RamView, 12/6/2009: Bears 17, Rams 9 (Long)
RamView, December 6, 2009
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #12: Bears 17, Rams 9
One day the Rams' growing pains will give way to growth, but not today. In their loss at Chicago, the offense even appeared to shrink, if that's possible. It's a team in need of a dose of Miracle-Gro. And players. Maybe even coaches.
* QB: I hope Kyle Boller (17-32-113, 48.0 rating) didn't waste a lot of time warming up before today's game. The game plan barely asked him to make any throws exceeding ten yards. But Boller couldn't avoid a disaster of a game even with the strategic safety belt locked tightly around the Ram offense. He looked a lot like Marc Bulger did early in the season, a man in desperate need of an open receiver but getting little help downfield. Boller and the Ram offense were not exactly clutch on 3rd downs, which they converted successfully only twice in 14 tries. I have Boller for 3-of-7 on 3rd down for 11 yards, with 3 sacks. Putrid. And like Bulger early this season, Boller didn't get a lot of help from his offensive line. The Bears took away Boller's mobility, giving him nowhere to scramble and sniffing out the Rams' bootleg plays like they were with him in the huddle. So just about any time Boller dropped back, he could expect pressure from the Bears but not much of anyone to throw to or anywhere to scramble. Nope, not a formula for raging success for Kyle (or any other QB). He did help put together a successful FG drive before halftime with a couple of completions to Brandon Gibson for 30 yards, but Boller was never going to have enough to beat the Bears today. He wasn't going to beat them with accuracy. He missed some open opportunities, most notably a rare long pass for Donnie Avery late in the first that he put too much air under, allowing the safety to come in late and nudge it away with his fingertips. Boller wasn't going to outsmart Chicago, either. The game plan didn't give him the material. No pump fakes; Hunter Hillenmeyer just read his eyes to pick him off late in the game. And very little play-action, which Boller didn't really sell well the few times it was tried, except on one successful Avery end-around. You know something? Keith Null showed he has a pretty sweet play-fake back in August. Just saying.
* RB: Whatever way you personally define what a hero is, Steven Jackson's (28-112) performing acts of athletic heroism, isn't he? Defenses put 8 and 9 in the box to stop him, his coaches make him easier to stop by making it obvious that he's getting the ball, and still he carried the Ram offense on his aching back. Jackson was still difficult to stop in the first half, in which he ran for 75 yards, slamming the Bear line over and over for 5 yards, 6 yards, 8 yards. His change of direction looked good this week, whether slaloming through the middle or bouncing a run outside. Sometimes he didn't need to change directions. He helped set up the Rams' first score with 11- and 13-yard runs off strong right-side blocks. The Bears shut the run down inside the 5 to force a FG, though. Still hanging around down 10-3, the Rams once again saw their running game bog down after halftime. Jackson found no room to run behind missed blocks and physically-dominated blockers before powering up the middle for 9 in the 4th to fuel a short FG drive, a FG Jackson was visibly unhappy to have settled for on the sidelines. It's obvious he wants to win. He yelled at the Ram sideline during the game. He didn't quit in the 4th, bouncing a run outside Billy Bajema's block for 23, efforts the offense eventually wasted with a punt. The Rams wasted Jackson as a resource today, pulling him off the field on most third downs, and ultimately would waste his game effort with another loss. Jackson's giving a lot this season to a team that looks like it's going 1-15. Let's hope that doesn't turn out to have been a wasted effort, too.
* Receivers: As much as one can tell from TV, the Ram receivers weren't open very often today. Jackson had the most catches, with 4; Brandon Gibson (3-38) and Donnie Avery (3-30) just 3 apiece. Danny Amendola had one catch for no gain and a drop. Two of Gibson's catches were key to the Rams' first FG drive; the longest was a 21-yarder he caught while kneeling, getting up and scrambling for 12 yards after the catch. Gotta like that YAC ability and his ability to improvise, but where was he the rest of the day? Where was Avery? His longest catch, for 18, came in garbage time. His best play was actually a run, a 15-yard end-around off the best, though never close to duplicated, play fake of the day. The Rams are trying to use his speed on plays like that and on smoke routes, but where was he the rest of the day? Receivers are easier to cover kept in a small box, and Charles Tillman is a good CB, but I wasn't expecting Zach Bowman to shut down the Rams all day, were you? Instead it's his helmet right on a ball caught, then fumbled, by Gibson in the 2nd, with safety Al Afalava returning it all the way back to the Ram 15. Randy McMichael (3-18) doesn't have the initial burst to get open on the bootleg plays the Rams were trying to him. So is it the talent that's being used, or how the talent's being used? Feels like some of both this week.
