RamView - From The Couch
By Rams Nation's Mike Franke
Position by position:
* QB: Unfortunately, the Couch couldn’t make it up to Macomb this year, so all I’ve seen of Kurt Warner is tonight’s outing (3-4-18), which didn’t look good. Blood pressures shot up throughout Rams Nation after the first drive, which ended in a HORRIBLE looking pass right to Raider Charles Woodson. It appeared to be intended for Rickey, er, Cam Cleeland; hard to tell because the ball was FEET over the receiver’s head. It was the only pass over nine yards Warner attempted. I need to see a LOT more from Warner before I believe he’s “back.” I was much more impressed with Marc Bulger (11-16-104), who threw the ball downfield with zing and absorbed a lot of punishment, playing 2+ quarters before leaving the game with a bruised left hand. Marc committed a costly interception in the endzone, though, never looking off his intended receiver and getting read easily by Anthony Dorsett. Greg Zolman didn’t impress in limited action; 1-2 for 6 yards and a fumble. Kirk Farmer had a nice, if raw, performance (8-10-130). After he shook off early jitters, he led the team to its only TD, a nice pass to Proehl, er, Cleeland. Farmer has a live arm and decent pocket presence, but had trouble getting plays off in time and badly overthrew wide open Troy Edwards on a key 3rd-and-17 in the game’s last minute. I think he’s aiming his long passes too much and underthrowing them. But Kevin Curtis turned one into a 34-yard catch/interference penalty in the 4th. Some nice plays, but the bottom line is the offense only put 6 points on the board, and we don’t come away with any reassuring feeling about Warner’s play. It’s preseason; should I calm down? Probably.
* RB: Marshall Faulk got the night off, so the first half was the Lamar Gordon Show. Early on, Lamar did so much dancin’, dancin’, dancin’ you would have sworn he was one of the Jacksons. A coach must have gotten to him after the first quarter, though, because he eventually ran much more decisively and effectively, finishing 12-55 rushing. He gained some tough yards and got a lot of yards-after-first-contact once he started hitting the hole with a head of steam. Lamar did fumble once in 16 touches, though, getting stripped on a screen pass in the 2nd. Arlen Harris had a fine night with 56 yards on 9 rushes. He got off to a good start with a 10-yard run to start the 3rd and added a 29-yard run. If not for a missed blitz pickup that resulted in a sack of Bulger in the 3rd, Harris would be clearly ahead of Leon Johnson, who did not impress at all at TB (2-1). He ran indecisively and looked slow. Chad Kuhns looked good at FB, with a few good hits.
* WR: The surprise receiving star was Brandon Manumaleuna, 3 catches for 33 yards. He catches and runs confidently, has nice hands, nice speed and was a good release valve. Really looked like he knew what he was doing out there. Kevin Curtis also shone with 4 catches for 64 yards, including a 34-yard deep pass he caught in the 4th despite being heavily interfered with. Curtis has Cris Carter-like skills catching sideline passes and will bail a lot of plays out of trouble in his career. And he’s a thousand times tougher than the joker who last wore #83. There were several Az Hakim-style plays run for Shaun MacDonald, but he couldn’t make enough space to make much happen. Cam Cleeland caught the only TD, recovered a fumble, and got through an NFL game without getting injured, so a very successful night there. Dane Looker had a 20-yard catch late, and Michael Coleman had 2 for 39 to bail Farmer out of late trouble.
* Offensive line: Blocking was fairly successful, especially the running game behind Adam Timmermann and Kyle Turley. Timmermann did blow a block badly on the screen pass where Gordon fumbled, so it’s only right he recovered the loose ball. Pass protection-wise, the starters would have been OK, even without Orlando Pace, had Andy McCollum not had such a bad night. Looked like he missed a block on a stunt that got Warner sacked in the first. Bulger got WHACKED a bunch of times tonight, and that was usually by a guy who had run past McCollum. John St. Clair didn’t appear to fare a lot worse on the left side than Turley on the right side. The last-stringers, Andy King, David Loverne, John Romero, Travis Scott and Robert Haws, appeared to hold their own. They gave up a sack late, but that was a coverage sack.
* Defensive line/LB: The defense dominated the early stages of the game, forcing Oakland 3-and-out four straight times, the first three starting in Rams territory. They’re playing exciting defense and look like they’ve got their swagger back from 2001. Grant Wistrom got to start and was a wild man in limited action. His second-down stuff of Charlie Garner put the brakes on Oakland’s first drive, and he killed their second drive with two straight sacks of Rich Gannon. Grant was on freakin’ hyperdrive tonight. Leonard Little sprinted in for a sack of Marques Tuiasosopo to stop Oakland a couple of drives later. The middle of the line looked very solid against the run, getting good stops from Adam Archuleta & Robert Thomas. Thomas played better than I’ve seen him play. And Pisa Tinoisamoa LAID a great open-field hit on Tuiasosopo the first time he attempted to scramble downfield. A 44-yard Madre Hill run that set up Oakland’s first TD was mainly possible because Pisa got tripped up by a lineman on the ground, but he made up for that the next drive by batting down a 3rd-down pass to force a long FG miss. Bryce Fisher got a late 1st-half sack off excellent pressure from Damione Lewis. But after halftime, Oakland ran the ball right down Jimmy Kennedy’s and Jeremy Staat’s throats. Kennedy really got pushed around and has me wondering how far out-of-shape he is right now. And no surprise that an opponent ran much better once Jamie Duncan came in to create a void at MLB. Neither he nor Courtland Bullard impressed me, but Duncan made a couple of clutch third-down stops and Bullard recovered a Justin Fargas fumble in the end zone. Of course, maybe Fargas (17-72) never gets going if Brian Young wraps him up behind the line on a 2nd-and-17 run that turned out to be a 15-yard gain. Certainly, though, 7 points allowed ain’t chopped liver.
