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RamView, 12/30/2007: Big Dead 48, Rams 19 (Long)
First off, I want to thank everyone who's read RamView this year and to thank everyone for your comments. This hasn't been an easy season to write up, and a writeup this long about a team this bad can't be easy to read, so thanks for hanging in there.
My New Year's resolution is to try to get RamView out quicker and to reply to comments better. I do read them all, and most of them help me out with the writeup, so thanks again.
Happy New Year, and let's hope the Rams rebound in '09.
Did I say '09? :x
Re: RamView, 12/30/2007: Big Dead 48, Rams 19 (Long)
RamView, December 30, 2007
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #16: Big Dead 48, Rams 19
A disgraceful end to a frustrating season. Goodbye, 2007, and good riddance.
Position by position:
* QB: One of head coach Scott Linehan's biggest jobs this offseason is to rebuild Marc Bulger's confidence. Marc was shell-shocked today into a miserable 13-25-176 performance, with two poor INTs, and is far, far removed from the guy who played in the Pro Bowl last year. With Arizona playing the world’s softest zone, Bulger got off to a solid start, hitting Torry Holt for 31 to set up an opening-drive FG. Holt looked like the only receiver Bulger could connect with, though, before the mistakes started coming. He appeared to have Holt open across midfield midway through the 2nd, but underthrew him badly, which Antrell Rolle took full advantage of, picking off the pass and bobbing and weaving through 11 Rams who didn’t want to tackle him for a TD. That put the Big Dead up 17-3 and essentially ended the game. Bulger's throw was unforgivably bad. He rushed it even though the line had picked up the Arizona blitz, and there was no Cardinal even behind the line yet. Bulger’s misery wasn’t over. He was sacked twice the next possession. He drove the Rams to a late first-half FG, but that only made the score 24-6, and it only came after Drew Bennett dropped a ball in the back of the end zone that ¾ of receivers catch in their sleep. Bulger’s most successful pass of the day was the little dumpoff Joe Klopfenstein rumbled away with for a 36-yard TD, and maybe the Rams are alive again, down 24-13 early in the third? Nah. Bulger is sacked again to end a drive. Down 19 in the 4th, Bennett has beaten double coverage and is open for a long TD pass, but Bulger comes up WELL short again and is picked off by the grateful Rolle. With time to get off a good throw and next to no pressure from Arizona's 3-man rush, Bulger again hurried the pass, threw off his back foot and missed badly. Bulger at his best gets off a good throw even with pressure in his face, but yesterday he was bailing out instead of stepping up. He played like he was worried above all else about getting hit. It's understandable. His offensive line has let Bulger get hit about a million times this year, and he took a shot from a blitzing DB at the end of this game that made me think his ribs have been reinjured. A gunshy gunner is an ineffective one, though, and Bulger is toast as a QB if his confidence is gone. The Rams have to run plays Bulger has confidence in running and put him behind a line he has confidence can block for him. Without it, he, and the $millions the team has invested in him, are shot. As shot as Gus Frerotte, who played the last few minutes and started off with an INT so stupid you really have to wonder what he's around for. It's not his veteran intelligence, I'll tell ya. Gerald Hayes returned the pass directly to him for a TD to make the final score 48-19, a final twist of the knife that was stuck in the Rams' 2007 season long ago.
* RB: Steven Jackson (18-55) had been breaking tackles and treating the gridiron like his own personal mosh pit all month, but could do nothing more than tap-dance behind the line today. Arizona's run blitzing absolutely couldn't miss, and the Rams couldn't pick it up, giving Steven literally nowhere to run. His longest run of the day was his first one, for 9. Other than that, and a 4-carry, 24-yard surge in the 4th, Steven couldn't do a thing. He was stuffed for 2 yards or less nine times, three times for losses. The running game couldn't even convert on 3rd-and-an-inch on the Rams' opening drive. Safety Aaron Francisco blitzed in and dropped him for a loss. All day it seemed like Steven was running right into blitzing Cardinals, and the failure of the running game forced the offense into predictable passing situations, and that's your ballgame. Steven finished the season with 1,002 rushing yards, a mark about as meaningless as Arizona rendered him today. A meaningful future for him also hinges on the offensive line, and if the Rams are serious about using Brian Leonard as a fullback, somebody needs to teach him how to block instead of flop uselessly at the feet of defenders. Fullback play was a monstrous difference between the opposing running games today.
