RamView, 8/26/2011: Rams 14, Chiefs 10 (Long)
RamView, August 26, 2011
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Preseason Game #3: Rams 14, Chiefs 10
Taking last week's shortcomings to heart, the Rams beat the Chiefs at their own game, controlling the line of scrimmage, pounding out a 2-TD lead and holding them with run defense, to re-claim the Governor's Cup. Good reversals of some bad trends should have them pointed in the right direction for the regular season.
Position by position:
* QB: Good night for Sam Bradford (9-16-95, 87.2 passer rating), who took advantage of the starting offense's running prowess for two touchdown passes. He kept the opening drive alive with a 3rd-and-19 pass to Brandon Gibson that gained 20, and later in the red zone, a 4-yarder to Danny Amendola that gained 4.0001. With Steven Jackson running amok the rest of the drive, Bradford could take advantage at the goal line with play-action that sprung Mike Sims-Walker wide open in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard TD. Getting the ball out quickly paid off for Bradford the next drive. Off a short drop, he hit Amendola on the sideline for 11 to get the drive moving. In the red zone, after having hit Lance Kendricks to convert a 3rd down, he spied the rookie TE single-covered by a linebacker and went right back to him, cashing in the mismatch with a perfect pass into the corner of the end zone for a 14-0 lead. Bradford's night flattened out from there. Near his own goal line in the 2nd, he threw an interception directly to Derrick Johnson. Greg Salas was open a few yards away. I can't say if Bradford missed Johnson rotating coverage, or saw him and threw a bad ball, or if Salas was supposed to shorten his route instead of continuing upfield. The Rams avoided disaster there, but now on the next drive, Bradford started taking some shots. Johnson hit him from behind to force an incompletion, and two plays later, yes, more Johnson again, sacking Bradford on a dog blitz. Bradford's 13-yard scramble got the Rams across midfield in the final 2:00 of the half, but they couldn't advance from there. Bradford threw well, and was as mobile in the pocket and aware of the pass rush as you like to see from him, with the exception of that Johnson sequence. One worry is that the Chief D was more vanilla than a Tea Party mixer on the drives the Rams scored, and the Rams didn't score once K.C. started coming after them with blitzes. A.J. Feeley (8-13-64, 41.8 PR) played almost the whole second half but spoiled an otherwise good outing with a bad-looking sideline INT with the Rams in scoring range. He did a nice job getting the ball out to beat the blitz but couldn't lead the second team to a score. Thaddeus Lewis (0-2) didn't get much opportunity to repeat last week's success and got hit on one of the two dropbacks he did get to take. Buoyed along by a strong running game and another dose of the Lance Kendricks Experience, the passing game regained its stride from a couple of weeks ago. I hope they're planning to wait until the Philadelphia game to show their best blitzing countermeasures. They're sure going to need them.
* RB: Now THAT is how you warm up Steven Jackson for the regular season. Jackson (15-72) got the ball early and often tonight, and with some determined blocking in front of him this week, the Ram running game churned up yards and clock and the Chief defense. With thanks perhaps to fresh legs, Jackson was more effective than usual bouncing runs outside, including a 24-yarder to start the game. He had a good cutback run right before the Rams' first TD and he got outside more effectively tonight that I think he did in any game last regular season. This kind of running game really opens the field up offensively. Cadillac Williams (12-53) came in late in the first half and continues to have solid games off the bench. He got the Rams off their goal line late in the 1st half with a 15-yard burst behind Jason Smith's block, and he eluded Eric Berry to gain 19 a couple of player later after catching a swing pass. He ground out some nice gains in the 3rd, too, at least 20 yards behind slobberknocking blocks by Ben Giudugli. Jerious Norwood (7-17) didn't find much room behind the third-stringers, though, and Keith Toston wasn't even in the game. The Rams emphatically answered the questions that arose about the running game after last week. The first six plays were all handoffs to Jackson, and the Rams ran for 170 yards on the night. How 'bout them apples?
