RamView, 8/10/2006: Rams 19, Colts 17 (Long)
RamView, August 9, 2006
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Preseason Game #1: Rams 19, Colts 17
Scott Linehan's piloting Ram Force One now, and he's already got it out on the runway in good shape. And I do mean runway, as in 40 times for 202 yards. While the veterans on the team seem to be easing their way into preseason a little bit, many of the newcomers, including the coaching staff, had solid nights as the Rams edged the defensively banged-up Colts.
Position by position:
* QB: Marc Bulger (3-6-51) drew a lot of unwelcome heat in less than a quarter of play tonight, got sacked once, and had a couple of rusty-looking throws, especially a pass that missed Torry Holt badly in the end zone in the 1st. He did throw nice strikes to Torry and to Isaac Bruce. Gus Frerotte's (2-3-32) 21-yard pass to Shaun McDonald set up a TD run by Tony Fisher to end the quarter, after which it was time for the first Ryan Fitzpatrick-Dave Ragone battle of the preseason. Both QBs are nimble afoot. Fitzpatrick (8-11-51) juked a Colt into falling on his face on one scramble. He also had a superb extra-effort TD run nullified by a penalty. Ragone is also a good runner but may be a little too quick to take off. Ragone (7-11-80) may have closed the gap a little bit by showing off a good arm. He hit Brad Pyatt perfectly in the 4th with a 40-yard bomb, and almost all of his passes had zing to them. Ragone may have hurt his cause with a 3rd-quarter end zone interception, though. That DB flashed from out of nowhere from my vantage point, so I doubt Ragone saw him, either. Ragone also had a nearly-disastrous fumble that was picked up by Antoine Bagwell near the Rams' goal line in the 4th. Fitzpatrick's out passes still need work, but he led the team to a Moe Williams TD run and he didn't commit any big mistakes or near-mistakes, so I still have him down as the frontrunner for third string QB.
* RB: The Rams were hugely successful on the ground, churning out over 5 yards a rush on 40, yes, 40 attempts. Steven Jackson (5-41) broke off runs of 16 and 23 yards. The first appeared to be off a simple counter play – I wouldn't mind seeing the Rams run that a lot more – and the second came off a successful dance step and a solid downfield block from Paul Smith. Continuing a bothersome career trend, Steven's other three runs totaled 2 yards. Tony Fisher (5-33) scored a TD and showed good patience and ability to change direction. He's proving difficult for defenders to corral. Moe Williams (7-17) is a different kind of horse, succeeding with a no-nonsense, downhill-running style, but he can also be shifty when he needs to be. Fred Russell (6-53) had the long run of the night, a 54-yard bolt where he turned the right corner and took off like a shot. If there's room for him on the roster, the small and speedy Russell's a RB who could be a dangerous change of pace from the Rams' bigger RBs. Then again, his other five rushes netted a 1-yard loss. Nonetheless, the Rams really looked like a team that can run the ball successfully tonight.
* WR: Torry Holt (1-15) and Isaac Bruce (2-36) got some early catches from Bulger and then got the heck out of Dodge. Shaun McDonald got wide open for 21 in the 1st to set up a Tony Fisher TD run. Kevin Curtis drew about 40 yards worth of penalties on back-to-back plays to set up a 2nd quarter Moe Williams TD run. Dominique Thompson (3-31) made a super fingertip catch of a bullet from Fitzpatrick in the 3rd for 19. Brad Pyatt showed dangerous speed on a 40-yard bomb in the 4th. Dane Looker led the receivers with 4 catches, so there is a lot of competition at even this fairly-set position. Joe Klopfenstein remains the first-string TE, followed by Aaron Walker and the mysteriously-disused Dominique Byrd. Just three completions to TEs on the night, but they're already moving Klop around on the LOS, so he's on the way to becoming another threat in the Ram tradition of having a dangerous and diverse passing attack.
* Offensive line: Can't call it anything but a win in the trenches for the Rams, as they ran for 202 yards. But I have mainly a critical eye for the starters. Robert Mathis smoked right by Adam Timmerman to sack Bulger in the 1st. Later in the quarter, Richie Incognito missed a block and let a Colt get a run right up the middle at Bulger. Alex Barron also blew a block badly on another play to allow serious heat on Bulger, though he completely clocked another rusher who had gotten through. Andy McCollum didn't seem to hit anybody hard. One of Jackson's runs blew up because Andy couldn't move out a LB he has to outweigh by 50 lbs. Incognito moved from LG to RG on the 2nd string and seemed to fare well. Interior run blocking was excellent much of the night and shouldn't be underplayed – it was a key to the game. I really liked what I saw from Mark Setterstrom. He was solid run-blocking and pass-protecting, and I didn't see him make a mistake. Lots of people say he looks like a seasoned veteran out there, and I'd agree. Didn't get a long look at Tony Palmer, but what I saw was very effective and very fundamentally sound.
