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    RamView, 8/10/2007: Rams 13, Vikings 10 (Long)

    RamView, August 10, 2007
    From The Couch
    (Report and opinions on the game.)
    Preseason Game #1: Rams 13, Vikings 10

    It's always good to win, preseason or not, but even more important than the Rams coming out on top in this year's preseason opener were the significant contributions they got from rookies and young players like Brian Leonard, Jon Alston, Jonathan Wade and Derek Stanley. And oh, yeah, Adam Carriker. That train has left the station and is building a head of steam. Hey, wait for me!

    Position by position:
    * QB: Brock Berlin (6-9-65) didn't do anything to hurt his chances of making the team tonight, playing the 4th quarter and leading the offense on the game-winning FG drive in the last 2:52. His nice throw and big completion to Derek Stanley for 21 on 3rd-and-13, right after the 2:00 warning, was the key play of a drive that saw him go 5-6 for 60 yards. Ryan Fitzpatrick (13-21-117) entered the game late in the first half and led the offense to a FG, but his night was marred by a Dontarrious Thomas 83-yard INT return TD. Facing one of a million Minnesota blitzes on the night, Fitzpatrick chucked the ball in the direction of Dominique Byrd, who was flying wide open down the seam, but the pass went right to Thomas. It looked like the heavy pressure Minnesota got forced Fitzpatrick's bad throw, but it's also possible that Byrd was supposed to break off his route with the blitz coming and didn't. Don't read too much into Fitzpatrick throwing two INTs – the other was a Hail Mary to end the first half. He wasn't bad overall considering the pressure he was under and some of the hits he took; he's still firmly the #3 QB. The only QB not to lead a scoring drive tonight was Marc Bulger (6-7-42), who also threw a pick, also under very heavy pressure. The pass was intended for Randy McMichael, but Ben Leber deflected it to Dwight Smith for the INT. Bulger and Torry Holt got to clicking together almost right away, the key thing to take away from Marc's performance. Gus Frerotte went 5-6-32 and played only one drive, the Rams' TD drive in the 2nd quarter.

    * RB: A short night for Steven Jackson, who came out after just two catches for eight yards. He wasn't even in for the whole first series, Brian Leonard saw considerably more action, 9-36 rushing and 5-30 receiving. He isn't a burner by any means, but he's an effective inside runner and looks like a very fluid, natural receiver. Bulger and Frerotte already seem confident in him as a target. Leonard's highlight drive was in the 2nd quarter. He kept it alive taking a swing pass for 8 on 3rd-and-6, making a nice catch on the move, and he finished it with a 10-yard TD run behind a big block by the legal firm of Milford Brown. Hard to get much flavor for the three-way battle for #3 RB. Travis Minor (3-7) may have entered the game with the lead, but Kay-Jay Harris (3-25) probably won the night, dragging the whole Viking defense around a couple of times, including a 17-yard run in the 4th. Dynamic runner Rich Alexis (5-12) is also ahead of Minor the way I'm scoring it. Blitz pickup by the RBs was not an issue tonight. They did it mostly effectively, though Jackson was sloppy on the Rams' initial third down. Madison Hedgecock threw a Viking to the ground on one play.

    * Receivers: The stars were out early, as usual. Isaac Bruce saw very little action, while Torry Holt (2-26) caught a couple of passes from Bulger. The opening drive died with Drew Bennett's (3-15) 4-yard catch on 3rd-and-6. Did he not run the pattern deep enough? Aaron Walker (3-27) blocked well and looked like a favorite target of Fitzpatrick's. Dominique Byrd wasn't as solid, with no catches. He simply quit blocking Heath Farwell on the 3rd-quarter play where Farwell CLOCKED Fitzpatrick, and he may have failed to adjust to the blitz correctly on Fitzpatrick's INT/TD. With Mark Anelli ringing up a couple of catches, the TE situation is as complicated as ever. Receiving stars of the night, pleasingly, were Derek Stanley (4-61) and Marques Hagans (2-25). Hagans got the tying FG drive going with a tough catch for 10 on a slant. Stanley then made the heads-up play of the night. A DB dove for Fitzpatrick's pass on 3rd-and-9 and appeared to tip it back up to Stanley, who took off with it for an apparent TD. Well, the refs blew the call and Stanley had to settle for a serendipitous 19-yard reception. He added an 18-yarder to set up the FG. The inexperienced WRs didn't look it on the game-winning drive. Stanley had a big 21-yard catch on third down right after the 2:00 warning. Shaine Smith caught a 12-yarder across midfield, and Hagan's 16-yard catch-and-run set up the winning FG. Dominique Thompson showed nice speed around the corner on a 9-yard reverse in the 3rd, but suffered a hip injury on the play and wasn't a noticeable factor this game. With Dante Hall not even playing due to a tweaked hamstring, it's obvious that the Rams continue to have one of the league's deepest receiving corps, like they've had since 1999 or thereabouts.

