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RamView 9-20-2009 – Week 2

RamView, September 20, 2009
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #2: Redskins 9, Rams 7

The Rams played well enough to win, but in Washington, that and $640 will get you a toilet seat. The Rams lacked big plays on both sides of the ball, allowing the Redskins to string together a mile worth of long drives while giving them little to worry from an offense that’ll have to improve 100% to even qualify as “sputtering”. Maybe next week.

Mike’s Full RamView after the jump!

* QB: Marc Bulger didn’t have a mistake-free game, but those who want to blame him first for the Rams’ troubles are going to have me to fight again this week. He had Donnie Avery open at midfield on 3rd down the Rams’ opening drive but threw behind him. The next drive, he got away with a fumble at the end of a 2nd down scramble, but showed some moxie doing it. He bailed out his line a lot, by scrambling, by hanging tough in the pocket, by overcoming penalties, by making tough throws in the face of an oncoming hit. Bulger was sacked once, killing a drive early in the 2nd. He capped off a later drive with a perfect fade pass to Laurent Robinson for a TD, putting the Rams ahead 7-6. The Rams didn’t start the 2nd half fast, with Bulger nearly getting picked off by a DT dropping into coverage. But, down 9-7, he launched what could have been a galvanizing drive. On 3rd-and-6, with Albert Haynesworth right in his face, he hit Keenan Burton for 13. On 2nd-and-20, again with a Redskin in his face, Bulger hit Robinson for a 25-yard catch-and-run. At the Washington 43 on 2nd-and-long, he saved a sack on one of many blown-up screen plays by scrambling, taking a big, almost legal hit from Haynesworth in the back. His next play, after a timeout? Zing to Robinson for 13 and another first. The Rams pounded their way inside the 10 before Bulger found Avery with a perfectly good throw at the 5, only to see the young WR lose the ball for a soul-crushing turnover. The Rams got the ball back at midfield early in the 4th but 3-and-outed, with a poor-looking throw for Robinson on 3rd-and-2. The Rams didn’t get the ball back until there was under 2:00 left, and at their own 4. With no timeouts, down 2, could Bulger lead them into game-winning FG position? Yeah, no happy ending here. He had to throw away a 1st-down pass with Brian Orakpo all over him. 2nd down, just a 5-yard pass to Avery, who couldn’t hold on to it anyway. 3rd down, Haynesworth hammers the pass back in Marc’s face. 4th-and-10 from the 4 is a play I’d like to have back. Orakpo flushes Bulger forward. Jackson is SCREAMING for the ball in the near flat and surely would have had a first down – no Redskin around for miles – and the Rams would have lived to fight another day. Bulger chucks the ball deep downfield instead for Avery, who’s tightly covered, and the pass falls incomplete. Maybe a completion to Jackson would have sparked them to a game-winning score, maybe not. Bulger still led them to what should have been two scores, enough to win today. He showed toughness, he didn’t end up committing a turnover – still hasn’t this season – and made his line look a lot better than it was by taking only one sack, while preventing at least half-a-dozen others. No, it wasn’t a great day, and Bulger’s reward for it is an unimpressive stats line, 12-25-125, passer rating 77.2, a bunch of bruises, and probably half of Rams Nation sniping that it’s his fault that the Rams are 0-2 and have just 7 points in two weeks. Bulger deserved better last week, and does again today.

* RB: After a quarter of frustration with about as much room as a Tokyo subway car, Steven Jackson (17-104) broke things open for the Rams’ running game in the 2nd, busting past a sloppy tackle attempt in the hole by the Redskin safety and exploding up the sideline for a 58-yard gain. That set up the Rams’ lone TD. Jackson was a big factor in the Rams’ long drive that ended in the Avery fumble, with four carries of more than 5 yards. Too bad he couldn’t have finished off that drive. The last play of the 3rd was a run he bounced outside for 6 to the Redskin 21 and nearly broke all the way. He made his biggest mistake of the day on 2nd-and-4 from the Redskin 9 a little later. Instead of following fullback Mike Karney into the hole, Jackson decided he saw a better opportunity outside, bounced right, and lost 1. Karney, meanwhile, had an unimpeded path to the goal line. Jackson hasn’t danced much this year, but that was a masochism tango. The Rams got Jackson a little involved receiving (2-15), and he caught one first down on a slant after lining up wide. But the Redskins must have blown up a half-dozen attempts to get screen passes to him. The Ram running game progressed today but the line has to perform better at the start of games to get it going.