* Offensive line: Run-blocking was usually there for Jackson today, but pass-blocking usually wasn't for Boller. The Bears got to Boller the Rams' first drive with just a 4-man rush, with Adewale Ogunleye whipping Adam Goldberg right off the snap and Alex Barron getting beaten nearly as badly on the left side. Goldberg was rarely a match for Ogunleye's speed. The Bears DE just missed out on a couple more sacks, and the worst play I can think of with that speed mismatch going on is a naked bootleg in that direction. Which the Rams of course ran several times, and Ogunleye blew up several times. Ogunleye helped create the other two Bears sacks as well, though one has to be called a coverage sack, with the line giving Boller forever to throw. Barron was little better. Big pressure came on his side on Boller's INT, and Barron had to commit a brutal hold in the first after getting ripped but good by Alex Brown's rip move. Goldberg fared a lot better run-blocking, and Jacob Bell also had a good-looking game with a lot of good pull blocks. Jason Brown got pushed around a lot, though. Jackson's not going to get far on plays where the center just gets shoved backward into him. Randy McMichael started slowly, failing on a couple of blocks that would have sprung Jackson for big gains. But on the Rams' first FG drive, he sprung Avery on a smoke route, then, along with Ruvell Martin (!), sprung Jackson for 13 down to the Chicago 5 and got FIRED UP. The right side got dominated on 1st-and-goal, though, and Billy Bajema had a rare fail at fullback on 2nd-and-goal, to lead to just a FG there. Bajema was probably the Rams' best blocker today. He and Richie Incognito helped Jackson get 11 in the 2nd (Incognito came off injured later, replaced by Mark Setterstrom). Bajema had a block on the 13-yard run and picked off a run-blitz and sealed the edge tight for Jackson's longest run, a bounce outside RT for 23 in the 3rd. Too bad the run-blocking success they had didn't carry over to pass pro's side of the ledger.
* Defensive line / LB: Holding Matt Forte to 91 yards and the Bears to 120 total looks almost respectable compared to the last few weeks. James Laurinaitis got 12 tackles and was in on a bunch of stuffed runs early on. James Hall was very active early. He and Larry Grant stuffed Forte on back-to-back goal line plays in the 1st, but the stand ended on 3rd down when Chris Williams (in place of Orlando Pace) took care of Hall and Chris Long couldn't budge the tight end. Long whipped Williams to score one of the Rams' two sacks of Jay Cutler in the 3rd, but got stopped way too often by solo run-blocking by the TE. Pressure on Cutler was pretty good, even on the Bears' big plays, though not at all on the 71-yard pass to Bennett. Long and Hall got into the backfield enough to make Cutler nervous and flush him. It didn't equal sacks – Leonard Little got the only other one, a gift for touching Cutler down after a fumbled shotgun snap – but after the early huge coverage breakdowns, they got the Bears off the field. Good back pressure from Long helped force a three-and-out in the 2nd, Little's “sack” forced another, then Long's sack forced another in the 3rd. Then, though, the Bears got more serious about running and put the Rams back on their heels. Forte went right at a TE-dominated Long on 3rd-and-1 for 7. Hall was dominated on a 9-yard sweep. Cliff Ryan stopped a goal line run, getting off the ground to beat Olin Kreutz, but the Rams still couldn't stop that last Bears TD. They did keep the Bears within mathematical reach. Victor Adeyanju blew up a smoke pass to force a 3-and-out. James Butler atoned a little for an atrocious game by stuffing a couple of Kahlil Bell runs the next drive. But they failed to pin the Bears inside their 5 late. Forte went up the middle for 15, with Long getting spun completely around and Leger Douzable getting about blocked into Lake Michigan. Forte went up the middle for 8 more after Ryan got flattened. It took a great open-field tackle by Justin King, covering up for horrible overpursuit by Long, to shut that drive down, but Boller restarted it with a quick INT. And Forte went through David Vobora's arm tackle for 12. But the Rams bowed up before the 2:00 warning. Paris Lenon made a nice play to force Forte back into Ryan. And when Ron Bartell stopped Forte on 3rd-and-6, the D had gotten the offense the ball back a second time in the last 4:00 with a chance to tie the game. The Ram front seven may not have been great, but they were pretty good, a far cry ahead of where they've been lately. Hall and Ryan set a good early tone. Adeyanju's improving with playing time. Laurinaitis is still everywhere. Grant was clutch at the goal line and Lenon and Vobora weren't getting abused. I'm really concerned about his run defense after today, but Long was a decent factor in pass rush. Again, nothing great, but enough to win if the team shows up in some other areas. Which it didn't.
