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RamView, 12/18/2011: Bengals 20, Rams 13 (Long)
RamView, December 18, 2011
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #14: Bengals 20, Rams 13
Same stuff, different week for the 2011 Rams. The defense plays well as long as it can before getting worn out by the incompetent play of the offense. At least the offense wasn't as incompetent as the officiating...
Position by position:
* QB: Kellen Clemens, surprisingly, wasn't half-bad in his first game as a Ram (25-36-229, 95.7 PR). He threw well on the move, an improvement over the currently immobile Sam Bradford (who's probably about to be put on season-ending I.R. for his sprained ankle). And by surviving 60 minutes against a good defense without committing any turnovers, let alone making one or two stupid ones, Clemens is already an improvement over A.J. Feeley. Clemens threw with good accuracy and showed pretty good pocket presence. He ran when he had to and threw the ball away when he had to. He got the Rams in early FG position with back-to-back play-action sideline passes to Austin Pettis and Brandon Lloyd for about 30 yards. He never looked lost despite only having practiced with the Rams for about a week. No, the Rams didn't do any more scoring than usual, for several reasons. There's the familiar wretched play-calling and below-average receiver play. Clemens hurt the team's cause a little by taking a career's worth of checkdowns to Steven Jackson in the 2nd half while missing other open receivers downfield. And the Rams missed out on a TD in the 2nd quarter after Clemens badly underthrew a bomb for Lloyd, who had beaten two Bengal DBs cleanly. It took until the final 2:00 for the Ram offense to dent the end zone this week, with Clemens firing a tight pass to Danario Alexander in double-coverage from 25 yards out. So, yeah, the more some things change, the more they stay the same. But if Clemens can knock the rust off his deep throwing and field-reading as quickly as he seems to have picked up the offense, the Rams might have something here.
* RB: If it's Sunday, the Rams must be losing again, and Steven Jackson must be playing his butt off again. Jackson topped 70 yards both as a rusher and as a receiver this week. He got help from some unusual suspects early on. Billy Bajema had a block on his opening rush for 6. He turned a certain loss into a 13-yard gain by popping outside of Bryan Mattison's block to get the left corner. Later in the 1st, he ground out 9 yards off blocks from the unlikely combo of Bajema and Jason Brown. Jackson cruised through a big hole on the left side, courtesy of Adam Goldberg, for 17 to start the 2nd half. Steven looked like the Rams' only offensive weapon the whole 4th quarter, repeatedly circling out of the backfield to take dumpoffs from a pressured Clemens and then running through Bengals to get 10-12 yards out of it. Cadillac Williams (3-16) contributed well in the change-of-pace role, though he looked like Jackson on his best play, a run in the 2nd where he got turned but dragged three Bengals 4-5 yards while churning backwards to get close to a first down. The Ram running game is what it is, though. Lots of carries up the middle with little room to run. Weird calls on third downs that don't put the players in the best positions to do what they do best. No fullback to speak of, literally, with Brit Miller done for the season. The Ram running game is like having a Shelby Mustang and, ok, a Cadillac, and putting cheap tires on them. There's too much talent at the position not to be getting more out of the offense as a whole.
* Receivers: Another low-impact game from the Rams' receivers, who struggled to gain separation all day, as usual. Danario Alexander (3-52) had a TD catch, a nice overhead grab in double-coverage, but it took nearly 60 minutes and a healthy amount of Bengal prevent defense for him to become a factor. Brandon Lloyd (5-42) converted a couple of first downs, but his best chance was blown when Clemens badly underthrew a bomb his direction in the 2nd. He had beaten Pac-Man Jones and Reggie Nelson deep pretty handily. The Rams bizarrely used him a couple of times on third downs on end-arounds or quick screens that he doesn't appear to have the quick acceleration needed to turn into a big play. Austin Pettis (4-38) made a couple of nice plays early off Clemens rollouts but seemed to disappear most of the game. Steven Jackson was the main pass-catcher, 9 for 72 yards. Some of it was on Clemens in the 2nd half, but the Ram passing game once again failed to stretch the field or, beyond Alexander's futile gesture with just over a minute left, make any kind of big play at all.
