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RamView, 8/29/2005: Rams 37, Lions 13 (Long)
RamView, August 29, 2005
From The Couch
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Preseason Game #3: Rams 37, Lions 13
After looking thoroughly beatable last week, the Rams looked unbeatable in tonightís regular season dress rehearsal, whipping a promising Detroit team. The Rams were sharp on both sides of the ball and are exactly where they want to be for the regular season, if not ahead.
Position by position:
* QB: The Ram offense partied like it was 1999, driving quickly for TDs on the teamís first two drives and never looking back. Now thatís how you open up a game. Marc Bulger (11-14-167) polished off a Steven-Jackson-powered opening drive by accepting a gift 7-yard TD run from a Lion defense that lined up as if to allow Marc a free run at the end zone. The Rams didnít encounter a 3rd down the next drive, but Bulger converted two second downs, including a pretty touch pass to Brandon Manumaleuna for 27, en route to a Jackson TD, making it 14-0. Marc hit a dry spell after that. After a sack, he threw a terrible, what-the-hell-was-that? pass Isaac Bruce couldn't have caught if he was Plasticman, and Kenoy Kennedy got the INT. After the resurgent Ram defense minimized that mistake, Bulger fought through a hand injury inflicted by Shaun Cody on an almost-late hit and struck Bruce perfectly for a 31-yard TD just before the end of the half. Though he held the ball for about half an hour and got sacked on the Ramsí final play of the half, Bulgerís numbers and the teamís results show he is ready for real games. The football appears to have helium in it when Jamie Martin (6-8-94) throws, but he looked very sharp again, getting the ball out quickly and decisively and throwing more accurately than I remember him throwing before. Super pocket presence, too: on his TD pass to Madison Hedgecock, he threw maybe half a second before getting walloped by a rusher. This is the best Martin has looked in any of his many stints as a Ram backup. Ryan Fitzpatrick (2-3-25) finished the game and continues to show very good pocket presence and accuracy. Things donít look so good for Jeff Smoker after a DNP tonight.
* RB: Salivate away, Rams fans, because the rest of the NFL does not look ready for what Steven Jackson (14-108) is about to hit it with. Once again, Stevenís evening featured a long breakaway run, and he didnít mess around tonight, blasting off for 64 on the Ramsí first play from scrimmage. He cut inside Tom Nuttenís key block at the line, easily broke the weak tackle of a late-arriving safety and capitalized on some nice downfield blocking by Bruce. The league is not ready for Stevenís downfield speed. This run was the second time this preseason heís nearly outrun the entire secondary on a long run. Theyíre just not expecting that kind of speed out of him. He continued to show the entire package of skills with a graceful catch of a 12-yard pass well behind him the next possession, and he helped advance the drive after that by bouncing an inside run outside for 10. Jackson is emerging as a big-play threat every time he touches the ball. Worry, NFL defensive coordinators, worry. Marshall Faulk (3-22) added a couple of runs to set up the Jackson TD run that made it 14-0. Dusty McGrorty (9-22) made it into the game before Aveion Cason, after Arlen Harris got racked up by a 4th-quarter bodyslam. Iím sure Dustyís a good kid, but heís no tailback. Heís a hard, straight-ahead runner who wonít outrun anybody. Might be better suited bulking up into a fullback.
* WR: Isaac Bruce had the biggest night receiving, with 5-85 and a TD. The TD was a simple 31-yard post pattern, but Isaacís speed and cutting ability, even at the age of 33, are too good to allow a safety even a moment of confusion. When the Detroit safety went ďHuh?Ē, Isaac went ďZoom.Ē Isaac brought back disturbing flashbacks of last year, though, in getting stripped by Dre Bly for a turnover in the 3rd. Ike is apparently never going to fix that problem. Shaun McDonald had four catches and Kevin Curtis had one, a 27-yard ďbombĒ from Martin. The TEs got a lot of looks, as they often do in preseason. Brandon Manumaleuna (2-55) broke wide open for 27 on the 2nd TD drive, and set up the Ramsí last TD with a 28-yard screen pass. Manuís got some problems as a receiver, though. He let a perfect Bulger bomb soap through his not-outstretched hands in the 2nd. That was a really soft play, and Manu also seemed to shirk contact on his screen pass later. Dude, youíre 280-plus, punish those little guys instead of playing like the biggest finesse player in NFL history! Sigh. Madison Hedgecock got some work at TE and scored the Ramsí last TD. The rookie didnít look afraid of contact there, and he made a nice play once inside the 5 to jump and extend the ball over the plane of the end zone. Welcome to the big time.
