RamView, 9/11/2011: Eagles 31, Rams 13 (Long)
RamView, September 11, 2011
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #1: Eagles 31, Rams 13
The 2011 season opener goes horribly wrong for the Rams – too much Michael Vick, too many Rams mistakes, too little defense, and a season's worth of bad injury luck in one week. This faceoff with the “Dream Team” turned out to be a nightmare, one that may well be hard to shake.
Position by position:
* QB: The biggest story of this game is that Sam Bradford (17-30-188, 75.4 PR) injured a finger on his throwing hand in the 4th quarter, and had to leave the game because he couldn't grip the ball. And, yes, I believe Brenda Warner has already insisted that Sam get his hand x-rayed. Bradford's first impact play, unfortunately, was a complete disaster. He tripped on what was supposed to be a stretch handoff to Cadillac Williams, got stripped by Darryl Tapp and could only watch the ball roll to Juqua Parker for a 56-yard Eagles TD while Tapp did his best bear trap impression around Sam's ankle. It could have been a much worse day for Bradford; the Eagles missed two or three interception chances, especially a quick screen Asante Samuel jumped in the 1st that would have been a pick-six. But it also could have been a far better day for Bradford, if not for his hands-of-butter receiving corps. Brandon Gibson's going to be blamed for one drop that I'd put more on Bradford for throwing behind him, but too many passes went off too many Rams' hands beyond that play. Dropped passes cost Bradford at least 5 completions and a TD. Those are absolute killers when you’re trying to string together short passes in a ball-control offense. Bradford's pocket presence today was good, though he may have hung too tough in the pocket for his own good at times. A couple of times I would have liked him to recognize there was nothing open downfield more quickly, pull the ball down and run. For the day, he'd take four sacks, plenty of hits, and of course, get knocked out of the game due to injury, after his hand hit Parker's hand on a followthrough. You have to give it up, though, for the play-fake he executed in the 3rd. The Rams play-actioned an end-around, and Bradford stuck the ball on his hip and stopped completely dead, even with an Eagle rusher coming close to him. Bradford spun away from him and fired a 42-yard pass into the end zone that drew an interference penalty. Bradford's accuracy was all right. He's going to want the end zone pass he overthrew to an open Danny Amendola in the 3rd back, but he threw a couple of nice deep balls to Gibson. His best pass of the day gained all of 4 yards, a real ripper to Williams flaring out to the sideline on 4th-and-3. Sam Bradford had the composure and play you'd hope for from a 2nd-year QB; he just didn't have the support. The Rams passing game struggled more than Bradford did, if that makes any sense. I'm back to thinking A.J. Feeley (2-6-21, 44.4 PR) isn't comfortable with the new offense again. He just takes forever to figure out what's going on, at least compared to Bradford. No doubt a week of starter's reps in practice would help him out, but all of Rams Nation is crossing its healthy fingers that it won't come down to that.
* RB: Steven Jackson's (2-56) obviously another big story of this game, pulling a quad muscle on the first play and leaving for good after the Rams' second possession. Oh, what a first play it was, though; he bolted through a gigantic hole on the left side, and looking faster than he has in a couple of years, cruised to a 47-yard TD. Heck, he even gained 9 yards his second carry, on a bad quad. Then again, maybe the Rams will rally around Cadillac Williams and play... well, you have to like Williams, in any event. He had an eye-opening game, 19-91 rushing and 5-49 receiving. He seems to read his blocks well, he runs hard into the hole, accelerates quickly, runs well through traffic, carries the ball securely and has nice receiving skills. Cadillac can get tough yards, too, as he did when he spun off a hard hit and converted a 4th-and-1 in the 3rd. Too bad he couldn't have punched it in on 1st-and-goal later that same drive. As nice as Williams looked running slant routes in the 2nd half, the Rams really missed Jackson down there. The Rams ran for over 150 yards on nearly 6 yards a carry; this part of the game was definitely going for them today.
