RamView, 12/29/2013: Seahawks 27, Rams 9 (Long)
RamView, December 29, 2013
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game 16: Seahawks 27, Rams 9
Not ones to let the fans go into the offseason with good feelings, the Rams put on another completely embarrassing performance in the division, an out-of-control, penalty-filled fiasco that had you wondering how they ever got close to .500. The Jekyll-and-Hyde act, and especially the gross lack of player discipline, cannot continue next year.
* QB: Kellen Clemens did what he could, but ends the season on a sour note, 21-30-157, a TD and 2 INTs for a passer rating of 65.6. Like too many of his teammates, Clemens found it hard to maintain his composure this week, though for him, it manifested as really bad throws rather than dumb penalties. Clemens came out in good rhythm, with a couple of quick hitters to his TEs for 30 yards, but despite good protection, fouled it all up with a terrible short pass a mile over Lance Kendricks' head and right into Malcolm Smith's hands for a pick-six. Good protection was not par for the course this week, though, and with no running game to help him or much of anything ever getting open downfield, Clemens could only dump off or have bad things happen. In the 2nd, with Brandon Mebane bearing straight down on him, Kellen just chucked one up for grabs, and Byron Maxwell grabbed it for another INT. 3rd down the next drive, one of the few times Brian Quick's been wide open this season, Clemens overthrows him miserably. Handed excellent field position by a long punt return in the 3rd, Clemens nearly threw that away with an awful duck of a pass that Seattle had to do a Three Stooges act to fail to intercept. Kellen's whole game was off. He took a sack in the 4th when he could have easily thrown the ball away. Even his best pass of the game was luck, a splendid one-handed 22-yard catch by Kendricks at the Seattle 6 that was probably intended for Stedman Bailey but would have been picked off by Richard Sherman if not for Kendricks' stab. After a short TD pass to Jared Cook late in the game, what could have been Clemens' last pass as a Ram suffered a typical fate, incomplete after sloppy work by his receiver, Cook again, in the back of the end zone. I'd welcome Clemens back next year, but it's clear he is very limited against the best defenses the Rams face. His best role is that of a full-time backup.
* RB: This'll be the shortest RB rundown ever because it was one of the worst rushing games in Rams history. The Rams could only manage 13 yards rushing, 15 by Zac Stacy, who needed 15 carries to get there. They couldn't even get out of the red until there was about 9:00 left in the game. This after running for 200 on Seattle two months ago! But this time, the Rams did not have Jake Long, they generated little to no push up front (usually negative push, actually), and Stacy would have had better luck in a Delhi traffic jam. Large men in ugly green suits came unblocked at Stacy all game. He also got no help at all from a coaching staff capable only of calling runs up the middle. He did help himself out as a receiver (4-23), where he's shown nice improvement. He's gotten his rookie drops behind him and shows some nice elusiveness after the catch. I said last week that tackling Zac was like tackling a tree stump, but this week the Seahawks were the ones bringing the lumber.
* Receivers: Unsurprisingly against Seattle's all-pro secondary, Ram receivers struggled to get open downfield all game and there were few highlights in the passing game. Judging from nice quick passes early in the game to Jared Cook (5-30) and Lance Kendricks (5-34), the plan going in was to feature the tight ends, but you didn’t hear from Cook again until after halftime. His main contribution was a short TD catch in garbage time, but Cook managed to spoil even that on the 2-point attempt afterward, with sloppy, lazy footwork that let Maxwell knock the ball out of his hands before the catch counted. Kendricks’ main contribution set up Cook’s TD, as he made an impressive one-handed catch in traffic inside the 10 for 22 yards. Much less impressive was his effort not catching Maxwell on the pick-six intended for him. Even less impressive, only 2 WRs even had catches – Stedman Bailey (4-33) and Austin Pettis (2-15). Bailey made a nice play to kick off the Rams’ FG drive, coming back to a scrambling Clemens for a 12-yard sideline catch. He also made an impressive full-extension 4-yard catch in the 2nd while getting lit up by Chancellor. Unfortunately, that was on 3rd-and-12. The Rams didn’t stretch the field at all this week and Clemens had to settle constantly for dumpoffs. The rare times Chris Givens (0-0) or Brian Quick (0-0) were open, Clemens missed them badly. RamView’s not letting anybody off the hook here. Seattle didn’t exactly start the Greatest Show on Earth on offense, but they had a guy step up for a bunch of catches, stretch the field and make a big play all by himself. For most of these guys, as Dick Vermeil put it best, it’s time to poop or get off the pot.
