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RamView – Preseason Game 3

Here at Rams Gab we are honored to have Mike from RamView where he has been keeping game recaps of preseason, regular season and postseason back to 1999.  We will be featuring his epic and wonderfully detailed game stories with us every week (amongst other stories).  So, grab your favorite drink and a comfy chair as Mike takes us deep inside this week’s game. Thanks Mike!

RamView, August 27, 2009
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Preseason Game #3: Rams 24, Bengals 21

The Rams took a hard knock early from the stars of Hard Knocks, but rode the turnover wave again to bounce back for their second preseason victory, and bounce back from last week’s tough loss. Overcoming their flaws tonight with opportunism and resiliency, this team’s showing the character Steve Spagnuolo’s trying to instill in them. They’re far from perfect, but unlike the last two seasons, they’re playing like believers.

After the jump, check out Mike’s position by position breakdown and more.

* QB: It was a nice night to be Kyle Boller (14-20-96, 1 TD), as he led a long TD drive in the 1st to reset the team’s momentum from a poor start. Boller showed fine poise in the pocket, nice mobility I should have given him more credit for last week, and good accuracy on most of his passes. It helped that everything was to the middle of the field this week instead of the more difficult outside throws Boller’s been struggling with. But it helped more that he made critical plays during the two TD drives he led. A screen to Steven Jackson with a blitz coming converted a 2nd-and-long, and again later with a Bengal bearing down on him, Boller found Ronald Curry on 3rd-and-7 to keep the 1st TD drive alive. Boller kept the 2nd TD drive afloat with clutch play, a tough 2nd-down scramble followed by a bullet slant pass to Laurent Robinson for a first down at the Bengals 5. Factor in 2 or 3 drops by his receivers, and Boller had as good a night as you could want him to have, especially since it left out those difficult deep throws that vexed him last week. The QB3 battle, meanwhile, has turned into an unpretty war of attrition, with neither of the back-benchers showing much tonight. Brock Berlin was 2-5-21 in the 3rd, and in the 4th, Keith Null (1-4-24) suddenly turned into 2000 Rick Ankiel, making high, wild throws and looking little like a player who had developed into one of the surprises of training camp. Even his one completion was a dubious play, a ball unwisely chucked into coverage but caught by Sean Walker across midfield. Not sure what made Null so uncomfortable tonight – less work from the shotgun? Bengal blitzing? But he looked as bad making sideline throws as Boller did last week, and the clash at QB3 is going to come down to a tiebreaker next week.

* RB: What does Steven Jackson (5-12) have in common with the President of the US? They both get a LOT of August off. Jackson had just 6 touches tonight, most of them handoffs with no room to run where he got stuffed. He had one 10-yard run, but a key play of the first TD drive was a 2nd-and-11 screen pass where he hurdled a tackler and scooted for the 1st. Samkon Gado (5-33) stepped in that same drive at RB2 and loudly announced “I’d like to keep this job, please,” with a 9-yard power run and a 16-yard cutback run for a TD that put the Rams back in the game. Also helping Gado keep RB2: Antonio Pittman (7-13) didn’t do a whole heck of a lot, and Kenneth Darby (4-6) did even less. Chris Ogbannaya (6-24) was actually the second-best rusher of the night. Life ain’t fair; Gado got a couple of good blocks, while Pittman and Darby got hardly any blocking at all. But those last two, the previous two RBs tabbed by the Rams to backup Jackson, are probably going to be fighting it out for RB3, or bust, next week.

* Receivers: Despite a drop and a penalty early, Laurent Robinson (3-20) continues to emerge as the top pleasant surprise of the preseason. He converted a critical 3rd-and-3 at the Bengals 5-yard-line running Torry Holt’s old slant route. What impressed me about the play was that it looked like Boller totally telegraphed the throw but Robinson still outmuscled and got inside the DB, who had to know the ball was coming. A big but, though, and we’re talking Kim Kardashian here, is that NO one else is stepping up. If Robinson and Donnie Avery aren’t the WRs on the field for the Rams, I fear big problems. Keenan Burton (1-8) made a nice run after a quick slant, but again, just one catch. They only even tried to throw to Burton twice; at least Tim Carter (2-9) got five targets, though few catchable balls. Derek Stanley didn’t have a catch. Ronald Curry had two, including a key catch on a 3rd-and-7 drag route that kept the 1st TD drive going. I guess it’s Curry or Burton for WR3, though it’s hardly an inspiring contest. A highly discouraging development was Randy McMichael’s (2-22) poor night at tight end. He blocked poorly and dropped two or three balls, and we know the Rams will HAVE to get better play than that from that position this year.

