating McMichael in the 2nd. Minus-3. Bulluck again in the 3rd. Minus-1. Then Nick Harper after Bell gets knocked down in front of Jackson. Minus-4. A safety blitz in the 4th that Null didn't check away from. Minus-another-4. Jackson's best sequence came after the Titans' first TD. He took off for 12 behind Bell on the pull and a big Adam Goldberg block. Two plays later Richie Incognito got him a hole for 8 more. A penalty in between stalled the drive, though, as Jackson's linemen were obstacles much more often today than not. Jackson tried to take charge and help his rookie QB. A couple of times he did everything but turn on the Bat-Signal to get Null to throw to him. He could have contributed much more than two catches for 6 yards. Not to be today, though, as the Titans kept the Rams' superman in the phone booth.
* Receivers: Rams receivers set new standards for nondescript play by the week. The longest passes today went 13 yards, a 3rd-and-a-mile dumpoff to Samkon Gado late in the 1st half and a pass over the middle to Daniel Fells (3-32) with the game about over. Brandon Gibson (6-43) was the leading receiver, converting a couple of first downs. He also had an OPI and a false start. Null tried him deep a couple of times; he got flagged for the OPI on a corner route after not making a sharp enough 2nd cut to get inside Cortland Finnegan. Null's throw was right there otherwise. McMichael (2-15) made a nice catch in traffic for the Rams' TD. Danny Amendola (5-19) netted just 9 total yards, losing 10 on an end-around in the 2nd when Fells shoved his man right into his path. Donnie Avery did even less; 1-4 until a 10-yard catch very late in the game, the fifth time this year the Rams' #1 WR hasn't exceeded either 2 catches or 20 yards. Rams WRs and TEs caught 19 balls today. Brandon Marshall caught 21 in Indianapolis by himself. There are more ways to describe Rams receiver futility than the Inuits have to describe snow.
* Offensive line: Richie Incognito continues to make headlines with his play. His idiotic play. He killed the Rams' 2nd drive by headbutting a Titan well after the play was over. That got him benched. For one whole play. He made it through two whole drives before drawing ANOTHER personal foul, the kind of late block on a vulnerable defensive player that referees have been looking out for for years now, but Incognito is too stupid and too dirty a player to resist it. That got him benched for the rest of the game, and he should stay on that bench until he gathers moss. I'd wish Incognito good luck next year at Oakland or Cincinnati or whatever franchise is stupid enough to covet his “hard-nosed” play, but I can't, because nothing about the guy is good for football. I'll only pray he doesn't injure himself, or far more likely, another player someday with his bone-headed Neanderthal play. With or without Incognito, and Mark Setterstrom was certainly acceptable in his place, run-blocking was mostly awful. First drive, 2nd-and-6, Fells and Alex Barron both run up to make 2nd-level blocks. Nobody blocks Kyle Vanden Bosch, RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. 2-yard loss. Jason Brown killed a drive with a hands-to-the-face penalty, killing a couple of good Jackson runs. One behind Adam Goldberg and a Jacob Bell pull block, and the other, admittedly, behind Incognito. Barron hurt the next drive with the billionth false start of his career, and Keith Bulluck sneaked behind Bell's pull to stop Jackson for no gain. A 2nd-quarter drive was a real o-line cluster... bomb. William Hayes beat McMichael to drop Jackson for a loss, then whipped Fells to blow up an end around for a huge loss. Null nearly got killed on 3rd down after Barron blocked the wrong guy. Incognito topped off the turd sundae with personal foul #2. Another great drive to end the 3rd. Jackson lost 4 after Bell got knocked to the ground in front of him. Next play, Setterstrom false-starts. Goldberg got beat later to cost Jackson another loss, as nobody on the line could avoid some kind of major screw-up today. Pass protection was passable, thanks to a quick-tempo passing game and Null having the presence to step up out of edge pressure a lot. The only sack was a combination of Null holding the ball too long and Bell getting bullrushed, more like bulldozed, by Tony Brown. Bell injured himself later trying to chase down an INT return and was replaced by John Greco. Injuries have unquestionably affected the offensive line this year, but there's little excuse for the number of mental and undisciplined errors they made today.
