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RamView, 11/29/2015: Bengals 31, Rams 7 (Long)


  • RamView, 11/29/2015: Bengals 31, Rams 7 (Long)

    RamView, November 29, 2015
    Game #11: Bengals 31, Rams 7

    It's Thanksgiving time in Cincinnati, and somewhere Jeff Fisher is saying, as God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly. In this week's spiritless, feckless, hapless, worthless blowout loss to the Bengals, his team soared like turkeys and looked every bit like a team just playing out the string. Pass the gravy.

    Position by position:
    * QB: Nick Foles' (30-46-228, 3 INT, PR 49.9) toughness this season has been admirable, and he made a couple of good plays this week, but those were tiny flowers poking out of the massive heap of, um, compost that is the Ram offense and Nick's game. After the offense started the game with an ugly 3-and-out, Foles threw ugly passes behind Jared Cook and Kenny Britt before hitting Cook over the middle for 16. He'd keep the drive alive on 3rd-and-2 by scrambling and backing over A.J. Hawk, but, classic Fisherball, classic Foles, settled for a 3-yard pass to Brian Quick on a 3rd-and-8. More classic Fisherball, the Rams got the ball back across midfield, gained one yard, punted. Down 17-7 before halftime, Foles appeared to rally. Always under pressure from the right side, he hung tough to hit Britt for 18 and beat a 3rd-and-7 blitz to hit Britt for 15 more down to the Bengal 22. The Rams should at least close the gap, right? No, Foles forces a throw for Cook inside the 5 but George Iloka breaks it up and tips the ball to Reggie Nelson for a Bengal INT. That play pretty much turned the tide. The Rams couldn't get the running game or quick screen game going. The D gave up a quick TD to get the offense pressing even more, and Foles pressed his way into a back-breaking pick-six. Flushed out of the pocket near his goal line, he rolled left, then tried a goofy, cross-body, cross-field throw he thought Bradley Marquez would come back to, but Leon Hall came back to it instead to put the Bengals ahead 31-7. The Rams got across midfield to end the 3rd, but Foles led off the 4th with what I wish was his last throw as a Ram. Britt was wide open down the sideline had Foles' throw been decent, but, hurried by the Bengal pass rush, Nick made a typical Foles deep throw, an awful, back-footed lob that future Hall-of-Famer Iloka fair caught for Cincy's third INT. Everything about Foles – technique, decision-making – falls completely apart under pressure. Sean Mannion (6-7-31) got to close out this preseason-quality effort like he closed out games in August, running the 2:00 offense. Unfortunately, his one throw that stood out was the incompletion, an out route that didn't make it to the sideline on the bounce. Foles wasn't helped at all by his overmatched row of turnstiles posing as an offensive line, nor by his drumsticks-for-hands receivers. You'll never see Foles yelling at his teammates or throwing them under the bus in the press, but maybe he needs to. He's bad and they're making him look awful.

    * RB: Tavon Austin (4-63 rush, 6-33 recv) was the only spark the Ram offense had, and that was mainly on one play. In the 2nd, Todd Gurley took a snap in Wildcat formation and handed off to Austin, who got a solid edge block from Cook (!), zipped around an overpursuing DE and launched into hyperspeed. Britt got him 25 yards' worth of interference to top off a 60-yard run. That set Austin up for a 5-yard jet sweep TD two plays later behind more solid blocking from Cook (!!). That'll be the last time “solid blocking” is discussed here, though. It's remarkable that Gurley (9-19) even gained as much as 19 yards, because he was met in the backfield almost every carry. No one blocked Carlos Dunlap on either of Gurley's first two runs. The second was a 3-yard loss on 3rd-and-1 because no one blocked Iloka, either. His next carry, two Bengals pinned him behind the LOS but he surged past them and turned a 3-yard loss into a 4-yard gain. No matter, Geno Atkins engulfed him the next play for a 3-yard loss (and an airplane spin). Had Gurley not broken the tackles he did, he would have totaled about 5 yards. He had nowhere to go inside or outside. Fox's announcers commented that even Earl Campbell wouldn't have gotten far this week behind the Rams' blocking. For all he's been for the Rams this season, young Gurley isn't that.

