RamView, 9/19/2011: Giants 28, Rams 16 (Long)
RamView, September 19, 2011
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #2: Giants 28, Rams 16
The Rams start 0-2 for the fifth straight season after critical, sloppy mistakes prove too much to overcome in another loss to the Giants. So far in 2011, the only NFL team the Rams have shown they can beat is themselves. They're not going to beat anybody else until they stop doing that.
Position by position:
* QB: Red zone woes kept this game from being a breakthrough game for Sam Bradford (22-46-331, 1 TD, 79.2 PR), but it should qualify as the week Bradford showed much-sought-after ability to carry the Ram offense. The 331 was a career-best, as Bradford had the best downfield throwing game of his brief career. The Ram offense really controlled the deep middle of the field for stretches, and Bradford hit Mike Sims-Walker and Brandon Gibson over the middle multiple times with intermediate passes that were right on the mark, allowing them to catch in stride and run for decent extra yardage. Another big help was the Rams brass gaining the common sense to activate Danario Alexander. Bradford and DX resumed their great chemistry from last year almost immediately, with Alexander getting behind double coverage and Bradford splitting them with a throw that DX turned into a 68-yard play and set up a FG on the Rams’ opening drive. Bradford ran the no-huddle offense with aplomb and had nearly 150 passing yards in the first quarter. He connected with Alexander later for 35, and hit him perfectly in the end zone from 19 for the Rams’ ONLY TD. Bradford showed fine pocket presence again. He hung in tough on many of his completions while taking just two sacks. He also showed good sense for when to throw the ball away, which hurt his completion percentage a little. Bradford saved the Rams’ TD drive in the 3rd with a smart play. He rolled right into a blindside blitz, but had the presence of mind to chuck the ball at Cadillac Williams’ feet to avoid a major loss. Bradford showed he could make just about every throw tonight except one. Unfortunately, that was the goal line end zone fade route, a critical route to red zone success. After the first bomb to Alexander, Bradford rolled right and had Lance Kendricks open enough in the end zone, but overthrew him. He had a makeable throw to Sims-Walker in the deep left corner from the 7 the Rams’ next time down, and overthrew that, the Rams settling for another FG. They got inside the 10 right after halftime, but with Alexander breaking wide open at the goal line on a slant, the 6’4” Bradford had his pass batted down, one of several deflections in the game, by Michael Boley. Bradford was in fine form and accurate everywhere on the field except the most important part, where the Giants did a lot of blitzing. So to be precise, Bradford showed tonight he could carry the Ram offense up to the end zone, but couldn’t carry them the rest of the way in. Matthew Stafford’s got that throw down without many NFL games under his belt. Sam Bradford must make that a reliable part of his skillset.
* RB: Steven Jackson wasn't quite able to play due to last week's quad strain, and the Rams really missed him, as Cadillac Williams (13-36 rushing, 3-4 receiving) had a real lemon of a game. He had 23 yards of total offense in the 1st before committing an error in the 2nd that changed the game. On a play the radio play-by-play reported would have been an option pass, Williams motioned wide left, leaned back for a lateral throw from Bradford and had it soap through his hands behind the line of scrimmage. Possibly distracted by not getting to finish the trick play, Williams made the worse-than-rookie mistake of forgetting that the pass he had just dropped was still a live ball. Giants LB Michael Boley did not make the same mistake, scooping up the loose ball unopposed and returning it 65 yards for the second TD scored against the Ram offense this year, vs. the two they've actually managed to score for themselves. Boley hadn't even finished his return before I was saying, I guarantee you Steven Jackson doesn't forget to stay on top of that ball. The Rams also really miss Jackson as a power option at the goal line, as for the second straight week, they failed to score a TD after getting a first-and-goal at the 1. Williams has filled in adequately for Jackson, and the Rams' failings in goal line offense haven't really been his fault, but it sure seems like a healthy Jackson would give opposing defenses more to think about down there. Maybe next week.
