RamView, 12/2/2007: Rams 28, Falcons 16 (Long)
RamView, December 2, 2007
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #12: Rams 28, Falcons 16
Shades of last week, the Rams protected a big halftime lead about as well as the levees protected New Orleans. But this week, the lead was big enough, and the opponent hapless enough, for the Rams to hang on and claim their FIRST home win of the season, and third in their last 4 games. Pretty nice bounceback.
Position by position:
* QB: Gus Frerotte (25-35,311, 3 TD) went from goat last week to unlikely hero this week, thanks to a stellar first half. He drove the Rams to an opening-possession TD, hitting Drew Bennett to convert a 3rd-and-5 right before finding Torry Holt open in the Atlanta zone for 23. That got the Rams to the 1, and good ole play-action got Randy McMichael wide open for a TD the next play. Next drive, Gus just got freaky. From his own 1, he narrowly dodged a sack in the end zone and arced a 38-yard pass to Holt at the sideline. 3rd-and-4 a couple of plays later, over the middle to Bennett for 24. That set up a 31-yard laser to Holt streaking down the sideline for the Rams' second TD. Absolutely perfect throw; Gus’s ninth straight completion. Just before halftime, he was at it again. Steven Jackson took off with a screen pass for 37 to help set up a spectacular 8-yard TD catch by Isaac Bruce, and the Rams led 21-0. Frerotte was an insane 15-20-230 at halftime for a 152.1 passer rating. But after halftime, the Ram offense bogged down repeatedly in its own end. Trying to make something happen downfield in the 3rd, Gus got picked off by a superb diving catch from Lawyer Milloy. Atlanta pulled within 21-9. Gus tried to slam the door early in the 4th – he stepped up to avoid a sack, went sidearm and put a 25- or 30-yard pass right in Jackson's breadbasket, but Steven dropped it instead of taking home a likely TD. Atlanta made it 21-16. Resuming his propensity for turnovers, Frerotte then threw what could have been a killer INT to Chris Crocker, intended for Bruce but forced into coverage. Luckily for Gus, the defense and Jackson carried the Rams the rest of the way. Frerotte did more than you'd ever expect in the 1st half, carrying the offense. In the second half, he did less than you want from a veteran QB by throwing the picks, especially the second one, which nearly cost the Rams the game. But for pushing enough right buttons in the first, he came away with a game ball today.
* RB: Steven Jackson did little on the ground (19-46) until his final carry (50), but was dangerous as a receiver (4-71). He converted a 3rd-and-1 on the opening TD drive behind a Todd Steussie block but spent much of the day slamming into a crowd at the line of scrimmage for three yards or less. Jackson finally got some room late in the first half, as a receiver, as he sped up the sideline with a screen pass for 37 to set up the Rams’ 3rd TD. He made a similar play in the 3rd for 25, but unfortunately, the pass play everyone’s going to remember is the ball Steven DROPPED in the 4th. On 3rd-and-2, he had his man beaten by at least a step on a deep post pattern, and Frerotte winged the ball right to him for what would have been a game-clinching TD, and probably thinking about that TD, Jackson lost the ball instead. About ten minutes later, with Atlanta much closer, Jackson did put the game away. Not finding a hole, Jackson, who could have bounced outside more today, did this time, the Falcons had no one out there to stop him, and he outraced the safety down the sideline for a 50-yard coup de grace TD. It was a struggle, but Jackson’s big play ability shone through for easily his best statistical game of the season, 167 total yards. Not the typical ground-and-pound way you’d expect a RB to take over a game, but it works. Antonio Pittman’s (4-11) a long way from what the Rams were probably hoping for. Take away his TD run against New Orleans, and he’s 27-39 this season, 1.4 a carry. He looks like a RB who should be taking it outside more, but his speed and instincts to do that look questionable. A healthy Jackson is a must for any of the Rams’ aspirations to win.
* WR: The Rams go as, well, you should know the rest by now. Torry Holt (6-135) lit up the Falcons early. He set up the first TD with a 23-yard catch in front of DeAngelo Hall, who the Rams weren't really afraid to go at. Randy McMichael (2-10) finished the drive with an easy 1-yard TD catch. The 2nd TD drive was almost all Torry. He made one of the game's big plays in beating Chris Houston for a 38-yard reception with the Rams pinned at their 1. Frerotte had a lot of air under the ball, and after looking over his right, but wrong, shoulder, Torry looked back over his left and hauled it in at the sideline. A few plays later, he beat Lewis Sanders (you’re serious, Falcons? Lewis Sanders? on Torry Holt?) up the sideline, caught Frerotte's perfect pass in stride and scored a 31-yard TD to give the Rams a 14-0 lead. Torry said afterward that today's the fastest he's been all season. Given his career success against Atlanta, I'm sure just seeing Falcon jerseys across the line from him made his knee feel better. Isaac Bruce (4-31) moved into 5th on the all-time receiving yards list in style. He scored an 8-yard TD with a spinning, one-handed, back-pedaling grab to make it 21-0. Drew Bennett (2-33) had just a couple of catches, but they were big, converting 3rd downs on TD drives. Atlanta's brought out the best in the Rams' passing game over the years; today was no exception.
