RamView, 9/9/2007: Panthers 27, Rams 13 (Long)
RamView, September 9, 2007
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game #1: Panthers 27, Rams 13
There are many rules of thumb for winning football games. Don’t turn the ball over. Make the most of your breaks. Get the job done in the red zone. MAKE TACKLES. Win the game in the trenches. Well, whether through injury, incompetence or getting outplayed, the Rams did none of those this Opening Day, putting a sour taste in the mouths of 60,000 and starting the second season of the Linehan Era behind the eight-ball.
Position by position:
* QB: After guiding the Rams to a TD on their opening drive, throwing nice strikes to Dante Hall for 12 for a first down at the Panther 8 and to Torry Holt for a 3-yard TD, Marc Bulger completed just 50% of his passes and threw for just 131 yards the rest of the game, finishing a rusty, rattled 22-42-167. After that TD drive, Marc spent most of the first half throwing third down passes short of the marker. His key play in the final 2:00 wasn’t even a pass, it was a 3rd-down 14-yard scramble into the Panther red zone. He was sacked on the next play, though, and the offense gave up, even with nearly a minute remaining from 23 yards out, and settled for a FG. The short passing offense struck again after Dante Hall opened the 2nd half with a long kickoff return. The Rams started at the Panther 17 but settled for a 3-and-out FG with two dinks to Torry Holt failing to do much damage. After Steven Jackson fumbles killed back-to-back drives, Marc started to look rattled, throwing off his back foot and getting Dante Hall whacked on 3rd down late in the 3rd. Marc took a huge blow himself from huge Kris Jenkins at the beginning of the 4th and wasn’t the same after that. He went from throwing dinks to throwing wild pitches. He threw well behind wide open Isaac Bruce on a 3rd-and-2 and would later throw one several feet over Bruce’s head when he was wide open at the sideline. Marc’s decision-making suffered as well as his accuracy. Late in the game, down 2 TDs, with the clock leaving no choice to go downfield, he’s dumping off to Brian Leonard or Dane Looker. This was going to be a bad day for Marc Bulger to stand out. The game plan was awful, and the offensive line was without two starters most of the game. But Marc is off to one of his patented slow starts again and appeared today to be in the same funk he was in the Oakland preseason game. Ram fans, while wishing Marc’s engine wasn’t so hard to start, have to hope he can get the needle in the red very quickly.
* RB: Steven Jackson (18-58) started out strong, but his third-quarter meltdown doomed his day and his team's. Out of the starting block, he looked like last year's Jackson, with a 9-yard run up the middle behind great blocking, and eight more behind a Mark Setterstrom block. Early in the 2nd, after a 13-yard sweep around a corner seal by Randy McMichael and a diving block by Alex Barron, Steven had 44 yards on 8 rushes and appeared to be on his way to a big game. But after Orlando Pace left the game injured, and the offense sputtered twice in the red zone, Steven made a couple of extra-effort plays where the effort backfired on him. Chris Harris put his helmet right on the ball to jar a fumble loose from Jackson and kill a drive in the 3rd that had promised to build on the Rams' 13-7 lead. And the very next possession, deep in his own territory, Jackson collided with Torry Holt while trying to make extra yardage and clanged the ball off the Ram WR for a second straight turnover, matching his lost fumbles total for all last season. Steven didn't help himself out by being a non-factor in the passing game. With all due respect to Dan Morgan and his comeback from several concussions, Steven Jackson shouldn't be getting neutralized the way he was by a guy who hadn't played in almost a year. There’s little doubt in Rams Nation today that Steven’s problems stemmed from lack of work in the preseason against opposing gentlemen with bad intentions. Not having had summer school to study up, Steven’d better cram hard now that final exams have arrived.
* WR: Good things happened when Bulger went to Torry Holt. Torry drew a couple of DPI's to go with 8 catches for 73 yards, including a 3-yard TD. It didn't look like Torry's balky knee was bothering him any. None of the other receivers had a very good game, which unfortunately includes Isaac Bruce, 2-20 with a couple of drops. Dante Hall (2-18) got a surprising amount of snaps, including a 12-yard catch on 3rd-and-6 from the Carolina 20 to set up the Holt TD. Randy McMichael (2-24), possibly because he was being kept in to block, wasn't thrown to until very late in the game. And he, like all the other Ram TEs, was never targeted in the red zone. That was by (poor) design; for J.D. Drew Bennett (0-0), it was because he was a gameday inactive with leg injuries suffered in practice. The receiving corps didn’t contribute at all today like Rams fans would have hoped.