* Receivers: We got a little more clarity in the WR competition, but some of it's still going to come right down to the wire. Brandon Gibson (1-20) is in because he can make plays like the one he did tonight. 3rd-and-19, he catches a 15-yard pass near the sideline and goes through a tackler to get the first down. That play kept the first TD drive alive. So did Danny Amendola's (2-15) first catch, which converted a 3rd-and-4. His other catch was a downfield route for 11. We're not used to seeing him run those routes much, but defenses are getting caught by surprise a lot when he's not in the slot. Keep an eye on that. He's obviously in; I'd say Mike Sims-Walker (1-6) is, too. He had just the TD catch, but he also run-blocked like a maniac and really sprung a couple of Jackson's runs. Coaches are going to love that when they see it on tape. Donnie Avery (2-26) and Greg Salas (2-17) look like solid bets for the roster; it looked like the Rams were really trying to get them the ball. Avery gained 19 on a skinny post, but also had a drop and had his route jumped on Feeley's INT. Salas still has a lot of rough edges. It looked like he may have run the wrong route a couple of times. Does look like he has a future on those short middle routes Amendola thrives on, though. On the bubble, Mardy Gilyard (3-18) had all his catches in one possession early in the 4th. He also had a drop, though, and didn't get anything extra out of a couple of quick passes. Still tops Danario Alexander, an invisible 1-3, and the catchless Austin Pettis. I thought Alexander would need a lot better night than that; I think he played mostly against Chiefs backups. Lance Kendricks (2-26) had most of the production at TE. He converted a 3rd-and-5 in the red zone and caught Bradford's 2nd TD pass a couple of plays later, beating the LB Kansas City was dumb or outmanned enough to put on him. The kid is clutch, and he is going to be a weapon. Remains to be seen, though, who else will join him in the Rams' arsenal.
* Offensive line: A strong, dominating, encouraging performance by the offensive line. You rarely see Kansas City get it taken to them the way the Rams did tonight. A healthy Rodger Saffold can be a very good thing. Guy was an animal, and one of the stars, of the Rams' first TD drive. He had some mauling blocks for Jackson. He helped spring the 24-yard run, and he tied up two Chiefs on the 8-yard run before the first TD. Jacob Bell was a solid pull-blocker throughout the first half, though he did miss one right before Bradford's interception. Jason Brown was strong up the middle and saved Jackson's big opening run by picking up a Chief who had penetrated the line. Saffold nearly killed the first TD drive with a holding penalty and missed a couple of blocks the second drive. Nick Wagoner believes Jason Smith had an awesome game; I saw him as the weak link of the o-line. I thought he tended to be the reason Jackson had to bounce runs outside. He had a false start, got absolutely whipped by Derrick Johnson to give up the first big hit on Bradford in the 2nd and got overrun on the Chiefs' lone sack two plays later. Jackson picked up the initial blitzer, but no one picked up Johnson's dog blitz. Marshall Faulk called that on TV as a miscommunication between Jackson and Bell. Pass protection was solid other than those plays, helped a lot by the Chiefs staying fairly conservative on defense. Bell, Brown and Harvey Dahl usually gave Bradford a solid pocket to step into, and Saffold and Smith were usually able to escort Chief rushers beyond Bradford's position. I'd give Quinn Ojinnaka an edge for one of the backup spots. He got Cadillac Williams some good blocks in the 2nd half. Drew Miller appeared to miss a block in the 3rd that put Cadillac in reverse, and also was injured on the play. Randall Hunt was beaten cleanly to give up a hit on Lewis. At fullback, Ben Giudugli had an awesome drive in the 3rd, blasting Chiefs left and right to open lanes for Cadillac. But Britt Miller did some solid hitting with the starters. I gotta believe Miller makes the roster, and wish they could stash the physical Giudugli and his awesome name on the practice squad. The offensive line set the tone from the opening snap tonight, and the offense will be in very nice shape if that tone continues into the regular season.