* Offensive line: The offensive line was beaten from the start and hasn’t been beaten this badly for a long time. The Rams flirted with the team record for least rushing yards in a game while the o-line repeatedly got knocked back into its own backfield. Stacy never got room to run, Clemens’ pass protection was frequently overwhelmed, and I’m not sure Brandon Mebane was ever actually blocked all day. The middle of the line repeatedly got knocked back 2-3 yards at the snap to get Stacy stuffed, since up the middle was the only direction the Rams ever ran him. The Rams can’t go with Tim Barnes at center next year. He can handle a line like Tampa’s with lighter, pass-rushing DTs, but he was helpless against Seattle’s maulers, unable to hold his ground at all. Got pushed around like Jeff Goldblum at a sumo tournament. Barnes also got the Rams a false start not knowing the snap count, always a RamView favorite. Chris Williams followed his best game of the year with his worst, getting shoved around every bit as much as Barnes. Stacy got stuffed once in the 2nd after Williams got shoved back 3 yards and another time in the 3rd after Mebane put Williams on the ground. They got no middle push, the TEs did a bad job of getting to the LBs, just a terrible day all around. Pass pro wasn’t much better. Clemens flung up his 2nd INT with Mebane just brushing Williams aside and running right by him and at the QB. Shelley Smith gave up both sacks, and isn’t athletic enough to have prevented either, but deserved a little better. Joseph Barksdale was bad all game outside him. On the first sack, Barksdale, who had just false started, got scorched by Bruce Irvin’s outside rush, forcing Clemens up into the pocket to get slammed by Michael Bennett on a back-track that Smith couldn’t have stopped without holding him. Clinton McDonald beat Smith late for Seattle’s only other sack, a coverage sack where Clemens had time to unload and was out of the pocket. Anyone who wasn’t sure how much the Rams would miss Jake Long and Scott Wells, who paved the way for 200 rushing yards against Seattle in October, should know it now for sure.
* Defensive line: The Ram front four came out strong, leading the defense to two 3-and-outs and a 4-and-out. Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford took early command of the middle to bottle up Marshawn Lynch (23-97), and good pressure as usual by Robert Quinn rushed Russell Wilson (15-23-172) into settling for checkdowns. At the end of the 1st, Quinn smoked Russell Okung off the edge, flushing Wilson, who Eugene Sims tracked down to give the Rams their second straight 50-sack season. So far, so good. But Lynch got rolling in the 2nd. Okung blew Sims off the ball to launch Lynch for 11. Deep in Rams territory, Chris Long blew a sack that became a 14-yard completion and blew a tackle that became a 7-yard Lynch run. Inside the 10, though, Langford, oddly lined up at LDE, held his ground and stopped Lynch to save a TD. The next play, Quinn ran through and by Okung's best attempt to hold him and sacked Wilson before he could get out of the starting blocks for his 19th sack of the season. Langford continued his late-season surge before halftime by bull-rushing Breno Giacomini for the Rams' 3rd sack, and when prevent defense nearly failed to prevent a TD, his pressure on 1st-and-goal, and, guess who, Quinn drawing a hold from Okung on 2nd-and-goal, forced a FG. Langford stayed on fire after halftime, blowing up a screen, forcing Wilson into a grounding penalty and another 3-and-out. After the Rams got on the board to make it 13-3, as they do too often after a score, the defense let Seattle come right back with ease, and then disaster struck. Trying to argue a point with the referees after a penalty on Alec Ogletree, Langford, trying to point someone out, knocked the hat off an official who'd essentially sneaked up behind him. A complete accident, but head referee Jeff Triplette chose to eject Langford from the game for it, eventually frustrating Langford into ripping his helmet off and slamming it into the turf for another penalty. Going from the 8 to the 1 without having to do a thing, Seattle then put the game away, Lynch walking across the goal line while the Ram line got pushed around like it was nothing. Long got pushed clear to the opposite hashmark. The d-line in particular deserved a better sendoff in 2013 than it got. Quinn ended his breakout season a half-sack short of the league title. Langford had a heck of a good season to have it end the way it did. The whole line deserved a lot better support than it got from the back seven this week. Performances like this year's are going to be hard to duplicate. Let's hope they've got another one in them.
