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 today.
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