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RamView, 1/3/2016: ***** 19, Rams 16 (OT) (Long)


  • RamView, 1/3/2016: ***** 19, Rams 16 (OT) (Long)

    RamView, January 3, 2016
    Game #16: ***** 19, Rams 16 (OT)

    The ever-inconsistent Rams regress back to the mean and end another losing season with another disappointing loss to a team they had no business losing to. The hallmark of Jeff Fisher Rams football isn't the running game or aggressive defense, it's miserable losses like this one. Good riddance to 2015.

    Position by position:
    * QB: Case Keenum (23-37-231, PR 77.6) does a lot right for the Rams at QB. He runs the offense with good tempo and gets the ball out quickly on quick-timing plays. Heís smart and tough in the pocket, uses his mobility well and rarely gets sacked. The best example of that was a play he made in the 3rd. He rolled right, deked a free-running Aaron Lynch into pulling up and hit Lance Kendricks on a TE screen for 10. Heís smart about throwing the ball away and has taken excellent care of it, with just one turnover in five games. Case Keenumís a consummate game manager. Lacking Todd Gurley and a consistent running game, though, the Rams needed a stronger and more accurate thrower than Keenum was this week. His 54-yard bomb to Kenny Britt to set up the first Rams FG in the 1st was pretty, but could have been a TD had Keenum had the arm to lead the wide-open Britt with the pass. If that didnít cost the Rams points, Keenum may have done it a couple of plays later overthrowing Wes Welker on 3rd-and-5. Nothing fancy here; Welkerís just running a drag route, and thatís a bread-and-butter throw Keenum HAS to make. Next drive, Tavon Austin runs a good hitch route on 2nd-7 but Keenum pulls him back across the marker with an underthrow, followed by a failed 3rd-and-1 run. The Rams didnít sustain any offense with a decent chance to put the game away in the 4th. Jared Cook was open on a simple 3rd-and-2 flare route but again, Keenum couldnít make a good throw. He couldnít lead them to a score in the 2nd half, not helped by The Next Terrell Owensí brutal drop that would have had the Rams in long FG range with under a minute left. Keenum did his job in OT, though, driving the Rams 50 yards and into winning FG position, hitting Britt over the middle for 18 and Benny Cunningham for 13. Only to be let down by the kicking team. Itíd be quite unfair to blame Keenum for loss #9. He didnít lose the game, but he wasnít enough to win it, either. Case Keenum is what he is, a solid C-plus NFL QB. I donít know if thatís enough to take the Rams beyond where they are now.

    * RB: The Rams went with a four-headed solution at RB with Todd Gurley (toe) out, and fared better than expected. Tre Mason (18-44) canít break tackles or cut back or accelerate anything like Gurley, and he got stripped by NaVorro Bowman on only his second carry to put the Rams in a 2nd-and-17 hole. But Mason ran hard after contact and deserves credit for absorbing withering blasts from Jimmie Ward and Eric Reid in the 2nd. Reidís, fortunately, came in the end zone. From the 4, Mason tucked and ran on an intended halfback pass, deftly set up blocks by Rob Havenstein and Lance Kendricks and put the Rams up 13-10. The big runs were by the change-of-pace backs. After the long bomb to Britt, Tavon Austin (6-32) took a handoff 13 yards, cutting inside one block, bouncing off a couple of others, turning the corner and stiffarming Gerald Hodges to get out of heavy traffic. Add a forward flip in there and youíve got a nice parkour run. Malcolm Brown (4-17) shot up the middle for 13 to get the Ramsí 2nd FG drive moving. Benny Cunningham (4-38) set up another FG before halftime with a 40-yard run, faking out Bowman in the hole, cutting behind Havensteinís pull block and bursting into the wide open middle of the field. The Rams didnít accomplish much on the ground in the 2nd half. The line couldnít establish consistent push and got beaten a lot at right end. But the RBs made key plays on what should have been the game-winning FG drive in OT. Mason broke several tackles on an 11-yard run. Cunningham dove to convert 3rd-and-1, then added a 13-yard catch to get the Rams reasonably close. But no cigar. With their home run hitter out, the Rams RBs did a pretty good job scratching out infield hits and ground rule doubles. Ultimately the bullpen let them down.

