RamView, 9/26/2013: ***** 35, Rams 11 (Long)
RamView, September 26, 2013
From Row HH
(Report and opinions on and from the game.)
Game #4: ***** 35, Rams 11
A turning point game turns stomachs in Rams Nation as the team is barely competitive for the second time in five days. This bunch is going to be lucky to make it to 4-12. How has everything gone so wrong so fast?
Position by position:
* QB: The Ram offense is a completely dysfunctional mess, and Sam Bradford (19-41-202, PR 59.2) isn't good enough to bail it out. The Rams are apparently going to have problems protecting Bradford (AGAIN) and building a professional-quality receiving group for him to throw to (AGAIN), and he can't overcome it. Again. The Rams could barely move the ball this week against a 49er defense missing its two of its three best players. Having either an open receiver or time to throw would have been a luxury for Bradford this week; most plays, he had neither. But I don't remember Bradford making a good play, either. He was lucky his dismal numbers were as good as they were; he should have had several more INTs, a couple of which could have been pick-sixes. He had ANOTHER 3-4 passes knocked down at the line. You know you can't throw sidearm with a pocket collapsing around you, right? Apparently Bradford didn't on a near pick-six in the 3rd. That 4-game stretch without getting sacked must be the worst thing that could have happened to Sam. After taking a few in the next two games, his pocket presence has gone all to hell. He heard footsteps to the point you could see him flinching in the 2nd half when the ***** just showed blitzes. The ball hadn't even been snapped yet. The Rams' first score should have been a certain TD pass to Austin Pettis, but Bradford rushed the throw with the 49er rush still at a comfortable distance. Poor technique resulted in an underthrown deep ball for Brian Quick in the 2nd that the ***** turned into an INT. Bradford looked the defense off well but didn't step into the throw. The INT jolted the ***** out of an early road slumber and they'd never look back from there. Bradford stared down receivers, forced bad passes into double coverage, and helped Brian Schottenheimer's miserable game plan fail with audibles to several run plays that failed. What is Bradford seeing there? Anything besides him not having to get hit? Yes, by the second half the Ram passing game had devolved into nothing but short pass routes that the ***** could jump all over because the Rams couldn't run or protect Bradford long enough to throw deep. It's turned Bradford into the NFL's version of a shellshock victim. And unfortunately, I'm kind of like General Patton where shellshock is concerned. But this is Sam Bradford's 4th season in the NFL. I think it's fair to expect more out of a first pick overall, out of a $50 million player. Gotta go to work, Sam.
* RB: Daryl Richardson (12-16) and Benny Cunningham (4-6) could manage only 22 yards in 16 carries between them. Granted, neither got much of anything resembling running room, but Richardson was praised last season for his ability to gain yards after contact and maneuver through traffic. We've seen nothing like that this year. Richardson further dampened his prospects as a viable NFL starter with another ugly drop as a receiver. Both dumped buckets of water on the already cold ashes of the Ram passing game with complete inadequacy in blitz pickup. They are not just bad at it; they are incapable of doing it. They were run over repeatedly by 49er LBs, including by NaVarro Bowman for one of S.F.'s FIVE sacks, and teams are going to blitz the Rams forever if the RBs are going to be that poor against it. This isn't something the rest of the league just learned, either; the Vikings blitzed the Rams last year every time Richardson was left back there. The complete lack of competent RB play shut down the Ram offense. 3rd-and-1 in the 2nd, they KNOW they can't get that one yard, throw deep and get intercepted. Like Bradford, it just crumbled to pieces from there. Time to try what meager other options the Rams have left. Zac Stacy's likely their most powerful runner, but I'll bet pass protection issues keep him off the field, which leaves Isaiah Pead, who is probably their best pass protector and receiving option. But he was inactive, apparently for disciplinary reasons (uncredibly denied by Jeff Fisher). Steven Jackson has proven completely irreplaceable by this group for his physical play, receiving, blocking and leadership. GREAT move letting him go.
