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RamView: Week 1

RamView, September 13, 2009

From The Couch

(Report and opinions on the game.)

Game #1: Seahawks 28, Rams 0

Despite sea change at Rams Park since the end of last season, where the Rams and Seattle Seahawks are concerned, things just stay the same. The Rams failed to cash in big opportunities early in the game, and for the rest of the game, they just failed. ELEVEN straight regular-season losses, ELEVEN straight losses in the division, NINE straight losses to Seattle… Somebody change the station, I am sick of this song.

Full RamView is after the jump!

* QB: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch handed out exactly one F on their report card for this game, and it went to Marc Bulger (17-36-191). Really? As ugly as the offense looked, didn’t Bulger do his job? He had two poor plays that were nearly interceptions, but those were his only bad throws. He threw two pretty bombs to Laurent Robinson, who whiffed on one he should have caught in the 3rd before grabbing one for 46 late in the game. A complaint is that Bulger “didn’t make a lot happen even when he had time to throw”. And a common play today was: Bulger gets plenty of time to throw, rolls out, throws the ball away. So receivers were popping open in the Seahawk secondary all day and Bulger was missing them? Funny, nobody points that out. Until somebody does, all one’s doing in criticizing Bulger is criticizing him for playing possession football, which is what he’s supposed to be doing. Am I wrong? Here’s the Post-Dispatch, though: “When a team gets shut out, most of the blame falls on the QB.” Maybe the Rams’ poor 3rd-down conversion rate, 2 for 12, is supposed to be Bulger’s fault, though most of those 3rd downs were exacerbated by line penalties, and again, lack of open receivers. Poor shotgun snaps, dropped passes, flinchy linemen, $14 million kickers choking on medium-length field goals, special teams gaffes, absence of run blocking, blitzers coming up the middle untouched or running over $45 million running backs, global warming, dogs and cats living together, turnovers, all Bulger’s fault today, I guess. Oh, that’s right, Bulger didn’t commit any turnovers. No doubt, more (= any) mobility could help Bulger and the Rams out. On some of the plays where Bulger took one of his three sacks or made one of his umpteen throwaways, maybe Kyle Boller pulls the ball down and gets upfield with some kind of gain. Some argument – the Rams got shut out because the QB didn’t scramble enough. I know there’s a cottage industry in making excuses for Marc Bulger’s play the last couple of seasons, but dammit, scapegoating the guy for today’s loss is just as questionable. Vintage Marc Bulger couldn’t have gotten anything done today, either. A lot on offense needs to get fixed before current Bulger can be blamed for its problems.

* RB: Such as the running game, which is supposed to carry the Ram offense but is where Steven Jackson had a quiet 67 yards on 16 carries instead, a third of those coming in one carry during the Rams’ final possession, a nice cutback run off a Jacob Bell block. That and two 9-yard runs were about the only times all day Jackson gained much more than a yard. The second 9-yard run was sweet, as Jackson got outside and flattened Ken Lucas with a stiffarm. But the Seattle D and the Ram offensive line just didn’t offer him much room to run otherwise. And Jackson didn’t compensate in other areas of his game; he had no receptions, one dropped pass. Samkon Gado made some good blitz pickups but Jackson got flat run over by Will Herring for a sack (credited to Brandon Mebane) in the 4th. Mike Karney’s performance at fullback was disappointing. Jackson couldn’t follow his block at all because he wasn’t clearing anybody out. Jackson actually got the most out of his carries. Last year’s Jackson would have had a worse game. None of the runs that blew up today did because he got caught dancing around in the backfield. He was much more a decisive, one-cut runner today, a style I believe will suit him very well. If he ever gets any blocking.

