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Bernie: Quick Takes On Rams 9-7 Loss @ Washington

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  • Bernie: Quick Takes On Rams 9-7 Loss @ Washington

    09.20.2009 8:19 pm
    Quick Takes on Rams 9-7 loss @ Washington
    By Bernie Miklasz


    Good dayÖ

    * The Outcome: The game was there for the Rams all day, just waiting to be claimed. Baffled coach Jim Zorn and the Redskins tried to give it away to the visitors, and the Rams flubbed the opportunity. Were the Rams better in Washington than they were in Seattle? Yes. The Rams defense kept the Redskins out of the end zone, and Steven Jackson rushed for 104 yards. But the bottom line is the 12th consecutive loss for the franchise. Disappointing. The Rams have played two games and have scored 7 points. Thatís inexcusable.

    * The Effort: The Rams played hard in Washington and the players are clearly determined to do better. Thatís what they should be doing, of course. They have every reason to be motivated. But that hasnít always been true ; in 2007 and 2008 we saw too many faint-hearted efforts. Now the challenge will be to hang tough during more hard times. The Rams are off to an 0-2 start and the schedule doesnít get any easier. Green Bay comes to The Ed after getting burned at home by Cincinnati, and then the Rams head to San Francisco, which is 2-0 and playing a physical, relentless style of football. San Franciso coach Mike Singletary is succeeding in changing his teamís losing culture. The Rams arenít close to making that conversion.

    * The Coach: Keeping the morale up will be more of a challenge for rookie HC Steve Spagnuolo. I donít mind his positive approach. This is the Dick Vermeil way of doing things. Spagnuolo has to stay upbeat, and keep his players working and competing. It might make fans feel better to hear/read Spagnuolo savage his team after a loss, but that wouldnít achieve anything. He has to remain true to himself. Keep an eye on Spagnuolo. You donít really find out about a coach until he has to deal with losing streaks and adversity, and the rookie boss has entered that zone. In addition to the 0-2 start and one TD in two games, the offensive line has taken a hit with injuries. Post-Dispatch beatwriter Jim Thomas noted that it took Spagnuolo 25 minutes to gather himself before he faced the media after the game. (The NFL-mandated wait time is 10 minutes.) I donít know what that means, but again: losing isnít easy to handle.

    * Game Management: Spagnuolo and staff really need to grow in this area. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur canít keep getting plays in late. You canít burn all of your timeouts early in close games. Wasting the final timeout before that 4th quarter punt with 9:25 left in the game? What was that? A confused player, Kenneth Darby, called it - but ultimately this is the coachís responsibility to make sure the players know what to do and when to do it. And defensive coordinator Ken Flajole was slow to adjust when the Rams inexplicably left Redskins tight end Chris Cooley uncovered for most of the first half.

    * Play Calls: The Rams still didnít run it enough. There was a point in the second half when they clearly had the Redskins D-line tuckered out, and that was the time to keep pounding away. In the fourth quarter, with the Redskins linemen huffing and puffing, the Rams faced a third and 2 near midfield and had two downs to move the chains. This was an ideal time to smash Ďem with Jackson. Instead, Shurmur called for a pass that went incomplete. And then came the screwed-up timeout/punt sequence. This coaching staff has to establish an identity and attitude. The Rams canít be reluctant to run under any circumstances.

    * The Grim Reality: More than anything, here is the problem Ö this team suffers from an extreme shortage of playmakers. Or difference makers. RB Steven Jackson can break a play now and again, as he did with a 58-yard run in Washington. But there isnít a receiver on this roster who scares a defense. QB Marc Bulgerís primary mode these days is that of a game manager. He is being schooled to avoid mistakes, and is running a rather conservative, low-risk offense. Bulger is, indeed, avoiding mistakes. And heís competing hard; thereís some fight to his game. But heís not exactly attacking, either. Itís a pretty harmless passing game, more methodical than anything. Heís not the type of QB who can break down a defense. Iím not dumping on Bulger; itís just the way it is. So where are the playmakers, the game changers, on offense? Jackson has the capability, and thatís it. And SJ39ís critics would argue that he doesnít do it enough. On defense, thereís safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who has 18 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries in 62 NFL games. He is definitely a playmaker, and if he played on a defense that could pressure the QB on a regular basis, Atogwe would be sailing into the Pro Bowl every season. But other than Atogwe, the Rams defense doesnít have another player capable of changing a game. (Rookie MLB James Laurinaitis could develop into one; weíll see.) The NFL has a lot of close games - I think eight on Sunday were decided by about a touchdown or less ó and the teams with the playmakers find ways to win them. The Rams have two playmakers, one on each side of the ball. Itís a bleak situation.

