RamView, 9/18/2005: Rams 17, Big Dead 12 (Long)
RamView, September 18, 2005
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game 2: Rams 17, Big Dead 12
Sounds like most fans got what they wanted, as Kurt Warner has an excellent game but the Rams come away with the much-needed win. Barely.
Position by position:
* QB: Marc Bulger lost the Battle of the QBs (18-29-216 to Kurt Warner's 29-42-327) but won the war. Marc started the day making clutch plays he didn't make last week. After hitting Kevin Curtis for 23 on 3rd-and-12 to save the opening drive, Marc finished it with a red zone (!) TD pass, to a wide open Torry Holt for 19. Marc mostly struggled the rest of the day, despite good-to-fair pass protection. He had a 3rd-down pass tipped to kill the next drive. Torry Holt dropped a pass to kill the drive after that. A 24-yard pass to Isaac Bruce kickstarted a FG drive near halftime, but that's a TD drive if Marc's pass from the 8 is a second earlier for Isaac in the end zone. Bulger finally did drive the Rams to a second TD in the 3rd: 11 to Bruce, 14 to Brandon Manumaleuna against a blitz, 14 to Holt, 21 more to Torry and 9 to Shaun McDonald to set up a Steven Jackson TD run. That put the Rams up 17-9, a lead they repeatedly failed to build on. A blown snap and a sack end one drive. A drive early in the 4th is even worse; sack, sack, incompletion, as the Rams take barely 2:00 off the clock. And with Arizona within 17-12 in the last 7:00, the Rams had two straight terrible drives. One ended with a completion to Curtis SHORT of the first down, and the other ended with Bulger hitting Marshall Faulk for only two despite having all day to throw. Another 4th-quarter breakdown and a mediocre day overall for the Ram offense against a secondary Bulger should have been able to light up. In the red zone last week, but all over the field this week, the passing game is not in a good rhythm.
* RB: Steven Jackson (18-93) exploded out of the gates again. He started the game with a Marshall-Faulk-like cutback right away from a play designed to go left and made the safety look bad for 24, and got 15 running left the next play. Jackson was key to all three scoring drives. He kicked off the first TD drive with those 2 runs. Two more big runs keyed a FG drive late in the first half. Steven got 14 on a delay run that sucked Bertran Berry way inside and left Orlando Pace free to clock a defender downfield. Steven followed that with a sweep left that looked like a five-yard loss until he stopped on a dime and cut it inside for a big 15 yards. A man that big isn't supposed to be able to do that! Jackson scored the Rams' 2nd TD on a similar run, rolling left before cutting back with a jump-stop move and running right through both Big Dead safeties for 7 yards and the score. Steven's biggest mistake today was a shovel pass he muffed away to DT Darnell Dockett right after Kurt Warner's first fumble. Very good game anyway, though. Marshall Faulk had just 5 touches for 23 yards, but one of those runs put him over the 12,000-yard mark for his career. Another signpost on Marshall's easy road to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
* WR: The Ram receivers again had significant trouble at times getting open against a secondary not in their class, and they complicated things by playing downright soft after Torry Holt (4-70) took a big hit early in the game. Kevin Curtis (2-29) had a crucial 3rd-and-12 catch for 23 on the Rams' opening drive, which ended with a TD for Holt, who was wide open even before putting a sick move on the safety at the 5-yard line to get the score. But one play after Holt got drilled, Curtis got a very bad case of hearing footsteps on a 3rd-down drop, leading to the first of many bogdowns for the Ram offense. Torry dropped a ball in the 2nd to help kill a drive. Isaac Bruce (5-64) was very quiet until gaining 24 on 3rd-and-7 to extend the Rams' FG drive. On the Rams' 2nd TD drive, unphysical Holt tiptoed out of bounds for 14 with no Cardinal within 5 yards of him, but he added a 21-yard catch to get the Rams in the red zone for the last time. No doubt there were clutch catches, but this isn't going to be much of a "Show" if the receivers are hearing footsteps and shying from contact when it's only Week 2.
* Offensive line: The offensive line wasn't dominating but was a large improvement over last week. Bulger didn't lack good protection. He had a solid pocket most of the game. Bulger was sacked four times, the first by Bertran Berry, smoking Matt Willig, with Orlando Pace on the sidelines suffering from the 100-plus-degree heat. Chike Okeafor knifed inside Blaine Saiapaia and Adam Timmerman for the second sack. On back-to-back sacks in the 4th, Bulger bootlegged right into Karlos Dansby and then got chased down by Berry, who beat Pace for a coverage sack. Though they couldn't establish the running game down the stretch when they needed to, the line also broke loose some long Jackson runs. Manu and Saipaia destroyed the right side of the line on Jackson's opening run, and he got some good holes early from Pace. Saipaia is a major upgrade over Rex Tucker, if only because he knows what to do on a given play. The Rams had several potential big runs that just didn’t develop, whether it was Timmerman failing to block anybody, or Faulk or Jackson missing an obvious hole. On one run, Faulk passed up a Grand Canyon of a hole and ran into a phone booth. No, sadly, he didn't come out of that dressed like a superhero. But the line was more consistent than last week and will hopefully continue up, up and away from here.