* Offensive line: The Rams failed to establish the run again this week, especially worrisome because stopping the run hasn't been one of Atlanta's strengths. Up until Jackson's final (big) carry, the running game could muster only 2.2 yards an attempt. But by limiting Atlanta to just one sack of Frerotte, the o-line can still say they had a good game. The sack came in the 3rd quarter, as Chauncey Davis appeared to beat Andy McCollum on a stunt. Todd Steussie opened up some early, and rare, room for Jackson on the opening drive, and threw one of the blocks of the year in this game, absolutely de-cleating Michael Boley. I apologize that I can't detail the specific play (thanks, TV blackout!). Brandon Gorin started at RT and was a sizable improvement over Rob Pettiti last week. You'd think Gorin has wrapped that position up for the rest of the season. The Rams even survived a series with Gorin at LT and Pettiti at RT, made necessary when Alex Barron had to be taken in to get a hand injury checked out. They did a decent job picking up the Falcon blitz. Atlanta was able to bring pressure off the edge pretty often, but with Frerotte either unloading quickly or stepping up in the pocket, John Abraham (3 tkl) was pretty limited as a defensive factor. Jackson had to earn every yard he gained, but couldn’t have popped his 50-yard TD run outside without Richard Owens driving Boley backwards and Joe Klopfenstein getting him the corner against 3 Falcons. When we're looking for reasons for the Rams' frequent second-half downfalls, part of it has to be that the offensive line hasn't been able to take over the line of scrimmage and run the ball down the opponents' throats. That really should have happened today against a Falcon D that hasn't stopped the run well. But they made up for it with arguably some of their most successful pass protection of the season.
* Defensive line/LB: Though the boxscore shows him with only two tackles, Adam Carriker was a star up front today. He sacked Joey Harrington early in the 2nd, stuffed a Jerious Norwood run for a loss with Atlanta at the Ram 20 in the 3rd, helping force a FG, and knocked down a couple of passes. Though Adam was expected to start at DE, he started at and mostly played NT, and he was a thorn in Atlanta’s side all day. He started playing DE late in the first half and was only there a little. He got nice push at times, but he’d need a big head start to beat Leonard Little in a foot race. La’Roi Glover’s playing as well as he has as a Ram, sacking Harrington late in the first half to go with a tackle-for-loss. Victor Adeyanju was active up and down the line against the run. Warrick Dunn (10-17) got nowhere at all, but dangerous Jerious Norwood (8-94) popped loose for a couple of 30-yard-plus runs, helped by bad tackling in the secondary. The key to the game was pressuring Harrington, who became very skittish even though his line mostly kept the Rams’ frequent blitzes off of him. ALL of Atlanta’s first-half drives ended with 3rd-down passes short of the first down, usually well short. Harrington amplified his poor pocket presence by missing several open downfield passes. Chris Draft sacked him late in the 3rd, a jailbreak where a bunch of Rams got there. Once Fakhir Brown picked Harrington off at the end of the 3rd, Bobby Petrino decided it was time to go to Chris Redman, a move that paid off big initially. With the Ram blitz failing to get to the QB, Redman started making the throws Harrington couldn’t, and cut the lead to 21-16. And a Frerotte INT set Atlanta up beautifully to take the lead in the last 3 minutes. But Carriker helped stop Redman’s progress by deflecting a pass from the Ram 12, another clutch play by the rookie. After the Rams put the game on ice with an Atogwe INT and a Jackson TD, Will Witherspoon put Atlanta out of their misery, driving an interior lineman back and surging through for a manly sack of the Falcon QB. After three weeks of raging success, the Ram blitz finally got slowed down today, but got help in clutch plays from Carriker and the secondary. A solid team effort, if a little hair-raising towards the end.