* Receivers: Where to start with all the bad news here? Danny Amendola getting an injury so gruesome Fox wouldn't replay the play on TV? Lance Kendricks channeling Rick Ankiel? More drops than a barrel of Visine? Lord. Kendricks (1-18) had an NFL debut to forget. I had him with three dropped passes that hit him right in the hands. One was erased by an Eagle penalty, but he pretty certainly blew a TD that would have tied the game in the 2nd and never recovered. Kendricks blocked well, but his out-of-the-blue case of the drops was today's biggest offensive letdown. Brandon Gibson (3-50) dropped a pretty tough catch right after Kendricks' blown TD, and had another drop in the 4th, but was also the Rams' main deep threat, drawing a 42-yard DPI from Nnamdi Asomugha in the 3rd to set up a score and laying out for a 31-yard catch down the far sideline in the 4th. Amendola (5-45) was successful in his usual role, and converted a couple of third downs, but in the 4th, bracing himself going down after a catch over the middle, caught his arm awkwardly on the turf and dislocated his left elbow. The Rams' leading WR may be done for the season. Greg Salas (1-21) replaced him, and the first thing he did was – drop a pass on 3rd down to kill a drive. Billy Bajema's biggest play was his false start on 2nd-and-goal inside the 1 that would doom the Rams into settling for a FG in the 3rd. Mike Sims-Walker (1-5) didn't drop any passes but was pretty useless anyway. When he first entered the game, he had no idea where to line up for two plays. Way to have your head in the game. 5 yards of offense from a purported deep threat isn’t going to get it done, either. (Another deep threat, Danario Alexander, was neutralized by the Rams making him a gameday inactive.) Are we surprised the Rams' receivers were pwned by the league's best secondary? I hope not. Treating the football like it's a greased pig, though, was pretty unexpected, and really kept the Rams from staying in the game.
* Offensive line: Does the Ram offensive line get a C today? The average of an A for run blocking and an F for pass protection? C sounds too generous to me, but run blocking was impressive. Rodger Saffold and Jacob Bell had nice blocks to open the hole for Jackson's TD run, and Kendricks blew it wide open with a pancake block downfield. He has definitely made leaps as a run blocker. Harvey Dahl pancaked an Eagle on Williams' first long run. They were solid up the middle; Williams did a lot of damage on draws. Shoot, take Jackson out, and the Rams RBs still averaged 5 yards a rush. That's an effective day up front. Now, for the ineffective. Bradford probably doesn't lose the ball on Philly's defensive TD if Saffold gets a better cut block on Tapp. Saffold had a poor game after the first play. He was beaten twice for sacks, once by Trent Cole and once by Jason Babin. Babin just powered through Saffold for what would be his second sack despite Saffold's 50-pound weight advantage. Babin got his first sack when Jason Smith didn't appear to know the snap count and let Babin run right by him. Tapp, whom the Rams will apparently never block in any uniform, smoked Billy Bajema for a sack. Bradford rarely had a solid pocket. Smith pass-blocked about as effectively as if he was wearing roller skates. Saffold wasn't a lot better. Bradford frequently had to dodge one of the two, usually Smith. And it gets even better from the Rams' $33 million (guaranteed) right tackle; a high ankle sprain he suffered in the 2nd half will shelve him for at least a month. How soon before we label Jason Smith a draft bust? Hell, wasn't it an improvement when Adam Goldberg came in at RT? At least until the play Bradford hurt his hand, when Juqua Parker caught it funny while driving back, and reaching over, Goldberg. Cullen Jenkins seemed to have a quiet game until he finally beat Bell and sacked Feeley in the 4th. Five sacks, a bunch of hits, a ton of pressures, and a franchise QB knocked out of the game? Forget the run blocking; that's a miserable day up front.