* Offensive line: The offensive line was neither bad nor great, though its best moment was likely when Harvey Dahl cussed out referee Jerome Boger for a dubious holding penalty. That added a personal foul to the "hold", though., effectively killing a Ram drive on the spot. Run-blocking looked good early, and was coming from once-in-a-blue-moon sources like Billy Bajema and Jason Brown. Jackson gained 13 off an early sweep around Bryan Mattison, and used Adam Goldberg's block to gain 17 to start the 2nd half. The line was helped by Clemens rolling out and getting rid of the ball quickly, but the pocket also collapsed around him frequently. Cincinnati had three sacks to go with some key run stops. Geno Atkins beat Dahl to blow up a 3rd-down sweep and force a punt in the 1st. The sweep in the 2nd on 3rd-and-1 may have failed because of poor lead blocking by Lance Kendricks. Jonathan Fanene bull-rushed Mattison for Cincinnati's first sack in the 2nd. Nate Clements blitzed in unblocked in the 3rd for the 2nd Bengal sack. In the 3rd, Atkins hit Clemens in the head after Bajema got beat to blow up the pocket. Then on 3rd-and-2, Clemens had to scramble after Brown got bullrushed right into him. Brown gave up Cinci's final sack, getting beaten by Atkins late in the game. After success from unexpected sources early, the line fell into its old patterns. Bad blocking by tight ends. Brown getting overwhelmed. Defenders beating rookie free agents who haven't been in St. Louis long enough to find out what toasted ravioli is. Same old story, same old poor line play, same old ineffective offense, same old bad taste left in everyone's mouths.
* Defensive line/LB: The Bengals ran for both their TDs and appeared to be running over the Ram defense by the end of the game, but that's far from the whole story. The Rams held Cedric Benson to 76 yards and the Bengals overall to a very manageable 3.2 a carry. Quintin Mikell played the run like a complete wild man. He had 10 tackles and forced two Benson fumbles. Darian Stewart forced another by flipping Benson spikes-over-stripey-helmet in the 1st. Maybe someday the Ram defense will actually fall on one of these loose balls? Mikell stuffed Benson inside the 5 in the 1st to force Cinci's first FG. He came on a blitz and tipped an Andy Dalton pass to force a 3-and-out in the 2nd. The next drive, the whole defense worked together to perfection. Excellent downfield coverage forced Dalton to hold the ball long enough for Chris Long to come from across the field and ENGULF the rookie for his remarkable 13th sack of the season. Unfortunately, that was the Rams' only sack of the game. But Justin Bannan stuffed Benson on 3rd-and-1 at the 2:00 warning, and with Cincinnati going for it, Brady Poppinga stuffed him again over left tackle, along with James Laurinaitis and the omnipresent Mikell. Craig Dahl and Fred Robbins blew tackles to let Benson move the Bengals downfield after halftime, but only for a FG, thanks to yet another stuff by Mikell, along with Poppinga and Darell Dorell Scott. Chris Chamberlain and Gary Gibson did the stuffing the next drive, but the Rams then started getting killed by bad special teams play and bad penalty calls. Cinci only had to drive 12 yards for the lead TD, with St. Louis native Bernard Scott gashing them for 10 of that after Bannan and Robbins really got moved and the whole LB corps overplaying for the sweep. Scott walked in for the TD a couple of plays later, but not before another stuff by Bannan. That TD seemed to take the steam out of the Rams, though. Benson cut back for 15 to midfield the next possession, with TE Jermaine Gresham blocking Poppinga out of the play. Mikell forced a fumble at the end of the run, but the ball hopped right to WR Jerome Simpson. Chamberlain next drew a B.S. personal foul. Then Benson cut back for 10, with Quinn getting pushed out of position. Then another B.S. personal foul on Chamberlain, who'd just been poked in the eye and had to come off the field. His replacement, Brian Kehl, and Quinn then failed to hold the corner at all as Benson ran in from the 5 to salt the game away. For three quarters, the Ram defense was a gang-tackling, run-stuffing force that played about as dominating as a defense can play. But after that, whether it was too much Benson or too much poor offense or too many incompetent referees, it gave out. Another week where the defense deserved a better outcome.
* Secondary: A.J. Green (9-115) got his hundred yards, but the Ram secondary still had a pretty impressive game, led by Josh Gordy. Green burned Quintin Mikell for a 55-yard bomb to get the Bengals inside the 5 on their opening possession. After that, though, Gordy and James Butler (the Rams are so low on corners they are now just adding safeties in nickel and dime formations) broke up end zone fade passes to Green on 2nd and 3rd down to force a FG. Later in the 1st, Green ran right by Craig Dahl with a screen pass for 30. Gordy, though, saved the day several plays later, jumping a dig route for Green beautifully for his 2nd INT of the season. Butler came from deep in the secondary on 3rd-and-short the next drive to stuff another Green screen. Gordy made a sweet breakup of a sideline pass to kill a Bengal drive in the 2nd half, but that wasn't much of a half for the secondary. The Rams had to defend some very short fields while poor refereeing piled on penalty yards for the Bengals. And the Rams puzzlingly came out after halftime in an impossibly soft zone defense that let Cinci walk right down the field for a FG to tie the game at 6. We learned some good things about the secondary, though. Mikell was a monster against the run, and Gordy can almost 100% be considered a keeper for next season.