    * The Defensive Line: Beginning with the 2000 draft, the Rame have selected 12 defensive linemen. Five were chosen in the first round: Damione Lewis, Ryan Pickett, Jimmy Kennedy, Adam Carriker, Chris Long. Two were picked in the third round, Anthony Hargrove and Claude Wroten. They also drafted Victor Adeyanju, Darell Scott, Brian Young, Clifton Ryan, Keith Jackson. I donít want to get into a recap of each playerís history, but in Pickett and Young were solid DTs. And Scott is a rookie, so itís too soon to evaluate him. Ryan has a chance to be decent. But to read that list of first-rounders Ö wow. The lack of impact is shocking. And by now, I expected that Chris Long would be delivering more impact. Overall, most of the names on this list were busts, washouts or disappointments. So thereís little wonder why this is one of the weakest areas of the team. Now that an aging Leonard Little has lost much of his speed, the Rams have no one up front to give a QB or an O-lineman a restless night of sleep before facing the Rams. Thereís virtually no pass rush. No intimidation factor. In the first two games, the opponent has set up to pass 73 times, and the Rams have one sack. Just terrible.

    * The Secondary: Given the absence of a pass rush, the Ramsí defensive backs did a nice job in preventing big plays. I know they were facing an average (at best) quarterback in Jason Campbell. And tough he completed 65 percent, a lot of it came on the short stuff. The Redskinsí wideouts didnít do much damage downfield.

    * The O-Line: I ďtweetedĒ this during the game and will repeat it here: The Rams have invested millions of dollars into the offensive line, and so far the stimulus package is failing. Bulger was harrassed by the Redskins all afternoon. The run blocking wasnít bad against Washington. But this offense canít sustain drives or develop a downfield passing game because of frequent breakdowns up front. The Rams couldnít budge Seattleís front seven a week ago, but the San Francisco ***** shredded that same Seattle defense for 207 yards rushing by Frank Gore on Sunday.

    * Disappointing Donnie Avery: I had an enthusiastic reaction when the Rams made Avery the first wide receiver taken in the 2008 draft. And he zoomed off to a fast start as a rookie, averaging 16.9 yards per catch in his first five games. He scored three touchdowns, two on long passes and one on a 37-yard run. He had five catches of 25+ yards. But defenses adjusted to Avery. They stopped worrying about Torry Holt and rolled their coverage to Averyís side. And heís become a non-factor. Over his last 11 games, Avery has caught only 40 passes for 391 yards ó thatís 9.7 yards per reception. And heís had only one catch of 25+ yards. Heís fumbled in both Rams losses this season; Sundayís fumble probably cost the Rams a win. Heís committing silly penalties. Iím not giving up on Avery, but heís backing up instead of getting better. And GM Billy Devaney is going to be reminded ó many times ó that he could drafted DeSean Jackson instead.

    * The Return Game: The Rams donít have one. In two games, theyíre averaging 16.1 yards per kickoff return. Derek Stanley did have a 24-yard punt return at Seattle, but in Washington the Rams averaged 6.5 yards on two punt returns.

    * The State of Missouri: The Rams have been outscored 324-123 in going 0 for their last 12. Theyíre 5-29 since the end of the 2006 season. The Kansas City Chiefs lost to Oakland on Sunday. Since the start of last season, the Rams and Chiefs are a combined 4-32. Since the start of the 2007 season the Rams and Chiefs are a combined 11-57 and have been outscored 1,766 to 1,026.

