RamView, 12/4/2011: ***** 26, Rams 0 (Long)
RamView, December 4, 2011
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #12: ***** 26, Rams 0
The Rams amazingly find a new low in 2011, failing to even score against the ***** Sunday and looking like they wouldn't have scored against them in a month of Sundays. Even if the coaching staff had tried.
Position by position:
* QB: With Sam Bradford missing his third game this season due to a sprained ankle, the Rams at a minimum would have wanted A.J. Feeley to be able to run the base offense without making any killer mistakes. Mission not accomplished. Feeley (12-22-156, 58.1 PR) always has to make that one huge mistake per game, and this game tilted rapidly downhill after Dashon Goldson intercepted a well-underthrown long pass right after halftime. Feeley lofted a gentle lob into double coverage while attempting to leap back from a charging Parys Haralson. That wasn't Feeley's only pass-rush-induced turnover; he fumbled in the 2nd when Ray McDonald got a finger on the ball as A.J. drew back to throw. The goofy-looking turnover set up a ***** FG. Feeley wasn't afraid to throw deep into coverage, as if that's a good thing. He hit a blanketed Brandon Lloyd up the far sideline for 34 to mark the first of two times ALL DAY the Rams would cross midfield. He underthrew a deep ball for a well-covered Danario Alexander in the 4th that was close to a TD, close to an INT, and ultimately incomplete. When the Rams got Feeley a little time, he could do some business. His 17-yard spear to Austin Pettis in the 2nd was probably his most impressive throw of the season. But the line rarely got Feeley even a little time, forcing him to unload quickly, getting him out of sync with his receivers. By the end of the game the passing game and especially the pass-blocking game had gotten so wretched, the coaching staff preferred goofy reverses or hopeless handoffs to throwing on third down. In all, a typical Feeley performance. You're not going to blame him for losing the game, but he brought little to the table to inspire hope of winning, either.
* RB: Even without an injured Patrick Willis on the field for most of the game, the ***** still dominated the line of scrimmage to the point of limiting Rams rushers to an average of four feet per carry. Steven Jackson (10-19) didn't have anywhere to run until it was time to hit the showers. He didn't have a carry in the first half for more than 2 yards. The Rams didn't appear to attempt to take advantage of Willis' absence by running outside or going after his replacement, former Ram washout Larry Grant. A series at the end of the 3rd was the Rams' season in a nutshell. Jackson gets his best block of the day, from Danario Alexander, and goes off left tackle for 9. 2nd-and-1, Brit Miller misses his lead block badly and Grant meets Jackson hard in the hole for no gain, so hard his own helmet popped off like a champagne cork, but not so hard that he couldn't preen for all the world afterward to make sure we didn't miss the first time he made a play in his life. 3rd-and-1, the ***** wham a wham play to Miller for a loss; Rams punt. Bad blocking, bad play calls, the ball not in Jackson's hands on critical short-yardage downs, jabronis on other teams looking like world-beaters, ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 St. Louis Rams! Things got so out of hand, or the coaches folded their tent so deeply, that Jackson was pulled from the game in the 4th for Jerious Norwood, who flashed a little outside speed but fared no better, 19 yards on 11 carries. The Rams ran for 31 yards this week on 23 attempts. I'd say “it doesn't get any uglier than this,” but this year's team still has four games to go.