* Special teams: Not much good news here other than Robert Quinn steaming around left tackle to partially block a punt in the 2nd. That led to the Rams' first FG, which came on their 2nd attempt of the game because Josh Brown left a 45-yarder wide right in the 1st, not helped by a high snap by Jake McQuaide, and thank God the Rams went cheap at long snapper and got rid of Chris Massey and the only-perfect job he had been doing here. Jerious Norwood got little blocking and couldn't make much happen on kickoffs. Brandon Tate had no such problem for the Bengals, though. He nearly broke several kickoff returns big, and his 56-yard punt return in the 3rd essentially broke the Rams' backs. In this week's costly special teams meltdown, Donnie Jones boomed a long punt right to Tate, who had no Ram within 15 yards when he caught it. Brandon Gibson got blocked, while McQuaide, Brian Kehl and Chris Chamberlain overran the play. Donnie Jones saved the TD by forcing Tate to the sideline, but the Bengals picked up another 12 yards on a shaky hit out of bounds call against James Butler. At the end of the game, the Rams tried the fakey onside kick again but ended up overkicking a popup kick the Bengals recovered easily about 30 yards downfield. So, yes, you could say Brown screwed the pooch on that one, too.
* Strategery: The Rams failed on their first EIGHT third-down attempts, and you can credit it to more ludicrous play-calling from Josh McDaniels. Opening possession, 3rd-and-7, a weird pitch play to Jackson fails that wouldn't have worked on 3rd-and-1. Speaking of which, 3rd-and-1, next possession, it's a sweep right, no gain. Who thinks running outside on short-yardage downs is a great idea? 3rd-and-4 inside the 10 in the 2nd, quick screen to Lloyd with no blockers in front, no gain. McDaniels got away with a failed 90 flip to Lloyd on 3rd-and-1 in the 2nd thanks to a stupid penalty by the Bengals. But seriously, fire the guy and let Nolan Cromwell call the offense the last two weeks, before I gouge out my eyeballs.
Steve Spagnuolo seemed to favor the overload blitz this week, and got a sweet pass breakup out of it to generate a 3-and-out in the 2nd. Cincinnati caught on to it later, beating it on 2nd-and-12 and a couple of 3rd-and-6's with screen passes. Not so sure about blitzing on 2nd-and-12 anyway. An even worse decision was to come out of halftime playing extremely soft zone, so soft they're 5 yards off of Cinci's #5 receiver on 3rd-and-short. Bengals walk to the tying FG. Spagnuolo again found disfavor from the crowd with his low-risk strategic approach. 4th-and-3 inside the 30 in the 1st, settle for FG. Miss. 4th-and-3 inside the 10 in the 2nd, settle for FG (made). 4th-and-1 just outside the red zone at the end of the first half, settle for another FG. 4th-and-1 in the 3rd at midfield, settle for a punt. Play-it-safe was more justified this game than against Arizona because the Ram defense played a lot better and earned trust. It's also understandable given McDaniels' horrid record this season with short-yardage calls. But these situations were all in better parts of the field to gamble than last home game, and still Spagnuolo won't coach like his job's on the line. What do the Rams have to lose? Their sterling win-loss record? And now you are 2-and-12. A game ahead of the Colts.
