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    RamView, 8/18/2007: Chargers 30, Rams 13 (Long)

    RamView, August 18, 2007
    From Row HH
    (Report and opinions from the game.)
    Preseason Game #2: Chargers 30, Rams 13

    The true course of preseason never did run smooth, and anyone expecting a bump-free ride for the Rams into the regular season was in for a disappointment with tonight's game. The Rams took noticeable steps backward from last week's performances in run defense and special teams, and despite nice performances from Brian Leonard, Marques Hagans and others, lost handily to San Diego.

    Position by position:
    * QB: The most impressive part of this game for Marc Bulger was that he survived it. He took a couple of serious whacks from Charger DE Shaun Phillips but bounced back up from each showing no ill effects. Bulger (8-12-79) played most of the first half and engineered two drives into FG range, but came away with no points due to turnovers real and alleged. Marc's most disappointing play came in the 2nd at the end of the Rams' 2nd drive, a 25-30 yard pass into the endzone that Torry Holt never had a chance at and Clinton Hart intercepted easily. Torry was well-covered, and that ball shouldn't even be thrown in a regular-season situation, let alone be as far off as Marc's throw was. Lots of short passing for Marc otherwise, besides a pretty 25-yard rope to Isaac Bruce at the end of the 1st. Marc seems right about on schedule for preseason. Gus Frerotte (16-22-187) QB'd most of the rest of the game and earned good marks, showing good arm strength and mobility. He's led the Rams to 4 of their 6 scores this preseason. Ryan Fitzpatrick missed the game due to a cracked rib suffered last week, but still gained a stronger chokehold on the #3 position thanks to Brock Berlin's (2-4-20) brutal sideline interception right to Cletis Gordon late in the game.

    * RB: Tonight was the Brian Leonard show, with Steven Jackson taking the field for only the opening play and never seeing the ball. Leonard got a ton of touches (17-49 rushing, 2-18 receiving) and proved an effective north-and-south runner in the Mike Alstott mode, doing a nice job of running after initial contact on many of his runs. He got stuffed a lot, too, though, contributing to a low per-carry average. Also contributing to that was the running game's predictability; every handoff to Leonard went up the middle. Leonard looks perfectly capable of filling Stephen Davis' role of last year, but the Rams can't make it so easy to predict what he's going to do when he gets the ball. Rich Alexis (7-24 rushing, 3-26 receiving) got an extended look and looked pretty good doing it. He hits the hole quickly, runs with nice power and looks good in the open field. Madison Hedgecock blocked well at fullback, looks improved as a receiver (2-19) and got a really poor break on the Rams' initial drive when he got charged with a fumble that wasn't.

    * Receivers: Marques Hagans (5-71) came away as the receiving star, and certainly seems to have secured a roster spot at this point. He's gone from a guy who couldn't catch last year to one making Az Hakim-like plays such as his 34-yard catch-and-run late in the 1st half that set up a FG. Not just a speed demon, Hagans can run routes, too. The route he ran for a TD in the 4th was sublime: starting as the slot right receiver in (I believe) a 4-WR set, he made as though he were running a flare toward the sideline along the goal line, but suddenly doubled back on it and took Frerotte's pass in the middle of the field for the score. The Charger DB covering him simply couldn't change directions fast enough to keep up. Joe Klopfenstein proved an effective outlet for Frerotte with 3 catches for 29, converting two third downs, but didn’t prove an effective protector of Bulger. Elsewhere in the TE race, Dominique Byrd has been all but invisible these past two games, and I'd have to think Aaron Walker is staying well ahead of him as a result. Torry Holt (4-26) and Isaac Bruce (1-25) got in and out of the game intact; can't say the same for Drew Bennett (3-44), who took a big hit after a 34-yard catch from Frerotte in the 4th and got some bruised ribs for his troubles. Bennett didn't look very fast even before that hit, which surprised me a little.