* Defensive line / LB: The Ram defense did some things right today. They held Tennessee to 4-of-13 on third down, 1-for-9 at one point. They didn't score a sack – no new news there – but put decent pressure on the Titan QBs for ¾ of the game. For all his league-leading ability, the Rams stuffed Chris Johnson (28-117) many times. James Butler strung him out for no gain, and David Vobora broke up a screen pass, to force a FG in the 2nd. Cliff Ryan and Leger (the DOOZER) Douzable dropped him for back-to-back losses the next possession, which ended in another FG after Chris Long's near-sack drew an intentional grounding call on Kerry Collins. The Rams trailed 23-0 at halftime but opened the 2nd half in style. Darell Scott, who had a great game, pursuing up and down the line, TFL'ed Johnson, followed by James Laurinaitis making a (unfortunately rare today) play in the hole, then James Hall TFLing Johnson again on 3rd down. They forced another FG after DOOZER drove through Kevin Mawae and dropped Johnson for -3. Good play by all the Ram DTs today. Unfortunately, early on they proved susceptible to the big play. First quarter at the Ram 39, Vince Young fakes a handoff left and both LBs (Rams were in nickel) bite. Johnson took the handoff right, went around the edge sealed by the TE dominating Long and patiently weaved through the Ram secondary for a TD. Long getting blocked repeatedly by no more than a TE is killing the defense. It's how opponents generate a lot of big plays lately, and it's entirely frustrating because there seem to be so few TEs who can block a defensive end. Yet every tight end seems to be able to block Long. The Rams paid big for a big blitz the next drive. Everybody came hard from Young's left. He dumped off to Johnson on the right. Leonard Little, in zone coverage, dived and missed at the Titan 40. Then Johnson made Craig Dahl look like a fool with a pretty simple inside cut at the Ram 40. Patiently following WR blocks the rest of the way, Johnson had a 68-yard TD and Tennessee had a snowballing 14-0 lead. Lack of pass rush or an early answer for Johnson led to a 44-yard Young scramble in the 2nd. The 4-man rush didn't come close, and with two linebackers assigned to Johnson, Young got acres of space to run. A Pyrrhic gain for the Athens of the South, though; Young appeared to tweak a hamstring on the play. Tennessee's offense wasn't quite the same the rest of the game, though more than enough for the Rams to handle. Johnson found plenty of running room going at Long, blocked only by a TE. I can't emphasize enough how bad that is. That's leaving linemen free to go cream Laurinaitis, and he had a pretty ineffective seven tackles today. He got blocked out of a lot of plays. The improved interior play was a highlight today, but the Rams are going to have to figure out how to fix the point of attack with Long if they're going to quit getting pounded out of games on the ground.
* Secondary: Another long day at the Rams' burn unit. Kenny Britt carved the Ram zone for 33 on Tennessee's opening play. Ron Bartell forced Johnson's long TD run inside but found no help there, with James Butler unable to get around the blocking wideout. Bartell couldn't get around Britt during Johnson's longest TD play, while Nate Washington DESTROYED Justin King. The Rams were awful covering Titan tight ends, who caught 10 for 84. Paris Lenon repeatedly blew coverages before getting injured in the 2nd. Good coverage forced a couple of FGs, and Bartell broke up a pass to force a punt. But on 4th-and-5 late in the half, Butler, David Roach and Victor Adeyanju all missed Johnson, letting him take a pitchback 18 yards to set up a FG at the gun. Britt burned them for 44 in the 3rd, a play that would have been just 7 yards had Bartell not badly blown the tackle. That led to another FG. Laurinaitis gave up a 4th-down completion to Bo Scaife that kept a TD drive alive. Tennessee's last offensive TD was set up by Washington's 33-yard diving catch at the 5, beating King, who, surprise, never knew the ball was coming. Butler, surprise, was way late and no help from safety. 400-pound Alge Crumpler beat Bartell and Laurinaitis in the end zone to catch a desperation 4th-down throw from Collins to put Tennessee ahead 40-7. The secondary made some nice plays against the run and King is trying to step up the physical level of his play. But despite some well-paid players, it's as big a mess as any other unit on the team.
* Special teams: Special teams were the Rams' lone bright spot again. The play of the day was Darby's 51-yard sprint out of punt formation at the end of the 3rd, between very good blocks by Larry Grant and K.C. Asiodu. Liked the extra touch Tom McMahon put on that play; as Darby ran left, it looked like Craig Dahl was faking a fake right. Grant recovered a muffed punt return at the end of the game. Jordan Kent, who the Rams should have locked up for next year already, dropped Kenny Britt inside the 10 on one kickoff return. Amendola returned a couple of kicks across the 30 but was also trapped inside the 20 three times. Donnie Jones averaged 45 a punt with 3 inside the 20, though one was a meager 28-yarder that came down at the 17. Did the Rams really have to become awful at everything else before special teams could be any good? There must be a better balance that can be struck one day.