    * Offensive line: Brett Romberg appeared to play with the ones at center and Andy McCollum with the twos, but that's far from definitive since I don't have high-def. Romberg held up well. Dustin Fry centered with the threes, and I believe Dave Pearson saw time there as well. Pass protection was solid with the starters, except for one disturbing play. On his interception, Bulger had to unload the ball fast because Orlando Pace was downright bad trying to block a DE whose number I couldn't read because of Minnesota's awful uniforms. Maybe Pace needs to go back to holding out every summer. He hasn't looked consistent yet this year. D'Marco Farr had praise for Richie Incognito's work against Kevin Williams, and Alex Barron didn't false start. Claude Terrell and the legal firm of Milford Brown were the twos at guard; Brown had a key block on Leonard's TD run. The twos at tackle were Todd Steussie and, unfortunately, Drew Strojny, who played as poorly as any Ram OT has ever played. He got beat for sacks on back-to-back drives in the 3rd, first by Heath Farwell, then by rookie Brian Robison. Strojny compensated the next drive by brutally holding anything that moved, drawing two flags the offense managed to work around for a FG that tied the game at 10. The Rams' game-winning drive nearly blew up in the starting blocks. It began with Minnesota's third sack. Vinny Ciurciu got the sack by beating Pearson, but the real problem was once again Strojny, who got whipped badly again, and – poor taste alert! – got abused tonight like one of Michael Vick's dogs.

    * Defensive line/LB: Adam Carriker will likely be the lead story of every Rams account of this game, and deservedly so. He stuffed Adrian Peterson a couple of times, brushing Matt Birk aside to stop Peterson for a loss the first time and penetrating the line deftly to make the second stop. Carriker did no worse than to hold his ground all night. If he can maintain this level of play, the Rams will get everything they want out of him. Have they finally gotten a first-round DT pick right? Claude Wroten started at DT alongside Carriker and blew up a screen pass to bog down the opening drive. Jon Alston got the early snaps at "buck" end, saw a lot of action in the game, and I have to say I'm impressed. Minnesota's second drive went three-and-out thanks to Alston's impressive speed closing in on Tarvaris Jackson's third-down scramble. Trevor Johnson's great individual effort held Minnesota's first scoring drive to a FG in the 2nd. On 3rd down from the Ram 12, Johnson drove the tackle into the pocket, flushed Jackson, then shed his blocker to come back and get him for the sack. The same guys stopped Minnesota's first possession after halftime. Alston strung out a Peterson sweep for no gain, and then on a zone blitz, Trevor dropped an interception that was right in his hands. He's probably still made a move on Eric Moore, who blew a sack HORRIBLY in the 4th to allow a 12-yard Tyler Thigpen scramble, but drew a holding penalty later to kill the drive. A long DPI gave Minnesota one last chance to score, but Tim Sandidge stuffed a run, and Alton Pettway got the Rams' third sack with a good effort on 3rd down before Ryan Longwell choked on a 42-yard FG attempt. Quinton Culberson made a couple of plays, but Jamal Brooks stood out more than he did tonight.