* Offensive line: The Rams won, and the o-line didn’t allow a sack and had some moments worthy of fist pumps, but there was way too much inconsistency to be happy with their performance tonight, especially with the running game averaging just 3.3 a carry. Adam Goldberg and Richie Incognito’s early play on the right side was epic fail. Those two, and McMichael, all found Robert Geathers impossible to block on various plays, and on all of them, Jackson got stuffed for little or no gain. They combined all their poor play on an early 2nd-and-7 pass. Domata Peko shed Incognito and crushed the pocket. Geathers beat Goldberg cleanly. Boller got away and threw to McMichael… who dropped it. Alex Barron’s man beat him the next play and hammered Boller, but not before the QB got away a big 3rd-down completion. Barron got whipped badly by rookie Michael Johnson early in the drive for a pass deflection, and tripped on a pull block that got a Gado run stuffed later. But the left side still fared better than the right side, where Incognito and Goldberg didn’t run-block well all night. Jason Brown’s pull block got Jackson the lane for a 10-yard run in the first TD drive (though Robinson’s illegal block brought most of it back). Mark Setterstrom started at LG and delivered key blocks on both Gado TDs. The first one was a beauty. He made the hole by collapsing a lineman to the right, then lunged left to pick off a LB. Barron also drove his man a good five yards downfield on the first TD. Setterstrom pulled and sealed the edge good and tight for Gado’s second TD. But at center later, Mark missed a blitz pickup and was responsible for a couple of failed runs. Jason Smith wasn’t terribly good, either, from the six minutes or so I saw of him in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. He got beat 4 or 5 times, mostly by Johnson, but usually with the good fortune of the play not running his direction, or Boller proving able to elude the pressure. Smith shifted from RT to LT after halftime but was only marginally better. So again, it’s a win, but one that leaves plenty of reason for concern. There’s too much inconsistency, too many mistakes run-blocking, and Jason Smith will NOT be ready to block for Marc Bulger come opening day. Two bad developments for a franchise counting on good run-blocking and on having Smith in the lineup sooner than later.

* Defensive line / LB: Inversely proportional to the offense’s miserable 3-and-out start and the special teams’ miserable start on punt coverage, the defense came out flying and kept it up. James Butler walked in on J.T. O’Sullivan for a sack on the first play, and James Laurinaitis and Jonathan Wade followed the next play by recovering O’Sullivan’s fumbled snap to set up the Rams’ 2nd TD. All three LBs blitzed on a play the next drive that got David Vobora a sack (after Will Witherspoon whiffed). Craig Dahl blitzed in for a sack to start the 3rd, coming up the middle with two blitzmates attacking the left side. Victor Adeyanju had a terrific night, with a second half sack but an even bigger play with Cincinnati driving in the first half. He stuffed big fullback Jeremi Johnson on 2nd-and-1 and held him up long enough for O.J. Atogwe to rip the ball loose for what became a defensive TD. Eric Moore saved the game late by whipping his man and sacking Jordan Palmer near the Rams 30. He classically went after the ball on the tackle, scraped it loose, and C.J. Ah You recovered to prevent overtime (or worse). Ah You had a sack/fumble near the goal line in the 3rd; the Rams had so many sacks tonight, I actually missed that one. What was the last time they had SIX sacks in a game? A badly-needed impressive night for the pass rush, and it came with Leonard Little held out with a slightly-sprained knee. Starting at LDE for Little, Chris Long didn’t have a sack but was still a wild man. He pressured the pocket well throughout the night and made an outstanding play on an attempted screen in the 1st, breaking into the backfield and swatting down the pass before the tight end it was intended for even got turned around to look for it! Cliff Ryan and Hollis Thomas also swatted down passes. I LOVE a line that does that.  Still some troubling inconsistency, though. They were too soft on third down, especially in the first half, allowing 50% (5/10) conversion on the night. Run defense was up and down. For every run they’d stuff, they’d give up a long run, ending up charged with 141 yards total. James Hall stuffed Cedric Benson in the 1st but Benson ran for 8 the next play, I believe because James Laurinaitis missed a fill. Larry Grant stuffed a Benson draw for -3 to start the 2nd, but he just took off up the middle for 12 the next play. Ryan couldn’t hold his ground and Laurinaitis was picked off by a TE. But Adeyanju followed that with the stuff that set up Atogwe’s forced fumble. Witherspoon had a stuff later, but they couldn’t pin Cincinnati at the goal line at the end of the half. Bernard Scott got a huge hole for 14 after the fullback (possibly Brian Leonard) took out Long and Butler missed badly in the hole. A 97-yard TD drive got going in the 4th after Scott swept left for 22 ON 3RD AND 21. Dominic Douglas lost containment on the corner and a safety (I think David Roach) dived and missed badly. But the backups killed two Bengal drives in scoring territory after that to secure the win. Ah You submarined a 4th-and-1 run, his second stuff of the series, to end the first threat, and his fumble recovery ended the second threat. I guess I’d take a game like this from the defense every week, though it would surely take a few months off my lifespan. If the big plays continue to outweigh the big misses and result in wins, I wasn’t planning on doing that much early in the year 2053 anyway.

