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RamView, 11/9/2014: Cardinals 31, Rams 14 (Long)

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  • RamView, 11/9/2014: Cardinals 31, Rams 14 (Long)

    RamView, November 9, 2014
    From The Couch
    (Report and opinions on the game.)
    Game #9: Cardinals 31, Rams 14

    Late in the 3rd, the Rams knocked Carson Palmer out of the game and Arizona missed a FG. The Rams had the ball and a 14-10 lead. You have to look really hard to find a way to lose a game from there. But the Rams not only found that, they found a way to get blown out. Every time you think this team is turning a corner, they step into traffic.

    Position by position:
    * QB: Composure was elusive for Austin Davis (17-30-216, 62.6 PR) again this week. He was sacked to end the Rams' opening series and they had to waste a timeout to save a delay of game on the 2nd. A ground-oriented TD drive got the Rams on the board after those 3-and-outs, but after that, more sacks, more 3-and-outs. The passing game didn't get out of first gear until late in the 1st half, when Davis threw his prettiest pass as a pro deep to Jared Cook for a 59-yard TD. That made him 8-10-110 at halftime, with a passer rating near perfect. The 2nd half was far from that. Davis couldn't find anything open downfield, or, when he did, on another big play to Cook, it got called back for an illegal block, and then Davis got sacked out of FG range. In great shape to win the game in the 4th (see the introduction), they 3-and-outed again, as Davis got hit while he tried to throw to Stedman Bailey wide open over the middle. Then Davis' wheels came off, with an indescribably bad interception thrown directly to Patrick Peterson. Even if something about Chris Givens' route there was wrong, and I don't think it was, there was nothing he could have done about that poor underthrow. After that, the wheels came off the Ram offense altogether. A perfect pass went off both Kenny Britt's hands and bounced to Peterson for a pick-six. That put the Rams down 24-14 and into siege mode, which ended with another Arizona defensive score. Under heavy pressure, Davis tried to step up and wind up and go downfield but Kareem Martin engulfed him instead for a scoop-and-score fumble return by Antonio Cromartie. It went even further south from there, Davis making wild throws and running for his life before taking back-to-back sacks to end the game. It was as baffling as Roger Goodell remaining employed: the Cardinals had every reason to fall apart, but the Rams fell into a 3-TD sinkhole instead. Arizona's secret: keep the Ram offense on the field. I'm a Davis backer and I'd like to excuse him from a lot of this mess. He doesn't exactly get ironclad protection or get much help from his receivers. Davis needs improvement himself, though. He's holding the ball too long. I don't know if he's slow reading the field or slow reacting to the rush, but he or the ball's gotta get out of there. He's got to be more consistent against blitzes. It's not like he didn't know Arizona would blitz this week, or that he doesn't know he'll face a ton of blitzing from everyone until he can think fast enough and get the ball out quickly and accurately enough to beat them. And the terrible turnovers have to stop. A terrible turnover helped get him the starting job. He's managed to keep it through quite a few of his own. He's starting to bump up against the limit. To maintain an NFL career Austin Davis has to show better composure and ball security than he did this week.

    * RB: Tre Mason (14-48, 4-33 recv) had tough sledding this week against the league's #3 run defense, but when runs were called that suited his strengths, he acquitted himself relatively well. His strength is running to the edge, and he had one of the big plays of the Rams' first TD drive, a 16-yard run around right end. Mason outflanked the Cardinal defense and cut back inside a Lance Kendricks block. That drive featured a diverse running attack – Tavon Austin with a couple of touches and Bennie Cunningham (4-12, 2-16 recv) with a 3-yard TD, running through Tony Jefferson at the goal line. Even though that drive seemed to establish a bit of a ground game, the Rams got away from it immediately afterward, and never really came back to it. Or, when they did, it was to try to run Mason up the middle, where there was usually little room, and Mason, though a hard runner, isn't going to move the pile very far on his own. Mason had several other decent runs out on the edge, including a 12-yard counter in the 3rd, so it would have been interesting to see how the running game would have held up. Feels like a missed opportunity.

    * Receivers: As a group, the receiving corps may have hurt the team more than it helped. Tavon Austin (2-20) was a key part of the Rams' first TD drive. He took a quick screen for 18 after eluding a poor tackle and then faking a column of three Cardinals out of their shoes. From the 13 later that drive, he took a jet sweep (!) down inside the 5 to set up the TD. All the Rams’ little speed guys aren't adding up to much, though. Austin did little outside that drive. Remember when Chris Givens (2-2) used to be the big play threat John Brown is for Arizona? Though he was denied a big play by Davis' poorly-thrown INT in the 4th, his main contribution was a celebration penalty after Jared Cook's TD. Though Davis missed him wide open a couple of times, Stedman Bailey's (0-0) main contribution was a (nice) block on Mason's long run. That was still better than Kenny Britt's (3-31) biggest play, an attempted catch that clanged off both his hands before bouncing to Patrick Peterson for a pick-six in the 4th. Few felt the Rams had a good plan at WR this past offseason. Brian Quick proved us a little wrong. We've still been mostly right.

