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RamView, 8/25/2012: Cowboys 20, Rams 19 (Long)
RamView, August 25, 2012
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Preseason Game #3: Cowboys 20, Rams 19
A game the Rams actually should have won, but never deserved to, as the all-or-nothing starters returned to the dark side. The defense was dreadful against an offense missing all its starting receivers; the offense struggled against a defense missing its best player. 2012's shaping up to be a real roller-coaster ride.
Position by position:
* QB: Pretty awful game for Sam Bradford (6-17-64, passer rating 47.2), who will need a lot better help than he got tonight. His line did not protect him well, getting him sacked twice and forcing him to rush many other throws. His receivers were not enough help, not coming up with the tough catch when it was needed. He got no help from the running game or too much of the game plan being telegraphed to Dallas by what RB was on the field. Bradford also didn't help himself enough, failing to identify a blitz that sacked him in the 2nd, and taking a big hit the next drive holding the ball too long, feet rooted to the ground, staring down a receiver on the right side while missing Matthew Mulligan all alone on the left wing. Whether or not it's by design, Bradford's going to need to move a lot more this season, in and out of the pocket, than he did in this game. Couple of good nuggets for Bradford: perfect 26-yard corner route to Lance Kendricks in the 1st, and he had three good TD chances inside the 10 in the 2nd but none of his intended receivers could make difficult catches. But so far this preseason, he's only been as good as his protection. Kellen Clemens (6-9-68, PR 126.2) came in after halftime and had better numbers, but paid for them. A nice pump fake set up a 39-yard completion to Brian Quick; that in turn sparked a TD drive that ended in the 4th with a 2-yard TD to Austin Pettis. Clemens' fun ended the next series, though, when Adrian Hamilton hit him like a truck to force a sack/fumble, then drove over his head much like a truck while going after the loose ball. That wasn't the only time Clemens was sacked; he looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights in the face of a safety blitz his first series in. Austin Davis (4-5-53, 110.8 PR) mopped up, and as he's been doing all summer, cleaned up. His mobility shows as soon as he takes the field, and was a large reason for the Rams' 2nd TD. He had a 5-yard scramble, worked perfectly with Chase Reynolds to pull off a 22-yard pass while on the move, and rolled out and speared Corey Harkey on the sideline for 12 to get the Rams in the red zone. There's a push underway in Rams Nation to make Davis QB2 and cut Clemens, who he's legitimately outplayed at times. I'm not ready to go that far, but the rookie has shown the athletic ability and mental makeup to be a quarterback who can succeed in this league.
* RB: Steven Jackson was only in the game to pass-protect for Bradford in the early going, which again made it pretty easy for the opponent to key on Isaiah Pead being on the field for running plays, and Pead was a suitably-bad 9-22, not getting a lot of room to run. When the Rams finally did trust Pead to blitz-protect for Bradford starting in the 2nd, he did a decent job. He had a nice sequence in the 4th, 3 red zone runs for 14 behind Todd Anderson's stiff lead-blocking to set up Clemens' TD pass. Pead's main problem is that most see Darryl Richardson (10-51) as the better back by now. The two split carries with the first and second strings. D-Rich is quicker to the hole than Pead and plays with his feet under him. If Pead falls down one more time trying to put a move on someone like he did again tonight, I'm going to scream. Pead looks like he's trying to rush everything. He missed a big-play opportunity bobbling a pass while wide open in the 4th, only getting 4 yards out of the play. D-Rich, meanwhile, has been a more patient runner, uses his blocks a LOT better, and makes the most out of plays where Pead seems to go down for little gain. A run in the 2nd only gained 4, but stood out because of how perfectly D-Rich set up and used Brian Mattison's block. He had the long run by a Rams RB in the 4th, a 15-yard draw behind good blocks by Mike McNeill and Jason Smith. A few plays later, Pead takes a screen, gets a great outside block from Rokevious Watkins, and then cuts the wrong way and runs right into a tackle instead of cashing in on what should have been a big gain. Richardson looks easily like the more instinctive runner; if he weren't so rough around the edges as a receiver, he'd probably already have the #2 job. Which is great for him, but he's not the guy the Rams spent a 2nd-round pick on. Chase Reynolds (4-19) did good work in garbage time, including a 22-yard playground-like play where he did a nice job staying open and communicating with under-pressure Davis. But the big story from tonight is that 7th-round pick Richardson has to have at least pulled even with 2nd-round pick Pead at RB2.
