RamView, 8/30/2012: Rams 31, Ravens 17 (Long)
RamView, August 30, 2012
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Preseason Game #4: Rams 31, Ravens 17
In pro sports, when it’s your starters versus another team’s backups, you better walk all over them, which the Rams did to the Ravens in the preseason finale. The game might have given the Rams a good workout, but it leaves Rams Nation on pins and needles waiting for the regular season and real competition…
Position by position:
* QB: Sam Bradford’s going to be as solid as his protection, and both were solid here. Bradford was hit a couple of times but had a strong pocket to throw from most of the time, and went 11-16-175 with 3 TDs and a close-to-perfect 144.5 passer rating in less than a half of play. The start wasn’t great, as Bradford couldn’t connect with Steve Smith, who looked open, on a 3rd-and-5 short out route that they’ve only practiced a million times in camp. Bradford atoned the next drive, though, and in the process, showed everyone he does indeed have a long ball. Throwing from his own end zone on 3rd-and-10, Bradford unleashed a perfect 46-yard bomb down the home sideline to Smith, who would have had a TD had he not been tripped by a falling defender. Sam read the field well the rest of the drive, dumping off to Ovie Mughelli for a big gain and leading Austin Pettis over the middle for the first TD. He cashed in a red zone turnover for another TD right after that, finding the mismatch and hitting Danny Amendola, matched up on a linebacker. Bradford looked even more at home his third series when the Rams ran a little no-huddle, even – gasp – moving around in the pocket trying to make plays. He was throwing lasers, too. A perfectly-placed pass allowed Amendola to turn a short pass into a 24-yard catch-and-run. Bradford later hit Mike Hoomanawanui with a 9-yard TD dart and grabbed a ball cap for the rest of the night. The backups mainly handed off, which was fine, because they weren’t exactly inspiring passers, with Kellen Clemens going 2-8-10 for a rating of ZERO and Austin Davis not too far ahead of that (1-4-13, 40.6). Clemens was pretty poor, with an attempted end zone back-shoulder pass for Brian Quick that was so bad it was actually intercepted by Danny Gorrer. He had Chris Givens open for a short pass but missed him badly and later threw a bad ball behind Ben Guidugli in the flat. Davis ate a sack on his first pass attempt and never really got out of the gate. There’s a lot of talk the Rams only want to keep 2 QBs on the roster; in that case, I’d rather risk going with Davis as the #2 than try to get him through waivers. They should keep all three QBs, though.
Off the bubble: Tom Brandstater. Good luck getting Davis through waivers if that's what they decide to do.
* RB: Successful game for everyone who lined up as a Rams running back. Steven Jackson (6-23) got warmed up for the regular season with some straight-ahead power running. Eye-openingly, Darryl Richardson (9-36) was first RB off the bench, and continues to show the whole package. He showed dangerous edge speed a couple of times, including on a 22-yard screen pass, and continued to run decisively up the middle and strong after contact. Inside the Ravens 10 in the 2nd, he sped up the middle and drove DT Bryan Hall backwards a couple of yards. That's a 100-pound mismatch! Isaiah Pead (10-58) worked mostly with the second unit, but had easily his best game of preseason, I believe a combination of lesser competition but also the proverbial light starting to come on for him. Pead showed better field vision than he's shown all summer, running patiently, setting up his blocks, hitting cutback lanes and bouncing plays outside when it was there. Pead's signature run was the last play of the 3rd. He cutback through a big hole, stiffarmed a DB to the ground in the open field, headed up the sideline and put his shoulder into another DB and put that guy on his back. All things Pead hadn't done the first three weeks. Excellent statement. Chase Reynolds (8-48) finished the game on the ground in strong fashion. He runs hard, changes directions well, gets yards after contact... that plus his special teams play, (spoiler alert) I'd have kept the guy on the roster. He nearly moved the whole pile across the goal line at the end of the game but ended up losing the ball inside the one after the point the play probably should have been blown dead. Ovie Mughelli got all the work at fullback and set up the first Rams TD with a 23-yard catch-and-rumble. If the Rams can run with physicality, determination and vision like this week all season, they'll take a lot of pressure off of the passing game.
