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    RamView, 12/27/2009: Arizona 31, Rams 10 (Long)

    RamView, December 27, 2009
    From The Couch
    (Report and opinions on the game.)
    Game #15: Arizona 31, Rams 10

    2009 can't end soon enough for the Rams, and without Steven Jackson today, they were playing their first preseason game of 2010 anyway, absorbing yet another blowout loss to Arizona. Ndamukong Suh's starting next week, right?

    * QB: Both in “rookie moments” and incomplete skills, Keith Null (20-31-171, 3 INT, 50.0 rating) showed significant holes in his game today. He started the game with a poor screen pass and a near-pick forced into double coverage. The pass-rush clock in Null's head needs some tuning; he might have been able to avoid a couple of the sacks he took. Other times, he avoided sacks, but with really dumb plays, putting some balls just up for grabs. Null gave Greg Toler a gift INT in the 1st, simply chucking a ball into double-coverage under heavy pressure, not even looking where he was throwing. Null had some recognition issues. Adrian Wilson came in totally unblocked to sack him in the last 2:00 of the game; Null didn't seem to know it was coming. 3rd-and-1 at the Ram 35 in the 3rd, with defenders creeping up to put nine in the box, maybe a good time to check off or call a time out instead of handing off to Chris Ogbonnaya. No gain, Rams punt. Null's long accuracy still needs much improvement. He missed Brandon Gibson by a couple of yards late in the 1st and overthrew the TD pass to him in the 3rd, necessitating a circus catch. A deep ball for Donnie Avery in the 4th – a TD if thrown well – was instead well-underthrown and picked off by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Null was picked off one more time, the veteran Wilson toying with him, reading his eyes and baiting him into a dumpoff to Randy McMichael in the 4th. I don't think the ball was even out of Null's hand before Wilson stepped in front of McMichael for Arizona's third INT. Null's not bad at stepping up in the pocket and he's not bad throwing on the move. He had to do both quite a bit today under pressure from Arizona's pass rush. His best pass of the day was a bootleg pass up the sideline to Billy Bajema for 12 to start the 4th quarter. He hit Donnie Avery for 13 on 3rd-and-8 the next drive to set up a FG. Sweet throws. The mistakes are starting to mount, though, and Keith Null's going to have to show he can function better under the type of pressure a team like Arizona, or San Francisco next week, can create if he's going to progress to the next level as an NFL QB.

    * RB: One of today's big shockers: Ram RBs gained 85 yards on 20 carries even with Steven Jackson in street clothes, with back and assorted injuries finally leaving him unable to answer the bell. Jackson's had no reliable change-of-pace back behind him all season; suddenly this week, Kenneth Darby (11-40) and Chris Ogbonnaya (9-45) were back there showing the speedy, shifty style of RB play the Rams have been looking for from their backups since September. Darby cut back up the middle for 10 on the game's opening play and followed up the next play with another nine. He'd hurt the Rams, though, by dropping a perfectly-thrown swing pass late in the 2nd. Ogbonnaya popped a 3rd-and-1 run for 8 into the teeth of an Arizona blitz late in the 1st but would hurt the Rams by getting beat by Karlos Dansby on a later blitz that got to Null. He tacked on a couple of big gains late in the game, weaving through the Arizona D with a quick pass for 19, and later taking off on a draw play that broke the field wide open for 18. The two RBs didn't commit a turnover and looked good enough in blitz protection. Their biggest weakness, naturally, was that neither one was Jackson. There were a couple of key run breakdowns. The Rams 3-and-outed in the 3rd after Michael Adams blitzed and tripped Ogbonnaya up on 3rd-and-1. Darby got shut down a couple of times for losses after a long punt return by Danny Amendola and they settled for a FG. Without Jackson's power to fall back on, and Arizona taking a big lead, the Rams didn't rely on the run, throwing about 60% of the time. Darby and Ogbonnaya (notably, Samkon Gado didn't have a carry) are who they are. At their best, they're complements to Jackson, and with respectable outings today, it looks like after 15 weeks, some backup for the Rams workhorse has finally arrived. Of course, in classic Rams 2009 timing, it came the week he couldn't play.

    * Receivers: Brandon Gibson (5-51) made the catch of the day, breaking open in the end zone behind two Cardinals and making a diving catch while landing his hip inside the end line for the Rams' only TD today and their first 3rd quarter TD of the season. He and Donnie Avery (2-24) showed some field-stretching ability. Gibson was open by a step on a 1st-quarter bomb that just missed and Avery appeared to have Rodgers-Cromartie burned in the 4th until Null's throw came up short. That's way too little production from Avery, though, a microcosm of a bitterly disappointing season. Danny Amendola (6-38) made a bunch of little catches but didn't seem much of a threat to break anything for a big gain. Randy McMichael (2-12) had his usual momentum-killing drop late in the 1st. He got behind the Arizona secondary, and Null put the ball right on his hands, but he didn't appear to look it in and left what should have been a huge gain on the ground. Billy Bajema (2-19) has been the Rams' best tight end this season. Yeah, who saw that coming? McMichael's play has been another of this season's massive disappointments.

