RamView, 9/22/2013: Cowboys 31, Rams 7 (Long)
RamView, September 22, 2013
From the Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #3: Cowboys 31, Rams 7
Pitchfork once famously reviewed an album simply with a video clip of a chimp peeing in his own mouth. That's the best way to sum up the Rams' trip to Dallas, a meltdown in every aspect of football that is quickly making the promise of the Rams' 2013 season look like a large quantity of animal excrement.
Position by position:
* QB: Crappy day for Sam Bradford (29-48-240, PR 80.2); crappier day to be Sam Bradford. He never had a fair chance. He had no running game, not much of anything open downfield, and his offensive line was a row of turnstiles that let him get sacked SIX times. Bradford got sacked too quickly to get rid of the ball, and though a couple of his throwaways looked awful quick, few if any of his checkdowns appeared to come at the expense of anything further downfield. He just didn't get time to find anyone downfield until the game was well into garbage time. If he had much mobility, I doubt it would have made any difference, either. It was just that kind of day. Bradford made a great play to start the Rams' ONLY TD drive in the 3rd. With THREE Cowboys beating their blockers, and about to get walloped by Jason Hatcher, Bradford still stepped up and uncorked a fastball to Chris Givens across midfield for 28 yards. Bradford finished the drive with a pinpoint TD throw to Austin Pettis in a crowd. And for all intents and purposes, that's about it. Bradford got pounded all afternoon, and thanks to a passel of drops by his receivers, wasn't even that productive in garbage time. Shortest Bradford breakdown ever, I know, but there's not much else to say. It's going to be a VERY long season if Sam Bradford doesn't get a lot more help than he got in Dallas. Which was none. Rams fans and Bradford are all just lucky to have survived this game.
* RB: Jeff Fisher got a running game worthy of the poor lineup he submitted: 35 yards. Daryl Richardson has an injured foot and never got off the bench the whole game, but Fisher left him active and didn't have Zac Stacy dress for the second straight week. Benny Cunningham (4-16) actually appeared to be the RB atop the depth chart, though I doubt that lasts long. Cunningham showed the acceleration of a Fiat 500 going uphill, and didn't get much blocking, before being replaced by Isaiah Pead in the 2nd. Pead (6-20 rush, 7-43 recv) at least showed a little flash, ran decisively and probably got his RB2 status back, for what that's worth, seeing as the Rams have passed nearly 73% of the time this season. And suggestions during the game that Pead wasn't where he needed to be on blitz pickups won't help his cause. Hey, you know who used to be really, really good at blitz pickup? Never mind.
* Receivers: Hey, remember when the Rams used to have that stud tight end – Jason? Jaron? Oh yeah, Jared Cook. Fast, great hands, teams couldn't cover him... Huh? The Rams still have him (5-44)? Who knew? That was the guy whose main contribution the first three quarters this week was an illegal motion penalty? Huh. Receivers getting open continues to be as foreign a concept in this offense as it's been since the Show closed up. Remember that feared speedster the Rams used to have, Chris Givens? You say they still have HIM, too (2-54)? So that's the guy who didn't have a catch till after the Rams were down 24-0 in the 3rd, and he fumbled that? Also had an ugly drop and couldn't get off a jam to save his life? And he gets to wear Kurt Warner's number? I'd think about calling the Rams about that if I were Kurt, ER, Brenda. Remember when the Rams traded up to get that really quick kid from West Virginia and then just had him run a bunch of soul-sucking 1-yard quick screens? Yeah, that was this week, too, with Tavon Austin going a big 6-30. So far in his young career, whatever deep speed he has isn't making any difference, and the Rams almost refuse to give him the ball on the move. Too bad it's not legal to put one receiver into motion before the snap... wait a minute, it is?!?!? Hey, remember when the Rams drafted that one guy in the second round because he was going to be the next Terrell Owens? Yeah, Austin Pettis (2-20) will always have a hard time living up to that, and he had his weekly two drops, but he did have a tough TD catch between two LBs and knew he was going to get jacked... Huh? Brian who (1-7 and a terrible drop)? Quick? Are you trying to be ironic? Quit screwing around. The Rams wouldn't draft a guy in the second round who can't even beat out Pettis, or waste the time of a first round pick by having him run mostly stationary-type routes that the sluggish-by-comparison Pettis is actually better-suited to run given his size. Would they?
