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RamView, 12/6/2015: Cardinals 27, Rams 3 (Long)


  • RamView, 12/6/2015: Cardinals 27, Rams 3 (Long)

    RamView, December 6, 2015
    Game #12: Cardinals 27, Rams 3

    Watching the Rams play has become as joyless and uninteresting as standing over the remains of a burned-down building. At least grass growing or paint drying is something showing progress. All that's showing progress in St. Louis these days is the rate of decay and the bitter burning smell of another failed season.

    Position by position:
    * QB: In what I assume will be his last game this season – the great Case Keenum is expected back next week – Nick Foles (15-35-146 PR 43.3), confirmed the hopelessness of the QB situation here. He looks like he should have a rifle arm, but instead it's a BB gun, with the accuracy of a shotgun. The Rams came out planning to throw quickly, and Foles’ first pass was on time to Brian Quick for 14 and probably the passing highlight of the game. The next drive, Kenny Britt beat his man deep down the sideline by a step, but Foles hung up his usual deep lob, left the throw too far inside, and Rashad Johnson got over from safety to pick him off. Didn’t take much longer for Arizona’s pressure to get to Foles. They blitzed him into a throwaway to end one drive and pressured him out of throwing to Tavon Austin open over the middle the next. Foles’ game continued to fall apart under pressure and the home fans booed the offense off the field at halftime. Jared Cook didn’t help matters with a drop right out of halftime. Foles then threw a deep near-pick into double coverage and finished a quick 3-and-out by back-footing a poor throw out of Austin’s reach despite good blitz pickup in front of him. After a long punt return by Austin and a long run by Todd Gurley, Foles’ first shot at the end zone, a fade route for Britt, wasn’t even in bounds, and on 3rd down, he tripped stepping up from a rush and flubbed a dumpoff pass. Clutch! The Rams settled for their ONLY 3 points. Wes Welker was wide open on an out route on 3rd-and-5 next time out, but with Arizona blitzing off both edges, Nervous Nicky airmailed his pass 5 yards out of bounds to more boos from the home crowd. The Rams went to desperation no-huddle mode in the 4th, and Foles quickly hit Britt across midfield, and Austin on a corner route for 24, and eventually got the Rams inside the 10. From there, though, Arizona released the Kraken, and Foles, well, kraked. He got flushed on 1st-and-goal and threw well too high for Britt wide open under the uprights, getting him drilled instead of getting him a pretty easy TD. He beat a blitz on 2nd-and-goal but underthrew a sliding Cook, who will never catch anything less than a perfect throw anyway. Foles threw for Austin in the back of the end zone on 3rd-and-goal, except Austin was at the 3-yard-line. Lovely. And, of course, the 4th-and-goal pass was not into the end zone, and Bradley Marquez got stopped short. After reaching those dizzying heights, Foles’ receivers were spent, sabotaging him with more dropped passes and Cook failing to run out routes. But Foles, with his awful, helium-filled deep balls and Ray Finkelian play in the clutch, is as big a culprit in the Rams’ 2015 collapse as any of his teammates. He’s been the author of one of the weirder declines by an NFL player in recent years. What happened to Nick Foles?

    * RB: For the second straight week, Todd Gurley (9-41) got nowhere to run, AT ALL, early, became an afterthought and the Rams fell way behind. That 41 yards is WITH a 5-yard and a 34-yard run, btw. Gurley got buried on his first carry because the line couldn’t block the left end. He got buried on a slow-developing 3rd-and-2 handoff after the line couldn’t block, well, anybody. They tried him on a pitch right at the end of the 1st, but he got no lead block from Rob Havenstein or Cory Harkey, and Garrett Reynolds got whipped on the backside to blow up the play for a big loss. Finally, after halftime, Gurley got a big hole and popped off the left side for 34. And, the very next play, got buried because the Rams couldn’t get the MLB blocked. He got stuffed again later because Jared Cook couldn’t block his man. I don’t know what to say. The Rams could line up Steven Jackson, Marshall Faulk, hell, Eric Dickerson in their primes back there; they’re not going anywhere behind what has to be the worst run-blocking of the past 20 years here. The blockers aren’t even getting Gurley time to work up enough steam to break a tackle. It’s got nothing to do with any of the running backs, but the Ram running game has become truly awful.