    Thanks for reading Ö

    -Bernie

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  • r8rh8rmike
    Burwell: Rams Find More Ways To Extend Frustration
    by r8rh8rmike
    Rams find more ways to extend frustration

    Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    09/21/2009

    LANDOVER, Md. ó On one end of FedEx Field were the Washington Redskins, trotting off the home field to an unsettled chorus of 87,780 ambivalent fans. There were few ringing endorsements in the throes of this unsightly 9-7 victory over the visiting Rams, only relief that their imperfect heroes had been resourceful enough ó or darned lucky ó to barely find enough ways not to lose.

    And while there may be no ringing endorsements descending from the stands in FedEx for the home team, these football-savvy folks are wise enough to know that what they have ó flawed as it may be ó sure does beat the alternative. The alternative was your St. Louis Rams ó winless in 11 months ó who keep working hard as ever for their new boss, the resiliently positive Steve Spagnuolo, but so far have nothing to show for it but a proficiency for administering gut-twisting, self-inflicted wounds.

    Two weeks into his first season as the Rams coach, Spagnuolo is 0-2, and his team has not exactly practiced what the inspirational new coach has been preaching.

    He said he wanted a tough, passionate, smart team that would find ways every Sunday to compete and win ballgames. So far, Spags' Rams have gotten the tough and passionate part down cold. But it's been an excruciating challenge watching them as they attempt to nail down Step No. 3. For the second week in a row, the Rams found just enough maddening ways to lose a game that they could have realistically won.

    "We have some work to do," an obviously disappointed Spagnuolo said after the game. "It doesn't happen overnight. I never expected it to happen just like that. Just because you preach it and worked on it in the offseason in training camp, there's no guarantee it's going to happen in the game. A game's different. The speed of the game's different. Guys think differently and coaches think differently."

    Unlike a week ago, it wasn't penalties that killed the game-winning opportunities for the Rams. They cleaned that up fairly well (six penalties for 45 yards). Instead, this time it was the untimely matter of bad execution and questionable strategies that turned a potential victory into the Rams' 12th consecutive loss.

    Donnie Avery was the most obvious goat of the day, but he certainly wasn't the only one. The first wide receiver picked in the 2008 draft, and the guy who was a hero in last year's 19-17 upset victory over the Redskins, had major ball security issues, dropping at least two passes and fumbling the ball inside the 5-yard line on a potential go-ahead scoring drive early in the fourth quarter.

    The dropped passes could have been forgiven if only Avery had just held on to the ball when the Rams needed him the most. Midway through the third quarter...
    -09-21-2009, 03:26 PM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Bernie: Spags Had To Go For It
    by r8rh8rmike
    10.18.2009 5:27 pm
    Oct. 18: Spags Had to Go For It
    By Bernie Miklasz


    My Stream of Consciousness flow on the Ramsí 23-20 OT loss @ Jacksonville.

    * Make it 0-6 on the season and 0-16 since Oct. 19, 2008. Monday is the 1-year anniversary of the Ramsí last regular-season win. And now Indianapolis and Peyton Manning come to STL on Sunday. The Rams are 5-33 since the end of the 2006 season. This, presumably, is some sort of karmic payback for the Miracle of 1999.

    * This is a bottom-line business. It isnít high school. In the NFL they donít hand out trophies and ribbons for trying hard. And 0-6 is really bad. And 16 consecutive losses is unacceptable. But I respected the Ramsí effort and determination and several aspects of their performance at Jaxville. There have been many times since the start of the 2007 season when Iíve wanted to stop watching the game, because the Rams have been so weak in terms of competitive character. Iíve seen too many Rams games where the players donít care, and these no-shows are disgusting. Watching Sundayís game, I saw a group of players who were doing everything and anything they could to win a game. And I respect that. I think the Rams are getting better. I know that isnít enough, and that it doesnít count; there are no moral victories. But if nothing else I at least want to come away from a game with a some respect for the players and their desire to win. And that happened Sunday. A team thatís been ravaged by injuries fought like mad to win a game. I appreciate that part of it.