* Offensive line: Much like the Hindenburg, the Rams' streak of sackless games was a nice, smooth cruise for a while that came to a spectacular end. In Dallas, the offensive line was a different kind of sackless, failing to even handle 4-man rush, let alone blitzing, letting Bradford get pummeled constantly and giving up a whopping SIX sacks to Demarcus Ware and company. It's now on the radar vs. under it: Jake Long has been stealing a (very fat) paycheck here so far. Demarcus Ware ran over the Rams' erstwhile Pro Bowler all day. Ware steamrolled him with a punch to get the first sack of Bradford, and that's about his fourth-best move. Long spent all day on his heels or his ass, put there by Ware or Lawrence Taylor, ER, EDGAR JONES, constantly whipping people on the edge. By the end of the game, Long got whipped by somebody named Kyle Wilbur for his first career sack, Dallas' sixth of the game, and after humiliatingly needing double-team help to keep Ware under any kind of wraps, got “early rest for Thursday” in the form of Max Starks. The Rams signed Jake Long to prevent these kind of Jason Smith/Adam Goldberg/hell, Wayne Gandy kind of games; instead, they're back. Long was the biggest and bitterest line failure, but was far from alone. Joseph Barksdale missed assignments repeatedly, one getting Bradford killed on a corner blitz by Orlando Scandrick in the 1st. Ware also beat him for a sack, he couldn't handle the feared EDGAR JONES, or, in a cruel twist of fate, George Freaking Selvie, who joined the Dallas sack party in the 2nd by beating Harvey Dahl on a stunt. Look for Starks at RT Thursday night. Chris Williams was similarly unhelpful inside, with Jason Hatcher running right by him before halftime to collect the Cowboys' fourth sack. The Rams looked just clueless up front all day. Barksdale gave up the second sack to Ware by getting tangled up in Dahl's attempt to block Hatcher. Williams killed a screen pass by tripping Pead. Dallas had one blitz where men sailed in clear off BOTH edges. Clueless, shiftless, sackless – the longer the Rams take to get this most unexpected mess cleaned up, the longer they're going to find themselves going winless.
* Defensive line: And astonishingly, the offensive line has strong competition for worst line of the week. The Ram defensive line was brutal beyond description and it's charitable to even suggest they showed up. Demarco Murray pranced through this ridiculous excuse of a defense for a ridiculous 175 yards (hey, at least they held him under 250), with Robert Quinn repeatedly running himself out of the play or Chris Long embarrassingly being handled with ease by solo blocking from 100-year-old tight end Jason Witten. Most of the game the Cowboys did not even need to block Chris Long with a tackle, that's what crap he was. Witten dominated him all game. Jason Freaking Witten! Dallas ran for more yardage on their opening drive than they did in Kansas City the whole previous week. They started by running at Quinn, and he obliged by getting handled easily by a tight end to give Murray a 14-yard run or by running five yards past the hole to give him 13. Jermelle Cudjo got knocked to the ground to start that play, then got up and tackled Murray FORWARD four yards. 48 yards on the opening drive, and Murray was just getting warmed up. He had 86 yards by halftime. He opened the 2nd half with a 41-yard run, with Long continuing to get dominated by Witten, Quinn continuing to run a mile past everything, and Michael Brockers, who got double-teamed all day without anyone making Dallas pay for it, diving and missing. It had been OVER A YEAR since Dallas last had a 100-yard rusher. Long got “rested for Thursday” by Eugene Sims, who, impossibly, was even worse, to the point I don't know what he was even doing on the field. He seemed to do little except slow-dance with the guy across from him. Did they make up for any of this with pass rush even remotely resembling Dallas'? Of course not. Excellent push by Brockers set Kendall Langford up for a sack and a rare defensive stop in the 2nd, but that was about it for pass pressure, with Long and Quinn playing about scrimmage-quality football and Dallas picking up every lame Ram blitz with the ease of Bruce Lee tossing aside evil minions. Long was more effective in pass coverage than he was in pass rush. A couple of times Tony Romo wanted to throw to Witten but Long had gotten downfield and clogged up the throwing lane. Perhaps Jeff Fisher, Tim Walton and company could work soon on getting people upfield?