* WR: Laurent Robinson (6-54) has clearly emerged as Bulger’s go-to guy. He got over his dropsies from last week and made clutch plays. His terrific hands catch of an 8-yard pass thrown behind him at the 5-yard-line on 3rd-and-3 set up a TD pass, to him, fittingly. He made a pretty play on a fade pass from the 2 and beat DeAngelo Hall for the score. He added a clutch catch on 3rd-and-7 to extend a drive in the 3rd. Keenan Burton (2-38) helped keep that drive alive with a 25-yard reception, half the yards after the catch, on 2nd-and-20. Not so clutch today: Donnie Avery (1-4), who hasn’t looked ready lately to be a #3 WR in the league, let alone a #1. Targeted six times, he had one bonafide drop, and the only ball he did catch, he left hanging off his hip for Chris Horton to blast loose for a game-changing turnover. Avery’s training camp injury sure killed his momentum; let’s hope it builds back up. Randy McMichael (2-14) also lurks as one of the day’s culprits. He committed a sloppy fumble in the 1st and dropped a TD pass in the 3rd, but got bailed out of them by a penalty and by Robinson respectively. The veteran’s blocking has been suspect, and he hasn’t been a reliable receiver; look across the field to Chris Cooley today to see how far behind a lot of the league the Rams still are at this position, which is supposed to be a key one on this team.

* Offensive line: Good thing Richie Incognito had a key block on Jackson’s 58-yard run in the 2nd; otherwise, I’d wonder what supposedly makes him worth the knuckleheaded penalties (though no personal fouls today!). Yukon Cornelius Griffin beat him in the 1st to stuff Jackson for a loss. Griffin also ripped Incognito with a rip move for a sack in the 2nd. Thanks mainly to Bulger, though, that was the only sack. The Skins must have had about a billion pressures and hurries. Griffin wasn’t the only thorn in the Rams’ side. 36-year-old Philip Daniels blocking-sledded McMichael into the backfield to force a Bulger scramble in the first. Rookie Brian Orakpo was in Bulger’s face a lot. He whipped Jason Smith to force Bulger to throw away a screen pass in the 2nd. Smith got some revenge later, making a great turnout block to open Jackson a big lane for his long run. But he missed the second half due to a knee injury. Adam Goldberg was so-so in his place, making a couple of good blocks but getting knocked two yards off the line to get Jackson stuffed another time. Mark Setterstrom briefly spelled Brown after an ankle injury and made a big play to recover Bulger’s fumble. Blocks by Bell, Brown and Karney all helped Jackson pound the Rams in close before the Avery fumble. Alex Barron, though, had a poor game, committing two holding penalties and blowing a blitz assignment on Rocky McIntosh in the 2nd. There were way too many protection breakdowns at the end of the game. Orakpo beat Barron twice that final possession, and stunted and beat Brown to flush Bulger on the Rams’ last play. Albert Haynesworth beat Bell during that series to smack down a Bulger pass, and started the game by splitting Bell and Barron to stuff Jackson’s first carry. That’s the offensive line’s day in a nutshell: they got off to a slow start, and didn’t finish strong. Given the big monetary investments in Smith, Bell and Brown, and the goodwill Spagnuolo’s invested in Incognito, that’s simply not good enough.