* Receivers: Hard to reach conclusions about the receiving corps when 14 players have catches but none more than 2. Mike Hoomanawanui (2-23) is in fact alive, and made a nice play on a tough low Clemens pass to keep the first TD drive alive on 3rd-and-9. Mike McNeill (1-5) caught a bullet from Bradford on 2nd-and-goal in the 2nd, and was the primary on 3rd-and-goal, but Bradford really would have had to force him one. That goal line sequence wasn't a great one for the receivers. Austin Pettis (1-2) failed on an over-the-head back-shoulder catch on 1st down; D-Rich couldn't corral a pass in very tight quarters on 2nd. Both tough, but makeable, catches. Steve Smith (1-7) had a TD staring him in the face on 4th-and-goal, but Morris Claiborne got lucky and accidentally tripped him up to make the save. Brian Quick (1-39) and Lance Kendricks (1-26) both had big catches and also both got drilled because their QBs threw them passes that led them right into big hits. Quick got his wind knocked out by Manny Silva but made it back into the game. Brandon Gibson (1-13) opened the game with a 13-yard slant but didn't play long. Wish I could say where Chris Givens (0-0) has been since the first week, besides milk cartons, that is. So far in games, dropped passes have not been a big issue for Rams receivers. The bar's been set higher now. This group needs to get better getting open and needs to help Bradford and the line out by making tougher catches.
* Offensive line: With Harvey Dahl a late injury scratch and Scott Wells getting his first live action as a Ram at center, the o-line was pretty makeshift, and it showed. Bradford didn't even survive the first series without getting sacked after Jason Hatcher whipped Quinn Ojinnaka with a spin move. I still don't know how he's ahead of Brian Mattison, who replaced Dahl at RG tonight. Second drive was just as bad. Barry Richardson got whipped on first down but lucked out when his man slipped. B-Rich made up for it the next play with a false start. Ojinnaka didn't perform his half of an X-block to get Pead stuffed, and Jay Ratliff blew Wells up off the snap to stuff Pead again the next play. The line really let Bradford get pummeled in the 2nd. B-Rich didn't do his part with Dallas blitzing LBs off both edges and let Sean Lee sack Bradford in the 2nd. (Pead picked the blitz up fine on the blind side.) Bradford got clobbered again the next drive, holding the ball a little too long, while Rodger Saffold went to the ground failing to keep Baraka Atkins blocked. B-Rich got whipped again right after the punt fake, but the line settled down enough after that to help get close to the goal line. Saffold hasn't been bad this preseason and quietly has bounced back some from last year's setbacks. It should still be a horse race at RT, though, with Jason Smith run-blocking well and playing mostly well in the 2nd half. He did get beaten for a big hit on Clemens when Victor Butler whipped him with a spin move, though again, jumping well offsides didn't hurt Butler's cause any. Rok Watkins had a very good 2nd half with quite a few good blocks, including on Reynolds' TD run, which also saw a nice block by DeAngelo Peterson. Jose Valdez had an excellent drive run- and pass-blocking as the Rams got their first TD. It was eye-opening to finally get to see Todd Anderson play on that drive; the rookie fullback was a blocking machine leading Pead on several red zone carries. Joe Long, though, spoiled the second half for the scrubs by getting beaten badly by Adrian Hamilton off the snap, giving up the huge hit that knocked Clemens out of the game. So there's good news from this game, but the bad news is the poor job the starters did protecting Bradford, getting him sacked twice and hit several more times. Barry Richardson is a complete soft spot at RT, Ojinnaka makes too many mistakes at LG, and Wells is going to take some time getting up to speed. Hopefully Bradford and the Rams can afford to wait. But not long.