* WR: Other than Laurent Robinson (5-87), the Ram receiving corps was the Greatest No-Show on Earth. Bulger got all day to throw more than a few times but had no one open, even against one of the league’s worst pass defenses in 2008, minus their best cornerback. Donnie Avery (6-46) had just a couple of downfield catches and couldn’t make anything big happen after the catch with “smoke” passes. Randy McMichael (4-44) had one meaningful catch for 6 yards. The rest of his game was garbage time or dumpoffs on third-and-a-mile. Keenan Burton added little (1-5), as did Daniel Fells (1-9). What the Rams receivers did add was penalties. Avery had a hold; McMichael, a false start. Robinson seemed to be the only receiver able to get open. He was a pretty consistent threat on slant passes, making good use of his size. He beat a double-team to catch a perfectly-thrown 46-yard bomb from Bulger late in the game after blowing a similar opportunity in the 3rd. But he was the only reliable receiving target today, even against one of last year’s more scorchable secondaries. West Coast offense or not, that isn’t going to cut it.

* Offensive line: So can we be done waiting for Richie Incognito to grow up, or wise up, or whatever? Because it ain’t happening. The Rams’ knucklehead RG was in classic form today, killing three drives with penalties, two of them the stupid personal foul variety. He provided nothing in run-blocking to compensate for being a knucklehead; the Rams tried Jackson behind him several times but his man beat him. Incognito also let Lofa Tatupu blitz right past him for a sack in the 2nd. After a second personal foul in the 3rd, Steve Spagnuolo actually, finally, yanked Incognito for Adam Goldberg, but Rams Nation wasn’t even done rejoicing before Spagnuolo ran the knucklehead right back out there, basically sending him back out with a hug. Yeah, that’ll set him right. Incognito was the worst lineman on the field today. Quit treating him like he’s your best lineman. He’s not, if he doesn’t run-block any better than he did today. The Rams false-started four times; shockingly, none by Alex Barron. Barron was beaten enough times but didn’t allow a sack. The other two sacks came from Jackson getting run over like a weakling on an attempted blitz pickup in the 4th, and by Lawrence Jackson beating Jason Smith clean for a sack at the end of the 3rd. Smith got a lot of help from McMichael on the right side and held up ok for the game, though the Rams tried to run right a lot without finding any room. Jason Brown blew up a third-down play with a terrible shotgun snap and cost the Rams a delay-of-game penalty in the red zone in the 2nd, failing to detect Bulger calling for the snap. Instead of clearing room for the Ram offense, they threw roadblocks in the way all day in the form of flags, mistakes and miscues. I loved the play where McMichael appeared to be screaming at the bench for running an inside handoff on 3rd-and-goal in the 4th. Who completely missed the backside block, which pretty much shut down the play? McMichael. Don’t call that play! I can’t block! Hee. But most of the Ram linemen could say that today, and that’s the biggest reason the team opened what’s supposed to be a new era with a humiliating shutout.

* Defensive line / LB: What’s supposed to be the strongest link of Steve Spagnuolo’s team was utterly ineffective today.  Rookie MLB James Laurinaitis deserves recognition for 14 tackles and for forcing a Nate Burleson fumble in the first, but he also had a couple of costly breakdowns in pass coverage. That was part of Seattle’s 99-yard TD drive in the 3rd, as the Ram defense continues its disturbing preseason trend of failing to pin offenses near their own goal line. They let the Seahawks get off their 4 in the 1st. The front seven did very little run stuffing and left Seattle still in search of their first sack of the season. Matt Hasselbeck was pressured in the first half maybe twice, on a couple of blitzes. (One did pressure him into an INT.) Chris Long and David Vobora each had a couple of run stops. Vobora got burned for a John Carlson TD, though, and Long didn’t provide any pass rush I noticed. Leonard Little did even less, with just 1 tackle, a personal foul he didn’t deserve and some missed action with an injury. James Hall also got injured, and with Victor Adeyanju inexplicably on the inactive list, the Rams didn’t have a lot of pass rushers, let alone pass rush. Will Witherspoon got hurt in the 2nd and didn’t play well. He got handled and left Justin Forsett a big hole on 3rd-and-2 from the Seattle 9, a play that launched the 99-yard TD drive. Witherspoon also wasn’t there to make the play on Julius Jones’ 62-yard TD run in the 3rd, made worse with Atogwe blitzing to leave that side of the field empty, and Vobora getting pushed away like a sliding door. Ineffective by any measure – allowing 8 of 15 conversions on 3rd down, 167 rushing yards, no sacks, 28 points allowed, permitting long scoring drives – Rams Nation can only hope there’s nowhere but up for the Spagnuolo defense from here.