Off the bubble: Ben Guidugli.
* Receivers: I don’t see how the Rams could have seen enough this game to finish making the many decisions they have left in the receiving corps. We saw a couple of guys take the top off the Raven defense. Steve Smith (2-53) laid out for a 46-yard Bradford bomb in the 1st to get the Rams off their own goal line. Chris Givens (1-10) drew another DPI (35 yards) on a deep route in the 3rd; we’ve missed that play the last couple of weeks. Brandon Gibson (1-14) made a nice play on a sideline route early and took the rest of the night off. Lance Kendricks didn’t play at all. I didn’t see Brian Quick (0-0) getting open a lot, though the goal line pass to him before halftime should have worked, if thrown well at all. Austin Pettis (1-14) scored the Rams’ first TD on a drag route and seemed to catch three Ravens off guard with his speed turning the corner. He also showed a good nose for the goal line diving for the TD, and didn’t the Rams draft Pettis for his red zone productivity? Meanwhile, Greg Salas (0-0) is getting about as much work as a Vatican City hooker, and seems badly miscast now playing out wide. Have to agree with the radio broadcast that the writing appears to be on the wall for him. At tight end, Mike Hoomanawanui (1-9, TD), Mike McNeill (1-12) and DeAngelo Peterson (1-13) all had nice plays. Illini Mike seems to have an edge because Bradford looks comfortable with him, and McNeill could have an edge at TE4 for his blocking. Either way, a nice TE prospect’s going to be left behind. Matthew Mulligan was the most disappointing TE, with a bad drop, a missed block and too much after-the-whistle nonsense that’s going to draw him a stupid penalty one of these days. Receiving’s still an unsettled picture. I don’t see a go-to receiver other than Amendola. There were a lot of plays where no one was open, and it’s a fair concern for the offense heading into the regular season. Also, unfortunately, not a dramatic improvement over the last 3-4 years.
Off the bubble: Corey Harkey, Nick Johnson, DeAngelo Peterson, Greg Salas. Austin Pettis' suspension defers the decision on him for a couple of weeks.
* Offensive line: Red alerts would be sounding everywhere, and Rams Nation would have gone Defcon One, had the o-line failed against the Ravens’ backups. Good thing they played well, almost always affording Bradford a solid pocket. Scott Wells, Robert Turner and Quinn Ojinnaka run-blocked well in the middle, with Turner playing the first half at RG. Wells did have an inexcusably poor snap in the 2nd that was almost a demoralizing, long-drive-killing turnover. Ojinnaka and Barry Richardson both missed blocks in the 2nd that got D-Rich stuffed. Disappointingly, Rok Watkins got no snaps with the starters, though he did play both guard positions in the second half and looked effective. Wayne Hunter got credit from the radio crew for strong run-blocking with the second unit. The Rams did not tempt fate with any plays that relied on him for pass pro. The radio team also liked Jose Valdez’ pass protection. Tim Barnes did some good run-blocking, along with Joe Long, who threw a key block on Pead’s longest run. On the down side, T-Bob Hebert spent the night mostly getting run over, including by someone named Ishmaa'ily Kitchen for the only sack the Rams allowed. Brian Mattison got whipped off the snap in the 2nd on a screen pass Clemens had to throw away wildly. Mattison seemed to give up a play like that every game this preseason, which could be why he never gave Ojinnaka a run at LG, and is what could very well end up costing him a spot on the roster.
Off the bubble: Tim Barnes, T-Bob Hebert, Joe Long, Brian Mattison, Jose Valdez.
