RamView, September 21, 2008, Game #3: Seahawks 37, Rams 13 , by Mike Franke
RamView, September 21, 2008
From The Couch
(Report and opinions on the game.)
Game #3: Seahawks 37, Rams 13
They say anything can happen on any given Sunday. Like the terrible Dolphins walking into New England and kicking the Patriots’ butts, 38-13. Or the woeful Bengals taking the Giants, who beat the Rams by 4 TDs last week, to OT. Or Gus Frerotte actually winning a game! So how did the Rams do in this anything-can-happen league? They got buried in Seattle, like the lifeless corpse of a team they have become.
Position by position:
* QB: It’s time to quit excusing Marc Bulger (18-31-184, 72.5 rating) for being among the least of the Rams’ problems. He isn’t part of the solution, either. With the best protection he’s gotten all year, he threw for a meager 184 yards against the same secondary J.T. Freaking O’Sullivan strafed for 321 last week. Bulger helped put the Rams immediately behind the eight-ball with a sack/fumble on the Rams’ opening possession. Yes, the blocking was hideous. But how does Bulger not see Julian Peterson coming right at him? Does he have two blind sides? Thanks to the dysfunctional Ram offense and a defense I’m not even sure I can prove actually took the field, the Rams were down 24-3 faster than you could say “first pick in the 2009 draft.” They settled for a second FG in the 2nd after Kelly Jennings broke up a slightly underthrown pass in the end zone to an open Torry Holt. Vintage Bulger makes that throw. But today, his inaccuracy would just become more noticeable. He overthrew Holt and a wide open Dane Looker in the last 2:00 of the first half. He threw a terrible pass right to LeRoy Hill on the goal line, with the Seahawk LB playing it like a Seahawk WR and dropping it, before making possibly his only good play of the day in the 3rd. Bulger bought time in the pocket (a rare show of any mobility on his part) and waited for Looker to come open on a drag with Hill trailing him badly. The pass wasn’t great but Looker made a good play on it for a 22-yard TD. Rather than build on that, though, the Rams fell further behind, down 34-13 midway through the 4th when Bulger blew a major opportunity and got picked off by Deon Grant. Donnie Avery had streaked past his man and should have been on his way to a TD. Instead, Bulger, despite having plenty of room, didn’t seem to step into the throw with conviction and lobbed up a toss with hang time worthy of a Donnie Jones punt. Bulger had chances to keep his team somewhat in the game today and didn’t get the job done, even though he was only sacked once, even though the Rams used Steven Jackson A TON to keep Seattle heat off of him. More and more, the blame for the Rams’ misfiring passing game has to point at the QB. Over on the other sideline, Matt Hasselbeck’s working with total crap. I believe his WRs today were a practice squad guy, a ball boy and a janitor. But though he’s hardly a scrambler, he’d take off and run for a first down when he had to. Or he’d race upfield and destroy the Ram secondary for the last block of a TD run. Matt Hasselbeck’s leading his team. He’s playing the game. Marc Bulger is letting the game play him.
* RB: Steven Jackson (23-66, 5-62 receiving) sure can’t complain about not getting the ball enough today. At 2.9 yards a rush, though, he didn’t do enough with it. Or without it, like his and Dan Kreider’s failed blitz pickups on the sack/fumble on the Rams’ opening possession that set the tone for the day. On a rather amazing play from the Seattle 23 in the 2nd, one-time Pro Bowler Jackson, future Hall-of-Famer Orlando Pace and supposed blocking fullback Kreider were all unable to cope with 6’0”, 206-pound safety Jordan Babineaux on a sweep left that lost 2. Throughout the day Jackson proved to have neither the speed nor the blocking to make a run outside work. He did make a spectacular play in the 3rd, spinning out of two tackles on a screen play and charging up the sideline for a 49-yard gain. That set up a TD, which Jackson nearly blew with a fumble. Though it’s fair to say Jackson got little blocking help and gained all his yards on his own, by that time he had taken to the ol’ Stevie Shuffle on practically every run. The game was sealed for sure late in the 3rd with the Rams down 27-13. The Rams went into jumbo formation on 3rd-and-2, and Jackson danced in the backfield and got dropped by LeRoy Hill. Dancing takes away Jackson’s speed and power, and he’s missing the few holes he does get. The sooner Steven Jackson quits thinking he’s Barry Sanders, or Savion Glover, the better off the Ram running game will be. Leave the dancing to Warren Sapp.