* Offensive line: Injuries plagued the Ram offensive line both before and during the game. Orlando Pace suffered a sprained right shoulder late in the second quarter, and a lot of the air came out of the Ram offense at that point. Pace missed the rest of the game, and we'll have to see how many more to come. Adam Goldberg replaced him, and seemed to hold his own. Richie Incognito didn't suit up due to a preseason ankle sprain, and his replacement, Milford Brown, didn't fare as well. Kindal Moorehead shot right by him to drop Jackson for a 4-yard loss in the 2nd. Moorehead beat Brown for the only sack of the game late in the first half, and though it came on first down, it shell-shocked the Rams, who had lost Pace just a few plays earlier, and they went into a conservative shell and limited their goal for the 2:00 drive to a FG. Complicating the issue was the coaching staff's decision to make Claude Terrell inactive, which essentially made Milford the man at LG no matter how he played. I never saw what they liked about Brown in the preseason, and I still don't see it. Adding further to the trouble, Mark Setterstrom let Kris Jenkins by for a devastating hit on Bulger early in the 4th, after which the Ram QB really wasn't the same. Alex Barron had a decent game, though he blew blocks on a couple of the Jackson runs that were stuffed. Alex's pass protection was solid. He didn't allow a sack, he didn't false-start, and he protected well without a lot of help. Whether or not Alex is the team's new left tackle, though, will have Rams fans on pins and needles in the coming week.
* Defensive line/LB: The Ram front seven was almost a total disgrace. OK, they did improve over last year’s game, allowing 186 on the ground vs. 242 in ’06. But neither that nor the complete absence of pass rush all day are anything near acceptable. Leonard Little and James Hall were useless. Carolina drove easily to an opening TD as the Rams did not pressure Jake Delhomme at all. Later in the 1st, Hall got sucked in on a flip to DeShaun Foster, who gained 20. Foster gained 18 more two plays later, as Brandon Chillar ran right by him on a blitz, Little got blocked, and Foster broke at least FOUR tackles, including attempts by Pisa Tinoisamoa, Ron Bartell and Corey Chavous. Adam Carriker, probably the defensive star today, stopped that drive by crashing the backfield and taking DeAngelo Williams down for a loss, which led up to a missed Jon Kasay FG. The Rams did manage to shut down Carolina the rest of the first half. Carriker clogged the middle on one 2nd-and-short and forced Foster over to Chavous for minimal gain, and Little had a near-sack on 3rd down to stall a drive. Later in the half, Chillar crashed into Williams by accident and knocked him down for a loss, followed by the Panthers blowing the snap on 3rd down. In the 3rd, the Rams extended their 10-7 halftime lead to 13-7, and things looked rosy when Will Witherspoon recovered a fumble forced by Chavous. Jackson fumbled it back, though, and the Rams put on no pass rush as Delhomme hit Steve Smith with a 68-yard TD bomb. Chillar saved Jackson’s bacon after a second fumble, forcing one of his own near the goal line to keep the game close. But with the offense repeatedly 3-and-outing in the second half and leaving Carolina good field position, an already-anemic defense began to wear out. Pisa totally blew coverage of TE Jeff King on 3rd-and-5 to keep a FG drive alive that put Carolina up 7. The Panthers put the Rams away with a long drive in the 4th. Williams gained 10 behind the TE pushing Little around like an empty grocery cart. He swept left for 11, completely avoiding Chillar’s reckless dive at into the hole. Then 11 more the same way, with Witherspoon missing a tackle. That set up Delhomme’s second TD pass to Drew Carter, with the line giving Jake all… day… to beat Lenny Walls with a bullet. Right after Little made his one play for the day, stuffing Williams for -4, the final straw came in the form of Williams’ 12-yard RUN on 3rd-and-10 with 4:00 left. Carolina was happy just to punt, but Little overplayed the handoff in the backfield, Chavous, Chillar and Glover all got knocked on the ground, and big Walls needed 5 yards to finish the tackle. Boos rained down on a defense that decisively showed it hasn’t improved a whit over last season. The DTs were able to clog up some runs, but the Panther RBs would bounce outside for big gains due to poor containment by the OLB’s and poor tackling by the DB’s. The DE’s were worthless, putting on almost no pass rush and continually getting caught upfield on runs for big gains. The (healthy) Ram d-line lost this one even worse in the trenches than the battered Ram o-line did.