* WR: You’ll get a pretty good idea of what kind of day the receivers had when you hear that the big play of the day came from… JOE KLOPFENSTEIN. Props to Klop, who scored a remarkable 50% of the times he touched the ball this season. His, um, second (and last) catch of 2007 was a 36-yard TD in the 3rd. Joe took off with a short pass pretty much uncovered and plowed his way into the end zone. Torry Holt (7-93) was thrown at so much early, I imagine the call in the huddle was, “Coach is sorry about last week, on one.” He set up the first FG with a 31-yard catch in front of brother Terrence’s very soft zone coverage, and set up the 2nd one with a 15-yard reception, but was mainly a threat only on quick slants. Isaac Bruce (2-39) and Randy McMichael (1-4) had extremely quiet games, and Drew Bennett (1-4) put the cherry on his big fat loser of a season by dropping a probable TD in the back of the end zone right before halftime. But other than his poor hands, poor speed and poor ability to use his size to make plays, he’s been a great acquisition.
* Offensive line: If the Rams want to take Jake Long in the '08 Draft and phase Alex Barron out, I don't have that big a problem with it any more. Sure, Alex has played LT all season instead of RT, but his problems have had little to do with that switch and go back to technique and mental errors he shouldn't be making after three years in the NFL. Junior Tafoya (Michele's brother?) got Arizona's first sack in the 2nd. Todd Steussie blocked him, but the big problem was a half-assed effort from Barron, who blocked down while barely moving his feet, and lo and behold, once Antonio Smith got beyond arm's length, Alex wasn't blocking him any more. Move your feet, don't reach! Smith flushed Bulger into Tafoya for the sack. Barron also had a holding penalty, and he's committed too many penalties and has been guilty of too much lazy technique to be considered part of the long-term o-line solution, which is a damn shame, because he's got a good line coach and all the physical tools. Another damn shame, Bulger got walloped again the next play. The play looks like it's intended for Bulger to fake a screen right to Leonard and then screen left to Pittman. Steussie, though, takes the Leonard decoy (dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a fullback!) seriously and isn't around to handle Darnell Dockett after Andy McCollum chips him. Dockett steams in unabated to Bulger, who can't throw left because it's a total cluster, um, bomb, over there. The DE got a huge run on Barron and is backing him into Bulger, while Pittman's tentative route is clogged by Milford Brown's failure to move Smith out of the way. Brandon Gorin may have been the only lineman who got that play right. Either Steussie blew his assignment, or McCollum maybe did, or it's the worst-designed play in the history of football. All three are possible. In the 3rd, Smith split Steussie and Gorin like a saloon door and stormed into Bulger for Arizona's 3rd and final sack. Enough plays like that, like today and all year where the line let somebody through for a big hit, and the Ram offensive line has turned a Pro Bowl QB into a guy with the yips. They also turned Jackson into mostly a spectator. It seemed like every time Arizona blitzed or stunted, they ended up with a player steaming right up the lane Jackson was trying to hit. McMichael, Klopfenstein and Leonard did not appear to help the line out much in that area, and Arizona's blitzes gave the Cards almost total dominance on the line of scrimmage. That run defense, which ended the season in the top 10, sure looks like it has a brighter future than anybody trying to block for Jackson today does.
