RamView, September 19, 2004
From the Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game 2: Falcons 34, Rams 17
The Ram "defense" looks worse than the Washington Generals against Michael Vick and the offense has a fourth-quarter meltdown in a decisive loss to Atlanta.
Bright spots: Holt and Bruce both over 100 yards; three spectacular quarters from Bulger.
Position by position:
* QB: Marc Bulger (24-31-285) was brilliant for three quarters before his bandwagon veered off a bridge, or maybe was pushed off by his offensive line, which didn't push much of anything else today. He started off very well, beating Falcon blitzes with crisp, quick passes.
The first two Ram drives imploded on offensive line mistakes, and the Rams fell behind 14-0, but Bulger led the Rams on an epic 2nd-quarter drive: 87 yards, 8 ½ minutes and plenty of intrigue. On the third play, Bulger throws what appears to be an excellent checkdown to Faulk under pressure, except Holt and Bruce were open deep downfield. One of a few times lousy Ram blocking got into Marc's head. Bulger's next pass is to Isaac Bruce for 22. At the Ram 42 now, the fun really begins. A sack gets erased by an iffy illegal contact call. Then Marc makes a BRUTALLY STUPID throw for Faulk in the flat. LB Matt Stewart was so camped on that, he might as well have had a tent pitched and a fire burning. But the INT TD return was erased by an exotic defensive lineman holding call. Apparently Brandon Manumaleuna had been held from running his pattern. Bulger shakes that off and hits Bruce with a pretty pass for 30. Awful blocking by Steven Jackson leads to a Bryan Scott sack. Marc didn't seem to feel that one coming very well. But he and Torry Holt work together for an incredible 23 yard gain on 3rd-and-24, and Jackson converts a short 4th down. After a holding penalty by Orlando Pace (don't get me started, yet), Bulger hits Bruce for 9, Holt for 4 and Bruce for 4 to get the Rams to the 1 yard line, and Marshall Faulk converts that for the first TD.
Bulger was 14-for-15 for 140 in the first half, and he was awesome in pulling the Rams to within 17-14. 29 yards to Dane Looker, then a 7-yard screen to Faulk. Not a great pass, but a great catch-and-run by Marshall. Marc misses Ike wide open deep over the middle and gets scolded over the radio by Steve Savard. Steve, that's his THIRD incompletion. Word also comes out that Bulger has pulled something in his leg, possibly a quad. Limping visibly, he rolls out on 3rd-and-3 and spears Ike for 12. The next pass is a pretty throw to the end zone, a play designed for Torry Holt to outjump his defender for the TD, which he does. Bulger then leads the offense to a drive that tied the game and could have done better if not for a blown play by Adam Timmerman (more later). He hit Holt a couple of times and made a smart play to throw away a deep pass before Faulk got pinned for a loss on 3rd-and-short.
With the arrival of the 4th quarter, though, the Falcons went back up 24-17, and everything went to pot. On first down from the 10, Bulger holds the ball FOREVER and gets sacked at his own one. He then used a timeout even though any delay of game penalty would have amounted to eighteen inches. The next play, he drops back deep into his end zone and literally doesn't get time to throw, as Brady Smith neatly knocks the ball free after Bulger ****s his arm and gathers it on the fly for a TD. 31-17. Bulger's right thumb was apparently hurt on the turnover, and his wheels came completely off after that. After he was sacked for the fifth time, he threw a third-down pass WAY over Dane Looker's head, and it was picked off at the sidelines.
Bulger, Holt and Bruce carried the Ram offense for three quarters before inadequate offensive line play became just too much to overcome. Marc made some mistakes, true, but he weathered an absolute beating and still put up good-to-excellent numbers (QB rating 102.2). The kid did his job today. He just needed something resembling help from the guys who are supposed to be protecting him.
* RB: Marshall Faulk had no room to run anywhere today behind a pathetic offensive line (warning: theme developing). He ended up with 20 yards on 12 attempts. Steven Jackson added 10 yards on 3 carries. Yep, 2.0 yards a rush. Marshall got good blocking twice, and he made it pay off, with a TD run in the 2nd and a 13-yard run in the 3rd. He made the TD run a few plays after taking a helmet right on the knee. That was the second 4th-down conversion on that drive. On the first, Jackson was stopped behind the line on 4th-and-1, but made the gain with an awesome second effort. The future of the Ram running game could be Jackson's 7-yard run in the 3rd, off an inside handoff after Faulk had gone into motion. Marshall showed some of his old moves when he stutter-stepped his way to convert a 3rd-and-1 on the Rams' FG drive. But the Ram running game has no present or future if somebody up front doesn't start doing some blocking.