* Offensive line: Going "back to the future" with Tom Nutten starting at LG proved an inspired choice, because the man was an ANIMAL tonight. He pulled and stuck a Lion for the key block on Jacksonís 64-yard run. He and Manu delivered key, crunching blocks on two Jackson runs on the next TD drive. He and Rex Tucker helped create a huge hole for Faulkís 11-yard run that set up Jacksonís TD run. Nutten was everywhere! Pass protection was superb almost all night. Bulger had a lot of time on many plays. On the second sack, right before halftime, though, Marc apparently thought he had time to order takeout. That sackís his fault. TV blamed the first sack on Rex Tucker, but Orlando Paceís man got to Bulger first, which flushed him into Tuckerís man just as Rex lost him. Rex had a good game, so you know it had to be a good night. Pass protection was solid over on his side and he pancaked a Lion to get Jackson 7 and a first down a couple of plays before Ikeís TD. Alex Barron looked fine in the second half. Certainly youíd believe Martz would go to him first at RT if Tucker falters. It was a lousy night, though, for Jerome Collins, who committed two holding penalties and dropped an easy third-down pass from Martin to force a FG in the 3rd.
* Defensive line/LB: Seems like itís been several years since the Ram defense looked as good as it did tonight. They immediately set the tone by stopping Detroitís first drive 3-and-out, with good 3rd-down rush by Leonard Little and starter Brandon Green forcing an incompletion. The Lions crossed midfield the next drive, with Adam Archuleta both blowing a backfield tackle of Kevin Jones to allow 12 and getting beat by TE Marcus Pollard on a 3rd down, but the Rams slammed the door shut with back-to-back sacks of Joey Harrington. Chris Claiborneís 2nd-down sack was awesome, wrapping up the QB after knocking big RB Jones on his can. On 3rd down, Larry Marmie overloaded the left side and called a big blitz, with Tyoka Jackson coming through with the sack. Little finished off a super 1st quarter, where he pressured the QB nearly every play, by flushing Harrington into Anthony Hargrove for a sack on the next drive. More clutch defense in the 2nd quarter. The defense held Detroit to a FG after Bulgerís INT, as a 3rd-down blitz and a big hit by Michael Stone force Harrington to rush an incomplete pass. Hargrove put a Dwight Freeney-like rush on Harrington the next drive but had his sack/fumble overruled by idiocy. The defensive starters finished off the night with a superb stand after Bruceís fumble. On 4th-and-1 from the Ram 16, Detroit went for it with a handoff to fullback Shawn Bryson, who was stuffed emphatically by Claiborne and Little, encouraging Lions fans to make it an early night. The defensive line was night-and-day from their recent play. Jimmy Kennedy was dominant in the middle all night, and Little, Green and Hargrove spent a good portion of the night in the Detroit backfield. Green continues to look like a found gem, beating his blocker with a variety of moves, and duplicating Hargroveís QB chop/sack/fumble in the second half, but this time getting the call from the refs. Trev Faulk may not be starting material, but he looks super coming off the bench. Call him first-string-and-a-half. He is always around the ball, whether on defense or on special teams. He was in on most of the special teams tackles, or drawing key penalties, and heís going to be a big contributor there.