* Defensive line/LB: The defense didn't show me much while the Colts walked downfield for an opening TD in under 2 1/2 minutes. The starting pass rush didn't threaten Peyton Manning that much even with blitzing, though LaRoi Glover later showed some run-stuffing ability. Ram fans can take a lot of encouragement from the 2nd and 3rd strings, though. Clauden Wroten and Victor Adeyanju gave us a tantalizing look into the future by playing like a total wrecking crew tonight. Adeyanju showed good ability to get after the QB and good backside pursuit against the run. Wroten didn't have a sack but got after the QB a lot. His speed could become a big weapon for this defense, which hasn't had a DT who could really get after the QB since D'Marco Farr. Adeyanju and Wroten were very effective on the left side and look like pretty exciting prospects after tonight. Free agent DE Matthew Rice had three sacks in the second half, which ought to get him on the radar the same way Brandon Green got on last August. Despite Rice's sacks, the guy I really noticed in the 2nd half was DT Tim Sandidge, one of those non-stop motor players. He got down the line well to help stuff a run in the 4th, he collapsed the pocket well on pass rushes, and he hustled downfield a couple of times to make the tackle on pass plays. He was beating the DBs who got beat on the play downfield to make the tackle. Outstanding hustle. Much better overall run defense and tackling than we saw from the Ram defense the last two years.
* Secondary: Starters were Travis Fisher and Fakhir Brown; I'm pretty sure the 2nd string was Tye Hill with Dwight Anderson. Jerametrius Butler was not active. Brown got abused badly on Indy's opening TD drive and looked bad in the process. The Rams did their usual poor job of accounting for the TE while giving that opening TD to Ben Utecht. Brown got the defense back on the right track on Indy's next possession by sacking Jim Sorgi for a fumble and safety. Hill was all over the place and got himself into position to make a lot of plays. He had one chance for an interception but couldn't make what would have been a very difficult catch. DeJuan Groce had an interception and was very active with the third string. I don't know how Anderson got ahead of him but I'd expect DeJuan to move up the ladder. OJ Atogwe got extended work at safety. Jerome Carter was the first safety off the bench and did good work against the run. Ron Bartell got in at safety but pretty late in the game. Kevin Timothee got beat deep for a late TD but I'm not sure he could have done anything about it. Shaun King launched a pretty perfect pass there.
* Special teams: A very mixed bag. The punting game was super. Matt Turk got a leg up (GUFFAW) in that competition with one beautiful punt that was downed at the 2, setting up the safety. He also nailed a 54-yarder with great hang time that the returner muffed, with Paul Smith stuffing him. Marques Hagans got upfield well on his punt returns (he runs forward, Shaun McDonald), averaging 14+ yards a pop, and accelerated hard through traffic for a 36-yard kickoff return that was halved due to penalty. I hope the Rams can afford to be patient with Hagans; if he can build some confidence, he can be the real deal. Kick coverage was once again poor, despite the presence of several starters on the coverage team. TJ Rushing had a gaping chasm to run through en route to a 62-yard return that set up a long Adam Vinatieri FG in the 1st. My kingdom for special teams that don't continually give up big plays!
* Coaching/discipline: One turnover, only four penalties, no timeouts whimsically used, no incomprehensible challenges… Scott Linehan has the Rams playing well out of the gate and passed his first test (or pre-test, I guess) with flying colors. It's especially unimportant because it's preseason, but I'll note Linehan called 40 runs tonight vs. 32 passes. On Jackson's long run, I was so stunned upon realizing there was a fullback on the field, I think I missed the next three plays, though Linehan didn't use a fullback a lot. I was also impressed Linehan got so many different players into the game. All 4 QBs, all 5 tailbacks, and lots of oddly-numbered receivers. Straightforward game plan without any trickery or unusual formations (though Klopfenstein lined up in the slot a couple of times), and a successful one.
Jim Haslett did some early blitzing without success against Peyton Manning, but struck gold once Jim Sorgi entered the game. He blitzed Brown to get the Rams the first-quarter safety. He didn't do it with the 1s, but with the 2s he went to a 3-4 look on several obvious passing downs, with Wroten at NT and Raonall Smith shifting around to confuse the offense. And it appeared to really mess up Sorgi, who blew some 3rd down plays against it and also had to spend a timeout. Haslett's ability and willingness to implement aggressive, creative defensive schemes are going to be very welcome in St. Louis.
I'm not holding the Rams responsible for not recovering Indy's onside kick to open a preseason game. What a bush league maneuver by Tony Dungy. Perhaps the Colts should devote the energy focused on running, well, bullcrap, special teams trick plays in preseason to, oh, I don't know, WINNING PLAYOFF GAMES in the future? It looked like the left side of the Ram coverage either froze or got caught off balance. I hope they weren't waiting for the ball to get to them, because it probably would have been best to charge that ball. But that is still crap, Tony Dungy. And why not trot the onside kick back out after you'd narrowed the lead to 19-17? Maybe because you'd killed the element of surprise by running it at the beginning of the game?