* Defensive line/LB: An uneven game by the front seven was drowned out by woeful play in the secondary, but there were noticeable lapses up front. Demarco Murray pretty much picked up where he left off last year, stiffarming Robert Quinn to the ground like a little, um, girl on his first carry. The Rams were again inadequate on 3rd down, no more than on 3rd-and-10 on the opening drive, when Murray took a swing pass, made a move and got Rocky McIntosh and James Laurinaitis to run into each other like complete idiots while scoring an 11-yard gain. The front four got pressure on the QB. Kendall Langford hurried him a few times. Quinn was a real menace pass-rushing, beating Tyron Smith or the TE unlucky enough to have to block him pretty much every play to force Romo to hurry up short throws. Any competent zone defense behind that at all and you'd have a defense that would shut opponents out. The Rams do pay a price for Quinn's constant pressure. He bit very hard on a fake handoff in the first and got burned by Murray for 17 on a 90-flip. He'll look like a lightweight at times in run defense. He also looks on track for 16 sacks this season, steaming in untouched to drop Kyle Orton before halftime, and also swatted down a screen pass. Could be worth the price. Langford and Michael Brockers really came to play early, and Quinn played like his hair was on fire. Jo-Lonn Dunbar stormed in untouched and wiped out Orton with a sack/fumble that gave the Rams the ball. That was a rare successful blitz, though, and with brutal secondary play behind them, the work of the front seven did not stand up. And they gave up 5.5 per carry to Murray and Felix Jones as it was. Getting suckered in was a theme of the night. Brockers got in too deep on a 12-yard jones draw before halftime. Scott Smith got suckered inside repeatedly and allowed rushes and QB scrambles that went through the spot he should have been. Five seconds into your rush, Scott, don't start trying spin moves. Stephen McGee scrambled for a first on 3rd-and-10 with Smith still playing Thursday's dizzy bat race. In the second half, the Ram pass rush died on the vine. There was no penetration and McGee got all night to read the field. William Hayes looked like as bad a pass rusher as there is in the NFL. Smith's game comes completely under question because of his constant loss of containment. At least Quinn gets to the QB. Excellent play late by Cornell Banks to stuff a couple of runs, and Josh Hull played a manly game and was easily the best hitter in blue tonight. Vernon Gholston got in the game, but only for the last series. Pretty much a repeat of the Colts game up front. The Ram defense needs to tighten up against the run, but they can provide enough pass pressure to win games if there's any decent pass defense behind them at all.
* Secondary: Which there wasn't, as Tony Romo fricasseed the Ram defense for 198 yards in a single quarter of work, and did it with his three top receivers out with injuries. Janoris Jenkins had what had better be the worst game of his career, because it's impossible to imagine much worse. Someone named Kevin Ogletree faked the snot out of him so badly in the first he tripped over his own feet and gave up a 25-yard completion. That came right after soft zone coverage predictably left a tight end, John Phillips, wide open on 3rd-and-9. But that's just the appetizer. Next drive, somebody named Dwayne Harris burned the Rams secondary for a 61-yard TD, as Jenkins blew his zone assignment and left Laurinaitis desperately trying to cover the deep receiver. It wasn't even funny any more by the third drive. Jenkins blows a tackle on Ogletree and gives up 16 on 2nd-and-6. Somebody named Cole Beasley whips the bejesus out of Quintin Mikell for 19. With repeated blitzes repeatedly failing, here comes the punch line: Craig Dahl's a million miles away when Cortland Finnegan passes off somebody named Harris to him, so Harris is open by TEN YARDS on a drag route from the Ram 38. Then, when he gets to the sideline, he simply runs between Dahl and Jenkins, with Dahl whiffing the tackle and Jenkins failing to as much as square up on him. TD, 17-3 Dallas. Tackling was pathetic in the secondary. Finnegan pussed out on a tackle on Beasley in the 2nd and turned a 2-yard play into a 12-yard play. Trumaine Johnson came in and promptly started blowing tackles and getting beaten by future Hall-of-Famer Harris for 20 on 2nd-and-17. He got beat for 46 yards just in the last 2:00 of the half. More poor tackling by Finnegan let Ogletree in close for Dallas' referee-assisted FG to end the half. James Hanna promptly beat TruJo for 26 on Dallas' first play of the 2nd half, and it looked like they were going to walk up and down the field all night before thank God Quinton Pointer stopped Stephen McGee short on a 3rd-down scramble. The only real bright spots were 2nd-half pass defenses by Rodney McLeod and Kendric Burney. McLeod jacked up a TE to prevent a long 3rd-down conversion. Sign that man up. I hope the rest of the secondary had a great freaking party Friday night, because they sure played like they were hung over tonight. Play this pathetic is not only a guaranteed loss in the regular season, it should be banned from public view.