* Receivers: The Rams' #1 receiver is apparently Austin Pettis (5-59), who admittedly missed out on a TD early in the game through no fault of his own. He's still hit and miss as a possession receiver. He'll get you a couple of first downs and a couple of dropped passes every week. Jared Cook (4-45) is just a $30 million non-factor any more. 49er LBs didn't seem to have any trouble covering him man-to-man, he's Randy Mossing it when he's not getting the ball and protection problems have him staying in to block, something he's not very good at or very interested in. Chris Givens (4-49) continues to have serious problems with physical coverage and hasn't done anything in a couple of weeks to stretch the field. Brian Quick (1-12) started off with a nice physical catch but hasn't shown the hands or ability to get open to be a trustworthy option for Bradford. And Tavon Austin (2-6) getting extra attention from the ***** doesn't seem to help the rest of the crew get open. Let's get on the referees to quit letting DBs hold Austin, btw; I think that's the major reason we haven't seen him open yet on a deep route. 4.3 speed getting blanketed deep; something's going on. Not much is going to get done here until somebody steps up and starts getting open.
* Offensive line: For the second straight game, the Ram offensive line was a failure from one end to another. They completely lost at the line of scrimmage, opening nothing in the running game and letting Bradford get sacked five times and hammered all night. Where to start? Scott Wells made Glenn Dorsey look like a top-5 draft pick talent again, getting beaten by the Chiefs washout repeatedly. Dorsey whipped Wells clean off the snap for S.F.'s first sack of Bradford. Wells also helped keep the passing game out of sync with a barrage of bad shotgun snaps. He spent as much time on the ground as anywhere else, getting trucked all night by Dorsey or Ray McDonald. Run-blocking was just a joke. Richardson got stuffed on his first carry with Lance Kendricks failing miserably against one of the best run-defenders in the league, Ahmad Brooks. Nobody blocked NaVarro Bowman all game. In the 1st, when D-Rich tried to cut one inside Brooks setting another hard edge against Kendricks, he could only run into Bowman, who Harvey Dahl couldn't block. Bowman got him for another loss just by running through the hole Chris Williams vacated on the pull. How do you lose Bowman EVERY PLAY when Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith aren't even on the field? Jake Long didn't know who to block on that play and blocked nobody. The game was just a complete loss physically. Richardson got stuffed in the 2nd on a play where Corey Lemonier closed the hole simply by shoving Joseph Barksdale into it. Ahmad Brooks got Bradford on a stunt before halftime after Williams blew his assignment. Um, you should be familiar with that play from the *****. Rinse, wash, repeat in the 2nd half. Cunningham gets stuffed after Kendricks can't set the edge, Barksdale loses to McDonald, Wells loses badly to Dorsey, and Bowman walks in untouched. A Lemonier stunt stuffed Cunningham on a draw later after Dahl couldn't disengage. Brooks got a second sack after Long couldn't block him long enough after Bradford took off. Bowman got a second sack, and forced a fumble near the Rams' goal line to set up a 49er TD, after whipping Williams but good with a spin move. Terrible blitz pickup just piled on the pain for Bradford and Rams fans. An offense is never going to get anywhere with an o-line getting whipped and pushed around as consistently as the Rams o-line has these past two games.
* Defensive line: The Ram front four was horrifyingly bad against the run for the second straight game. Kendall Langford jumped offsides on the opening play, then got stuffed by the TE on the first of too many long runs by Frank Gore. The Rams did keep the 49er offense misfiring for a quarter, with Michael Brockers making a couple of good stops, but Gore got the ball rolling in the 2nd with a 27-yard run. As many big runs start against the Rams, Robert Quinn got ridden well past the hole. Then Brockers got stoned by the TE, letting fullback Bruce Miller pick off James Laurinaitis. Almost an identical formula gave Gore another long run at the 2:00 halftime warning, except with Will Witherspoon getting picked off as well as Laurinaitis. The turning point of the game came a little later. The Rams got the ***** to 4th-and-1 and called a timeout to stop Colin Kaepernick from running a sneak. Then they stuffed the box to try to stop Gore. And failed miserably. Langford got stuffed by tackle Anthony Davis, Chris Long got dominated by a tight end, which has been happening to him all season, Laurinaitis got picked off and Rodney McLeod's pathetic ankle-high whiff turned a first down into a touchdown. The Rams simply have to do a better job of standing up to their opponents. They did shut the ***** down for a while after halftime, with four straight three-and-outs. They could defend sweeps. Of course, the ***** don't get TEs or FBs out front on those. Bull rush from Long set up both of the Rams' sacks. His push blew up a 1st-quarter screen and allowed Robert Quinn to track Kaepernick down from behind for his fifth sack already in 2013. Long and Brockers split a coverage sack in the 4th. But with those stops still not enough for the moribund Ram offense to get back into the game, the D caved in for the last time in the 4th when Anthony Dixon walked in from the 1 for a TD. Fullback Miller trucked Chris Long to the inside a good 10 feet on that play, letting linemen out to destroy Ogletree and Darian Stewart. This bunch went from one of the league's most promising defenses into a bunch of outclassed lightweights. It's frankly baffling and it's killing the team right now.