    * Offensive line: Shawne Merriman wasn't the problem for the Rams with the starters in; it was Shaun Phillips, and how. Phillips was equal-opportunity; he beat Alex Barron badly to get one big shot on Bulger and beat Joe Klopfenstein to crush Bulger with a blindside hit and force a fumble. The Rams recovered, though, and that would be the only sack they gave up all night. Orlando Pace had some struggles with Phillips as well, and it looks like speed rushers are going to be able to get to him until he's back fully from his injury. Richie Incognito got dinged (ankle) late in the 1st half but it's not supposed to be serious. Mark Setterstrom and Alex Barron stayed out with some of the twos late in the half, joining Brett Romberg (C), Adam Goldberg (LT) and Claude Terrell (RG). Looks like those are the top eight linemen. I simply can't say who's winning between Andy McCollum and Romberg for the starting center job. They both look like they're playing well. The second-half line seemed to play pretty well in front of Frerotte. The line committed only one penalty, a false start by Goldberg, who I think played the rest of the game at LT. The big issue here tonight was that the starters allowed the two big hits on Bulger, which they cannot do and threatens to shake up the whole offense if it continues.

    * Defensive line/LB: Put this one down as a learning experience for Adam Carriker, who wasn't the dominating factor he was last week. On Michael Turner's (9-48) first long run, Adam got completely turned around at the line of scrimmage, and yeah, you're not going to make that play when you're facing the wrong direction. Adam hasn't been a factor in pass rush at all (not that I think he's expected to be), and another of San Diego's long runs came when Adam overran the play into the backfield instead of holding his ground. He did seem to get double-teamed a lot more than last week, which could be San Diego's scheme, or could be an early sign of opponent respect. The Charger center seemed to win any solo matchups, though. For now, let's see how well Adam bounces back next week. The Ram run defense was not good, allowing 111 yards and way too many easy gains. I think this was more on the back seven than the front four, though. Will Witherspoon blew a tackle badly on one of Turner's long runs, and safeties Corey Chavous and OJ Atogwe did not tackle well. Tye Hill also blew a tackle on a long run. Even with the new blood on the d-line, the run defense is not going to work if those guys don't do their jobs. The defense looked great on San Diego's second drive: James Hall caught Turner for a loss, Atogwe blitzed in for a sack, and Leonard Little finished it off with a 3rd-down sack. Claude Wroten seemed to play all 60 minutes. He shot through the line to sack Billy Volek late in the 3rd and had a good game from my angle. Chris Draft got an extended look and made a nice play to stuff a screen to Darren Sproles in the 3rd. Jon Alston delivered a real slobber-knocker to keep San Diego out of the end zone in the last 2:00 of the game, stuffing a run off left tackle for a loss, with authority. Despite those good plays, the defense left a somewhat sour taste tonight. Turner ran too easily – 3 runs over 9 yards, tackling wasn't solid, and beyond the two sacks, the pass rush wasn't consistent and hasn't been thus far this preseason.

    * Secondary: You've got a third-year guy, a second-year guy and a rookie back there, and it showed at times tonight. The second-year guy, Tye Hill, is fine; Rivers tried going deep on him in the 2nd but Tye ran Craig Davis' route for him in impressive fashion, and the throw never had a chance. Bartell got beat a couple of times by Vincent Jackson and got beaten by Antonio Gates for 28 down to the 4 to set up San Diego's first TD. It looked like Bartell opted not to make a play on the ball in favor of expecting the official to call Gates for stepping out of bounds. I don't think Gates stepped out, and Bartell sure didn't get his call. Play to the whistle, Ron. Chavous got charged for San Diego's first TD the next play, but he did more than enough defending the play. Jonathan Wade struggled in coverage and tackling in the second half. Sean Chandler's TD catch in the 4th was a completely blown coverage; one LB ended up on that side having to cover both Chandler in the back of the end zone and Sproles flaring out to the near pylon. The LB decided correctly, but late, to chase down Chandler, and got beat for his efforts. Tackling against the run suffered tonight as well, and I'd say the Ram secondary made plenty of mental mistakes tonight, so there's quite a bit of polishing to be done before whatever the secondary is right now becomes anything like a diamond.