* Secondary: It’s not like he can woof about it or anything, but Tye Hill did a better job on Steve Smith than that 7-118, 1 TD line looks. According to nfl.com, Delhomme went to Smith 14 times in all, and a couple of catches were off OJ Atogwe. They double-teamed Smith a lot, and except for one play, Hill kept all-pro Smith in check. Of course, that one play was Smith’s 68-yard TD reception, a key play of the game. Even there, Tye’s play wasn’t as bad as it looked. Smith got the two-yard jump during a hand fight that probably should have earned him an OPI, and Hill still almost caught back up, stumbling after clipping toes with the Panther speedster. Steve Smith’s going to make big plays; it was worse that the Rams gave up 2 TDs to Drew Carter. The first was off Corey Chavous, who continues not to impress me; the second came off Lenny Walls, though the line gave Delhomme far too much time. Coverage was OK; the secondary’s major problem was tackling. They don’t remotely have a thumper back there. They have speed bumps that get jumped over and guys who take piggyback rides. Chavous missed as many tackles as he made, though he did force a Foster fumble with a strong hit in the 3rd. But Atogwe took 10 yards to tackle Foster on a 1st-quarter run. Ron Bartell got run over downfield for 5-6 extra yards a couple of times. Hill blew a tackle on Williams badly leading up to Carter’s 2nd TD, and Walls needed 5 yards to drag down Williams on that 12-yard run on 3rd-and-10 late in the game. That lack of physicality just won’t do, especially with big guys like Bartell and Walls. The Ram DBs have to do their part for the defense to reduce the number of long runs.
* Special teams: Doesn't it just figure? The one good unit on the field for the Rams today? Special teams. Dante Hall made the game's biggest play with an 84-yard kickoff return to open the second half. He slipped through the slenderest of seams, used Dominique Byrd as a moving screen to put an ankle-breaking fake on Richard Marshall, and was off to the races. A younger Dante Hall would have scored the TD, but Marshall caught Dante, which would save Carolina four points. Hall's home run ball lets us look past several returns that didn't cross the 20, including one kickoff he could have let roll out of bounds. Kicking was good; Donnie Jones averaged 43.0 and got really good hang time once he got warmed up. Jeff Wilkins was Money as usual, with 2 FGs and everything deep on kickoffs. Kickoff coverage, led by Todd Johnson, and punt coverage were both highly effective. It'll never last, so enjoy it while you can. Great game today, though.
* Coaching/discipline: Scott Linehan “fired himself” as offensive play-caller after last year’s debacle in Carolina; what happens to Greg Olson after this year’s debacle against the Panthers? Olson at least got the ball to Jackson, unlike Linehan last year, and that aspect of the game plan was working, at least until Jackson started coughing the ball up. That’s not Olson’s fault, but the passing game picked up none of the slack Jackson left, because just like last year, the Rams play-caller scrupulously avoided throwing downfield in favor of three-yard quick passes. I can only ask, Why? What about last year’s shutout made anyone at Rams Park think this was a good idea this year? If there was a case of Pace Panic, there shouldn’t have been. Olson conducted a very effective offense last year with Pace out of the lineup. But that wasn’t ever going to happen with today’s all-short-pass, all-the-time offense, which, just like last year, got eaten alive by a Panther defense that never had to worry about the deep ball. That’s a big reason short passing won’t work on 3rd-and-long, idiots, and some of those were getting called before Pace left the game. And Greg, you got the all-pro tight end in the offseason, how about using him? Mike Martz’s tight ends got three catches today, for the love of Pete Holohan!
Impossibly, Jim Haslett’s game plan was even worse than Olson’s. Jake Delhomme turns to jelly when you put pressure on him, yet Haslett appeared to call for very few blitzes, and the ones he called were picked up easily. Did Haslett think pressuring Delhomme would be a bad idea? What about the straight-up pass rush, so impotent it couldn’t be saved by Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, Enzyte, a hand pump, Carmen Electra and a bottle of tequila combined, made Haslett think it would be a good idea not to blitz much? I thought moving Hill around to keep him on Steve Smith was a necessary, and good, move, along with the frequent double-teaming, but how did Atogwe end up alone on Smith so often? And was it Haslett’s idea to leave gaps in the defensive line big enough to drive Larry Marmie’s moving truck through? How many times did Carolina just run right through that gap? Honestly, between Olson’s Pat Boone-vanilla offense and Haslett’s Debby Boone-vanilla defense, I wasn’t sure we weren’t still in preseason!
And did I actually hear Scott Linehan say they’ve been preparing for this game for six months? I shudder to think about the rest of the season if this egg they laid today took that long to plan out. “Prepare” and “Rams” don’t belong in the same sentence. Bulger didn’t look sharp in preseason games, and wasn’t sharp today. Jackson didn’t even take a handoff in preseason; should we be surprised he’d make rusty-looking turnovers he normally never makes? Fine, say it’s stupid to risk your stars in preseason games. Fine, put them in bubble wrap until the regular season. But you make damn sure that in practice, they’re getting the kinks worked out and the rust knocked off. The scoreboard talks; Linehan didn’t have his team ready for the regular season. Again. That’s disgraceful. I like Scott Linehan. And I also want to kick him in the shorts right now. You don’t just show up and win. You don’t just turn on a switch and play well. You may not get many more shots at this, Coach; it’s time to start getting it right.
