RamView, December 14, 2008
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #14: Seahawks 23, Rams 20

The Rams’ litany of losing continues, after failing to show up in the second half on either side of the ball today against Seattle. That’s eight straight losses overall. That’s eight straight losses to the freaking Seahawks, who the Rams haven’t beaten since 2004. The Seahawks who have THREE wins this year, TWO of them courtesy of your same old sorry assed St. Louis Rams. I need a damn drink.

Position by position:
* QB: Marc Bulger’s numbers again weren’t spectacular – 19-32-207 – but his passer rating of 88.9 makes this one of his best games this season. And though he was terrible against Miami, this is the third straight week of excellent pass protection for Bulger, and his game is getting on something of a roll. He’s throwing accurately; his 31-yard TD pass to Torry Holt between two defenders was a beauty. He’s doing little things right like stepping up in the pocket, and the TD pass was made by a sweet pump fake. He’s finding rapport again both with Holt and Donnie Avery. It is taking a while, but with a few weeks of good blocking in front of him, confidence is starting to come back into Bulger’s game. He’s finding receivers all over the field, not just the sidelines. If not for his teammates turning the ball over, Bulger probably would have had the Rams up 24-0 or 27-0 at halftime and they would have coasted home. (As we’d find out, trying to coast home with a ten-point lead? Not so successful.) As it was, he still led the team on scoring drives of 9, 18 and 13 plays. The offense moved with good rhythm for good stretches, and Bulger’s passing was spot on. He even had a reception today (from Dane Looker) out of “Wildcat” formation, tying him with Drew Bennett for the season. Dare I ask if it’s time now to raise the bar where Bulger’s concerned? He’s still making a living off of short passes. He’s chucking it ASAP at even the hint of a blitz. There was one play where he threw short with the blitz coming; problem was, blitzer Julian Peterson had hit the ground well short of Bulger, before he threw. Marc’s doing a decent job of “managing the offense,” but we’re clearly seeing that isn’t enough to get this team any W’s. The Rams are getting Marc Bulger good protection, and he’s working well again with his best downfield threats; let’s see if it isn’t time to start having him get the ball downfield more often.

* RB: All signs from Steven Jackson (24-91) were that he’d take over the game early and would own it till the end. He came out running with his usual power and drive after contact and really took off in the 2nd quarter on the Rams’ 2nd TD drive. He cut back for 15 on 4th-and-1 behind snowplow-like blocking from Orlando Pace. Jackson turned on the speed a couple of plays later, beating a couple of Seahawks around the right corner for 14, with good downfield blocks by Daniel Fells and Avery. He finished the drive with a 6-yard TD run behind Jacob Bell’s big block. He’d add another long run and headed into halftime with about 80 yards rushing. In the 2nd half, though, the room he had to run in the first half disappeared, and despite their 10-point lead, the Rams stopped getting him the ball. Jackson still played about as complete a game as you could ask for; he added four catches and did a nice job handling the blitz, but Seattle and the Rams’ game plan took him out of the game in the 2nd half, and the Ram offense went with him. Kenneth Darby has apparently supplanted Antonio Pittman as Jackson’s understudy. Pittman was in uniform but did not play a down. Heck, at the end of the game, Darby was on the field instead of Jackson! Yeah, I’m not sure that’s the best use of personnel, either. The best change-of-pace the Rams have for Jackson, actually, is more Jackson, which is what the Ram offense needs to see if this team’s ever going to put up another W. More Jackson.

* WR: Turnovers by some receivers far overshadow the solid work of others. Derek Stanley got crunched by three Seahawks on an end-around in the 1st, fumbled for a Seattle defensive TD, and left the game with an injury. That seemed almost like a forgivable turnover compared to the work of the lamentable Joe Klopfenstein. The Rams failed to cash in on a turnover in Seattle territory thanks to Klopfenstein’s awful fumble after a 15-yard catch in the 2nd. He wasn’t hit that hard; he was just doing a piss-poor job protecting the ball. Those two turnovers were a 10 or 14-point swing in the game. Even the Rams can hold a 24-0 halftime lead (can’t they?). Instead, it’s only 17-7 at the break, and you know the rest. Torry Holt’s (4-64) and Donnie Avery’s (6-61) good games were drowned out as a result. Holt made a fine play on the TD catch and made a fine sliding catch on 4th-and-6 in the 4th to set up the Rams’ final FG. Avery looked like he knew what he was doing today. He was effective on the “smoke” route and burned Kelly Jennings with a 24-yard juggling catch a couple of plays before Holt’s 4th-down catch. The passing game may be starting to click again with Holt and Avery, and Stanley’s still got a future. Well, Klopfenstein does, too, but much likelier in government, politics or corrections (or here in Illinois, all three at once) than in pro football.