    * Receivers: Another clinic this week of the receiving brilliance that is Rams tight end Jared Cook (3-22). He and nearly-as-brilliant Kenny Britt (2-41) false-started during the 1st half to foul up Rams drives. Cook truly shone after halftime, though. Implored by his head coach to “catch the freaking ball,” Cook's response the very first play of the half was to drop a pass that hit both his hands. He had a catch taken away in the 4th because he'd alertly gone out of bounds earlier in the play. With the Rams trying to drive for a score later, he dropped another pass. Cook got open on a double move route in the end zone, but Foles' poor throw made it a contested catch, a contest Cook will always lose. At the end of the game, after Brian Quick (1-14) reminded everyone that he's spectacularly bad himself with his second drop, VINTAGE JARED COOK, cutting off a route Foles expected him to continue out to the sideline instead of running into traffic. That's a classic move of Cook's, “The Career Decision”. Britt at least showed a pretty consistent ability to get open deep on backup CB Justin Bethel, if only anyone could have gotten him the ball. The slot receivers (Austin 1-24, Marquez 3-17, Welker 2-15) were somehow rare targets in a quick passing game; I don't know how that even works. The Rams relied on their “bigs” this week, and got about what you'd expect. A big zero.

    * Offensive line: Quick passing kept Foles from being sacked, and for the first time in Rams history, they didn't get destroyed by Calais Campbell, who had no stats thanks to the run of play going away from him. The Rams got destroyed by everyone else, though. On the opening play, they tried to sweep right, and Ed Stinson, the LDE, the ONE GUY you should get blocked on this play, got by Cody Wichmann to tackle Gurley for minus-3. Returning to LG with Rob Havenstein back at RT, Garrett Reynolds was still a massive failure. On 3rd-and-2, he got overwhelmed by legend of the game RODNEY GUNTER to get Gurley stuffed again and the crowd booing early. At the end of the 1st, Pro Bowl lock GUNTER again ran over Reynolds to blow up a Gurley run from the backside. Greg Robinson, who was actually less than dreadful this week, still whiffed on a Honey Badger blitz that blew up a 3rd-down pass to start the 2nd. But Reynolds got burned again to start the next drive off with a 2-yard loss for Tre Mason. When the Rams finally started running left in the 2nd half, Tim Barnes made it pay off by opening a big hole for Gurley's 34-yard run. But Gurley took another loss the next play after Wichmann couldn't get a block on the MLB, and Foles tripped on 3rd down stepping up from Havenstein pushing a hot rush past him. Gurley got stuffed again in the 3rd after Cook couldn't block Markus Golden at all. There's a big shock. The Rams drove inside the 10 in the 4th, but Golden beat Havenstein to flush Foles and the QB struggled to get off good passes against constant Cardinal blitzes. Havenstein's return stabilized the line somewhat; they at least protected Foles adequately to get passes out quickly. The run game was once again a disaster, though. They didn't get enough help from any of their TEs. Reynolds was awful, getting overrun by fellow no-names on the back side of plays. Wichmann didn't show the quickness to get to some of the blocks he needed to make. The quick failure of the run game got the Rams away from it, which is when you realize that Campbell, with no tackles, still changed the game. In their desperation to run away from him, they still kept running themselves into trouble. To return to a real, grown-up, professional running game, they have to be a lot more athletic than they were this week.

    * Defensive line/LB: Playing again without Robert Quinn and saddled with a defensive coordinator brilliantly deciding to leave huge gaps in the line for Arizona RBs to cavort through, the Rams were as ineffective up front as they’ve been all year. Carson Palmer was only sacked on blitzes and Cardinal RBs pounded the Rams for 178 yards. David Johnson’s (22-99) first touch was a 6-yard run through a big gap in the Ram line. After a big play to Michael Floyd, Johnson bounced outside a blitz for another 9 inside the 20, followed by Palmer beating the Rams for the opening TD. In the 2nd, though a clutch Akeem Ayers tackle likely saved a long TD, they couldn’t pin Arizona at their goal line. Johnson ran through Lamarcus Joyner for 6 and an overshift gap for 10, with Bobby Massie making Aaron Donald look very bad by pancaking him five yards downfield. Donald got revenge, though, sacking Palmer (along with Joyner) to push Arizona out of FG range. With another chance to pin Arizona inside their 20, the Rams failed again. Johnson ran through another overshift gap for 18, with Larry Fitzgerald dropping Ayers with an expert cut block. Arizona came back across midfield before another sack knocked them back out of FG range. A pressure by Donald, rushing from a 3-4 DE position, helped hold Arizona to a FG before halftime. But this tightrope act was bound to give out, and the wire snapped in the 3rd as the Rams again failed to pin Arizona deep in their end. Donald drilled Palmer as he threw on 3rd-and-3, but the long ball from his 9 was still good for 31, and (deflating balloon sound) went the Ram defense. Johnson ran through the Rams for 23 more, dragging both safeties 5 yards after a whiff by James Laurinaitis. Then, it’s Kerwynn Freaking Williams (6-59), beating a blitz for 15 after no lineman could get off a block and T.J. McDonald whiffed in the hole. The Rams forced a Johnson fumble but naturally couldn’t fall on it in bounds. Arizona went up 17-3 the next play, game over. Well, it sure was judging from the defensive effort. 15 for KFW after Jared Veldheer turned Eugene Sims and Laurinaitis got blocked and never got close to his gap assignment. Very solid pockets for Palmer, who converted a (controversial) 3rd-and-12. Then Arizona quick-snapped, and we got possibly the Rams’ worst defensive play of the year, a 35-yard KFW draw play TD. Nick Fairley got mauled. Matt Longacre got buried by a pull-block. Gregg Williams blitzed his OLBs out of the play, and as usual, Laurinaitis got blocked out of the action by a TE. Rodney McLeod whiffed badly, the young CBs chased half-heartedly at best, game really over. Before the 4th quarter even started. The scheme was awful, the DEs were ineffective, the MLB was non-existent, and about the only thing the Ram defense had going for it this week was Aaron Donald’s relentless effort. As awesome as that is, it is far, far, far from enough.