* Defensive line/LB: To a man, the Ram defense was all but helpless today. Who knew Kurt Warner would be so hard to sack? Sure, the Rams got some hits on their former leader, but they never recorded a sack, as the suddenly nimble Warner, who nobody's going to mistake for Tony Romo, was repeatedly able to step up into the pocket and deliver completions, and even scrambled a couple of times. As badly as the Ram secondary was outmatched, which was clear very early on, the Rams were going to have to get to Warner frequently to have a chance. But their failures to either get to Kurt or keep him from escaping the pocket allowed Warner to absolutely kill the Rams on critical downs: 6-13 on 3rd down; 3-3 on 4th down. Kurt converted on 3rd-and-5, 3rd-and-8 and 4th-and-5 on Arizona's opening FG drive. Arizona went up 24-3 before halftime after getting first downs on 3rd-and-9, 3rd-and-8, and scoring on 2nd-and-17. Warner completed passes on 4th-and-4 and 3rd-and-8 to get Arizona to 31, and set up their final FG with a completion on 4th-and-3. Boy, that's a lot of downs you'd think would favor a defense, but Kurt Warner looked like he was back at the helm of the GSOE instead, throwing darts to his receivers and often with a very small window for success. The key to stopping the Cards through the air at all was going to be getting to Warner quickly, and it never happened. The blitz was unsuccessful, and the DEs yet again did not get the job done in the pass rush. James Hall, though, had 7 tackles and made several good run stops, and Cliff Ryan and LeRoi Glover some solid plays against the run in the middle, but the run defense struggled overall, allowing its second consecutive 100-yard rusher with Edgerrin James' 24-102. It was the exact opposite of the Rams' running game, as the Arizona TEs and fullback did a frustratingly excellent and consistent job of picking off the Ram LBs. Will Witherspoon and Chris Draft were barely factors. Quinton Culberson had a ton of tackles – 10 – but a lot of that was running down long plays from behind. It looked like he tackled well, and he forced a fumble, but that's a rare bright spot on a day where the Ram defense failed miserably at imposing its will on the opponent.
* Secondary: Larry Fitzgerald (9-171, 2 TD) once again played Godzilla to the Rams secondary's Tokyo. Fakhir Brown had the speed and experience to stay with Fitzgerald, but none of the other physical tools. With an unharried Warner free to fling perfect passes, Fitzgerald beat Brown several times despite tight coverage, including a 21-yard TD in the 2nd that really broke the game open. Fitzgerald was on the receiving end of a bunch of those critical 1st-down conversions I mentioned earlier. He'd either beat man coverage, or the Ram pass rush would be too light to keep Warner from finding Larry in too-loose zone coverage. Ron Bartell and Jonathan Wade were laughable man-to-man on Fitzgerald, and though I'm not completely sure why the Rams never double-teamed Larry, I have the feeling that would have been about as effective as the Japanese air force used to be against Godzilla's flame-breath. The bottom line is that the Rams still don't have the size in their secondary to deal with Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin, though you’d think they'd have tried harder to get some when they face these guys twice a year. (Lenny Walls does NOT count.) And they don't have near enough pass rush to take pressure off the secondary. And though OJ Atogwe capped off a breakthrough season by returning a Warner INT for a TD in the 3rd, there's so little help on the horizon, Fox should make sure to have Flipper Anderson on speed-dial for future Ram-Cardinal games, because his single-game receiving yards record is on the line any time the Rams run into the King of Monsters.
* Special teams: Looked like an OK game on special teams. Jeff Wilkins didn't get a chance to break the NFL's consecutive-PATs record, but he hit FGs from 37 and 42. I'll assume his ridiculously-short kickoffs were strategic, and the strategy worked; dangerous KR Steve Breaston averaged only 15 a return. Donnie Jones got back on track, averaging over 50 a punt. Derek Stanley had a couple of nice returns but also got stopped inside the 20 twice. His longest return was called back by a Darius Vinnett penalty. They weren't electrifying, but it was nice to have a week without a massive special teams blunder. OK is OK.