    * Tight ends: Jared Cook (2-84) had only two catches, but they were big. He beat Deone Bucannon off the line and burned one of a million Cardinal blitzes for a 59-yard TD late in the 2nd, thankfully showing much softer hands than he did dropping a short pass to kick off a 3-and-out in the 1st. The Rams TEs combined for a big play late in the 3rd, but not in a way that worked out. Cook got wide open in the seam, had little trouble with an awful tackle attempt by Jarraud Powers, got a massive block from Lance Kendricks at the 20 and worked his way inside the 5. Kendricks’ block, however, was judged a personal foul, presumably for helmet-to-helmet contact. It cost the Rams 30 yards’ field position and they wouldn’t even score. That was part of a very up-and-down blocking day for Kendricks. He blocked well for Mason early but in the 4th was flatout embarrassed on the edge by Sam Acho, forcing Davis to step up into what became Arizona’s last TD on a sack, scoop and score. It’s hard to fault Kendricks for the penalty on the Cook catch. Had he been tackling a ball-carrier, that identical hit would have been perfectly legal. The bigger issues at this position are the rest of Kendricks’ blocking game, and why Cook can't get more than 2 or 3 targets a game.

    * Offensive line: Like last week, both offensive lines lost their battle in the trenches. Unlike last week, the Rams lost worse this time, getting Davis pummeled from the opening series and giving up six sacks. The Rams were done in, not for the first time, by a dominant performance from Calais Campbell, you know, the one Cardinal lineman they needed to have a plan for. Campbell split Joseph Barksdale and Davin Joseph’s double-team to sack Davis and 3-and-out the opening possession. The line looked much more comfortable run-blocking, perhaps another reason the Rams should have run more. Greg Robinson had key blocks on the big runs of the first TD drive; Joseph and Scott Wells did a strong job pushing the Cardinals around at the goal line to get Cunningham a lane for the score. The Rams, though, went immediately back to a pass-first game plan. Deone Bucannon scored Arizona’s 2nd sack on a dog blitz; Cunningham picked up the initial blitzer, but, blowing the assignment, Joseph also chased that man instead of holding his ground. They settled back down for a TD drive late in the 1st half. Protection was textbook throughout that drive, with Robinson, Barksdale and Joseph all doing solid work. Inability to control the middle hurt in the 2nd half. Barksdale and Joseph sprang Mason for 12 with strong downblocking, but the next play, Campbell whipped Saffold and stuffed Mason for a 5-yard loss. After the Kendricks blocking penalty, the Rams were still in FG position but quickly lost it. Campbell beat Robinson to stuff Mason for -2, then on 3rd down switched to the other end (You can do that? Who knew?) and whipped Barksdale with a swim move to sack Davis and deny the Rams points. The line fell apart down the stretch like the rest of the offense. On the pick-six, Davis was forced to step up by Barksdale getting beaten. On the fumble TD, Davis had to step up after Kendricks got whipped, and had nowhere to go after Kareem Martin beat Saffold. Arizona ended the game with back-to-back sacks. The Rams went from 2nd-and-1 to 4th-and-24 after Wells whiffed on Marcus Benard to give up one sack and Alex Okafor beat Barksdale (AGAIN) for another. Barksdale has become a decided weak point in pass protection and hasn’t looked good at it going on weeks now. Saffold struggled. The rest of the line was at best inconsistent. Especially for as much as the Rams planned to lean on them for pass protection this week, that was nowhere close to good enough.

    * Defensive line: Sack City changed its name to Blitz City this week, though it was Robert Quinn who opened up shop with a sack of Carson Palmer to kill Arizona’s first drive. He got great leverage on big Jared Veldheer and trucked him back into the pocket with a bull rush. Lesson learned there by the Cardinals: Quinn got a lot of extra attention, and uncalled holding penalties, after that. Aaron Donald continued his run at defensive rookie of the year honors. He got a couple of early hits on Palmer, one forcing a dumpoff to kill a drive at the end of the 1st, a quarter in which the Rams allowed a whole 18 total yards. They opened the 2nd half with a 3-and-out, Donald swimming over the guard to drop Andre Ellington for a 4-yard loss. Ellington had all of 42 –combined- yards for the game, just 23 rushing on only 4 feet a carry. Eugene Sims flashed again this week with a lot of good middle pressure. He flushed Palmer and forced him to rush a couple of bad throws in the 3rd. Even Kendall Langford showed up with a good game, with a run stuff and a blown-up screen pass that created a big loss. And Michael Brockers batted a pass back to Palmer in the 4th. For good and for bad, Blitz City took a lot of the focus off Sack City this week, but the front four controlled the line of scrimmage well enough to win the game.

