RamView, August 27, 2004

From Row HH

(Report and opinions from the game.)

Preseason Game #3: Rams 28, Redskins 3

The Rams gain a much-needed change in momentum with an easy win over the uninspired Redskins.

Bright spots: Steven Jackson showed he can carry a full load at RB.

Position by position:

* QB: Marc Bulger (6-12-78) had a streaky night, and was alarmingly inaccurate for a stretch. His ugly end to the first quarter brought an ugly reaction from the crowd, as he threw three terrible sideline passes to very-open receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt to put the Rams 1-2-3-out. His next pass the next drive was also incomplete, but, facing a 3rd-and-15, Bulger hit Dane Looker for 19 to pull himself out of the hole he'd been digging all week. He hit Holt for 18 to get the Rams in the red zone, and then rolled out and hit Holt for a TD with about five Redskins bearing down on him. Marc left at that point, after about a quarter-and-a-half, to have his knee iced. Nice finish, but the only passes Bulger threw well tonight were between the yard numbers. His sideline passes were high and wild. If he's not going to hit those at all, defenses will pinch in toward the middle of the field and his interceptions will go up. Just like last preseason, the starting QB threw nothing deep, but the backup took plenty of "shots." Chris Chandler (9-15-190) showed a pretty mean deep ball, too, hitting Holt dead on for 58 late in the second to set up his own 1-yard TD plunge the next play. Redskin S Sean Taylor intercepted another bomb attempt for Holt at the end of the half. Chandler also threw a bomb for Kevin Curtis in the 3rd (drew a penalty), and I don't know why Martz isn't calling any of these throws for Bulger, unless he can't make them. Long ball debate aside, one thing Chandler is right now is a much more accurate passer than Bulger. His first pass in, a bullet to Holt for 14, squeezed between three defenders. If Chandler had a window to throw into, it was probably about the size of a backyard tire swing, but he hit it. Jeff Smoker got in (2-3-21) but mostly handed off. Hopefully Marc's finish tonight gives him momentum toward the regular season, because the road there so far this summer has been plenty rough.

* RB: Steven Jackson took the game over in the second half and finished it with a huge 25 carries for 125 yards. Jackson showed all kinds of good traits tonight: tough interior running, difficulty to take down, speed to hit the hole or take a play outside, patience to wait for the blocking to develop, superior ball protection, as he foiled a couple of good strip attempts, and durability, as he looked as fresh when he came off the field to a rousing ovation after his last run as he did on his first. Jackson is ready for battle; the only question now is how Mike Martz will use him in real games. Marshall Faulk played just a couple of series and had just 11 yards on 4 carries, running mostly outside stuff the Rams line can't block, especially without Orlando Pace. Marshall needs to get a lot of work next week in Oakland, and not just sweeps that are doomed from the snap. If he's going to get the most carries, Martz needs to get him into a rhythm heading into the season opener. We haven't seen enough of Marshall to know what he's really got yet.

* WR: Torry Holt showed his true capabilities tonight, not just as an elite receiver but as a team leader. He put up 143 yards and a TD on 7 catches and appeared to play with playoff-level intensity. He showed shocking ability to separate on both of the long balls thrown to him, and he must have had a running debate all game with noted smack-talker Fred Smoot, who he burned on the 58-yard catch. He punked out Ralph Brown even worse after scoring the Rams' 1st TD, punctuating it by spinning the football in Brown's face and adding the most obnoxious end zone dance, and most obvious taunting penalty, you will ever see. Nobody else had more than two catches. Shaun McDonald (2-67) is starting to resemble Az Hakim of 1999-2000, using his speed and breaking a tackle for a 35-yard TD to cap off the scoring. Kevin Curtis didn't have a reception, but drew a long interference penalty. Dane Looker's (2-28) catch on 3rd-and-15 to keep the Rams' first TD drive alive may have been the game's key play. He continues to hold down the #3 WR spot.