    * Offensive line: One game left in the Alex Barron Era, and it can't end soon enough. Second play of the game, FALSE START. Bertran Berry simply ducked under him and smoked him for one of Arizona's four sacks, a killer coming on 3rd-and-3 just before halftime. Barron and Roger Allen were both beaten badly on the 3rd-and-1 stop of Ogbonnaya in the 3rd. I'm not sure Barron has done anything in five years here besides commit penalties. Any tribute to him for lasting this long has to be tempered by the Rams' 2,000 line injuries since he's been here, giving them little choice but to keep him in the lineup. Alex Barron's Reign of Error must end after next week. Wasn't a good day for Mark Setterstrom, either, as he's surely done for the season with a torn tricep, suffered in the 2nd quarter. Setterstrom run-blocked well before his injury. He and John Greco opened the hole for Darby's game-opening 10-yard run. Ogbonnaya later followed him and Mike Karney for an 8-yard gain. But then you have the injury, another on a long list for Mark, part of the risk the Rams took in dumping Incognito. Allen showed he could throw a strong run block or two in his pro debut, including a big one on Ogbonnaya's late 18-yard draw. Jason Brown, though, got tangoed into the hole by Gabe Watson to blow up a Darby run in the 4th and fed Null a bunch of low shotgun snaps. I like Brown as a “four pillars” player but would like to see him be more of a pillar in the middle of the line. The Rams were plagued by spin moves in pass protection. Calais Campbell hit one on Setterstrom for Arizona's first sack. Their third sack was a combo of Karlos Dansby beating Ogbonnaya's blitz pickup and Chike Okeafor, who got the sack, beating Greco with a spin-a-roonie. In their defense, the line probably gave Null enough time to throw on both of those spin move sacks, and the final sack was Adrian Wilson blitzing the formation. On the other hand, there was plenty of pressure on Null on his bad plays, and he bailed them out of sacks other times with proper plays. The line was neither great nor awful today, which should probably be a tribute to their ability to cope with injury and to having to play with the incompetent Barron anchoring one end.

    * Defensive line / LB: With Leonard Little (knee infection) and James Hall (birth of first child) BOTH out, the Ram defense appeared to be in for a grim day. Chris Long gave them some early hope by grabbing Kurt Warner as he threw, causing a pass to sail incomplete and forcing a 3-and-out. Fine run defense by Justin King, Victor Adeyanju and James Laurinaitis, along with a pretty lucky zone blitz, got the Cardinals off the field a second time before old patterns took shape in the second quarter. Almost no pressure on Warner whatsoever as he drove Arizona 80 yards to their first TD. Next drive, rinse, wash, repeat, with Warner driving 83 yards for another TD, hitting Anquan Boldin at will, or Tim Hightower (10-32) running through LaJuan (WHO?) Ramsey for 16. Same thing again the last 2:00 of the half. Though Long stuffed Chris Wells (17-68) and pressured Warner once, Arizona still drove 82 yards before King's clutch tackle of Boldin at the one held them to a late FG and a 17-0 halftime lead. Long and Adeyanju got nearly all the defensive snaps at RDE and LDE respectively. Long had an enjoyable second half. Good edge rush by Long on the first possession after halftime forced Warner to step up, but into Ramsey, who was bouncing back up after running over the center. Whack, sack, fumble, recovered by Adeyanju and setting up a TD. Adeyanju then got a 3rd-down hit on Warner with the Rams just rushing 3 to force another 3-and-out, and the Rams were battling their way back into the game. Until Amendola fumbled away a punt return. They outsmarted themselves with a fake blitz and gave up a 25-yard 3rd-down completion to Early Doucet, then Darell Scott roughed Warner. Arizona got down to the 2, spread the field with 4 wideouts and drew Hightower through Doozer Douzable for a pivotal TD. The Rams had the dime package in to answer Arizona's formation and Doozer had no LB help behind him. Though down 24-7, the line kept up its effort. Adeyanju got another 3rd-down hit on Warner to end a drive. Long smoked the RT for the Rams' 2nd sack the next possession, which Laurinaitis and Doozer followed up by blowing up a screen pass. Long split two blockers to stuff a Wells run in the 4th, but Wells delivered the coups de grace after Wilson's long INT return in the final 3:00. He went up the middle for 9, with Ramsey and Scott getting shoved around, then outran King around the left corner for a final TD. Long owned Jeremy Bridges, a guard pressed into playing LT, in the 2nd half, and likely had his best half of the season. And with Arizona rarely attacking him with a TE, he was strong against the run as well. The Rams got to Warner probably as well as any time since he left the Rams. The second quarter was killer, though, and with Long and Adeyanju pressed into service at the DE positions all game, that was probably when the absences of Long and Hall were felt the most. But with a good chance the youngsters are the starting DEs on opening day 2010, it was very good to see them both making plays against a team the Rams defense hasn't made many plays against lately.