    * Special teams: Just when you think the Rams' era of special teams suckitude is over, they pull you back in!, as Darren Sproles returned a punt 81 yards for a TD in the 2nd quarter with about five Rams circling him lazily as if he'd made a fair catch, and no one taking a good angle to get to him. The Rams never really recovered on the scoreboard from that gaffe, which is a shame, because Donnie Jones' punts were solid (51.0 avg), and on Sproles' first return, coverage was picture perfect, with Chris Massey and Travis Minor breaking down perfectly, staying in their lanes perfectly, and taking Sproles down after a short gain. If anything, Jones is outkicking the coverage right now. So run harder! Dante Hall returned the opening kickoff and showed why he's Dante Freaking Hall, hitting it up into traffic quickly and then wriggling his way through for 32 yards. These are the Rams' special teams, though; the return came back for a penalty. Kevin Lovell hit two FGs of just over 40 yards, though his kickoffs weren't as deep as last week, which is hard to figure. Hardest of all to figure: when the Rams are ever going to quit allowing game-breaking special-teams plays to their opponents.

    * Coaching/discipline: I really have little use for offensive plays that call for overwhelmed blockers like Klopfenstein to try to handle elite pass rushers like Shaun Phillips. If it is fairly standard knowledge that a DE vs. a RB or a TE is a bad matchup for the offense, why do so many offensive coordinators actively court this mismatch not in their favor? That huge hit Bulger took is Greg Olson's fault as much as it is Klopfenstein's. Another fault in the Olson attack tonight was the running game was about as creative as Soviet government building architecture; everything was Leonard up the middle. That's understandable from the standpoint of being a situation the coaches want to get a lot of practice at but will not cut the mustard at all in a real game situation. Scott Linehan lost a replay challenge on the Hedgecock fumble, but Larry Nemmers was so mentally deficient to me on that exchange, I kept hoping a referee would come running out of the locker room to overrule him like they do all the time in the WWF.

    Jim Haslett didn't seem to bring as much of the blitz as he did this week and seemed to rely more on stunts to get pressure on the Charger QBs. Some of the blitzing was effective, such as the first sack by Atogwe. But there was a play in the first half where Haslett brought an extra LB, CB and safety from the right side, and San Diego picked them all up and Rivers made a completion to Jackson. Right about then you figured it was going to be the Chargers' night. I don't think the run defense's problems should completely be laid at Haslett's feet – players gotta make plays – but this defense has made simple cutback runs look like alien technology they're helpless against for some time. Not only are the Charger RBs not the first ones to make the Rams look bad doing it, the Ram RBs have made the Ram defense look bad doing it in practices. That's coaching, and Haslett distinctly needs to get better play out of his charges in those situations.

    * Waiver bait: It's probably too easy to bag on P Fred Capshaw, who's 100% a goner anyway, but what was that punt in the 4th? Did he hit it with his shin or something? Did he remember to kick it with the correct foot?... Berlin set his cause back pretty far after raising expectations with last week's performance… Dominique Byrd's around to be a pass-catching TE, but didn't have a pass thrown his way. Though he may be ahead of Mark Anelli, who didn't appear to see much action… No time at RB for Travis Minor or Kay-Jay Harris, though they could be getting longer looks in later games…

    * Upon further review: You know it’s going to be a long night when you see that Madison Hedgecock's knee was down on his "fumble" live through your binoculars, you see it again on replay on the very large video screen behind the end zone, Scott Linehan sees said replay, twice, and challenges the call, and, despite having access to instant replay viewed on a high-definition TV, head numbskull Larry Nemmers lets the original call stand! Tim Donaghy didn't referee that poorly when he was trying to! A tougher call, but just as incorrect, was Vincent Jackson's "touchdown catch" for San Diego's first score. Two officials took the lazy way out and made the call the way it's always made – assume the receiver would have caught it in bounds if not for the defender's hit – instead of taking care to notice that Jackson's first foot down came down out of bounds before Corey Chavous touched him. It wasn't even a catch, and the NFL ought to make that a reviewable call instead of protecting lazy judgment calls by officials with the lazy rule that keeps judgment calls from being subjected to replay. Then again, it's not like Nemmers can get obvious calls right with the assistance of replay anyway. That is one poor crew I hope the Rams don't see again this season.