* Secondary: Tale of two halves, or QBs, actually, as Redman (16-24-172, 97.9) was able to slice and dice the Ram secondary, while Harrington could not (17-24-184, 54.0). Harrington tried tons of dumpoffs on 3rd down but the Rams let almost nothing through. Ron Bartell, who’s turning in one nice game after another, stuffed Laurent Robinson for a loss on a 1st quarter 3rd-and-4, and the next time out, ripped a 3rd-down pass right out of Roddy White’s hands for a turnover. Will Witherspoon also stopped a couple of 3rd-down attempts well short of the sticks. Harrington started having some success throwing underneath in the 3rd, which Fakhir Brown seemed to bring to an end with an acrobatic INT in the 3rd, but that brought in Redman and a whole lotta trouble for the Ram DBs. They started picking on Tye Hill. On loan from the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Joe Horn (4-38) made a long catch, Norwood broke some sloppy tackling for 35, and White beat Hill in the corner of the end zone to make it 21-9. The Rams then managed to make Michael Jenkins (5-48) look competent. He beat Bartell for 13 to start the next drive and finished it by beating Hill for 10 at the Ram 9, then scoring from the 5, as 3 defenders in zone coverage unforgivably gave him the goal line. Alge Crumpler (7-65) had the best game of his disappointing season, benefiting from the Rams’ frequent blitzing, though Brandon Chillar thwarted him at times. After Frerotte’s 2nd INT, the Rams had Atlanta 3rd-and-20 but let them get away, as Alge crumpled a bunch of sloppy Ram tackling for 21. Corey Chavous had a poor tackling day; I think Brown and Witherspoon were also culprits on some of Atlanta’s big plays. White, who quietly rang up 10 catches for 146, a lot of it vs. Brown, half of it in the 4th quarter, got the Falcons down to the 12 with a chance to take the lead, but Hill made an excellent defense of a 4th-down pass to Horn to stop the threat. Atlanta got another shot at the lead with 1:45 left, but OJ Atogwe hauled in a long gift INT from a pressured Redman to put a bow on the Rams’ third win of the season. Blitzing is going to leave open opportunities in the secondary. The Rams came up with some clutch plays today, but are going to have to do a better job covering up those opportunities than giving 356 yards to an Atlanta Falcon team averaging 150 yards a game less than that through the air. Yikes.
* Special teams: A quiet day on special teams for a change. Jeff Wilkins kicked almost all of the kickoffs deep, and lo and behold, nobody ran one back for a TD for once. Adam Jennings did bring a punt return back all the way, but that was pretty clearly made possible by the big block in the back that brought the play back. Donnie Jones didn't help his Pro Bowl cause today, though, averaging only 40.3 a kick and hitting a lot of shanks, clunkers and line drives. I hope his leg hasn't tired out. Bad blocking never let Brandon Williams get anywhere on kick returns, and he spent a lot of the day watching punts roll or splash into the end zone. He got lucky when he muffed a punt in the first half and the ball bounced out of bounds. Jonathan Wade actually returned the last kickoff after some kind of leg injury to Williams. Would be nice if Dante Hall could get healthy enough to stabilize the position, but for today, quiet works.
* Coaching/discipline: For all its aggressive positives, Jim Haslett’s megablitz attack has been getting exposed recently, especially in the 2nd half. When the blitz doesn’t get there – and it didn’t get there much today – opponents are pecking the Rams nearly to death with the underneath pass. Haslett blitzed a lot today but not with the crazy variety he did last week, though I thought I saw that four-over-RT blitz from last week once. There’s a combination of things going on. I still think the coverages are too soft, but the DBs probably also aren’t reacting fast enough, and the defense may be tiring out down the stretch because the offense can’t sustain a drive for longer than 5 plays. One of those things has to improve, I believe, for the Ram blitz to remain effective. Otherwise, Haslett may have to start playing more rope-a-dope.
Scott Linehan had a good first half. The play-action pass TD to McMichael was a terrific call. The Rams have been getting beaten over the head with that play for years; glad to see them using it on somebody else for a change. After Alex Barron’s false start pinned the Rams at their 1 in the 1st, I wanted to bomb away, and so did Linehan; Frerotte hits Holt for 38. Good aggression. Linehan rediscovered the middle of the field – hooray! – and had Frerotte getting the ball out quicker and running the offense with much better tempo than last week. But yet again, the offense fared poorly in the 2nd half, likely because they weren’t trying as hard to stretch the field. The Rams came out of halftime in grind-out-the-clock mode, and they really don’t have the o-line and running game to pull that off. Linehan did try to stretch the field again late in the 3rd, but those efforts led to 2 INTs and the drop by Jackson. Like I’ve complained about the defense for a couple of weeks, the offense has to stay aggressive longer than it has been to properly close out games with a lead.
The good news for Linehan and for Rams fans was that Bobby Petrino turned in a truly lousy performance from the visitors’ bench. Atlanta blocked the Rams’ blitz all right but didn’t do enough to counter it other than the draws to Norwood. Instead of getting Warrick Dunn stuffed repeatedly for no gain or trusting Harrington to hit deep routes with a blitz in his face, the ball should have been going to Norwood more, and Petrino should have picked up the offensive pace with quick slants and the like. But that’s picky compared to what I think was Petrino’s biggest mistake of the game. Down 21-16, 4th-and-7 at the Rams 9 with 2:19 and all three timeouts left – I was in the minority in the stands, but my call would have been to kick the FG. Would Redman have been chucking long from midfield with 1:45 left only down 21-19? I doubt it. Scott Linehan hasn’t outcoached many opponents this year, but I’d have to put Petrino on that short list.