* WR: Who ever expected Torry Holt (4-38) to get outplayed by Billy McMullen (4-78)? After catching a 9-yard slant on the Rams’ opening play, Holt was forgotten until Bulger hit him over the middle(!) late for 20. Donnie Avery (3-24) flashed some promise as a speed receiver. He’s fast enough to actually make the “smoke route” a dangerous play, gaining 10 off it in the 2nd. Late in the game, he smoked his man off the line and was open for a big play, but Bulger underthrew him for an INT. The best plays by WRs came on the Rams’ (ONLY) TD drive. Holt’s block sprung Jackson for his 49-yard reception. Dane Looker beat LeRoy Hill, turned upfield and tightroped the last 5 yards with a Bulger pass for a 22-yard TD. That was about it, though, with Bulger missing several open opportunities. Randy McMichael (2-12) has apparently had his one good game for the season, so the wideouts are going to have to find a way to step it up.
* Offensive line: On the Rams’ first series of the game, Bulger’s pass protection got him killed instead for a sack and fumble, and it looked like it was going to be another long day. The sack wasn’t the line’s fault, although Brandon Mebane beat Nick Leckey pretty handily late in the play. The real problem was Julian Peterson whipping Dan Kreider like nothing while Lofa Tatupu went through Steven Jackson like a hot knife through butter. Funny thing after that, though. The Rams didn’t give up a second sack. Bulger had good time to throw. After giving up a sack every six or seven passes the first two weeks, one sack in 32 dropbacks today represents a huge turn upward for this offensive line. The only problem? Run blocking. There wasn’t any. The Rams got the ball at the Seattle 23 in the 2nd off a turnover and moved backwards. Jackson lost two on a sweep left after Jordan Babineaux knifed past Kreider and Orlando Pace for the tackle. Those TWO guys couldn’t block a puny DB? Same result the next play, except to the right. Jackson lost one after LeRoy Hill beat Randy McMichael and Alex Barron. Hey, at least they got beat by a LB. Rams settled for a FG. Jackson got stuffed the next possession after Mebane burned Pace with an inside surge. Down 27-13 in the 3rd, the Rams lost their last chance to be competitive after Hill dropped Jackson for a loss on 3rd-and-2. It looked like a jumbo formation with Pace, Adam Goldberg and John Greco lined up left of center, but Pace whiffed trying to cut block Hill, who penetrated into the backfield. Not a good day for Pace, was it? Plus Barron’s streak of games without a false start ended at one, because he just wasn’t thinking. The Rams put Anthony Becht in motion; when the Seattle d-line shifted to match, Barron, instead of paying attention to his teammates, moved when the man in front of him moved. Scott Linehan made the offseason move to bring in a new o-line coach, but its execution sure hasn’t gotten any better.
* Defensive line/LB: Unless the Ram defense was introduced before the game, fans in Seattle’s Dopily-Spelled Sponsor Field may never have noticed they were there. Except for one sequence in the 3rd, Matt Hasselbeck was rarely pressured. Right after the Rams “cut” the lead to 27-13, Adam Carriker put heavy pressure on the Seattle QB, but he avoided a Chris Long sack by throwing the ball away. Several plays later, Will Witherspoon sacked Hasselbeck to give the Rams the most life they had all day. Carriker had a terrific game, with four run stuffs. Long had a quiet seven tackles and missed a couple of sacks, including one that let Hasselbeck scramble for 14 on 3rd-and-11 in the 2nd. Long also bit so hard on some play fakes I think he was looking on the ground after the game for some of his teeth. Pisa Tinoisamoa saved 4 points on the opening drive by breaking up an end zone pass to TE John Carlson. Beyond that, the defense didn’t show up, literally; on a 4th-and-1 on Seattle’s first TD drive, they only had 10 men on the field. TJ Duckett gained three that play with TEs mauling Pisa and Ron Bartell out of his way. And Pisa didn’t drop deep enough, which hasn’t been unusual at all this year, on the ensuing TD pass. The Rams fell behind 17-3 courtesy of one of the most embarrassing plays in the history of the franchise. Julius Jones (22-140) ran into a pileup, and the play just stopped. But nobody wrapped Jones up, and he spun away and headed upfield. Pisa and Witherspoon