RamView, 9/16/2007: ***** 17, Rams 16 (Long)
RamView, September 16, 2007
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #2: ***** 17, Rams 16
The Rams find ways to lose Ė crucial turnovers and a costly defensive breakdown Ė instead of ways to win, and suffer a hard-to-take loss to an extremely beatable 49er team. In an 0-2 hole, 0-1 in the division, after two HOME GAMES, they now stare down the barrel of four road games in five weeks, none of which they will be favored to win. A season many thought would be promising has turned very ugly in a big hurry.
Position by position:
* QB: It remains to be seen if Marc Bulger's numbers (24-41-368) were worth the savage beating he took. The ***** blitzed often and brought it hard, racking Marc up six times for sacks and making him pay when they didn't sack him. The fact that Bulger survived and had as effective a game as he had, despite bruised ribs that made it difficult for him to breathe, is why sportswriters use the word "warrior" and apply it to players like Marc. Marc was sacked while scrambling on the opening play, and was clobbered by Nate Clements a few plays later on a blitz Marc simply wasn't looking for. But after a 49er turnover, he fired a low laser strike between two defenders to Torry Holt. Marc unloaded many completions right before getting slammed. He found Randy McMichael for 26 with a deadly-accurate pitch right before getting plastered by Patrick Willis. That set up a FG, after Willis knocked down an end zone pass for Drew Bennett. Bulger started the next drive by wiggling out of pressure to hit Holt for 18. Two plays later, he somehow ducked a Derek Smith tackle and made a falling two-handed push pass to Steven Jackson that looked like it was out of a rugby playbook. Jackson gained 20. Continuing to throw downfield well, Bulger hit Isaac Bruce for 27, but that again set up just a FG after Manny Lawson broke up another 3rd-down try to Bennett. The Rams led 13-7 at halftime but 900-year-old Bryant Young sacked Bulger near midfield to start the 2nd half, and not protecting the ball well, Marc fumbled. The Rams dodged that bullet, and Bulger winged one to Bruce over the middle for 37 to get the next drive going. That appeared to be ending in a Holt TD, but he lost the ball, and the ***** capitalized on the turnover for a 14-13 lead. After Walt Harris ended one drive with a pass defense and a jailbreak sack ended another, Bulger hit Holt for 10 to set up a Jeff Wilkins bomb for a 16-14 lead. After an awful special teams turnover put the Rams down 17-16, 49er blitzing did the Rams in, forcing a turnover on downs. Bulger got one more chance in the final 2:00, and hit Bennett with a sideline pass across midfield, but one last sack, by Bryant Freaking Young AGAIN, pushed them back, and a sideline pass to Bruce couldn't get Wilkins close enough for late heroics. With all the yards and all the bruises, it's hard to blame Marc Bulger for today's loss. The 49er blitz had the Ram passing game well out of sync at times, and ultimately that was the deciding factor of the game on offense.
* RB: A second straight quiet game from Steven Jackson, who had 93 total yards but ran for only 60 on 21 attempts, 43 in the first half. Steven wasn't happy about it, either; he was caught on TV shouting angrily on the sideline during the second half. Steven's biggest challenge was finding running room behind the improvised Ram offensive line, which found him dancing a little too much again. He had a big role in the red zone on the Rams' TD drive, gaining 9 off two Alex Barron blocks and a spin move, and 8 more cutting back between good blocks by Claude Terrell and Joe Klopfenstein. He got a FG drive started in the 2nd by bouncing outside for 9, but got stuffed twice up the middle in the red zone to help force that FG. His 20-yard run with a lateral from Bulger helped get the Rams back to the red zone before halftime, but from the S.F. 8, he lost 3 on a run the ***** read all the way. Steven was hardly a factor in the second half, and has barely been a factor in the passing game this season, which is hard to figure given his success there last season. Itís as if the Rams overcompensated for not going downfield last week, because Bulger missed him a couple of time in favor of deep looks this week. The Ram coaching staff would do well to remember where they parked their horse. Before Steven goes into any more yelling fits, though, he might want to make sure heís playing a complete game. He was poor picking up the blitz today, and never has been great at it. Sometimes, Steven, the great player makes the great play away from the ball. Rookie Brian Leonard picked up some blitzes nicely; thereís no reason #39 canít do it, too. Iím sure Bulger would appreciate it.