* LB: Here's this game in a repugnant nutshell: trailing 17-0 at halftime, the Rams return from the locker room as flat as they've been all day and the Cowboys are driving for another easy score. TV shows Alec Ogletree on the sideline without a helmet. Not sure why, but that means Will Witherspoon is in now to play nickel LB, right? No, because Will doesn't know he's supposed to be on the field! We next see him running on to try to get in position to cover TE Gavin Escobar, no one in a Rams uniform or polo shirt thinks to call a damn timeout, Will never gets there, easy TD. The Ram defense was so bad this week it couldn't even keep 11 men on the field properly. Couldn't have been a great day to be Ogletree, with linemen Long and Quinn could never occupy getting to the second level and wiping him out a lot. His diving whiff at least doubled Murray's 41-yard run in the 3rd, and he looked to be on roller skates when Murray opened Dallas' final scoring drive with a 13-yard run. Witherspoon's main positive contribution was a blitz pressure – hey, I found one! - up the middle in the 2nd. James Laurinaitis was about the only Ram who could hold Murray under 3 yards on a play but still had his share of trouble. He was in the wrong gap on Murray's 36-yard run late in the 1st and got blocked out of the hole on the 41-yard run in the 3rd. James shared Ogletree's problems in that regard. His pass coverage wasn't that great, either, giving Murray far too much space on a 17-yard catch on 2nd-and-5 in the 2nd, and getting burned by Witten for 23 on 2nd-and-12 during Dallas' last TD drive. Like a RB or a QB, the going's tough for a LB when the line in front of him accomplishes nothing, but this corps seems to miss many opportunities to help themselves out when they get them.
* Secondary: Double-teaming Dez Bryant was successful; the Rams held him and every other Dallas WR under 40 yards, but the scheme proved fatal to the Ram run defense. And at times that sacrifice was in vain. 3rd-and-6 early in the 2nd, Janoris Jenkins is ten yards off Miles Austin in the slot; guess where the ball goes. First down. Ironically, Chris Long had blanketed Jason Witten on that play. Cortland Finnegan's lack of physicality stood out in his poor run defense, even on the offensive pass interference penalty in the end zone in the 1st where Bryant simply shoved him to the ground. Unbelievably, that was actually called a TD; nice work, refs. The refs screwed Trumaine Johnson earlier in the drive for perfect defense of a pass to Terrance Williams. Finnegan was blocked rather easily by Dwayne Harris on Murray's 36-yard run in the 2nd and showed no make-up speed on the play. Harris beat T.J. McDonald for Dallas' last TD on a perfectly-thrown ball by Romo. Little T.J. could do about that. His problems came in run defense. He made some good stops and continues to display hitting power (even though no one in this secondary does anything besides shoulder tackle), but was out of position a lot. You'll see him screaming in late, out of control and well past the play on some of the longer runs. The Rams need tighter play from their last line of defense.
* Special teams: Two big special teams plays to discuss, neither of which went the Rams' way. After Dwayne Harris muffed away the Rams' opening punt, with Will Witherspoon falling on it, the offense three-and-outed again, then the Rams passed on a 56-yard FG try and fake-punted instead, with Johnny Hekker overthrowing a tightly-covered Stedman Bailey. I like the idea. The FG was far from a gimme and it was basically a free possession. The play never should have been run, though. The Cowboys mostly left their defensive unit on the field to defend against the fake. Somebody should have seen that and called the play off. That might be expecting a lot of Hekker, but nothing stopped John Fassel from seeing it on the sideline and calling a timeout. One of many coaching fails on the day. Austin had a long punt return TD called back for an obvious block in the back by Witherspoon. Don't get mad at Will for costing the Rams a TD. The illegal move is what sprung Tavon for his run in the first place, and Will probably saved Tavon's life in the process, as the rookie was insanely literally standing around with the live ball and letting defenders come to him. Witherspoon didn't cost the Rams a TD; he saved them their first-round draft pick.
* Strategery: The coaching staff earns its share of the blame for the Dallas debacle. The biggest disappointment wasn't even X's and O's; it was that the Rams looked flat from the outset on both sides of the ball. THAT is not supposed to happen to a Jeff Fisher team. Focus on this game was always going to be tricky with a ***** game four days away, but Fisher is supposed to be the leader the Rams woefully lacked for at least six years. He's getting big bucks so's this kind of thing doesn't happen. Yet, here we are. The Rams are 3-9 outside the division so far under Fisher, btw; what's the excuse for that supposed to be?