    * Coach Steve Spagnuolo had to go for the win at the end of the 4th quarter. His offense had battled and scrambled and survived its way down the field and had a chance to win in regulation. The Rams defense ó on the field for a remarkable 51 snaps during the second half ó was gassed. You just knew if it went to OT and the Jaguars got the ball first, the Rams defense would be too worn down to make a stop. So you had to go for the win, go for the throat, right then and there. Seven seconds left, at the Jax 9, and one timeout left. You have to take a quick shot into the end zone. If it fails, and the ball is thrown out of the end zone or is incomplete, you donít need the timeout. You kick it on the final play. Or if you make a play thatís short of the end zone, then you call the timeout and kick it. And if you turn the ball over or take a sack, so be it ó at least you went down taking your best shot, and most people would respect the attitude. I would not criticize Spagnuolo for being aggressive there, even if hs decision blew up on him. You have to go hard there, let it roll. You were 0-5, and the organization had lost 15 in a row, and thereís no reason in the world to be safe and conservative.

    OK, even if you disagree ó and as a guy who tries to be fair I recognize that thereís a reasonable case to be made for what Spags did ó then answer me this:...
    -10-19-2009, 05:14 PM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Bernie: Give Game Balls To Jackson, Spagnuolo
    by r8rh8rmike
    11.02.2009 10:06 am
    Give Game Balls to Jackson, Spagnuolo
    By Bernie Miklasz


    Greetings. Sorry that I didnít write immediately after Sundayís 17-10 Rams victory in Detroit, but Iím feeling better today, so letís have at it:

    * This one was for Steven Jackson: I wonder if we realize how difficult it is to be a standout running back on a bad team. Not only a bad team, but one with an extremely limited passing attack. It means that every week the opposing team has one goal in mind: stopping the running back. Taking away the Ramsí only real playmaker on offense. Jackson gets ganged up on every week. But Jackson continues to trample the odds. After a command performance in Detroit, Jackson is tied for second in the NFL in rushing and is second in the league in combined yards from scrimmage. Heís averaging 98 yards rushing per game and 4.8 yards per carry. Heís giving the Rams 122 all-purpose yards per game. And heís been at his best when the Rams make it close ó when everyone in the house knows heís going to get the ball. This season in the 4th quarter when the Rams are in a close game ó within a seven-point margin, up or down Ė Jackson averages 6.6 yards per carry. Heís been at his best, overall, in the fourth quarter, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. He breaks down those defensive stacks.

    But Jacksonís attitude and professionalism have been as impressive as his running. Heís been a total team player in 2009. A positive influence in every way. Someone who tries hard to keep his teammates fired up. Someone who refuses to dwell on any kind of negativity. Jackson just keeps pressing on, running through the fog of losing, trying to desperately to break through to the sunlight..

    * This one was also for Steve Spagnuolo: As I wrote in Saturdayís ďBitsĒ column, itís too soon to make any conclusive judgments about Spagnuolo as an all-around head coach. Way too early for that. Frankly, I donít understand how anyone can take a stand ó pro or con ó on the guy so far. There are some things that I really like about him; there are some things that give me concern. Heís never been a head coach before. Heís working his way through this. And heís learning to be a head coach as he cleans a mess created by the previous regime at Rams Park. You think thatís easy? But I was happy to see the man get a win in Detroit. I was happy to see him rewarded.

    I repeat: Spagnuoloís overall steadiness and consistency in dealing with his players is a real plus in this situation. No gimmicks will turn around years of roster-management incompetence and losing. There are no short cuts on the long road back to being a respectable franchise. Spags has a message and stays on it. He refuses to let any player drift away from the cause. Spagnuolo is from the Dick Vermeil school of positive thinking. There is nothing wrong with that. Too many fans think head coaches are supposed to put on a show by hollering...
    -11-02-2009, 10:58 AM
  • eldfan
    Result that matters eludes Rams again
    by eldfan
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    09/21/2009

    LANDOVER, MD. ó Progress? Yes. Results? Not quite. And that's what made Sunday's 9-7 loss to Washington all the more excruciating for coach Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams.

    "I'm very disappointed," Spagnuolo said. "There's no moral victories in this league. But I'm mostly disappointed in the fact that we've got a football team that works their butts off, and they haven't had a chance to feel victory yet. We've got a long ways to go here."

    Spagnuolo apparently was so disappointed that it took him nearly 25 minutes from the end of the game to address reporters. The NFL's so-called 10-minute cooling off period wasn't nearly enough for Spagnuolo to collect his thoughts after this setback.

    The Rams got 100 yards-plus rushing from Steven Jackson, achieving some degree of balance offensively. The defense was stellar in the red zone, limiting the Redskins to just three field goals in four trips inside the 20. Actually, all four of those red zone trips advanced inside the 10.