stood there like the Burger King had just reverse-pickpocketed them. James Hall had a chance to stop Jones for no gain but completely whiffed. Corey Chavous, per usual, dived at him and missed. And it gets worse - bolting downfield, Hasselbeck took out Fakhir Brown and OJ Atogwe WITH ONE BLOCK! Heads should have rolled immediately after that play. Instead, Seattle went up 24-3 thanks to a Hasselbeck scramble and Duckett running through Hall at the goal line while the Seahawks destroyed the rest of the Rams’ right flank. Seattle tried to kill the clock at the end of the first half, but the Rams wouldn’t let them. On a 32-yard draw to Jones, the TE destroyed Pisa again while Hall was sealed up on the edge tighter than a cask of Amontillado. You know, an actual pile of crap would have outplayed Hall today. It would have at least gotten in people’s way while smelling bad enough to discourage running at it. After making it 27-6 before halftime without even trying, Seattle sealed the game with a 9:00 TD drive. Duckett got 11 up the middle after Cliff Ryan got pancaked. A holding penalty should have stalled them; instead, they ran three times for 24 yards as the Ram LBs and DEs were taken out of every play. Seattle was up to 200 yards rushing before Duckett rumbled for 30 more. They took easy care of Pisa, Carriker and Chris Draft and drove Ryan into the backfield. Way to hold the point of attack! Duckett eventually scored his 2nd TD to make it 34-13, and the Rams were crispy toast. The Seahawks ended up with 245 yards rushing. The Rams have had worse days statistically, but ended up with maybe the biggest embarrassment yet of a humiliating season. Rams Nation ended up with a collective migraine. When will Jim Haslett end up with a pink slip?
* Secondary: Wherever the homeless shelter is where Seattle’s finding the guys to fill out their receiving corps these days, the Rams ought to look there for some DBs. The Ram secondary isn’t just a joke, it’s a fart joke somebody has made for about the five millionth time after everybody got sick of it already, cut it out! It’s official, btw – I could beat Tye Hill on any given play. Seattle’s WRs sure did. Michael Bupkus (2-29) beat him for 20 on the opening drive when Hill didn’t wrap him up like he should have learned to do in Pee Wee League. Billy McMullen (4-76) beat Fakhir Brown to set up a FG. Bupkus scored Seattle’s first TD, beating the zone with a catch between Pisa and Chavous. The secondary humiliated themselves on Jones’ TD run. Hill apparently was the Ram who failed to wrap (AGAIN), after which Hasselbeck made the legendary play to take out Brown and OJ Atogwe like two big, useless dominoes. Hmm, maybe there’s some pizza delivery guys out there who’d play better than these half-assed jokers. Seattle went up 24-3 with more clownish secondary play. Hill got faked into falling ON HIS FACE by Keary Colbert and interfered with McMullen a few plays later. Future Hall-of-Famer McMullen then got wide open down the sideline for 35 after Brown decided he had better things to do and gave him up to Atogwe after about five yards. DOES ANYBODY IN THIS SECONDARY KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING? Isn’t zone defense supposed to be low-risk? And it doesn’t count that they were low-risk in the second half because Seattle ran the ball down their throats the whole time! Crap, it’s hard to even care any more at this point. I sure doubt the Rams do. What’s that? Bupkus’ name is actually Bumpus? Find and replace it yourself; I’m bitter.
* Special teams: The only legitimate weapon on the entire roster continues to be punter Donnie Jones. He launched a 61-yard rocket early in the 2nd that Bumpus, silly boy, had to backpedal about 15 yards to catch up with, and he muffed it, with Gary Stills recovering the loose ball. Jones averaged 54.4 a kick, and this team would probably be 10 points a game worse than it already is without him. Josh Brown was solid on kickoffs and hit two FGs. Kick coverage was also good in all aspects, with Chavous delivering a rare big hit in coverage in the 2nd. Dante Hall actually crossed the 30 on one kick return, but continues to demonstrate little reason he can’t be replaced by Derrick Stanley, Donnie Avery or Arlen Harris. That illegal block after the called fair catch in the 3rd was precious. How long have you been returning punts in the NFL?