* Secondary: A bushel basket of big plays from the secondary made them the star unit of the game. James Butler had a big night, with a sack and a fumble recovery TD. That fumble was courtesy of O.J. Atogwe, ripping the ball away from Jeremi Johnson. VINTAGE ATOGWE! Butler returned it 71 yards to give the Rams a 21-7 lead. Craig Dahl had a sack, as the secondary contributed to all areas of the defense. No Ram’s needed a big night worse lately than Quincy Butler, and he achieved that and then some in the 3rd. With the Bengals near FG range, he blew up a screen for -2, then played a Chris Henry route perfectly, – he wasn’t open for a second – picked off Jordan Palmer’s underthrown pass and returned it about 60 yards to set up a FG. And he helped stuff a run for -4 to start a 3-and-out the next drive. Quincy’s not out of the race in the secondary yet, because NOBODY seems able to step up. It’s still Bartell/Hill/Wade atop the list, though none was exceptional tonight. Justin King should have been burned by Andre Caldwell deep but Caldwell dropped the pass. If that was a burn, Bradley Fletcher was scorched beyond recognition in the 4th, whipped by Henry for a 54-yard TD that pulled the Bengals within 24-21. That put a cherry on a pretty lousy night for the Rams’ 2009 draft class. The best rookie tonight was the 7th round pick, Ogbannaya. Teams that force turnovers, though, are teams that win games. Let’s see how well the Rams keep this up.

* Special teams: Oh, those Rams special teams. Donnie Jones was wildly inconsistent. He had three punts of 55 or over, but two sub-40-yarders (with apparently poor hang time, as no Ram was even within 7-8 yards of the returner who fielded the poor punts) proved costly. Someone named Quan Cosby (seriously?) fielded the first one at midfield, ran by James Butler and past whiffs by Will Witherspoon and Chris Chamberlain for an easy TD that put the Bengals ahead 7-0. None of the coverage unit appeared to even have an idea where a poor Jones punt went in the 3rd. Someone named Tom Nelson didn’t even have a Ram in front of him when he caught that punt and zipped back 44 yards with it. Josh Brown yakked on two FGs in the 50-51 yard range, even choking after Marvin Lewis played the cheeseball last-nanosecond timeout trick to make him kick over right before halftime. Whether or not that kind of cheap coaching gamesmanship should be allowed, a veteran kicker making $millions like Brown is should be hitting those the second time just like the first time. But tonight’s Rams special teams, manned by veterans, showed little of the composure expected of them tonight and sorely needed heading into the regular season.

* Coaching: Yeah, I know. They barely beat a pretty bad Cincinnati team that didn’t have Carson Palmer. Special teams were terrible. They didn’t really establish the run and gave up too many long runs on defense. The o-line was somewhat inconsistent and the rookies didn’t really shine tonight.

But this team is still moving in the right direction. All those bad things and they still won, thanks to winning the turnover battle 4-0 and playing aggressive defense, two of the bulwarks Steve Spagnuolo’s building the team on. Ken Flajole had the blitz meter cranked all the way to 11 tonight. The Rams got a couple of blitzes, Butler and Grant to the QB completely untouched on their sacks; as Roland Williams said on TV, that’s a credit to the play-calling. The Rams brought it a lot of different ways, including all 3 LBs on David Vobora’s sack, and overloading a side, on Dahl’s sack. The Bengals beat the blitz a couple of times – I’m thinking especially of the weird flip pass to Brian Leonard – but with six sacks on the night, half from blitzes, the strategy paid off on the whole for the Rams.

Especially if the zone blitz ever does what it’s supposed to do. It looked mostly like a source of confusion tonight, especially for Long, who had some really messed-up plays on an otherwise good night, I believe all on zone blitzes. The second half started with an 8-yard DeDe Dorsey run through a hole Long vacated because he thought he had to cover the receiver. A play late in the first started out looking cool, but ended up looking WTF. Long and Laurinaitis are in constant motion to try to fool the QB. Long eventually takes a standup rush stance, inside a DE to his left and Jonathan Wade off the edge in a blitz look. BUT NO, it’s a zone blitz, and cue the Keystone Kops music. Long falls down dropping back into coverage, and Laurinaitis ends up covering Andre Caldwell (equals: MISMATCH), with a lost Wade trailing the play by ten yards. Look, here in Rams Nation we’re expecting big things out of Chris Long at defensive end, like sacks and stopping the run. We don’t need him getting all messed up mentally because he’s having trouble figuring out what RECEIVER TO COVER on some plays. A defense making downfield coverage a significant part of Chris Long’s job is a defense that is too cute by far. Sure, if Long stays on his feet and Wade blitzes like he’s probably supposed to, maybe it’s another big defensive play for the Rams. And I know zone blitzing can work in the NFL. But I haven’t found anything to like about it here, yet.