* WR: Isaac Bruce cut a swath through a tough 49er secondary for 8 catches and 145 yards. This was the Rev. Ike of old, working the middle for wide open catches and making world-class cuts and fakes. He made Walt Harris bite hard on the deep route to get wide open on the sideline for 27 to set up the Rams' 2nd FG. Torry Holt (5-74) dropped down to field Bulger's low fastball for the Rams' first (and ONLY) TD. Bruce's 37-yard catch and run set up what looked like would be a 2nd TD for Torry, but after Torry caught Bulger's 20-yard pass inside the 10 and crossed the field for the goal line, Nate Clements punched the ball loose and through the end zone for a pivotal turnover. There was talk after the game that Isaac didnít try hard enough to get the first down on 3rd-and-17 with 1:00 left. But the way he ran the pattern, his momentum took him out of bounds short of the marker. He couldnít have turned upfield. Maybe he ran the pattern too short; maybe the 49er DB cut his route off. But nobody question Ikeís effort with me in earshot, mm-kay? Randy McMichael (2-40) and Drew Bennett (3-42) were a little involved. McMichael's 26-yard catch of a pretty pass from Bulger set up a FG. Bennett was a key target for Bulger in the red zone, but the Niners seemed to be on to that and knocked away a couple of passes for him in deep. The key play, unfortunately, was Torry losing that fumble, costing the Rams an opportunity to go up 20-7 and put the game away.
* Offensive line: With three positions manned by players who normally wouldn't start at them, the Rams figured to struggle today, and did. Bulger was sacked by Manny Lawson on the Rams' first play after Michael Lewis came in untouched. A little later Isaac Sapoaga easily split Brett Romberg and Mark Setterstrom, and Jackson whiffed on Tully Banta-Cain, allowing a sack. Nate Clements came in untouched the next play to clock Bulger, with Jackson again failing to get a piece of him. Three sacks on the game's opening drive is not a good start. Young got the sack/fumble on Bulger in the 3rd by lining up outside and whipping Milford Brown. About four guys got to Bulger for the fifth sack early in the 4th, as Young whipped Brown again and McMichael blocked the wrong man and let the blitzer get around him. The game's last, and biggest sack, came with about 1:00 left and knocked the Rams out of winning FG position. Banta-Cain beat Setterstrom with a spin move, Alex Barron mistakenly took the outside rusher and gave Marques Douglas a run right at Bulger, and Young smoked Romberg, who had a disappointing game, and took Bulger down. Run blocking wasn't much better. Jackson rarely got the outside corner, as the ***** continually strung end runs out. When he did get the corner, it was McMichael making a good seal block. Jackson especially had trouble in the red zone. Manny Lawson beat Brown and stuffed Steven at the 10 to help force a FG in the 2nd. With the Rams threatening before halftime, Aubreyo Franklin overpowered Adam Goldberg and forced Jackson outside for a 3-yard loss at the 11. Another Ram FG followed. The Rams settled for a FG after Cliff Ryan's big sack/fumble in the 4th thanks to Barron completely missing Sopoaga on a block down; Jackson lost 3. Barron also had a false start today. The lineís work is really cut out for it, but we canít give them a pass for today, either. Six sacks allowed and less than three yards a rush are not winning football. Whatever the Rams have on the o-line, they have to do better than that.