* LB: Even with the ***** topping 200 yards on the ground, Rams linebacker play doesn't look awful. When the linemen are getting picked off by backs and tight ends, free-running o-linemen make the LBs' jobs that much tougher. Jo-Lonn Dunbar would be an upgrade on Will Witherspoon if the Rams chose that route. Will did whiff, along with T.J. McDonald, on Frank Gore's first long run. James Laurinaitis had a couple of good run stops and did a good job getting back to break up a couple of deep passes over the middle. I would like to see him get picked off easily by fullbacks less often than he does. Alec Ogletree blew a sack but still had a pretty solid game. Along with several good run stops and a blown-up screen pass, Ogletree tomahawked a fumble loose from Gore in the 3rd after McDonald's embarrassing stripper-on-a-pole tackle let the 49er RB loose for 15. Ray Ray Armstrong got some snaps during garbage time and seemed to acquit himself well. The big issue for this group is the front four gets dominated, which doesn't let them do their job, which is then left to the Rams' very raw, very out-of-position, suspect-tackling safeties.
* Secondary: Counting training camp, after two months, the Rams safeties are terrible. Rodney McLeod has yet to provide proper help on a deep ball and whiffs tackles like Craig Dahl on steroids. They're out of position half time time and take bad angles the other half. T.J. McDonald's been a tone-setter as a hitter, but he's still out of position too often, his biggest hit this week took out his own guy (Eugene Sims), and he's out half the season now due to a leg fracture. The one veteran the Rams do have back there (now), Matt Giordano, doesn't figure to tighten things up any, judging from the ease with which a hobbled Vernon Davis beat him for S.F.'s third TD. Just a simple inside move turned Giordano into a deer in the headlights, with McLeod of course way too late to help. Rollout passes to the fullbacks and tight ends (you know, that play that never works for the Ram offense) were wide open every time S.F. tried them. Cortland Finnegan has declined into as bad a cornerback as the Rams have had in the St. Louis era. Anquan Boldin probably runs about a 4.8 40 these days, but Finnegan couldn't even HOLD him well enough to prevent a 42-yard gain in the 2nd (on 3rd-and-10, no less). A couple of plays later, Finnegan blew in the clutch again, giving up 2-3 yards separation on the break as Boldin turned a simple square out into a 20-yard TD on THIRD AND NINETEEN. Finnegan left the game shortly afterward due to an injured hamstring some speculate was an injured ego. Either will need a lot of time in the cold tub the way Finnegan has played.
* Special teams: Boy, for all the running around John Fassel did during training camp, Rams special teams sure don't look well-coached at times. Ray Ray Armstrong has been a penalty machine. He had a 15-yarder on the very first punt. The Rams also held on their first punt return. Johnny Hekker doesn't come close to punting out of bounds at the end of the half to allow a rare free kick the Rams were supposedly trying to guard against. Greg Zuerlein nearly biffed a 34-yard FG, doinking it in off the right upright. The big crisis right now is Tavon Austin's utterly useless play on punt returns. Hard to believe anyone could outdo the maddening Shaun McDonald, but Austin's fielding punts, STANDING STILL to what? let the defense close on him?, then running around 60-70 yards horizontally to lose three yards vertically because he's unsurprisingly gotten swamped by the defenders he let get to him in the first place. Hey, Tavon? This isn't high school. Get your butt upfield. It's just woeful coaching to let him get away with this for this long. It's hard enough to block these plays when the returner just lets the D come to him.