* Receivers: Freed at last from the inactive list, Danario Alexander (3-122) had a superb game, while Mike Sims-Walker (6-92) was encouragingly active, and Brandon Gibson (4-52) was steady, but somehow it all wasn't enough to make up for Greg Salas' (4-27) crushing rookie ineptitude. What is it with the Rams' rookie receivers, anyway? Salas muffed a punt that led to a Giants TD. Open in the flat late in the 1st, he dropped a pass that would have given the Rams a first-and-goal. Instead they settled for a FG. He dropped a 3rd-down pass late in the game that would have been a 1st down. When he made a good play, like his 17-yard catch-and-run on a 3rd-and-7 short out route late in the 3rd, he tainted it with a fumble that barely managed to get out of bounds. He looked a threat to fumble every ball he carried. Salas was drafted for his hands! What the hell! Far from replacing him, Salas only managed tonight to show how badly the Rams miss Danny Amendola. Alexander struck for 68 on the Rams' opening drive, beating double coverage for a deep leaping sideline catch, then beating the Giants after the catch for another 30, down to the 1, after no one touched him down. If only he'd gotten those last three feet: the Rams settled for a FG. DX set up a 3rd-quarter FG with a 35-yard catch, and burned Michael Coe in the 4th for a 19-yard TD, another leaping turnaround catch. Sims-Walker burned soft Giants coverage over the middle for 23 and 33 in the first half. He and Gibson were effective in the middle of the field and on sideline comeback routes. Rams WRs extended the passing game downfield in fine fashion this week, to the point that the TEs were afterthoughts. Lance Kendricks (1-26) set up a FG with his only catch; had he not put his feet out of bounds after the catch, he could have gotten back up for extra yards just like Alexander; he wasn't touched down. A dash of Alexander definitely spiced up the Rams receiving game. As for Salas, I can only refer to the consensus of training camp reports that said what good hands Austin Pettis has.
* Offensive line: The offensive line pass-protected better than last week but run-blocking took a hit. Protection was fine while the Rams drove down to the 1 in the 1st. But on 2nd-and-goal, Britt Miller was slow getting outside to block, and two Giants leaked through the hole he didn’t hit and dropped Williams for a loss. Jason Brown got manhandled repeatedly in the running game by Rocky Bernard for a couple of early run stuffs. Either he or Jacob Bell didn’t block Chris Canty at all when he stuffed Williams for a big loss in the 2nd. Also, why don’t the Rams ever snap the ball when an opponent jumps offside? Isn’t that a play a savvy veteran center should make? The Giants jumped twice tonight and got back in time while the Ram offense stood there. New York turned up the heat as the game progressed. Jason Pierre-Paul unsurprisingly beat Miller to force a Bradford throwaway. The Giants got the ball back right before halftime after Bernard whipped Harvey Dahl to force an incomplete and Michael (YES, HIM AGAIN) Boley smoked Billy Bajema on a blitz to force another. Rodger Saffold helped kill that drive with a false start on third-and-3. Big blitzes scuttled the Rams in the red zone right after halftime. Justin Tuck tripped up a scrambling Bradford for the Giants’ first sack in the 3rd, running right past Jason Smith blocking down. If you’re an offensive lineman, does it not run through the back of your mind that it’s very bad to leave Justin Tuck unblocked on a play? Tuck and his teammates kept gaining strength. Tuck beat Bajema to stuff a Williams run, then on the Rams’ final drive, looped around everybody, with Smith having little chance to track him through traffic, and dropped Bradford for his and New York’s second sack. Saffold put a cherry on the game by committing a hold to bury the Rams deep in their own end in the final 2:00. The Rams’ “max” protection handled the blitz poorly, Brown had a bad night and the Rams only ran for 59 yards, 15 of that by Bradford. Not a winning formula.