* Secondary: The Rams held Detroit under 200 yards passing, but there were flaws. Travis Fisher knocked down a pass early, but same old story, blew an interception on a bobbled pass. He also never found the ball getting beat by Roy Williams for 22 in the 2nd. Adam Archuleta is still a question mark, though his TE coverage seemed to improve as the game went on. O.J. Atogwe didnít have a strong game. He blew a sack on a blitz in the 2nd and looked awful on a long but called-back punt return late in the game. Kevin Garrett got burned by Mike Williams in the 4th on a dumb pickoff attempt, and his blown tackle late in the game helped set up Detroitís only TD. Mike Furrey did his best to prevent it with a big open field tackle inside the 5 with under 2:00, but TE Jason Randall barreled through Faulk and Stone for the TD the next play.
* Special teams: Special teams play has been dropping off week-to-week, which is not a good trend at all. The Rams took some hits on STs. Jeff Wilkins got run into on a PAT attempt by Torryís little brother, but weathered that and hit 3 chippie FGs. Terry Fair received a nasty-looking injury on defense (bruised spinal cord / neck sprain), which took him out of the returner picture. Which is now very bleak. Arlen Harris returned kickoffs but didnít do any better at it than last year. Shaun McDonald started the game as the punt returner, and God knows why, because he STILL RUNS BACKWARD AFTER EVERY @#%^!!! CATCH. He clearly does not understand how that position is played and apparently has not been coached well enough to play it correctly. But he zipped off with a 44-yard return early in the 4th the one time he actually ran upfield after the catch, and probably wonít lose the job now, even though thatís the last time heíll return a punt correctly this season. ARGH! Though most of Remy Hamiltonís kickoffs were very good, kick coverage wasnít till the end of the game. Reggie Hodges had the Ramsí only punt, with 3:30 left. It wasnít very good (39 yards) and came back a long way before it got called back for an illegal block. Didnít help that Chris Massey took a bad angle and Atogwe got caught flatfooted, though he chased the returner down from behind. We should be at the point where Bob Ligashesky knows for certain who heíll have to play teams, and itís on him to get this tightened up. Teams looked too close to last yearís tonight.
* Coaching/discipline: Iím not sure how long it's been since I've seen a Rams team this ready for a game. Kudos to the Ram coaching staff from top to bottom. They needed to play strong right from the start, and they delivered: 14-0, 167 yards of offense after one quarter. Martzís offensive line moves to start Nutten and have faith in Tucker paid off. The line looked very solid. That helped keep the Lion rush off Bulger, and Martz helped keep the Lion blitz off Bulger with successful draw plays. Bulgerís TD draw was likely a checkoff at the line, but Martz went there again in the red zone the next drive, drawing Faulk for 8 against a blitz. The draw play hasnít worked well in the Rams offense recently, but it looked deadly tonight. Fast and furious didn't apply to only the offensive side of the ball, as Larry Marmie blitzed seemingly every play. Like the Chicago game, the Rams were deflecting passes, getting after the QB, making big run stuffs - it's just a whole other mentality. Aggressive play calling begets aggressive play. The Ram defense wins games with aggressive defense (Chicago, Detroit) and loses games with fraidy-cat defense (San Diego, most of 2004). Marmie was creative and aggressive tonight, a nice foil to Martzís creative, aggressive offense.
* Waiver bait: Sundayís roster on stlouisrams.com listed 81 players, but that included injured Jerametrius Butler and unsigned Richie Incognito, so my assumption is that 14 players will have to be voted off Rams Island to get down to 65. The projections: RB Dusty McGrorty; WRs Dominique Thompson & Michael Coleman; TE Erik Jensen; T Matt Morgan; G Zach Bray; C Toby Cecil; T/G Darnell Alford; DE Clifford Dukes; LBs Louis Ayeni & Drew Wahlroos (goo goo goo-joob); CB Duvol Thompson; K Remy Hamilton, and the toughest call, WR Brandon Middleton. Al Michaels seemed to have inside knowledge that P Reggie Hodges and Fitzpatrick are ďinĒ, so Bryan Barker and Jeff Smoker will also sweat it out today.