* Defensive line/LB: Defense kept the Rams close for a half, before Vick proved too much. James Hall was active early, with a run stuff and a deflected pass. James Laurinaitis stuffed LeSean McCoy on an attempted sweep. The Rams put nice pressure on Vick... when they blitzed. Bradley Fletcher and Ron Bartell blitzed from either side on 3rd-and-a-mile in the 1st; Fletcher got Vick for the blindside sack. Quintin Mikell came as part of a double safety blitz in the 2nd, drilled Vick from the blindside and forced a fumble that Laurinaitis pounced right on. The Rams forced repeated throwaways from Vick with their blitzing. They just didn't blitz enough, a big reason for their terrible third-down defense on the day, allowing the Eagles to convert 8 times out of 12. They gave up a 3rd-and-11 on the Eagles' first TD drive, the TD itself coming on 3rd-and-goal from the 7. Laurinaitis and the line really got sucked in on a shovel pass to McCoy for the score, and shame on them for it; that kind of play is McCoy's bread and butter. They gave up two 3rd downs in the 2nd before Mikell shut the Eagles down with the sack/fumble, but then gave up two more on the Eagles' half-ending FG drive, which is when the bad tackling really started. Eugene Sims blew a tackle on McCoy to turn a loss into an 8-yard gain. Vick scrambled for 19 on 3rd-and-10, with C.J. Ah You diving at him and missing, and a mostly-silent Chris Long badly losing containment. Down just 17-10 at halftime, it looked like the Rams would stay in the game until the end, but they collapsed instead. Vick got loose for a 1st down on 2nd-and-17 after the Rams right side lost containment. That drive led to a TD. Fletcher let Vick get loose for 17 to start the next drive after blowing a sack, with Long and Eugene Sims diving at Vick ineffectively, but Justin King stopped that drive with a blitz sack. 4th quarter, down 24-13, the Rams have the Eagles backed up at their 15 and desperately need a stop. Nothing doing. McCoy swept for 11 around a clearly-gassed Hall. He cut back for another 13 as the whole Ram line got shoved easily aside by an Eagle line that couldn’t block in preseason to save their lives. After an easy 8 for Ronnie Brown, McCoy breaks loose for the 49-yard coups de grace, taking advantage of poor gap discipline downfield and Hall getting pinned inside with little trouble. Game, set, match. Hall came to play early, but both he and Long lost containment on Vick too often. Long had little impact the whole game, two tackles and maybe a couple of pressures. Heck, Laurinaitis only had six tackles for the game after some strong early play. The Rams got little push up the middle in pass rush, where poor Fred Robbins couldn’t do a thing against Eagle double-teams. I doubt he or Hall are really even that healthy right now. We wanted to play down the Rams’ defensive shortcomings in preseason, but their 4-man rush couldn’t do a bloody thing against an offensive line that was in disarray coming into the game, and they’re getting killed on the ground again; it may be time to sound the alarm. For a team with a defensive-minded head coach starting his third season, this was pretty poor.
* Secondary: The Rams’ front seven weren’t helped by a brutal, mistake-filled performance behind them. The highlight of the day was Bradley Fletcher and Quintin Mikell on blitzes. Coverage was poor, led as always by Ron Bartell, who DeSean Jackson practically toyed with. Jackson beat Bartell for 41 in the 1st, a play where you’ll be shocked to hear Bartell didn’t get his head turned in time. Jackson should have beaten Bartell for 87 and a TD later, dropping a pass after smoking Bartell by a good two strides on a deep go route. Bartell was also a penalty machine; illegal contact, hands to the face, you name it, he had it in his holster today, before being forced out of the game with the shoulder stinger problem he had last year. Justin King had a poor game in coverage. Jason Avant turned him inside out for 20 on 3rd-and-11 to set up the first Eagle TD. He mistakenly picked up the TE, who was already covered, and left Jackson open by a country mile for a 26-yard play that set up the third Eagle TD. Mikell had a good first half blitzing and in run support, but not a good 2nd half. Jackson beat him from the snap for that third TD. The Eagles’ game-killing ground drive was filled with secondary run defense miscues. Mikell was supposed to stay outside on McCoy’s 11-yard run but gave him the corner instead. Then the Craig Dahl Horror Show took over. Dahl, apparently as the nickel linebacker, was well out of position on McCoy’s 13-yard run, and was even worse on McCoy’s TD run. The other LBs broke left, but Dahl broke right, leaving McCoy a massive and ideal running alley. Just a bad week for all the Rams, front to back, top to bottom.
