RamView : From The Pissed-Off Couch
By Rams Nation's Mike Franke
Position by position:
QB: Marc Bulger actually got off to a good start. Late in the
1st, he hit Torry Holt for 25 on 3rd-and-8 with a blitzer in his face. He then
hit Cam Cleeland for 29 to set up an 8-yard TD for Brandon Manumaleuna, a screen
pass looped over a hard-charging DE. With the Rams down 10-7, he dropped a pass
in to Faulk isolated on a DE for 16 on 3rd-and-8. Good pass, good recognition.
That, and Terrence Holt jumping offsides on a punt, prolonged a tying FG drive.
The Rams led 20-10 at halftime, but Bulger spent the rest of his game producing
significant fuel for his season-long doubters. He had four or five passes batted
at the line in the first half. Jeff Wilkins' first FG was forced by three straight
awful passes. The second FG was forced by a SCREEN PASS tipped incomplete, and
another poor pass for Mike Furrey that wouldn't have made a first down anyway.
And it gets worse. Bulger opened the 2nd half with a fumble off a Shaun Rogers
sack, not remotely protecting the ball. Leads to easy Detroit TD. The Rams next
went 3-and-out with 2 yards on a 3rd-and-3 pass; Detroit rolls for another easy
TD and the lead. Next possession, Bulger was hit on a throw for Looker, who was
TRIPLE-covered anyway; Lions intercept and convert it into a FG. Down 30-20 now,
the Rams 3-and-out again. Bulger looks just doofy on third down as a pump fake
squirts out of his hand (Hello, Joe Germaine!) for an incompletion. Next drive,
early in the 4th, Bulger never sees Otis Smith coming – he wasn't even on
Marc's blind side! – and gets WHACKED for another fumble. Bulger left with
a bruised forearm and a poor 18-30-170 day with 3 turnovers. That brought in Kurt Warner, who threw mostly checkdowns and showed little zip on his ball. His only
pass downfield was a poor floater way over Holt's head. Warner (only 4-11-23)
was hurt by a couple of drops, but he didn’t look like any kind of answer,
either. And if Marc Bulger, Mike Martz and the Ram offensive line can't do a FAR
better job of dealing with opponents' blitzes, their answer to the playoff question
is going to be one-and-done.
RB: Two things took Marshall Faulk out of the game today –
Mike Martz's lousy game plan, and Detroit's blitzes, which Marshall often had
to stay in to block only to have them work anyway. Marshall got the Rams' second
TD but finished with only 35 yards rushing and 40 receiving. Marshall rarely got
to run, and wasn't a big enough factor when the Rams needed him, getting shut
down a couple of times during the third quarter from hell, including a wide-open
draw play where he slipped and fell on that FieldTurf crap. He had the big catch
to set up the Rams' first FG, but just couldn't get himself established as a weapon
WR: Torry Holt (5-54) was a major disappointment today. After
his 25-yard catch on the Rams' first TD drive, I guess he was just shut down by
his buddy Dre Bly and his little brother Terrence. The day did not get off to
a good start. On the Rams' first play, a 27-yard catch by Bruce was erased by
a Holt false start, and Bruce foolishly taunted Bly after the catch. Bruce was
not thrown to again and spent most of the game on the sidelines. Dane Looker had
an amazing one-handed catch of a tipped pass for 18 to set up the Rams' 2nd FG,
but he committed an awful error in the 3rd, running out of first-down yardage
on a 3rd-and-3 catch to force a punt. The TEs got involved – Cam Cleeland
had a long catch, and Manumaleuna had the first TD, but it was far from enough,
as there were way too many plays where nobody got open, Holt in particular.
Offensive line: Absolutely pathetic, as this line reinforces
its reputation as overpaid and underprepared. Bulger was sacked to end the Rams'
first drive, as LB Barrett Green was picked up by nobody. They had a good 2nd
quarter. Manu's TD was cake after Orlando Pace flattened his man in the end zone.
Pace and Andy McCollum had good blocks on Faulk's TD. The line had an awful second
half, though. A blitzing LB went unblocked to create Shaun Rogers' sack/fumble
of Bulger in the 3rd. Turley was getting an IV, so I assume that missed block
was John St. Clair's – some things never change. Bulger was nailed again,
for a 12-yard loss, later in the 3rd after Adam Timmerman missed a blitz pickup.