* Defensive line/LB: The defense, yes, the defense, is carrying this team right now. Pisa Tinoisamoa set the tone by BLOWING UP Obafemi Ayanbadejo to force an incomplete pass and a 1-2-3-out. Arizona drove well the next drive due to ill-timed blitzes, but once the Big Dead got to the Ram 11, Chris Claiborne stuffed a run, and two incompletions forced a FG attempt. The pendulum swung back to dominating later in the quarter when Leonard Little pounced on a classic Warner fumble. Ryan Pickett brought heat up the middle, and Warner lost the ball while drawing his arm back to throw. When the offense did nothing with that, the defense went and got the ball back. Jimmy Kennedy knocked a ball loose from Warner; Kurt recovered that but threw a long pick to DeJuan Groce a couple of plays later. The offense did nothing with that, and Arizona took over on the Rams' side of midfield, and marched down to the 1 after Pisa and Michael Hawthorne blew tackles on a 9-yard pass to Anquan Boldin. They held there, though, as Kennedy sacked Warner on 3rd down to force another FG. Up 10-6 after halftime, the Rams wilted under Arizona's quick pass attack until a major play by Corey Ivy forced them to settle for a third FG. When the offense finally scored again to put the Rams up 17-9, the defense stopped Arizona yet again. They had 4 sacks on the day (Little, Pickett, Kennedy, Archuleta) and dominated the center of the line, and kept pretty consistent pressure on Warner. The DTs were the strength of the team today and the reason the Rams won the game. Besides Kennedy's and Pickett's big plays, Damione Lewis drew at least three offensive line penalties in the 2nd half to kill Arizona drives. That deserves to show up on a stat sheet somewhere. The Big Dead got inside the 10 again early in the 4th, but the Rams stopped them short. On 2nd-and-goal, both Pickett and Kennedy lined up over the poor Big Dead center, and unblocked Ryan came in like Greased lightning for a sack shared with Little. Arizona settles for a FG for the fourth time before Warner mounts a last comeback. Pressure is woefully absent from the Rams as Warner fights the clock. 23 yards to Larry Fitzgerald. 26 to Boldin, and they're at the Ram 16. Boldin again, now they're at the 5 with 27 long seconds left. Just about then, Adam Archuleta blitzes through with a big sack, and with Warner trying to get off a last play call instead of spiking it, one of the linemen the relentless Rams made twitchy all day long flinched, the penalty automatically took the clock down from :07 to :00, and the Rams hung on. Now for this year's unexpected sentence: if the Ram offense can just catch up to the defense, this can be a formidable team.
* Secondary: Not pretty, as the Rams allowed 327 passing yards and repeatedly gave up the big play. Anquan Boldin had a 27-yard catch to set up Arizona's first FG, though Jerome Carter's end zone coverage on Charles Lee helped prevent the TD on 3rd down. Early in the 2nd, DeJuan Groce was beaten badly by Bryant Johnson on a sideline bomb, but he made a beautiful one-handed interception to stop the scoring attempt. With Travis Fisher nursing an elbow injury, Corey Ivy made one of the game's big plays, stuffing a 3rd-and-3 swing pass from the Ram 30 with a super, super open field tackle, cutting Ayanbedejo off at the ankles. That kept the Rams ahead 10-9. Bad coverage let the Big Dead pull within 17-12. Marcel Shipp got the drive moving with a 24-yard catch-and-run. Then nobody covered one Charles Lee on a crucial 3rd-and-11 from midfield. That play got 21. Groce muffed a second pick at the 10-yard line to give Fitzgerald a 21-yard catch and set up the FG. The Rams nearly succumbed under pillow-soft coverage at the end of the game. Warner hit Fitzgerald for 23 to midfield, and Michael Hawthorne dumbly stopped the clock with a delay-of-game. Warner to uncoverable-by-the-Rams Boldin (8-119) for 26, then 11, and Arizona's five yards from a win, before Adam Archuleta jostles his way through the line for a crucial sack of Warner, stopping Arizona's momentum and winning the game. The line won this game despite the secondary giving up six passes longer than 20 yards. The secondary has got to do a better job limiting big plays.
