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St. Louis Hoping to Salvage Season
Monday, December 5, 2005
By Nick Wagoner
It was a game the Rams had to win if they wanted any realistic chance to hang on and steal a playoff spot.
But Sunday’s 24-9 loss to Washington leaves St. Louis with a strong possibility of being on the outside looking in come playoff time. The Rams not yet mathematically eliminated, but getting into any possible playoff scenarios would take too long.
At 5-7, there are as many as 10 teams in the NFC with a better record than the Rams, pending the outcome of tonight’s Philadelphia/Seattle game. The loss to the Redskins was frustrating for many reasons, especially considering the Rams had plenty of opportunities to pull ahead or at least tie the game, but nothing was more frustrating than the implications that went with losing the game.
“I just think we’re going to look back at it and it’s going to be a game that we coulda, shoulda, one of those types of deals and we didn’t,” right guard Adam Timmerman said. “So, whatever the breakdowns were and mistakes that were made, they hurt. They hurt right now, especially given the situation as far as the record and stuff like that.”
The breakdowns on both sides of the ball were numerous. Nothing, though, has been more frustrating for this team than the consistent inability to stop the run or simply make tackles.
“(It was) poor, very poor,” defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “We had a lot of missed tackles, had a chance to get them down, get them out and we missed a whole lot of tackles.”
A frustrated Pickett even pointed out that the tackling problem has been ongoing for quite a while. Dating to last season, the Rams have been unable to stop the run on any kind of a consistent basis. After a quick start against the run earlier this year, the Rams have faced better running teams and been gashed by many of them.
That was capped off by yesterday’s meager performance when the Redskins posted 257 rushing yards, including 118 from someone named Rock Cartwright, who had never eclipsed the century mark before.
“You have to understand the nature of the defense,” interim coach Joe Vitt said. “The defensive line has gap responsibilities. Linebackers play behind the line. If a back gets past the line, then the linebackers make the tackle. If the back gets past the linebackers, we have a position called "safety." That’s a safety valve. That’s from the end zone to where the line of scrimmage is. It has to go past three people to get to the goal line. All of a sudden now, if we get it past the second level, we’re seeing 40, 50, 60-yard runs.
“We’re allowed to play with 11 people too. We have to tackle. This is a great time right now, because all of a sudden when things like that start to happen, it’s this (players pointing at each other). Players and coaches are notorious; they can smell the house burning before the match is even lit. Believe me. We have to tackle. We have to get off blocks. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Redskins’ rushing output dropped the Rams to 31st in the NFL in total defense and 30th against the run. At the heart of the problem is the aforementioned inability to tackle consistently. Sure, the Rams have had problems with assignments and cap control and responsibility, but defense boils down to tackling, according to Vitt.
“If you’re a defensive player, you start to play defensive football because you like contact and you like to tackle,” Vitt said. “It’s the staple of our sport on defense, and if you can’t tackle, you have to go find another profession. You really do. We work on it every day in practice, and with the preseason we’re at, what, game 16 now, and we’re missing tackles face up on somebody? We’re looking them right in the eye and they’re either running over us or running around us. If you can’t tackle, you can’t play. The next guy has to come on.”
The Rams are running out of “next” guys, meaning somebody will have to correct the tackling problems somehow. The defense is pounded every day in practice on taking angles and pad level and all of the technical details of making tackles. While there is technically no tackling done in practice, the Rams do indeed work on it.
So that brings up the question of whether the Rams’ inability to tackle is related to matters of the heart.
“Maybe it’s a lack of confidence,” an animated Vitt said Monday. “Maybe I should pat them on the butt a little more, blow on their ear, make them feel better about themselves, get that air hose out and pump them up. Make the tackle. We’re not splitting the atom in this business. We’re not finding a cure for cancer. The guy with the ball, you want to tackle, and when you get two hands on him, bring him to the ground. Don’t let him run through you, don’t let him run around you, bring him to the ground.”
On the other side of the ball, the Rams have also struggled to match their opponents’ ability to run the ball. In fact, St. Louis hasn’t made much of an effort to do that.
With teams consistently loading up the box with an extra defender because rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick or backup Jamie Martin are in the game, the Rams have tried to run the ball early. When it doesn’t work, there has been little commitment to continuing to run.
Steven Jackson carried just 11 times for 24 yards against Washington and there was little evidence that the offensive line or fullbacks or tight ends would be able to create enough space for him to operate.
“We have got to run the ball better,” Vitt said. “We have to. We have to balance our attack. We have to play in a special way right now because of the personnel we have, or we’re not going to have a chance…we’re not going to have a chance. We can’t go into a football game asking Fitz to throw the ball 50 times a game and let him win it for us. We can’t do it. We have to run the football.”
None of these issues are new for this team, something that makes it particularly upsetting that they can’t be corrected in an expedient manner.
“It’s getting real frustrating,” free safety Mike Furrey said. “It just seems like every week we keep kicking ourselves in the butt and it hurts us. We just do it at the wrong time and it’s getting us right now.”
With the final quarter of the season left to play, the Rams might not have much chance at a playoff spot, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing left to play for. Players can play for contracts and coaches can coach for positions or promotions.
Even if that playoff opportunity might no longer be available, there is plenty to learn about this Rams team in the season’s final month.
“The great thing about this business now – we are two games under .500, four games to go – we are all being evaluated, coaches, players, administrators, all being evaluated,” Vitt said. “I think your true character is going to be exposed at tough times. They are tough right now. It’s time to put up or shut up. What you do speaks so well there is no need to hear what you have to say.”
Re: St. Louis Hoping to Salvage SeasonI just think we’re going to look back at it and it’s going to be a game that we coulda, shoulda,Clannie Nominee for ClanRam's Thickest Poster