    * Secondary: Good game overall; up-and-down for Lenny Walls and Ron Bartell. The first drive, the underwhelming Troy Williamson immediately beat Walls for 16 on 3rd-and-long, (ruining an earlier blitz and tackle-for-loss by Corey Chavous) but he defended a pass to Williamson to kill the drive. Bartell was positively rancid early on, getting embarrassed badly twice by Bobby Wade for 42 yards. Bartell atoned at the end of that same second Viking possession with a great open-field stop of TE Jeff Dugan near the goal line to help force a FG. Great DB run support forced a Viking 3-and-out in the 2nd. Walls limited a Peterson reception to 2 yards. Unca Fakhir Brown strung a Peterson run out on 2nd down with help from Todd Johnson. Then Jerome Carter, who made a key run stop the previous drive, blitzed in on 3rd down, ate up Mewelde Moore and took Jackson down for the sack. The next drive was all Jonathan Wade, another Ram youngster who had a fine game. His blitz on 2nd down late in the 1st half forced a bad throw, and he limited Sidney Rice to 1 yard on the 3rd-down play. He played an attempted reverse like a vet early in the 3rd and looks like a player who really knows where he's supposed to be at all times on the field. A less-than-perfect sequence in the 4th, after Eric Moore badly blew a sack, saw Carter drop an INT that the TE muffed, one Jason Carter beating Walls for 18, and Alston failing to come up with an interceptable ball. But this group's showing promising signs. They're benefiting from aggressive play-calling. Tye Hill looked fine; Bartell bounced back a little; Wade had an eye-opening game, and I'd put him ahead of Walls already.

    * Special teams: If not for sloppy offsides penalties on the first two kickoffs, the Rams special teams would have had an excellent night. Hold on, my grammar check just went off. Error 1403: you have used the words "excellent", "special", "teams" and "Rams" in the same sentence. Correct or Ignore? I'll have to ignore. Wade was all around the ball on special teams and made a solid, disciplined tackle on the opening kickoff. Too bad it didn't count. Larry Edwards also had a fine kick return tackle nullified by penalty. The Rams defended punts well, too. Minor and Chris Massey shut down a Mewelde Moore punt return in the 2nd; Culberson stuffed him in the 3rd. Donnie Jones averaged just over 50 yards a punt. Hagans filled in for Dante Hall and was great on returns. He runs FORWARD after fielding punts, SHAUN MCDONALD, scooting up the middle for 25 with a return right before halftime, and right after the half, he took the kickoff back out to the 37 with a great burst of speed and a big block by Cliff Ryan. Kevin Lovell gave Jeff Wilkins the night off; his kickoffs were good, and he showed great composure in tying the game 10-10, hitting a 34-yarder, then having to do it again from 39 due to a false start. Good returns? Good coverage? Good punting? Good blocking? A good backup kicker? Have aliens kidnapped the "real" Ram special teams and replaced them with competent clones? Is that why Al Roberts wears the hat, to hide alien antennae?

    * Coaching/discipline: Martzian offensive balance from Greg Olson's game plan tonight: 43 passes vs. 22 runs. That was a big surprise given all of the competitors for #3 RB but may have been meant to put Fitzpatrick through his paces. I didn't pick up on many offensive twists in the game, not that there ever are many in preseason. McMichael was split wide some but I can't say if they threw to him out of that formation. They came away with 10 points in two red zone possessions, with porous pass protection by the scrubs hurting them as much as anything.

    The first couple of defensive series, on 3rd down, Jim Haslett pulled Carriker, put Alston in as the "buck" end, and then faked a blitz and only brought 3 guys. I think I remember him vexing Kurt Warner with that kind of stuff down in New Orleans. Both teams appeared to blitz a lot; Haslett sure didn't look afraid to. Haslett was on top of his strategic game in many ways. The Ram attack was very creative, blitzing DBs, blitzing safeties, using the zone blitz that completely fooled Brooks Bollinger into throwing a pass in the 3rd that Trevor Johnson should have intercepted. The players seem to respond to good, aggressive strategy with good, aggressive play. It's hard not to be a fan of this brand of defense and Haslett hopefully will keep it up.

    * Waiver bait: A rare glitch on special teams was Fred Capshaw's 32-yard flub of a punt in the 4th. If the Ram punters were presidential candidates, Donnie Jones would be Hillary, Capshaw would be Dennis Kucinich… There was also Jeffrey Dukes' inability to stay onside on kickoffs. Good grief, talk about failure at fundamentals… J.D. Washington picked up a blitz well in the 4th – big progress from practice – but dropped an easy pass and lost yardage on his only rushing attempt... Drew Strojny makes Grant Williams look like Jackie Slater, and at this stage of his development, the Rams could just as well cut their losses and try Jeremy Parquet in his spot… Except Parquet false-started twice tonight… Josh Lay nearly blew the game with a 40-yard DPI in the 4th that put Minnesota in good FG range. Luckily, they missed the kick…