    * Receivers: None of the Rams’ big receivers play big; Nick Foles, among others, could use one who does. Before halftime, a really good TE with the inside track to a goal line throw would have gone up and got it, won the jump ball. Jared Cook (4-58), though, gets beaten from behind by Iloka, who created an INT. The Ram offense discovered the quick slant this week, which led to a wildly-productive game for Kenny Britt (6-63). Dre Kirkpatrick got credit for a pass breakup, but the incomplete pass that ended a drive in the 2nd that the Rams started across midfield was off both Britt’s hands. A really good WR comes down with that ball. Or catches the 4th-and-6 pass in the 4th that was off both Britt’s outstretched hands. Then there’s Brian Quick (2-8), who must believe every ball thrown TO him is actually being thrown AT him. He doesn’t catch balls as much as he tries to get them to stop attacking him. We saw it yet again in the 3rd, when he let a 3rd-and-9 back shoulder throw into his body and muffed it at the sideline. And do the Rams throw so many 3rd-down passes short of the sticks expecting a big WR to break a tackle? Does it ever happen? Britt and Cook blocked well on the Rams’ TD drive. Britt had a couple of catches that set up, well, the INT meant for Cook. Britt was wide open down the sideline on Foles’ last INT but the QB missed badly. But there’s still several drives a game you can count on the Rams’ big receivers to kill because they don’t play big, at least not consistently. Lance Kendricks’ blocking lately has been the epitome of someone not playing big. Unless he’s getting a good run at somebody, he’s getting nothing done as a lead blocker, and he looked very tentative in that role this week. Also, didn’t I hear the Rams signed Wes Welker (2-12) a while back? Where did he go? With the running game and screen game shut down, these guys needed to step up. At most, they did a little. There’s no one here who can, or maybe wants to, take over a game when time calls for it. All I see are guys happy to be well-compensated bit players on a (if they’re lucky) 5-11 team.

    * Offensive line: Like the Wal-Mart greeter who gets to open the store on Black Friday, the Rams were immediately overrun up front and stayed that way. They blocked so poorly early on, it wasn't apparent they were actually trying to obstruct the Bengals. No one blocked Dunlap on the first two runs, nor Iloka on the second. I'd put that on makeshift RT Garrett Reynolds, who I don't think ever knew what he was supposed to be doing that opening series. I'm certain Iloka was supposed to be his block. And Dunlap was the guy in front of him, and usually going around him, all day. The Rams did not show the strength to win battles inside and did not show the speed or athleticism to block the Bengals on the move outside. They tried to move block for Gurley in the 1st and nearly got him buried after Kendricks whiffed horribly and Demetrious Rhaney let a LB run right by. Gurley made chicken salad out of um, those substandard ingredients, but Geno Atkins gave him the bird the next play, humiliating Tim Barnes and spinning Gurley down for a big loss. The Rams got the ball back at midfield only to have Atkins bury Tre Mason. He beat Rhaney AND Greg Robinson, who actually blocked him into the hole. Reynolds got beaten repeatedly as Foles tried to drive the Rams at the end of the half. Foles actually survived the first half without getting sacked (thanks to a defensive hold), but it didn't last long. Atkins split Barnes and Cody Wichmann to drill him in the 3rd. Austin lost 5 to start the next drive because Cory Harkey ended up having to block Dunlap AND Iloka, and he whiffed on Dunlap. A quick screen to Austin went nowhere the next play because Robinson couldn't lead out in time. Dunlap beat Reynolds for the millionth time to flush Foles into throwing his pick-six. Dunlap and Atkins weren't the only Bengals at the party. Wallace Freaking Gilberry blew up a swing pass for Gurley in the 3rd by getting in Foles' face. Robinson got beat in the 4th by Chris Carter, who does not do nothing but catch TDs, to rush Foles' third INT. Carter and Frankenberry were a handful for the future Auburn draft bust the whole 2nd half. In the 4th, his whiff on Carter nearly got Gurley buried, then on 3rd-and-1, he took back a first down pass to Austin with his millionth holding penalty of the season, forced to tackle Dingleberry after getting beaten by the Bengal backup. On Foles' final flailings late in the 4th, Wichmann got beaten badly by Dunlap rushing from DT to blow up a screen, then Robinson lost yet again to the immortal Huckleberry to force another bad throw. Where to start? Reynolds was awful, but at least he was playing out of position against a likely Pro Bowl DE. We knew the inexperienced Wichmann, the lightweight Barnes and the inexperienced AND lightweight Rhaney were going to have major trouble containing the Bengals' dominant DTs, and they didn't surprise us. And Robinson has gone full Jason Smith. Who in this league can he block if he's going to get run over by backups every week? If not for Jared Cook's blocking during the Rams' only TD drive, I'm not sure the Rams landed a good block all game. They could not, and did not, start an NFL-quality line this week. The results made that obvious.