* Secondary: Oshiomogho Atogwe got the secondary off to a hot start by stripping the ball from Matt Forte to force a turnover on the game's second play. The rest of the secondary, though, only followed his lead in terms of being THE POLAR OPPOSITE. Devin Hester burned them for 48 on Chicago's very next play as disappointing Ron Bartell bit on his second stop fake and bitterly disappointing James Butler lost track of the ball, spinning right round like a record, baby. Quincy Butler then gave up a 36-yard end zone DPI, running Johnny Knox over without looking for the ball. The next possession unbelievably went even worse. Tasked with stopping the Bears on 3rd-and-9, the Rams instead let Earl Bennett get loose for 71. Laurinaitis' drop wasn't deep enough, and Bennett split Atogwe, who slipped, and useless SS Butler, who barely even ran in pursuit, to the point I assumed he was injured. No, he was back on the field the next possession, I guess with the invisible piano still on his back. Bartell got lucky at the end of that drive, never turning to find an end zone pass to Hester, but Hester's failure to keep both feet in bounds seemed to change the Rams' luck. They went on a string of five three-and-outs, with Dahl forcing one with a tackle-for-loss and Bartell nicely breaking up a slant pass for another. Bartell's illegal use of hands helped out a 3rd-quarter drive, though, which ended when Justin King misread a play, broke back a step in the Ram end zone, and got run over by crossing receiver Devin Aromashadu. Bennett curled in front of that mess at the goal line for a 3-yard catch and Chicago's 2nd TD. It's been a brutal season for the Ram secondary. Bartell's been a disappointment. Quincy Butler and King aren't physical and are still trying to figure out the game. Jonathan Who? Somebody Wade? James Butler is awful though I still assume he's playing hurt. Atogwe's been the only bright spot. And he had to leave the game right before halftime with a shoulder injury. I can't believe this team's damn luck sometimes.
* Special teams: After Chicago returned an ill-fated pop-up kickoff to midfield to open the game, it was a superb day for Ram special teams. Josh Brown actually hit some clutch kicks, banging FGs from 28, 48 and 50 to help the Rams stay in it. Danny Amendola was very frisky on returns, with a 43-yard kick return and a 30-yard punt return. David Roach (!) made one of the key plays of the day by sniffing out, and stopping, a fake FG flip to Greg Olsen in the 2nd. He and Kenneth Darby had key blocks on the long punt return; credit Daniel Fells, Bajema, Grant and Samkon Gado for great blocks on the long kick return. Coverage of Chicago's lethal return game was excellent. Newcomer Jordan Kent was terrific all game; his and long snapper Ryan Neill's efforts on one return shut Devin Hester down for about a 10-yard loss. And Donnie Jones, with nice help from Kent at the other end, was amazing punting, killing FOUR punts inside the 6 and a couple of others inside the 20. Thanks to Jones and company, the Rams actually dominated the field position battle for the majority of the game. They won the day on special teams with an effort that better teams typically turn into wins. Tom McMahon keeps this up, he'll be running a whole team one of these days.
