RamView, October 3, 2004

From the Couch

(Report and opinions on the game.)

Game 4: Rams 24, ***** 14

The Rams show their mettle by steamrolling the ***** in a must-win game.

Bright spots: Isaac Bruce makes more history; Mike Martz rediscovers offensive balance.

Position by position:

* QB: Marc Bulger had a superb game (17-25-186), getting most of his numbers in the first half as the Rams rolled up a big lead. He made two big third down plays on the Rams' first TD drive. On 3rd-and-10 from midfield, he hit Torry Holt with an awesome pass for 17. He put it up high for Torry, who was running to the sideline, and nobody was catching that but #81. On 3rd-and-8 from the SF 30, Bulger hung tough in the pocket, then moved up a little and spotted Isaac Bruce all alone downfield for 20. Five runs later, the Rams go up 7-0. Another superb pass put the Rams up 14-0 after a Tim Rattay fumble. Bulger rolled right with a very solid pocket around him and threw a difficult but perfect pass to Shaun MacDonald running along the very back of the end zone. Marc next drove the Rams to a FG, beating 49er blitzes with quick passes to Holt and Bruce. He then beat another one, doing a great job finding Marshall Faulk and hitting him with a deft and quick screen pass that went for 25. Last thing for Marc to do in the half was finish it off with another TD drive. He let a blitzing DB bounce off him and hit Bruce for 15 to convert a 3rd-and-4, and hit Ike for 23 more the next play, followed by 8 to Kevin Curtis to eventually set up a Steven Jackson TD. Marc's work for the night was basically done at halftime; he wasn't asked to play a big role with the Rams substantially ahead. But he did excellent work. He threw very accurately, made good plays to avoid sacks and engineered 7:30 and 5:30 scoring drives. Real field-general qualities from Marc tonight, who delivered a big performance in a must-win game for his team, on the road, no less.

* RB: Hard, tough running proved the theme for the contest. The key player of the Rams' first drive was an unlikely candidate: Joey Goodspeed. But it was Goodspeed who delivered the big block on Marshall Faulk's 14-yard run across midfield. After the Rams get inside the 10, it's Goodspeed who pushes Faulk and two 49er defenders for a 6-yard gain. Joey then surprisingly gets his number called on 4th-and-goal from the 2, and responds by punching in his first career TD. Goodspeed's performance tonight was easily the best by a Ram fullback since James Hodgins' departure. Faulk capitalized on the excellent blocking of his fullback, and his line, for 146 total yards, 23-121 rushing, seven plays over 10 yards. Up 14-0, Marshall's 14-yard run and 25-yard screen reception set up Steven Jackson (10-46) to deliver some punishment. Jackson got 9 behind awesome blocking on the left side, and six more behind Goodspeed the next play to get the Rams down to the one. And on one of those plays, 49er DB Mike Rumph broke his arm across Steven's leg trying to tackle him. Ouch, baby. Very ouch. The Rams briefly forgot about tough running, though, and wound up settling for a FG. Steven danced on 2nd-and-goal instead of putting his head down, and Jeff Ulbrich met him for a 2-yard loss. Jackson made up for that by finishing the half with a 2-yard TD, the first of his career, to put the Rams up 24-0. Faulk started that drive by getting the corner (courtesy of Goodspeed) and tiptoeing up the sideline for 11 on a sweep left. The game's longest run was Jackson's 24-yarder in the 3rd, a splendid play all around. It's a delay handoff designed to let the ***** blitz their way into trouble, which they do. Jackson makes a nice cutback and gets manly blocks from Brandon Manumaleuna on the back side, Andy McCollum tying up two Niners, and Isaac Bruce throwing his weight around downfield. That didn't actually lead to a score. But Faulk's speed combined with Jackson's power combined with the physicality of Jackson, Goodspeed and the Ram offensive line were decisive factors in demoralizing the 49er defense tonight.