* Waiver bait: A Colt whistled around T Adam Haayer so fast in the 4th I was momentarily concerned the Rams had signed Grant Williams again. We all know K Remy Hamilton's a goner anyway, but two missed FGs seem certain to doom his chances. Hamilton is an excellent Arena League kicker, so I'd have thought his potential problem would be distance, not accuracy. CB Dwight Anderson just doesn't impress me. This may be a completely unfair assessment, but I see a guy who acts like he's Neon Deion out there, but plays like Night Light Dwight. Committing dumb illegal-hands-to-the-head penalties like he did in the 2nd doesn't help his cause. He's got plenty of talent but his field smarts and discipline are way behind it. Seeing how well Paul Smith played, and how deep the Rams look on the d-line, trouble could be adding up for still-good players like Brian Howard and Madison Hedgecock, who dropped a catchable ball in the 1st.
* Upon further review: Bill Vinovich and crew seemed to call a pretty clean game. The interference calls Curtis drew were right on. I thought the league was supposed to be cracking down even harder this year on roughing the QB, but Bulger took a substantial hit after the ball had left his hand during the Rams' FG drive. I'd still have to call the game well-officiated on the whole, though.
* Cheers: The game was blacked out on local TV and didn't seem to generate that much interest among paying ticket holders, either. 35,000 would be a very generous estimate for tonight's crowd. That's a little discouraging. The Cardinals were out of town – where was everybody? Staying home and watching Big Brother? Predictably for preseason, not much noise from the crowd, either; good volume on third down maybe a couple of times. Things have been tweaked a little at the Dome, but nothing earthshattering. The cheerleaders do a couple of routines on the field now. Halftime show was pee-wee football, always a favorite. Apparently, the results of offseason fan surveys must have been, "Turn down the music," and "Bring in Ernie Hayes," because the music has been turned way down, and the TD celebration song is now apparently the immortal Budweiser "Here Comes The King" jingle played on organ, just as it's been done in Busch Stadium for many years (and stadiums). As if we needed more reminders we're a baseball town. Also, In The Name Of All That Is Holy, don't Ever play James Blunt in the Dome Ever Again. I'm surprised a giant Milwaukee's Best can didn't come down and crush us all when that drivel came on at halftime.
* Who’s next?: Next week will be about keeping everything moving in the right direction, which may be a little challenging with nine days between tonight's game and the next Rams outing, a date in St. Louis next Saturday against the Houston Texans. Coach Linehan would love to see the second and third strings maintain their generally good play from tonight. I imagine he'll leave the starters in longer and work on them to get their games in forward gear. Especially on both lines, the Ram starters need to put in a more solid effort than they did tonight. Houston has traditionally struggled at protecting David Carr. It would be a good step forward for the defense to put a good rush on Houston's QBs, And the offensive line knows it has to do a better job protecting Bulger than it did last year, or tonight. Marc doesn't need to be getting whacked around before the real season even starts.
Like the Rams, the Texans are breaking a new coach, Gary Kubiak. Coming from Denver, he’s trying to install a Denver-style running attack. Even though Domanick Davis has been battling injuries, the Houston run attack will be a perfect test for the Ram defense, since the Rams play Denver to open the regular season. I would also like not to see a repeat of Andre Johnson Gone Wild like we saw in Houston last year.
Houston’s defense struggled mightily last year, making Mario Williams vs. Alex Barron the marquee matchup of the evening. It would be perfect if the Rams could establish the running game again Saturday the way they did tonight. We know preseason games don’t count, but I think in the back of everybody’s minds, the Texans want some revenge for the very tough loss they took against the Rams last year, and the Rams would like to beat the Texans much more convincingly this time around, a way of reminding them they’ve still got some catching up to do. At least, I’ve seen poorer excuses used as motivation for pro football teams. To borrow TV detective terms, Scott Linehan and the Rams seem to have the means, motive and opportunity necessary for a good game on Saturday. Let’s see if they can pull everything together and knock off another opponent.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 8/10/2006: Rams 19, Colts 17 (Long)
Originally Posted by MFranke
Not sure what game you were watching with Ragone but besides the pass to Pyatt, he had a dead arm the whole game. Most of his passes were below the receivers' knees.
The interception, he telegraphed it. If the one Colt db did not pick it off first, the other Colt DB would of or the third Colt db would have picked it off.
It looked like 3 Colt's DB had a bead on it.
Everything else you said about the other position is good.
I like Matthew Rice after last night. I would like to see how he does against the second string. He might be the designated sack master if he makes the team.
Re: RamView, 8/10/2006: Rams 19, Colts 17 (Long)
I think the writer was little over critical. Yes the Defense had a rusty start, but they more than made up for it.
Re: RamView, 8/10/2006: Rams 19, Colts 17 (Long)
Mike is critical and funny. It is just his style of writing . I like it.
Originally Posted by jjigga3000
He pays far more attention to the all the details than I do and his analysis is always a good read IMO.
Re: RamView, 8/10/2006: Rams 19, Colts 17 (Long)
I probably just have a different vantage point. When I think of dead arm QBs, I think of Steve Walsh or Jamie Martin throwing floaters with hang time. I didn't notice that with Ragone. Plus he looked improved over his performance at the scrimmage Saturday. Either way, I'd wager Fitzpatrick's still pretty far ahead of him.
Originally Posted by onslaught11
Good point on the INT; looked like there was a crowd over there.