Nobody blocked Otis Smith at all on Bulger's last play, another sack/fumble. That
should have been Turley's block, but he blocked out with Manu on a LB. Why the
hell is a veteran offensive line having such a hard time getting its blitzing
assignments right IN WEEK 17? Or committing FOUR false starts? Completely unacceptable.
Defensive line / LB: The Ram defense looked barely interested
in playing today, turning the WORST offense in the league into a juggernaut. Horrible
tackling put Detroit up 3-0, with big runs by no-names Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson, and no-name Cory Schlesinger converting a 4th-and-short. The Lions went
up 10-7 as the Rams put on no pass rush and the secondary didn't cover anybody.
The key play was a failed 3rd-and-8 blitz where Bill Schroeder had a 9-yard catch.
After gaining only 106 yards in Carolina last week, the Lions had 200 BY HALFTIME
today. The only sack was a late 2nd quarter gift where Joey Harrington tripped
over his guard and Grant Wistrom got credit for a sack. This led to a blocked
punt and a Ram TD, and with a 20-10 lead at halftime, things looked ok even though
the defense was playing like garbage. Au contraire. After Bulger's first fumble,
Detroit got moved back by a holding penalty, but still scored, a 12-yard TD to
freaking Az Hakim as another blitz failed. Next drive, the Lions faced a 2nd-and-long
after another hold, but Leonard Little gave it right back with a penalty. Hakim
then embarrassed the defense again with a 35-yard reverse. Three plays later,
a short TD pass to no-name Casey Fitzsimmons (behind Tommy Polley), as the Rams
continued to put no pressure whatsoever on Harrington. Worst offense in football
24, Rams 20, and the Lions were more conservative after that, or they'd have beaten
the Rams worse than the 30-20 final score. The only guy who showed up was Pisa Tinoisamoa. He stripped Hakim for a fumble to set up a FG. He led the team with
11 tackles, stuffed a couple of screen passes for losses, and intercepted Harrington
in the 4th to theoretically keep Rams in the game. Too bad no one else came up
with even 50% of Pisa's effort today. From Lovie Smith on down, this defense should
be ashamed of itself.
Secondary: The Ram secondary was MIA. TEs and WRs were wide open
all game long as awful QB Joey Harrington cruised, 26-36-238 with 3 TDs. Az Hakim's
stunk all season, but he had five catches today, including a TD, and he cruised
untouched for 35 on a reverse that set up Detroit's go-ahead TD. Hakim even dragged
Jerametrius Butler for 4 yards on a 7-yard reverse – WEAK! Travis Fisher
couldn't even handle Bill Schroeder, giving up a key 3rd-and-8 to him on a drive
he ended with a TD. The Rams made no-name Casey Fitzsimmons look like Dave freaking
Casper, with 4 wide open catches and a TD. Aeneas Williams left with a bruised
knee, but returned – the only good development in the Ram secondary today.
Special teams: Jeff Wilkins was one of only two Rams that didn't
suck today, sticking 51- and 36- yard FGs to tie the NFL all-time record. Congratulations,
Jeff. Poor punts by Sean Landeta, and bad coverage when he did get hold of one,
set the Lions up near midfield for nearly every second-half possession. Returns
were usually 15-20 yards. So despite Erik Flowers' blocked punt to set up a 1st-half
TD, and Arlen Harris getting a late 1st down off a fake punt, the Rams' lousy
special teams were once again a big factor in a loss.
Coaching/discipline: I hope between now and the weekend of Jan.
10-11, Lovie Smith spends time polishing a defensive game plan, as opposed to
his resume. Falcons, Giants: cancel those appointments after today's pathetic
defensive performance. You CANNOT allow the WORST offense in the league to march
up and down the field on you. You CANNOT allow a team that averages 16 points
a game to score THIRTY. Especially in a game this meaningful. But the Ram defense
did not appear REMOTELY ready to play today. The line could not pressure lousy
Harrington and the secondary could not cover mediocre Hakim. Leonard Little was
covering Hakim on his TD – what the hell is that? Did ANY of Lovie's vaunted
blitzes work today? The Lions, far unlike the Rams, appeared to pick up every
blitz as they gashed the Rams again and again. You thought the Chiefs or Eagles
have defensive issues? Would you hire, as your head coach, a defensive coach whose
players are so utterly unmotivated for such an important game?