* LB: James Laurinaitis didn't have a good game in run defense; many of Lynch's yards seemed to come at his expense. Lynch got 14 off his own goal line in the 1st after James bit completely on his counter motion and got blocked out of the play. The line got roughed up, too, but it's a big gain because James couldn't get to where he needed to be. On Seattle's first FG drive, Lynch gained 8 on a run that Alec Ogletree and Trumaine Johnson strung out perfectly, but James again couldn't get off a block from the start of the play and was well out of position. Next play, 11 for Lynch as James gets punked by Paul McQuistan, the Seattle line's weak link. During another FG drive right before halftime, Lynch just dragged Laurinaitis for 7 yards. Late in the game, Robert Turbin ran through him for one first down and fullback Derrick Coleman faked him out in the flat on 4th down with 2:00 left to seal the deal. It was a 10-tackle game for James, but not the impact you'd expect seeing that number. Alec Ogletree had a high-impact game, though not always for the good. To the kid's credit, he was all over the damn place. Lynch appeared to have Quinn burned on a draw in the 1st, but Ogletree flew in and stuffed him for a loss. On a great blitz later in the 1st, Alec flew in on Wilson, pulled up in a heartbeat when he sensed a scramble and forced a wild shovel pass. Amazing body control. He stuffed several runs and played the run well all game, except when he got washed out all the way back to center on Lynch's TD run. He batted down a pass for a 3-and-out in the 2nd and was deadly as a blitzer. His big blitz set up Langford's sack. Ogletree's best play of the game came in the 4th when he sniffed out a read option run by Wilson perfectly and buried him for a 6-yard loss. THAT is exactly why the Rams drafted him. The LBs fared worse against the referees than they did the Seahawks. Laurinaitis actually got a taunting penalty that was the biggest play of Seattle's first FG drive. Even worse in the 3rd, Ogletree got a dubious flag for a late hit, then another for arguing that call, leading to a defensive meltdown as Langford got tossed from the game trying to defend him, the penalties paving an easy path to a Seattle TD to put the game out of reach. Alec Ogletree is a special player who's just finished a fantastic rookie season. He's poised to torment Wilson and Colin Kaepernick for years to come and explode onto the league scene. But he'll have to be a mentally stronger player than he was this week.
* Secondary: What is it about NFC West wide receivers that makes the Rams secondary not want to cover them? Golden Tate (8-129) had 25% of his receiving yards, his best and 3rd best games of 2013 all at the Rams’ expense. Golden Freaking Tate! Seattle’s #3 WR heading into the season. The Rams were determined to clobber Tate every chance they could in response to him clowning them during the first game. You know what would have been great, though? ACTUALLY COVERING HIM. The Rams laid off him before halftime for 3 catches for 36 and gave up a FG. Two of those plays, including a 3rd-and-2, they’re covering Seattle’s only legitimate receiving threat with Ogletree. Then on 3rd-and-4, Trumaine Johnson gives him the entire middle of the field laying 10 yards off a stack formation. On Seattle’s 1st TD drive, Tate converted a 2nd-and-11 with a 9-yard catch (ask Jeff Triplette, not me) with Brandon McGee ten yards off him. Two plays later, TruJo’s not only ten yards off Tate, he madly backpedals off the snap while Tate beats him with ease with a comeback route for 19. What’s massively frustrating is that Russell Wilson had no one else to throw to. No other Seahawk WR had more than one catch. There was no receiver besides Tate they even needed to focus on. Focus that Janoris Jenkins did not show in the 4th, getting burned by Tate for a 47-yard TD on THE SAME ROUTE Tate burned him on for a long TD in St. Louis. Jenkins started with good press coverage, then completely misjudged an underthrown ball Tate had no problem adjusting to and ran himself out of the play. The same Golden Tate who had a whole 2 catches for 34 yards last week against Arizona. All game. Some folks wearing Rams uniforms and polos alike really ought to be ashamed of this performance.