* Offensive line: Whew, a major improvement over Monday night, though the Redskins appeared largely to just be going through the paces tonight. The Rams gave up only one sack, on one of Washington's many early blitzes. Scott Tercero was chasing the sacker down from the backside, so he either lost track of him or somebody else missed an assignment. Other than that, pass protection was excellent. The Rams handled the blitz very well, with Faulk setting the tone early with a couple of super blitz pickups, followed by more good work from Joey Goodspeed, Brandon Manumaleuna and Steven Jackson. I don't believe Bulger was roughed up much, and Chandler got excellent time to throw. They looked better run-blocking, though that really came in the 2nd half probably against mainly Redskin reserves. Chris Dishman made some nice blocks and could be rounding into some kind of shape. Jackson got a crushing block from Cam Cleeland on one of his long runs and a super seal block from Greg Randall on another. Poor Tom Nutten, though. Guy's played for two or three years on perpetually sprained ankles, he's in for about three plays tonight and sprains a toe. To the fans' relief, the line's performance tonight was nowhere near as painful as that, or as Monday night's.

* Defensive line/LB: This was also a nice improvement from Monday night, though I have to add the Redskins ran Clinton Portis only 3 times and played a lot without either of their starting tackles. Still, the running game that got 180+ in Miami last week didn't do much tonight, with Bryce Fisher and Leonard Little making nice backside pursuits and LBs Pisa Tinoisamoa and Robert Thomas doing some good tackling. The third starting LB opening day may well be Brandon Chillar, who has started the last two games and looked good in the process. The Rams didn't get any sacks but often got good pressure on the Redskin QBs, making them rush their throws. Damione Lewis has shown some ability to get into the QB's face all three games this postseason, but took an unfortunate roughing-the-passer penalty tonight to keep Washington's scoring drive alive. But after that drive, the defense forced four three-and-outs and a fumble; impressive work. Tommy Polley and Trev Faulk should have LB spots held down, but any other LB spots are wide open. Tony Hargrove was impressive. I had no idea the kid was so strong. He got all over Mark Brunell in the 2nd half, usually by driving the LT back into him. If Hargrove can do that with starting-quality offensive tackles, he will prove himself far from a waste of a third-round draft pick. I'd put him ahead of Sean Moran and Eric Flowers, who has kind of wilted since a hot first game.

* Secondary: Pretty nice work in the secondary tonight. Jerametrius Butler played well and made nice plays in run support. Kevin Garrett was the other starting CB, and he forced a fumble recovered by Aeneas Williams, but he had to force that fumble to make up for being beaten so badly by Taylor Jacobs on a fly route. Garrett is also developing a nasty habit of trying to bring guys down by their jerseys. All the safeties looked good, though I thought Aeneas Williams was late getting over to help on that bomb/fumble. Rich Coady broke up a pass nicely in the 2nd half and is a good veteran presence back there. Jason Shivers looks more and more comfortable in the defense. Nijrell Eason made several good plays in the second half and deserves to avoid "The Turk" another week.

* Special teams: The Rams continue to go nowhere in the return game. Arlen Harris got nowhere, as usual, on kick returns, and missed a lot of the game with a jammed finger. Mike Furrey did some kick and punt returning and also got nowhere. McDonald returned a couple of punts, and continues to run too much sideways and backwards and not enough forwards, getting nowhere. The Redskins consistently got downfield faster than the Rams on punt defense. Ram kick coverage was good, though. Washington also got stopped short on most returns, on one they got out to the 30, the Rams had kicked off from the 15 after the Holt taunting penalty. If the coverage teams can keep it up (I'd especially like to see Jeff Wilkins start getting his kickoffs deeper), and Mike Stock can get the return teams setting up an actual decent return or two, this unit may yet get something going.

* Coaching/discipline: Isaac Bruce, Faulk and Bulger were out of the game earlier than expected, but Mike Martz left Holt in surprisingly long, the whole first half. I know he was doing it to take advantage of his leadership, but it was still pretty risky injury-wise. Aeneas Williams was also going up and down the sidelines throughout the game, so the players really took Monday night's whipping to heart and became determined to improve their play. Martz did roll out one trick play, the end-around pass from Bruce, but it didn't work near as well as it did last year, as Holt was well-covered. I'll repeat that Martz needs to use Faulk more next week, and use him and the fullback better. They need to run Faulk more with the fullback out front instead of running him away from the fullback or idiotically splitting the fullback wide and automatically taking a blocker out of the play. Although tonight was the first time I've seen them throw with the fullback split out. At least they're changing that pattern. A very good coaching touch was having Chandler run the sneak right after the long completion to Holt. Too often, teams, especially the Rams, have to take a penalty or use a timeout right after a long play because they don't get the next play off in time. A simple play like the sneak is a very good next play in those instances. I did not see a lot of blitzing out of the Rams tonight, and the Redskins did most of their blitzing with the Ram starters in. The Rams picked up the blitz a whole lot better; I suspect that's a combination of Goodspeed being that much better at it than Massey, and Martz keeping more blockers back this game than he did against Kansas City. The absence of Pace may dictate that strategy, but it looks to me like the Rams will need to max protect frequently to counter frequent blitzing. Watching other preseason games, and the emphasis around the league on defensive speed, has me believing that heavy blitzing will be the en vogue strategy this year.