    * Cheers: Though the game was never close to selling out, tonight's wasn't a bad crowd, probably bordering on 40,000 in actual attendance and willing to make noise, when prompted by the players. At its peak, the noise level was pretty good for a preseason game and even seemed to catch the Chargers off-guard a little. What was all this about the Dome getting new video and audio systems? That was the same old Jumbotron I saw tonight, and the same old poor sound system I heard, with no sign that either are in the process of being upgraded. The music selection so far this year, impossibly, is worse than last year's, and that doesn't include local sportswriters taking pregame stabs at "God Bless America". I'll root for Howard Balzer to do better next time. I barely even made the game on time because the idiots who run the city of St. Louis let people park on Washington Avenue, which takes away half of the main artery for half the people going to a game. Someday, someone who works for the city is going to gain a basic understanding of traffic flow. Halftime went the tried-and-true route with pee wee football, and it looked like all four of the teams down there knew how to tackle, so those fundamentals are on display somewhere in this area.

    * Who’s next?: The Rams go from possibly the best team on their schedule all season to possibly the worst when they travel to Oakland. The third preseason game has become the game teams take the most seriously, so this game figures to be contested in earnest for the first three quarters. The Raiders still don't have #1 pick overall JaMarcus Russell signed, but have little need for him right now with Daunte Culpepper starting to light it up. They're not just the long-ball offense Culpepper, and the Raiders, have long been associated with, though the Ram secondary has to guard assiduously against the deep ball. They've shown they can string together a drive or two here in the preseason and show signs of offensive improvement. Though the Raiders have run the ball well, this is still by far the worst offensive line the Rams have opposed this preseason, and it's incumbent on the front seven to both do a credible job against the run and pressure Culpepper or Josh McCown into mistakes without letting either run all over them. As bad as the Ram defense was last year, they still shut out Oakland in December, and a significant defensive dropoff Friday night shouldn't be tolerated.

    Despite their record in 2006, the Raiders fielded one of the league's best defenses, a stern test for the Ram offense. Since most of the starters figure to sit out the Governor's Cup game, Marc Bulger needs to sharpen his game up for the regular season. Easier said than done against the Nnamdi Asomugha-led Raider secondary, which ranks among the league's best. If Steven Jackson doesn't play, Greg Olson has got to get a little variety into Brian Leonard's life. The protection for Bulger has to be better than it was last night, and the offense has to concentrate on better ball protection and red zone production.

    So the Rams enter the most important game of preseason with some identifiable problems to work out – especially run defense and special teams – and an opponent to work against that they would be expected to beat handily in the regular season. This could be an important game. If they win it, or at least play well, confidence is restored heading into the season opener against Carolina. If they play poorly, Rams Nation might want to start looking around for the panic button. Preseason games are filled with mitigating factors, from rested starters to atypically vanilla game plans, but the Rams' current issues aren't things that they can blow off heading into the regular season. There is still plenty of time to go, but a good game like the Rams had in Minnesota is in order Friday night to keep good football vibes flowing here in River City.

    -- Mike
    Game stats from nfl.com


  2. #2
    blood85 Guest

    Re: RamView, 8/18/2007: Chargers 30, Rams 13 (Long)

    Let's just finish the pre-season healthy and then shift our focus to winning our division.

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    majorram's Avatar
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    Re: RamView, 8/18/2007: Chargers 30, Rams 13 (Long)

    Thanks for this read mike, i look forward to your reports every week!!

    steve:l
    "The breakfast Club"

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    Re: RamView, 8/18/2007: Chargers 30, Rams 13 (Long)

    Another great in depth analysis, MFranke! Objective and informative as usual.

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    Re: RamView, 8/18/2007: Chargers 30, Rams 13 (Long)

    Good Observations of last nights game. The Rams 3rd preseason match up against the Raiders in Oakland will be a true test before the regular season begins.
    Dominique Byrd is the #3 Tight End right now, look for him to take the #2 spot by openning day.