* Upon further review: Peter Morelli and crew didn't give much to complain about, especially since they got the key call of the game right – the illegal block that took an Adam Jennings punt return TD off the board. (How big a tool did Jennings look taunting Donnie Jones at the end of that play, anyway?) It was obvious, but refs whiff on that call so often, we were all holding our breaths until we saw the flag. The flag I never saw was for Jonathan Wade's illegal touch at the very end of the 3rd. They switched ends for the beginning of the 4th, then Morelli's like, "Pretend we threw a flag for that," and after deliberations long enough to elect a new Pope, ordered a re-punt. On radio, Jim Hanifan caught a shot to Frerotte's head that wasn't called, and they were pretty loose (but consistent) with receivers pushing off, but an acceptable job overall.
* Cheers: Radio postgame said attendance was 52,000, though it sounded like a lot less. The biggest cheer was for the military salute, which came just as the Falcons were starting a drive. Good timing. The crowd can claim a couple of false starts, but Linehan might as well just prepare for the Packer and Steeler games like they're road games. Since the crowd excels at being quiet, the moment of silence for Sean Taylor went well. Halftime was the annual junior cheerleaders show. There's been a lot of talk again this week about improving the atmosphere in the Dome. The best way, of course, would be for the Rams not to be 2-8 going in. The live bands may help; they sure clog up foot traffic. They tweaked the in-game music, and playing music through some commercials has cut back on the amount of "dead air". The pregame music selections of "When I'm Gone" and "Evil Woman" sound like they were picked out by someone still disappointed the team left L.A., though. And get this… the Rams WON a game when wearing the blue pants!
* Who’s next?: Cincinnati had a tough time Sunday night in the rain and muck in Pittsburgh, but that probably doesn't say much about how they'll play at home against the Rams next week. It’s difficult not to be worried about the Bengals’ top 5 passing attack, and their dynamic, talented receivers. The Rams don’t have the pass rush to retreat into a lot of nickel and dime packages; Carson Palmer will eat that up. Haslett’s going to have to blitz, especially to keep Chad Johnson from beating Fakhir Brown deep any time he wants. If Haslett continues to play the corners soft, though, TJ Houshmandzadeh’s going to catch about 20 balls wide open over the middle. Cincinnati’s talented enough to go 4-wide a lot, which they did against Pittsburgh last night, and though they have Rudi Johnson and Kenny Watson, they pass at least 60% of the time. Stopping the pass has to be the first thing on the Rams’ minds. It’s fair to call Palmer interception-prone, since he’s near the top of the league with 15. Arizona picked him off four times in a win there last month, and if the Big Dead can win somewhere on the road, anybody can. On the other hand, Cincinnati destroyed a very good Titans defense 35-6 two weeks ago. Jim Haslett once aggravated Ram fans by confusing Kurt Warner into bad games with tricky coverages and blitzes; let’s see if he has anything in reserve for Palmer. Palmer’s only been sacked 16 times, so Haslett has to either find ways to get to Palmer very quickly, or ways to make him sit in the pocket trying to figure out what the hell the Rams are doing. Good luck at the chess tournament this week, coach; we need you to win it.
There’s a reason a team with as much offensive talent as Cincinnati is only 4-8, and that is defense. They’re 29th overall; 26th vs. the pass, 23rd vs. the run. They’ve allowed more runs over 20 yards than 27 other teams. They’re 29th in points allowed at 26.3. (Rams are 27th at 24.8). They have only 18 sacks, “good” for 30th in the NFL. Cincy’s paying a lot for DEs Robert Geathers and Justin Smith and getting very little from them: 4.5 sacks combined. They are pretty good at picking off the ball, with 15 INTs; both Ram QBs have gotten picked off enough times this season to make that a real concern. But with the number of 100-yard rushers and receivers the Bengals have allowed, they’ve got their own concerns in Jackson, Holt and Bruce. It would be nice to establish Jackson early, but Linehan should also be able to set up the run with the pass, which is my guess how he’ll go. If the Rams can march out to a lead again, they’ll benefit their defense by making the Bengal offense predictable.
In other words, the best defense against Cincinnati is going to be a good offense. Scott Linehan has to be unafraid to fire on these guys. At the same time, it’s well past time for this offensive line to assert itself in the running game, and they’ve got another opposing defense low in the league’s ranking to do it against. This team’s overdue for a complete game. Run and pass. Offense and defense. First half AND second half. With their recent wins, Linehan has managed to move the Rams off the bottom of the NFL barrel. With Green Bay and Pittsburgh looming, it’d be a shame to reverse course this week.
Game stats from nfl.com