* Secondary: Not a bad night at all in the secondary, especially given their extreme inexperience and limited action for Aeneas Williams. They got beat by some chump receivers for medium gains, but that seems to be more an issue of getting them to play the zone a little tighter. Jerametrius Butler was one who seemed to allow too much of a cushion. But most of the game, Raider QBs had difficulty finding receivers. Archuleta was strong against the run, as usual. The Raiders tried to go deep on Kevin Garrett late, but he had it covered. Nobody really got burned, and they usually did not allow a lot of yards after catch, although there were a slew of missed tackles on a 25-yard Teyo Johnson reception in the 3rd. Having no interference or holding penalties was a pleasant surprise. And Shane Walton is already making plays. : ) Well, at least it was his head that Justin Fargas bounced the ball off of in committing a 3rd-quarter fumble.
* Special teams: The opening kickoff by “kickoff specialist,” Owen Pochmann, came down at the 7 and was returned across midfield. (TD saving) Tackle by – Pochmann. Punt coverage was usually poor. Jeff Wilkins missed a 37-yard FG attempt BADLY in the 2nd despite a good snap and hold. And though not Wilkins’ fault, the Rams actually managed to get a PAT blocked in the 4th, which turns out to be the game-losing play. So nothing has changed on special teams so far, and I don’t know how long even patient fans are supposed to put up with it. Harris looked decent returning kickoffs. DeJuan Groce had the best special teams play, a shifty, speedy 16-yard punt return in the 3rd. He and Johnson returned punts, but Groce has far more breakaway potential. Groce also tries to return punts deep in his own territory he should be fair-catching. That should be coachable, but so are a lot of things on the Rams’ special teams. STILL.
* Coaching/discipline: The Rams apparently didn’t lack for motivation; Malcolm Briggs reported that Mike Martz was intense before the game and Wistrom was going nuts in the locker room. The offense had 350+ total yards, but self-destructed with turnovers or, especially, penalties. They seemed to commit a penalty every time they crossed midfield, although 7 penalties for 43 yards isn’t really bad. Martz handled the starters well enough, although I am really itching to see more throws from Warner. I thought Bulger was actually overexposed considering the beating he was taking. And I would have just kept Little off the field after that dirty block by Frank Middleton in the 2nd. No need to expose your stars to that kind of garbage a play longer than you have to. I thought Martz’s worst call was to go for the tying extra point. A tie is worse than a loss in preseason. Go for 2. His best call was the McDonald sweep on 3rd and 2 on the first play of the second quarter. Martz caught the Raiders completely unaware coming off the break in action, great call. After the last two seasons, Rams fans have to be worried about turnovers, and didn’t get a good omen tonight; 2 interceptions, 3 fumbles (none lost). But other than special teams, no coaching complaints just yet.
* Waiver bait: After one game, I like Farmer over Zolman at QB and Harris over Johnson at TB. Don’t know if anyone has a shot at cracking the top 6 at WR, but Edwards seems vulnerable if somebody makes a really big move. Randy Garner got into the game late at DE, but I didn’t see a lot out of him other than failed speed rushes. I don’t see Staat cracking the DT rotation getting pushed around like he did tonight. Sure, Kennedy did too, but he’s a first-round draft pick. I don’t see what Bullard brings to the defense. He hasn’t played well at LB, and he’s not a factor at rush end. And no one can justify wasting a roster spot in the regular season on Pochmann as an extra kicker; not yet, anyway.
* Upon further review: Mike Carey and crew are quickly tumbling to the bottom of the league’s officiating. I thought Bulger took a lot of late hits. In the first quarter, a Raider LB took a late, dirty dive at Bulger’s knees well after the ball was thrown. No penalty. Carey also overruled a Manumaleuna catch that should have held up under replay, remembering the Bert Emmanuel rule. He had control of the ball when it hit the ground. And the big play that sprang Madre Hill for his 44-yard run could have easily been a tripping call.
* Cheers: The TV crew was Kevin Slaten, Jackie Slater and Mike Claiborne. OK presentation for preseason, especially considering past preseason broadcasts. Slater is extremely passionate about line play, and he can break down blocking with the best of analysts. But Jackie needs to realize that Rams players can do wrong. At the end of Hill’s 44-yard run, his comment was, “What speed by Travis Fisher!” Nice that Fisher hustled, yes, but it was a 44-yard run! Jeers to Oakland’s half-filled, half-lit stadium. On radio, Steve Savard said before kickoff that the stadium is so empty, all the fans must be in a brawl in the parking lot, and he ripped the stadium’s séance-level lighting the whole second half. As Jack Snow said, no wonder Barry Zito is so hard to hit. C’mon, Al Davis, pony up for some light bulbs, would ya?
* Who’s next?: The Rams will see their first action in the Ed this summer Monday night the 18th against the world champion Bucs. Good thing this is just a preseason game, since Tampa’s usual strategy against the Rams is to try to injure Marshall Faulk. Successful strategy the last couple of regular seasons, but Marshall will likely be nice and safe on the Ram bench for this one. I wouldn’t mind seeing Martz really game-plan for this one, because the Rams have so much trouble against Tampa’s Cover-2 (even though the offense sees it in practice every day). The left side of the offensive line needs to pick up its play, and Coach, I am begging you, turn Warner loose. We have to see what he’s really got. Tampa’s obviously a hitting team, so the Ram receivers better have their heads up. And the Ram special teams better pull their heads out.