    * Secondary: Between Gregg Williams' worse-than-Tim-Walton coverage schemes, Trumaine Johnson (thigh) being out and T.J. McDonald again head-hunting HIS OWN TEAMMATES, coverage was a nightmare, granting Carson Palmer a big day (26-40-356, 2 TD). Williams really was worse than Walton, keeping DBs TEN YARDS off the LOS the whole game. And Laurinaitis still left Darren Fells open by 5 yards for a 22-yard gain on the opening drive. Michael Floyd (7-104) used his 30 feet of slack to get open for 20 on 3rd-and-7 two plays later, and when McDonald tried to jack him, just like when he ended E.J. Gaines' season last year and Alec Ogletree's this year, he launched full-on and head down and missed wildly, this time blasting Janoris Jenkins with a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit. McDonald seriously needs to be benched for his teammates' safety. The catch, and Jenkins' absence, set Palmer up to hit J.J. Nelson for a 22-yard TD, beating Mo Alexander. Jenkins miraculously returned (after all, Rams concussion tests are notoriously hard to pass) and got a 3-and-out with a nice stop of Floyd on a quick slant. They had Arizona pinned at the 5 in the 2nd, but John Brown (6-113) beat Jenkins for 14. That was nearly a 95-yard TD after Jenkins blew a diving tackle, but Akeem Ayers bailed him out. A brutal Marcus Roberson DPI put Arizona across midfield, but Lamarcus Joyner shut them down with a sack, putting a sweet move on Ted Larsen. Roberson then broke up a pass for Larry Fitzgerald (8-55) to finish off the drive. Fitzgerald's next touch, though, was a simple bubble screen that went for 21 after Jenkins couldn't get off a TE block and center Lyle Sendlein got out and pushed Joyner into McDonald. Alexander ended that drive with the Rams' other sack, but they handed Arizona 3 points before halftime. Fitzgerald beat Jenkins' soft coverage for 15. Floyd beat Roberson's soft coverage for 16. The Cardinals had TWO receivers open against SOFT coverage for another 12. Barron blew an INT right in his hands to let Arizona off the hook with a FG. A critical play came on 3rd-and-3 in the 3rd when Floyd beat Jenkins down the sideline for 31 when Janoris couldn't locate the ball and turned the wrong way. That deflated the defense and set up a 10-yard TD to David Johnson, where Jenkins and Barron crashed into each other trying to make a play on the ball. Jenkins actually didn’t have a bad game, for a guy who probably spent three hours thinking he was Batman. KFW ran through a bad McLeod whiff and disinterested pursuit from Roberson and Joyner for a 35-yard TD that ended this game early. Well, there was still time for Brown to scorch Rodney McLeod, pressed into playing press corner, for 68, and for Roberson to give up another deep DPI. These last two games have been the secondary's worst of the season. The coverage scheme was atrocious. The Rams continue to idiotically kill themselves with “friendly fire”, which includes McLeod knocking McDonald out on the sideline late in the game. (Instant karma's gonna getcha, T.J.) They just look really, really stupidly coached right now.