    The ref's got it right on Madison Hedgecock's fumble and on the Chargers' receiver catching a touchdown in the back of the endzone, while being pushed out of bounds by Corey Chavous. Both calls were close. Lesson for RAMS: TAKE CARE THE BALL & TAKE CARE OF THE ENDZONE!
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

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    Re: RamView, 8/18/2007: Chargers 30, Rams 13 (Long)

    A lot of good stuff in there. Just one thing I noticed:
    I really have little use for offensive plays that call for overwhelmed blockers like Klopfenstein to try to handle elite pass rushers like Shaun Phillips. If it is fairly standard knowledge that a DE vs. a RB or a TE is a bad matchup for the offense, why do so many offensive coordinators actively court this mismatch not in their favor?
    Merriman and Phillips are actually OLBs in the 3-4, which we've had trouble planning against for a while now. I think sometimes the offensive tackle winds up blocking the defensive end lined up right in front of him, and then the OLB lined up off to his side comes flying around and has to be picked up by a runningback or tight end.

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    Re: RamView, 8/18/2007: Chargers 30, Rams 13 (Long)

    Thanks Mike. They did not show the game in VA. At least I have your report to read.

    Our QBs are getting roughed up in preseason. That is not good.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

  8. #8
    BigGameMN Guest

    Re: RamView, 8/18/2007: Chargers 30, Rams 13 (Long)

    Excellent article, though I completely disagree about the Hedgecock fumble. I think the ball was on it's way out before his knee hit. Regardless, it was called a fumble on the field and there wasn't enough evidence to overturn it.

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    MFranke's Avatar
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    Re: RamView, 8/18/2007: Chargers 30, Rams 13 (Long)

    Quote Originally Posted by Goldenfleece View Post
    A lot of good stuff in there. Just one thing I noticed:

    Merriman and Phillips are actually OLBs in the 3-4, which we've had trouble planning against for a while now. I think sometimes the offensive tackle winds up blocking the defensive end lined up right in front of him, and then the OLB lined up off to his side comes flying around and has to be picked up by a runningback or tight end.
    Goldenfleece,
    That is a superb point.

    Also, I thought Klopfenstein was more physically mismatched then he actually was. I looked up their ht/wt at nfl.com; Phillips goes 6'3" 262 and Klopfenstein goes 6'5" 262.

    --Mike

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    Re: RamView, 8/18/2007: Chargers 30, Rams 13 (Long)

    * Upon further review: You know it’s going to be a long night when you see that Madison Hedgecock's knee was down on his "fumble" live through your binoculars, you see it again on replay on the very large video screen behind the end zone, Scott Linehan sees said replay, twice, and challenges the call, and, despite having access to instant replay viewed on a high-definition TV, head numbskull Larry Nemmers lets the original call stand! Tim Donaghy didn't referee that poorly when he was trying to! A tougher call, but just as incorrect, was Vincent Jackson's "touchdown catch" for San Diego's first score. Two officials took the lazy way out and made the call the way it's always made – assume the receiver would have caught it in bounds if not for the defender's hit – instead of taking care to notice that Jackson's first foot down came down out of bounds before Corey Chavous touched him. It wasn't even a catch, and the NFL ought to make that a reviewable call instead of protecting lazy judgment calls by officials with the lazy rule that keeps judgment calls from being subjected to replay. Then again, it's not like Nemmers can get obvious calls right with the assistance of replay anyway. That is one poor crew I hope the Rams don't see again this season.
    I saw many more mistakes by the refs; on the return for a TD, it appeared that one of our guys, (not sure who) was held while attempting to make a play right in front of the ref. I usually don't get too fired up during pre season games, but I was pretty steamed that the refs seemed to be favoring the Chargers. On several occasions I saw some blatant holding by the Chargers O line that wasn't called.
    I'm not making excuses for the poor tackling by the D, but some of those plays turned out to be difference makers. Let's hope this weeks game is better officiated.
    JUST WIN ONE FOR THE FANS


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