* WR: As they usually do against Atlanta, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce had huge days: 9-121 and 8-102 respectively. Isaac had two monster plays on the 1st TD drive, 22- and 30-yard catches. Looks like he's got his old YAC back, too. Torry also made a huge play on that drive. On 3rd-and-24, he caught a pass at the sideline, made one tackler miss and broke another tackle, gaining 23 yards and making it worth it for the Rams to go for it on 4th down. Torry made a classic play in the 3rd, outjumping his defender for a 33-yard TD catch. Holt was used a lot as a possession-type receiver earlier in the game. The Rams curiously didn't really throw downfield well till the 2nd, and also curiously, only 2 other receivers caught passes, Faulk and Looker. Not even a throw to a TE. Presumably, protection issues affected the Rams' receiving diversity.
* Offensive line: I sure hope all of Orlando Pace's butt-kissersz in the press get a good, steaming look at his performance today. Mr. I-Don't-Need-Training-Camp gave up TWO of Atlanta's five sacks, including the crucial Brady Smith TD steal off Bulger in the 4th that made it 31-17. Smith whipped Pace on that play, and Orlando gave up another sack on 2nd down the very next drive. Would have been nice if Bulger could have counted on his All-Pro Hall-of-Fame left tackle for a block or two in that crucial stretch. Pace is the goat of the 4th quarter, not Bulger. He ought to be ashamed of himself. Today is part of the price of his selfish holdout. Bulger had good pass protection for three quarters, but that melted completely away in the 4th, and there was basically no run blocking all day. SEVEN of the Rams' ten penalties were committed by offensive linemen or tight ends. The first drive of the game was killed by a Grant Williams penalty and Pace (yep, the stud who doesn't need training camp) nearly getting beat for a sack on 3rd down, forcing a 1-yard dumpoff. Runs to the right didn't work, and Brandon Manumaleuna STILL can't block, holdover problems from last year. The second drive was killed when Ed Jasper beat Chris Dishman AND Andy McCollum for a sack, plus a false start by Manu. Steven Jackson looked AWFUL on a blitz pickup in the 2nd, as safety Bryan Scott sacked him AND Bulger for a big loss that would have put the Rams out of FG position, but they drove on for a TD. Actual good blocks by Joey Goodspeed and Stephen Trejo(!?!) gave Faulk an easy TD run to make it 14-7, and blocks by Goodspeed and Adam Timmerman sprung Faulk for a 13-yard run in the 3rd, and it looked like the Rams were charging for the lead. But on 3rd-and-1 a couple of plays later, Timmerman got completely turned around for some reason and lost Jasper, who snagged Faulk from behind for a loss, forced the Rams to settle for a tying FG, and halted the Rams' gathering momentum, which never returned. The Rams went down 24-17 right after that, then 31-17. Bulger got sacked at his own 1 by Patrick Kerney, who beat Manu, but Bulger had more than enough time there to get rid of the ball. Next play, Pace makes John St. Clair look good after Smith whips him and steals the ball from Bulger in the end zone. Bulger's thumb was apparently injured on that play, too, so Pace hit for the cycle on that play; sack, turnover, TD, injury. Kerney added another sack the next drive, which ended in a Bulger interception, and Williams' face mask penalty crashed the Rams' final attempt on offense. Crash is a good choice of verb there, because the offensive line was a total, pathetic trainwreck today.