* Defensive line/LB: Except for one play Ė one confounded play! Ė the Ram defense did everything it could have to win the game. That play was a killer, though. On 4th-and-1 in the 3rd, after the Rams had called a timeout, Frank Gore appeared to get tangled with his blocker at the line, but Cliff Ryan ran by without seeing him, and Gore shrugged off an amazingly poor attempt from Corey Chavous for a 43-yard TD and a 14-13 lead. That run really hurt because the Ram run defense stood on its head the rest of the day. Gore ran for just 38 yards on 19 attempts the rest of the game. The ***** ran up the middle a lot, where the Rams held very firm, and Gore didnít get away with any of the outside bounce runs Carolina did all game last week. After Chavous gave up a 34-yard bomb in the second, Will Witherspoon stuffed Gore for -3 to change the momentum back, and Ron Bartell finished off the drive with a big sack. The DEís had good days. Leonard Little was limited in the 2nd half with a toe injury, but shut down a few runs, as did James Hall, who sacked Alex Smith to keep S.F. out of FG range after Bulgerís fumble in the 3rd. Pass pressure was inconsistent, but better than last week, forcing Smith into a few inaccurate throws. Despite the miss on the Gore TD, the star of the defense was young Ryan, who pestered the ***** all day and came away with two sacks. He made a superb play in the 4th, beating the center, leaping to block Smithís pass, then raking and taking the ball right out of the QBís hand when Smith tried to pull it back down. That big turnover set up the FG that put the Rams ahead 16-14, and they had the next 49er drive stopped thanks to another Ryan sack and more good run-stopping by Hall and Little, before Dante Hall chimed in with a miserable flub to ruin things. The Ram defense scored four sacks, allowed only 89 rushing yards and barely allowed 200 total yards. They did their job today. Too bad more of the blue and gold didnít do theirs.
* Secondary: Corey Chavous has not impressed me in his Ram career. He is not a good cover DB, he is not a physical presence and he is not a good tackler. His play on Frank Gore's 43-yard TD in the 3rd did nothing to change my mind. He couldn't have stopped Gore from getting the first down, but Gore got the touchdown largely because of Chavous' sloppy, high tackle, a play as bad as any Travis Fisher, Mike Furrey, Rich Coady or Jason Sehorn ever made around here. Gore also faked out OJ Atogwe fairly easily after breaking Chavous' tackle. I was pretty proud of the Ram CBs, though, who I'd thought would struggle all day. Ron Bartell made a couple of MANLY plays, a huge sack of Smith for a 13-yard loss after the Rams had taken a 10-7 lead, and blowing up an end-around to Taylor Jacobs for minus-8 a couple of plays before Gore's long TD (on which Bartell also missed a tackle). Ron also nicely defended a long bomb for Arnaz Battle. Lenny Walls also had a pretty good game, breaking up a pass to Battle to force a 3-and-out early in the 4th. Alex Smith passed for just 126 yards and 49er receivers had only seven combined catches. The Ram pass coverage, despite being heavily undermanned, did its job. Run support, though, still needs improvement.
* Special teams: Dante Hall's supposed to be a difference-maker, but not like this. You simply CANNOT muff a punt with 6:00 left and your team trying to protect a 2-point lead. Yet Dante did, with an amateurish effort that was probably the key play that cost the Rams the game. It didn't help that Darius Vinnett got blocked into Dante, either. That capped off a terrible game in which Dante got no blocking and failed to return most kickoffs across the 20. Besides helping Hall muff the crucial turnover, Vinnett also committed a stupid interference penalty on a 1st-quarter punt that put the Niners in beautiful position to start their first TD drive. You have to play a lot better on special teams than that to stay on a team. Kick and punt coverage were fine otherwise, especially Chris Massey falling on Brandon Williams' muff of the first punt of the game to extend the Rams' opening TD drive, and Chris Draft JACKING UP Maurice Hicks on a return of a short kickoff in the 2nd. Jeff Wilkins had another fine game. His short kicks were pretty clearly called by Al Roberts; everything else was deep. He hit 3 FGs, including a 53-yard bomb, and came achingly close to making a 56-yarder with 1:00 left to put the Rams ahead. The special teams play, or should I say, misplay, of Hall, though, factors in heavily among the reasons for the Ram loss. Disappointing, and unacceptable.