    * Defensive line/LB: With Andy Dalton (20-27-233, 3 TD) getting the ball out quickly behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines, and without Robert Quinn again this week, the Ram front had about as much impact as you'd expect: no sacks, 376 yards of total offense. Jeremy Hill (16-86) took off for 15 on Cincy's first play, with the Rams getting no penetration at DT and James Laurinaitis getting taken out by the lead-blocking TE. Dalton beat a blitz with a shovel pass to Tyler Eifert for another 15, and the Bengals were on the way to their first TD. The D had Cincy 3-and-out to end the 1st. Eugene Sims tipped a pass, Michael Brockers blew up a run and Laurinaitis and Mark Barron shut down a screen to Gio Bernard. But special teams gave the Bengals the ball back and deflated the D. Dalton scrambled by Aaron Donald for 5. All the Rams but Sims (who got blocked) bit like amateurs on a 30-yard reverse that got Marvin Jones inside the 10. Rodney McLeod made a nice goal-line run stop, though, and Daren Bates a nice end zone pass breakup, to hold the Bengals to 3. Those looked like big plays when the offense drew to within 10-7. So what do the Rams do? (deflating balloon sound) They gave Dalton forever to dump off to Hill for 14. Hill made four Rams miss on a 3-yard run. Then he got 12 more up the gut as Laurinaitis got canceled out by the blocking TE again. Dalton mostly threw quickly, and the Rams didn't get near him when he didn't. Eifert made it 17-7 and it wouldn't get any closer. Hill ground up clock in the 2nd half with Chris Long jumping inside too hard, or Donald or Laurinaitis overrunning the play, or Brockers getting knocked 10 feet downfield and pancaked. Fortunately, Will Hayes, with one of the few quality QB pressures of the day, got Dalton to throw a bad INT in the 3rd. Hayes was the only Ram lineman to get off the LOS that play. In the 3rd, the whole line overplayed a 52-yard screen to Bernard that set up another Bengal TD. Other teams' DEs blow our screens up all the time; can we return the favor one of these days? Barron was one of the few bright spots, with 10 tackles and several clutch stops. The Rams didn't give up much in the 4th, not that the Bengals were really trying. And you still had Donald whiffing, Hill running through a stupid overshift for a big gain, Hayes getting mauled by Andrew Whitworth, Laurinaitis and Akeem Ayers getting stumped in the hole. The Rams didn't make plays and often didn't get in place to make plays. The world's most amateur scouting report mentioned last week that part of Cincy's blocking strategy is to get defenders overplaying and wash them out of plays; the Rams never adjusted to it. Physical and strategic failure in the “war” in the trenches.

    * Secondary: The Ram defense was ultimately doomed by a mistake-filled game in the secondary. 3rd-3 the opening drive, they're playing tight zone coverage but Janoris Jenkins still lets A.J. Green (6-61, 2 TD) inside for a drag route and down to the 10. The next play, Jenkins and Rodney McLeod brilliantly jump a short route to the feared Mohammed Sanu while leaving Green open by five yards behind them for a simple TD. Another classic screwup by those two. Tyler Eifert faked Marcus Roberson (starting for injured Trumaine Johnson) into sitting on a short route the next drive and burned him deep, but McLeod saved Roberson's bacon by blasting the catch away. In the 2nd, Daren Bates, not falling for the lineman-eligible play, saved the Rams 4 points with an excellent leaping pass breakup in the end zone. The Rams appeared to have settled down a little. Not for long. Bates and T.J. McDonald gave Eifert a free run down the right seam for a 21-yard TD. Gee, think you might want to cover a guy down there who has 11 TDs this year? Make it 12. After halftime, Jenkins got a gift INT from Andy Dalton and the Rams appeared to settle down again. Nope, not for long. Joyner and Mark Barron got blocked as Giovani Bernard took off with a simple screen pass for 52, then Green got another free run in the red zone for an 18-yard TD. James Laurinaitis didn't get enough of a drop, McLeod didn't close on him, ball game. The Rams have been FAR better than this in the red zone this season, but this week, they looked as confused in coverage as they have since the beginning of last season. This team's latest very disappointing development.