    * Secondary: The Rams had little answer for the Arizona passing game. It was either soft zone that left Anquan Boldin (8-116) wide open for one huge gain after another, or let Warner (24-38-313) throw at Danny Gorrer like he was the last kid left on the other dodgeball team. Steve Breaston burned Gorrer for 45 to set up the first Arizona TD, a crossing route to Larry Fitzgerald (5-48) where Craig Dahl got caught in traffic and couldn't pursue. Boldin slashed the Ram zone for 23 and 22 the next possession before Early Freaking Doucet beat Gorrer for an 18-yard TD on a skinny post. Gorrer never had him covered for a second. Justin King's goal line tackle of Boldin right before halftime saved the Rams from going down 21-0 and was briefly a turning point for the Rams. They forced a Warner fumble and scored to cut the lead to 17-7. Then Gorrer read Warner's attempt to hit Breaston in the right flat, jumped the route, had nothing but 40 yards of space between him and a huge defensive play, a TD, a new ball game... and he dropped the ball. KHAAAAAAN! Freaking Doucet burned them for 25 on a smoke route to set up another TD, and it was pretty academic from there. The secondary looked good in run support. King still looks good covering the underneath stuff. Ron Bartell quietly had a very effective game covering Fitzgerald. But that only illustrates how poorly the rest of the Ram secondary matches up with a Cardinal passing game they're going to have to figure out how to cover one of these days.

    * Special teams: It's hard not to like Danny Amendola; he's a real gamer. But several times this year he's committed one of the premier sins for a kick returner: getting caught by the kicker. On an otherwise terrific 34-yard punt return in the 3rd, he not only got tackled by the punter, he got stripped of the ball. Arizona recovered, drove on for a TD, and Amendola's fumble was as big a turning point of this game as any. Amendola set up a 4th-quarter score with a 24-yard return around blocks by Samkon Gado and Chris Chamberlain. Arizona kicked off away from him, respecting his breakaway threat. (Note to Mike Karney: you may want to let your returner field short, high kicks instead of running him over to do it yourself.) If Amendola hadn't fumbled, that return was getting called back for a Cord Parks penalty anyway, but special teams coach Tom McMahon still needs to get on him for letting himself get tackled by the kicker. Missing the TD was bad enough there, let alone the turnover. Though he'll probably get screwed over for the Pro Bowl again this week, Donnie Jones had his usual day at the office, 49.2 a punt. Yawn.

    * Coaching: The Rams got fooled quite a bit defensively today, which was discouraging, though sometimes they got away with it. They zone-blitzed in the 1st and got Clinton Hart a free run at Warner, just enough to upset the lob pass to Hightower, who had Long beaten but good. With no one getting to Warner most of the first half, 3rd-and-8 just before halftime seemed an awful time to dial up a THREE-man rush, and Kurt beat it for a first down. In the 3rd, though, Adeyanju nailed Warner at the end of a 3-man rush. Blitzing had another subtle success right before halftime when Warner and Fitzgerald crossed wires on a 3rd-and-goal pass from the 1. Arizona had the answer for that kind of thing later, spreading the field with 4 wideouts at the goal line in the 3rd and running a draw to Hightower for their 3rd TD. That was set up by the worst play-calling gaffe of the day. The Rams faked a blitz on 3rd-and-3, and about the only better time to run a smoke route than against a blitz is to run it when the defense is running backwards at the snap. A lot of Doucet's 25 yards on that play was gobbling up ground the Rams were giving up, brutally outsmarting themselves on the play. Arizona had the Ram defense off-balance a lot of the game.

    Ironically, after running almost no play-action with Jackson the first time the Rams played Arizona, today, Pat Shurmur called a ton of play-action without #39 in the lineup. He opened up the field with some rollouts for Null and a couple of deep routes, and even had Darby in wildcat formation for a carry. The Rams never really got Arizona's D off-balance, but that was a case of (depleted) personnel today a lot more than play-calling. Arizona DC Bill Davis didn't impress me much, blitzing both safeties with 2:00 left and a 3-TD lead on a 1-13 team. I'm sure that'll look great on your resume if you ever interview with Jeff Fisher. Ass.