* Offensive line: The good news was pass protection. For the third straight week, Bulger was usually afforded good time to throw and a good pocket to throw from. He wasn’t hit much and was only sacked once. That was by Rocky Bernard, who appeared to beat Richie Incognito on the play. Incognito barked at Alex Barron afterward, so in his defense, that may not have been his block to make. Bernard was a beast, making a ton of plays against the middle of the Ram offensive line. Incognito impressively pancaked Bernard on one first-half play, but that came right after one of his FOUR penalties on the day, which included a couple of holds and a false start. None of the Ram penalty machine’s misdeeds got by the Dome crowd without a loud, en masse disapproval, either. Run blocking was solid for a half. Orlando Pace caved in the left side a couple of times to get Jackson good gains. Jacob Bell bounced back from last week with a bunch of good blocks, including one that opened a BIG hole on Jackson’s TD run in the 2nd.The Rams ran for over 130 yards on the day, which sounds great. Only 14 of that came in the 2nd half, though, as the o-line suddenly began to fail to get any surge at all. They couldn’t control the edge – Pace and Bell got pushed well back off the line on one failed sweep – and couldn’t do much up the middle with Bernard reigning there and the likes of D.D. Lewis knifing in to make plays. Seriously? D.D. Lewis? In any event, as well as they controlled the line of scrimmage in the ground game in the first half, the offensive line didn’t sustain it in the 2nd half, not even close. It’s pretty disgraceful that an offense with a sizable lead at halftime was so pathetic on the ground afterward. That’s when you’re supposed to put games away! I’d rather not hear all this “the Rams don’t know how to win” nonsense. An offensive line is supposed to want to run the ball down the defense’s throat when they have a lead. There’s nothing to know or not know about that. Seattle simply wanted it more in the second half. And there’s nothing to excuse about that.

* Defensive line/LB: The Ram defense dominated Seattle in the first half. Blitzing led to a couple of sacks and kept a lot of pressure in Seneca Wallace’s face. A Jason Craft sack caused a fumble Will Witherspoon recovered and led to a FG. James Hall charged in untouched for a 2nd-quarter sack. Wallace ran for his life the whole half and was pressured into several throwaways. The Rams were shutting down the Seattle ground game, too. Pisa Tinoisamoa (8 tkl) was everywhere again this week. The secondary supported well against the run. Chris Long stuffed a couple of rushes. Seattle would have been shut out at halftime if not for the defensive TD. Everything was going great. Then the second half started, and it was as if the Ram defense stopped playing. Wallace was now getting all day to throw. Maurice Morris started gashing the Ram defense. His 15-yard run past an overcommitted Long and by a dominated Adam Carriker led to a Seattle FG. 17-10. His 21-yard run, right by Craft and Pisa after Victor Adeyanju was completely ridden out of the play, set up another FG. 17-13. The Rams went up 20-13, and the defense forced a 3-and-out by breaking up a 3rd-down pass over the middle for Leonard Weaver, but that effort wouldn’t be enough. Wallace got all day to throw and exploit coverage breakdowns down the stretch. Seattle tied it at 20, and the Ram run defense continued not to hold up, even on a 3rd-and-4 handoff to Weaver in the final 2:00 that gained eight. If they stop that run, Seattle probably plays for overtime (they’d have been around their own 40) and punts. Instead, the next play is a bomb to Deion Branch that sets up the game-ending FG. They gave up 16 points in the 2nd half, 10 in the fourth quarter, and you have to be trying to lose to look as flat and crappy as the Ram defense did after halftime. I don’t know how it’s even possible. It shouldn’t be.

* Secondary: Tackling and hitting were not issues for the Ram secondary, which delivered one of its most physical performances in memory. Ron Bartell delivered at least three highlight-quality hits, including a couple to unfortunate rookie TE John Carlson, though he did impressively hold on for the catch each time. Bartell also broke up an otherwise-certain TD pass to Leonard Weaver and saved the Rams 4 points. He was also credited with a sack for ushering Seneca Wallace out of bounds on Seattle’s first play. Big game up front. OJ Atogwe was a blitzing weapon and was in Wallace’s face a lot. Big game up front. Jason Craft blitzed so much out of the Rams’ 3-4 look, he probably should have been considered a linebacker. He was in Wallace’s face more than anybody, and scored a big sack/fumble in the 2nd to set up a FG. (I would be remiss not to mention Craft’s big play to strip Josh Wilson on the ensuing kick return.) The game-losing problem, despite all this good play up front? Pass coverage was terrible. Wallace’s scrambling resulted in poor discipline in the secondary. Carlson was open for a couple of big gains and converted one 3rd down on the sideline a few feet behind three Rams not even looking at him. And that’s not even the worst of it, as two HUGE coverage breakdowns in the 4th lost the Rams the game. Bobby Engram was open by half the field on a 39-yard catch that set up Seattle’s tying TD. Shades of Fakhir Brown in Seattle earlier this year, Bartell just let Engram run free up the sideline, and if the plan was for Chris Draft to cover Engram deep, it was a really, really bad one. Deion Branch then burned Atogwe for 45 to set up the game-winning FG at the gun. You’re protecting a lead – you just can’t let receivers get behind you deep like that! Yet the Ram secondary, populated with veteran players, failed miserably when their team needed them the most.