* Upon further review: It boggles the freaking mind how some people have the jobs they do. Jerome Boger and crew are clearly a group of officials who believe the fans pay to watch them throw flags. They call more penalties per game than any other crew, and called 21 total this week. You'd think with all those flags that they wouldn't miss many calls, or that more of the calls they make would be good ones. No, instead, the Rams got the most brutally-officiated game this season. Cincinnati's first FG was made possible by a roughing the passer call on Eugene Sims for a helmet-to-helmet hit, though he didn't actually contact Andy Dalton with his helmet. Meanwhile, after Chris Crocker got what looked like a makeup flag for helmet-to-helmet the next drive, Bengal d-linemen whacked Clemens upside the head with their helmets at least twice more without drawing a call, which Dan Dierdorf pointed out on CBS. Jonathan Fanene did it on his sack in the 2nd, and Geno Atkins did it in the 3rd. Dalton got a rare double-standard benefiting a rookie on grounding calls, too. Clemens was flagged for grounding in the 4th for tossing a ball into the end zone with a heavy blitz coming. No one was back there because Lloyd ran a different hot route. And a couple of minutes after the play, here comes the flag, even though Dalton got away with the same thing in the 1st. A Ram gadget play failed because the stupid umpire got in Clemens' way on a throwback from Norwood and Clemens couldn't put anything on his throw downfield, which came up short. In the 2nd, Rod Hood got called for DPI when A.J. Green tripped over his own damn feet. Hood didn't even touch him. During Cinci's 2nd FG drive in the 3rd, the slot receiver lined up completely offside on one play, and NOW nobody on this worthless crew can find their flag. Things really fell apart after the cheesy roughing call on Butler on the long punt return, which looked a lot more like he was disengaging from Tate than actually shoving him. Next drive in the 4th, a moment of Ram legend. Boger takes away a 10-yard Williams run for a non-hold on Harvey Dahl, who informs Boger, who screwed up and forgot to turn his stadium mike off, "That's not f#cking holding!" Dahl was right, but got another 15-yard penalty, though also a standing ovation from the home crowd. Boger's revenge was Cincinnati's next drive, which looked every bit like the refs trying to throw the Bengals the game. A phantom roughing call on Chamberlain for having the nerve to barely touch Benson while Laurinaitis brought him down after an incomplete pass. The very next play, a textbook roughing call should have been made on LT Andrew Whitworth for blasting Mikell to the ground 20 yards away from the play, but was ignored. Then Chamberlain gets ANOTHER roughing call for retaliating after a Bengal poked him in the eye. That ignited a well-earned "REF YOU SUCK" chant from a bunch of pissed-off Rams fans. Cincinnati's game-clinching TD drive was almost completely fueled by crappy officiating. And they weren't done; they still got the grounding call on Clemens in, and let Jackson get hit while on the ground by two different Bengals with no call before calling it a day. These morons in stripes did not call the game evenly for both sides, they did not keep the players safe, they missed obvious things right in front of their eyes like players tripping without being touched, they got in the way of plays, they didn't appear to even know the rules at times. These guys aren't fit to call rec-league touch football games, let alone have gainful employment in the NFL. Boger and crew don't deserve just an F for this fiasco; they deserve an F and to be held back a grade.
* Cheers: The main reason anybody showed up this week, Rams fans at least, was to see Marshall Faulk inducted into the Ring of Fame at halftime, and we were not disappointed. Faulk gave an earnest speech thanking the fans, his family and his teammates. A ton of those were present, many of whom the Rams should have tried to suit up this week: Torry Holt, Mike Jones, Aeneas Williams, Orlando Pace, Adam Timmerman, Ernie Conwell, Roland Williams, Az Hakim, Jeff Wilkins, Keith Lyle, Ray Agnew, Jeff Wilkins, and, yes, Justin Watson - apologies to any I forgot. Video congratulations came from Isaac Bruce, Dick Vermeil and Kurt Warner, though the latter two's appeared to have been taped at the Hall of Fame induction back in August. Ram legend Eric Dickerson was there in person, and St. Louis should make sure to appreciate his repeated appearances here as legend-in-residence the way we do with Bob Gibson or Lou Brock or Ozzie Smith. Biggest sign that the Faulk tribute obscured the game: the Bengals came on the field before the game with a video tribute playing and out of halftime with the ceremony breaking up and nobody noticed them. They weren't even introduced before the game. Faulk's Ring of Fame signage even bumped somebody else out of prime position around the lower deck, just to the left of midfield. Mr. Eye-for-Detail here isn't positive whose spot Marshall got. I thought it had been Norm van Brocklin's.
The crowd was in the 40's, if that, with a good, but not overwhelming, contingent of Bengals fans. The scoreboard hilariously gave us credit for a couple of false start assists when we were all about stone-silent. There might have been about one time crowd noise was difficult for the Bengals to deal with. The big noise was aimed at the officiating, with a partial standing ovation coming for Dahl dropping the f-bomb on Jerome Boger. In retrospect, that wasn't really a proud moment, applauding players for disrespecting officials, but it certainly felt good to vent with Harvey over a long season and a long day of terrible officiating. And compliments to Greg Gumbel, who did a terrific job calling the game for CBS. While Mike Tirico not unjustifiably ragged most of Monday night's game for being bad, Gumbel called this just-as-bad game like it was Packers vs. Saints, and made a game that was 6-3 at halftime sound exciting. Gumbel also earned honorary Rams Nation citizenship for calling the Rams' throwback uniforms "a great look" and "one of the great uniforms of all time." SWITCH BACK already, Rams!