* Defensive line/LB: TWO HUNDRED FORTY-TWO RUSHING YARDS. This was probably the most embarrassing performance by a Ram defense in the St. Louis era. Apparently the notion of "containment" is completely foreign to EVERY member of the Ram "defense," as Michael Vick, who's kind of noted for his ability to RUN, pranced through ACRES of open space, for nearly 100 yards. BY HALFTIME. After a long play by the Atlanta fullback I will criticize later, Vick broke loose for 10 yards down to the 4, then a fake toss SUCKERS EVERY RAM, and that fullback is wide open for a short TD. The defensive line DID NOTHING on Atlanta's 2nd TD drive, a 75-yarder that put them up 14-0. Every time Vick left the pocket, he had wide open space to run. The one time the Rams did contain a play, look what happens… a Peerless Price reverse is blown up by three guys, and looks like at least a 15-yard loss, except he just wheels the other direction, where there is no Ram in sight, and gets a nine-yard gain. Back-breaking play due to poor defense, poor-disciplined defense, poor-coached defense. Once again this week, there was little respectable pass rush, and almost all of the blitzing the Rams did was ineffective. Atlanta's last possession of the first half was just a joke. Surely, they'll hold 'em scoreless here. No, Vick breaks off runs of 21, 14 and 18 to set up a FG that puts Atlanta up 17-7. More on Larry Marmie's possible brilliant strategy that made this possible later. Miraculously, they did stop the Falcons a couple of times after halftime to get back into the game, including Leonard Little's only impact play of the game, almost sacking Vick, who avoided it with an intentional grounding penalty. But after the Rams tied the game, and you're looking for the defense to maintain momentum, they go south again, giving up a couple of Dunn 9-yard runs, a long TE pass, a Vick draw on 3rd-and-long, and an easy 2-yard Dunn TD where Little was manhandled and no one was there to back him up. With one good shoulder, Pisa Tinoisamoa was the only one of the front seven worth a damn today, with 10 tackles and the Rams' only sack. They have a MLB named Robert Thomas, who does nothing. Ryan Pickett was useless and blew tackles all day. Little, who this defense depends upon to dominate, is instead off to a slow start this season. They don't pressure the passer, they haven't forced a turnover this season, the LBs are apparently rarely where they're supposed to be, their run defense makes every team look like a classic Nebraska team playing against Rutgers, they can't stop any cutback runs, they get manhandled at the line, they don't blitz effectively, they can't cover the freaking fullback, they can't finish off sacks, they can't freaking tackle. Presented with an adequate opponent, the Ram defense proved itself completely incompetent and incapable today. The 2000 season is going to look good the way these guys are going.
* Secondary: Over the summer, Adam Archuleta has apparently turned into Jason Sehorn. His HORRIBLE tackle attempt on Justin Griffith in the 1st allowed a 62-yard completion and set up Atlanta's first TD. 62 yards on A DUMPOFF TO THE FULLBACK! Some Pro Bowl candidate Archuleta is. He stunk all preseason and hasn't made a (positive) impact play in two weeks. Adam has tackled poorly and played softer than a bag of marshmallows this year so far. Step it up! Jerametrius Butler committed one of the game's critical mistakes shortly after the Rams tied the game at 17. Going against what you're taught, he played for the interception on a sideline pass to Alge Crumpler, who took it for 32, continuing an easy TD drive that put Atlanta back in the lead, and to stay. Dwight Anderson had a nice sequence in the 3rd after the Rams tied the game. He made a good play on the kickoff, then held Price to 3 yards on a play-action pass that had much bigger potential. Anderson apparently saw a lot of time after DeJuan Groce aggravated his sprained knee. He and Kevin Garrett both got away with getting burned deep. Anderson accidentally tripped Price up (good non-call) on one, and a bad throw from Vick saved Garrett on the other. Dez White had beaten him by five yards. Luckily for the Rams' green secondary, the front seven's William-Hung-awful performance deflects the spotlight from its own mediocre play today.
* Special teams: It led to nothing, but the special teams sure inspired no confidence when the Falcons fooled them so badly on an onside kick after their first TD that Jay Feely recovered it at the 44 with barely a Ram around. Kickoff coverage was fine other than that; they stopped the last two right around the 20. The return teams, though, need a complete makeover. Joey Goodspeed committed two holding penalties. Steven Jackson shows even less speed as a kickoff returner than Arlen Harris. And he committed a stupid taunting penalty AFTER A TOUCHBACK after Atlanta took a 24-17 lead. That pinned the offense at the 10, two sacks away from an insurmountable deficit. Let's turn returning duties over to guys who have legitimate speed to do it and experience at it, like Shaun McDonald or Mike Furrey.