* Coaching/discipline: Jim Haslett ranted once as Saints coach about Mike Martz’s “b***s*** offense.” So what’s with his b***s*** defense this season? Do you really have to play soft zone defense all day against a set of WRs the Seahawks had to go to Craigslist to find? Haslett’s defense was designed to do nothing today except lose. We’re going to fear Seattle’s 8th, 9th and 10th WRs instead of getting in their faces. We’re going to blitz very little and rarely get in Hasselbeck’s face. ‘Cause Lord knows he thrives under pressure! Hell, when Haslett lined up Witherspoon in a rare blitz look on Seattle’s first TD drive, Hasselbeck panicked and audibled to a handoff on 3rd-and-5! The bad news: Seattle went for it the next play, and Haslett couldn’t even get 11 men on the field! And nobody thought enough to call timeout! So much for the defense thinking too much out there! They gave up 4 on the ground on 3rd-and-4 of Seattle’s 3rd TD drive with Haslett giving a bizarre 3-4 look with LeRoi Glover at the nose. What’s the last season Glover was a decent nose tackle? 2005? But I thought supposed man-to-man aficionado Haslett killed the team from the outset with his mincing, fraidy-cat zone that kept his defense on its heels all day. And they STILL gave up big plays! I don’t think anyone in the organization has given up on the team more than Jim Haslett.
I agree with Al Saunders putting the ball in Jackson’s hands as often as he did today. Jackson seemed to be the player with the best chance of carrying the team anywhere. But I also agree with Fox’s J.C. Pearson that Saunders too frequently called the wrong kind of runs for Jackson; i.e. all the outside stuff. Jackson hasn’t shown the speed yet this season to get the corner on sweeps, and the o-line didn’t block well out there today anyway. Jackson should have been pounding the middle earlier and more often than he did. I get the complaints that Saunders called too many runs – Jackson was still the first option down 3 TDs late in the game – but to some degree that’s a necessary evil to keep Bulger from getting killed, with the secondary benefit of opening up the field and putting the defense on their heels. Maybe I’ve been drinking too much Martyball Kool-Aid (see below). Also, as soon as Dane Looker can run a 4.4 40, you can use him on that streak route up the sideline. Until then, that ought to be Donnie Avery’s route every time it’s run. Thanks.
There’s nothing left to say about Scott Linehan. He’s a decent guy. He has to be smart or he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he has. When he tells the story about his dad fighting in World War II on NFL Network, he does it with a lump in his throat like the one I get watching it. Maybe he should try telling it to his team before a game sometime. This is probably the one shot he’ll ever get at his dream of coaching an NFL team and these games have to be hurting him to the core.
But he’s got to go. Now.
* New head coach watch: When your franchise is in as desperate a need for a turnaround as the Rams are, and the sixth-winningest coach of all time, who has a .613 regular season winning percentage, who was Coach of the Year just four years ago, who John Clayton calls “one of the great turnaround coaches in the history of the league”, isn’t working for another team, you shouldn’t just be interviewing him, you should be doing whatever it takes to see if he’ll take the helm of your rapidly-sinking ship.
While just about every candidate out there has never led an NFL team, Marty Schottenheimer has done it four times, successfully at every stop. He’s won 200 games. He’s been to the playoffs 13 times, four times as the #1 seed. His teams have won eight division titles. His no-guff-taking, tough-discipline, hard-practicing style may rub some players the wrong way, but what player would deserve to complain if this team keeps playing the way it is? Hell, who’d still be on the roster? Marty’s name usually comes up first around here in speculation about the next head coach; wouldn’t he be the guy to recharge a fading fan base?
Until the playoffs, at least. Getting to the postseason is where Schottenheimer’s problems begin. He has the dubious distinction of most successful coach never to have reached a Super Bowl. He’s lost five straight playoff games. He’s only 5-13 lifetime in the playoffs, with much of the blame going to his conservative offensive philosophy aka “Martyball”. How well will an offensive strategy frequently derided as “run, run, pass, punt” play in the former home of the Greatest Show?
Marty’s going to want a lot of control wherever he coaches next. He battled with San Diego’s GM over players and coaches. He won’t be cheap. The Chargers paid him $4 million in 2007 to not coach. The Rams haven’t minded giving their coaches major say in personnel in the past, but will Schottenheimer clash with Billy Devaney? And does he still want to coach? He turned down an interview with the Ravens in January, saying "in all likelihood, I'm not going to be back" in the NFL. Asked further, he said “It would have to be a perfect fit for me to come back, and I don't know that there are any of those anymore.” Are these quotes of a man likely to take over a team like the Rams next year? Can the Rams afford not to ask?
* Upon further review: It’s not like they could have done enough to affect this game, but I’d probably grade Gene Steratore and crew about a B. Carriker got screwed on an offsides penalty in the 1st. Steratore convened one of several long conferences, and everybody ignored that the LG left early. I’m also pretty sure Carriker was held on a near-miss sack in the 3rd. Marcus Trufant was justly flagged for cheap-shotting Avery late in the 2nd. Pass interference was called a lot better than last week. Inoffensive job overall.