* Defensive line / LB: The Ram defense made strides from last week. They held Clinton Portis to 79 yards and kept the Redskins out of the end zone. So why wasn’t that enough? They couldn’t get the Redskins off the field. Washington knocked out long drives as easily as Tiger Woods.  83 yards, 6:19, 13 plays, FG. 64 yards, 6 minutes, 13 plays, FG. 40 yards, 10 plays, fumble. 74 yards, 7:30, 14 plays, FG. 72 yards, seven and a half more minutes, 15 plays, turnover on downs. The Rams made some plays, but not enough. Will Witherspoon is off to a very rough start. On the Redskins’ first FG drive, the fullback picked him off in the hole twice to set up long Portis runs, and Chris Cooley beat him for 16. Campbell was a scrambling menace. His 14-yarder set up the first FG. In the 2nd, he ran for 21 on 3rd-and-2 to set up their 2nd FG. James Hall got caught too far inside, and Campbell had a huge lane there, and plenty of room. Cooley and the Redskin backs took LBs out of the middle of the field all day with pass routes. Your pass rush especially has to get there when those guys aren’t back to block. All the pressures in the world aren’t good enough if the QB always gets away. That messes up pass coverage, too, if the DBs start abandoning their man because they’re worried about the scramble. All that happened today. Another long FG march for Washington in the 3rd. A run stuff and a good pressure by DT LaJuan (WHO?) Ramsey forced 3rd-and-10, but then a zone blitz didn’t get to Campbell, and he found Cooley behind Witherspoon and noted pass defender Leonard Little for 18. No pass rush the next play, either, and Campbell hits Santana Moss for 24 to put them in FG range. The Rams nearly made the big play they needed in the 4th, with the Redskins backed up near their goal line. Hall put a super rush on Chris Samuels and drove him backward. Chris Long whipped RT Stephon Heyer. They met at the QB for the Rams’ FIRST sack of the season, but Campbell stretched the ball across the goal line to avoid a safety by inches. The Rams got no momentum from that play, though. The offense 3-and-outed, and the defense next gave up another long drive. Portis gained 7 after Cliff Ryan got knocked down, and 6 more on 3rd down as TE Fred Davis picked off James Laurinaitis, who got blocked out of a lot of plays today. Long got caught inside for a 25-yard screen to Ladell Betts, with James Butler and Laurinaitis taken out downfield. It got down to 4th-and-short at the 20, from where Portis gained 8 through a HUGE hole, far larger than any hole that should ever be given up on 4th-and-short. Laurinaitis missed the tackle, and Witherspoon was taken out yet again, along with O.J. Atogwe. That same group all did great work to shut down a Portis sweep on 4th down at the 4, though, and get the Ram offense the ball back for one last futile gesture. That obviously wasn’t their only red zone stand. Little and Hall forced a Campbell throwaway and a FG with good pressure. Little played the run well, tripping Portis at the 8 to help force the 2nd FG attempt. He also deflected a pass. Long and Ryan also made critical run stops, and Long fouled up several Redskin screen pass attempts by getting out on the receiver. But I think the only time anybody touched Campbell was on the sack in the 4th. He got too much time to throw and too much room to run. Fine effort by the defense today, but we found out bend-but-don’t-break defense may not work if you bend too much.

* Secondary: Campbell threw for 242, a third of it (7-83) to TE Chris Cooley, for whom the Rams unsurprisingly had no answer. Cooley had a major impact on the game, catching a bunch of WIDE OPEN passes early. To account for him at all, the Rams had to vacate the middle of the field, and with the line failing to sack Campbell, that left them wide open to scrambles. When Cooley wasn’t beating Witherspoon, he was just hanging out with NOBODY covering him. Ron Bartell had a decent game, forcing a fumble from Santana Moss in the 2nd, but Moss made him look silly on a 21-yard catch inside the 10 that set up Washington’s 2nd FG. Bartell bit gullibly on a Campbell pump-fake, while Moss squared out in front of him and made him look (more) foolish. A big pass up the seam to Antwaan Randle-El in the 3rd set up the third Redskin FG. He was wide open in the zone, though Justin King needed to slow him up better (= at all) at the line. Red zone play by the secondary was exemplary. They didn’t give Campbell an open receiver. Bartell didn’t buy that halfback option in the 3rd and stayed on his man. O.J. Atogwe and James Butler helped out on some key run stops. The secondary was successful enough against the Redskin WRs, and would have been even better against them, and maybe even on Cooley, with more help from the pass rush.

* Special teams: Kenneth Darby resumed kick-return duties but was mostly defused by effective Washington directional kicking. Derek Stanley’s taking punt returns straight up the field – I like that. Donnie Jones’ average was just 43.3 as he had 3 punts from near midfield. Two were downed inside the 20, but nothing inside the 10. The special teams mistake of the day was by Darby as the punting unit up man in the 4th. On 4th-and-2 at the Redskin 41, the Rams tried to fool Washington by motioning Jones out wide, bluffing at a fake, hoping they could get them to jump offside. Darby, whose role was surely to let the play clock expire if Washington didn’t jump, got caught up and used the Rams’ last timeout to prevent delay-of-game instead. Ulp. Just take the penalty and give Jones a little more room to kick! And the Rams false-started after the timeout anyway! Quick thinking by the coaching staff to put this play in motion, but it ended up looking like a case of the Rams needing to learn to walk before they can run.