* Special teams: Excellent performance by Johnny Hekker, who emphatically justified his Pro Bowl berth. Watching Hekker loft one beautiful punt after another at the sideline, giving Tate little chance at a return, warms my heart. The Rams need to give Hekker like a 15-year extension. His net this week, a ridiculous 48.4, lifted his net for the season to an NFL-record 44.2. Pro Bowl indeed. Make that a 20-year extension. On one of the few punts Tate could even try to return, Eugene Sims jacked him so hard he ran around punch-drunk for a 7-yard loss. Another tasty thing on special teams was a 32-yard return by Austin Pettis that set up a Rams FG. Pettis started right, got three guys out of their lanes cutting back left, made a diving fool out of Michael Robinson with a spin move and cut back across the field for a gain that denied the Seahawks a league record for punt return yards allowed in a season. Sweet. Less tastefully, Pettis was on punt returns because Justin Veltung suffered a head injury on an illegal hit that was not flagged. And then there was the penalty parade, led by Ray Ray the Penalty Machine with three special teams flags. He and out-of-control Sims scored penalties on the Rams' first punt. Special teams drew THREE penalties on Seattle's first punt, two of them on Chase Reynolds. On the re-kick after that play, Armstrong drew ANOTHER one. Down 20-3, the Rams need good field position, but instead, get ANOTHER stupid personal foul from Ray Ray the Penalty Machine, then, the piece de resistance, ANOTHER personal foul by Darian Stewart, who's lost his helmet on the play... wait a minute, is that a BEANIE? Did a Ram really just find a way to commit a special teams penalty FROM THE BENCH? Did Stan Kroenke really have to pay for some of these guys' plane fare home? He shouldn't have.
* Strategery: An appalling and incomprehensible relapse by the Rams coaching staff on both sides of the ball. Just when you think the Rams' garbage soft zone defense is gone, they pull you back in. Tate gashed it all day. 3rd-and-2 before halftime, not only is the whole D in soft zone, the closest defender to Tate is... Ogletree. First down. 3rd-and-4 a few plays later, their best response to a stack formation is to have TruJo ten yards off and completely giving Tate the middle of the field. First down. On the drive that put Seattle up 20-3, McGee ten yards off Tate on 2nd-11. First down. TruJo ten yards off him on 2nd-and-6. 19 yards. FIRST DOWN. A week after the Cardinals won in Seattle and spent 60 minutes in receivers' faces, seeing the Rams' DBs across from him, when he could see that far away, must have been a great relief to Tate. Can someone please get the Rams' coaching staff to explain what the hell they're thinking with this nonsense? Same thing on offense. The Rams lost so decisively at the line on offense that Brian Schottenheimer earns a speck of slack. An explanation would be welcome, though, as to why he thought it smart to run UP THE MIDDLE ALL GAME right into the part of the field the Rams were losing the worst. Schottenheimer's inability to call a running game that has any diversity is as baffling as anything the Rams do(n't) do on defense. Maybe those middle runs always work in practice because there's no DB within ten yards of the line.