* Waiver bait: The roster on the Rams website lists 77 players (including Pace) and they have to be down to 65 by Tuesday. Jimmy Kennedy and Kyle Turley are, or will be, on the IR, and I don't think Peter Heyer the NFL Europe guy counts, so here's my other nine: CB Corey Yates, DTs Justin Montgomery and David Thompson, who for all I know is a typo on their roster anyway (#0?), OT Matt Morgan, OG Jeremy Phillips, TE Nick Burley, WR Jamal Jones, RB Dusty McGrorty, QB Russ Michna.

* Upon further review: Very decent outing from the Gerry Austin crew, enforcing downfield contact well. Jumbotron didn't give us the best look at Torry's feet on the first-quarter play that was challenged, though the radio team was adamant that he drug his right foot in bounds. Appeared that way to me, hard to tell. No one knows how Damione Lewis was supposed to avoid the roughing penalty he got in the first, since he had left his feet to dive at Patrick Ramsey before the release of the ball. Game was still pretty well-called.

* Cheers: Crowd again appeared to be in the 50-55,000 range, and again started emptying late in the third quarter until it was down to about the size of an Olympic archery crowd by the 2:00 warning. Rams fans were noisier tonight, perhaps taking their cue from Kansas City or other cities where the fans get behind their team vocally even though it's preseason. Leonard Little's most serious critics, who believe Rams fans would boo him, or at least not receive him warmly, whenever his name gets called, must not have liked the nice ovation he got during pregame introductions. The guy who did get booed, and pretty hard considering the team's achievements with him as a starter, was Bulger, during his Tony Banks-like sequence to close out the first quarter. I'm being pretty hard on the guy right now, too, but that's pretty harsh treatment for a friggin' preseason game. Marc has a proven record of success; we want him as a friend, not an enemy. Kurt Warner has moved on, so should his fans in the Dome stands.

* Stars of the game: 1 – Torry Holt, 2 – Steven Jackson, 3 – tie, Chris Chandler and Bryce Fisher, because the D deserves some love.

* Shameless plug: http://members.accessus.net/~mfranke/ is the eventual home of the RamView archive (only 1999 is done so far) and other of my lengthy football rantings, including my efforts to watch all 65 preseason games this year. It's nothing to e-mail home about in appearance, so hopefully its content will carry it…

* Who’s next?: The Ram pass defense should be tested next Thursday night in Oakland. The Raiders have a full-fledged QB battle, and it figures to go down to the final week. The Rams will have to be ready to defend the West Coast, dink-and-dunk, move-the-QB around game with Rich Gannon at the helm, but will have to be prepared the very same game to defend the more classic Raider downfield passing game with Kerry Collins in charge. The Raiders are very good at WR, not just Jerry Rice and Jerry Porter, but with young backups Doug Gabriel and Carlos Francis, who are very fast and have been dangerous big-play threats. Excellent tests for Butler and Garrett. The Raider defense has added Ted Washington and Warren Sapp and should be a lot sturdier against the run than they were in going 4-12 last year. They're potent on special teams and are a lot better than they played last year. The fourth week of preseason is usually a game where the starters don't see the field, but as far as I'm concerned, Bulger and Faulk can use the work, and should see a lot of time. It's possible that Orlando Pace could finally deign to show up at Rams Park, and he should get a lot of time as well. Roster-wise, it should be very competitive for the last slots at DT and LB, but that's about it for interesting roster battles. Both these teams can use a good audition before it's time for the real thing so they can worry less that the fat lady will come out early.

-- Mike

Game stats from nfl.com