* Defensive line/LB: The starters got gouged for 50 yards on the first four plays, with the ends failing to seal the edge and the outside LBs not getting where they needed to be in time. They shut the Ravens down three straight plays after that to force a punt, though, and controlled the line of scrimmage the rest of the half. Chris Long and Kendall Langford exploded into the backfield to stuff a run, and Rocky McIntosh followed with a stuff of his own, to shut down what looked like a promising opening drive for the Ravens. Long stopped the run well and put on a bull-rushing clinic. Robert Quinn finished an impressive preseason on a high note. Tyrod Taylor got him once with a scramble after Quinn broke containment, but Quinn broke up a screen pass that would have gone places in the 2nd and made a major play in the 1st, sacking Taylor inside the 10, tomahawking the ball loose, and recovering the fumble to set up a TD. He also partially deflected a punt. He's a freak, I tell you, a freak! Did a better job “staying home,” too. James Laurinaitis looked good, too, attacking the gaps and being right in place to stop runs funneled to him. The game looked easier for him this week compared to a lot of last season. McIntosh appears to have the edge to start strongside, though he's pretty up-and-down. The big concern with the starters is Michael Brockers, who got his ankle rolled up and needed help to walk off the field. Jermelle Cudjo stepped in for Brockers and made a couple of plays. Seems a reach as an opening day starter, but I'm not sure where else the Rams turn. Matt Conrath was kind of quiet. Josh Hull continues to hit hard and make plays behind Laurinaitis. Pass rush after the starters came off the field was pathetic, though, really enabling most of Baltimore's scoring. Scott Smith generated some bull rush but seemed to lack any other moves. Vernon Gholston looked every bit like a guy who hasn't played for a year and has been in camp only a week. He generated next to nothing against somebody named Cordaro Howard; at one point before halftime it seemed as if his pass rush was actually going backwards. Gholston also got flagged for a stupid late hit, which should stick a fork in his chances of making the roster just in case his play isn't enough proof. The new guy Brodine looks pretty interesting, moves very well for his size. Could sneak away a practice squad slot.
Off the bubble: Cornell Banks, Mason Brodine, Sammy Brown, Vernon Gholston, Jamaar Jarrett, Darell Dorell Scott, Scott Smith
* Secondary: Like most of the Rams’ units, the secondary didn’t get much of an acid test in this game, but it was a relief to see results far better than last week’s. Cortland Finnegan ended Baltimore’s opening drive by shutting down Tandon Doss for a short gain on 3rd-and-long. Trumaine Johnson shut down a 2nd-quarter drive in nice fashion with a similar play on Deonte Thompson. Thompson did have a pretty big game – 6-68 with a TD – but I’d put that more on failure to put pressure on Curtis Painter, who had plenty of time and made excellent passes for both his TDs. Craig Dahl losing the ball after an interception looked like it would be another of those “here we go again” moments in the 3rd. The next play, though, Janoris Jenkins grabbed the rebound on Bobby Rainey’s muffed catch and showed once again that few plays in football are more exciting than a player wearing #21 returning an interception. He weaved through the Raven offense and spun a clueless Painter around en route to a 76-yard TD return that turned the game into a 28-0 rout. The Rams played a lot of soft zone in the 2nd half, so don’t fret the successful Ravens screen passing game or Thompson’s good game too much. To his lasting credit, Quinton Pointer, who I gave less than a 1% chance of making the roster at one point, has to be the Rams’ most improved player since the start of camp. He’s tackled well the last two games and was rewarded for those efforts this week with a nice interception. Pointer also made a big-play-saving tackle on the Rams’ last kickoff. Good job making a lasting impression.
Off the bubble: Kendric Burney, Quinton Pointer, Matt Daniels.