* Coaching: The offensive playcalling has to be looked at when a team scores one touchdown in two weeks, and I’ve got some questions. What is going on with the screen passes? Did the Rams get one off today without the Redskins blowing it up? If execution of the play is poor, or the Redskins are on to it, why was Pat Shurmur calling for it SO much? How many, seven, eight? At a minimum, that play needs a lot more practice. Good that Shurmur tried so much more this week to get Jackson involved in the passing game; I just wish he would have looked for different ways after about the third blown screen. Didn’t care for the end-of-game play-calling. From the 4 with 1:50 left, no timeouts, who’s going to buy a fake handoff? With McMichael blanketed in the flat, Bulger had to throw away the first down pass. On 2nd down, what good was a 5-yard Avery route? Again, you’re on your own 4 with no timeouts. The offense was a successful 6-for-12 on third down, and I liked how Shurmur recognized the Redskins were back on their heels early in the 4th and started banging Jackson at them for nice red zone gains. And Jackson should have scored right before the Avery fumble. But Shurmur’s still hunting to find good ways to get the offense moving. It improved a little this week; let’s hope that improvement’s exponential.

Interesting wrinkles again defensively, but still some plays I can’t help but wonder about. The two-down-DE set with Long standing up over center helped 3-and-out the first Redskin possession. Probably slow, I noticed the classic Spagnuolo four-DE line for the first time late in the first half, with C.J. Ah You and Hall lining up inside. Mixed results with that so far. Zone blitzing nearly got Little an INT that same drive, but it also got beat on 3rd-and-10 on the Skins’ last FG drive on an 18-yard pass to Cooley. Whatever the plan was for Cooley, it didn’t work, and it was disappointing, as this staff has played against him many times. The breakdowns defending him were a huge key to the game, surpassed only by the failure to sack Campbell. They didn’t get to Campbell with the blitz, and never seemed to have a blitz called when the Skins sent Cooley and their backs out into the pattern. And on a day where you’re not getting to the opposing QB, and he’s scrambling effectively, I can’t stress how much I hate the idea of going to a THREE-man rush. In the end, I think Cooley really fouled up what they came in intending to do on defense. Let’s get a better job done on Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley next week.

* Upon further review: Looked like Jerome Boger and crew called a top-notch game. The worst call of the day was the end zone DPI on Bartell against Randle El in the 2nd on a clearly uncatchable ball that had clearly been released prior to the infraction. And the official picked that flag up. Nice work! The roughing-the-passer call that retracted McMichael’s fumble was also a good call, with Bulger clearly being hit well after he released the ball. I would have liked another roughing penalty later, when Haynesworth hit a vulnerable Bulger late and on the ground at the end of his scramble in the 3rd, when he appeared to get his back injured. Referees appear to have it in for Bulger as much as many in Rams Nation. But I won’t be a total scrooge in grading Boger’s bunch today. B+.

* Cheers: Too bad Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan can’t announce every Rams game. They’re the best team Fox has. Ryan is the best color analyst out there. He had an excellent observation on almost every play. Rosen has a great eye for detail, and rarely fails to tell you down, distance and gain on the last play. Too many announcers are too busy trying to crack jokes or trying to make themselves look smart with “trivia” everyone watching the game already knows and ignore those basic fundamentals. They missed a couple of things, like Bulger actually fumbling after a scramble in the 1st, but give me an old-schooler like Rosen and a no-nonsense analyst who just knows his stuff like Ryan every week. Give me the Rams’ “classic” blue-and-gold look from today every week, too, even though they lost in it.

* Who’s next?: Say, Green Bay, thanks a bunch for losing at home to Cincinnati today and totally destroying my pre-written preview for next week’s Rams home opener. That shocker is still unlikely to keep the Packers’ faithful fan base from washing the Dome in a sea of green, though. 0-2 and one touchdown in two weeks surely won’t inspire a lot of late local ticket sales to Rams fans. With the Packers following an outstanding preseason with an opening night win over Chicago, next week’s game still looks like a high hurdle for the young, rebuilding Rams to clear, when back in April, I’d have given them a shot opening at home against a 6-10 team from the year before.

