RamView, August 12, 2004
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Preseason Game #1: Bears 13, Rams 10 (OT)
More penalties than total points? Must be preseason! But hey, football is back. Hooray football!
Bright spots: Starting offensive and defensive lines looked better than expected.
Position by position:
* QB: Marc Bulger drove the Rams to their initial FG on 3-6-57 passing, the highlight pass a 14-yarder to Dane Looker between two defenders to convert a 3rd-and-12 from the Bear 26. The drive and Bulger's night ended with Marc getting swamped by a Bear blitz. Chris Chandler was close to perfect in relief, 8-9-108 and a TD to Joey Goodspeed. Chandler showed nice accuracy and surprisingly nimble feet, though both a 5-yard scramble on 4th-and-1 and a nice improvised rollout and zinger to Shaun McDonald for 21 were nullified by penalties on Goodspeed and Grant Williams. He scrambled some more on the Goodspeed TD, buying a lot of time before finding the fullback for the score. Chandler showed he can run this offense if needed, though he'll need to avoid dumb interceptions like the deep out intended for Kevin Curtis late in the 2nd. Gotta know after 17 years in the league that you can't force that throw, Chris. Or at least get some air under it. Jeff Smoker (7-14-81) had some expectable rookie moments, but showed he's good raw material. He did a lot of checking down, but also showed a good arm and hung tough in the pocket. (Hmm. Like the Rams' last QB from Michigan State.) Smoker, whose theme song is officially "The Joker" by the Steve Miller Band, showed great touch on a 24-yard completion to TE Mike Brake early in the 3rd, but he lamentably overthrew a wide open McDonald in the 4th, which probably would have led to a score. Trying to drive the Rams for a score with 1:04 left, he held the ball too long on first down and took a sack on his own 7. He followed that with a HORRIBLE forced pass in the flat that Chicago LB Joe Odom should have intercepted and returned for a score. Smoker's got some skills, and he's definitely got Mike Martz mad at him, so he's right on schedule as a Rams rookie QB.
* RB: Steven Jackson (15-73) got almost all of the work as Arlen Harris started but left early with an injury. (Here’s an SAT question for you: Arlen Harris is to Mike Martz as ? was to Dick Vermeil. Answer at end of column.) Radio said Jackson is still a little slow reading the defensive alignment before the snap, but he's fitting in nicely in the passing game, with four catches, and he made a sweet blitz pickup that belies his rookie status. As a runner, he's got explosiveness; he waits for his blocks; he can wiggle through a small hole and burst into the open, like on his long run of 18 in the 3rd; and he can take on tacklers. He didn't seem to have great speed to the outside, and he had footing problems a couple of times. He's got good hands (better than Lamar Gordon's) and good smarts; once he really picks things up, I think the Rams will have a neat hybrid on their hands: a big back who plays like a smaller back.
* WR: Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt played the first series, with Bruce catching 2 for 43. We got a big dose of Shaun McDonald, Kevin Curtis and Dane Looker, and the big winner was McDonald, who caught 5 for 78, showing good hands and some of that speed he was drafted for last year. His 40-yard catch-and-run set up the Rams' TD, and he was the go-to WR all night. Curtis had just 1 catch for 20 and had a bad drop in the 3rd, though he also drew a 30-yard interference penalty to set up the TD. Looker (2-24) made a costly mistake late in the 4th, fumbling with the Rams driving for a score.
* Offensive line: Slight exaggeration, but it was no Pace, no Turley, no problem tonight for the offensive line which now appears next to the entry for "makeshift" in the dictionary. First-half lineup left-to-right was Grant Williams, Adam Timmerman, Andy McCollum, Andy King and Scott Tercero, and they held up rather nicely. Chandler had ALL NIGHT on his TD pass. Bulger was sacked on the first possession. Jack Snow said Tercero made a mistake; I'd thought it was more the Bears bringing about 8 guys and successfully blitzing the formation. First-half QBs were only hit a couple of other times. Run blocking wasn't really strong. Jackson didn't see any big holes, though King and McCollum got a couple of nice knocks. The weakest guy among the starters was probably Williams, who continues to get off the line slowly at times and get burned by speed rushers. Second-half lineup was Matt Morgan, Chris Dishman, Larry Turner, Ben Noll and Greg Randall, and they were actually pretty decent. Smoker was sacked a couple of times. Once was because Morgan got flat whipped, but his sack late in the 4th was because he held the ball too long. The Bears' defensive line looks quite weak, so there's not cause for excitement, but what's posing for the Rams' offensive line held together tonight and looked decent in the process.