    * Special teams: Benny Cunningham had his best game of the season returning kicks, with over 30 yards a runback and bringing a couple out to the 35. Johnny Hekker averaged 54.5 a punt, with 3 punts over 60 yards, though the first, a 62-yarder, was less than a raging success. The Rams got all meta and faked a fake, with Hekker punting out of shotgun formation, but all the too-cuteness got them was a touchback. Hekker cemented his case for team MVP by also kicking off. Chase Reynolds' blatant hold called back a 65+yard punt return by Austin; the Rams settled for a FG out of a drive that could have started at the Arizona 3-yard line. Might be time for John Fassel to spend more time on blocking at practice and less on fakes.

    * Strategery: The Rams don't have anyone who can coach their way out of a paper bag right now. I don’t know what Gregg Williams was even trying to accomplish. Laying TEN YARDS off receivers so DBs could have passes completed in front of them all day? Brilliant. Overshifted lines that just handed big holes to Arizona RBs to run through? Brilliant. Here’s the Rams’ awesome defensive coaching right from the start of the game. Johnson runs for 6 through a stupid overshift. Palmer beats a blitz by dumping off to the TE for 22. Two plays later, 3rd-and-7, everyone 10 yards off receivers, 1st down completion with McDonald yet again blasting a teammate while tackling the way you’re taught not to do in grade school. Johnson burns another blitz bouncing a run outside, leading to a TD pass vs. a safety in poor position. There was one play where the only tight coverage was by Nick Fairley dropping back on the TE. Yes, Nick Fairley, shutdown DT. From the 5 in the 2nd, Arizona nearly burned Williams’ double A-gap blitz for a TD. KFW’s TD run was a draw play that beat a blitz. Way to learn from your still-recent mistakes. Williams’ apparent strategy was the bend-but-don’t-break defense that worked in Arizona, but ultimately my only explanation for this farce of a game plan is that he has Carson Palmer on his fantasy team. His awful play-calling this week was as responsible for keeping the Ram defense on the field as the miserable offense.

    Speaking of which. Frank Cignetti’s plan this week clearly was to RUN RIGHT. The advantage is that you’re running away from Calais Campbell, who’s been killing the Rams forever. The disadvantage is when that doesn’t work, either, but you keep trying it for an entire half. I do not believe the Rams tried to run left until the 3rd quarter, when what happens? Gurley busts out for 34. Also, it’s an even-numbered week, so, time to forget the Rams have Tavon Austin again! He had two touches through three quarters, and the 2nd was a 12-yard gain on an end-around. Given the way Arizona dominated the middle of the field, there should have been more attempts to stretch the field horizontally than that, and given the way the Rams planned to run right or up the middle all game, more full-house traditional power backfields than, well, none. Cignetti was so committed to right side non-power-running that he lined up Havenstein at jumbo LT on one play and ran away from him. And with the Rams down to little but last resorts during this losing streak, I don’t know why it took till the 4th quarter of this week for Cignetti to finally break out some no-huddle, when what happens? The Rams get inside the 10-yard line almost instantly. I see while writing this up that Cignetti has gotten the axe after 12 games. If only he’d had 6 months to prepare for every game like he did for the opening day gameplan he never came close to re-matching.

    Not much worked for Jeff Fisher this week, including hilariously yelling “catch the freaking ball!” at his players before the 2nd half kickoff. First play of the half? Cook drops the freaking ball. Fisher rarely wins the Rams a game from the sideline. He was useless on replay challenges. This week he challenged the Brockers fumble recovery despite replays that pretty well showed he’d slid out of bounds without control of the ball. Meanwhile, there were two challenges he should have made and didn’t, on juggled sideline “catches” by Brown and Floyd. Did Bruce Arians think those were clean catches? You tell me; he rushed the next play both times to thwart a possible challenge. Even got a TD out of one of those quick snaps. Jeff Fisher gets out-maneuvered again; big surprise. For 31 of the 32 NFL owners, we’d already have started the countdown to Fisher cleaning out his office. (I hear Tennessee’s hiring.) Naturally, the Rams have the one.

    * Upon further review: It was a waste by the NFL to put a good referee on this game, but Bill Vinovich still called it pretty well. One of the best calls was an obvious OPI against John Brown that took away a big gain in the 1st. I will continue to insist, however, that both Brown and Floyd got away with bobbling the ball on sideline “catches” that should have been ruled incomplete. And Bethel got away with a two-handed shove on Cook that kept him from getting to a deep ball in the 4th. The flag flew, but Vinovich picked it up, muttering some nonsense about “material impact”. Well, that'll have a material impact on your grade. B-

    * Cheers: The end times do not look or sound pretty. Even the lower bowl of the Dome looked half-filled at the very best, which makes me think I'd be reaching to say even 25,000 actually showed up to watch. The offense was booed off the field at least 3 times. The 3rd-and-2 handoff to Gurley that failed was getting booed before Foles even got him the ball, which was pretty awesome. Heading into halftime, Fox analyst Ronde Barber frankly said the Ram offense should be booed off the field. Barber's a fine and very prepared analyst, but, ego much? He repeatedly praised Joyner by comparing him to... himself, and at one point, we were getting highlights from his high school track career for some reason. Barber’s commentary was like if I indulgently announced here that I clinched a playoff spot in my fantasy league this week! Or something.