* Coaching: I used to have goldfish. Once when I moved them to a larger tank, they were too stupid to realize it for a long time. They stayed in the area of the small tank and swam around in circles, without the will to do anything different. They only figured out they had more room by accident. There's my insight into the mind of Pat Shurmur, who again this week was apparently unable to even conceive the idea of stretching the field, or trying anything different, keeping the passing game in the small tank for pretty much the first 58 minutes. Shurmur is Jerry Rhome all over again. It's little surprise the Rams were a woeful 2-for-14 on 3rd down; nearly every 3rd-down pass was thrown short of the needed yardage. (Please take the naked bootleg out back and shoot it, huh?) The Rams especially weren't going to get away with that with Jackson off the field for almost every 3rd down, about the most knuckleheaded way possible to manage his injury. So Shurmur was darn sure to use Jackson when he had him on the field, handing off on 1st down about 75% of the time. Jackson was a respectable, though highly unofficial, 18-95 on 1st down, despite the Ram offense's high predictability making him easier to stop. If only there were a way to fake the other team into thinking Jackson was going to run. You could loosen up the defense. Make the safeties worry about more than the Rams' in-over-their-heads receivers. You could keep him on the field on 3rd down and make the defense account for him, with minimum additional injury risk! Great Amos Alonzo Stagg's ghost, how could a football team pull off such a miraculous deception?
Why don't the Rams use more play-action? You, I, Trent Green, Dick Stockton, were all begging for it. Steven Jackson was begging for something; you could see him yelling at the sideline at one point. Richie Incognito got in a shouting match with Shurmur. The players don't believe in the game plan; is that enough for everybody? The Rams have the ideal person in the NFL to set up a lot of play-action and appear to run it very little, which baffles me. Its benefits would have seemed obvious by Week Freaking Thirteen. No, Shurmur would rather hand off on 2nd-and-22, throw useless 7-yard slants on 3rd-and-19 (that one turned into the fumble returned to the Ram 15), or hand off on 3rd-and-11 inside the opposing 40 to preserve the field goal opportunity. Yeah, the Rams have bad receivers, bad tackles and a bad second-string QB. But none of them are helped by the near-absences of balance and deception in the offensive play-calling. Are the Rams that much worse than Oakland? They've beaten Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh this year. The Rams have to abandon all hope against 4-7 Chicago?
Defensive coaching is way ahead of the offense, though I fail to comprehend why the Rams have NO defensive back capable of turning and finding the ball. I swear I saw some run blitzing this week after pleading for it last week, like the 3rd-and-2 where Dahl dropped Forte for a loss early in the 2nd. Ironically, as Trent Green pointed out, they got burned big on plays actually designed to fake Cutler into checking down, but unlike the offense, the defense appeared to quit trying what wasn't working. As far as game-management, I don't disagree with the FG on 4th-and-goal late in the half. You would hate to come away without a score after your first good long drive, and the Rams were getting the ball back after halftime. I wanted Spagnuolo to fire off some timeouts after Cutler's fumble after the FG. Not sure if that's too much killer instinct on my part or not enough on the Rams'.
But Steve Spagnuolo'd better change something here, quickly. The apparent player revolt at the revolting offensive game plan isn't good for anyone. What this coaching staff has done best is to keep everyone on the same page and playing hard despite the record. You'd like to write off other issues as rookie hiccups. Well, we're deep into the season now. Nobody's a rookie any more. The coaching staff's free pass is running out and it's time to start earning some trust. A competent offensive game plan, and Shurmur's capable of making one, would be a good start. Give the offense the reins or show it the whip; whatever it takes to get this horse moving.
* Upon further review: Peter Morelli and crew might have called the best game of the year. They called DPI well other than the one King got away with on 3rd-and-9 in the 4th. They made the correct call on Hester's non-TD catch in the 1st, not right away, but quickly enough to give Spagnuolo a refund on his challenge flag. Excellent call on the hold that produced Knox's long kickoff return. Those get missed far too often. And a correct call on Lenon's horse-collar of Forte a little later, though way after the play. My main complaint was going to be Devin Aromashadu's pick of King on the TD pass to Bennett, but the contact looking incidental and King not having position probably make it a legitimate non-call. Damn, I may have to break out the Golden Whistle for Morelli today. A-minus.