Defensively, the Rams, like the Giants in week one, planned to take Dez Bryant out of the game and make Dallas beat them with someone else. That was a sound plan for Tim Walton to take since the Rams had stuffed the run the first two weeks and Dallas seemed to have some blocking issues. Instead, the defensive line performed completely pathetically and seriously let Walton down. (Turns out the key to beating Dallas is to just let Bryant run wild; he ripped the Chiefs, but they stopped the run and won 17-16.) Walton's inability to adjust exacerbated the problem. Instead of trusting anyone to defend Bryant 1-on-1 and put extra help in the box, the Rams just let Murray gouge them over and over. Jenkins man-up on Bryant has to be a better solution than giving up 6.7 yards a carry to Murray, doesn't it? But if Fisher and staff are never going to believe in that, I guess we're in for many more games like this. We're in for many more games like this anyway if Walton continues to never call a blitz that works, too. Somehow opponents have had little trouble picking up Ram blitzes all season; a little self-scouting may be in order.
It's hard to tell what Brian Schottenheimer's offensive game plan even was. The offensive line played that poorly, and the Rams fell behind that fast. But again, inability to adjust rears its ugly head. Too many empty backfields are making it too obvious Bradford's passing and leaving him unprotected. For two straight weeks Schottenheimer hasn't figured out how to crack bracket coverage on Cook or take advantage of the double-teaming elsewhere, you know, like Bill Callahan did this week for Dallas with the running game. Getting shown up by Callahan doesn't reflect very well on Schottenheimer. Neither does it that he still hasn't found a good play to run for Tavon Austin. He's gotten to do nothing the Rams couldn't get the same result out of from Austin Pettis. I should have expected Monte Kiffin to do some corner blitzing; he used to love to blitz with Ronde Barber in Tampa. In my defense, the much-better-paid-than-me Schottenheimer didn't expect it, either. The Rams handled the corner blitz like Kiffin invented it yesterday. And I'm at the same loss as everyone else that the Rams waited almost three quarters before running any no-huddle offense. Never mind the game situation; it's the only style of offense they've succeeded in all year. The end of the first half was especially galling, with the Rams down 17, not getting the 2nd half kickoff, yet in no hurry whatsoever. With everything breaking down offensively this week, it's time for Schottenheimer and company to go back to the drawing board. He's three weeks overdue to draw up something good.
* Upon further review: The Rams are also overdue for a competently-officiated game, with Carl Cheffers and crew in the tank for the home team from the very beginning. A few plays after Trumaine Johnson got a pass interference penalty for nothing more than perfect coverage of Terrance Williams, Dez Bryant got away with blatantly shoving Finnegan to the ground for Dallas' first TD. When the F*CK are you going to call offensive interference if not there? On the ensuing kickoff, they threw a flag on Ray Ray Armstrong for holding AFTER Cunningham had already been tackled. The play was over! Meanwhile, Dallas was immune from holding penalties. Holding was rampant on Dallas running plays. Witten grabbed Quinn inside the shoulder pad and threw him to the ground on one play in the 2nd. No flag. My guess is Cheffers was probably drunk anyway. Austin's punt return TD was NOT called back by a block in the back on Witherspoon; Cheffers called holding on “number 42”, which the Rams don't even have. Grade: F
* Cheers: Kenny Albert possibly was out drinking with Cheffers Saturday night. On the failed fake punt, he got the whole booth calling Greg Zuerlein as the Rams' punter. He mistook Chris Givens for Stedman Bailey. He missed lot of spots again, one by ten yards. Moose and Goose were not as Dallas-biased as I thought they would be. Moose said Bryant should have been called for OPI on his “TD”. They both banged repeatedly on the Rams failing to adjust on defense with Murray running wild, and for failing to go no-huddle much sooner, like midway into the 2nd quarter. Moose actually gave the Rams too much credit with comments like “this isn't how a Jeff Fisher team plays”. Has been all season, Moose.