* Defensive line/LB: Bryce Fisher started at RDE, and I'd call him the guy for the job amidst all the DE-by-committee talk. Bryce started slowly but was a big factor tracking down runs from behind, and was simply too fast at times for Chicago's terrible offensive tackles. Fisher came away with a sack that really should have been split with Leonard Little. They both humiliated their cement-footed opponents and met at the QB. There's work to do in the running game. The Bears, led by Thomas Jones' 7-53, ran much too successfully for any comfort. They took advantage of overpursuit by Fisher a couple of times, but Little also got caught upfield for a long run. Jones' longest run, a 26-yarder, was a cutback run made possible by a blown Robert Thomas tackle. The defense missed Pisa Tinoisamoa, who made a couple of nice plays early but was forced out of the game with a sprained ankle. Tyoka Jackson entered the game at DT, but was a madman after he shifted to DE, replacing Little. He shot past the OT for a sack on his first play at DE and hit the QB on third down to force an incompletion and kill a later drive. Tyoka will be great rotating in at LDE for Little. OTs will think they can relax, but they can't. Eric Flowers played ahead of Sean Moran in the 2nd half and had two sacks despite playing hurt. Tony Hargrove played primarily in the 3rd quarter. I'd thought he was more of a Little-type speed rusher, but he impressed me early on by repeatedly driving his man into the QB like a blocking sled. I wouldn't think he has any conditioning issues, but by the time he'd been out there a quarter, Hargrove appeared to have nothing, like he was out of gas. Trev Faulk (4 tkl) does indeed appear to be the lead playmaker among the backup LBs. Didn't see much out of D-Lew and Pickett as starting DTs, nor that much out of Holsey and Howard as the second-half DTs. Pass rush was pretty good, but the defense isn't convincing enough against the run yet.
* Secondary: The secondary played without its top two starters but still looked pretty good. Kevin Garrett looked good. The Bears tried him deep several times but he had his receiver blanketed. Aeneas Williams saw some action early and stuffed a short pass. Jason Shivers was awful and ranks as a big disappointment so far. He was well late giving Garrett help on a first-half bomb. Fortunately, Garrett had the play covered. Shivers gave up a big pass to the TE that set up Chicago's TD, though that drive was extended by a bad penalty by Dwight Anderson. Shivers and Trev Faulk nearly screwed up bigtime on Craig Krenzel's Hail Mary pass at the end of regulation by trying to come away with the INT. What does Tom Jackson say? KNOCK IT DOWN! Shivers is giving me the shivers so far.
* Special teams: There's improvement over the Rams' biggest team weakness from last season, but still painful inconsistency, too. Ram kickoff coverage stopped every Bear return inside the 25 before the last return. Garrett made a nice play early, and Nick Burley schmeared a punt return in the 3rd. McDonald returned all the punts, and danced around WAY too much. That appeared to pay off, though, in a weaving, winding 65-yard punt return TD in the 4th, topped off by Burley schmearing the punter, but it was called back for a penalty, and the special teams dam then broke, as Ahmad Merritt took the overtime kickoff 87 yards to set up the game-winning FG for Chicago. Ugh. Arlen Harris got little going on kickoff returns. The Rams have GOT to get some decent speed back there.