* WR: Torry Holt donned the tutu on Monday Night Football, but it was Isaac Bruce (7-100) who proved too too tough for the ***** yet again tonight. Six of Ike's catches were for first downs, including big 3rd down catches deep in 49er territory on two of the TD drives. I don’t think Ike had anyone close to him on any of his catches. He has been just magical this season at finding weak spots in coverage. And with tonight's performance, he became the first receiver since 1963 to start a season with 4 100-yard games. Incredible. Holt was kind of quiet, just 3 catches for 28, but his first got the Rams a big first down en route to their first TD. Shaun McDonald caught a TD after Frisco's first turnover, and a Kevin Curtis catch late in the half set up the Rams' last TD. "Festus" (see Cheers) put about 12 moves on Ahmed Plummer to get the first down on that play, but kid, it was under 2:00; get out of bounds. Rams had to use a timeout after that play. The Rams had a very effective and diverse passing game tonight; Bulger found seven different receivers, and the Rams had almost 170 passing yards at halftime. Those'll be good trends to keep.

* Offensive line: The run blocking star besides Goodspeed was Adam Timmerman. Just like in the win over the Big Dead, it was Adam pulling left and clobbering somebody over and over again, leading to big run after big run for Faulk. He was very involved in most of Faulk's long runs, springing Faulk for 14 in the 2nd and delivering a big block on a 12-yard run in the 3rd. Timmerman stood out, but the whole offensive line was dominating tonight. There were runs where you couldn't tell where the right side of the 49er defensive line went, thanks to Timmerman's pull blocks and dominating left-side play by Orlando Pace and Scott Tercero (in his first career start). The line delivered clutch play on Bulger's 3rd-down completions on the first TD drive. They neutralized a 4-man rush on the completion to Holt. On the key completion to Bruce, the line picked off blitzing Julian Peterson, and Faulk picked off a blitzing DB, to give Bulger time to throw. Bulger's pass protection was solid all night; he wasn't sacked and was only seriously pressured a couple of times. No surprise the Rams won after a game this dominating from the offensive line.

* Defensive line/LB: A no-play defense up until now, the Rams came up with some big-play defense tonight. They barely slowed the ***** on the first drive of the game, as Frisco got inside the Ram 30 before somebody decided it might be a good idea to press their receivers. Jerametrius Butler knocked down a 1st down pass, and on 3rd down, Pisa Tinoisamoa blitzed over the *****' backup center for the first of three Ram sacks. The next drive, news flash, IT'S A TURNOVER. Tommy Polley came on a blitz and collared Tim Rattay, causing the ball to pop loose from his ****ed-back hand. Leonard Little recovered that for the Rams' FIRST turnover of the season. Tony Hargrove drew a stupid penalty for the second straight week, though we never saw the infraction on TV. He was called for roughing Rattay on a play where good downfield coverage had forced the QB to the sidelines to throw the ball away. What a stupid penalty, assuming it was legit. The Rams actually played well against the run, limiting San Francisco to 58 yards. Little, Hargrove and Ryan Pickett all made good run stops in the first half. Pickett probably had the best stop of the game, stuffing Kevan Barlow for a four-yard loss on a first-and-goal from the 5 in the 3rd. Little had his best game of the year. Up 17-0, his good pressure on 3rd-and-4 forced an incompletion and a Frisco 123-kick. The ***** crossed midfield on their first second half possession, but Little blew up the middle on a stunt and sacked Rattay to put Frisco out of FG position. It looks like the Ram defense really got "coached up" in the wake of two weeks of embarrassing play. They missed very few tackles. The pass rush really died off with San Francisco in the hurry-up the whole second half, but they still kept Rattay nervous, and they deflected or knocked down a bushel load of passes, something they hadn't been doing all year. Bryce Fisher knocked down the 2-point try after Frisco's first TD. Pickett nearly deflected one to himself for an interception. With the ***** inside the 5 in the 4th, Damione Lewis (who is becoming more and more a disruptive force) batted down a pass, and on 4th-and-goal, he hustled over to help Butler and Rich Coady stop what had looked like a wide open pass in the flat for Terry Jackson. The kind of hustle and pursuit the Ram defense seemed to be lacking so far this season. With the team in big need of a win, it was good to see the front seven finally pick up its play. Now, to sustain that effort against teams better than San Francisco…

