RamView From Row HH Game 9: Rams 23, Seahawks 12
RamView, November 14, 2004
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Game 9: Rams 23, Seahawks 12
Mike Martz gets some much needed vindication as the Rams move impressively back atop the NFC West.
Bright spots: The much-maligned Ram defense kept Seattle out of the end zone.
Position by position:
* QB: It's a blessing in football terms to have a QB you can rely on enough to fire passes on the first 13 offensive plays, and barely halfway through the first quarter, Marc Bulger was on a pace to throw for 1,000 yards. Although he didn't finish with that crazy number, Bulger had a very solid game: 23-34-262 and a TD, no turnovers and a passer rating just north of 100. Bulger's hot start, 12-15-158, boils down as the key to winning the game, since it sunk Seattle in a 17-0 hole. He did a nice job spotting and hitting Kevin Curtis for a TD on the Rams' opening drive. He hit Isaac Bruce for 21 on 3rd-and-10 to keep the Rams' next TD drive alive. And only an end zone sort-of drop by Shaun McDonald kept the Rams from going up 21-0 after just three drives. Bulger's success early opened up the running game the rest of the game, so he only had about 100 yards the last three quarters. But he was nails the first 20 minutes, real field-general stuff, leading the team on scoring drives of 71, 73 and 81 yards, playing practically mistake-free ball. He hit ten different receivers, and didn't have his main target, Torry Holt, for most of the game due to a concussion. Not to turn the hyperbole dial to 11, but the ridiculous number of passes in a row, completing passes to everybody but the waterboy, leading the team on long scoring drives… come on, doesn't it remind you of Kurt Warner? At the very least, Bulger flashed Warner-like potential today, and I don't think it's the last time we'll see that.
* RB: After Bulger's shock-and-awe air attack, the Rams went to the ground war and ground up Seattle's defense for the second time this season. Marshall Faulk had his two longest runs of the season en route to 139 yards on just 18 carries. He added three runs of over 10 yards, although one of those ended with a rare fumble that set up a Seattle FG. Steven Jackson added 10 carries for 47 yards and a TD, and the team ran for a whopping 202 yards. Jackson's 12-yard run set up his own 4-yard power run for the Rams' 2nd TD, and he made a play late in the 1st quarter that had 60,000+ fans gasping, oh, that's not fair, as he caught a screen pass in a very tight spot, and looked about to take a huge loss, but instead hit a Playstation-like spin move on Seattle DE Rocky Bernard and surged for an 8-yard gain. With a chance to put the game away in the 4th, the Rams did it on the ground. With 6:02 left, they ran 9 out of 10 plays, grinding the clock down to 0:26 for Jeff Wilkins' icing FG. Two big third-down runs made the drive, a 15-yard Curtis reverse on 3rd-and-4, and Faulk's 40-yard blast off right tackle on 3rd-and-6 which saw him break into the open and take off like his pants were on fire. Marshall's that fresh that late in the game thanks to excellent balance between his and Jackson's touches. The Ram running game doesn't get much better than it was today.
* WR: When Torry Holt got (cleanly) clobbered by Terreal Bierra early in the game and left with a concussion, it was up to the rest of the receiving corps to step up, and they did. Isaac Bruce (7-104) had his fifth 100-yard game of the season, with four catches over 19 yards, three of them on scoring drives. The only blemish for Ike was a fumble in the 2nd that led to a Seattle FG. Kevin Curtis (3-39) had an impact game, scoring the Rams' first TD and gaining 15 on a reverse to convert a crucial 3rd down late in the 4th. Receivers were coming out of the woodwork today. Cam Cleeland was wide open off the snap for a 15-yard catch down to the 10 that set up the Rams' first FG, though naturally, he was injured on the play. Mike Furrey got his first catch of the season, an 8-yarder on 3rd-and-7 during the Rams' 1st 4th-quarter possession. That didn't lead to a score, but it did allow the Rams to burn another two minutes off the clock. With 10 different players catching passes, unquestionably, a total team effort by the Rams' receivers today.