* Special teams: There's a case to be made that the Rams' two best players tonight were their rookie kickers. Greg Zuerlein hit 52- and 55-yard bombs for the Rams' first scores. Amd the snap was bad on the 52-yarder. Johnny Hekker punted very respectably, almost 50 yards a punt with a long of 62. 50 yards was about his net, too. Brit Miller was a freaking stud on special teams. He stuffed one punt return for a loss after three Rams missed tackles, as if to say, This is how you do it. Pead had a good night returning kicks, thanks a lot to Miller. He had a 33-yarder late in the 2nd off a Miller pancake block, and a 47-yarder before that. Jerome Murphy held strong to get him the corner, then downfield, Miller wiped out one Cowboy and pancaked another who ran into his back at full speed. Yes, Brit Miller pancaked a guy he didn't even see. Looked like the Hulk on that return. And, of course, Jeff Fisher pulled off the annual Jeff Fisher preseason punt fake, a direct snap that Matt Daniels ran away with for 31 yards in the 2nd to keep a FG drive alive. I was going to be ticked off if Fisher didn't keep that tradition alive with the Rams. McLeod, Aaron Brown and Noah Keller all made very good tackles on kickoff returns. The only negatives on special teams were Garrett Lindholm biffing an extra point (cut him twice for that) and Danny Amendola's bad decision to return a punt in the 2nd that he would have fumbled away if not for Justin Cole.
* Coaching/discipline: The Rams were a lot less vanilla on defense but might want to re-think how they're adding flavor. One ineffective blitz after another, with Mikell seeming to do most of the blitzing, certainly didn't help coverage downfield. I don't know why the Rams don't play a lot more man than they do. They seem to have ample talent for it. All their zone defenses seem to do is leave tight ends wide open or get burned for 60-yard TDs by nobodies. I hate to hear Jeff Fisher admitting the secondary's having communications problems with the regular season just two weeks away. You'd hope that kind of thing wouldn't be a big problem by the time we get to this game, but it is.
The Rams hit on a couple of deep passes this week but haven't tried anything like the fly routes Chris Givens ran repeatedly against the Colts for two weeks now. Is that play just back in the holster, or are they conceding it because they can't protect Bradford long enough? If the latter, the Rams are going to end up suffocated in the fish bowl like they were in Seattle at the end of '10. The TD attempt to Steve Smith was a well-drawn-up play that ought to work in the regular season. Smith was wide trips left, the two slot receivers turned in at the goal line, and he ran a dig route and popped up open in the back of the end zone behind them. Brian Schottenheimer is so far doing a much better job than his previous three or four predecessors of finding ways to get receivers open in the end zone.
* Waiver bait: The Rams will have to cut 15 players to get to the roster limit of 75 by 3:00 Monday. With my only goal being not to pick anyone who winds up making the 53-man roster, here's 15 guesses: 1-Tom Brandstater; 2 Nick Schwieger; 3 sigh Ben Guidugli; 4 Charles Gilbert; 5 Brandyn Harvey; 6 Ryan McKee; 7 T-Bob Hebert; 8 Brody Eldridge (I don't see any point waiting till week 5); 9 Darell Dorell Scott (wasn't beating out Cudjo anyway before he got injured); 10 Jamaar Jarrett; 11 John Gill; 12 Noah Keller; 13 Quinton Pointer; 14 Garrett Lindholm; 15 Travis Tripucka. Some kind of move involving Trevor Laws also could easily be in the works.