    * Upon further review: If Alberto Riveron's refereeing an Arizona game in the playoffs, put all your money on them. Throughout the game Arizona got balls spotted at a yard line never reached the previous play. For Hightower to have converted the 3rd-and-1 in the 1st, the yellow line on TV would have to have been off a yard. They gave him the 46 when the ball never got there. As far as individual calls, though they got the Gibson TD catch right on replay, that's a fairly easy call to get right the first time by NFL standards. I don't understand what the official saw on the play to make him think it wasn't a catch. C-minus till I understand what was going on with the spots.

    * Cheers: Fox announcers Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan are good, but today wasn't their finest work. Rosen botched a lot of names, including “Donnie” Amendola and calling Null Craig Nall, a backup QB for the Packers and Texans. Ryan must really want to get invited to Howie Long's New Year's Eve party, because he did his damnedest to make Chris Long sound like a Pro Bowler. Ryan had to have not watched the 2nd quarter to suggest that Long had “good pressure on all day”. He came out against the idea of trading Jackson at the end of the game; is that really a burning issue for the Rams' future? The chance of that seems about as good as that of a home sellout next week...

    * Who’s next?: ...which will be the finale against the *****. The finale of a long, painful season, possibly the worst season in Rams' history. If the Rams lose, they'd fall to 1-15. They'd lose their 4th straight to San Francisco. They'd go 0-6 in the lousy NFC West for the second straight year, part of a 14-game division losing streak. They'd go winless at home for the season, lengthening their Dome misery streak to 13. The only thing worse than losing and sinking to all these depths, ironically, would probably be winning and losing the first overall pick to freaking Detroit. As Rams fans, we hate to lose this next game, but we can't afford to win it. Welcome to football purgatory.

    Fortunately, though Mike Singletary's charges aren't playoff-bound, they still have something to play for: an 8-8 record. Coupled with a sweep of the division-champion Cardinals for the season, Niner Nation could be a swingin' joint heading into 2010. And this is a very different ***** offense than the one the Rams saw in October. Frank Gore missed that first meeting, though he's the rare NFL RB the Rams actually have some recent success defending. Alex Smith is QB now instead of Shaun Hill and is a much better threat to get the ball downfield, though an INT risk for San Francisco, with 12 in 10 games. The Rams will see Michael Crabtree for the first time. He hasn't had a monster game yet but is good for at least 60 yards and is the best receiver the ***** offer other than Vernon Davis. Davis has slowed down lately but has still been the NFC's best TE this year and will be a handful for the Rams, as most TEs are. The Rams can't give him clean runs off the line and better not be stupid enough to forget him with the ***** near the goal line. However, the Rams sacked Hill four times in San Francisco. If Long can duplicate this week's 2nd-half effort against real NFL tackles, against a team that takes running the ball seriously, and the Rams get Hall or Little back on the line, hey, the ***** are 1-6 on the road this year, anything can happen.

    Then again, though they lost 35-0, the Rams didn't lose that first game on defense. The ***** had Kyle Boller under constant pressure, sacked him five times and forced him into a killer pick-six. Jackson had one of his most difficult rushing games of the season. Special teams gave away a TD. The Rams couldn't get a receiver open beyond 10 yards downfield. Patrick Willis was his usual dominating self. Good luck to the Rams holding their own on the line of scrimmage Sunday, with Roger Allen making his first career start and John Greco making his 4th. Good luck slowing down the 49er blitz, which the Rams usually don't. Good luck to Adam Goldberg trying to gut it out against the much-faster 49er edge rushers. Ahmad Brooks has come out of nowhere down the stretch to become the *****' sack leader, with 6. Good luck to Alex Barron not to screw up an assignment, which he will, or stay onside for an appreciable length of time, which he won't. The Ram offensive line has to be able to win this game in the trenches for the Rams to come out on top to end the season, but I just can't see how they're equipped for it.

    Herman Edwards famously said, “You play to win the game,” and I'm sure Steve Spagnuolo believes that whole-heartedly. And I'm not going to fault him for it, even next week with the first overall draft pick on the line. That's the attitude you want leading your team. It's the kind of character you eventually win with, no matter where you draft. It makes the players you have, and the players you draft, better. Though I think it would be irresponsible to play Jackson, the Rams will play hard next week, and try to win, and we should be proud of them for it. We should be proud, albeit chagrined, if they do win. Hey, Detroit could beat Chicago, and it won't matter what the Rams do. The ***** will play hard, too, though, which should be good news enough for the Draft Suh movement.

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    shower beers's Avatar
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    Re: RamView, 12/27/2009: Arizona 31, Rams 10 (Long)

    Great as always. Thanks for writing!

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    Re: RamView, 12/27/2009: Arizona 31, Rams 10 (Long)

    Thanks, Franke for your insight. For the last season or so I seem to look forward to your articles even more than the actual games.

    I'm interested in your bio. Do you have a website? What's your story? Do you post here under a different username?

    I've tried to give more rep for your hard work. You should have more.
    Look away. I'm hideous. __ Cozmo Kramer

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