* Offensive line: Mike Martz's tirades of the past week appear to have breathed life back into an offensive line that had been floundering badly. Bulger's pass protection was close to superb. He was sacked only once (that was his fault, because he had about 8 seconds to get rid of the ball) and wasn't touched often, a big change from the last two games. Blitz pickup was excellent. I saw outstanding blitz pickups by Faulk, Jackson, Andy McCollum and Adam Timmerman, and I'm sure I missed a bunch. The Rams' blitz pickup was so good, I believe they made Seattle give up on it in the 2nd half. And boy, by then, the Rams were ripe for it. Tom Nutten (?!?) came off the bench to replace an injured Chris Dishman. Grant Williams had to slide from RT to LT after a ridiculous call ejected Orlando Pace from the game. And with Scott Tercero also out with an injury, the RT job fell to some dude named Blaine Saipaia. With every right and reason to become Swiss cheese, the line remained strong. Another total team effort. The Rams had their best running game of the year because the line had its best run-blocking game of the year. Joey Goodspeed (where was he the last two weeks?) threw some good blocks. Pace was a big factor on Jackson's TD run. Williams did nice work at RT and LT. The key man in the running game, though, is still Timmerman, charging down the line and plowing people out of Faulk's way for big gains. God knows what kind of condition this line is going to be in for next week's game, but let's all hope they can sustain this week's game-winning effort.
* Defensive line/LB: This is the last year of Shaun Alexander's contract, and I can't help but think how good he would look in, oh, a Raider or Cowboy uniform, or any other uni that would not line up against the Rams twice a year. Alexander's combination of speed and power was way too much for the Ram non-defense to handle, as he cruised for 176 yards on just 22 carries. The Ram defensive line was almost completely absent today, usually getting crushed at the line of scrimmage, leaving Alexander a sizeable gap to cruise through, and leaving the secondary to make the tackle. There was very little pass rush, either. Matt Hasselbeck was rarely pressured, though he still struggled badly, 15-36-172. The only sack of the day came from Leonard Little, who in reality blew up a handoff and got Hasselbeck for a 6-yard loss. So, they were pathetic against the run and in pass rush again; how did the Rams win? Key plays. Pisa Tinoisamoa stopped Alexander for a loss on Seattle's first play, leading to a rare 3-and-out. Tinoisamoa also held Alexander to two short gains in the red zone to force a 2nd-quarter FG. On Seattle's first possession after halftime, Tommy Polley held Jerry Rice to 9 yards on a 3rd-and-10, and Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett stuffed Mack Strong on 4th-and-short. Little's sack was a big play, occurring a couple of plays after Bruce's fumble. The sack slowed Seattle's momentum and they settled for another FG. The last time Seattle took the ball with a chance to tie, the defense responded again, forcing another 3-and-out. With 206 rushing yards allowed, the Ram defense wasn't pretty. But they were the epitome of bend-but-don't-break defense, limiting Seattle to 4 FGs, essentially making 5 red zone stops and coming up with plays they hadn't been the last couple of games.
* Secondary: The secondary was the reason the Rams won the day defensively. Jerametrius Butler owned Koren Robinson, who appears much better these days at eluding league suspension than anything else. Butler intercepted an errant Hasselbeck pass in the general goal line vicinity in the 1st to shut down a Seattle chance to cut the lead to 14-7. When Seattle got into scoring range after Bruce's fumble, Hasselbeck threw three straight incompletions. Travis Fisher broke up Jerry Rice's opportunity to make a tough TD catch, and Darrell Jackson – surprise – dropped a TD catch on 3rd down. Butler was almost everywhere today, making a lot of tackles on Alexander, as did Rich Coady and Adam Archuleta, though Arch still blows more than his share. Travis Fisher took a shot to his already messed-up mouth and had to be replaced by DeJuan Groce, who Seattle immediately challenged deep several times. Grabby as Groce was, without drawing any flags, it looks like he learned a lot from New England game tape last week. Aeneas Williams made the play of the game with the Rams up 8 early in the 4th. Alexander had cruised off with what looked like a 49-yard TD run, but Aeneas caught up with him and punched the ball away at the 15, and Coady fell on it to kill Seattle's momentum for the last time. Essentially the play of the game. Discard a long gimme to Robinson on the last play of the game, and Seattle only threw for 139 yards despite the absence of a Ram pass rush, a testament to good coverage, big play-making, and, well, Seattle's really bad receivers and passing game.