    * Linebackers: Pass coverage was of utmost importance for the LBs this week with the amount of DB blitzing the Rams did. And there were some issues. Many of the times the blitz got beaten, Alec Ogletree and/or James Laurinaitis didn’t get good enough drops. Part of the reason they wouldn’t get good drops is because, even though Ellington only managed 1.3 yards a carry, they’d bite very hard on play action. I guess that’s still to be expected from the young, 2nd-year LB, and Ogletree’s physically gifted enough to overcome enough of those mistakes to have an excellent game. And he did. The 6th-year Laurinaitis, though? Just. Don’t. Burned blitzes and out-of-position LBs were big helps to both Arizona’s 2nd-quarter scoring drives, as was Laurinaitis’ inability to get off the pull block on Ellington’s TD run. Ogletree started striking back after the TD, batting down a pass on a blitz to force a FG. He got a 3-and-out almost single-handedly before halftime, tipping a pass incomplete and making a nice open-field tackle on John Carlson. In the 3rd, Jo-Lonn Dunbar messed up a coverage that left Troy Niklas wide open for 17, but that drive ended with Ogletree’s best play of the year. 3rd-11 at the Rams 15, he read Palmer’s eyes and jumped an attempted slot pass to Marion Grice for a clutch INT. Ogletree returned it across midfield, but would live to regret getting caught by Palmer. The Ram offense did nothing with the gift. Then comes Stanton, fooling Laurinaitis and Ogletree like rank amateurs with play action, leaving Carlson all alone for 27, with what would be the game-winning TD right behind that. Alec Ogletree has found his stride the last couple of weeks, and that’s a very good thing. And though I know Laurinaitis is playing hurt, it’s still hard not to wonder if he wouldn’t be better off outside, with the Rams looking for a much more athletic player in the middle.

    * Secondary: Well, I think we know why the Rams traded for Mark Barron. To make him a blitzing fool. I’m not sure Barron did anything but blitz this week. And if he wasn’t blitzing, T.J. McDonald was, and the pair made for a defensive force. McDonald ended Arizona’s 2nd drive by stuffing Ellington for a big loss on a run blitz. Then the Ram safeties started bringing the wood. Barron CLOCKED Michael Floyd after a catch. Capping off a dominant 1st quarter the next play, the blitzing McDonald sacked Palmer after the fullback whiffed on him. McDonald opened the second by blasting Ellington to the ground with a shoulder tackle. All the blitzing, though, left the Rams vulnerable in the back, where they were already vulnerable due to injuries (especially after a groin injury knocked Lamarcus Joyner out of the game) and were back to playing a lot of soft coverage. Palmer started burning blitzes and burning the Rams with play action and turning Larry Fitzgerald (9-112) back into the Godzilla he’s always been against the Rams. Burned blitzes set Ellington up for an easy tying TD in the 2nd, with Janoris Jenkins outmatched by a pulling tackle and Barron embarrassingly getting manhandled by WR Jarron Brown. The Rams struck back, though, and the defense made plays to make up for Fitzgerald repeatedly beating blitzes. Leading up to Ogletree’s INT, E.J. Gaines broke up an end zone pass and Rodney McLeod blew up a screen. After a couple more blitzes fizzled in the 4th, Barron sizzled with what should have been the game-breaking play, sacking Palmer and knocking him out of the game with what unfortunately turned out to be a torn ACL. The Rams’ game to win, right? No, first Drew F. Stanton fools them badly with play action and hits John F. Carlson for 27. Then, beating the blitz one last time, it’s rookie John F. Brown for a 48-yard TD bomb thrown perfectly by Stanton, with McLeod flopping to the ground, nearly literally crashing and burning at the goal line. McLeod was forced to come over from safety to cover the much faster Brown in part because of the blitz and in part because Fitzgerald’s deep corner route drew a double-team. He’s Godzilla against the Rams even when he doesn’t get the ball. There’s reason for encouragement. McDonald and Barron combined to be a major force at safety, with positive effect on the pass rush and run defense. When the Rams have a healthy, settled secondary that can confidently lay on more man coverage, they will suffocate the opposition. Gregg Williams just really jumped the gun taking as many risks as he did with what he had to work with in the back.