* Defensive line/LB: The Ram defense was like a roller coaster ride that ends with a fiery crash into a ditch. Ahmad Bradshaw killed them early with cutback runs, with Brady Poppinga especially failing to distinguish himself. But they blitzed Eli Manning into a turnover and got dialed in. Great pressure by Robert Quinn, who had a terrific NFL debut, forced a bad throw and a 3-and-out before Salas’ muffed punt. Quinn nearly got Manning on 4th down after that, but the Giants got the DPI call on Bradley Fletcher and went on to a TD. Quinn 3-and-outed the next drive with great penetration to force a run stuff and fantastic pressure on 3rd down working on Kareem McKenzie. After Quintin Mikell blindsided Manning for a 3-and-out to start the 2nd, it was pretty clear the Giants had no idea where the rush was coming from next. And the Rams had shut down the run, thanks a ton to James Laurinaitis, who had an outstanding game with 14 tackles and several key run stops. Quinn kept coming after Eli, and Fred Robbins came right up the middle unblocked and got him later in the 2nd for a huge loss. At the 2:00 mark of the first half, though, after Justin King’s holding penalty let the Giants out of a 1st-and-20 hole, the Ram pass rush just died. They repeatedly and ineffectively rushed only 4 while the Giants dinked out to midfield, scoring from there on two big passes that beat blitzes. Down 21-9 in the 3rd, the defense had one last chance to get the Rams back in the game, which Quinn seemed to make happen with his first career sack, walking around LT untouched. 3rd-and-17 at the Rams 32; the Giants should get 3 at most here, right? Wrong, as the Rams blow their most painful 3rd down yet this season, letting Bradshaw get away with a screen pass for 23 yards, a rare play where Laurinaitis got blocked, by David Baas at the perfect time. Brandon Jacobs ran at James Hall – there’s a familiar tune – for a 7-yard TD to pretty much put the Rams away. Hall did beat David Diehl clean on the inside shoulder to sack Manning in the 4th, and Chris Long whipped McKenzie later and dropped Eli for the Rams’ third sack. If you could give the Ram defense the last two minutes before halftime back, this would have been a different game. Or, as much as this pains me to say given all the Rams’ free agency moves, get Laurinaitis more help from the OLBs. The Ram defense was close tonight. But no cigar.
* Secondary: An almost clownish performance by the Ram secondary. You could throw the Hindenburg at these guys and they wouldn’t know it was coming. Quintin Mikell got things off to a good start by baiting Eli Manning into a dumb interception, but the good times didn’t last. After the Salas muff, Bradley Fletcher got beat by Hakeem Nicks for a long DPI and a short TD. The DPI call was bogus, but Fletcher could have avoided bad results on both plays by turning his head to find the ball. He does his best Ron Bartell impression instead. In the final 2:00 of the first half, the Giants were buried 1st-and-20 in their own end before Justin King stupidly let them off the hook with a holding penalty. A few plays later, Mikell and Al Harris left Mario Manningham wide open down the sideline for 31. Busted coverage. Craig Dahl then topped all that with one of the most embarrassing plays by a Rams DB in many years. Domenik Hixon beats him into the end zone badly with a double-move route. Manning lobs in a pass, and Dahl turns to look for it, but can’t find it, then has no clue that Hixon has leaped, reached around him and juggled the ball about 18 times before tumbling with it for the TD, with Dahl pretty much standing there lost the whole time. I swear when Dahl talked to his teammates right after the play, it was to find out what happened. He had no damn clue, just as I have no damn clue why Darian Stewart isn’t getting a lot more of his reps, as in all of them. The Giants lost Manningham and Hixon at halftime due to injuries. Competent secondary play in the first half would have meant a much more competitive second half. But instead, 21-6, the Giants take the air out of the ball after halftime, and Dahl cements a spot on the NFL’s permanent highlight reel. The wrong way.
* Special teams: Salas was the main story here, muffing his first punt return attempt and setting the Giants up for a TD and a lead they’d never lose. Salas made a nice tackle in coverage in the 4th, and a winding 27-yard punt return after that, but his initial gaffe was too large to overcome. Quinn Porter put one kickoff return on the ground at the 7 but got his others out across the 25. Emphasizing directional kicking appears to have screwed Donnie Jones up. He had three punts under 35 yards, shanked one badly, and kicking from his 44 at the end of the 1st, “pinned” the Giants at their 24. Fortunately, he also had three boots over 50 yards to boost his average, but Donnie needs to find more consistency. Josh Brown hit all 3 FG attempts and forced several touchbacks on kickoffs. What he needs most: more work on extra points.
* Coaching: Josh McDaniels’ offense did a wonderful job stretching the field tonight, and his use of no-huddle clearly had the Giants defense on their heels. Ken Flajole’s blitzing worked so well in the first half it was clear the Giants had no idea where the heat was coming from next.