    * Upon further review: Other than fending off Martin Kilcoyne's mancrush on Ed Hochuli, the officiating crew's biggest challenge tonight was the diving pass deflection back up into Stanley's hands that he took off with for an apparent TD. They blew the call, but even a hater like me has to admit that was a heck of a tough call to make live. I can't think of anything else to complain about. Good call on Charles Gordon's near INT in the 3rd; he stepped out of bounds. They were right to call roughing the passer on Farwell's head-first hit of Fitzpatrick. And yet they didn't completely take over a preseason game like officials often do. As unlikely as a good Rams special teams game, – Error 1401, ignore – a well-officiated game by the Hochuli crew. Error 8501: you have used a form of "good" and the word "Hochuli" in the same sentence…

    * Cheers: The local Fox broadcast mentioned some ticket sales information worth repeating. The Rams have sold out just two games to date – Green Bay and Pittsburgh – and those two are likely sold out because the road team's fans snapped up a lot of tickets. Great. No other games have sold out, not even the season opener against Carolina, though it sounds close. Meanwhile, Buffalo, with a bigger stadium, a worse team, certainly a worse offense, and with Anthony Hargrove on its roster, has already sold out five games this season. Get your asses in gear, St. Louis. The Fox announcers, Martin Kilcoyne and D'Marco Farr, were fine once Farr stopped the annoying nervous laugh he had in every sentence for a while. One of the highlights was Farr's question to Isaac Bruce: Do you still hate the *****? Isaac: "Oh, man, you know it… first and foremost." Good answer! Fox was sloppy at times, but nowhere near as bad as some of the debacles of the past. Specifically, they didn't televise the re-kick of the kickoff after Leonard's TD. In case you were wondering how the hell the ball suddenly got from the 23 to the 37 there.

    * Who’s next?: The Rams open the home portion of the preseason on national TV (CBS) next Saturday night, hoping not to get struck by lightning in the form of the San Diego Chargers. LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, Antonio Gates and company thundered past the Rams pretty easily last October, physically dominating the Ram defense and winning 38-24. The Ram defense couldn’t even put heat on Philip Rivers with blitzes in that game, which makes the Chargers another good test of how the defensive front is coming along. Winning the line of scrimmage and stopping the run are not easy at all against these Chargers; if the Rams can do some of it Saturday night, it could be time to really start feeling good that the defense can weather this season’s oncoming storms.

    The Ram offense would have fared better in San Diego last year if not for Shawne Merriman. Or should I say if not for his appeal of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s banned-substance policy? At any rate, Merriman proved far too much for the Rams to handle in last year’s game, sacking Marc Bulger three times. For however long he’s on the field, Merriman is the test the Ram pass protectors would do best to pass. Little things like blitz pickups (or failures to do so) could go a long way in determining open races like #3 RB or even #1 center. San Diego’s also got a good young secondary, so a candidate for #6 WR would make a big statement with good play on Saturday.

    San Diego could well be the best team the Rams face this year, preseason or regular season. At least for the first quarter or so, this game could be Rams Nation’s best preseason barometer of how good or bad this year’s team will be when the games count for something. Though the game’s indoors, we’ll look to the Dome Saturday night for a sunny, clear forecast for the 2007 Rams.

    -- Mike
    Game stats from nfl.com


  2. #2
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    Re: RamView, 8/10/2007: Rams 13, Vikings 10 (Long)

    Good read, nice write up Mike.
    Quote Originally Posted by RealRam
    What next, NFL gay players kissing on the mouth. To me it is S.O.S.: simply/obscene/sickening. Rest assured I will never cheer for a known homo player

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    Re: RamView, 8/10/2007: Rams 13, Vikings 10 (Long)

    never caught the game so this was as good as, thanks Mike


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    blood85's Avatar
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    Re: RamView, 8/10/2007: Rams 13, Vikings 10 (Long)

    Let's just hope rams can stay healthy for remaining games.

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    Re: RamView, 8/10/2007: Rams 13, Vikings 10 (Long)

    great job didnt cAtch the game either so this was great
    Torry Holt Dont play that

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    Re: RamView, 8/10/2007: Rams 13, Vikings 10 (Long)

    Thanks for the report mike, great read!!!


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