* Special teams: One of the odd things about this disaster of a season has been the fairly steady play Al Roberts has gotten from the traditionally dreadful special teams. Donnie Jones continues to blast his way to the Pro Bowl. He averaged almost 55 yards a kick, and his net wasn’t too far south of 50. A good tackle by Classy Eric Bassey pinned Seattle deep after a first half punt. Josh Brown hit a couple of FGs, including a clutch 48-yarder in the 2nd half to extend the Rams’ lead to 20-13. No complaints this week about Brown, who also made at least three tackles on kickoffs, where the special teams weren’t too great today, other than Craft’s forced fumble at the end of a long return in the 2nd. Seattle returners looked one move away from breaking most kick returns all the way, and Brown kept the Rams in the game with his kicking and his tackling. Deep kicks by Olindo Mare kept the Ram return game in check, though Darby was serviceable on kick returns after Stanley’s injury. (Dane Looker filled in on punts.) Special teams may be just solid-but-not-spectacular, but they’ve been the best part of the team this year.

* Coaching/discipline: Jim Haslett talks about this team not knowing how to win a game. I think there’s a good argument that Haslett’s one who doesn’t know how to win a game. Tie game, under 3:00 left, and the Rams three-and-out WHILE JACKSON AND HOLT ARE NOT ON THE FIELD FOR FIRST OR SECOND DOWN. The Rams didn’t even take 30 seconds off the clock! With the game on the line, doesn’t the ball belong in Jackson’s and Holt’s hands, vs. Ken Darby or Daniel Fells? What is the fascination with Darby, anyway? Is he the new June Henley? And I am so over the idea of Haslett as a motivator. Who didn’t come out flat after halftime? Donnie Jones? Seattle made some effective tactical moves in the 2nd half – judiciously using no-huddle, attacking gaps in the Rams’ 3-4 look, staying with the run against a too-small defense trying to use a big-defense look – but I didn’t see anything the Rams couldn’t have stopped if they hadn’t come out flatter on both sides of the ball than a pancake run over by a steam roller driven by Refrigerator Perry. A lot of line play is about want-to. A line that doesn’t have it is going to get pushed around as sure as if they’re 50 pounds lighter than their opponents. That figurative 50 pounds is weight that Haslett didn’t pull today and hasn’t pulled since October. How can you come out flat at home with a ten-point lead? How?

Al Saunders did a couple of things tactically I liked. The TD pass to Holt was set up beautifully. After throwing several short passes, Bulger faked another and went deep. It had to blow Seattle’s minds that the Rams actually dared throw farther than five yards downfield. Saunders even got a trick play to work, for the FIRST time this season. With Bulger split right, Jackson took the direct snap and handed off to Looker, who swept right and fired a sideline pass to – Bulger, for an 11-yard gain. That’s how you use the “Wildcat” formation! Then again, an end-around for Stanley in the 1st failed miserably. Seattle was all over it, and not only did the play fail to gain anything, Seattle got a TD out of it for themselves. I also wasn’t thrilled with the pass/run balance in the 2nd half. They passed almost twice as much as they threw despite having a 10-point lead for the better part of the half. The 2:00 offense with the game tied 20-20 was a complete failure. Dumpoff for Darby, incomplete, with Jackson and Holt on the sideline. Sideline out for double-covered Fells, incomplete, Jackson and Holt on the sideline. 3rd-and-10, Jackson and Holt FINALLY back on the field, deep pass for a blanketed Avery! Those are some mighty nice decoys you’ve got there, Saunders, how about actually shooting some ducks?