* Special teams: I hate to jinx the team right before the regular season, but special teams have been impressive this summer, and it really shines how well-coached a unit it is. Greg Zuerlein made a 59-yard FG and nearly made one from 62. Johnny Hekker bailed out Jake McQuaide's poor, high snap on the made bomb with an excellent hold. Hekker also had a nice directional kick to pin Baltimore at the 10 from the 45, but also another short, low, poor hang time kick that's going to get him in trouble against real returners. Isaiah Pead locked up the kick return job with a nice runback to start the game, but I mainly want to note the Rams actually have blocking on kickoffs now, and a returner with the sense to use those blocks, neither of which they ever seemed to have in three years under Tom McMahon. Reynolds is not only the first guy downfield on every kickoff, he can also field punts well enough to back Danny Amendola up in a pinch. Remember last year's clown show returning punts after Amendola got hurt? Didn't take John Fassel long to get guys coached up well enough to do it. The Rams nearly blocked punts three different times, with Quinn getting a little piece of one the third time. But the best moment of the night on special teams actually came on Zuerlein's long miss. Baltimore put a man deep in the end zone for a possible return, and he made an attempt even though the play was blown dead. Had it not, a hard-charging McQuaide would have crushed him at the goal line, and he had about five teammates inside the ten for backup. The Rams have ALWAYS been the kind of team that would fall asleep on this kind of special teams play, but not here. I dare Brad Seely to try that freaking fake FG pass to the receiver who faked going off the field again. John Fassel isn't falling for that garbage. The early returns on the coaching job he's been doing have been excellent.
* Coaching/discipline: The Rams were more vanilla than a Branson dinner theatre; they did little blitzing and seemed to spend a lot of the second half just playing prevent. Not much different on offense, but like Homer Simpson sticking his finger in a wall outlet, Brian Schottenheimer made another foolish attempt to run a Wildcat play, and it was another disaster, with Pead losing the snap and three yards. No argument here that this is the time to try that kind of stuff. But if the Rams attempt any Wildcat plays in the regular season, that exploding sound? Will be me. There isn't really much strategic insight to draw from a game like this one. An important skill is clearly going to be a coach's ability to lobby the temps in stripes, and it's something to keep an eye on because the Rams have such a good representative for it. If Jeff Fisher's 17 years as an NFL head coach should already give him cachet with the faux zebras, let alone his nine years on the league's competition committee. He can be an advantage for the Rams in these early-season games where his previous two counterparts were a disadvantage.
* Waiver bait: Player cuts are projected at the end of each position. Trust me, these predictions were made prior to the game. (I assume cuts will already be complete by the time I get this out.) My proposed practice squad: Sammy Brown, Matt Daniels, Corey Harkey, Nick Johnson, Joe Long, DeAngelo Peterson, Quinton Pointer, Scott Smith.
* Upon further review: I don't know what to say about these replacement referees any more; this whole thing is a farce. Last week's crew wouldn't call Dallas jumping offsides; this week's called the Rams offsides when they weren't. EVERY penalty seems to take a two-minute conference just to get the ball re-spotted. Maybe that's why they don't call so many. The head referee at one point called an offsides penalty but made the illegal procedure signal. The Rams got away with twelve in the huddle another time. Not knowing the signals? Not being able to count to 11? Sure, let's go into the regular season with these guys. There were repeated problems starting the play clock at the right time, too. Pass interference calls looked good, though one was basically called by John Harbaugh. The roughing-the-passer penalty called when Bradford was hit late looked like a good call. There should also have been a late-hit call after Pointer's interception. Reynolds' goal line fumble was the right call on replay, but Fisher was lobbying that the play should have been whistled dead sooner. Sure, these guys were probably better than having Jerome Boger's crew call your game, but not by enough that the NFL shouldn't be ashamed for letting this drag on so long.
* Cheers: This could have been the smallest crowd I've seen at a Rams game. At kickoff, it looked like there were fewer people in the seats than there were at FanFest earlier this month. Oh, I'm sure the game “sold out,” but the higher the “official” attendance number is over 20,000, the more skeptical I'd be of it. The crowd did manage to produce some good noise at times, and I'll even credit us for getting a false start out of the Ravens in the 4th. Hopefully the town will be much more ready for football in a couple of weeks.
* Who’s next?: Ready or not, the regular season is here, and it begins on the road in Detroit, where the Lions have gone from a historically-humiliating 0-16 in 2008 to the playoffs in 2011, powered by one of the league’s most explosive offenses. So, it can be done. Speaking of things needing major turnarounds, the Rams were utterly embarrassed by the Lions in their last trip to Motown, 44-6 in 2010, falling behind in the first minute after Steve Spagnuolo decided to open the game with an onside kick, which failed. Just so Jeff Fisher knows what NOT to do.