* Cheers: Dick Stockton and Trent Green got the call for Fox, were Ron Pitts and John Lynch sick this week? Stockton's been around long enough to have called Decatur Staleys games but wasn't too bad. He didn't blow near as many spots as he usually does. Both he and Green were all over the Rams' poor offensive game plan (any chance you're available, Trent?). Green was good on color, though he's still got a little Rams bias to kick. He broke down replays well and made many correct calls before the referees did. I don't know if Stockton's been demoted or Green's been promoted, (I don't think they're usually a team) but the two work well together and are worth another listen.
* Who’s next?: One of the Rams' worst seasons ever will next pay a warped tribute to their greatest season, as they travel to Tennessee for a Super Bowl XXXIV rematch, unfortunately without Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az Hakim, Rickey Proehl, Orlando Pace, Adam Timmerman, Tom Nutten, Fred Miller, Kevin Carter, Ray Agnew, Grant Wistrom, D'Marco Farr, Keith Lyle, Todd Lyght, Jeff Wilkins, and certainly Mike Jones, not to mention Dick Vermeil and that one offensive coordinator. Sigh. (Leonard Little's still around, though.)
If that's not the main media angle for next week, then it's sure to be the faceoff between the league's top two RBs, Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson, though that may ultimately prove an unfortunate one for the Rams. Remember Johnson exploding all over the Ram defense last preseason? (And Quinton Ganther? And Omar Cuff?) He went into today leading the league not just in rushing yards, but also yards after contact. The Rams played the run well enough today, but are they ready for the option? The college play has become a dangerous weapon for the Titans now that Vince Young has taken over at QB and rallied Tennessee to a 5-1 run after an 0-6 start. The Rams will be severely tested to keep those two in check on the ground and force Young to throw, which seems the most reliable path to leaving Tennessee with a win.
The Ram offense doesn't really raise much hope of that happening, though. Tennessee's respectably in the top 10 in run defense, led by all-pro LB Keith Bulluck. The Rams have had trouble blocking Kyle Vanden Bosch since he was in pee-wee football. They're not afraid to blitz, getting to Peyton Manning three times with safety blitzes today. The 5-1 run has also coincided with the return of their top two corners, Nick Harper and huge hitter/dirty player Cortland Finnegan, to full health. The Rams' best hope could be to pick on Chris Hope, a(nother) strong safety very beatable with the deep ball. Of course, that'd mean hitting Tennessee with play action. As if.
Six weeks ago, this looked like a winnable game for the Rams, but now, both teams are a lot closer to their form of last year. That's a moment the Titans want to return to; they went 13-3. But it threatens to become an event horizon for the Rams, impending doom they're being helplessly pulled back into. This week will inspire a lot of living in the past in Rams Nation. It may take a lot of luck for the team to relive the right time.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 12/6/2009: Bears 17, Rams 9 (Long)
I was upset by this game. So many players stepping up and making great plays. I thought the defense played really well. They stopped them so many times. Hester and another bear had nice catches that the secondary did not defend and the dpi near the endzone cost us. Other than that the defense was playing very well and making stops. Holding them to a FG and holding Forte out of the endzone for a couple of plays showed me some defensive chemistry. I see them getting excited over good plays and communicating.
Special teams did a great job of getting us great field position all day long and Josh Brown had a good day. He made three good FGs, two of them well long ones. New guy Kent, great play downing the ball. Amendola had some great returns.
So disappointed in the offense and boller. Failure to move the ball and score with that field position is horrible. I hope the coaching staff is going to make some changes there. Play calling needs to be adjusted, Boller needs to be coached, or maybe we give Null a chance, receivers need catch the ball, O line is a mess. I hope the rest of the team is not turning on them. Each group can only control their piece. Hopefully defense and special teams are getting some credit for keeping us in games and giving the offense the best opportunity that they can.
What happened to Martin? Why was he not in there?
Yes I can see them working the Johnson versus Jackson angle for the next game.
Thanks for the write up Mike....love reading it every week.