    * Special teams: Punt returns will be a glaring issue until somebody can get Austin to run FORWARD after he receives the kick. He continues to think like a rookie, that he can outflank everyone, or run backward, or even worse, stand still, and then put on a half-dozen Dante Hall moves and lose everybody. It's getting old. Coach it out of him. Then again, this is the special teams unit that managed to get a delay of game KICKING OFF, so who knows. Janoris Jenkins has filled the hole left by Ray Ray Armstrong, meaning you can count on him for a dumb special teams penalty every week. Was it a soft block in the back? Sure. But you know what? Don't block the guy in the back! Johnny Hekker punted like he was hung over in the 1st, with a couple of sub-40-yard duds, but got his average (43.6)back up with a couple of boomers around 60 yards. Not a clean week on special teams but they got by.

    * Strategery: This was a dissatisfying game up and down the coaching staff. The Rams basically had to account for one guy for Arizona on either side of the ball: Larry Fitzgerald and Calais Campbell. They did neither. Did they all watch tape Monday and go, “Huh, we never expected this guy to beat us,” while Fitzgerald and Campbell both ran roughshod on the Rams’ respective backfields? It was one of those weeks where it looked like the coaches hadn’t done any preparation at all, at least not on scheming against those two guys. I wonder if they could figure out the key player to stop if they were playing, say, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    I did think there were some smart elements to Brian Schottenheimer’s game plan. The first TD drive with three different backs getting carries was put together well. It looked like Schottenheimer had figured out how to get Austin the ball for once. Attacking the edge was a smart way to approach Arizona’s aggressiveness. Schottenheimer mixed in a number of screen passes trying to cool down that blitz, which seemed smart until he got a little carried away with it. After the Rams had run their way to a first TD and looked comfortable doing it, it was screen, screen, screen and out, and the Rams never really got back to the running game after that, and keep in mind this is a game they led 14-10 late in the 3rd (see the introduction). The Rams were pass-heavy well before they flailed their way into the abyss in the 4th. They also never got back to Austin. When Schottenheimer did think about the run in the 2nd half, it’s to send the little guy up the middle. I think he’s guilty this week of getting away from what was working with the run and not using Mason or his o-line the best way. Those are two (C)ardinal sins of offensive coordinators.

    From the looks of it, Gregg Williams blitzed about every play, and got a lot of good results, whether drive-ending sacks, run stuffs or pass deflections. You live by the blitz, though, you die by the blitz, because you’re giving up something somewhere else. In Williams’ case it was the maddening non-strategy of letting Fitzgerald have a free run through the secondary for three quarters. Though one shouldn’t have counted, Fitzgerald beat Ram blitzes to convert three long-distance downs on their first two scoring drives. Run defense was fine all game, but then, in finest Tim Walton fashion, Williams got fooled down on the goal line for the Ellington TD, thinking pass while Arizona ran against 6 in the box. The Drew Stanton TD drive was a frustrating mess. The Rams have been stuffing the run all game, why are they biting so hard on play action? 27 to John Carlson, then Williams blitzes two, they don’t get there, and he’s also bracketing Fitzgerald, which the Cardinals took advantage of to get Brown behind the secondary for the game’s biggest TD. It’s all second-guessing, of course; not blitzing on the play isn’t going to change McLeod’s footing. But Gregg Williams is going to blitz until it kills him. And it probably did.

    And was the Rams' replay person out getting a sandwich on that terrible spot of the Fitzgerald catch in the 2nd? It is beyond me how Jeff Fisher could not have challenged that play. It's 3rd down, it's the difference between a punt and a FG, it HAS to be challenged if he knows it's a close and probably wrong spot. We could tell the spot was wrong from home on the live play, even before Arizona (smartly) quick-snapped the next play. How could there be no challenge? Ronde Barber was probably right guessing Fisher was saving the timeout, since he's loved to carry timeouts to halftime all year and never use them. Just like this one. Could have saved your boys 3 points, Coach.

    But for me the ultimate indictment on this team was that they had all the momentum in this game late in the 3rd (see the introduction), and that was the point at which THEY were the team that got blown out. That is a hallmark of a team that isn't mentally strong. That doesn't have killer instinct. That doesn't know how to win a game.

    That isn't well-coached.