If the Ram secondary hasn’t felt besieged enough this year, just wait till they get to Ford Field. There will no play or place on the field they can relax. Matthew Stafford, coming off a historic 5,000-yard, 41 TD season, has the NFL’s strongest arm and one of its strongest competitive streaks. And he’s got the NFL’s best receiver to throw to, Calvin Johnson, a 6’5”, 96-catch, 1,681-yard, 16-TD megaweapon who toys with NFL secondaries. The Rams’ secondary may not even be a challenging toy for Megatron, like going from Call of Duty 3 to Lincoln Logs. The Rams will have to try a variety of matchups and looks to account for Johnson while figuring out how also to keep an eye on emerging TE Brandon Pettigrew, lightning-quick slot man Titus Young and eternally annoying Ram-killer Nate Burleson. Watching Detroit’s last two games of 2011-12, I just don’t see how the Rams keep up. Get pressure on Stafford, you say. Not a bad idea. Detroit won’t make you pay for it with their ground game. Kevin Smith likes to run outside but didn’t have the speed for it even before an ankle injury in preseason. Detroit’s most effective outside runs may be tosses to their wideouts. The problem with pressuring Stafford, though, is that it’s actually hard to do. Against the Packers and Saints at the end of last season, Stafford had solid pockets to throw from all game. The Lions’ middle line was solid and their blitz pickup was superb. In the playoff in New Orleans, I don’t think Gregg Williams got a blitzer through on Stafford all night. Um, uh-oh. And besides, when defenses do pressure Stafford into a quick throw, it’s usually still a sideline out to Megatron for 15 or a crossing route for 20. Yes, those are the Lion offense’s “safe” throws. I’m not sure what Robert Quinn or Chris Long can do when you have to get to the QB in two seconds or you’re screwed.
The good news, considering all that fearful offensive power? The Lions lost those last two games. Like Sam Bradford, the pick ahead of him in 2010, Ndamukong Suh’s second season was nowhere near as strong as his first. Trying to get more sacks, he neglected run defense and fundamentals and dropped from 10 to 4. The Lions were easy to run on and backed that up with a rotten secondary that they didn’t really do a lot to improve this offseason. Detroit also kept opponents in games by committing a ridiculous number of personal fouls last year. Think Harvey Dahl can find any way to tick Suh off next Sunday? And Scott Wells may be the first Ram center in the St. Louis era with the savvy to quick-snap to catch defenders offsides. On the down side, the Ram passing game is clearly not one like the Saints’ or Packers’ that is going to stay with the Lions in a shootout. They’ll have to be able to pound Steven Jackson at them and grind out the clock. Detroit’s philosophy is heavy on pass-rush first, which will give the Rams some opportunities to hit draws and screens for big plays inside the wide-nine gaps. The Rams have shown mauling run-blocking ability in preseason, which gives them a chance. Problems? The Lions are expected to move Suh around the line this year, and he’ll whip Quinn Ojinnaka all day with his quickness. Rodger Saffold was completely incapable of handling Kyle Vanden Bosch when they met in 2010, and that was Rodger’s good year. And it’s going to be hard to feel good about a Rams matchup at RT this entire season, starting with Cliff Avril (11 sacks last year) week one.
And are you ready for the punch line? Back when the Rams lost in Detroit by 38, Stafford didn’t even play. The Rams got whipped that day by Shaun Freaking Hill. If Jeff Fisher can figure out a way to even slow this offensive machine down, it’ll be the most impressive coaching feat by a Rams’ head coach since Dick Vermeil. Hmm, so Fisher’s got to beat a team with a historically-explosive offense mostly on the strength of his team’s running game and a defensive line with a freakishly-athletic pass rusher. Well, if he can pull off in Detroit for 60 minutes what he pulled off 13 Januarys ago for 30, the Rams’ new era will certainly start off on the right foot.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 8/30/2012: Rams 31, Ravens 17 (Long)
The Rams need to look like every week in the regular season. If they can consistently play like this, they're going to do great. I know it was against backups, but its not like they were playing against high schoolers, surely the defensive coordinator was struggling with the rams offense.