* Who’s next?: As Christmas presents go, the Rams playing in Pittsburgh on Saturday ranks right up there with fruitcake and bad neckties, but it's off to Steel City for Christmas Eve. A franchise that's hit one new low after another the last five years versus one of the great franchises in all of sports. Awkward reminders of the only Rams game I ever quit watching, a 42-6 drubbing in 1996 that re-launched “The Bus”. If you're looking to win some bar bets before the holidays, though, the Rams have never lost to the Steelers in Heinz Field. Their only game there was a 33-20 win in October '03 behind three TDs by... Marshall Faulk? Isaac Bruce? Torry Holt? Try Arlen Harris.
Arizona's defense is modeled on the Steelers', so maybe the Rams will have a little familiarity with what Pittsburgh will try to do. As long as they have Troy Polamalu, they're going to blitz pretty mercilessly. They'll run blitz and they'll blitz the A gaps off the snap or they'll blitz them off of stunts. The Rams are going to HAVE to adjust to their personnel limitations if they're going to survive the weekend in Blitzburgh. Almost any play that's reliant on Lance Kendricks or Billy Bajema picking up Polamalu or Lamarr Woodley is destined to fail. Jason Brown or Adam Goldberg's only chance of having a good game against James Harrison was this weekend, while he was suspended. Kansas City was so concerned about Pittsburgh's blitzing back in week 12 that they ran a lot of no-huddle and came out throwing at Polamalu to keep him honest. Awful turnovers by Tyler Palko put their defense on the field way too long, but they also stayed in that game a long time despite him. It wouldn't hurt the Rams to give some of that a try. Anything beats what they're doing now. Every defensive matchup is pretty bad for the Rams receivers; Pittsburgh's no exception. Their corners are an underrated strength of their team (by me, at least). Ike Taylor's an excellent, physical cover corner and William Gay is making a ton of plays lately. Hard to see the Rams getting much done if they can't get the running game going and start hitting Pittsburgh with some play-action. Would also be nice to get the slot receiver going again. Cincinnati did some damage to the Steelers underneath with 5'7” rookie Andrew Hawkins, so Austin Pettis better show up Christmas Eve. No excuses.
There's talk the Steelers will rest Ben Roethlisberger for this game, which would be a shame since he's a fairly-amazing player to watch. Ben's very big and very hard to bring down, which I think is what makes him so unflappable under pressure, even though he's one of the most-sacked QBs in the league. The Steeler o-line has picked up blitzes well lately, but Maurkice Pouncey has been injured at center, and LT Max Starks can look just woeful sometimes. A "master of extending plays", Ben has amazing footwork for his size. He forces defenses to keep a spy in the middle of the field because of his ability to step up in the pocket, and though he doesn't have the gaudy numbers to draw the comparison often, realistically, he reads the field as well as Aaron Rodgers, and can find and hit his 4th or 5th option on plays. And he throws to everybody - it'll be a real surprise if the Steelers have less than 7 or 8 receivers with catches. Ben has a broken thumb, though, has been throwing some really wobbly passes, and would face the Rams off a very short week. Very good chance the Rams will face Charlie Batch. Those of us who grew up watching Franco Harris are still thrown off by today's Steelers being a passing offense. They'll run Rashard Mendenhall, but mostly up the middle, nothing fancy. The Steelers are all about their receivers. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are lethal deep threats, not to short Wallace as an all-around receiver. They'll throw him plenty of screens and comebacks, too. Brown is also a lethal punt returner the Rams will be idiotic enough to kick directly to until they get burned, as usual. Wallace and Brown are the key guys; Hines Ward is used mostly on quick screens and for cheap-shot blocks. The Steelers LOVE to send those fast WRs on end-arounds, a play that has plagued the Ram defense recently. Pittsburgh will also come at you with a lot of 3-TE formations, so if you do choose to double-team Wallace, you won't have enough DB help for run defense.
So, yes, the Rams will definitely be in a pickle when they're at Heinz Field Saturday. I don't see them cutting the mustard against anything the Steelers can do if Roethlisberger plays. Pittsburgh could easily score every possession, and that's obviously not a pace the Ram offense will relish. So, yes, the Rams probably will be playing a lot of catchup. The way 2011 is going for both of these teams, we should be happy if the Rams hold the Steelers under 57 varieties. Um, points.
However this one comes out, Merry Christmas to all.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 12/18/2011: Bengals 20, Rams 13 (Long)
Great job as usual Mike. I knew the officiating was awful, I just didn't remember how awful until reading your recap. Simply unbelievable.
Merry Christmas to you as well.
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