* Coaching/discipline: Is this the future of the St. Louis-Arizona rivalry? Have the Rams actually sunk so far under Scott Linehan they can't even stay in the same stadium as the Big Freaking Dead now and won't be able to in the future? Well, if not for Warner's miracle fumble in Arizona last year, Linehan would be 0-4 vs. the team St. Louis hates the most, and that alone was reason enough to leave the guy behind at the Phoenix airport. Ken Whisenhunt, 2-0 against St. Louis, and staff coached the Ram braintrust completely under the table. Arizona's offense attacked aggressively, neutralized Jim Haslett's blitzes and mixed run and pass nicely, all of which helped make Fitzgerald impossible to stop. Their running game was very effective because of the play they got from their FB and TEs. The Arizona offense was running so well I'm less and less sure Haslett could have done much to counter it. It was key that Arizona won the chess match on critical 3rd- and 4th- downs: they always seemed to catch the Rams in the coverage they wanted. Somebody check that sideline for videocameras.
Meanwhile, the Ram offense sure doesn't look inspired at the prospect of spending the 2008 season under Scott Linehan. Why should it, when the guy can't call a decent third and short play to save his life? Arizona practically knew the play Rams would be running on 3rd-and-an-inch early in the 1st. And it looked just like the 3rd- and 4th-and-shorts that failed against Cleveland! And what the hell is wrong with a QB sneak there, when all you need for the first down IS AN INCH? Did the city of St. Louis outlaw QB sneaks in 1999 and I missed it? Your very best option on 3rd-and-short is running behind Brian Leonard diving at people's feet? How could Arizona's run blitz get into the Ram backfield any time they wanted? (The Big Dead were minus their best defensive player, Adrian Wilson, btw.) Again, it's like they knew what the Rams were going to run before the snap. (Videocameras?) Not that they needed to know; how about that fine 3rd-and-4 call from the Big Dead 43 in the 2nd? Short sideline pass to – Dane Looker? Augh! Any way I look at it, Linehan and company were completely outcoached, outschemed and outmotivated by the Cardinals today, and instead of returning next year, Linehan ought to be resigning in shame. 48-19! When I threw out the notion of tanking 42-0 last week, I was JOKING!
* Upon further review: Jeff Triplette's crew didn't seem to have many tough calls, and it looked like they called a good enough game. Fitzgerald got away with a fair amount of pushing downfield, judging from the amount of complaining the Ram DBs did. I'll agree that should have been called tighter; then again, it looked like Atogwe got away with a pretty noticeable bump before the ball arrived for his pick-six in the 3rd. That makes me think they were "letting 'em play" on both sides, and I'll give Triplette a passing grade.
* Cheers: BURN. THE. WHITE. PANTS. 0 AND 5. Need I say more? Showing how much respect the Rams get from the networks, for the second time this year, Fox assigned announcers (Matt Vasgersian, Terry Donahoe) to a Rams game as a warmup for a college bowl. Which college bowls would the Rams win if they played in them this year? Maybe the Humanitarian Bowl? Fearless playoff predictions: New England destroys Big Ben and Peyton, while Tom Brady cures cancer, wins the lottery, is nominated by both parties for President, and fathers illegitimate children with Jessica Simpson and Carrie Underwood, no doubt putting Tony Romo off his game as the Patriots cruise to a 66-6 victory over Dallas in Super Bowl XLII to top off a mythical 19-0 season. The good news here? The fearless playoff prediction is never right…
* What’s next?: The next big weekend for the Rams comes at the end of April, when they'll be picking second in the 2008 NFL draft. With two picks in the first 33, the Rams have to come up with impact players who can contribute right away. Decisions will be put into stone this Draft Day that will affect this franchise for years to come. The big question: if Miami passes on him, do you draft Arkansas RB Darren McFadden? It seems a bad move when you already have Steven Jackson and so many holes at other positions. Then again, 2008 is Steven's "walk year". He'd be very valuable in a trade. Then again, so would that #2 pick, especially with McFadden still on the board. The Rams' best draft scenario as I see it is to be able to trade a shot at McFadden for a juicy package of picks and/or players.