* Special teams: Reggie Hodges went from goat to game ball today, with one fine punt after another, either forcing a fair catch or little return. He averaged 42.9 a punt and saved his best work for last, with a 55-yard punt late in the third and 45, 38 and 36-yard fair catches in the 4th. The Big Dead started the final drive from their 14, and that field position was a big part of keeping them off the scoreboard at the end. Hodges punted his head off today. Maybe he just needs to punt more during games. Kickoff coverage was strong, stopping Reggie Swinton inside the 20 several times. Return teams need a lot of work. They kept switching between Chris Johnson and Arlen Harris on kickoffs – pick one! And Shaun McDonald is still running backwards with punts and begging to be replaced. He did break off a long return, but it was called back on an illegal block by Hawthorne. And Drew Wahlroos. AND Harris. For God's sake, THREE illegal blocks on the same return? They outshone a rare inferior opponent today, but Ram special teams have still got a long way to go.
* Coaching/discipline: The Rams won this game despite more poor coaching from Mike Martz. After showing excellent offensive balance on the opening TD drive, and making an actual successful challenge on the incomplete pass to Bryant Johnson at the 1 in the 1st, Martz was worthless the rest of the day. The Rams did not move after the Groce INT in the 2nd because of pass-happy Martz. Yeah, on 2nd-and-4, I'd rather throw to Jeff Robinson, than, oh, HAND IT OFF TO JACKSON. Pass, pass, pass, out. At the end of the first half, Faulk obviously got a first down at the Arizona 9, but got a horrible spot at the 11, which MARTZ DID NOT CHALLENGE. Later on, Martz challenged a sliding catch by Charles Lee that was obviously good from a first glance at the replay. Who is Martz getting his advice from on these challenges? Monkeys? Martz had a couple of nice calls on the Rams' final TD drive – blitz-beating screens to Manu and Jackson (called back) – but he seemed to do everything he could to blow the game in the 4th. The opening possession of the quarter is all passes, barely taking any time off. Martz ran Jackson twice the next drive, but then went to that stupid Bulger bootleg that never works, stopping the clock, and the 3rd down pass for Curtis is SHORT OF THE MARK. The Rams ended the game with a 123-out, run-run-pass, that at least chewed up a couple of Big Dead timeouts, but the Rams won despite Martz's lousy clock strategy. Again.
Larry Marmie called a lot of blitzes early, but it wasn't just ineffective; it was countereffective. Fitzgerald got 15 on an end-around vs. a blitz on Arizona's first scoring drive. Boldin followed that with 27 against a zone that appeared designed only to stop a Hail Mary pass. On 3rd-and-8 from the Ram 24, not a blitz down, Marmie's worthless delay LB blitz gives Warner all day to hit Boldin for the first down. Fortunately, that drive ended only in a FG. Marmie then blitzed less to protect the secondary. Good move with the front four able to put on pressure without help. What really hurt the front four's pressure was Marmie calling stupid stunts, which just gave Warner more time to throw. As the Big Dead marched for the potential winning TD, the need to blitz grew stronger and stronger, and Marmie picked a good time to pull the trigger, blitzing Archuleta inside with Arizona on the 5, getting a big sack out of it. That play call won the game. With the defense's good start, and clutch play calls like that, the villagers will be throwing Larry Marmie a ticker tape parade soon, instead of that tar-and-feather parade we were planning last season.
* Upon further review: Jeff Triplette's was not one of the league's better crews last year, but save a couple of calls, they called a good game. The Rams settled for a FG in the 2nd because Faulk was ruled out of bounds two yards short of a first down at the Arizona 9, when he was clearly in bounds and got the first down. The Rams also lost a big pass play to Jackson on a ticky-tack illegal block call against Holt. The pass to Bryant Johnson at the 1 in the first was an incompletion, though it took replay to get that right. Charles Lee's catch in the 4th was correctly called, stupidly challenged. The refs were willing to call offensive holding, which the Big Dead committed repeatedly and usually brutally. Too many crews let that go, which would have won the game for Arizona. Fortunately, the officiating was Grade-A today.
* Cheers: Also on their A-game today were Ron Pitts and Tim Ryan for Fox. Ryan's analysis of the Rams' first TD was great, showing how the play action sucked in the MLB and left Torry wide open. They gave Martz credit when he (actually) did something right, and rightly ripped the woeful Big Dead offensive line. Pitts and Ryan were pretty clearly rooting for Warner, but not obnoxiously so. Muffs: they didn't notice Pace missing from the game late in the first half, and they claimed "St. Louis" took a timeout with 2:53 left, when the Big Dead had actually done so. Guys, the football Cardinals have been gone from St. Louis going on TWENTY years, and the Rams have been here for 11; Get. It. Right! But an excellent job anyway. Oh, and Big Dead fans, nice work throwing the bottles on the field in the 4th quarter, in protest of a good call. You and your team owner deserve one another.