* Strategery: Brian Schottenheimer's earned a good roasting in these parts for his offense's miserable performance so far this season. But he got almost universally good reviews for his work last year. What happened? Schottenheimer doesn't appear to have learned from last year, when he excelled at playing to the strengths of his players. The running game mainly attempts to slam 180-pound Richardson up the middle. He tried repeatedly to run at Ahmad Brooks, who anybody who's been paying attention can tell you is one of the very best run defenders in the league. Schottenheimer did a nice job last season putting together combination routes to get receivers open, like the Pettis route that should have been a TD in the 1st, but the main combination theory this year seems to be to get all the other receivers out of the way to set up 2-yard dumpoffs. Chris Givens' bread and butter is running deep routes; the Rams haven't gone deep to him the last two games and throw to him like he's a big possession receiver. Tavon Austin should be used more like they used Danny Amendola. Put him in the slot more. Jared Cook's not being used well now as a tight end or a wide receiver. Schottenheimer got Bradford in trouble repeatedly last season with empty backfield or zero-protection plays that sent all the receivers deep. Too many times in this game, Bradford had no protection and nobody to check down to. Schottenheimer had him in a lot of zero-protect Thursday night and has all season. Schottenheimer's and the Ram offense's fortunes are definitely tied to the health and competence of the o-line, but there's also little on record to convince anyone that he can run an offense that gets the ball downfield. Schottenheimer's not exactly evolving at the speed of business, but the Josh McDaniels act needs to stop now. He has 10 days to re-tune this offense to a system he and the players he has can actually run.
I should probably have more complaining to do about Tim Walton at DC but will blame the defense's woes more on execution for now. They kept Kaepernick in the pocket, got decent pressure on him and got enough 3-and-outs in the 2nd half that even a semi-competent offense should have been able to get back into the game. Walton called blitzes that worked this week; Ogletree and McDonald both blew sacks, though. I don't know how the coaching staff can fix a run defense whose defensive ends and tackles now are getting handled by tight ends, but improving safety play should be within their control.
Les Snead and Jeff Fisher don't get off scot-free. Cortland Finnegan, Jake Long, Jared Cook, Scott Wells, Kendall Langford, all high-ticket veteran free agents signed by this regime who have not performed even close to par. The post-Steven Jackson "plan" at RB is atrocious. The backup plan at tackle behind the very injury-prone Jake Long and Rodger Saffold is poor. Snead had three picks in the second round last year and appears to have blown two of them. This is the kind of show Jeff Fisher and his veteran-filled, accomplished coaching staff were supposed to run out of town. Unlike the past couple of coaching staffs, we know just about everyone on Fisher's staff should know what they're doing based on past performance. That just makes this season and the past two weeks even more baffling.
* Upon further review: Jeff Triplette's always been subpar, though this game probably wasn't his crew's worst work. The biggest frustration was the unevenness in pass interference calls. Boldin got to shove off all night long without much of anything getting called. The ***** got to mug Ram receivers several times without anything being called. Little tug on Boldin's jersey by Jenkins in the 3rd, flags are a-flyin'. Carlos Rogers grabs Austin's jersey to abort a deep route just a little later, no call. The replay official was really on the ball in the last 2:00 of the first half, correctly challenging the calls on a Boldin catch and the spot on a Gore run, and Triplette's Forrest Gump-like 50-yard sprint to correct an awful spot on a Rams punt late in the 3rd was oddly entertaining. D-plus
* Cheers: The home crowd came ready to rock and roll and produced a deafening roar all the first half, only to find out the best on-field entertainment of the night would be provided by the Tennessee State University marching band. By the end, all the noise was booing of the Ram offense, along with cheers from St. Louis' unnatural number of natives who are 49er fans. Like I said at the end of the last RamView, everybody knows where everybody stands now. In less than a week, the hope of the fan base has curdled into bitter disappointment. I had never left a home game early, not even preseason, until this game, with 5:00 left to play. Good luck getting anyone to show up next Sunday with the Cardinals in the playoffs, guys. Kudos to the Rams for inviting back many former players, who were introduced throughout the game and were the only other highlight besides the band. The disappointment was the Rams couldn't get Faulk, Warner, Bruce, Holt, Dickerson, Everett, Pace, Slater, Harrah or Aeneas Williams signed up in time to play.