And yet too much went wrong tonight. Blame it on injuries, blame it on the lockout, blame it on the bossa nova, but the Rams too often did not look like a well-coached team. Too many sloppy mistakes. Poor, poor red zone offense. Dumb penalties like 12 men in the huddle, defensive holding, false start. Critical and near-critical special teams gaffes. DBs who never turn their heads to find the ball, ever. Defense giving up a freaking 23-yard screen pass on THIRD AND 17. Williams not having his head in the game enough to realize he'd better fall on that loose ball. Coverage breakdowns. Too much preseason-quality play, considering we're two weeks into the regular season now.
Steve Spagnuolo also treated us to some, well, interesting game management. Don't know what I loved more, kneeling on the ball before halftime down 21-6 or punting to the Giants at the end of the game so they could kneel out the clock. Why not just kneel for them like Linehan did in Baltimore the one time? I saw little point kicking the 3rd FG to make it 21-9. Go for it, you're still down two scores. I also didn't get not going for two after making it 28-15 late in the 3rd. Why would you want to stay two TDs behind with barely a quarter left to play? Then again, Spagnuolo's final score looks more respectable than mine might have.
Would have been even more respectable had they done anything in the damn red zone. I get that Steven Jackson was out, but when it's first-and-goal at the one, why go with a pass-run-pass play sequence? And the run's to the outside, ill-advised in short-yardage situations? You’ve got big, well-compensated offensive linemen, run behind them. And if that Williams blunder just outside the red zone was really meant to be a trick play, we all know Mike Martz would have been lambasted for getting too cute in that part of the field by half. Salas dropped a crucial pass, and the Giants blocked a sure TD pass for Alexander, so McDaniels deserved better results than he got. But he didn’t help himself by getting pass-wacky from a whole three feet out, either.
Lastly, the choice last week to have Alexander and Quinn inactive last week now looks at least as dumb as Dick Vermeil leaving Greg Hill inactive the first week of ’98. From personnel decisions to quality of play to game management, the Rams coaching staff is leaving itself a lot to prove the rest of this season.
* Upon further review: One awful call after another from Terry McAulay and crew continues 2011’s theme of terrible officiating. The first Giant TD was set up by a poor DPI call against Fletcher. He did grab Nicks a couple of times on that route – I thought he was going to get called for holding – but most certainly did not interfere with him inside the 10, where the ball was spotted. On the Rams’ ensuing drive, McAulay let the Giants get away with injury dives so fake that even Lionel Messi laughed at them. Isn't there such thing as delay of game on the defense? Later, they called a 15-yard face mask penalty on Ben Leber that wouldn’t have been a 5-yarder under the old rule. He barely brushed the opponent’s helmet. King got called for DPI on a play where Brandon Stokley did more holding than King did. It went both ways; Tom Coughlin had to challenge two calls that decent refereeing would have gotten right the first time. Like the Rams, I was expecting a better game tonight from McAulay. F
* Cheers: ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast wasn’t terrible, but I also don’t care if the Rams are never on it again. How long did the first quarter take, two hours? Other than calling out bad refereeing, Jon Gruden didn’t add anything from a Rams perspective you couldn’t figure out at home, and he and Ron Jaworski didn’t really tell us anything we already didn’t know. That came as a huge surprise; those two are among the most knowledgeable football men on the planet. Instead Gruden marveled at McDaniels’ no-huddle offense as if he just invented it there on the spot. And he lost 1,000,000,000 points at the end of the game by calling the football franchise that’s been in St. Louis since 1995 the “Cardinals”. Also, where the hell did Suzy Kolber go after the pregame? NBC’s SNF beats MNF hands-down. What this game may do is raise Bradford’s and Laurinaitis’ profiles. They had fine games and got effusive and deserved praise from the ESPN booth. If the Rams don’t suck too hard this season, maybe Laurinaitis will start getting some Pro Bowl recognition.
* Who’s next?: The Baltimore Ravens may be named for native son Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous work, but their season so far is straight out of Robert Louis Stevenson: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One week, they’re thrashing the AFC champion Steelers; the next, they’re getting their heads handed to them by… the Titans? Really? Quoth the Raven: What the hell? Which team will the Rams face next Sunday?