* Special teams: Seattle kicked four FGs, and the Rams were surprisingly close to blocking all of them, with the outside rusher flying in just late every time. Looks like they could block one before long. Jeff Wilkins answered with 3 FGs of his own, including the game-icer. Most of Wilkins' kickoffs were deep, but kick coverage was poor, as Seattle nearly took a couple back all the way and usually started drives from their 35-40. Ram returns were probably their best all year; Arlen Harris got some out across the 30. Sean Landeta averaged 46 a punt, but one was a 50-yarder plonked into the end zone, and he gave Seattle beautiful field position in the 4th, while they still had a chance to tie, with an awful 37-yarder with about a second of hang time that Seattle returned 17 yards. Give special teams a C-; since they managed not to lose the game.
* Coaching/discipline: Mike Martz got in his players' faces this week, and the new approach paid off in spades. His main whipping boys, the offensive line, put in some of their best work of the season. And even though the starting lineup wasn't changed, Martz's willingness to make changes paid off. Guys like Nutten and Saipaia likely realized they had a better-than-normal shot at playing time, and were prepared for it. When they were pressed into play, the line didn't fall apart as you might expect. Martz also appeared to help the offensive line out with shorter drops for Bulger and quicker routes, stuff that had seemed completely missing the last couple of weeks. He even put help over on Saipaia's side right away, after seemingly ignoring similar options in clearly necessary situations the last couple of games. My lamentations last week about lack of offensive balance probably looked stupid as the Rams passed, passed, passed to a 14-0 lead, but check that box score: it looks like Martz called roughly 30 runs and 37 passes, a pretty balanced game plan. The Rams may not be back to the Greatest Show days, but this was a Greatest Show game plan: pass sets up the run. Nothing wrong with that; Martz had Seattle off-balance all day. The Rams picked up the blitz so well early on that Seattle quit trying it, even after the point where the Rams had to start bringing offensive linemen in from the stands. Maybe this week, Martz can get in his defensive line's faces. Martz had trickery in the game plan, but it didn't appear to be used. 2nd-and-goal from the 10 before the Rams' first FG, Faulk lost 3 on a sweep, but from his body language, I think the original play had him throwing. And Martz had the old Hakim/Canidate option play teed up for Faulk and McDonald, but Faulk wisely held on to that ball with Seattle closing in too quickly. Martz's boldest call was the late handoff that Faulk took for 40. It was third-and-six, and Martz had already used his favorite endgame third-down play when he called the successful reverse to Curtis. I was thinking play-action to Manu, like the old Ernie Conwell play, but Martz caught everybody off guard. Very nice work by Martz today. Given the total lack of pass rush and the miles of running room for Alexander, I was shocked Larry Marmie didn't dial up a lot more blitzing. There were a handful of blitzes today, if that. Still, the D got some turnovers, tackled better and played with some attitude, so again, credit to the Rams coaching staff for getting things back on track, and for the second time in two meetings, clearly outcoaching erstwhile coaching genius Mike Humgrum, who is easily the most overrated coach in the NFL.
* Upon further review: Several controversial calls by Bill Leavy and crew went against the Rams and could have had a major effect on the final result, but didn't. They denied the touchback on Butler's interception and spotted the ball at the 1, even though it looked clearly that Butler's momentum carried him into the end zone. But there may have been a change to interpretation that we all missed. The same thing happened to the Steelers in Cleveland on a similar play by Troy Polamalu. The call's consistent, anyway. Pace was thrown out of the game for knocking an official down, an action that was clearly unintentional on Orlando's part. This happened away from the scrum for Faulk's fumble, and Pace was shoved by a Seattle player, which often goes as a 15-yard penalty the other way. I'm assuming Pace's action was to prevent himself from pancaking the official, and the official who just got knocked down should be thankful. Players run into officials all the time, and I am NOT buying the idea that this was a situation for a mandatory penalty and ejection. It was a hasty call by Leavy, who misinterpreted what he thought he saw. Plus Orlando has absolutely no reputation for dirty play and should have earned some benefit of the doubt on that occasion. I'll go alone on insisting Shaun McDonald made the catch on the end zone drop in the 2nd that made the Rams settle for a FG. When you're in the end zone, you only have to demonstrate the slightest of possession. In the middle of the field, that's incomplete because McDonald wouldn't have demonstrated a "football-related move". I'll just say there are plenty of times where that play goes as a catch. They made a poor call on a long sideline bomb that the Seattle WR obviously did not control, but reversed it after a conference. That really helped the Rams, who had used both their challenges, on the Butler and McDonald plays. The call was so bad that Humgrum didn't even challenge it, although he appeared to go ape about it. Turning that bad call into a case of pretty good officiating saves the refs from a bad grade.