* Special teams: Quiet day of mediocrity on special teams. Donnie Jones had only 42 yards a punt and a miserable-looking 32 net, due to kicking more from the midfield area. His hang time was a factor in keeping DeSean Jackson out of the game as a returner, but I'd still like to see him pin opponents deep better. Josh Brown hit from 49 in the 2nd, so logically, he faded one wide right from 47 in the 3rd. Another Ram not living up to his preseason performance. Neither team got much going on returns. Amendola made Mardy Gilyard look good, muffing his first punt and nearly turning over a later one by getting too close to a live ball he was waving off. Eugene Sims had a couple of good stops on kickoffs. The roster spot saved for Dominique Curry, though, was wasted this week. Jerious Norwood ran into him on one kick return, and he killed Norwood's longest return of that day – out to the Rams' 46 – with a holding penalty.
* Coaching/discipline: The Rams defensive braintrust has never had an answer for quarterbacks with mobility, so it's not a surprise that Michael Vick was far too advanced material for them today. It's like they were trying to find ways to spring Vick for the Eagles. They ran stunts that would get the ends pinned inside. There goes Michael. They would come at Vick with THREE-man rushes that had the perverse double benefit of putting no pressure on him while also giving him plenty of room to run. There goes Michael. Most maddeningly, they would frequently fake-blitz in long-yardage situations, and drop the whole second level a good 15 yards off the line. Is this standard practice? Once Vick gets through the line, he's got no resistance for 12 yards, where he makes one fake – there goes Michael! - and gets the first down. How many moves were the Rams’ coaches behind the Eagles’? They were in a nickel formation the whole drive in the 4th while the Eagles ran the ball down their throats for 85 yards and the game-clinching TD. Blitzing worked well against Vick. Bringing both Bartell and Fletcher on 3rd-and-long in the 1st may have been the ballsiest play call of the Spagnuolo era to date. Blitzing forced a lot of throwaways, got a turnover, all three of their sacks, and only gave up one big play the best I can tell. And the rest of the league has had success blitzing Vick. The Rams needed to keep that going. But the defensive staff game-planned poorly by failing to stick with what was working.
Josh McDaniels' passing game looked like Shurmurball with a mild twist. There was the awesome play-action bomb to Gibson, and the funky RB throwback play early in the 3rd. Both plays worked nicely. The Rams didn't want to challenge the Eagle CBs on the outside. McDaniels wanted to control the middle of the field with short passing and power running. Williams ran well, but the power game just wasn't the same without Jackson. And McDaniels' success was as thrown off by dropped passes as Bradford's was, though there's a decent argument that the Rams could have run the ball more. Stick with what's working. It will be interesting, and more than a little telling, to see if McDaniels attacks the lesser Giants secondary with more downfield throwing next week.
* Upon further review: I can't say I saw enough to accuse Gene Steratore and crew of calling a bad game. The Eagle FG before halftime was kind of a gift. Jason Avant got a very favorable spot on his 3rd-and-1 catch near midfield. Hall was tackled to the ground on a 3rd-and-10 conversion a few plays later without a call. The Eagle gunner clearly ran into Amendola without giving him a chance to field a punt in the 2nd half. The claim was that James Butler blocked him into Amendola. Would have been nice if Butler had done anything to the gunner before the collision. Kurt Coleman got away with a lot of “chippy” play, including roughhousing Williams a mile out of bounds on a play where the only flag was some B.S. blocking penalty on the Rams. That was easily the least popular call of the day. I'll give Steratore a C since he did throw some flags for late hits on the QBs.