* Secondary: First of all, hooray for Jonathan Wade, who was probably the Rams’ best defensive player today, maybe even the second-best Ram on the field. After Donnie Jones. He broke up an early end zone pass for T.J. Houshmandzadeh (6-48) and tipped it into an INT for James Butler. He jumped a slant for Nate Burleson beautifully to 3-and-out Seattle’s next possession. In the 3rd, he helped stop Houshmandzadeh on a 3rd down and later broke up a sideline pass. O.J. Atogwe had a HUGE first quarter, breaking up an end zone pass for Burleson, recovering a fumble AND picking off Matt Hasselbeck. That’s a heck of a big-money performance right there. I cannot say the same for Ron Bartell. He couldn’t defend Ram-killer Nate Burleson (7-74) running comeback patterns on him to save his life. Burleson also beat him for Seattle’s 2nd TD. Bartell might as well have been Tye Hill in the 4th quarter. He whiffed hideously trying to shoulder-tackle Justin Forsett on a 3rd-and-4; gave up 8. John Carlson beat him on a later 3rd-and-4. A few plays after that, the great BEN OBAMANU fakes Bartell out of his jock with some shake-n-bake at the line to convert a 3rd-and-8. P.U., Bartell, clean that up. The Rams’ grade for TE coverage today? F-minus. Carlson (6-95, 2 TD) got behind an unsuspecting Laurinaitis in the end zone for Seattle’s first TD and burned Ram LBs for most of a 99-yard TD drive in the 3rd. He got 38 off Laurinaitis after the rookie (and most of the rest of the D) bit hard on a play fake, and scored from 33 the next play with David Vobora leaving him practically uncovered. New players, but far from a new problem for a Ram defense that will face a lot of good TEs and QBs who love to throw to TEs this season. Good grief, Dallas Clark may gain 1,000 yards the week the Colts come here.

* Special teams: Shades of Chris Johnson in 2005. The Rams make the questionable decision to start a kick returner who got no work at it during preseason games, and who’s done it one other time as a pro, and how do you expect that’s going to pay off? Avery starts the Rams’ season losing a fumble inside the 20. The Rams continue to get diverging play from their kickers. Josh Brown has proven nowhere near worth the $14 million contract he got, gagging on a 37-yarder he had absolutely no excuse to miss. Meanwhile, what damn sure better be a Pro Bowl bid for Donnie Jones took off today like one of his punts. He had FOUR punts 59 yards or longer and killed two inside the 5, once with very nice help from Quincy Butler and David Roach. Sadly, that would be Butler’s only key special teams play of the day, though not for lack of trying. Late in the first half, C.J. Ah You blocked a FG attempt, Butler scooped up the loose ball and took it back 60 yards for a TD, and everyone back home reveled as the Rams tied the game at 7. Except the Rams had 12 men on the field. Oh, and it was 4th and FIVE, so the penalty also gave Seattle a first down, letting them drive on for a TD, and the game’s 14-0 instead of 7-7. Whoever that 12th man was (ironically, it was reportedly Ah You) provided the turning point of the game. Barf.

* Coaching: Success in the preseason had me hoping otherwise, but this rookie coaching staff looked like a bunch of rookies today. 10 penalties for 85 yards, many of them of the undisciplined variety? Terrible. (Scott Linehan’s first game? 10 flags for 94 yards.)  Many penalties were caused by crowd noise, for which the Rams did not appear the least bit prepared. Seattle’s crowd made audibling impossible, and Bulger didn’t appear to adjust any plays at the line; he can’t possibly be that bad at reading defenses, can he? I think the problem was poor communication vs. poor field-reading by Bulger because of the delay-of-game in the third. All Bulger did was yell at Brown for the snap – where’s the stomp move you see every other shotgun QB make to tell his center to snap the ball? The offense was either poorly-prepared for the hostile environment or had a poor system for dealing with it. Either counts as a significant failure on the part of the coaching staff. Needless to say what a terrible screw-up it was to have 12 men on the field on the blocked FG play, but good grief, you have GOT to be able to get the right men on the field at the proper time! Which they didn’t do on offense, either, blowing two timeouts reported as due to personnel issues!