    * Receivers: He doesnít often look fast enough for it, but Kenny Britt (3-81) was again a successful deep threat. He outran Tramaine Brock to a bomb from Keenum for 54 yards in the 1st to set up a FG. Britt in fact is the Ramsí only downfield threat. Austin (5-30) and Wes Welker (2-16) were mostly targeted with quick screens. Jared Cook didnít have a catch at all, though Lance Kendricks (5-37) picked up some of the TE slack. Itís more of a two-way street than usual this week, though. The first four receivers all had open opportunities and Keenum missed them. Bradley Marquez (0-0) also had a couple. But this had to be the week the Rams tried to get The Next Terrell Owens (2-23) involved. The first time they targeted TNTO, Keenum overthrew him deep by five yards and TNTO didnít appear to know where the ball was. That has to be TNTO running the wrong route; Keenum couldnít overthrow Paula Deen by five yards. TNTO rallied with a nice overhead grab in the 2nd, but after the Rams got into FG position in the 3rd, he moved them back out with a blatant hold on a running play. TNTO appeared to get in touch with his inner TO and argued with a coach on the sideline after that play. Hereís the passing game of the Fisher Era in a nutshell. 3rd-and-7, late in a tie game, the Rams NEED a clutch play. But Keenum rolls right and has nothing open because Britt and Cookís crossing routes took them right behind the umpire and the timing wasnít there to get the throw off. TWO Rams receivers covered by a man in his 50s! Britt eventually ends up sliding for a tough pass at the sideline, and dropping it. Another nutshell candidate: Final minute of regulation, Keenum has the ***** burned deep with a heavy blitz coming, but TNTO goes up for the pass and canít make the catch even though itís right in his damn hands. The Rams have botched some draft picks over the years, and Brian Quick, even as a 2nd-rounder, has become one of the most epic. I have rarely seen a player so unprepared to play professional football. 10 receptions for The Next Terrell Owens in his third pro season. The Actual Terrell Owens once had 21 receptions in one game! Let us never speak of this draft pick again.

    * Offensive line: Rob Havenstein has had a fine rookie season, and I believe he will be credited as not having allowed a sack all year. This was not a good game for him, though. Aaron Lynch didn't get a sack but dominated Havenstein every other way. A lot of the gameís key plays involved Lynch beating Havenstein. He beat him badly on the Mason fumble, though that was forced by Bowman, who was unblocked. On the next pass after the successful bomb to Britt, Keenum bought some time in the pocket but had to throw away after Lynch had pancaked Havenstein. Getting Lynch and Bowman blocked were big problems. Mason got stuffed on 3rd-and-1 in the 1st thanks to Bowman getting in unblocked AGAIN. The Rams put together a long drive in the 3rd but o-line breakdowns eventually killed it. Lynch dominated Havenstein again to stuff Mason on an edge run. Tim Barnes had to go to the sideline to get his shoe fixed; it took replacement Demetrious Rhaney all of one play to commit a false start. That led to a 3rd-and-13, where Havenstein and Cody Wichmann both got beaten on a stunt to force Keenum to throw away again, and the Rams settled for a missed FG attempt. Havenstein never got refuge from Lynch. Lynch blew him off the ball to stuff Austin for a loss in the 4th. With the Rams driving in OT, Cunningham was stuffed for -3 after Havenstein couldnít move Lynch. That led to the Rams settling for a blocked FG attempt. Run-blocking didnít win a lot up front, but the Ram o-line was not a disaster, either. Keenum had a lot of solid pockets to throw from and he wasnít sacked. Lance Kendricks had one of his best blocking games of the season. He led out on Brownís 13-yard run and made a key block on Masonís TD run. Jared Cook actually blocked pretty well when called upon. Greg Robinson looked solid and did a good job getting out in front of screens. And Havenstein had a key block on Masonís TD and his pull block sprung Cunninghamís 40-yard run before halftime. Wichmann also got a great block on Arik Armstead on that play. It takes more than one player to win or lose a game, but it was a big factor in the trenches that Lynch had Havensteinís number all day.