* Defensive line/LB: The Chief offense is struggling mightily this preseason, a trend the Rams were happy to help continue. James Hall buried Matt Cassel for minus-twelve and a sack on their second offensive play. Unbelievably, the Chiefs tried to block both Hall and Chris Long with tight ends on that play. Lotsa luck with that. The Rams should have gotten more sacks than the two they got. Ben Leber blitzed in clean on Cassel in the 1st but blew the tackle. Robert Quinn had Cassel for a sack late in the first half but let him get away. A key sequence came after Bradford's INT, when the Chiefs took over inside the Rams 10 and came away with only 3 points. Justin Bannan drew a hold, and on 3rd down, the LT neglected to block anyone, and Eugene Sims was on Cassel in a flash to force a throwaway. (Sims really looks like DE4 to me. Selvie and Ah You may be fighting for the last spot.) Some sweet coverage plays by the Ram LBs to end the half. Brian Kehl played a drag route to Steve Breaston perfectly and held him to a short gain before blowing up a Thomas Jones run a couple of plays later. James Laurinaitis looked better in coverage than he ever has, nearly picking off a pass for Leonard Pope one play and absolutely blanketing Tony Moeaki on a deep route the next play. The battle for last DT was spirited. Darell Dorell Scott deflected a pass right before halftime and stuffed Jackie Battle on the first play after halftime. On third down the next possession, Gary Gibson split two blockers in manly style and flushed Ricky Stanzi over to Quinn, who battled through a blatant hold to score his first professional sack. Daniel Muir was strong in the middle in the 2nd half and blew up a draw play. On the minus side: pass rush was all-or-nothing. When the Rams pressured, they pressured well, but the Chiefs also had plays with all night to throw. The rest of the LBs were not so strong in coverage. Brady Poppinga was beaten a couple of times in the 3rd, once by future NFL immortal Cody Slate, who also beat Jabara Williams by a mile for a 32-yard TD late in the 3rd. Williams responded by stuffing Battle a couple of different times. He doesn't have to worry about being last LB on the depth chart; that honor belongs, much to my surprise, to Zach Diles, who got just punked a couple of times in giving up longer runs to Battle. The Rams still gave up less than 60 yards rushing, for several reasons. Their offense dominated time of possession in the 1st half. The Chiefs wanted to work on their passing game tonight. 2:1 sure isn't their typical pass:run ratio. And the Rams played the runs the Chiefs did try well. The center of the line held strong all night. The line pursued outside runs well and tackling was solid. Awesome comeback from the Tennessee game. Not much more you could have wanted from the Ram defense tonight.
* Secondary: Rams DBs played well, with some hiccups. Bradley Fletcher continues to play like a shutdown corner. He and Quintin Mikell broke up first-half pass attempts to Dwayne Bowe. Fletcher's play ended the first half for the Chiefs and was textbook blanket coverage. Ron Bartell killed a Chief drive by smothering a pass in the flat for 2 yards on 3rd-and-9. Al Harris made a nice run stop early in the 3rd and later broke up a pass he probably should have intercepted. Mikell and Laurinaitis also had near-picks. Tim Atchison got burned deep a couple of times, without having to pay for it. One was on an overthrown deep ball; the other was called back due to holding. Jeremy McGee got burned deep on another overthrow. The secondary scrubs nearly blew the game at the end. Somebody named Jeremy Horne got behind Jermale Hines for 29 down to the Ram 20; the next play, he beat Tae Evans and broke his bad tackle to get down to the 3. Verran Tucker then dropped a TD pass, and KC settled for a FG attempt that would be blocked. The DB who had the worst night had to be Dionte Dinkins, who got his leg pinned beneath him at a bad angle on a running play and had to be carted off of the sidelines. Even though the Chiefs went to the air a lot tonight, but the Rams tended to have a pretty good answer.
* Special teams: Some intrigue tonight on special teams. Robert Quinn knifed through the line and blocked a FG attempt late in the game. But he's got the roster made. Meanwhile, don't rule out the seventh WR spot going to Dominique Curry. He was inches away from blocking punts twice tonight, and he did block one last season. Meanwhile, usually steady special teamer Chris Chamberlain blew a couple of tackles. Sims really lit up the returner on one punt, and he's showed up on special teams whenever he's been out there. Plays like these very much affect where the team keeps extra players at a position. I wish I was more sold on Mardy Gilyard. Love his effort, but he hasn't looked all that dangerous a return threat. Amendola looked a lot more dangerous on punts last year. Josh Brown killed the Chief return game by mashing his kickoffs out the back of the end zone, and Donnie Jones averaged 48.6 a punt, with a couple of near-60-yarders.