    * Upon further review: Like the Rams’ season, Ron Torbert’s (the third first-year referee to call a Rams game this year) officiating was a roller-coaster ride. The crew made some nice calls. They correctly called Arizona offside during the Rams’ first TD drive. They got Paul Fanaika for a late cheap-shot on Joyner. So far so good. The blind-side block call against Kendricks cost the Rams 3 points but was apparently a correct call. Another one that led to an Arizona FG was not. 3rd-and-14 from the Rams 39, Fitzgerald never, NEVER had the first down on a 13-yard catch. He had to make the 25. His body was never across the line, the ball was never across the line. The Rams wrapped him up AT LEAST a yard short of the mark. How in the blue hell was that a first down? Almost as baffling: the unsportsmanlike conduct against Chris Givens after Cook’s TD. It’s a penalty to fall down trying to jump on your teammate’s back? Torbert also exuberantly (grrr) called Robinson for holding in the 4th while ignoring Quinn getting plainly held by the third guy of a triple-team in the 1st, or Sims getting bear-hugged, while Palmer threw a swing pass over him, in the 3rd. Wasn’t even the only time Sims was obviously held that drive. Can somebody show me where in the NFL rulebook it says offensive holding can only be called against the Rams? Grade: D-minus

    * Cheers: Thanks to the Colts having a bye week, this was the best broadcast of a Rams game this season. Matt Hasselbeck has a career waiting for him in the booth after he retires from the league. He’s smart, with an excellent eye for detail and a good sense of humor. He broke down plays well, explained the advantages of different formations and was even stealing signals during plays. Ronde Barber mangled the explanation of the blind-side block call against Kendricks (the league actually called Fox to give a clarification) but he was also strong at breaking down plays and strategy. Neither was afraid to criticize officiating, especially notable for Hasselbeck since he’s still an active player. I’m not a fan on 3-man booths but Chris Myers ran the show well on play-by-play.

    * Who’s next?: OK, the Schedule from Hell has gone overboard. The Rams get their first home game in a month, they deserve a lay-up, right? NO, let’s give them the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos, you know, the team coming off the best offensive season of all time, led by the best quarterback of all time. Yeah, not exactly the makings of a fun Sunday. Here’s a shock, though, the Rams have won three of the last four in this series, though the QBs they beat were Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, and Kyle Orton, not Peyton Manning, whom they’ve beaten once, way back in 2000, in three tries. History does say if the Rams hold Peyton under 40 points, they'll win!

    So they've got that going for them. Which is nice. Do Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams have a blueprint to do that? Sure, you’d like to whip out a copy of Super Bowl XLVIII and say, here, do that, but while the Rams may have the front four for it, they sure don’t have the back seven. William Hayes (or maybe Chris Long?!?) can, and needs to, win big against very green RT Paul Cornick. Quinn has a good enough speed advantage on LT Chris Clark to draw double-teams and leave Cornick on his own. It’s rarely been a good idea to blitz Manning, and New England didn’t do it much last week, but when they did, they got a lot of pressure up the middle. I’d just as soon drop nine in coverage, maybe ten, OK, maybe twelve, and make them beat me on the ground, I assume with Montee Ball since Ronnie Hillman is injured. I think in part because Denver’s o-line is built to pass-protect first, and part because they don’t have to run anyway, their running game is underwhelming. (Just ask us fantasy football idiots who drafted Ball.) Make that ground game beat you. Otherwise, you will get crushed by as good a receiving corps as I have seen in a long time. 6’3” Demaryius Thomas runs a 4.38 and is as physically gifted as anyone in the NFL. The Rams’ best chance against him is for TruJo to use his size on him like Brandon Browner did in Foxboro, but if the Rams don’t match up back there, Demaryius will feast on our runt DBs all game. Emmanuel Sanders is having a breakout season and has been difficult at best to cover out of the slot. He’s on track for 110 catches. And neither one was the guy the Patriots double-teamed last week; that was TE Julius Thomas, who’s been every bit as good as Jimmy Graham the past couple of seasons. Taking Thomas away appeared to get Peyton off his game. And the Rams *may* not have to double-team to accomplish that; T.J. McDonald’s ability to shut down Graham was a big reason the Rams upset the Saints last season. New England played a ton of nickel in beating Denver 43-20; if the Rams do that, James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree will, to borrow a hockey phrase, have to stand on their heads. They’ve got to excel in coverage and keep the running game in check. So, those five guys – Hayes, TruJo, McDonald, Laurinaitis and Ogletree – all have their best game of the season next week, maybe the Rams stay within three scores.