* Who’s next?: For the second straight game, I wrote a preview and then the Rams crapped all over it. This week, I was going to compare the Rams' opponent in 10 days, the 0-3 Jacksonville Jagwires, to the Steve Spagnuolo-era Rams. My checklist included: rebuilding franchise; offensive line can't control line of scrimmage; running game shows little outside speed and doesn't get running room from line; highly-drafted Big 12 QB who's already been through multiple coordinators; QB's early career slowed by injury; QB only looks comfortable running spread system he ran in college; QB settles for too many checkdowns; offensive line can't protect QB; receivers are low-impact and have trouble getting open; defensive line has good speed off the edges but can't stop anybody; defensive coordinator turned newbie head coach.
The problem: most of that also describes the 2013 Rams. Thursday afternoon I felt pretty good about the Rams' chances in this game. Not any more. The two best receivers on the field October 6th will both be Jagwires: deep threat Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon, returning from a DUI suspension. Despite a slow start, the best RB on the field will be Maurice Jones-Drew. Add in the dangerous speed of slot receiver Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson, though he is very raw and figures to mainly be a threat on returns. The Jagwire offensive line is Swiss cheese, though no worse than the Rams' well-paid group. Rookie RT Luke Joeckel's head is predictably spinning and he's having issues with assignments and edge speed. If the Rams are kicking themselves for drafting Jason Smith in 2009 instead of LT Eugene Monroe, it's not very hard. LG Will Rackley's play in Seattle had me thinking he must be wearing heelies. Lack of protection has been in Blaine Gabbert's head all his brief career. He hears footsteps, barely looks downfield, barely completes half his passes, fumbles a lot, has bad mechanics and has had his toughness questioned. The Jagwire staff is all-in on Gabbert, though, at least until they're positioned to draft Teddy Bridgewater next April. If the Rams don't beat them to the punch. If Gabbert survives long enough to return to his hometown – he's already broken the thumb of his throwing hand and missed most of the first three games after getting that same hand sliced open - the Jagwire offense will look different, and maybe even better, than last year. Gabbert's coaches have returned him to the comfort of his college spread system and are all but begging him to cut it loose and go downfield. A good defense would be able to beat Jacksonville's doughy-soft line consistently and put plenty of panic-inducing pressure in Gabbert's face. The Jagwire offense has started this season at a historically bad pace, averaging barely 3.5 yards per PLAY. Luckily for them, their next opponent is the Rams. (Wonder if Jags owner Shad Khan still has his Rams season tickets. Or if he saw this game and said, “Whew, I'm sure glad I didn't get stuck with THAT mess.”)
The Jagwire defense does look less talented than the Ram defense on paper. Like he did in Seattle, head coach Gus Bradley basically plays 3 DTs and complements that with good speed off the edge from Jason Babin. The Jagwires do not appear to blitz a lot, but seeing the Rams can't pick one up to save their lives and LB Geno Hayes has very nice quickness, we can probably expect that to change. The ***** could get there with their two best players out; the Jagwires can get there with what they've got. The secondary, whose biggest name is probably rookie safety Jonathan Cyprien, can take away the deep stuff but stops almost nothing underneath. Their DBs lose almost every physical battle; in Seattle, they turned Sidney Rice into Larry Fitzgerald and Golden Tate into Hines Ward. The secondary is very green and the whole defense is not assignment-sound. Their run fits are bad, they blow coverages and bite like bear-traps on fakes and motion and play-action. I don't know why play-action would fake out an opponent given the Rams' miserable running game, but it's a possibility. Jacksonville also looks clueless against tight ends, so if the Rams have a big, fast TE who likes to go over the middle, he could have a big game. Just saying.
Time is running out for Jeff Fisher to salvage the 2013 season; it may already be too late. It's definitely over if they lose at home to a team that hasn't won on the road for more than a year. It's definitely over if the 2013 Rams can't prove to be any better than the 2009 or 2011 Rams. The only question left then will be for whom else it's definitely over.
Re: RamView, 9/26/2013: ***** 35, Rams 11 (Long)
Once again, you do an awesome job of analysing a game.
Re: RamView, 9/26/2013: ***** 35, Rams 11 (Long)
great job...I hope to meet you this week at the bash???