* Cheers: At the risk of sounding like a poorer sport than I am already, it took me one game to hate the Philadelphia Eagles this season. I haven't seen a more obnoxious group of strutters, preeners, prancers, lookatmes, showboats and anal orifices in a long time. Do the Eagles have a single player who didn't dance or pretend to play an instrument or pretend to have sex with something after making any kind of play? Maybe Nnamdi Asomugha. I mean, Jason Freaking Babin with his one good NFL season to date is breaking out the Usain Bolt pose? Really? Don't listen to any of them who say they don't believe the “Dream Team” hype. They're soaking in it. The week they're taken down a couple of hundred pegs by somebody, expect the hot air released from that group to start a new wave of global warming. The 9-11 ceremonies before the game pulled all the patriotic heartstrings, but I wonder if the rest of the league botched the moment of silence as badly as we did in St. Louis. I didn't think the announcement was really clear about when the moment of silence was supposed to be, and you can't fault people for cheering the unfurling of the playing-field-sized U.S. flag. There weren't many moments of silence during the game, well, the first half, at least. Too bad the Rams apparently consider us fans the worst part of the fan experience, choosing to prompt us repeatedly on when to be loud from the scoreboard. At least they got the level of sound they hoped for. Yet, after three quarters of being coached how to cheer from the scoreboard like we're little kids who have never been to a football game, with the Eagles up 24-13, pinned deep in their end, the Rams absolutely need a stop to stay in the game, WHERE WAS THE MOVIE MONTAGE?!?!?! No movie montage, no loud crowd, Eagles all but walk 85 yards downfield to salt the game away. You guys do your jobs, we'll do ours.
* Who’s next?: If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere, and one of the biggest signs that the powers-that-be in football believed the Rams ready to make it this year is that their next game, in New York, is next Monday night. With Steve Spagnuolo returning to challenge Tom Coughlin and the Giants, with whom he won a Super Bowl ring four years ago, the Rams return to Monday Night Football for the first time since November 2006. It's a proving-ground match held at one of the world's toughest proving grounds. And the Rams have a lot to prove. They haven't won on MNF since December 2004, and haven't beaten the Giants on any day of the week since October 2001. And next week, they may have to prove they can compete without some of their best players.
Eli Manning may have won a Super Bowl, and he threw a career-high 31 TD passes last year, but after a career-high and league-high 25 INTs to go with them, he's someone with a lot to prove, too. The Rams are certainly going to make Manning prove he can handle the blitz; recent returns say he can't. Replay some of this preseason or the end of last season – blitzing really messes with Eli's mind, and his technique. You'll see ill-advised, back foot throws, plenty of numbskull throws into multiple coverage, plenty of interceptions. He looks more like Peyton's evil twin than his younger brother. It's not all Eli's fault. His offensive line handles 4-man rushes well enough despite a couple of off-season personnel changes, but they don't blitz-protect well. And Manning and his young receivers, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, aren't completely in sync just yet. They both can make big plays but are just as likely to break the wrong way on a blitz adjustment and leave Eli holding the bag. The Rams DBs defending on the outside will need to look for a TON of back-shoulder throws, but will get help in that Eli does not have elite accuracy on outside throws. He prefers the middle of the field, and is really missing TE Kevin Boss. Let the Boss leave New Jersey? The Giants did; he's a Raider now, and Travis Beckum so far looks like a blocking TE at best. So the Rams want Eli throwing, so they can blitz him and force mistakes. But to get there, they'd better be ready to stop the #6 ground game in the league last year, the effective one-two power-speed punch of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Jacobs, as they say, is a hoss, a strong, patient, between-the-tackles runner. When Bradshaw's in the backfield, the Rams will have to be alert for screens and draws. Like the rest of their offense, the Giants RBs are talented; you just wonder about their mental game. They're not great at blitz pickup. Bradshaw is prodigious at putting the ball on the ground; his fumbling got him benched last year. And Jacobs isn't immune to that. The Giants make plenty of mistakes on offense and don't do a good job of taking care of the ball. The Rams disappointingly have a lot of defensive issues to fix, but if they can cut down significantly on their mistakes, they can gain the advantage on this side of the ball.