* Coaching/discipline: Gregg Easterbrook's TMQ immutable laws even work in preseason. Lovie Smith worked the game in his shirtsleeves; Mike Martz wore a coat. Indoors! The coach who looks coldest loses. Not much to take away from this game from a coaching standpoint, other than both teams committing a ton of penalties. The head coach can call timeouts directly starting this season, so there's Martz toward the end of the first half, running out onto the field to get his timeout. Who wants to bet he'll be the first coach to get plowed over by a player while doing that? Mostly vanilla playcalling. I didn't detect a lot of blitzing on either side. Bears run/pass was about 50/50; Rams were 40/60. The Bears ran a couple of reverses that fooled the Rams completely and faked a few others. The Rams lined up five wide a few times but always pulled Jackson back into the backfield before the snap. Notable that Martz didn't have any of the QBs "take a shot". Two turnovers on offense is tolerable, but the defense really should have forced at least one against a Chicago team that had pretty lousy talent on the field most of the night. Since the game was effectively lost on a special teams snafu again, we can't say if Mike Stock is an improvement over Bobby April or not. You'd think it was all scrubs out there, but Bryce Fisher, one of last year's best ST guys, was on the field for that last return, too. And he overran the play badly. (smacks forehead)
* Waiver bait: Waiver bait, thy name is Dwight Anderson. Jim Thomas says on stltoday.com that Anderson committed the penalty that erased McDonald's punt return TD. He definitely committed a critical defensive holding penalty on THIRD AND 27 that extended the Bears' TD drive. I even think he was the guy who got blown up right at the start of Merritt's game-deciding kick return. Gulp. Nijrell Eason also appeared to fudge containment on that return. NFL.com says Dusty McGrorty committed the penalty on McDonald's punt return TD, and he didn't get into the game at RB at all – gulp. I doubt he's likely to be cut, but Shivers has got to get a lot better than he showed tonight – there's a lot of competition at the safety spots. And alas, no playing time for my two favorite names on the roster: QB Russ Michna and punt returner Brian Sump.
* Upon further review: If Ron Winter and crew had been on a pitch count tonight, they would have been pulled by every manager in MLB save Dusty Baker. The Bears had 19 penalties for 160 yards; they completed 19 passes for 168 yards. The Rams added 12 penalties for 80 yards. It's a shock this game got done in just a shade over three hours. Since the referees threw a flag on every play, I guess they didn't miss anything. The Rams did draw an illegal contact penalty and a pass interference penalty.
* Cheers: I can't find tonight's total attendance anywhere. 50,000 would be a very charitable guess, and the Dome was nearly empty by the time the fourth quarter started. Only the (failed) goal line stand in the 4th got any kind of rise out of the crowd. Normal for postseason. Line of the night on radio was Steve Savard explaining what went wrong on one of Jones' long cutback runs and saying in contrast that something Grant Wistrom was always good at was "squeezing the backside." You can bet that's not the last time that line comes up. Be Careful What You Wish For award goes to Jim Hanifan, who in a sideline interview right before the overtime kickoff, said "Hopefully somebody scores fast here."
* Stars of the game: As if RamView isn't long enough already, this year's new wrinkle will be to award the top three stars of the game, much like they do after hockey games (remember hockey?). So here they are: #1 star – Ahmad Merritt, for effectively ending this mess; #2 star – Shaun McDonald for a breakout night; and #3 to Chris Chandler for a TD pass and a nice night statistically.
* Who’s next?: More importantly, who's the idiot that schedules this garbage? The Rams will be off 11 days before playing two games in 5 days. The Rams Coaching Reunion Tour resumes in Kansas City August 23 as Mike Martz and Dick Vermeil square off in a battle for Your Governor's Cup. Hmm, since the governor lost in the primary last week, maybe the loser gets the cup this year. Some of the Rams' penalties were very costly tonight, and I'd make that the #1 thing the coaching staff needs to get cleaned up for K.C.. The Chiefs obviously have a very good running game, and I expect a big turnaround for them defensively this year, so both the Ram lines should be in for tougher tests than they got tonight. And PLEASE NO special teams screwups of ANY kind. As for position races, we'll see if Jackson keeps the inside track as Marshall's backup, if McDonald has locked down #4 WR, if Hargrove has caught his breath yet, which of the backup LBs makes a move and whether we'll ever see the immortal combination of Michna-to-Sump.
Game stats from nfl.com
SAT answer: June Henley.