* Receivers: Double-teaming took Brandon Lloyd (1-34) away from the game plan. He was held to one catch, an impressive leaping sideline catch over an interfering Tarell Brown in the 3rd. Not surprisingly, another playmaker did not emerge to make up for Lloyd being neutralized. Ideally that would have been Danario Alexander (1-10), who also had only one catch, and was only targeted twice. Hard to tell from TV if he was failing to get open or if he was just being used sparingly. The closest the Rams got to a score all day was a bomb to Alexander in the 4th. He ripped the ball away from Donte Whitner to save an INT, but couldn't hold on to it for the possible TD. Austin Pettis (3-33) made a nice overhead stab of a Feeley fastball in the 2nd, but the two weren't in sync often. Brandon Gibson (4-42) was the Rams' leading receiver and had a diving catch for 13 in the 4th but also dropped a couple of catchable balls. As a receiver, Gibson seems to need everything just too perfect. Miss him by a little bit, don't put it right on his numbers, and it seems like he's not going to catch it these days. Remember when Josh McDaniels was going to turn tight end into a dangerous weapon for the Rams? Yeah, not so much. Even this week, with an opportunity to go after Larry Grant, Rams TEs combined for no catches, no yards, one target. And blocked poorly to boot. So apparently none of them can block, catch or get open. Smells like another coaching fail when your position coach had a whole two years' experience doing it before getting here, and it was at Kansas State.
* Offensive line: Harvey Dahl’s good enough to keep, but I don’t know why you’d bring anyone else back who played this week on this pathetic excuse for an offensive line. I would have cut Jason Brown on the flight home. There has to be somebody out there who can at least hold their ground after the snap instead of getting shoved into the backfield every play. Who didn’t beat Brown this week? The great Ricky-Jean Francois beat him to stuff Jackson in the 2nd. Ray McDonald, whose bust will be in the Hall of Fame right next to mine, whipped Brown to stuff Jackson on the second play after halftime. And McDonald all but ran over Brown en route to the sack/fumble of Feeley in the 2nd. Trying to block a 3rd-and-1 wham play for Brit Miller in the 4th, Brown completely whiffed on his block instead, leaving Dahl to try to block McDonald one-armed. Brown was used at both guard positions, but with him it’s not a matter of unfamiliarity with the position. It’s that he lacks the strength or ability to even stay in a defender’s way effectively. He’s a pillar of hopelessness. Needless to say, Rams RBs had nowhere to run this week; the ***** appeared to win every matchup on the line every play. The best block by a Ram this week was by Danario Alexander. Maybe they should make DX a tight end. The Rams got no help from their TEs or FB as usual. All Brit Miller ever does when you need a big block is whiff. A sweep for Norwood went down in flames in the 2nd after Ahmad Brooks manhandled Stephen Spach. Looked like Lance Kendricks whiffing pathetically on a cut block to allow Parys Haralson to rush Feeley into the INT in the 3rd. That’s the kind of lack of physicality we’ve come to expect from this team up front. As for the kind of keen focus and well-coached precision we’ve come to expect, what offensive line report would be complete without a false start by Tony Wragge, THE CENTER? And what offensive line report would be complete without Adam Goldberg getting whipped? A play late in the 3rd was this game in a nutshell. Rookie Aldon Smith came in clean on Feeley after punking Goldberg to the ground. Smith added a second sack late, off of Thomas Welch, forced into action at RT after Jacob Bell got twisted like a pretzel on the failed wham play. Larry Freaking Grant got the other of the *****’ 4 sacks coming up the middle unblocked on a blitz. Hey, that play I can excuse. The ***** brought more than the Rams could block. But too much of this game, bringing anybody at all was more than the Rams could block. I’m not sure this offensive line would have held its own against a chorus line this week. I’d say the Rams got caught bringing a knife to a gunfight, but they didn’t, and don’t, even bring that much. They brought a butterknife. A plastic one.