Rick Venturi deserves some credit for trying. After several weeks of almost no pass rush, he turned the blitzing dial way up this week and got a lot of pressure on the Seattle QB. The Rams spent most of the game in a 3-4 look, or maybe a 3-3-5. Craft was on the field more often than not, ostensibly as the nickelback, but Venturi blitzed him so much, he was in effect the 4th linebacker in the formation. It worked great for a half, but Seattle clearly figured it out in the 2nd half, picking up and burning blitzes like they did on the long ball to Engram. One of the arguments against the Rams running a 3-4 is that they’re too small on defense to do it, so there’s a case to be made that the defense wore down in the 2nd half. But the success of Venturi’s scheme in the 1st half should have been more than enough for the Rams to win the game. Venturi’s one of a very few in that locker room who can say they helped the team today.

* Upon further review: Ed Hochuli and crew kept a good eye on offensive holding and special teams infractions, which justly took a couple of big Seattle plays off the board in the 2nd half. A couple of other calls that half, though, are going to be hard to get over, thanks, I believe, to field judge Tom Sifferman. There was the worst offensive interference call EVER, on Holt in the 2nd half. Torry turned away from his defender and leaned for a nice sideline catch for 15 and a first down, but here comes a flag on Holt, even though he didn’t push off in any way, shape or form! He didn’t make anything remotely resembling a pushing motion! Where does such an awful call come from? Then on Duckett’s TD, first, they let the play run forever, even after Duckett’s forward progress had ended, allowing extra Seahawks to jump onto the pile, and with the official on the Rams’ sideline running in to declare Duckett had still come up short, here comes ol’ Eagle Eyes Sifferman from the Seattle side, signaling TD, and his call prevails. Haslett’s challenge was doomed to fail; Hochuli couldn’t have had conclusive evidence to reverse the call, which he didn’t. From my seat, at least, that one field judge sank the officiating crew today, if not the Rams to boot.

* Cheers: Thanks to the TV blackout, RamView had to go old-school; not much video to review this week. The blackout was richly deserved – 35,000 would be a generous estimate of today’s audience. (I blame Seahawk fans.) At times, especially in the clutch, the Dome fans were The Little Crowd That Could, making a pretty good amount of noise and even drawing a couple of false starts. Other times, even with the Rams on defense, the place was a mausoleum. Hochuli provided ample opportunities for the crowd to get involved, though; besides the awful OPI call on Holt and the call on Duckett’s TD, every infraction on Incognito was greeted with one of the louder outbursts of the day. There were a couple hundred high school cheerleaders on the field for the halftime show, but apparently, all of the Rams’ “pro” cheerleaders couldn’t be bothered to show up! There were only 20 today (of course I counted!); that’s 3 or 4 short of the full squad! How wretchedly bad does your team have to be when its cheerleaders won’t even show up?

* Who’s next?: The Rams’ 2008 season started heading downhill on February 28, the day they idiotically decided to dump franchise legend Isaac Bruce in favor of Drew Bennett, the worst free-agent signing in NFL history. Isaac returns home next Sunday to close out the Rams’ Dome season with a likely loss to his and Mike Martz’s *****. The Kilmeresque (Billy, Val, Joyce, take your pick) Shaun Hill succeeded against the Rams in San Francisco last month with a laughable repertoire of knuckleballs and flutterballs because the Rams could put no pressure on him. This may again be a worry with Seattle figuring out Venturi’s Craftwork in the 2nd half today. In addition, it looks like Joe Staley’s playing pretty well for them at LT. He likely won’t have Frank Gore, who’s nursing an ankle injury, to block for, but it’s not like anyone else misses a beat against the Rams with their backup RB; look for some big runs from DeShaun Foster. And look for Bruce, who was invisible in the first meeting, to turn it on for his real fans in the Dome, and we’ll be rooting him on all the way. Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce!

Offensively, the Rams ran well in the first meeting, and that was without Steven Jackson. The usual formula, should they remember it, has a good shot at effectiveness next week. Give Jackson the damn ball. If Bulger gets protected from the blitz, especially Manny Lawson, better than last time, there’s a good shot he won’t make the turnovers that helped kill the Rams 35-16 in November, and they’ll be as effective next week as they were today. Not that it’ll mean a win, but it’s something. To be more than a moral victory, the Rams don’t have to demonstrate they know how to win, they need to show they want to win. And from this season’s team, that want has been, well, wanting.

Anyway, screw the Rams, next week is championship weekend in fantasy football leagues all over the world; good luck in yours. The Couch Potatoes, I proudly say, are in the league championship game for the fifth time in six seasons (no thanks to poor outings from Marion Barber and Reggie Bush). I’ve got a tough decision next week at QB: start my 2nd-round pick, Tony Romo, against the Ravens, or my 12th-round pick, yes, Kurt Warner, against the Patriots? Maybe pick up Foster as a flex player? The drama builds!

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Rams were fantasy football quality instead of nightmare football quality?

-- Mike
Game stats from nfl.com