The draft could provide a quick turnaround for either of the Rams' lines. Add Virginia's Chris Long to a healthy Leonard Little, and maybe they'll finally have a decent pass rush. LSU's Glenn Dorsey could combine with Adam Carriker and Cliff Ryan to make the defensive line tough up the middle for the next decade. Flipping sides, the Rams should get Orlando Pace, Mark Setterstrom and Richie Incognito back to rebuild the offensive line, to which Michigan's Jake Long might not be a bad addition, though I'm not that sold on him. If the Rams can field even a decent offensive line next year, though, that'll improve Bulger, Jackson and Holt, and maybe save Scott Linehan from getting yelled at as much.
Linehan, like it or not, will be back next season. But some familiar faces may not be. It will be a long, cold season if Isaac Bruce doesn't return. Not only would cutting Bruce for the second straight season be a P.R. nightmare for a team that already can't sell tickets, it's not even a good personnel move, because Bruce is still clearly the second-best receiver on the team. My advice: pay the man. Jeff Wilkins seems vulnerable. Though he's the best kicker St. Louis has seen, he earns too much to be regularly shown up by younger kickers like he was this year. "Money" may have to set the consecutive-PAT record in another uniform. The number of active players with Super Bowl XXXIV rings will get smaller still with Andy McCollum’s likely retirement. Brandon Chillar is probably gone. The Rams have too much money already tied up at LB to pay out the big contract he's rightly qualified for this season. Plenty of minor players will hit the road, like most of the current offensive line. Plenty of malingerers ought to hit the road, like Claude Wroten and Dominique Byrd. And it's not impossible for players who appear to have hit their expiration dates like Corey Chavous and Gus Frerotte to move on as well.
Change will be the unmistakable theme of the 2008 season, because the Rams need plenty of it. Scott Linehan’s got to win back the respect of his team leaders and an extremely skeptical Rams Nation. He has to rebuild the offensive line, but more importantly, he has to rebuild his playbook. He rarely put his players in the best position to win this year. He rarely put them in position to do what they do best. He was too conservative, too predictable, too poor a game-manager, too ineffective a leader. He prepared poorly for the regular season and poorly for games. Linehan’s got to throw himself today into improving all of those things, and while he’s at it, he’s got to nail the April draft, lest he sink into infamy as the coach who killed football in St. Louis. 2008 will be a big year for change and a big chance for Scott Linehan. If he’s the Linehan of 2006, the Rams could be a team on the rebound. If he’s the Linehan of 2007, the biggest story for the Rams will be the one change they didn’t make.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 12/30/2007: Big Dead 48, Rams 19 (Long)
Thanks Mike for your write ups. I always look forward to reading them especially if I am unable to watch the game. You give an honest and detailed review of the game and it is interesting to read your point of view. The little bits of humor and verbal play are much appreciated since they often make me smile or laugh after a bad game.
I would not worry to much about getting the reviews done earlier. I think your timing is fine.[SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
Re: RamView, 12/30/2007: Big Dead 48, Rams 19 (Long)He has to rebuild the offensive line, but more importantly, he has to rebuild his playbook.
The Saints game was the only game I seen any signs of hope. How hard is it really to do what Bruce and Holt do best dig routes. It it his ego?
Mike good stuff all year thanks!!
Re: RamView, 12/30/2007: Big Dead 48, Rams 19 (Long)
Thanks for another season of RamView. It's nice to get an idea of how things went down if I miss a game and just to get a fresh perspective on the stuff I did see.
I agree on Barron. He hasn't come along as much as I'd have liked. He is still making a lot of the same mistakes and still commits too many penalties. Seems like the whole season has been one big "clusterbomb".
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Re: RamView, 12/30/2007: Big Dead 48, Rams 19 (Long)
Loved the Star Trek reference. You've gone where no ones gone before.
What stamina to be able to observe the entire game. While watching I read the entire Post Dispatch and assembled a swing set and a tredmill.St. Louis, "The Gateway to the West".
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