    * Defensive line/LB: The front four played more than well enough to win this week but was badly let down by most of the back seven and the defensive coordinator. They got off to a great start, with Mark Barron first blitzing Blaine Gabbert (28-44-354, PR 86.7) into a bad throw and blitzing again to trip up somebody called DuJuan Harris (16-67 rush, 8-86 recv) for a 3-and-out. Somebody called Mike Davis (10-34) spun out of a poor grab attempt by Rodney McLeod to gain 13 and double his rushing yards for the season the next drive, but Michael Brockers stopped that with a tackle for loss. As a unit, though, the defense failed throughout the game to avoid big plays and get the 49er offense off the field. With a stupid blitz called on 3rd-and-12, the Rams got burned by a screen pass to Harris for 31 yards to set up a 49er TD. Trumaine Johnson, Akeem Ayers and James Laurinaitis, who spent a lot of this game in the wrong place at the wrong time, all got blocked out of the play. After the Rams missed on a fake punt, Harris ran for another 7, with Laurinaitis and Barron both blitzing and both picking the wrong gap. On 3rd-3 the next play, Brockers gets knocked a mile out of the hole by Andrew Tiller, and Laurinaitis, whoís up on the line instead of where he ought to be, can only dive and whiff while Harris, who had 123 yards all season coming into this game, rips through the middle untouched and turns McLeod inside out for 48. William Hayes saved the Rams 4 points on that drive with two good pass pressures, making a nice inside move on 2nd-and-goal and a Gurleyian hurdle of a cut block on 3rd-and-goal. The front four combined for a huge play late in the half. Pressure by Hayes and Eugene Sims made Gabbert hurry a back-footed screen pass. Aaron Donald quickly smelled that out, and I think changed his mind from going for the knockdown to going for the INT, which resulted in a neat little volley over to Sims for the pick. Sims took off and put a sublime move on WR Quinton Patton to get the Rams all the way down to the 3 and set up a TD. By the end of the half, the Ram rush was so in Gabbertís head that he couldnít even dump off properly. He was so frantic to get off a couple of throws that I donít believe he even used his fingers. The game should have been the Ramsí in the 2nd half. Instead, they refused to get the ***** off the field. Run-stops by Sims and Matt Longacre (!) were wasted by poor secondary play as the ***** drove to a FG. In the 4th, Chris Long made the only sack by either team, beating a backup TE while Longacreís excellent upfield push pinned Gabbert in the pocket. The secondary similarly wasted that effort, allowing the ***** to tie the game. Pass rush kept the Rams afloat late in the game. Barronís blitz late in the 4th forced a bad 3rd-down throw from Gabbert and a chickenbleep punt from (former) ***** HC Jim Tomsula. Donald ended the first drive of OT with the last of his four hits of Gabbert. They set the Ram offense up, who in turn set up special teams to win, who in turn failed, and the air went out of the team with alarming speed after that. Even an outstanding front four like the Ramsí is rarely going to be enough to win a game by itself. Looks like itís going to take the teamís current administration at least four years to figure that out.

    * Secondary: Most players who go around for several weeks claiming to be snubbed by the Pro Bowl play a lot better than the Rams' corners did this week. Then again, most teams with alleged Pro Bowl quality corners allow them to play a lot tighter to the line than the Rams do theirs. But tackling in the back was still poor, and the Rams allowed a number of 49er drives to stay alive with poor coverage. That does not include the Anquan Boldin (5-71) TD Janoris Jenkins got charged with in the 2nd. Hard to blame him for getting shoved to the ground and no penalty flag flying. That TD kept the ***** in the game long enough for the Ram secondaryís 2nd-half tribute to Football Follies. They got the ***** to 3rd-and-9 right out of halftime, but Mo Alexander let Vance McDonald (3-37) run through him after catching a 1-yard pass and gave up 11. The next play, snubbed Pro Bowler Trumaine Johnson gets burned by Bruce Ellingtonís double move for a big 44, setting up a FG. TruJo kept a 49er drive alive in the 3rd with an illegal contact penalty on 3rd-and-12, but at least ended it by stripping Torrey Smith (5-61) on 4th down. It seemed like that should have done it for the Rams. Instead, Jenkins inexplicably let Smith, running out of stack formation, behind him for 27, then TruJo missed Davis on a swing pass that went for 20 to set up the game-tying FG. The front four bailed TruJo out of getting burned by Boldin for another 27 late in regulation. They also bailed out Laurinaitisí poor coverage and Lamarcus Joynerís dreadful tackling on a big McDonald gain in OT. The bailout was over after the Ramsí game-winning FG attempt was blocked. Smith beat TruJo for a quick 15 on a quick slant, then Quinton Patton became the millionth receiver this season to burn the Ram defense with a simple freaking screen pass, going for 37 inside the 5 after juking Alexander woefully and after the last of several whiffs downfield by Rodney McLeod on the day. Alexander had too much trouble stopping short passes, tackling (particularly McLeodís) was poor, and TruJo didnít look like such a Pro Bowl snub after all by the time this game was over. The Ram secondary ends 2015 on a very flat, very disappointing note.