    The Rams’ dream drive against Denver would probably be 80 yards in 10-11 minutes and 25 plays (all runs), but I have a feeling they’ll have to be more balanced than that. Denver’s LBs and safeties get out to the edge as well as any defense we’ll see this year, a big reason they lead the league in run defense. That’s not great to see knowing the Rams need to keep Manning on the sideline to keep this game close. And if the running game’s not working, guess what? The Broncos aren’t easy to pass against, either. Austin Davis’ first problem is going to be having any time at all to throw. Remembering how useless Demarcus Ware made Jake Long look in Dallas last year, what kind of education is Greg Robinson about to get? The Rams will have to double-team on that side. But they also have to double-team on the other side, where speed-impaired Joseph Barksdale has little hope against Von Miller and the sickest spin move of all time. Denver’s also flush with all-pros like Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and T.J. Ward in the secondary. However, Julian Edelman went nuts on them out of the slot; can’t Tavon Austin do some of that? The Patriots were effective over the middle, and sure, that’s Tom Brady throwing to Gronk, but is it really too much to expect Jared Cook to provide a facsimile of that threat? And there’s an old Pat Shurmur play that worked every time the Patriots ran it: fake student-body sweep in one direction, back-screen to the TE the other way. If Josh McDaniels can crack a defense, it’s going to be hard to excuse Brian Schottenheimer if he can’t.

    It'll be an upset next Sunday if the Rams even keep the game close. Denver will stress them like they haven’t been stressed all year. They’ll all have to be able to keep it together, from the head coach down to the last man on special teams, to keep up with the fast-breaking Broncos.

    -- Mike
    Game stats from espn.com

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  • MFranke
    RamView, 11/2/2014: Rams 13, ***** 10 (Long)
    by MFranke
    RamView, November 2, 2014
    From The Couch
    (Report and opinions on the game.)
    Game #8: Rams 13, ***** 10

    Sack City has officially opened for business, as the Ram defense dominated with EIGHT sacks and carried the sputtering offense to a huge upset over the *****. The Rams may finally be who we thought they were.

    Position by position:
    * QB: Grace under fire wasn’t always a strength for Austin Davis (13-24-105, 44.6 PR) this week. The 49er rush had him running around like a chicken with its head cut off and he also threw like one at times. In the 1st, he rolled out and tried to feather a pass over Antoine Bethea and to Tavon Austin; rookie mistake, the ball was never getting over Bethea. The INT set up a quick 49er TD. Next possession, Davis made up for that with an even worse throw. Running for his life but spotting Kenny Britt breaking deep for what should have been a long TD, he launched a throw well short and picked off easily by Perrish Cox. Davis had to run around like a madman at times just to be able to throw the ball away, though he preserved a FG by doing so in the 1st. When he got overwhelmed and sacked late in the 2nd, the TV announcers actually started calling for Shaun Hill, but Sack City forced a fumble and Davis rallied a little. He beat a blitz with a screen to Benny Cunningham for 17 and got Britt wide open in the flat for a 21-yard TD to tie the game at 10 at halftime. By avoiding disaster in the 2nd half, Davis allowed the Rams to stay in the game. His main job in the 2nd half was to hand off to Tre Mason and make short, quick passes, but that helped keep the Rams ahead in the field position game. We wish he would have thrown a screen pass away that instead lost the Rams 8 yards in the 3rd. On 3rd-and-1 with about 3:00 to go, we wish he could have seen Lance Kendricks cruising all alone downfield, maybe even tossed the ball out there anyway, since the play was designed to go to him and would have put the game away. But he threw the ball away, saving the chance to pin the ***** deep, and the Rams needed every inch of that long field over those final minutes. And who knows how big this play was – after the ***** shanked a punt to put the Rams in gift scoring range in the 4th, on 3rd down, Davis avoided a big rush by Aaron Lynch and hit Cunningham up the left flat for 8 yards. Not a first down, but after Greg Zuerlein barely scraped in a 39-yard FG, it felt like that little screen pass saved the Rams 3 points, and maybe the game to boot. It was by no means pretty. Austin Davis has elevated the Ram offense some weeks and this clearly wasn’t one of them. Once the offense put him in game manager mode, though, he hung in there and got them the W.

    * RB: After a weird continuity break last week, the Rams are back to Tre Mason (19-65) as their feature back, at the expense of Zac Stacy (0-0). Mason earns this role as the more complete back. There is more power in his speed...
    -11-03-2014, 09:57 PM
  • MFranke
    RamView, 10/13/2014: ***** 31, Rams 17 (Long)
    by MFranke
    RamView, October 13, 2014
    From The Couch
    (Report and opinions on the game.)
    Game #5: ***** 31, Rams 17

    The Rams take a 14-0 lead, then fall on their faces and get outscored 31-3 in their latest embarrassing loss to the *****. They can't hold a lead, they can’t block, they can't get open, they can't cover receivers, they sure as hell can't rush the passer. What does this team do best? Lose. Third year under Jeff Fisher, and all they're good at is losing.