Injuries loom large for the Giants defensively. Justin Tuck had 11.5 sacks last season and is an absolute beast at LDE. He can beat you with speed and he can beat you with power. His backside pursuit ability on run plays is impressive. Watching Tuck eat up RTs in preseason, Jason Smith would have little chance of handling him man-up, let alone Adam Goldberg. But Tuck is currently battling a neck injury. Osi Umenyiora also had 11.5 sacks last season, but a knee injury kept him out of action today and has a good chance to keep him out of action against the Rams. His mind has been more on moping about his failure to land a big contract extension, though, and it shows in his play. Jason Pierre-Paul's game is still raw, but he has impressive speed and will be attacking the pocket from a wide split. Up the middle, the Rams are going to have to control Linval Joseph, whose play is a lot like Fred Robbins'. He bats down passes, pressures well up the middle, and can be a real nuisance. The injury situation, though, gets even worse for the Giants in the back seven. The Rams will face a rookie MLB selected the third day of the draft for the second straight week. 6th-round pick Greg Jones replaces Jonathan Goff, who blew his knee out late in training camp. The Giants similarly lost CB Terrell Thomas for the season in the final preseason game, which takes away their best cover man and makes their secondary much less physical. Corey Webster and Deon Grant can cover, but those aren't guys with blazing speed. And the Giants are major suckers for play-action. If the Rams o-line holds its own, especially against Tuck, there will be opportunities for Josh McDaniels to dial up big plays, provided the players execute them. (P.S. Rex Grossman threw for more than 300 yards on the Giants Sunday; it'll be hard to cut the Rams much slack next week.)
They say cornerbacks need to have short memories, meaning if they get beaten badly one play, they have to shake it off and move on to the next. The Rams franchise needs that cornerback's mentality now. The Rams can't throw themselves any self-pity parties over their injuries; they'll get no sympathy from the Giants, who are also banged up. The Giants aren't invincible at home. The Titans and Cowboys both went 6-10 last year but came away from New Jersey with victories. We knew when the schedule came out in April that the Rams were going to have to be a resilient team this season. They need to be resilient right now. Though in a different stadium, Steve Spagnuolo's coached a lot of big games in New Jersey. This game's his biggest.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 9/11/2011: Eagles 31, Rams 13 (Long)
Cadillac Williams still has game great addition, SJ should split carries with Williams. I think it would be better for the team and add a year or so to SJ career.
And Vick had 7 of those and there is in one Vick in this league. I don't see Manning doing that next week.
Eagles to convert 8 times out of 12.
Both Lance Kendricks and Salas will setting down and make alot of plays. Brandon Gibson needs to be more consistent period.
MSW was shout out by the DB of the Eagles, lets see what he does next week.
Quinn sits and Sims can't tackle, come on Spags you don't sit first round picks for back up players.
Eugene Sims blew a tackle on McCoy to turn a loss into an 8-yard gain.
I agree still having a tough time with this move... DX could have help us.
he roster spot saved for Dominique Curry, though, was wasted this week.
Rams did not move Sam all day, not one roll out.
Re: RamView, 9/11/2011: Eagles 31, Rams 13 (Long)
Touchdown Rambos! You've got at least six good points in there, thanks.
Rollouts might have meant the Eagles super-DBs had less ground to cover, but with all the heat that was getting on Bradford, it might have been a good tradeoff. Could have run a couple of dumpoffs just to get Kendricks going.
Re: RamView, 9/11/2011: Eagles 31, Rams 13 (Long)
Maybe we should leave the team out on the field at halftime. Other teams adjust while we seem to put the lid back on the box and turn out the lights.