* Coaching/discipline: Scott Linehan has dug the hole, jumped in, and is waiting for the dirt to start pouring back in. His decision-making at the end of each half was highly questionable. With all three timeouts and 0:45 left in the first half, and the ***** punting, there is NO reason not to stop the clock with a timeout. 45 seconds, with 2 timeouts, is plenty of time to move 45 yards and back into Wilkinsí FG range. Attack! Attack! Attack!, not Take a nap! Take a nap! Take a nap! Linehanís endgame was even more rotten. It just wasnít necessary to go for it on 4th-and-7 from the Ram 43 with 2:40 left. With two timeouts and the 2:00 warning coming, punt, and get the 3-and-out, which they got anyway after turning the ball over on downs. Itís safe to assume they lost 20 yards or more in the field position exchange, though. Then, after the completion to Bennett in bounds with 1:30 left, it wasnít really necessary to spike the ball and kill the clock. You donít want to leave the ***** much time to score anyway, though the stopped clock does help you get the next play called in calmly. Unfortunately, that next play was a 7-yard sack. Then on 4th-and-3, Linehan opted for a 56-yard attempt by Wilkins, one yard short of his career best, which he hit NINE YEARS AGO when he was 26. And Wilkins had told Linehan he was only good for 53. Wilkins is Money; I trust him with just about any kick, but this was a poor percentage play by Linehan. With this team and coaching staff looking ill-prepared for the regular season after two weeks, thereís a run on shovels right now in Rams Nation.
Greg Olson's game plan this week was a lot better than last week's, but the Rams' anemic scoring has him square in the headlights right now. With all the talent the Rams have on offense, two TDs in two (home) games is abominable. The Minnesota DEFENSE has three TDs this year, and John St. Clair has more TDs (one) so far than Jackson. It was a good gameplan to throw to McMichael and Bennett more, but the passing game was badly out of sync against the blitz, which reeks of bad preparation. And while Steven Jacksonís growing ego gives me pause, he has to be more involved in the passing game than heís been. Sure, the Rams got their yards today, but Olsonís offense crapped out in the red zone after an initial successful trip. Olson probably needed to throw more, given S.Fís success against the run down there, but at the same time, the Niners were all over passes to Bennett in close. Unless theyíre as good with video cameras as Bill Belichick, it was too obvious who the Rams were looking for down there. The 3rd-and-3 bomb to Bruce in the 4th was strange, and six sacks tells me that Olson needed to run more quick stuff to help the reshuffled o-line and to beat the frequent blitzing. Though the yardage total tells us Olsonís plan worked out pretty well, the scoreboard says otherwise. Olson is managing to squander a lot of great offensive talent.
The one coach whoís in good standing after today is Jim Haslett. The D was keyed up and ready to go, and Haslett got a very successful game out of them despite missing his top two cornerbacks. The Rams made the good adjustment to blitz more than last week, with Bartellís big blitz in the 2nd being an especially sweet call. Haslett also brought Will Witherspoon on the blitz a lot, and Willís play benefited from the aggressive strategy. Aggressive play-calling leads to aggressive defensive play. Good game today by Haslett.
* Upon further review: Though I doubt any call affected the outcome, Jeff Tripletteís crew continued to earn its spot among the leagueís worst officials. A 49er ran into Donnie Jones in the 1st, clearly unintentionally, but still worth five yards, but Triplette ruled he was blocked into the punter, when nothing of the sort happened. Lack of a call helped the *****í field position on their first TD drive. This is one of those crews that has never heard of holding, so Ram defenders got drug down all day with no flag. And I donít know how Harris avoided DPI on the 3rd-and-3 bomb to Bruce in the 4th. He bumped Ike downfield and never turned for the ball. But itís especially their job to protect vulnerable players by throwing flags on cheap shots, yet when Derek Smith took a run at Bulger and waylaid him well after he released the ball, the fact that Tripletteís flag stayed firmly in his pocket, for a hit that should draw a fine from the league office, justified Scott Linehanís 40-yard tantrum on the field, and justifies one of many F grades the Triplette crew has earned over the years. This guy shouldnít be refereeing prison football games.
* Cheers: The audience for this game appeared a little smaller than last week's but did a fantastic job getting loud for key plays. The main booing I remember was for Linehan letting the first half clock run out. Roger Wehrli was inducted into the Ring of Fame at halftime. Roger had kind words for the old Big Dead and Rams fans. We spotted the Wehrli family in the parking tower after the game, at which point it dawned on me that the Rams had made Wehrli pay for parking to attend his own tribute. Please tell me something else was going on there. I wonít be in the Dome now for the next five weeks; could somebody maybe clean up the week-old soda spill that kept our rowís shoes welded to the floor all day between now and Oct. 28?