Not that Mike Martz's offense was any better. Too many times this year, with today
at the top of the list, the Ram offense played like it had no clue how to stop
the blitz. Blitzers repeatedly stormed in on Bulger untouched. Martz picked this
week to fail Coaching 101 again, calling about 80% passes, 20% runs. That worked
for a half, but Detroit kept blitzing in the second half, with fantastic results.
So Martz baited Detroit into a successful defensive strategy without having an
adequate answer of his own for it. The epitome of awful Rams coaching was a 10-yard
pass from Harrington to Pinner off play-action and a fake reverse, the exact same
play the Bengals blew up last week when the Rams tried it. With the team's lack
of motivation, turnovers, and stupid penalties, this was a grade-A coaching meltdown.
Upon further review: Johnny Grier's crew is one of the league's
best, but there were plenty of questionable calls. On the one sack of Harrington
the Rams did get, it didn't look like he was touched. But where the hell the flag
on Shaun Rogers for smashing Bulger in the head? You know, the hit Fox kept replaying?
Detroit DBs got at least three shots from behind before the pass got to Ram receivers,
but pass interference was never called. That didn't help the Rams' pathetic offense
today. There was no one game-turning bad call, but quite a few more bad ones,
including Harris false-starting on the fake punt, and Furrey being down on his
2nd-quarter fumble (where was the replay?). Sure, I'm biased, but I'm still disappointed
with Grier and crew.
Cheers: Good job by Fox announcers Ron Pitts and Tim Ryan. Whoever
Ryan is, he did a good job of analyzing the play going on in the interior. And
they did a better job of keeping us up to date on injuries than most crews do,
although radio reports about a lot of Rams needing IVs were never mentioned on
TV, except Turley. There weren't sufficient camera angles for some of the more
controversial plays, probably a factor of putting a lower-rung crew on the game.
The announcers outperformed the Rams, in any event.
Who’s next?: The Rams' opponent for the divisional playoff
in St. Louis is shaping up to be the Carolina Panthers, provided they get by Dallas
next week, and that's not good news for an offense that couldn't get out of its
own way today. The Panther defense is top 10 overall, and in sacks, thanks to
possibly the NFL's best defensive line. Julius Peppers is off a little this season,
6 sacks in 15 games, but Mike Rucker has more than picked him up on the other
side, with 12 of his own so far. Carolina may have the best DTs in the NFL, with
all-Pro Kris Jenkins (5 sacks) and Brentson Buckner. Sure, a secondary led by
Terry Cousin and Reggie Howard sounds severely beatable, but, given that the center
of the Rams line was dominated by Shaun Rogers today, that the whole line has
done a poor job picking up the blitz this year and especially reeked today, and
that former Giants' defensive coordinator and Panthers' head coach John Fox already
knows how to disrupt the Rams' offense, what's going to avoid a replay of today?
Carolina's 6th in the league in rushing, and their offense typically goes as Steven
Davis goes. Davis has been injured down the stretch, but Fox has him rested up
for the playoffs. The Rams will have to key on Davis and force Jake Delhomme into
passing situations. Delhomme's key receiving threat is Steve Smith, an Az Hakim-like
WR who is much better than the mediocre Hakim the Ram secondary could not stop
today. And, oh Lord, here comes Rickey Proehl, who you just know is going to make
at least one clutch catch. Delhomme has shown some ability to rally his offense
this year, and the Ram front four that made Joey Harrington look like Joe Montana
today will have its work cut out pressuring Jake, thanks to decent OTs Jordan Gross and Todd Steussie. Smith and yes, He Hate Me give the Panthers very dangerous
returners, a fire the Rams' special teams threaten to pour gasoline on. So no,
yours truly doesn't think it looks good for the playoffs at all, unless about
50 players and at least two significant members of the coaching staff pull their
heads out of their @sses in the next two weeks. That extra week off could be the
only thing that keeps an otherwise good season from ending in a stomach-turning
disappointment to rival today's.
Game stats from nfl.com