* Coaching: Though he's long been an obnoxious prima donna in the eyes of Rams Nation, I've tried to keep my disdain for Titans head coach Jeff Fisher a respectful one because of his long and successful career. But I would ask Fisher today why anyone should respect a head coach who's throwing deep, keeping his superstar running back in the game when he's got his 100 yards rushing, and going for it on 4th-and-goal, all when he's up 33-7 in the 4th quarter against a 1-11 team. Fisher just reaffirmed our long-time gut feeling about him today, didn't he? He's a walking, talking, living, breathing anal orifice. He's a 5-foot-10, 190-pound feminine hygiene product receptacle. Steve Spagnuolo's postgame handshake with him looked brusque and brief. Spagnuolo looked pissed off. And he should have been. Fisher didn't deserve the niceties of sportsmanship after his pour-it-on performance today. May Spagnuolo and however many Rams who are still here then remember this day the next time they cross paths with Fisher.
No need to remind me; Spagnuolo brought some of the Rams' problems today on himself. The Rams were in nickel on 1st-and-10 on Johnson's first TD run. I don't know why you'd do that much against Tennessee's unimposing passing game. But the Rams seemed to be in a lot of nickel today. They zone-blitzed on Johnson's mile-long TD reception. Because Leonard Little is so great a defensive back, I suppose. Leonard's good at sniffing out screen plays; leave him where the good Lord meant him to play and you're NOT looking at a 68-yard TD. The Rams looked poorly prepared for a lot of passes to tight ends, when that's been Tennessee's bread and butter for 15-some-odd years. 10 penalties for 82 yards isn't a ringing endorsement of the Rams as a well-coached team, either. After Incognito's second penalty, TV called his sideline tete-a-tete with Spagnuolo a “confrontation”. I think Incognito was just mad about what I lip-read as a “(B.S.) call”. Neither he nor Spagnuolo were losing control over there. But Spagnuolo never should have let Incognito's butt off the bench the first time. Enough is enough.
At the outset of the game, I thought Pat Shurmur must have been abducted and been replaced by some kind of alien. Play-action? Downfield thows? Misdirection? Four-receiver sets? Who are you, and what have you done with our offensive coordinator? The offense stayed in the small box for the second half, though. Jackson ran out of a lot of single-back sets, which puzzled me. He really could have used a fullback in front of him more often, after the bang-up job Billy Bajema did last week and the decent job Mike Karney's done all season. Tennessee also got defenders to Jackson unblocked far too many times to think the run schemes Shurmur used were good ideas. I'm not sure Tennessee was going to worry too much about the Rams spreading the field with Null behind center. The passing game plan was an improvement over last week, but the running game plan was largely a failure, not helped by this week's litany of offensive line mistakes, youthful QB errors, defensive missteps and lapses in discipline.
* Upon further review: You were expecting a competently-officiated game from Jeff Triplette's crew? Think again! Poor refereeing was central to some of today's key plays. Null was exactly right to protest his first INT. Vanden Bosch clobbered Jackson to the ground while the ball was in the air; obvious, blatant, textbook, IGNORED, pass interference. Hey, this was a Super Bowl XXXIV rematch, not XXXVI. The Titans got away with holding in the running game all day. Scott was held at the outset of Johnson's 39-yard TD. Johnson's third TD came courtesy of his TE grabbing Dahl and slamming him to the ground. Collins eluded pressure on a later TD pass to Crumpler because Little was slightly held and Adeyanju was brutally held. The one call they got right was not to call Ryan for a late hit on Johnson on the Titan sideline in the 4th. Ryan released contact before they got out of bounds; Johnson fell because he pushed off of Ryan. Getting that call right was such a pleasant surprise I'll let Triplette skate by with a D.
* Cheers: Fox doesn't exactly give Trent Green much chance to develop chemistry with a play-by-play announcer; he worked with Chris Rose this week. Green had good observations about the patience in Johnson's running style and about Null's (many) mistakes, though calling the Spagnuolo-Incognito sideline meeting a “confrontation” made much more of it than it was. I wonder how far the Rams have to be behind before Green quits claiming “they're still in it”, though. 26-0? 33-0? 1,000,006-0? Trent showed restraint questioning officials' calls and questioning Fisher's late-game tactics. He should probably do that as a first-year commentator. If his directors let him cut loose more next year, it'll a big step for him toward becoming one of the more-highly-regarded commentators.