Questionable tactics and questionable personnel decisions are also in the coaching spotlight this week. With almost no game experience at it, Avery was a terrible choice to return kickoffs. I cannot fathom banishing Victor Adeyanju to the inactive list after the good preseason he had. Whether or not it was a necessary call, the midweek move to cut Chris Draft was certainly poorly-timed, and I have little doubt this week’s starting D would have been better with him in it. (Equal time: good call on Wade; decent call on J. Smith.) And I really don’t get yanking Incognito, giving him a hug and sending him back out a little bit later. Not when Goldberg or Setterstrom can play the position at least as well without the idiotic personal fouls. Incognito’s making the message Spagnuolo and Devaney have been claiming to send since this year’s housecleaning a mixed one.

Tactically, shades of Scott Linehan, we’re told our offense is going to throw to the tight end more, and the position gets two meaningful targets. We’re going to throw to Jackson more. Threw to him twice. That didn’t exactly discourage Seattle from stacking eight in the box. Bulger didn’t appear to have a release valve on the many plays he was running around trying to find a receiver. And yeah, that 3rd-and-goal inside handoff McMichael yelled at the bench about was worth yelling at. Poorly executed, but worth yelling at. We’re expecting/demanding aggressive defensive attacks from Spagnuolo and Ken Flajole, but the blitz mostly didn’t work today. The key first quarter plays all came with the Rams in a plain Jane D before a Bartell blitz rushed Hasselbeck’s INT to Atogwe. The blitz quit getting there after that point, though. A big completion to Burleson (plus dubious late hit call) beat a blitz. Another Burleson completion beat a blitz before the 2:00 warning. The long Jones TD run also looked like it beat a blitz. The Rams killed a drive in the 3rd using a cool look: two down linemen with Long creeping up to rush from the nose tackle position. Might have killed a drive in the 4th, too, had Bartell not stunk.

The team’s energy and effort certainly look fine, but game-planning and in-game adjustments sure look like they need a lot of work. These guys are lucky expectations around here are starting very low. Three-quarters of this game was as bad as last year’s season opener. Going back a few staffs, all I can say is, gotta go to work.

* Upon further review: The Peter Morelli-led crew had me up in arms a couple of times. Late in the first, Jackson was taken down by two Seahawks five yards out of bounds without drawing a flag. The next series, Little got a late hit penalty for shoving Burleson when the WR was still clearly in bounds and trying to tiptoe for extra yards. For all the penalties they called on the Rams, they missed a false start on Smith and at least one delay of game. And let’s not forget they MISSED the 12 men on the field call on the blocked FG play. If that play hadn’t been in the last 2:00 of the half, it wouldn’t have been called unless Seattle saw it and challenged. That could have been a fiasco. The Rams didn’t deserve to get away with it, but the zebras don’t deserve a very good grade, either. More like a D.

* Cheers: Props to the crowd in Seattle, their team’s best player today. They forced false starts and delays of game, and probably helped get Tatupu’s sack in the 2nd. It was pretty apparent Tatupu was coming, but the Rams didn’t, or couldn’t, make the necessary adjustment, probably due to the noise. Ah, for the days when Rams fans could affect a game in such a way. As much as it’s said there are too many ex-jocks in broadcast booths, John Lynch and play-by-play man Ron Pitts did a nice job calling the game. Like any other color man, Lynch’ll overstate the obvious, but he broke down plays well and was personable and witty without forcing it. His pre-game breakdown was super. He did blow the review of the blocked FG, though, strenuously crediting the Seattle special teams coach for challenging the play (?) instead of realizing it was the replay official’s prerogative in the last 2:00 of the half. Pitts overfocused on the Avery fumble on the opening kickoff as the game’s key play – not compared to the redacted blocked FG, it wasn’t – but did well on the whole. I’d call the Rams the “Good Humor Men” for the hideous white-on-white uniforms they wore, but that’s much longer to type, and I’m simply not in good humor after this fiasco.