* Secondary: When they weren't being directed to lay a mile off receivers and passively let Rattay complete passes in front of them, the Ram secondary made some plays. Jerametrius Butler got the Rams' second turnover by intercepting a Rattay lollipop intended for Cedric Wilson. Excellent coverage; Butler looked like the intended receiver. Rich Coady had an explosive series in the 3rd. He defended a pass, drilled Terry Jackson a couple of plays later to force a fumble (***** recovered) and blitzed and knocked down the pass the play after that. And Butler and Coady made a 4th-down stop of Jackson at the 2 to stop a Niner drive in the 4th. However, Butler gave up a TD to Curtis Conway through soft coverage, and Kevin Garrett gave another to rookie Rashaun Woods. Garrett was probably the worst tackler of the night to boot. And nobody appeared to have any clue on how to cover TE Eric Johnson, who was open all night to the tune of 10 catches for 113, three third-down conversions, three second-and-long conversions and a FOURTH-AND-13 conversion. Find the freaking guy, huh? Rattay's 299 yards look good, but the ***** played hurry-up the whole second half, and the Rams' passive scheme appeared intended to allow a lot of catches. Neither the numbers nor the scheme appear to be fair indicators of the secondary's talent.

* Special teams: The Rams survived a rare off-night from Jeff Wilkins. He pulled a chippie 33-yard FG left in the 4th, and his kickoffs got shorter as the night went on, causing coverage, which started the night well, to suffer. Spend too much time in wine country this weekend, Wilkie? Rest of special teams did well, including punts (Landeta averaged 45.7), punt coverage, and Mike Furrey looking good on kick returns.

* Coaching/discipline: Better late than never, I guess. Mike Martz re-discovered the running game this week, running 4 of the first 5 plays and 9 times out of 14 plays on the first TD drive. Nothing but runs the first time they got inside the 20. Was Martz just messing with the *****' minds with that "fast and furious" tirade last week? The handoff to Goodspeed for the first TD was an underappreciated good call. It's a great call in that situation, but certainly not in Martz's tendencies to hand off to the fullback. Please note that the Rams settled for a FG in the second after having first-and-goal from a foot out and going pass, run, pass, however… Martz's run-pass ratio was nearly 60-40 (tomorrow's headline: Martz neglecting Bulger). I call that disciplined coaching, and his players appeared to play very disciplined ball. No turnovers, and only 5 penalties, and that includes Tony Hargrove's weekly stupid penalty and Steven Jackson's weekly stupid special teams penalty. It didn't look like the defense missed a tackle until late in the third quarter. Shoot, it looks like Mike got something fixed for a change… Hallelujah for Larry Marmie's defense finally forcing a couple of turnovers, but this soft coverage garbage has got to stop. The ***** walked up and down the field with the Ram DBs laying back, but got stopped when the DBs got to play press coverage. More of that, less of the marshmallow-soft Peter Giunta stuff, please. On San Fran's first TD, it's 2nd-and-goal from the 9, and Butler is SIX yards off of Curtis Conway. I can stay with Curtis Conway for 9 yards, surely Butler can, too. And what kind of defense can't hold a TE under 100 yards? But this was the best tackling game of the season, so credit where it's due… I can't go a whole week without criticizing a coach, though, so allow me a rip at the chickensh!t coaching of Dennis Erickson. Instead of trying a 48-yard FG at the end of the opening drive, Erickson calls a punt from the Ram 31. It was 4th-and-15, so going for it wasn't an option, but, as TMQ would ask, why are you punting? Trust your defense and go for the figgie. Punt ricochets into the endzone for a touchback and an 11-yard net. It was the first possession of the game, but The Couch boldly wrote "game over" in his notebook anyway, and I suspect TMQ did, too…

* Upon further review: For the fifth time in six years, a Rams-at-***** game was refereed by one of two Bay Area native referees. Fortunately, it was Bill Leavy this time around instead of the miserable Tony Corrente (who refereed in Oakland last week). This was a fairly well-called game, though Tinoisamoa was held so badly on the Jackson catch en route to Frisco's first TD he got his whole jersey untucked. A Ram lineman was blocked from behind at the knee on the play where Hargrove roughed Rattay, which ESPN's lame production crew never showed on replay. And it looked like Faulk stepped out a couple of times before the end of his sideline tiptoe run. Still a very tolerable performance.