* Cheers: The Rams have apparently resorted to the cheesy New England introduce-the-team-as-a-whole-unit method for pregame intros. After introducing the Seattle defensive players, that sure reeked of insecurity about how the Rams defense would be greeted. Sometimes the cheesy move is the right move; I'm pretty positive they would have been booed. Today's booing was reserved for referee Leavy after the Pace ejection, every time he got the ball from out of bounds. Refereeing better improve soon, or this is going to become a Ram fan tradition. Crowd noise was very good; Hasselbeck couldn't audible effectively, and he's easily rattled anyway, so the strong crowd performance really had him shook up. The crowd was much stronger in the third quarter than last week. You know, maybe the crowd would be more fired up after halftime if we didn't have such lame halftime shows. Like a hundred women "jazzercising" to non-jazz music at halftime for the umpteenth-straight year. Can't they at least find a marching band, or bring back the pee-wee football players? What happened to Captain Jack the Maniac? Bread and circuses, Georgia!
* Game balls: 1 – Martz; 2 – the whole offensive line deserves one; 3 – Bulger; 4 – Faulk and Jackson.
* Who’s next?: The Buffalo Bills looked fifty times worse against New England Sunday night than the Rams did the Sunday before, and they prepare for the Pats twice a year, so who knows what could happen when the Bills and Rams have one of their rare lock-ups in Buffalo next week. The Bills had won their previous two games, beating a good Jet team and whipping the Big Dead team that has everybody around here scared right now, so who knows which team will show up on either side of the ball. The Bills allowed no sacks and committed no turnovers those two games, a bad trend for the Rams' generally sack-free, turnover-free defense. And the Rams would not figure to be the defense to stop Willis McGahee, who's making Buffalo's decision to draft him high in 2003 look better every week. The Buffalo offensive line is big and can block the run well, but they have struggled at times in pass protection, which has not been a good thing for Drew Bledsoe, the NFL's least mobile QB, and this is a league with Kurt Warner in it. Buffalo's receiving corps is questionable after Eric Moulds, although Lee Evans is growing into the #2 WR role. I would think the Rams ought to be able to blitz Buffalo successfully, and probably will have to. I still can't believe they blitzed so little today. Then again, Bledsoe has been turnover-prone throughout his career, so a misplay or two on Buffalo's side may allow the Rams to dial it down.
The Ram offense could be in for a long day in Buffalo. The Bills are the NFL's #5 defense, on the strength of their #4 ranking against the pass. That puts them ahead of New England and Miami, two defenses the Rams have recently struggled against. They have nice outside speed with DEs Aaron Schobel, who leads the team with 5.5 sacks, and Chris Kelsay, and a ton of beef in the middle with one of the league's best DTs, Pat Williams, along with Sam Adams. The Ram offensive line is going to have their hands full and then some. Go back a level, and there's the old Ram London Fletcher, still ringing up double-digits in tackles per game, flanked by Takeo Spikes and Jeff Posey, making up one of the league's better sets of LBs. A motivated Fletcher is going to be a handful on his own, let alone the rest of these guys. Buffalo could be vulnerable in the secondary: Troy Vincent has been nicked up, and some of their high pass rating comes from playing lousy passing teams. If Holt is healthy, the Rams may be able to take advantage of some mismatches there, but their hands are going to be full just blocking that defensive line. Buffalo looms as one of those better defenses the Rams always seem to struggle against. One last, and annoying, note: Buffalo's special teams had been even worse than the Rams' the last couple of years, but they have turned it around lately under a new coach. Bobby Freaking April. Mike Martz has got quite a task ahead of him: deconstruct another tough defense, work around injuries, and keep the team playing at a high level and with urgency. A loss in Buffalo probably knocks the Rams back into second place, with a Monday night game at Green Bay, the NFL's hottest team right now, looming. The Rams won't get to celebrate the Seattle win long, and they need to win in Buffalo as much as they needed to beat Seattle today. Martz has set a good pace; he and his team need to maintain it now.
Game stats from nfl.com