* Coaching/discipline: You get the feeling Steve Spagnuolo had a hand in the offensive game plan tonight, though Josh McDaniels should certainly agree with the sentiment that the Rams needed to go out and hit the opponent in the mouth, which is what they did. Controlling the line of scrimmage and dominating the game on the ground should have the offensive line back off their heels and in the right frame of mind for the regular season. Following this philosophy, Pat Shurmur would have run Jackson up the middle 9 out of 10 times and called a wide assortment of 4-yard passes. The game plan tonight sent Jackson up the middle a majority of the time, yes, but also mixed in some designed outside runs. And though they didn't do anything deep, the Rams did keep a good intermediate passing game going, which likely kept the Chiefs from crowding the line of scrimmage like every Rams opponent did last year. The big question now is how well the passing game will adjust to blitzing – I'm not sold there just yet.
The Rams blitzed early and pretty often, but the Chiefs never really made them pay for it. Blitzing really unsettled their offensive line, which did a lot of holding and got confused a number of times. Cassel hit McCluster with a screen for 10 when the Rams blitzed big on 3rd-and-2, the only time I recall the blitz going bad on them. Screen passes are about all that's beaten Ram blitzes this preseason. Will be a great season if that holds.
* Waiver bait: The Rams have to make 9 moves to get the roster down to 80 by Tuesday. It's probably time to put Jerome Murphy on injured reserve. Jermelle Cudjo's missed most of camp with a back injury, and though I liked him last year, he's sixth at best on the depth chart now anyway. WRs Joe West , Greg Mathews and Jared Jenkins are getting no playing time and have 6-7 guys fighting for spots in front of them. More-recent camp arrivals, like OL Cody Habben, RB Chase Reynolds or TE Demarco Cosby, are likely vulnerable. I'll go with RB Van Stumon as the 9th move and assume Keith Toston, who didn't play tonight that I saw, will get a majority of carries in Jacksonville.
* Upon further review: Jerome Boger's crew didn't look bad but could have been better. They called holding when it was blatant but could have called a lot more than they did. I was afraid for a moment (like Marshall) that Boger missed Cassel trying to call back-to-back timeouts late in the 2nd, but he caught it. They called a fumble on Battle in the 2nd half but his knee was down and Todd Haley challenged the call successfully. Sounds like about a C to me.
* Cheers: Oh, the joys of local TV coverage. We missed 12 minutes of the game and the Kendricks TD due to some kind of power issue at Arrowhead Stadium that knocked out the TV broadcast, and the only audio from the game was the P.A. announcer for some minutes after it came back on. That was a shame because that was time we didn't get to listen to Marshall Faulk, who has turned into a heck of an analyst. At least a half dozen times tonight he had detailed explanations for plays you could never pick up on your own, and he explained how Fletcher covered Bowe without interfering on the late-1st-half pass breakup perfectly. Best explanation of a PI ruling I've ever heard. Andrew Siciliano's not as refined at play-by-play as I thought he'd be. Mistook Saffold for Smith, off a yard on a lot of spots, lots of little annoyances like that. Keeps things entertaining, though. Orlando Pace had the funniest moment of the night when he answered “Nooooo!” after Siciliano asked if he watched Glee. They interviewed Jackson on the sideline, though, without asking him the most important question of the night: where did his dreadlocks go?
* Who’s next?: If nothing else Thursday night, it'll be a good night for Mizzou fans. Danario Alexander should be on the field a lot with the Ram offense (he certainly needs to be) in Jacksonville; Blaine Gabbert should see a lot of action when the Jagwire offense is on the field. Besides the waning stages of the WR roster battle, the competition between Gibson and Scott at DT has gotten very good, and there's still some sorting out to do at LB. I don't think Brian Kehl should give up on the starting Will job yet. Backup roles still need to be settled at DE, though I think Sims has a leg up now on Ah You and Selvie. The Rams' response this week to last week's problem areas was so emphatically positive that they're in a place this franchise hasn't been for years: playing the fourth preseason game without many significant position battles left to decide. Let's enjoy the lull in intensity while we can get it, before the regular season comes full force.
Game stats from nfl.com