Probably Mr. Hyde, and a bunch of, um, ticked-off Ravens coming at you is never a good thing. It starts for Baltimore with Haloti Ngata, the best 3-4 DE in the league. He’s explosive into the backfield, can really push the pocket, and is a big play waiting to happen. He’s already forced a fumble, tipped a couple of passes that became interceptions, and forced an INT with his pass rush this season. Massive NT Terrence “Mount” Cody demands double-teams due to sheer physics. (If he plays; he left yesterday’s game due to concussion.) Moving outside, there’s OLB Terrell Suggs, who has amazing quickness and supernatural timing off the snap. Sam Bradford better mix up his snap counts, or Suggs is going to hurt more than his finger. The Rams almost have to put two guys on him. That’s how Tennessee slowed him down, and how the Rams can palliate the poor matchup between Suggs and Jason Smith. But wow, you can’t double-team everybody, and that still leaves Ray Lewis, a dangerous playmaker and hitter, solid tackler and cover man, even in his 16th season.
But if they can at least slow Ngata and Suggs down a little, that’s most of Baltimore’s pass rush, and gives the Rams a chance to play more like Tennessee than Pittsburgh against the Ravens. The Rams especially have to be prepared for stunts and twists. Suggs can destroy pass protection with his speed, but that speed makes him a sucker for quick openers and draws. The Ravens will probably blitz early to try to set the tone they didn’t set in Tennessee. If the Rams can hit a draw or screen on that early, look out. The Raven secondary gets Chris Carr back next week, but has been banged up and playing poorly. You can get to them with speed out on the edge, and minus injured rookie Jimmy Smith, they don’t match up well with big receivers. That’s an invitation to get Danario Alexander the ball a lot, isn’t it? And shouldn’t Bradford be able to attack the Ravens the way Matt Hasselbeck (71.8% completion rate, 358 passing yards) did? The Ravens have had real trouble against passing attacks that get the ball out quickly. Hasselbeck manipulated them short and deep masterfully. The Rams can keep the tough Raven defense on their heels running the offense they ran last year. They’ll need Bradford on his game.
Baltimore has plenty of offensive options, but the Rams can make that all mute, as we say in Missouri, by getting after Joe Flacco. Flacco caved under the Titans’ pass pressure, a far cry from the flaccid Steeler rush he faced week 1. His feet were happy; his timing, throws and decision-making were poor. He throws mostly to his backs and TEs anyway, then yesterday just locked in on Anquan Boldin and Ray Rice. Rice is very much poised to claim the NFL’s throne at RB this season. He’s deadly on screens and draws, a very effective downfield receiver and a dangerous cutback runner with an amazingly strong lower body that demands tackling him low. He’s also a solid pass protector, and has the league’s best fullback, Vonta Leach, in front of him to help get the tough yards. Flacco loves to throw to Rice, and you cannot cover Rice with a LB. The flipside of the Rams, the Ravens don’t see 4-3 defenses a lot, and aren’t comfortable against them. In the ultimate of ironies, they don’t trust T Michael Oher to protect The Blind Side, and he’s gone to RT, where he’s an Alex Barron-like false-start machine. Acquired late in preseason, massive LT Bryant McKinnie is slow off the ball, and was pushing 4 bills before the Vikings cut him in August; his conditioning has to be questionable. I don’t see him keeping up with Robert Quinn in the 4th quarter of a game. And their line will really be handicapped if Ben Grubbs remains out due to a toe injury. If the Rams don’t get to Flacco, look for big receiving games from Rice and TE Ed Dickson. Like Josh McDaniels, Ravens OC Cam Cameron is really looking to get TEs involved in the passing game, and in Pittsburgh, Dickson looked like Lance Kendricks did this preseason. The Rams need to slow Rice with an extra man in the box and keep Flacco on his heels with a lot of pressure over the tackles.
We heard a lot Monday night about the Giants being mad about losing their first game. We’ve already figured out the Ravens are going to be mad about losing last week. You know who should be mad? The Rams. It wasn’t unexpected that they’d start 0-2. The letdown is that they’re a sloppy 0-2. This team isn’t supposed to be a Super Bowl favorite, but they’re supposed to be better than this. Rams players and coaches alike cannot be happy about the product they’ve rolled out on the field so far this season. It’s time for this team to pick up its game from top to bottom, or you know who’s really going to be mad? Rams fans.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 9/19/2011: Giants 28, Rams 16 (Long)
..."you know who’s really going to be mad? Rams fans."
We already are.