    Position by position:
    * QB: Well, Austin Davis’ great run wasn’t going to go on forever, and wasn’t going to this week under the bad conditions he got. Davis (21-42-236, PR 65.2). Davis had smooth sailing at first, beating a blitz to hit Jared Cook for 39, the big play of a 7-minute opening scoring drive. The Rams got the ball back quickly, but almost as quickly, Davis got sacked by Ahmad Brooks, then just managed to throw away a pass after a 49er stunt blew up a screen. Davis started out hot, though, 7-8-103. He hit Lance Kendricks off play-action for a 22-yard TD, the Rams are up 14-0, and Jon Gruden is calling him a young Drew Brees. Brees, er, Austin, pulled a rabbit out of his hat the next drive, scrambling away from pressure on 3rd-and-4 to hit Benny Cunningham for an improv 1st down. But then the 49er rush started finding its mark. Dan Skuta sacked Davis twice in 3 plays. Davis had no chance the first time but missed a chance to get upfield on the second. To his credit, he is not quick and panicky to pull the ball down and run, but this week I’d have liked to see him run more. Before halftime, he hung in strong with a stunt in his face to hit Kenny Britt for 18 on 3rd-and-7, and made a tough throw to Cook on 3rd-and-10 that should have been another big play, but a referee screw job, followed by Janoris Jenkins screw-ups, got the Rams in a 17-14 hole by the 3rd quarter. The Rams’ response was a painful 3-and-out. Davis got sacked by a blitz on 2nd down and got nothing on a 3rd-down throw he had plenty of time to get off. The offense continued to stall while the ***** pulled away. Davis got pressured into more bad passes and took more sacks. His accuracy was uncharacteristically off, and the deep passing game was not in step. On back-to-back 3-and-outs in the 4th, Davis threw a bad out route for Kendricks, threw deep for Britt with Britt breaking off his route, and threw a deep ball for Brian Quick on a route Quick appeared to be breaking off. That was all part of a 2-for-13 run for Davis where the whole Ram offense totaled 18 yards. Davis got the Rams a late FG that could have been more. Already in FG range, he threw high with Cook wide open on the sideline, then Stedman Bailey didn’t get to his end zone pass on 3rd down. Down 24-17 with 1:00 left, Davis put out the lights for good. Pressured yet again, he telegraphed what would have been a useless short pass, and somebody called Dontae Johnson jumped it for a game-clinching pick-six....
    -10-15-2014, 07:44 PM
  • MFranke
    RamView, 9/14/2014: Rams 19, Bucs 17 (Long)
    by MFranke
    RamView, September 14, 2014
    From The Couch
    (Report and opinions on the game.)
    Game #2: Rams 19, Bucs 17

    IT'S ALIIIVE! The Rams go from worst team in the league to tied with the Seahawks and *****, winning in Tampa in about the weirdest way possible, and their season has life again. IT'S ALIIIVE!