But if a team is a reflection of its head coach, Jeff Fisher better look the hell in the mirror. In terms of discipline this may have been the Rams' most embarrassing game ever. NINE personal fouls. They resembled a prison riot more than they did a football team. There were two different plays where they committed THREE penalties on THE SAME PLAY. Ray Ray Armstrong must have 150 yards worth of penalties this year, but Fisher keeps rolling him out there. Kept rolling him out there through three penalties again this week. Way to send a message. What has Armstrong done to be worth the cost of so many penalties? Darian Stewart isn't long for the Rams roster anyway, but his foul for shouting at the officials just showed that Fisher couldn't even control his own sideline. Is that the image Fisher really wants to send to the rest of the NFL? Is that something he should feel proud represents his boss or the team's fans? If that's really the case, if Jeff Fisher can actually sleep at night putting that out-of-control product out on the field, then maybe he should keep an eye open to see if the Raiders job opens up this week. I've had about enough of this penalty-filled garbage.
* Upon further review: God-awful referee Jeff Triplette actually did all right for a while. Good personal foul call when Kam Chancellor hit Stacy on the ground. Good holding call on Okung vs. Quinn took a TD off the board. Good grounding call on Wilson in the 3rd. The bad calls were SO much worse, though. Ricardo Lockette puts a head shot on Justin Veltung without giving him a chance to field a punt in the 1st, and they rule no penalty because Lockette was blocked into Veltung? Cody Davis barely brushed Lockette's elbow. The 3rd quarter of this game will live in infamy. Like the Carolina game, when the officiating crew finally decided to try to get control of a game filled with chippy play on both sides, everything came out of the Rams' hides. Ogletree got a late hit penalty for hitting Lynch while he was still in bounds. Langford got thrown out of the game for accidentally knocking the hat off the head of an official he never could have known was behind him. After treating Seattle to four personal fouls and a TD, on the ensuing kickoff, TWO MORE against the Rams. Yes, the Rams earned a lot of those flags. It didn't help that Triplette and crew appeared to pick a key juncture of the game to lay in wait for them. Grade: D-minus
* Cheers: Good job on the broadcast by Tim Ryan and Chris Myers, especially Ryan, with spot-on criticism of the Rams for lack of discipline and overuse of soft zone coverage, and the unfortunate premonition that “Triplette needs to threaten some ejections” right before Langford got tossed. He also noted Jenkins got burned by Tate in Seattle on the same play he did in St. Louis. There's somebody paying attention to game tape. This isn't the first time Ryan has outcoached the Rams staff during a game he's worked, maybe somebody at Rams Park should give him a call. Quick Super Bowl prediction – Patriots upset Seahawks. Suffice it to say I'll be rooting for six feet of snow.
* What’s next? And so the Rams end their second straight 7-win season. Rams Nation got whiplash this year watching the team swing between eye-opening victories and galling, ugly defeats, the fits and starts of a young team, the league's youngest, finding its way. Will 2014 be a smoother ride? A playoff ride?
A lot will depend on an offense with questions at just about every position, and this offseason, Rams Nation may want to hang on to those neck collars. The keystone offensive players, Sam Bradford and Jake Long, will be coming off torn ACLs. Jeff Fisher's already said Bradford is coming back in 2014, and why not? Bradford's 2013 ended while he was on pace to be a top ten QB, on track for career bests for yards, TD passes, completion % and passer rating. Famously, only Peyton Manning had more TD passes and fewer INTs when Bradford got hurt. On the other hand, there's reasons I'd understand to let Bradford go. The Rams in 2013 were 3-4 with him, 4-5 without him. He costs a lot of money that the Rams, already pressed up hard against the salary cap, need at other positions. Also, it once took Sam a year to get over a sprained ankle, and his football career has been littered with injuries. Should he be relied on to start and survive the 2014 season? Well, who else is there? Didn't we all think Bradford would have won a couple of the games Kellen Clemens lost? Clemens, or any similar cheap veteran QB already as good as he'll ever be, isn't going to take the Rams to the playoffs. If you drop Bradford, you're doing so on the gamble that you can draft a rookie who will step in immediately and improve the team. How's that working for Minnesota, btw? Tennessee? The Jets? Buffalo? Cleveland? Washington (heh)? This front office has been known to gamble, but, Sam's health pending, it isn't time to rebuild at QB when you have a top-10 QB on the roster.