* Coaching/discipline: Larry Marmie so far has engineered a defense that can't stop anything, blitzes ineffectively, forces NO turnovers and tackles worse than it ever has. Radio pointed out that Marmie did not have any defensive player assigned to "spy" Michael Vick, at least in the first half. On its face, this is Jessica Simpson-idiotic, and I don't know why you don't just fire Marmie right now. Seriously. Vick is too mobile a QB and too much a big-play threat not to spy, isn't he? Does Marmie even know Vick is a guy who can run a little? I guess he does now. The Whiners held Vick to 10 yards rushing last week, by the way. Marmie's "defense" contained Vick (112 yards) about as well as the Maginot Line contained the Nazis … Mike Martz's lunatic use of instant replay challenges rages on. Atlanta recovered their onside kick with a good FOUR YARDS to spare, but Martz challenged it. Then he wanted to challenge the Brady Smith TD. Um, Mike, he caught it IN THE AIR. Whatever Martz is smoking on the sideline, it must be pretty good sh!t. Martz was right to basically abandon the run in the 2nd, but I have no idea why he rolled Bulger out so much early; it got him into more trouble than straight dropbacks. I don't know why Martz took so long to start testing a shaky Falcon secondary downfield. Holt sure got a lot of quick hitches early. I don't know why ineffective blockers didn't get benched. Other teams don't seem afraid to hot-swap blockers. Martz needs to have a long meeting with his offensive line coaches tomorrow. He doesn't have to wait that long to meet with Marmie; he should sit next to him on the plane ride home and ask his old buddy if he really knows what the hell he's doing. Marmie's making me miss Peter Giunta.
* Upon further review: If anything, the Rams got calls from the Terry MacAulay crew today; I can't find much to complain about. Excellent non-call on Anderson's trip-up of Price. During the Rams' long TD drive, the illegal contact flag looked like a gift, and the defensive line holding that erased Bulger's awful interception TD is certainly an unusual call. But it looked like a well-called game on the whole.
* Cheers: The Ram defense didn't even have the most embarrassing performance in the sports world this weekend. Congratulations to the worthless US Ryder Cup team for clinching that honor… The Rams still have a perfect record of not being ready for games played on FieldCrap. Faulk and Bulger slipped on early plays before somebody figured out, maybe we'd better switch to spikes. There is more and more FieldCrap around the league, and it's about time the equipment people figure out how to prepare for it… Rare bright spot today was excellent broadcast work by Steve Savard, who made very insightful observations about Martz going exclusively to the pass and Marmie using no one to spy on Vick… Funny how there were two career 700's in sports this weekend. Ike got his 700th career reception; Barry Bonds got the "other" 700…
* Game balls: 1 – Vick, of course; I will split #2 between Brady Smith and Ed Jasper, because Ike and Torry deserve a piece of #3.
* GOATS OF THE GAME: 1. Marmie. 2. Pace. 3. Timmerman. 4. Archuleta. 5. Grant Williams. 6. Goodspeed. 7. Ryan Pickett. 8. Steven Jackson. Stop me when you've had enough…
* Who’s next?: Assuming Larry Marmie is actually aware that the Rams are playing the New Orleans Saints next week, his no-spy strategy might be OK. Though an athletic QB, Aaron Brooks tends not to be much of a runner. Brooks may have to shoulder the load Sunday, because Deuce McAllister had only three rushes for 1 yard today before spraining his ankle. Effective pass rush will be key to defeating the Saints. They're not really that strong in the trenches, they'll be running either a dinged RB or his backup, and coach Jim Haslett (who I have little respect for) gets a wild hair a lot of the time and throws in the red zone when he ought to be running anyway. The Most Obnoxious Man Alive, Joe Horn, is the go-to WR. Let's think about using Aeneas on him instead of letting him punk out the young Ram CBs all day. Boo Williams is also a popular red zone target. The Rams ought to be able to hassle the Saint tackles, and ought to be able to blitz Brooks effectively, because the Saints don't handle the blitz well. Haslett has been trying for four years to burn the Rams with what he once called "bullcrap plays"; a competent defense will anticipate attempted trickery Sunday and shut it down. Given Marmie's track record so far, Aaron Stecker will run for 110, Brooks will come close to 300 yards passing and Horn will hit Donte Stallworth on an 80-yard option pass.
The Saints' trench deficiencies extend to the defensive side of the ball. This is a team that can be run on. The Saints do not have a good secondary, either, so if he is in close to one piece come kickoff Sunday, Bulger will be able to pick them apart. Haslett's had this weird tendency against the Rams in the past to almost abandon the pass rush and just drop guys back into coverage. That'll make it even more important for the Rams to run well and for Martz to stay with it longer unless it is an abysmal failure again like today. I don't see that happening. I ripped him today, but Pace will bounce back. He'll need to against New Orleans' speedy DEs. The Saints have given up 2 100-yard rushers in two weeks; the Rams should be able to establish an at-least credible running game and get their offensive balance back. Being at home and not wanting to fall to 1-2 with three out of four road games looming should be more than enough to keep Mike Martz's staff and player focused this week. At least it better.
Game stats from nfl.com