    * Special teams: No Rams coach disappointed me this year quite the way John Fassel did. How many times have I insisted special teams need to get their focus back on the basics and off of trick plays? No, special teams priority this week seemed to be on a fake punt in the 2nd, which failed. Meanwhile, in OT, the Rams get a game-winning FG attempt blocked. Kendricks ended up having to block two guys. No oneís supposed to be able to get around the corner on FG blocks as fast as Dontae Johnson did, and Kendricks could do little to slow him down. I donít know if the playís Kendricksí fault or if it lies somewhere else because a needed blocking adjustment didnít get made. But although Greg Zuerlein missed a 52-yard FG earlier, itís probably the play that lost the game. Yes, Johnny Hekkerís throw on the fake punt was pretty. The play was well-executed and only stopped by a very good play by punt returner turned free safety Bruce Ellington. It wasnít a terrible call. The Rams at most lost 20 yards field position in the bargain. It just seems like you should have to have the basics of special teams right, like not getting FGs blocked, before you should worry about installing an entire package of fakes for Hekker. I donít know if Ray Ray Armstrong played for the *****, but Daren Bates did his best impression, with two personal fouls on special teams. Cameron Lynch added in a hold on the opening kickoff. Special teams were sloppy this week and played poorly down the stretch. I expected a lot better from them this season.

    * Strategery: Bad play-calling day all around, particularly from Gregg Williams, whoís gotten off the hook, not even been on it, actually, all season despite a number of horrid play-calling games. Iíve seen teams cover Anquan Boldin man-to-man with a linebacker, but back go the Rams corners, 7-10 yards off the receivers at the line all game. Soft coverage + permissive refereeing led to the ***** first TD. That play just doesnít happen if Jenkins is pressing instead of having to make up ground because heís so far off at the snap. The pass rush had Gabbert even more afraid to throw downfield than usual by halftime, and Williams didnít take advantage of it. His call on 3rd-and-12 in the 1st may have been the worst play-call of the year: rush three, blitz Barron, Harris burns them for 31 with a simple screen pass. This has been killing the Rams all season. Whatís the need to show everyone what a genius you think you are on 3rd-and-12? Then again, maybe the 3rd-and-3 call in the 3rd was worse. Williams has got NO ONE lined up in the middle of the field; Laurinaitis I guess was supposed to be blitzing from an inline position, and they get gashed for 48 on a simple draw play. Iím past trying to figure out the ridiculous gaps Williams loves to leave in his formations that always get burned. I can only assume he leaves his front door open every morning when he leaves the house and has never figured out why he keeps losing his TV. No professional defense should get beaten for big plays by freaking dumpoff passes like this team does. Somebody who matters start raking Williams over the coals for this. Maybe thereís a bounty out on people whoÖ Ow! My arm! I think itís broken!

    This was the Frank Cignetti offense this week, both the good and the bad. Rob Boras dusted off the double-play-action bomb to Britt for a big play. He got the ball to Austin with screens, pitches and handoffs, but Adam Archuleta was right on TV; next year theyíve got to at least pretend to try to get the ball to him downfield. The bad prevailed. After a couple of weeks of good results, all of a sudden this week the Rams are letting LBs in unblocked again, getting beaten by unblocked guys from the back side, throwing screens and swing passes into areas where the blockers are badly outnumbered. I donít know if it was related to the RB change, but it seemed like the running game became more slow-developing, used lead blockers less and didn't emphasize running left as much as Boras had been. A slow-developing handoff to Mason on 3rd-and-1 in the 1st, blown up by an unblocked Bowman, was just an annoying call. It felt like Boras just got away from what had been working pretty well. The ďwrapĒ play, for instance, was nowhere to be seen, though Mason did quite well with it last year. The short passing game also lacked creativity. Boras could have gotten Austin or Welker open out of trips or stacks any time he wanted, but didnít go back to them even after theyíd worked. This week was like Cignetti never left.

    Sloppy tackling, sloppy coverage, sloppy play-calling, sloppy special teams, back to sloppiness with penalties with 11Ö Jeff Fisherís team closed the season playing the brand of football Iíd figured the ***** would play. About all the more I have to say about that is at least they have the sense to change head coaches after this season.