    Position by position:
    * QB: Hee, the Rams have a quarterback controversy, don't they? Austin Davis put on one of the guttier performances in recent memory, with nice numbers to show for it: 22-29, 235 yards, PR 99.1, eight different receivers, no interceptions. Say what you will about the kid but he was clutch. He kept the Rams' opening TD drive alive, stepping up in the pocket on 3rd-and-4 after both tackles had gotten beaten and dumping off to Benny Cunningham. He saved a FG in the 2nd by falling on Scott Wells' poor shotgun snap. That play could have been a lot worse. Down 14-10 in the 3rd and immediately and unavoidably getting sacked back at his own 5, Davis and the Rams easily could have crumbled. But he hit Jared Cook with a nice pass up the sideline to convert 2nd-and-15. Then Davis stayed cool with edge pressure closing in and hit Austin Pettis (!) on an out route to convert 3rd-and-4. Lovie Smith isn't usually much of a blitzing coach, but with the green Davis behind center, he brought it like he was Gregg Williams. But Davis kept hanging in there and hitting passes with defenders in his face, finding Kenny Britt (!) for 17 on 3rd-and-10 to set up a FG. (Could have been more, but Pettis dropped a well-made pass on the next 3rd down). Driving again in the 4th, Davis took another unavoidable sack, from William Gholston, but again, it's a play that could have been a lot worse. Davis could have run around and lost more yardage, or heaven forbid, forced up a pass that would have been ripe for an interception. Instead, he made the smart move, ate the ball, lost only five yards, and lived to fight another down, on which he hit Cook for 9 on a slant and got Zuerlein into friendlier field position to make the score 16-14, Rams. With under 5:00 left, and trailing 17-16 now, you suddenly got the feeling the whole season could be riding on Austin Davis right now. And when Quick DROPPED a splendid bomb from him on 2nd-and-1, you worried the whole team would sag. But no, on 3rd-and-1, Davis rolled right, and with a blitzer right in his face, threw across his body to Lance Kendricks for 12. Then 16 more to Quick at midfield. Then it looks like the Rams have bogged down, 3rd-and-9. Davis, under pressure, a man in his face again, lets one rip down the seam for Pettis. An impressive throw, a better catch, and the Rams are in game-winning FG position. No, Austin Davis is no Kurt Warner in the making. He had hiccups with a couple of wild throws and probably got away with a couple that better defenses would have punished him for. But he's also not Keith Null. He ran the Ram offense well, spread the ball around,...
    -09-15-2014, 04:33 PM
  • MFranke
    RamView, 10/19/2014: Rams 28, Seahawks 26 (Long)
    by MFranke
    RamView, October 19, 2014
    From Row HH
    (Report and opinions from the game.)
    Game #6: Rams 28, Seahawks 26

    Finally, the Rams managed (barely) not to blow a lead. Finally, they played and coached like their backs were to the wall. Finally, Robert Quinn sacked a quarterback. Finally, they played a pretty clean game and didn't kill themselves with penalties and mistakes. Finally, instead of finding ways to lose a game, the Rams found a way to win.

    Position by position:
    * Strategery: You can analyze trends and try to play Moneyball all you want, but some games, like this one, remind you that football strategy is as much art as it is science. From the Ram 18-yard-line, with 2:55 left in the game and clinging to a 2-point lead, Jeff Fisher took about as crazy a gamble as you could think up, a fake punt. If it fails, Seattle is immediately in game-winning FG position and Fisher is probably burning in effigy Monday morning. But the Rams had reportedly practiced this play all week and Fisher trusted his players. Stedman Bailey motioned in to draw attention away from Benny Cunningham, and Johnny Hekker, the best throwing punter since Danny White, hit him with a perfect pass into the flat that helped win the game.

    Another gamble, in the 2nd, got the Rams their 2nd TD, as Brian Schottenheimer appeared to redeem the Shurmur Shovel. Unlike that play in 2010, this version was well-blocked and superior in design, going to a RB (Cunningham again) moving north-south instead of to a TE (Illini Mike) moving east-west. And they caught the defense thinking pass instead of run. The draw to Tre Mason for the first TD was a more impressive call. The Rams were near the goal line and had just taken Lance Kendricks out; has to be a pass, right? Not today. My only admonishment for Schottenheimer is that the personnel packages made it very predictable what the Rams were going to do. Tavon Austin in the backfield? He's getting the ball. Mason? He's getting the ball. Cunningham? Probably a pass. Right men for the job, yes, but Schottenheimer will have to mix that up more.

    Up 14-3, the team you'd swear never watches tape at all some weeks showed what they learned from watching Seattle's. Their punt coverage takes its eye off the ball, which the Rams leveraged with a play I'm going to call the River City Miracle. While Tavon Austin got an Emmy nomination, flopping around near the Ram sideline like he's misplayed the ball, on the other side of the field, Stedman Bailey fielded the actual kick over his shoulder, and with every Seahawk except (I hope) the punter faked into chasing Austin, dashed off with a 90-yard TD, on as clever a play as the Rams have run in 20 years here. Preparation and execution combined to perfection.

    Furthermore, the Rams actually appeared to learn lessons from what went wrong in other games. This was probably always more on Davis than on Schottenheimer, but...
    -10-22-2014, 08:06 PM
  • MFranke
    RamView, 12/8/2013: Cardinals 30, Rams 10 (Long)
    by MFranke
    RamView, December 8, 2013 From the Couch (Report and opinions on the game.) Game 13: Cardinals 30, Rams 10 The Rams clinch their tenth consecutive non-winning season in resounding fashion with a dismal 30-10 “effort” in Arizona. Now that 2013 is toast, how much of this franchise is worth bringing back for 2014? * QB: Not to downplay the beating he took, but Kellen Clemens (16-27-181, 2 INT, 48.5 PR) had a poor game, even worse than last week, and his season is rapidly heading the wro...
    -12-11-2013, 01:35 PM
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