* Who’s next?: In two meetings last year against Tennessee, the Baltimore Ravens averaged 124 yards a game rushing and didn’t allow a sack. I mention those teams because the heart of those matchups was Albert Haynesworth (Titans, now Washington) vs. Jason Brown (Ravens, now Rams). Getting to next week’s opponent, the Redskins had the NFL’s 4th-best D in 2008, ranked near the top in rushing, passing and scoring defense, yet still missed the playoffs. So, in classic Washington fashion, they decided they weren’t spending enough fast enough, and shelled out $76 million guaranteed on Haynesworth, first-round draft pick Brian Orakpo and cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Haynesworth crushes pass pockets like the housing bubble collapsed the U.S. economy. Orakpo looked like the defensive rookie of the year in preseason. The Rams won in D.C. last year, and Donnie Avery was one of the heroes, but he has a much tougher matchup in Hall or Carlos Rogers instead of Leigh Torrence. Steven Jackson, in 22 carries, had only 79 yards and a costly fumble against a defense that’s even better now. Those factors don’t bode well when your offense can’t even score. But a lot can swing on how well Brown contains Haynesworth. Those Ravens-Titans stats tell me that Brown did his job by and large last year. Today’s game in Seattle, though, tells me the Rams are in a ton of trouble. If Brown even holds his own against Haynesworth, he’ll need help. Jason Smith won’t have a book on Orakpo, who missed last year’s Texas-Baylor game due to a sprained knee. But Orakpo’s speed off the edge should guarantee the first-rounders will clash a lot next week. Richie Incognito was a key player in last year’s game, both good and bad (naturally). He instigated a lot of bad blood and the Redskins are going to be out for him. If he plays. I’d prefer to bench the knucklehead, but can’t say I expect it. Benching Incognito may not help the Rams’ excuse for a running game, but it could save triple-digit penalty yards.

If your fantasy league gives points for penalty yards, by all means, start Incognito. Otherwise, you definitely want to start Redskins TE Chris Cooley. He led his team in receptions last year. Jason Campbell definitely looks to him in the passing game. If the Rams “defend” the tight end next week as poorly as they did today, I’ve got Cooley good for ten catches, 150 yards and 3 TDs. The Redskins are supposed to be opening up the passing game for the slowly-improving Campbell, though they had so little confidence in him this offseason they weren’t shy about shopping for Mark Sanchez. If nothing else, Campbell’s careful with the ball, throwing only six INTs last season. Besides Cooley, Campbell may finally have a decent big receiver to throw to in 2nd-year WR Malcolm Kelly, and he has Santana Moss to stretch the field. The Redskins are what the Rams are trying to be, though, a successful run-first team. Clinton Portis, still just 28, is coming off one of his best seasons for an offense that ran for 131 a game. The Rams sure didn’t stop him last year – he ran for 129 and the Redskins ran for 181. But they were one of the worst scoring offenses in the league because they couldn’t get the big play out of Campbell and the 23rd-ranked pass offense (28th in completions over 20 yards). The Rams have to be able to get to Campbell in key situations next week – RT Stephon Heyer is a highly-attackable weak link – avoid the big plays they didn’t today against a team not known for them, and slow Portis down a little, all just to have a chance.

The Rams who may have the most to prove in Washington could be the coaching staff. If the team is as lost at sea in D.C. as it was today in Seattle, they’re going to be adrift for a long, long while. Washington is a team this staff should be very familiar with. Steve Spagnuolo faced them four times as Giants defensive coordinator, and has opposed them twice a year since 1999. They averaged 13 points a game against Spagnuolo’s Giants D, and scored only 7 points in each of last year’s meetings. Pat Shurmur’s faced them twice a year with Philadelphia since 1999. The Eagles only scored 20 points against the Redskins in ’08, though. The opponent on this year’s schedule this coaching staff is going to know best is the Washington Redskins, and how close the Rams come, or don’t, in FedEx Field will confirm or deny whether today represents a trend. Will the Rams absolutely, positively get the job done? Let’s hope familiarity breeds contempt next week. Maybe even a touchdown or two?


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4 Responses to “RamView: Week 1”

  1. […] View post:  RamView: Week 1 […]

  2. […] Read more: RamView: Week 1 […]

  3. Eric Nagel says:

    11 Losses, 12 Men on the field…

  4. […] See the original post: RamView: Week 1 […]

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