* Who’s next?: The Tennessee Titans help the Rams (FINALLY!) open the season at home next week with a Super Bowl XXXIV re-enactment. Tennessee got punked in Pittsburgh in week 1 but punked Baltimore at home today. The big difference? The run defense. Pittsburgh ran for 206; Baltimore ran for 14. That's a measure of the offensive lines – Baltimore's is terrible right now – so it is flush on the Ram front five to provide Jackson some running room, and get Steven off to a quick start as in the past two weeks. Speed rusher Kyle van den Bosch is coming off a 3-sack game, and figures to keep Saipaia's hands full. The strength of the Titan D is at OLB with Peter Sirmon and Keith Bulluck. If pass protection is not solid, Bulger is going to see a lot of those guys. If it is solid, Bulger may be able to pick on a Titan secondary that isn't that imposing on paper. Then again, neither were the first two secondaries the Rams faced. Perhaps playing at home will make a difference. Or Mike Martz getting his head out of his butt.
Much is different since these teams last met. Steve McNair is not the running threat he was in 1999. Eddie George isn't there to get the ball 40 times. McNair is spreading the ball all over the place; he had NINE different receivers today. The Titan running game is also diverse. Chris Brown and Travis Henry are splitting the load, and Tennessee runs for about 100 yards a game. The important thing Pittsburgh did that Baltimore didn't is put pressure on McNair: 3 sacks and 2 picks vs. Baltimore's 0/0. With Fred Miller in Chicago now, the Titans look very unsettled at RT, so the spotlight's on Leonard Little to keep the hits coming. Larry Marmie should be able to blitz freely, but look out for trick plays – you just know Jeff Fisher's going to pull out all the stops, fighting Super Bowl XXXIV all over again. The Rams will have to pressure McNair and get their offensive house in order for next week's game to come out like that game did.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 9/18/2005: Rams 17, Big Dead 12 (Long)
Good stuff as always, Mike.
This is my question. It seems at times this season that Bulger may be throwing the ball a bit late. I've heard fans and the Savard/Snow broadcast make comments like, "If that ball's there a second earlier..." There were some passes yesterday that I think should have been caught, but to be fair to our receivers, Marc was kind of hanging them out there as well.
Originally Posted by MFranke
But do you think the receivers not getting good separation is affecting that? We may see a difference at home, on our turf. But I can't help but wonder if Marc is hesitating on some passes because he's not seeing the kind of separation he's used to seeing. If that's the case, do you still make the throw and risk throwing into good coverage?
Re: RamView, 9/18/2005: Rams 17, Big Dead 12 (Long)
Nick, I have to agree - lack of WR separation has to be affecting the timing of the
offense. And I suppose that in turn could have thrown off Bulger's timing when Isaac
did flash open in the end zone. Bruce could have gotten open sooner than Bulger
expected. That play would be worth dissecting. I wonder if a lineman got a hand up.
But what's causing the lack of WR separation? Like a lot of people I'm also suspicious
of the lack of downfield contact calls and think there's been a lot of Patriot-style (for
lack of a better term) coverage the first two weeks. I'd be happy to hear some talk
about that rule getting re-emphasized. T.O. sure didn't have any trouble with the
Whiner DBs yesterday - I wonder what the difference was.
Re: RamView, 9/18/2005: Rams 17, Big Dead 12 (Long)
Good post Mike :up: very insightful
I loved this big hit. It was a critical stop.
Pisa Tinoisamoa set the tone by BLOWING UP Obafemi Ayanbadejo to force an incomplete pass and a 1-2-3-out.
Baltimore is looking bad this year. I don't think you can truely compare the Ravens and the Steelers.
Who’s next?: The Tennessee Titans help the Rams (FINALLY!) open the season at home next week with a Super Bowl XXXIV re-enactment. Tennessee got punked in Pittsburgh in week 1 but punked Baltimore at home today. The big difference? The run defense.
Let's hope that the Rams do not underestimate the Titans. The Titans had no problem moving the ball against the Steelers. They came out and marched down the field and got a touchdown and I was thinking it was going to be a long day for the Steelers. Then they came down and missed a field goal. They were intercepted in the red zone on their third try. At some point their offense gave up, but a bit of bad luck and some good defense kept them out of the game.
Steve McNair is not the running threat he was in 1999. Eddie George isn't there to get the ball 40 times. McNair is spreading the ball all over the place; he had NINE different receivers today. The Titan running game is also diverse. Chris Brown and Travis Henry are splitting the load, and Tennessee runs for about 100 yards a game. The important thing Pittsburgh did that Baltimore didn't is put pressure on McNair: 3 sacks and 2 picks vs. Baltimore's 0/0.
Re: RamView, 9/18/2005: Rams 17, Big Dead 12 (Long)
That's a good point - the Titans have gotten ahead early in both their games. They're also easily the best running team the Rams have faced so far. The Rams need to get off to a good start.