* Who’s next?: It could be worse than to lose 31-7 on the road, I guess. Like losing 27-7 at home, which the ***** stunningly did Sunday. And now both the Rams and ***** are 1-2, 2 games behind the Seahawks and get a whole three days to prepare for what might be the biggest game of the season for either of them. Jeff Fisher, Jim Harbaugh and I send our eternal thanks to the NFL Network and their STUPID Thursday night games. Who has this Thursday night game helped the most? Seattle, because it looks an awful lot like both the Rams and the ***** biffed their games Sunday because they were looking ahead to Thursday.
Some good news for the Rams for those who have any faith left in them: home teams historically win 2/3 of the time on Thursday nights. The Rams battled the ***** for ten quarters before Greg Zuerlein won the season series with a 54-yard bomb in the final minute of OT here last December. Bradford is 2-1-1 against the ***** and has been a difference-maker against them. The safeties are very beatable; Donte Whitner hasn't been less than a step late in coverage all year, and they've tackled surprisingly poorly so far. The Rams going multiple-wide means the ***** have to put the awful Nnamdi Asomugha on the field; he's farther past his prime than Alex Rodriguez. The Rams actually beat the ***** last December with dink-and-dunk. The Rams have caught a break with Aldon Smith leaving the ***** to enter rehab. At the same time, though, Jake Long has to be more than a very expensive doormat for Justin Smith to walk over all night, and after the Rams made Edgar Freaking Jones look like Lawrence Taylor, rookie OLB Corey Lemonier doesn't have to be too wide-eyed in Aldon's place. If the ***** force the Rams to max-protect, with their sticky corners, there goes what's left of the passing game. Bradford needs more than two seconds to get rid of the ball no matter what route's being run. Richardson may come back, or Pead may see more action, but the Rams haven't run the ball all season and there's little reason to think they will against the *****' stout front seven. Ahmad Brooks has been a dominant run defender their first two games. The Rams could get at the ***** with their tight end if they had one. Maybe Cory Harkey will get back to full strength.
The 49er offense has shown unexpected vulnerability so far. Tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis have had a lot of trouble dealing with edge speed. Their running game has been a stultifying endless loop of handoffs up the middle, behind Jonathan Goodwin, their worst blocker, that don't go anywhere and have Frank Gore kind of showing his age. Colin Kaepernick's looked indecisive even when they're winning. Inexplicably, he's looked tentative to run, and he's failing to see receivers wide open downfield. He's already thrown as many picks as he did all of last season. Hasn't helped that Bruce Miller has been especially poor in blitz protection so far. The ***** barely even hint at running Kaepernick on the feared read option. Defensive ends have just been crashing down on that around the league with impunity. Brockers dominated Goodwin in St. Louis, the Rams won the second game essentially without Quinn (who had a concussion), and they kept Kaepernick in the pocket, where he doesn't look very comfortable right now. OR, Long and Quinn could continue to get handled by tight ends and fullbacks, and Kaepernick will run wild, if not also Gore. And with Vernon Davis likely drawing double-teams, the Rams could leave lionhearted Anquan Boldin to run wild like he did against Green Bay to the tune of 13 catches for 205 yards. Sure, Richard Sherman shut down Boldin (1-7) man-to-man in Seattle and Kaepernick was suitably awful as a result. Jeff Fisher wouldn't let Sherman man-cover if he had him. He wouldn't let Deion Sanders man-cover if he had him. Pass pressure is mainly what's going to keep Boldin under control. Will the front four show up?
The most important question Thursday night will answer is how much faith the Rams' fans have in them after this week's fiasco. Crowd noise in Seattle really rattled the ***** last week. The Dome won't get as loud as it gets in Seattle, whose fans I consider legitimate MVP candidates. But it can get loud enough if the home crowd doesn't tank on the team like they tanked on us this week. If the loudest crowd noise Thursday night is booing at Bradford for checking down on 3rd-and-long, everybody should know where everybody else stands. But if the Rams can just get off to a start that isn't atrocious, we'll all stand together.
Re: RamView, 9/22/2013: Cowboys 31, Rams 7 (Long)
On the no call front, you missed a blatant hit to the head by Scandrick on Bradford that wasn't called.
Also believe that on the play where Escobar scored, Ogletree's helmet popped off on the play before, which is why he left the field and Spoon had to play nickel.