    * Who’s next?: The Rams next welcome rare visitors in the Detroit Lions, playing here for only the second time in the St. Louis era. These teams last met in Detroit back in 2012 in Jeff Fisher's first game as Rams head coach, won 27-23 by the Lions on a controversial last-play TD.

    Since 2009, the Rams and Lions have offered all the proof you need that, by itself, drafting a QB #1 overall is no cureall. Six years after drafting Matthew Stafford, Detroit started this season 1-7. They briefly appeared to salvage things by replacing clueless OC Joe Lombardi with the hilariously-named Jim Bob Cooter, who must be from Hazzard County. Cooter importantly figured out that maybe it's smart to keep Calvin Johnson involved as a downfield weapon, which Lombardi idiotically got away from. The strong-armed Stafford's TD-INT ratio is 9:1 his last 4 games after starting 13:11. Megatron looks like his old self again. Stafford is once again unafraid to just throw it up and let him get it. A DB can defend him perfectly and still get beaten. The undermanned Rams will have their hands full enough with old foil Golden Tate, who always seems good for a deep TD against them. With a 3-game winning streak and a 20-0 lead over Green Bay Thursday night, Detroit seemed playoff-bound. Except... they're the Lions. They're tied with Cleveland as the NFL's worst rushing offense and can't defend a lead. Fumbling problems have kept dangerously quick rookie Ameer Abdullah from getting sustained reps as their main rusher. They should one day be very strong up the middle with Larry Warford, Manny Ramirez and rookie Laken Tomlinson but the rookie looks like he still gets caught thinking a lot. Aaron Donald won't give him time for that. (The Lions also better look out for extra-motivated former teammate Nick Fairley.) Detroit took advantage of the Packer d-line's overpursuit, which should give Gregg Williams pause, but they struggled with safety blitzes, and LT Riley Reiff has been the liability there I think everyone but the team that drafted him expected. Their play-calling Thursday night got way too safe, let the Packers hang around, and they ultimately showed America that, just like the Rams, the one thing the Lions are best at is finding ways to lose.

    Detroit shows a lot of promise on defense. Darius Slay is a shutdown-quality CB. The secondary, including Slay and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, are all very active run supporters and blitzers. Abdul-Quddus, though, has to prove he can cover, and the Lions have a lot of trouble with TEs, if only the Rams had a decent one. The secondary doesn't have to be great thanks to outstanding players on the front four, including Freak 2.0, Ziggy Ansah. Ansah is 2nd in the NFL with 12.5 sacks and is quickly becoming one of the NFL's most complete defensive players. He's a fearsome speed rusher and a strong run defender who sets a good edge. And the real scary thing is Ansah's explosive quickness, which we saw Thursday when he ran Randall Cobb down to blow up an end-around. That does not bode well for a Ram offense that has to establish that play. And Ansah's not all the Lions have by a long shot. Haloti Ngata's blowing up the run as well as ever. He blew up at least three runs against Green Bay, can still push the pocket as a pass rusher, and I have no idea how the light-footed Rams are going to handle him. Back to the pass rush, Detroit rotates in former Shrine Game star Devin Taylor, a Carlos Dunlap-like long-armed monster. He sacked Aaron Rodgers once with an impressive bull rush and another time by reaching around his blocker and just grabbing the QB. The Rams will lose 1-on-1 matchups all the way across the line. Keenum is going to have to buy time with his feet and the Rams are going to have to be effective with quick-hitting plays. But then again, we're talking about the Lions. They'll keep a drive alive with a dumb penalty, say somebody swatting the QB's facemask. Then that secondary will suddenly let every receiver in front of them for a Hail Mary pass. The end of that Green Bay game seemed the ultimate proof that the Lions just do not know how to win.

    Looking across from one another, the 4-8 Lions and the 4-8 Rams might as well be looking in a mirror. They’re magnets for all football’s losing ways: penalties, turnovers, poor execution, poor decisions. The worst thing they can do is be themselves. Whoever can avoid that inevitable truth the longest will come out on top. Jim Caldwell vs. Jeff Fisher is going to be a coaching anti-clinic. May the worst coach win.

    -- Mike
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