    And the Rams cut down significantly on their mistakes from the season-opening fiasco in Seattle. Trouble was, they still made enough Sunday to start 0-2 for the third consecutive season.

    "It is a clichť that you take one or two plays out of a game and the outcome changes," Spagnuolo said. "But in this particular (game), that would be true. Because there were certain plays in there that if they went differently, we might be on the other end of the win-loss column."

    The most obvious ó and most costly ó mistake happened early in the fourth quarter. Trailing 9-7, the Rams marched methodically from their 25 to the Washington 9, overcoming a false start penalty on tight end Daniel Fells and left tackle Alex Barron's second holding penalty of the day.

    On third-and-4 from the 9, quarterback Marc Bulger completed a pass to Donnie Avery for first-down yardage at the 5. But Avery was rocked by Redskins safety Chris Horton, the ball popped out, and Washington cornerback Carlos Rogers fell on the fumble.

    "I was just trying to get more yards," a disconsolate Avery said. "I was trying to get YAC (yards after contact) on the play, and ended up fumbling. I let the team down."

    Avery has been responsible for the only two Rams turnovers this season, losing a fumble on the opening kickoff return last week in Seattle.

    Even after Avery's miscue Sunday, the Rams' offense had two more possessions to take the lead. But the first series stalled at the Washington 41. On fourth-and-2, Spagnuolo sent out the punting unit, but then flanked punter Donnie Jones out to the left and lined Kenneth Darby behind center in a variation of the wildcat formation.

    However, this was no trick play. The Rams never intended to run the ball; their sole intention...
    -09-21-2009, 08:35 AM
  • Nick
    Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB (1/3/11)
    by Nick
    Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
    BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist | Posted: Monday, January 3, 2011 11:19 am

    Good day. (I think.) For a Rams fan, the New Year came crashing in on Sunday night and it wasn't much fun. I'm assuming the morning after is rough. Can we turn back the clock and do the game over? I guess not.

    Anyway ...

    I'm not inclined to search for the ol' silver linings when a team squanders an opportunity to win a division by playing so miserably against a highly beatable opponent. I expressed those views in an online piece that I wrote late Sunday night, just in case you missed it. But obviously, if we want to look for it, there was some benefit to losing:

    1. The Rams will select 14th in the 1st round of the 2011 draft, rather than 21st. That could turn out to be significant. (And Seattle, which would have had the 8th pick by losing, will draft 21st overall.)

    2. Rams GM Billy Devaney will have to get a wide receiver or two for this team to give the passing game an upgrade and more dimension. I think Devaney would have done that, anyway. But the futility of the passing game and the terrible performance by the receivers in the 16-6 loss to Seattle was valuable in reminding everyone that Sam Bradford needs some help to get this offense to a higher level. The Rams simply cannot come back and peck away with small ball again in 2011.

    3. The loss should give owner Stan Kroenke even more motivation to get involved and push his football people to be more aggressive.

    There's much more to it than that, of course. We'll elaborate in Tuesday's column...

    MOVING ON ...

    * When he meets with the media Monday afternoon, expect Rams HC Steve Spagnuolo to defend the limited use of Steven Jackson by citing the team's many three-and-out drives. And how that made it difficult for the Rams to get into their full stride, which would have included more runs for Jackson. This is pretty much what Spagnuolo told reporters after the game in Seattle.

    Well, I don't think I'm buying it. The Rams had seven three-and-outs Sunday. And Jackson handled the ball on only three plays during those series. He didn't touch the ball at all on four of the seven three-and-outs. So I'm not sure what the coaches were waiting for. The Rams had one very nice drive in the game, going 13 plays and 83 yards for a FG that cut Seattle's lead to 7-3. Jackson got the ball six times on the march: four carries for 26 yards and two catches for 15 yards. He handled the ball on six of the first nine plays on the drive, including one sequence of four consecutive plays where he ran it or caught it. And the Rams put together an impressive drive (well, at least until it stalled in the red zone.) I don't think this was a coincidence. Because of the defense that the Rams were facing, Jackson should have had a more extensive...
    -01-03-2011, 12:24 PM
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