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RamView: Week 3 – Coaching

After spending last week lost in the desert, Pat Shurmur bounced back today and did something even Mike Martz used to struggle to do: win a football chess match with Jim Haslett. I thought the Rams were measurably better this week at taking what the defense gave: running into seven-man fronts and passing against eight-in-the-box. The running game was diverse, actually trying to attack the edges some this week instead of trying to slam everything into the A gap. Jackson’s TD run was an example of both, a run to the right edge on 2nd-and-long against a 7-man front. The call was great even before Jackson turned it into a score. Shurmur actually dared to spread the field with 3- and 4-WR formations, and even more daringly for him, ran out of those formations. (Rams Nation has only been asking for this for about a year now.) Perfect example: Darby’s TD, essentially a draw out of a 4-WR, trips-left formation. Beautiful call. There weren’t any deep shots in the passing game, but the effort was still there to get the ball downfield beyond the usual fishbowl perimeter. The Rams had the Redskins scouted well and exploited the middle of the field against blitzes with passes to Gibson and Amendola. Shurmur also remembered Sam Bradford throws and plays well while on the move, something I forgot to complain about him abandoning last week. Loved the goal-line throws to Onobun. For one thing, Shurmur wasn’t afraid to go to the rookie; for another, he was again spreading the field nicely. Both throws were to the left corner of the end zone; the Rams have been really right-handed this year when they get in close. And Shurmur’s staples were still in effect, and worked well against the blitz – crisply-executed draws, smoke routes and quick screens. For I believe the first time ever, the Shurmur offense didn’t go into its familiar nosedive after halftime. I don’t suspect any specific adjustment was made, or was even necessary – Shurmur was just on his game, spreading the field and spreading the ball around. And a team that’s lacked killer instinct got it in spades from its offensive coordinator with about 2:45 left to play. 3rd-and-20 near midfield, most of section 414 is assuming another run to at least force Washington to use its last timeout. Not me. That’s a nice, safe call I wouldn’t have criticized, but the Rams didn’t need a nice, safe call – they needed a kill shot. I confidently called Martz’s old favorite, play-action pass to the TE. Which Shurmur didn’t run. But he just as confidently had Bradford throw on the roll off play-action to Clayton, who turned a bold call into a giant first down against a Redskin secondary I do believe was caught a little off guard by the call. Give Pat Shurmur today’s most-deserved game ball. Win or lose today, the Ram offensive coordinator put together an excellent game plan. Now we only ask he do the same thing next week for Seattle.

It’s so exciting to have a competently-called offensive game for a week that I’m going to shortchange the rest. I expected about a million more blitzes than I saw today, from both sides. And with the 4-man rush he was getting, Ken Flajole was smart not to do an excessive amount of gambling. The Rams’ blitzing was generally effective. McNabb beat it with a long scramble in the 2nd, but a LB blitz rushed him into throwing the INT to Fletcher in the 4th. Blitzing also defanged the deep passing game by pressuring the future Hall-of-Famer into plenty of checkdowns. And as well as the defense kept those plays in front of them most of the game, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that had been a point of emphasis during the week. The Rams were well-prepared on both sides of the ball this week.

The last thing I expected after Steve Spagnuolo got outcoached by Tom Cable last week was for him to turn around and beat Mike Shanahan the next week, but he did. Shanahan abandoned a very successful running game in the 2nd half, while the Rams stuck to the ground game despite losing Jackson. The Redskins settled for chippie FGs on 4th-and-2 and 4th-and-3 inside the 10. Spagnuolo went for it on 4th-and-1 at the Redskin 40 on the opening series of the game and again in similar field position in the 4th when he would have been forgiven for calling for a field-position-changing punt. And of course, there was the play-action rollout on 3rd-and-20 instead of the familiar line plunge. Fortune favors the bold, as they say, and it favored Spagnuolo today, as the Redskins were the unsuspecting victims of the Ram coaching staff finally finding its killer instinct.

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