The offensive game plan didn’t look any more tricked up for the third preseason game than it did the other two. The passing offense really looked like it was protecting Boller from having to make outside throws; I’d expect a good defense to sit on that tendency in a real game. The only trickeration I saw was Gado’s second TD, the shovel pass. They really sucked the outside LB in on that play. And hey, I saw them practicing that in training camp!

* Waiver bait: Teams have to cut down to 75 players by the 1st, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Spagnuolo gets this week’s moves made before I even get a chance to guess them. My projections for the fated five: 1) they IR WR Brooks Foster; 2) CB Marcus Brown; 3) SS Mark Rubin; 4) WR Jarrett Byers. If those last three are even finding the field, it’s been very deep into games and they’re not popping up earlier. FS David Roach and RT Eric Young have made enough bad plays to earn an early exit, but I’ll save them from cut #5 and declare an end to the Joe Klopfenstein Era instead. They’re not going to need 5 TEs next week, and Joe is clearly TE5. Maybe even TE6.

* Upon further review: The Rams completed the back half of the Carey brothers doubleheader by drawing Drew tonight. Just kidding, it was senior referee Mike Carey. My biggest problem play was Boller’s scramble in the first, where a couple of Bengals still hit him (and good) clearly after he had given himself up and gone to the ground. I thought this league was trying to protect QBs; that somehow never applies to those dressed in Ram uniforms. They called a pretty ticky-tack DPI on Cord Parks very late in the game to put Cincinnati in FG range. If nothing else, that proves they weren’t trying to get home early. That and the SEVENTEEN other flags tonight. Grade: B.

* Cheers: After their solid broadcast two weeks ago, tonight’s Fox-2 presentation was sorely lacking, a huge disappointment. Production values were awful. Camera work was terrible all night long. Camera angles were lousy. We couldn’t even see the returner on the opening kickoff. We couldn’t see the PUNTER on the first PUNT. You know, the one Cincinnati returned for a TD. It looked like most of the game was shot with zoom on by mistake, and that the cameraman didn’t know where to aim half the time. Announcers go off the camera feed even though the play’s right in front of them, so tonight’s cinematographic misadventures could not have made their job easy, but Martin Kilcoyne and Roland Williams didn’t help any. Kilcoyne slipped back into morning radio-goof mode, looking too hard for humor and not enough for timely details. Failing to introduce the starting lineups until late in the second quarter is a good example of the latter, though I doubt that was Kilcoyne’s fault. Williams was likeable and personable but didn’t add anything. He misidentified players, and some of the few plays he did break down, he broke down wrong, though poor angles on many replays could not have helped him any. And Roland was a player apologist par excellence – how about the exchange where he talked up Brown, and Bell, and Incognito, and then said the Rams are just a few moves from having an outstanding line? Gah! Which is it? If 60% of the line is so great, how many moves can they need to make? I won’t get to see Roland next week, but let’s hope they get him some decent replays to break down, cut his usage of clichés by 80% (still leaving about 100 a game), and maybe get him and Martin a director and camera crew that’s seen a football game broadcast on TV before. Snicker of the night: Jason Brown during a sideline interview referring to the Rams’ #1 QB as “Big Bulge”.

* Who’s next?: Sure, there’s the Lombardi Trophy, the Stanley Cup, the World Cup, the O’Brien Trophy, and that dorky baseball thing that looks like a birthday cake with a bunch of flags stuck in it, but what, I ask you, what, can stand up to the import, integrity and honor of the Missouri Governor’s Cup, a trophy that has only been earned by three different teams? So, do you remember who won it last year? (Hint: the Rams’ head coach last year was Scott Linehan.) Correct! The Chiefs, 21-17. (I admit I had to look the score up.)

This is the dumbest game of the year to try to break down, so why even try? Coaches are already planning for the first regular season game; nothing very interesting’s going to happen on the field. About all a fan can do is watch with an eye on the closer roster position battles. Who ya got? QB3: Berlin or Null? (I think Berlin now; Null to practice squad) RB2: Gado, Pittman or Darby? (Gado. Wouldn’t shock me if Darby doesn’t make the team) WR3: Burton, Curry or Stanley? (Don’t sell the veteran Curry’s chances short) KR/PR: Anybody besides Gado and Stanley? (apparently not) CB2: Anybody besides Hill? (I fear not)

Or, start up a drinking game! Take a drink for any: naked bootleg, draw play or screen pass on 3rd and longer than 10, illegal block in the back, or broadcast reference to a professional wrestler. You could be completely wasted by halftime, but remember, the party really starts if David Roach commits a clipping penalty.

Just make sure you’re ready to go (hopefully a lot more ready than last year’s team) for the start of the regular season September 13th!

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