Besides, this offense is going to have enough other problems. 2014's opening day offensive line may be completely different from 2013's. Long's injury probably forces the Rams' hands either in the draft or with free agent Rodger Saffold. Re-signing Saffold, though, would be a big investment in a player who's been injury-prone himself. And he got kicked inside to guard for a reason, right? The alternative? Protect your gimpy franchise QB's blind side in 2014 with a rookie. Tough choice, no question. And up the middle, Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells are almost certain cap casualties, and even if you get them back cheap, neither has lasted either of the past two seasons. Turnover up front worries me less because the Rams have Paul Boudreau coaching, but it's so hard for an offense to function when the line is constantly in flux. Meanwhile, a receiving corps that could probably use a lot of flux is probably going to change frighteningly little. There's no #1 WR in free agency worth big bucks. Tavon Austin showed his ability to change a game and Stedman Bailey was the one other receiver to step up in 2013. Neither is a #1, but they're the foundation of the receiving corps, as long as they don't regress in year two like Chris Givens did. His and Brian Quick's even worse failure to launch should have the Rams looking to the draft yet again for NFL-quality WRs, and 2014's is supposed to be a great draft class at the position. Which we've heard before. However they get there, the Rams have to field receivers that are no worse than mediocre as a group to get anywhere.
I'll shortchange the preview of the defense because it should mostly stand pat. And let's soft-peddle the idea of drafting Jadeveon Clowney or Anthony Barr with the #2 pick stolen from Washington. The Rams are already deep up front and will return the best pass-rusher in the league on a unit that has finished 1st and 3rd in sacks the last two seasons. It's the strength of the team. Neither of those rookies would see more than 1/3 of the snaps on defense, especially Barr, when the Rams have Laurinaitis and Ogletree already and play a ton of nickel. And bigger needs on offense would go unanswered. Corner is a popular projection for the Rams' mid-first-round pick. They're not deep there at all and that player would see the field a lot. Another legit starting safety to go with McDonald might be an even bigger need. Cortland Finnegan is a cap casualty waiting to happen, but I've got a funny feeling he'll be back, with the hope he's a lot healthier, and therefore a lot better, than he ever was in 2013. (But much cheaper.) Improvement at the back level would take the Ram defense to another level next season.
The Rams have a lot of decisions to make in 2014, and the most important one will be to decide what kind of team they're going to be. They started out 2013 thinking they would be Sam Bradford's Team, passed 75% of the time and stumbled to a 1-3 start. They took too long to find running balance in the form of Zac Stacy. They were a
.500 team, but no better, when they went back to the bellcow-RB approach. Bradford and Stacy together, though, can give the Rams a balanced, playoff-worthy offense. For Bradford, 2014 cannot be a year where he takes any step backward. If he can't take the team over the top in 2014, it'll be time to wonder if he ever will. Jeff Fisher's mission for 2014 is to similarly to be ready to jump to the next level. The Rams look close, but they cannot start 1-3 again, they MUST play FAR better in the division, and the penalty nonsense HAS TO STOP. 2014 can be a season for St. Louis to remember – did I mention it's the last year on the Dome lease? - but Fisher's Rams, first and foremost, have to grow up. It's a time for real reckoning of Fisher's tenure here if they don't.
Re: RamView, 12/29/2013: Seahawks 27, Rams 9 (Long)
Thanks once again for your outstanding breakdown of the game. Also I think you should be praised for the time and effort you put in every season to detail each game that clearly takes a long time to do.
So thanks very much again for 2013 mate.
Upon reflection, I personally, I think Steadman Bailey can be a #1. He has shown he is famished to take advantage of every opportunity afforded him. I have championed him since his first catch at home against the seasicks.
His routes, his smarts and his hands are water tight. I firmly believe he is the best receiver we have had since Bruce and Holt, and with experience will develop into a premier receiver in this league.
Thanks again Mike..