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RamView: Week 14 – Coaching

I can’t tell whether Steve Spagnuolo or Ken Flajole is more responsible, but today’s defensive gameplan was a bitter disappointment, and all things considered, was the biggest reason the Rams lost the game. It was the same gameplan that failed to pressure Brees in last year’s meeting here in St. Louis, relying almost exclusively on 4-man rush. While the Saints walked 73 yards to their first TD, Flajole didn’t call a single blitz. Then, when he finally does, it’s on 3rd-and-8, which I don’t think of as a very good blitzing down. Then on 3rd-and-goal from the 17, let’s drop a tackle back in coverage so there’s even LESS heat on Brees. TD#2. Flajole was smart to stick with blitzing last week until it worked, but sticking with 4-man rush this week was a failure. Unlike the Cardinal QBs’ struggles with blitzing, there’s little empirical evidence to suggest that Drew Brees is going to be affected by consistently-weak 4-man rush. Flajole, or Spagnuolo, simply had to turn up the dial, and quickly, but basically never did. Turning off the blitz doesn’t exactly protect your secondary when they have to cover guys for seven seconds anyway. Hell, the Cleveland Browns went down to New Orleans earlier this year and blew the Saints out. The Rams went down there and called the game like they were afraid. If they had been a baseball team going against the Yankees yesterday, they would have intentionally walked everybody.

In contrast, Pat Shurmur’s gameplan was fine. Jackson breaks free for a 20-yard run. Fumble. Gibson’s open at the goal line for a TD. Interception. Robinson’s open for a TD. Lost in space. Execution, not play-calling. Liked the run-pass balance and the effort this week not just to go downfield, but to go deep. I’d expected more emphasis on screens and slants to beat the blitz; it looked like Shurmur’s focus was on inside handoffs and quick, but downfield, throws. An inside handoff beat a blitz for 10 in the 2nd, but failed on 3rd-and-10 right before halftime to force a FG. Gibson’s 32-yard catch came with the Saints blitzing 3, and Robinson’s 4th-and-18 32-yard catch came with the Saints blitzing 4. Toston and Jackson both sneaked out of the backfield once for nice gains with short passes. The weird call of the day was on 2nd-and-goal from the 1 in the 4th, an intended fade pass to Britt Miller, of all people, that Bradford ended up throwing away. Not a crazy call, though; the Saints just weren’t faked out by the heavy run formation. Shurmur may have lost the chess game with Gregg Williams, but he didn’t get blown out. Unlike his colleagues on the defensive side of the ball, he called a good enough game to actually win, versus one afraid of losing.

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