* Cheers: Wasn't the greatest broadcast by ESPN, even though Pat Summerall cut down on his usual number of mistakes. He actually knew how to pronounce "Tinoisamoa," for instance, and only mistook Holt for Bruce once that I recall. He also mispronounced Furrey as "Fury", called Jerametrius Butler "Baker" once, and said Bulger's first pass was completed to "Ken" Curtis. (You know, I'm glad Martz is getting Festus involved in the passing game, but Marshal Dillon and Miss Kitty were wide open…) Summerall's best moment was scolding Anthony Adams for over-celebrating a tackle, reminding him smack-talk style that Adams' team was down 24-0 at the time. Nice! Made up for the mistakes. Doesn't make up for his network's seeming pro-49er attitude, though. The intro was a lovely pep talk for the Whiners where they let Julian Peterson wrongly state that the Whiners have won the majority of matchups with the Rams. Memo to Julian: it's now Rams 57, Whiners 50 (2 ties). And I may be late doing next week's recap: I'm planning a trip to Bristol, Conn. to shove that "SOSAR" footage up Chris Berman's ass. Swami THIS…

* Game balls: 1. Bruce. Make history, get a game ball. 2. Goodspeed. 3. Timmerman.

* Who’s next?: Rams fans can hope Seattle's bye week has slowed down their momentum, but it's likelier that the Rams will be walking into a pressure cooker next Sunday against a rested-up (thanks for that again, NFL!), fired-up Seahawk team playing one of its biggest games in years. The formerly weak Seattle run defense has stepped it up significantly this year under defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, who has had Mike Martz's number more often than not. That's due in no small part to the spark provided by one Grant Wistrom. Seattle's defense now ranks up at the top of the NFL. You can argue strength-of-schedule - New Orleans, Tampa and San Fran – but Seattle has dominated those teams, and unless the Ram offensive line has the game of its life Sunday, Seattle should shut down the run. Pace will probably have to have one of the best games of his career to stop Wistrom – that'll be a fun matchup – but even that won't be enough to keep Seattle at bay. Bulger's having an excellent season, but if he's forced to pass Sunday, the going will be much tougher than usual. They’re flying under the radar, but Seattle may have the NFL's best secondary. They have terrific cover men and playmakers in Marcus Trufant, Ken Lucas and Bobby Taylor, and super hitting safeties Ken Hamlin and Reggie Tongue. They have appeared vulnerable at times to passes to RBs and TEs. The Rams will have to establish Faulk and/or Jackson in the passing game, besides getting major games out of Bruce and Holt, to stay in this thing.

Shaun Alexander's yardage numbers were pretty ordinary the last couple of games, but he still had 3 TDs his last outing, and the extra week off (thanks again, NFL!) gives him extra time to get his knee healed and up to speed. The Ram run defense hasn't convinced me that they're up to stopping Alexander, especially against an overlooked Seahawk offensive line that is among the league's best. That line also likely will keep the heat off of Matt Hasselbeck, probably by devoting extra attention to Leonard Little until another threat poses itself. That hasn't happened yet this year, though Hasselbeck isn't a good QB under pressure, should the Rams put any on him. Maybe D-Lew can step up and become that additional pressure point. Also, I'd bench Bryce Fisher in favor of Tyoka Jackson, who seems to save his best games for Seattle. It'll take not just aggressive personnel moves, but aggressive strategy – effective blitzing and a lot less of that annoying soft coverage – to keep Seattle's passing game off balance. And even if the Rams accomplish all that, it still may not be enough. Seattle is just a better team, a very confident team and bona fide Super Bowl contender, and they're at home, where they were undefeated last year. And did I mention they have had a week off? The Rams are going to have quite the mountain to climb to win this one, and even when they climb that mountain, they're going to have to erupt like Mt. St. Helen's on the Seahawks to knock them off stride. No doubt a win in Seattle would energize the Rams' season, if they can pull it off. Best of luck.

-- Mike

Game stats from nfl.com