    * Special teams: Special teams stood out mostly for penalties, committing FIVE of the team's seven. Back-to-back false starts on a punt that Johnny Hekker plonked into the end zone anyway. (Hekker clubbed his first punt a whole 37 yards to tee up Cincy's opening TD drive.) Chase Reynolds ran into the punter to turn a 3-and-out into an 85-yard, nearly 7:00 FG drive. Holding by Bates on a kickoff to bury the Rams deep in their end for Hall's pick-six. The only bright spot, possibly on this whole team, was Zach Hocker blasting a couple of kickoffs out the back of the end zone. WHO? He's the emergency kicker the Rams had to pick up because Greg Zuerlein (hip) was out. With this week's sloppy play, I have to reluctantly add STs coach John Fassel to this year's list of Rams disappointments. I really thought special teams could put the Rams over the top this year. But like so much of this team, they've regressed instead.

    * Strategery: Expecting Frank Cignetti to get a lot done in Cincinnati with this offensive line, these receivers, and a QB the team doesn’t want starting was not realistic. Breaking out the Wildcat formation a couple of times was creative and quite productive. He didn’t forget Austin this week and used him instead of just decoying with him. And after 10 weeks, the Ram offense finally discovered the slant route. But the Rams have scored four TDs in four weeks. Cignetti’s game plan was riddled with design flaws. I thought they needed more quick-developing plays like the quick slants. What was a slow fake end-around that sets up a slow screen pass to slow Britt supposed to be good for? Yeah, a loss. You know who has made a career out of getting open at the LOS within about a second? Wes Welker. Where was he? What was the only time Foles looked remotely comfortable all day? Running the 2:00 offense before halftime. So why not run no-huddle in the 2nd half? I’m not sure if a couple of plays were poor execution or poor design. Cook got a penalty attempting to run a route from the backfield before the snap one play. That’s great play design, IF you’re the Toronto Argonauts. Late in the game, Cincy’s been jumping quick screens all game, so they’ve got Bradley Marquez and Austin flanked right and running… the same route? Austin gets the ball but gets nowhere with Marquez’ route pulling in an extra defender. Huh? The Rams didn’t have the personnel on offense to get much of anywhere against Cincinnati. They didn’t have the game plan, either.

    Gregg Williams’ defense didn’t seem very well prepared. I think he was trying to mix up coverages enough to confuse Dalton but ended up confusing his own guys instead. The number of zone coverage breakdowns was appalling, and communication back there was poor to the point that Williams should have just simplified everything and gone to man while it was still a game. Bengals OC Hue Jackson (once interviewed here for that role; Fisher hired Brian Schottenheimer) fooled Williams repeatedly, whether with screen passes away from blitz pressure or the Marvin Jones reverse that gave the entire defense whiplash. The Rams were off-balance and overpursued enough to make you think they weren’t coached up enough on Cincinnati’s style of play. Nothing happy to find in any of this happening at this point of the season.

    I don’t know if Jeff Fisher is trying to win now, in the future, or ever. I don’t know why Gurley’s in the game in the 4th quarter down 31-7, getting a minor injury, and getting rolled right back out there. I don’t know why Welker’s back returning a punt at the end of the game. Not like that’s a high-velocity-impact-rich environment to send a guy with a concussion history into or anything. And I absolutely don’t know why Fisher was calling timeouts in the final minute of this dog. Bengals fans, Rams fans join you in booing that oddball move. All the times Fisher has failed to call timeouts in his time here and he’s using them then?

    Does Kroenke think this brand of football is going to sell for long in any stadium in any city?

    * Upon further review: Didn't look like a very challenging game for Craig Wrolstead and crew. Fisher had a beef before the Bengal FG that he wasn't getting proper opportunity to match up on defense. On the 52-yard screen to Bernard in the 3rd, T.J. McDonald took a blatant block in the back that would have called it all back and possibly stopped a TD drive. Not seeing much else, I'll try to appreciate that an officiating crew having a quiet game is usually also having a good game. Grade: B-minus

    * Cheers: If you ask Fox, the highlight of this week's broadcast was Tony Siragusa's porkpie hat, which I'm pretty sure he bought thinking it was made out of pork and/or had pie in it. Such keen analysis from Charles Davis and Siragusa that the Rams needed to run outside more after Gurley got stuffed up the middle a couple of times, when that was what the Rams tried first. And it didn't work the rest of the game, either, except for one long run. Analyze that. Thom Brennaman read off Fisher’s coaching record at the end of the game like a rap sheet: 6 winning seasons in 21 as a head coach, no playoff win since 2003. Brennaman's leading the Fire Fisher Brigade in the media, for whatever it ever amounts to.

    * Who’s next?: The Rams return for what could be their final stand in St. Louis, three straight home games that will take this season down the homestretch. It'll start with the team that might well leave vs. the team that did leave. The Rams broke a three-game losing streak in the series when they surprised Arizona in the desert in October, 24-22. That left them 7-8 there since moving to St. Louis, while they're only 5-9 here.