That 6-10 record from 2008 is mighty deceptive – the Packers lost a whopping seven games by four points or less, and return all the skill players from a top 10 offense. 26-year-old Aaron Rodgers’ career is off to a splendid start. He threw for over 4,000 yards last year with 28 TD and just 13 INTs. Very explosive WR Greg Jennings and crafty possession WR Donald Driver are both coming off 1,000-yard seasons. It would be as unlike the Packers not to get TEs Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley involved as it would be unlike the Rams to leave them wide open all day. RB Ryan Grant doesn’t have top speed, but is among the league leaders in rushing since taking over as a starter. The Rams are going to want to keep Rodgers in the pocket. He is very effective, and the Packers like him throwing deep, on the move. Pass protection is proving a sticking point in Green Bay after two weeks. Bengals DE Antwan Odom exploited a game-ending injury to LT Chad Clifton for FIVE sacks today, and Bears DE Adewale Ogunleye pwned inexperienced RT Allen Barbre week 1. The Packers may come to St. Louis with four new starters on the o-line. They’ve got serious issues protecting their QB right now, and it is paramount for the Rams to exploit their edge weaknesses while they can. Problem is, the Rams have already had two games against lesser offensive lines they should have been able to exploit, and have come away with exactly one sack. Will this finally be the week?

Green Bay fired their defensive coordinator after the Pack landed only 27 sacks in 2008 and allowed a soft-as-Brie 131.6 rushing yards a game, 26th in the league. Enter Dom Capers, who brought in his scheme, a 3-4 D that blitzes almost every play from almost every angle. Make no mistake about their aggressiveness. Charles Woodson may blitz as often as he drops back into coverage. They got Jay Cutler to chuck up 4 INTs week 1. Didn’t seem to work today, though, as Cedric Benson shredded the Cheeseheads for 141. An offense that plays it smart and goes after them on the ground has a shot at making inroads. The Bears were late to do that week 1. The Bengals apparently did it today. Run on Green Bay and you’ll really de-fang that blitz. That’s not to say the Packers won’t match up well with the Rams, hard to believe as it is that they didn’t seem to match up well with the Bengals. Alex Barron and Jacob Bell will have their hands full with DT-turned-monster-DE Cullen Jenkins. Nose tackle Johnny Jolly makes a lot of plays, even has an INT already this year. The Packers’ best LB week 1 was – what do you know – Brandon Chillar, who makes a lot of plays along with fellow OLB Nick Barnett and is even a pass rush weapon up north. Al Harris is their best CB, backed up by big hitter and playmaker Atari Bigby, and partnered with Woodson. The Rams would be wise to test the duo deep, as they’re neither as young nor as fast as they used to be. And the Packer secondary’s long had difficulty dealing with receivers with decent size. There’s your cue, Laurent Robinson. Can the Rams tame the Packers with the run, and protect Bulger well enough to take advantage when they do?

I keep seeing this point made online, and I’ll borrow it here. The Giants lost their first two games with Steve Spagnuolo at defensive coordinator, and badly. They came back, won their third game and went on to a (very) successful season. No, the Rams aren’t headed for the Super Bowl, but the point is, nothing is over until we say it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Furthermore, the Giants’ second-biggest win that year came against – Green Bay, in the NFC Championship, a game in which the Packers proved helpless to stop a big receiver. The Rams still believe in what they’re doing: let’s see if they can’t repeat some good history for a change.


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4 Responses to “RamView 9-20-2009 – Week 2”

  1. RamsHerd says:

    Great observations and writeup. The D-line continues to be the weak point for this team, and the part that Spagnuolo’s magic schemes were expected to have the most effect on — without relying on a massive infusion of talent. This coming week against the Packers is a good chance to make this happen.

  2. […] More here: RamView 9-20-2009 – Week 2 […]

  3. […] Go here to read the rest:  RamView 9-20-2009 – Week 2 […]

  4. Feldman says:

    Nice writeup. I do hope for everyone’s sake you are quoting Animal House at the end there though.

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