* Whoís next?: The Rams go on the road now to face a Tampa Bay team that just got done dismantling a New Orleans Saints team that almost went to the Super Bowl last year. And to think this looked like an easy W when the schedule came out in April. Nothingís easy for the Rams now, and if they canít make something happen on the road, theyíre in serious danger of hitting the bye week at 2-6, or worse.
35-year-old WR Joey Galloway is the straw that stirs the Bucsí drink. He hasnít lost much of his feared speed, and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Theyíll have to get physical with him successfully to disrupt Tampaís passing game. Jeff Garcia, at 37 another member of Team Graybeard, still has the kind of mobility that has always vexed the Rams. Jim Haslettís challenge will be finding ways to pressure Garcia quickly while keeping him in the pocket. If you can get to Garcia, heíll make dumb throws. The young Buccaneer offensive line appears to be gelling, but their running game is far from dominating right now. If the Rams can stop Frank Gore, they can break down Cadillac Williams, who I donít see as much different of a runner. But Galloway, even this late in his career, is a guy who can change games all by himself and is the Ram defenseís top priority next Sunday.
Tampaís always been known for great LB play, and nothingís changed. Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud and Pliny, er, Cato June, combined for 25 tackles, three forced fumbles and an INT against the Saints. Tampaís dinged two very good offensive lines Ė N.O. and Seattle Ė for five sacks; how do the depleted Rams counter? I say, go three wide a lot. The Bucs arenít invincible against the run, allowing 119 a game, and the extra receiver will spread the field. It also gives the Rams juicy matchups: Isaac Bruce against Tanard Jackson, though the rookie is off to a fine start; and when you see Sammy Davis covering somebody, you throw to that guy automatically. Itís a plan, anyway. And you know, some of the best games of Torry Holtís career have come against Tampa, Ronde Barber be darned. The return of Richie Incognito would be welcome against a d-line that features Chris Hovan and long-lost Ram Kevin Carter. If Bulgerís sharp enough, and the Ram o-line is good enough to keep him upright, to find and exploit these matchups, the Rams can make some hay. Beyond that, itís a question of motivation and preparation.
Which is the coachís job. Is Scott Linehan ready yet to lead this team to some winning football? He hasnít looked it. Is Greg Olson ready to put some points on the board with the four Pro Bowlers and other capable skill players heís been handed to do the job? He hasnít looked it. Only Jim Haslett, the most criticized coach around here, has had his men ready to do the job, and that was only last week; heíd better have his players ready again. I donít really want to spend October hunting down the top 10 draft prospects because the Rams will be drafting high, or running down available coaching prospects because the Rams need a new leader. The Rams can get this slide turned around, but theyíd better start now.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 9/16/2007: ***** 17, Rams 16 (Long)
Re: RamView, 9/16/2007: ***** 17, Rams 16 (Long)
Very accurate breakdown. I particularly agree about Bruce. He did everything we could have asked him to do in this game. It's a shame when so many players do so well, and we still lose.
Re: RamView, 9/16/2007: ***** 17, Rams 16 (Long)
Exemplary work as always, Mike! BTW do you have an opinion as to how C. Terrell played? I know he went out for a series or two, but he was back and played the bulk (no pun intended) of the game. Any thoughts on this guy?
WHAT SAY YE?
Re: RamView, 9/16/2007: ***** 17, Rams 16 (Long)
RAMarkable, I'm sorry I don't have an answer for you. I am tempted to say Claude Terrell had no worse than an average game because he turns up in some good plays and didn't turn up in any bad plays. And he gets some credit for playing with whatever amount of injury he had. But I don't want to BS you, I didn't ever have a bead on him.
Originally Posted by RAMarkable
Re: RamView, 9/16/2007: ***** 17, Rams 16 (Long)
If you cannot remember an Offensive lineman blowing up and making some horrible plays, odds are he did an admirable job. Offensive line is one of those places where it is often better if your name is not mentioned often ...