* Upon further review: The NFL needs to settle its problem with its regular referees quickly, because with the replacement referees, things are getting downright dangerous. Players are getting held left and right. Receivers are getting hit high while in vulnerable positions (see: hit on Kendricks late in 1st). McLeod was pretty close to committing a trip making a big tackle on a kickoff, and Watkins got away with a pretty blatant trip or leg whip on D-Rich's longest run. The refs are letting too much go, the players know it, so they're pulling worse and worse stuff. It's going to get somebody hurt. Tonight's officiating crew, led by Donovan Briggins, was terrible even without all that going on. With lady zebra Shannon Eastin making history at line judge, her counterpart at head linesman made history by possibly being the worst head linesman to ever work a game. How many times did Dallas jump offsides without a call? Three for sure, all on his side. Then there was the buffoonery at the end of the half. The Cowboys try to spike to stop the clock, but botch the snap for a clear fumble, clearly recovered by a hustling Michael Brockers. Briggins, Eastin, the head linesman and the umpire should all have their eyes right on this play. Furthermore, the head linesman would have to be incompetent not to see that Dallas is also in an illegal formation right in front of him the LT wasn't covered up. And, it's the last 2:00, the replay official should have a good look at this hot mess, too, especially after Jeff Fisher calls timeout after all the striped fools on the field count the play as a spike, stop the clock and return the ball to Dallas. But no. No one is even buzzed for a review. Dallas goes on to kick a FG in a game they would win by a point. Impossibly, the referees were even more staggeringly incompetent tonight than the Rams' secondary. F-minus. Minus. Minus. Holy cats.
* Cheers: If Marshall Faulk, Andrew Siciliano and Ross Tucker don't have anything else to do, I'd like every game this season announced like this one. Thanks. Faulk should give courses on how to break down plays, and his eye for detail on plays like the high hit on Kendricks or the uncovered tackle on the blown spike play are a huge service to the TV audience. The crew was unafraid to criticize players, and definitely not afraid to criticize the officiating. They were also not reluctant at all to weigh in on position battles that haven't been discussed much like Davis/Clemens and Richardson/Pead. No punches pulled here; highly informative, entertaining broadcast. To solve a mystery from a couple of weeks ago, the not-equals sign frequently on screen is the logo of sponsor Unequal Technologies, which makes a shell that can be added to helmets to reduce concussion risk. They make helmets, pads and body armor.
* Whos next?: The Rams close postseason with a Thursday-evening game against the Ravens, and the first-string offense and defense better look a whole lot better than they did tonight, because they'll see very little if any of Baltimore's first-stringers. Unlike most, Jeff Fisher prefers to play his starters well into the final preseason game, and to be honest, the Rams look like they can use the work. Everyone not wearing #39 could pretty well stand to pick up their game. Protection for Bradford has got to get better, and with jobs on the line, the receivers have to play better for him, and for themselves. And if the defense doesn't get its act back together, 2012 promises to be a brutal season. The secondary has got to get its coverages figured out, the front seven has to play a lot stronger against the run, and somebody from the bench has to show some ability to rush the passer. And from starting safety to backup running back, Fisher and staff still have a lot of blanks on the depth chart to fill in.
RamView will have a lot of blanks to fill in after the preseason finale as well, and Thursday night games do not work very well with my schedule. Next game's report will probably be out Friday night or Saturday morning. Let's hope there's a lot better to report on then.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 8/25/2012: Cowboys 20, Rams 19 (Long)Barry Richardson is a complete soft spot at RT, Ojinnaka makes too many mistakes at LG,
Wish I could say where Chris Givens (0-0) has been since the first week, besides milk cartons
Re: RamView, 8/25/2012: Cowboys 20, Rams 19 (Long)
Rambos, good observation on Givens, thanks. Guess I took last night's 0-0 too much to heart.
Re: RamView, 8/25/2012: Cowboys 20, Rams 19 (Long)
Clemons is underrated, but it's hard not to get excited about Austin Davis. Let's not through him out with the bathwater too.
And how about McCleod?Dreading the hype.
Re: RamView, 8/25/2012: Cowboys 20, Rams 19 (Long)
Great stuff as usual Mike.
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