* Upon further review: The Bill Leavy crew was going to at least pass until I saw a late replay of Steve Smith's long TD. If you're wondering how Tye Hill got beat by two yards, it's because of the pushoff Smith gets away with at about the 47 yard line. The Rams also benefited from bad calls. The DPI calls looked legit on replay, but Ken Lucas' second should have been ruled incidental contact. Madison Hedgecock got away with a hold on Hall's long kick return, though this crew was not exactly cracking down on that. Drew Carter's 2nd TD catch looked good the first time, but the challenge was understandable. Same with the fumble near the goal line in the 3rd. It looked like Chillar had the ball pulled loose as Foster was going down. But this crew made too many poor calls on game-turning plays to earn any grade other than F.
* Cheers: Well, so much for selling any more games out this season, after the Rams put the "ack" in "lackluster" today. The crowd was into it for three quarters, and produced good decibels, earning credit for two Carolina false starts and a blown snap in the 2nd. But after DeAngelo Williams RAN for 12 on THIRD AND TEN late in the game, the loudest noise of the day was the booing that put everyone on notice that the honeymoon is already over for 2007. The game was a sellout in name only, anyway; Edward Jones bought up the last 2,000 tickets or so. The Dome was probably 5-10K short of full occupancy. The halftime show was a flag football “contest” between the SLPD and the SLFD. Mimicking the Ram offense, neither squad looked like it had practiced for the event. Watching a bunch of beer-leaguers half-ass around with a football isn’t my idea of halftime entertainment, but it does meet the Rams’ main criteria for the halftime show: they don’t have to pay anything for it. Next week: local nuns and priests in a field-goal-kicking contest.
* Who’s next?: It's only a small exaggeration, really, to suggest that the Rams' season is on the line next Sunday with the San Francisco ***** coming in to renew hostilities in the longtime rivalry. The Rams cannot afford to start 0-2, with a loss in the division, with two conference losses, with four road games in five weeks looming after that. They simply have to win next Sunday, and one hopes the organization, from top to bottom, will approach the game with the needed urgency.
Niners RB Frank Gore averaged 130 yards a game against the Rams last year, so you have to believe he’s good for at least that many yards on Sunday. With seemingly little chance of limiting Gore’s damage on the ground, the Rams are going to have to force turnovers – Gore has been fumble-prone – and limit Michael Robinson when he comes in for short-yardage situations. Another 49er who’s not a good ball handler is new WR Darrell Jackson, one of the NFL’s premier pass-droppers. Jackson and Arnaz Battle don’t strike fear into the hearts of DBs, but the Rams have to have one eye on TE Vernon Davis at all times. Hill and Bartell have to handle their duties so Chillar, Witherspoon and the Ram safeties can concentrate on preventing the spread of VD. Alex Smith is progressing nicely at QB for San Fran, and he plays the Rams tough lately anyway, so the Ram D had better be on its game. Leonard Little goes up against rookie Joe Staley, and that’s a matchup where he has to dominate, not just win, and certainly not turn into the Invisible Man.
Steven Jackson grounded and pounded the Niners into submission here in St. Louis last season, and the Rams will need more of that to avoid an 0-2 start. They did that last year without Pace up front, and with a week to get the o-line set, and hopefully the return of Richie Incognito, they can repeat their past running success. San Francisco will be a bear for the Ram passing game if Bulger is forced to throw. Holt’s already had more than his share of trouble getting open off Walt Harris; this offseason the Niners added Nate Clements to give themselves one of the league’s best secondaries, at least on paper. J.D. Drew Bennett would be a big addition to the offense if he isn’t too bruised. Or. Maybe. Throw. To. McMichael??? And just once, could we get through a 49er game without giving up a sack to Bryant Young? The guy is 400 years old, after all. The ***** are poised to have their best year defensively in a long time; the Rams o-line has to do its job, Jackson has to be a land and air threat, Bulger has to have his head on straight, and the receivers behind Holt are going to have to deliver. San Francisco’s going to be good, but not unbeatable.
The Rams are going to have to be a lot more composed and prepared for San Francisco than they were for Carolina. The offense has to be creative. The defense has to be able to pressure the QB. The coaches have to do their jobs. As of week 1, it appears only that the Ram coaching staff took the summer off. There was once a fella on the Rams sideline who had a saying that this whole team had better start following on Monday, and carry through to Sunday, or the 2007 season is going to be over in a hurry.
Gotta. Go. To. Work.
Game stats from nfl.com