* Who’s next?: The Houston Texans visit St. Louis for the first time next Sunday, presenting a quite different challenge than the Titans did today, since they thrive off of their passing game. Look for the Rams to keep the safeties dropped back to try to contain the league's #4 passing game and receiving yards leader Andre Johnson. I doubt, though, that there's much reason to expect they'll fare any better against the Houston superstar than the Seahawks did today, yielding him 190+ yards and 2 TDs in basically a half. (BTW, thanks for killing my fantasy playoff, Seattle.) Only Darelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha have really been able to slow Johnson down so far this year. He's an impressively physical receiver, so not only won't the Rams be able to cover him, he's going to break bunches of tackles when they do track him down. With Andre the giant destroying the Ram secondary, Matt Schaub will be able to get comfortable in the pocket. Houston's line doesn't let its QBs get battered all season any more; they're 7th-best in the league for sacks allowed. They'll hit St. Louis with the #29 rushing offense and have lost Steve Slaton for the season. But Slaton's absence eliminates the Rams' best chance to create a turnover, and the Rams have gotten rolled by plenty of rushing offenses worse than Houston's this season anyway. The team from the town where NASA's headquartered could hang some astronomical numbers on the Rams next week.
There'll be opportunities to make plays against the Houston secondary. Their safety play in particular is terrible. Even with the presence of good young linebackers Demeco Ryans and Brian Cushing, the Rams will have opportunities to break runs to the second and third levels and, if they stick with it like this week, to give Houston a problem with play-action. But they'll have to control the battle up front, which will be tough with this group. Mario Williams, you know, the guy the Texans never should have drafted first overall, leads them with 8 sacks and will be working on Alex Barron, and the Rams have never blocked Antonio Smith. If Null's the QB again, he's going to have to keep getting the ball out quick and hope for more help from his running game than he got this week. There's a chance of that; Houston's 20th in the league at run D at 114.5 yards per game.
The Texans haven't been the most-focused team in the world. They were expected to be much better than their current 6-7 record and have lost several games this year they were expected to win. They've blown big leads. Their kicker has not been clutch. If the Rams can get after Schaub, if the D is as effective as it was on 3rd down today, they could open up some cracks in the Houston facade and wait for them to crumble again. From here, though, it looks like Houston's Texas-sized passing game advantage will tilt the game too far in their favor.
Game stats from nfl.com
YouTube - A Night At The Opera: Crowded Cabin Scene
Re: RamView, 12/13/2009: Titans 47, Rams 7 (Long)
UtterBlitz, thank you for your comments the last few weeks. I hope my negativity is not becoming too crushing.
Re: RamView, 12/13/2009: Titans 47, Rams 7 (Long)
Nice recap, one game to forget however :)
Re: RamView, 12/13/2009: Titans 47, Rams 7 (Long)
I found your comments about C. Long being blocked by TE's particulary troubling. Most of us are hoping that Long can make the permanent move to LDE next year as most teams run to the right and he is allegedly a good run defender.
Besides after watching him get *****-slapped by most every left tackle he plays against, he has just got to be a more effective player on the left side, right?
But if he can't defeat a tight end's block the Rams are in a world of hurt.
Let's hope that the Bo Scaife's and Alge Crumpler's of this league don't continue to dominate Chris in the future..
...sigh...Hope is a word I find myself hanging on to a lot lately.
WHAT SAY YE?
Re: RamView, 12/13/2009: Titans 47, Rams 7 (Long)
Long should have been given a sack on the intentional grounding call ...
Originally Posted by RAMarkable
He was within arms reach of the QB on three other occasions. If Long is within an arms reach of getting four sacks a game, I'm just fine with it at this point. He's getting closer this year than last, I expect him to break out next year ...
I did not see TE's dominating Long after rewatching the tape last night. The Titans were running ALOT of stretch plays. Long was playing up and down the line like he was probably taught to do. Dorrell Scott and Clifton Ryan did the same with great success. You pick your point, then you engage ....
Johnson didn't do a ton of damage on the ground in the game. I thought the defensive line did a great job considering how they were playing against.
While I like reading these reviews, this is the problem I have with them. Insinuating that Long is dominated by basically every player put in front of him is a very bad stretch at best. Long is inches away from having 8 sacks or more this year. He's just a hair away, and has make some nice plays so far ...
Further insinuating that Long is the problem with our run defense is a bad assessment. We have a serious deficiency at WLB, far more of a contributor than the problems at DE ...
Same thing with the consistent complaints about Butler, who I think has been a solid player, who continues to hustle and fight off injuries, and has been generally sound in run support ....