    * Upon further review: I doubt anyone was happy with this weekís officiating. 49er fans will be unhappy Walt Coleman correctly flagged Bruce Miller for instigating a shoving match in the 1st but didnít catch Tim Barnes doing it in the 2nd, flagging Ahmad Brooks instead. Rams fans canít be real thrilled about Boldin shoving Jenkins to the ground and scoring a TD off the move. Iíd say Rams fans have the bigger grievance. I assume the lack of a PI call while Marquez got shoved around trying to get to the pass on the fake punt was correct, despite CBSí confusing commentary. Itís consistent with past rulings I can recall and appears to check out with the rulebook. That doesnít salvage allowing the Boldin TD to this grader. Grade: F

    * Cheers: Another Rams game shunted weirdly to CBS got us probably that networkís #10 team of Phillies play-by-play man Tom McCarthy (what, was Bob Uecker unavailable?) and former Ram safety Adam Archuleta. Archuleta maintains his habit of mistaking strong individual pass-rushes as blitzes, and as a former DB, I thought heíd complain a lot harder about what happened to Jenkins on Boldinís TD, instead of praising Boldin. Also, where was the call to Mike Carey to check on how pass interference should be called on punt formation plays? Iím still confused about that because they read that rule both ways. Also, they weirdly commented after halftime that they thought there would be more offense. These were the worst two offenses in the league! 16-10 at halftime is a shootout for these two! Likeable announcers, sounded good, had good chemistry, hardly talked about the looming move at all, so it was still a very passable broadcast. I imagine theyíre a team that doesnít work a full slate of games but would be better if they did.

    * Whatís next?: And now St. Louis' offseason of fear, uncertainty and doubt begins in earnest. By the time I get this recap out, Kroenke will have shown his lying, greedy, traitorous stripes once and for all and petitioned the league to move the Rams. It's a request every owner should reject out of hand. Not because Los Angeles doesn't deserve to have an NFL team, but because Kroenke does not meet any of the league's relocation guidelines in any way. And lotsa luck to those of us who need a parliament of owners made up mostly of greedy liars like Kroenke to do the right thing.

    Ownership's focus on moving the team over giving it the overhauling it needs will hurt all Rams fans, next season and probably beyond. The Rams need a 21st-century offense. They need a head coach willing to run one. There isn't another team in the NFL that would bring Jeff Fisher back next season. If the owner wasn't the walking embodiment of suck, we'd all be twittering happily about his potential to use his multi-billion-dollar checking account to recruit some of the many talented offensive minds who'll be available during the NFL's annual job fair. Instead, we're unimaginably in for a FIFTH season of Fisherball with a caretaker coach and a caretaker QB and 8-8 being an aspiration again instead of a worst case.

    Shoot, we're not even sure who that caretaker QB's going to be. Is Case Keenum really a 16-game starter at QB? Will ďDead MoneyĒ Foles do anything to prove worth the contract extension the Rams idiotically signed him to before he ever threw even a practice pass here? Thanks to that contract, I expect the Rams are stuck with the same QBs for 2016. In any event, they have to finally take the WR position seriously this offseason. The Next Terrell Owens was a colossal failure. Stedman Bailey's spot has unfortunately opened. Between free agency and their three draft picks in the first two rounds of the draft, there's no excuse for the Rams to fail to infuse the offense with actual receiving talent. Obviously, Todd Gurley's got a bright future. The young offensive line appeared to get better toward the end of the season. It's a foundation that might be good enough to build on. But the Rams simply must put a real, adult passing game together to balance the offense.

    Fisherball depends on defense to be its backbone, but the Rams may have difficulty keeping this one together. It would have been nice to concentrate on the pending free agent list this season instead of moving trucks. Instead, three starters in the secondary (Jenkins, TruJo, McLeod) are heading to unrestricted free agency. E.J. Gaines' return may cushion some of the blow, but that's a triple-whammy the Rams can't afford and have no business trying to. Three of the top four tacklers (Mark Barron, TruJo, McLeod) are pending UFAs. Three backup linemen (Hayes, Sims, Fairley) are on their way to the open market. The Rams are set for a strong pass rush once again with Aaron Donald and a healthy Robert Quinn. But will it be elite? I don't see a consistent producer at left end. Chris Long's 30, coming off two injured, unproductive seasons, and at nearly $12 million, represents the team's juiciest cap target. Hayes is also 30, and 5 of his 5.5 sacks came in two games. Currently $36 million under the cap, the Rams may not have to lose anybody. It would be nice to see Chris and many others stay in a Ram uniform.

    But there I go with that antiquated notion of loyalty in sports again. The only people who are loyal in pro sports are the fans, and somehow we receive the least loyalty in return. Eighteen years ago, I started doing this intending to help out fans who'd gotten shut out of Rams games by high PSL prices. Now our whole city's on the verge of getting shut out of the NFL again. One thing I've learned over all this time is this team has great fans willing to cheer it on from literally all over the globe. I'm no longer one of those. The Rams have rapidly become just a team I follow more than one I cheer for. RamView has been an engrossing hobby, and I'd like to keep it going. But this team frankly doesn't deserve any of us.

    -- Mike
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