* Defensive line/LB: The front seven, the only reason the game wasn’t over by halftime, was the one part of the team Rams fans could take pride in this week. Frank Gore set the *****’ career rushing record, but the Rams made a surprising recovery from last week’s Beaning, holding Gore to 71 yards. The Rams clogged the middle much better than last week, thanks to Justin Bannan’s return from injury. Fred Robbins appeared close to matching his effort against Seattle. He stuffed back-to-back runs at the Ram 20 to force the *****’ first FG. Gore appeared to be on his way into the end zone on a short run in the 2nd, but James Laurinaitis bulldogged him down inside the 1. On 3rd-and-goal, line penetration was so good it stopped Gore dead in his tracks, and Craig Dahl led the gang-tackle for no gain to force another FG. Gore beat them for a 21-yard run at the 2:00 warning, as Long, Robbins and Laurinaitis all got blocked. But the buck stopped there. Robbins’ middle surge on 1st-and-goal got Long his 11th sack of the season. They clogged the middle and funneled Gore to Long for no gain on 2nd down, and the Rams hit Smith as he threw on 3rd down to force yet another FG. The ***** tried to drive again in the final minute, but the Rams drew two holding penalties, and Long and Robert Quinn, off a 3-man rush, both got to Smith for Long’s 12th sack of the season to end the half. So it was just 9-0 for the ***** at halftime. Unfortunately, the Ram defense spent 22 minutes on the field in the first half, and the ***** gashed them with misdirection in the 2nd. H-back Delanie Walker took a pitch left for 14 after Quintin Mikell blew a tackle in the backfield. Alex Smith threw a TD bomb to Michael Crabtree the next play. Next drive, Ginn reverses field through the Ram secondary for 33, about half of it called back by penalty. Then Kyle Williams burns them with an end around for 25. The Rams held up inside the 10 to force another FG, though, with Mikell in on a couple of stops. He, James Hall and Chris Chamberlain blew up a wildcat play on 3rd-and-2. The 19-0 score could easily have been 35-0. Hall beat Iupati on a stunt from DT and grabbed Smith’s ankle in the 3rd to claim the Rams’ fourth sack. Laurinaitis got the first, blitzing clean up the middle to drop Smith in the 2nd. The LB crew bounced back significantly from last week. Laurinaitis had 9 tackles, and Chamberlain and Brady Poppinga made some nice stops throughout the game. In the 4th, though, Smith and Williams burned a zone blitz for one more big play and cleared the way for the scrubs. The Ram front seven, though, were far from scrubs this week. They held up well against the run until the ***** wore them out with misdirection. They got little to no help from an offense that left them on the field too long (36:04) and repeatedly put them in terrible field position. They frankly kept the team in the game longer than the offense deserved.
* Secondary: The back end of the defense let the front end down with major failings this week. Speed is supposed to be a strength for Justin King, but his problems covering deep speed continued when Michael Crabtree burned him for a 52-yard TD in the 3rd. If that wasn't the coups de grace, Kyle Williams delivered it in the 4th. The Rams got caught zone blitzing, and when Josh Gordy let Williams get away after the catch with a woefully-poor tackle attempt, he was gone for a 56-yard TD. The Rams couldn't afford Gordy's blown tackle on the play, as JAMES HALL was his only deep help. That play was a shame because Gordy had done some strong work early in the short passing game, including back-to-back 1-yard stops of Vernon Davis during the opening series. Instead, the Rams allow San Francisco's TWO longest pass plays of the season. Rod Hood didn't get burned deep but looked lost at times and struggled with the *****' speed. The Rams missed Darian Stewart. Craig Dahl played the run well, but then you had plays like the bomb for Davis in the 2nd where he got behind Dahl and Quintin Mikell and beat them to the end zone by yards. Luckily, he dropped the ball like an idiot, which at least allowed the Rams to claim another good game defending tight ends. Mikell deserves credit for ending a couple of 49er drives with tenacious tackling. Would be nice to make Alex Smith at least sweat a little someday when he sees the Rams on the schedule, though. He's having a fine season, but giving up a passer rating of 142.3 is ridiculous.
* Special teams: Not a lot interesting happens on special teams when you get shut out. It looks like Nick Miller may be taking over for Quinn Porter on kickoff returns. He returned the last two. Porter just hasn't offered the Rams enough of an improvement on taking a knee. Maybe they saw Ted Ginn's impressive speed on returns and that Porter looks like he's running in sand by comparison. And yet, throughout the second half, what were the Rams doing? Punting directly to Ginn. Guess Donnie Jones was “mis-hitting” a lot today, huh. The good news: the dangerous Ginn's longest return was a survivable 11 yards. He moved around a lot, but the Rams maintained good lane discipline.