* Upon further review: Ed Hochuli is supposed to head one of the leagueís best crews, but they were crap tonight. There should have been at least a five-yard penalty when Holtís little brother ran into Wilkins. Offsides doesnít give the defender a free run. Hargroveís play in the second should have been a fumble. Replay after replay showed him hitting Harringtonís hand with his shoulder pad and jarring the ball loose. Is the tuck rule in effect when the defensive player makes the QBís arm move forward? When Greenís similar play was reviewed in the 2nd half, though, Hochuli turned stupid, awarding the ball to Ė Seattle. At least when he called the Rams ďLos AngelesĒ in Busch Stadium in 1995, he was thinking of the right franchise. When Harris got knocked out of the game in the 2nd half, there should have been a roughing call. He was thrown violently to the ground after his progress was clearly stopped. The late hit call on Pace was certainly proper, but in the 4th, Cason was thrown down just as far out of bounds without a penalty. And the interference penalty on Bartell that set up Detroitís only TD was ridiculous. He didnít do anything. Making that touch call while ignoring all those plays that could easily have resulted in injuries earns Hochuli an F.
* Cheers: The game was nearly four hours long, thanks to Fairís injury, a SkyCam malfunction and 23 (accepted) penalties for 230 yards. Criminy. ABC did a good job keeping viewers up to date on Fair, and radio was very quick getting word back about Wilkins. Monday Night Football did a nice job, as they often do. So many other broadcasts, youíre used to some Fox joker ripping Martz for three hours, but tonight the Rams got a lot of well-earned praise, with neither Madden nor Michaels afraid to pay the team compliments and suggest a promising season may be ahead. Michaels had a lot of fun with Hochuliís ďSeattleĒ call, and some fun was in order with the game dragging on so long. MNFís intros continue to be awful, and I donít know why Madden thought Holt was wide open on Bulgerís INT, but it was still a good broadcast.
* Whoís next?: Ah, the preseason, when sometimes there are seven days between games, and other times, there are THREE, which will be the case for the Rams going into Friday nightís preseason finale with the Chiefs. K.C. claimed the Governorís Cup last year by blitzing the non-game-planned Ramsí heads off, making them look very bad in a 24-7 national TV wipeout. Since DV and Gunther Cunningham weaselly did not blitz any other opponent nearly as much last preseason, Iíd hold a grudge, though I doubt that sentiment is shared at Rams Park. The Chiefsí defense is ranked only 31st so far this preseason, but that hides a good outing by their starting run defense last time out. The onus for winning this game will go on the Ram offensive line, both to establish a semblance of a running game with the backup RBs and to protect the backup QBs from whatever the Chiefs may throw at them. There are still position battles at #5/#6 WR, #3 QB (maybe) and fullback, so itís an important game for many.
If you want to test your run defense, thereís no better opponent than K.C., which is probably the best run-blocking team in the league. Everybody blocks well on that team, including the fullbacks and the wide receivers. And even presupposing a night off for Priest Holmes, Larry Johnsonís presence in the backfield ensures that this last test for the Ram defense will be challenging. Ram fans, if not the players, need to enter the regular season with the confidence the team inspired with tonightís domination. And there are still likely position battles to settle at free safety, nickel/dime back, line depth and maybe even starting RDE, as well as punter (maybe) and kick returner, before itís all said and done. Some on the sidelines will kick back and have the night off; many in the stands may doze through the game (if they even show up), but on the field Friday night, thereís no slacking off or missing a play. Jobs are on the line.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 8/29/2005: Rams 37, Lions 13 (Long)
Re: RamView, 8/29/2005: Rams 37, Lions 13 (Long)
Thanks again for this report!!!, sounds like an inspired night throughout!!!
Re: RamView, 8/29/2005: Rams 37, Lions 13 (Long)
I was surprised the answer turned out to be Barker. I hope they did it to pick up another veteran punter, because I still don't see much to like out of Hodges.
I would have thought Cason, too, but I realized they're going to need RBs Friday night, since they -should- sit Jackson and Faulk out. Maybe Cason will also return some kicks, though I think that job has been awarded to Terry Fair.
majorram, inspired is a good word for it. Up until this week, I never thought of Martz as a coach who could "rally the troops" all that well. Hope he can do it again if needed.
Re: RamView, 8/29/2005: Rams 37, Lions 13 (Long)
Awesome read as always, Mike!