    The Rams won the first meeting this year behind clutch red zone defense, which will be difficult to repeat without Quinn, and was a very unusual performance against Carson Palmer this season anyway. He leads the league (yes, even Brady) in TD passes (27) and QB rating (108.9) and is 3rd in passing yards. Arizona is also tied for 5th for fewest sacks allowed. I mentioned in the first Arizona preview that Palmer's improved footwork has really helped his line and his receivers, but now, he's also getting some of the best line play he's gotten as a Cardinal. LT Jared Veldheer was outstanding last Sunday night against the Bengals and RT Bobby Massie kept the feared Carlos Dunlap off the stat sheet. Veldheer and LG Mike Iupati really got the running game going on the left side. Chris Johnson is by far Arizona's leading rusher and is a lot more patient than I remember, not trying to bounce everything outside. All the Arizona backs are good receivers, and with Larry Fitzgerald, are all huge options on screens. With the trouble that play has given the Rams lately, they HAVE to be on point against it for Arizona. And with Fitzgerald one of the league's very best blocking WRs, Jenkins HAS to be able to get off blocks and prevent short passes from turning into big plays, which didn't happen vs. Chicago and Baltimore. Gregg Williams is the one Rams DC in a decade to recognize Fitzgerald is the key to stopping the Cardinal offense and has been willing to devote extra attention to him. To get away with that, he'll have to pressure Palmer enough to keep him from hitting one of his million deep threats, including John Brown, Jaron Brown, and now J.J. Nelson. (Michael Floyd, too, if his hamstring isn't a bother.) Blitzing will get into Palmer's head and get him making dumb throws. Williams got to him last time with safety blitzes. He'll need Aaron Donald whipping center Lyle Sendlein up front, maybe from that 3-man front that's disappeared from the Ram defense, to set the table for the DEs. Williams has solved the Cardinal offense before; the Rams will need some more successful equations from their defensive mad scientist.

    Algebra isn't the Rams' strength on offense; it's been a long time since they solved the Cardinal defense for C^2 or P^2. Calais Campbell had a season-high 10 tackles against them in October and has been blowing up Ram blocking schemes his entire career. So I really liked what Cincinnati did with him; they double-teamed a DT next to him and ran thattaway. Depending on his ankle injury, avoidance may also be the best policy with Patrick Peterson. He smothered A.J. Green last Sunday and asphyxiated Kenny Britt (0-0) in October. Whoever's QBing the Rams, assuming he can get rid of the ball, will be much better off picking on Jerraud Powers. After getting burned by Austin (6-96, 2 TD) and Gurley (146 yards) in the first meeting, if anyone's going to be ready for the Rams' two-man show on offense, it'll be Arizona. Their defensive calling card remains heavy blitzing. No one in their front has a lot of sacks, but they have a lot of players who can get to the QB, and that blitz made Cincy's vaunted o-line look pretty average. The soft, gooey center of the Ram o-line (and the backs) will have to deal with a lot of blitzes right up the gut by Deon Bucannon from safety and by battering ram/LB Kevin Minter. Even if they can pick that up, Jason Sm, er, Greg Robinson will be more than challenged at LT. Rookie OLB Markus Golden was a handful for Andrew Whitworth, so he'll be beating Robinson all game, and Dwight Freaking Freeney, who I did not know was still in the league, or a Cardinal, has 3 sacks in the last 4 games and is guaranteed to burn Robinson at least once as a spot rusher with his legendary spin move. OC Cignetti's task again this week is to try to keep his QB from getting shelled. He'll have to rely on draws and screens and the slant passes he's finally discovered after 10-11 weeks. Gurley's biggest successes in Arizona were behind move blockers, if Cignetti remembers what those are. (Preferably Harkey; Kendricks is useless.) And whether or not they're running well, the Rams have to keep play-action in the game plan. This is always effective against Arizona because they are overaggressive. The Rams aren't going to dictate anything on offense against Arizona, or probably anybody else this year. They're going to have to learn to counterattack.

    Jeff Fisher built a team designed to win games in the NFC West, where the Rams are 3-0, but forgot about the rest of the league, where they're a dismal 1-7. And now that they're back in the division for a week, they get a red-hot Cardinal team that's won 5 in a row and has been waiting two months for payback. What might be the last shot St. Louis gets at Bill Bidwill doesn't look like it's going to end well.

    -- Mike
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