* Coaching: I’ll offer Steve Spagnuolo a rare compliment for starters. The players haven’t quit on him. That is to say, the defense, the players he coaches. It’s gotten abundantly clear that he pays little attention to the team other than the defense. So that reflection on him is a good one. Spagnuolo scored quite a few tactical victories throughout the game. Smith walked into delay of game penalties or had to waste a timeout attempting to adjust to bluffed blitzing from the DBs. Have to like that; that’s Spagnuolo winning the chess game. The Laurinaitis sack was a nice setup, with King taking out Gore in blitz protection. The Rams even run-blitzed successfully. They zone-blitzed, with Hall dropping into coverage, on 2nd-long right before halftime with positive results, but the same play got burned in the 4th on Williams’ TD. It wasn’t a bad blitzing down, but maybe for something more conventional than a setup that relies on James Hall for deep help. Still, given their opportunities, the ***** could have made this a much worse game than it was, and Spagnuolo’s gameplan kept Gore and Vernon Davis in check. Not bad. Continuing to kick to dangerous punt returners like Ginn is much worse, but they got away with it. This week.
The offense is where it looked like the Rams quit. The coaching staff, actually. The running game was Shurmuresque in its creativity. Middle, middle, middle. Josh McDaniels dialed up the stupid TE screen on 2nd-13 in the 1st. Shockingly, the play failed yet another time this season. After a chop block call on Norwood, the Rams called we-give-up middle runs on 2nd and 3rd down. Jim Harbaugh could have done the same thing at the end of the half after multiple holding calls on Mike Iupati, but the ***** kept firing. One team attacking, the other team surrendering. 3rd-and-8 in the 3rd, a dumpoff to Pettis that would have been well short even if completed. The first pass to Danario Alexander didn’t come until the 4th quarter. The only time McDaniels will throw to the TE is on the stupid rollout screen that never works. 3rd-and-6 across midfield (!) in the 4th, on a drive where Feeley has converted two third downs through the air, and the ***** playing softer on D, it’s a goofy reverse to Pettis. Then the team that wouldn’t go for it on 4th-and-inches last week does it this week on – 4th-and-12?
Then, of course, there was 3rd-and-1 at the beginning of the 4th. McDaniels brilliantly keeps the ball out of Steven Jackson’s hands and calls the wham play for Brit Miller that hasn’t worked since the first week of the season. Loss, punt. Jackson gets one more carry before being pulled from the game essentially for the 4th quarter. At least that allowed Norwood to lose 2 on a brilliant draw play call on a later 3rd-and-2. The Rams may not have knelt the game out while losing this week, but mothballing Jackson for a quarter and running give-up plays all day doesn’t feel a lot better. The Ram offense has the look and feel of an offense that is resigned to failure.
* Upon further review: Not a rough game for Peter Morelli and crew. Most of the penalty calls looked good, including the block in the back on Kyle Williams and Ahmad Brooks going to Feeley's head. I wouldn't have called the hit out of bounds on Grant. He didn't hit Alexander very hard and it looked like Kendricks blocked him into the pile-up. I didn't rip Jason Brown for his false start call because you could hear the ***** over the field mic yelling to simulate the snap count, which is supposed to be a penalty on them. Don't know if Morelli's a Super Bowl-caliber referee but he almost always calls Rams games well. A
* Cheers: Steve Spagnuolo's efforts to save his job show a lot better in media coverage than they do on the field. It's smart; he knows commentators like Tim Ryan will parrot his press conferences during game broadcasts. Ryan became the latest media member during this game to assure us that the Rams would have been fine this year if not for all the injuries. I'm not saying the argument has no merit; just pointing out that Spagnuolo needs that message to get out there, and it is. Thought Ryan did a good job analyzing the *****' pass coverage, and he was good as usual on replays. Also want to point out that Chris Myers got a spot correct about as often as the Rams crossed midfield. This is a weekend where I feel like I have to apologize to the rest of St. Louis football fans for the Rams. We didn't get to see the end of Denver-Minnesota, or most of Packers-Giants, so we could see this steaming turd of a game. I predict increases in Sunday Ticket subscriptions in our area in the very near future.