* Cheers: The people responsible for today’s broadcast deserve to be fired as much as anyone on the Rams’ staff does. The cameraman bit repeatedly on Hasselbeck’s play fakes, making plays like Seattle’s first TD all but impossible to follow. While not offensive, Matt Vasgersian was still fairly useless, frequently missing spots by two or three yards, frequently mistaking the nearest five-yard line marker for the line of scrimmage, rarely telling the distance covered by the previous play. J.C. Pearson pounded on the Stevie Shuffle a thousand times and frequently pounded Bulger for deciding who he was going to throw to before he even dropped back. That’s more psychic than even I claim to be; how does he tell that’s what’s going on vs. the play being a quick timing pattern? Guess we’d better get used to these guys, either way. It’s not like anybody higher than the “C” team will work a Rams TV broadcast the rest of the season. Props to the great work of the Seattle crowd, though drawing one false start, and out of Alex Barron, shows the Rams handled the noise well. And the Rams are now 0-1 in each of their pants colors, losing today in the classic gold.
* Who’s next?: Too bad the SEC first enacted the short-selling ban last week; if they had done it this past offseason, maybe so many folks wouldn’t have penciled in this week’s Rams game against Buffalo as a pretty sure W. The 3-0 Bills in fact are, and have been, one of the league’s young, up-and-coming teams, despite having to eke (or is it eek?) out a win at home over Oakland today.
What’s frustrating about the Bills is that they’re doing it with Ram coaching rejects. Their defensive coordinator? Ex-Ram secondary coach Perry Fewell. The defense is anchored by a defensive line that’s anchored by key offseason acquisition Marcus Stroud. The guy drafted right after the Rams took Damione Lewis in 2001. Stroud’s presence pretty much has lifted Buffalo’s run defense from 25th in the league last year to 12th. He makes it difficult to devote extra attention to Buffalo’s hair-on-fire pass-rushing DEs. Aaron Schobel could be the NFL’s most overlooked player, while Chris Kelsay brings serious speed from the opposite side. They’re on pace to improve their sack total by more than 50% over last season. The coach of this solid defensive line? Bill Kollar. At LB, Paul Posluszny’s a joy to watch in just his 2nd year and is going to prove to be one of the best players drafted in 2007. The Bills give up barely 150 yards a game passing, an average I doubt will go up soon. Terrence McGee, Jabari Greer and Donte Whitner make Buffalo’s secondary as solid as any other part of their defense. They drafted Leodis McKelvin in the first round this year, but his role right now is as a Devin Hester-quality threat returning kicks. Along with Roscoe Parrish returning punts, Bills special teams are lethal, and have gone from the bottom of the league a few years ago into one of the very best. The architect of this renaissance? The same guy who left the Rams special teams worse in 2003 than they were when he came here in 2001. Bobby Freaking April.
Buffalo figures to be Sarah Palin-conservative on offense. Trent Edwards has become good at “managing the offense.” The young QB has grown quickly into an NFL starter and will take whatever the Rams defense gives him. Gotta figure that’ll be a lot. He’ll throw a lot of West Coast-type passes and try not to screw up, though there’s the lurking threat of Lee Evans or Parrish taking a hapless Ram DB deep. The offensive line, possibly still trying to recover from Jason Peters’ holdout, has given up three sacks each of the last two weeks, so maybe the Rams have a shot at doing some damage there. In his second season, Marshawn Lynch is developing into a poor man’s Brian Westbrook as a combo threat rushing and receiving. They haven’t really gotten him rolling on the ground yet, but who better to fix that problem than the Ram defense? Buffalo’s so conservative their preferred play against a blitz seems to be handing it off to Lynch, who broke a couple of Seattle blitzes Week 1 for big plays. Jim Haslett will have to have his players aware of that should he dare to blitz the Bills. In a contest between an offense that strives not to screw up and a defense that screws up a lot, things look good for Buffalo if they just play their game.
The Turk is coming for the Rams this week. At a minimum, that’s Bills OC Turk Schonert. Unless Scott Linehan pulls hard on the stick and gets this team out of its year-long freefall, he’s about to relive unfond memories of The Turk in training camp under Tom Landry long ago.
The nice guy is about to finish last.
Game stats from nfl.com