* Who’s next?: Monday Night Football is supposed to be a positive spotlight for an NFL franchise, but next week's game will probably be a harsh one where the Rams are concerned. They travel to Seattle, the team that just embarrassed them 24-7, to the scene of last year's nationally televised meltdown with a playoff spot on the line, and a venue where they haven't won since 2004 and haven't been competitive since 2006. Average margin of the Rams' last four losses at CenturyLink Soccer Park: over 23 points.
This Monday night “showcase” risks turning into a preseason game in a hurry. Seattle's offense hasn't had a whole lot better injury luck than the Rams have. They lost the whole right side of their starting offensive line right before they beat the Rams in St. Louis, and they lost left tackle Russell Okung for the season Thursday night. Seattle line problems are likely what let the Rams hold Marshawn Lynch to 88 yards on 3.25 yards a carry in the first game, and that's likely what keeps them in the game this time. The Seahawks are bound to want to run a lot to try to keep Tarvaris Jackson, who's been playing hurt all season, intact behind a makeshift line. And Marshawn Lynch is definitely not a bad option for that chore, the way he ran through the Eagle defense Thursday night, and seeing that he has scored a TD in eight straight games. At a minimum, though, you would think the Rams could control the line of scrimmage against a second-string o-line. They bottled Jackson up well enough in the first game, and you would hope Long, Hall and Quinn would win a lot of their matchups and keep him in check again. The Seahawks are practically designing their offense around Jackson's pectoral injury, trying to get him throwing a lot on the move so he gets more momentum behind his throws. Keeping Jackson in the pocket would really limit his game, which has already been limited some by the loss of the much-injured Sidney Rice, the one free agent mistake Billy Devaney managed to avoid this offseason, for the rest of the year. That would seem to make Seattle's passing game more speed-oriented with rookie Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate. Baldwin is an especially good runner after the catch the Ram secondary has to be sure to tackle well. It will be telling to see how each team adjusts to the injuries to Seattle's passing game.
Speaking of adjustments, I'm not sure what was more frustrating, watching the Rams offense go down in flames against Seattle a couple of weeks ago, or watching the Redskins move the ball on Seattle a week later with relative ease, using plays Josh McDaniels SHOULD have been running, instead of emptying Steven Jackson out of the backfield. Seriously, is Kyle Shanahan available? Shanahan attacked the edges of the Seattle defense like McDaniels wanted to, only 100% more effectively. Leaving a RB in the backfield makes play-action slightly more credible, and Washington killed Seattle with it all day, using it to set up screens, rollouts and passes to the backs in the flat. They also made a point of running at Chris Clemons to keep him honest in pass rush. Also, watching the same tapes of Seattle the Rams get to watch, the Redskins knew they could go to their tight ends, AND DID, and the Seahawks continued their ongoing struggles to cover that position. Brandon Lloyd has receiver help for Monday night. Their names are Steven Jackson and Lance Kendricks. Get them the freaking ball, McDaniels. The Rams may not have the outside speed or the offensive line to hit Seattle with as many sweeps as Washington did. But McDaniels can still attack the Seahawk D with a lot of the same tactics as Shanahan did. There's no reason the Rams have to get blown out again by the Seahawks. Of course, there was no reason going into the first game, either.
Can the Rams spare us 3-and-a-half-plus hours of Tim Tebow talk from the ESPN primetime crew and work a little Monday night magic? Will the spotlight inspire them to levels of play that other divisional games, or rivalry games, or revenge games, or playing at home, hasn't? Or will it send them scurrying back into the dark like a cockroach?
Just try not to get stomped, guys.
Game stats from nfl.com