By Rams Nation's Mike Franke
Position by position:
* QB: Kurt Warner appears to be too injured to QB effectively, and he should have been pulled from this game. He threw today like he had a hook at the end of his right arm. Almost everything Kurt threw any length downfield floated, against or with the howling winds of Veterans’ Stadium. His WRs had to play defense on several floaters. A sure TD pass for Marshall Faulk in the 3rd floated so much that 300-POUND LB Levon Kirkland was able to run under it and break it up. Later that drive, Warner threw a bomb to Isaac Bruce, who was wide open when it was thrown, but by the time it came down, Troy Vincent was there for an INT. Warner’s injured throwing hand also showed itself glaringly in his Az Hakim-quality ball-handling. Horrible ball protection the first time he was sacked in the first gave the Eagles the ball in prime position. The rolling-dice grip is probably not the best way to secure the ball, Kurt. About time he learned to protect the ball better. It’s also about time he learned to prevent the play that turned this game. On 3rd-and-5 deep in Ram territory, Hugh Douglas whips John St. Clair badly, but does Kurt eat the ball? Of course not, he forces a stupid pass into double coverage, and Bobby Taylor picks it off for what would be the game-winning TD. Someone check for me – has Warner thrown more offensive or defensive TDs this year? And how about that 3rd-quarter Football Follies play where the ball flopped out of Warner’s claw as he cocked to throw? I know Warner (20-42-218, 2 INT) had some effective stretches, and the offensive line was a sieve, but I didn’t want him on the field at less than 100%; we sure don’t need him out there at 50%. Seems like the ability to grip a football is something that would be important to a quarterback.
* RB: A rare negative-impact game rushing. Is Lamar Gordon a future Marshall Faulk or a future Cleveland Gary? Lamar ran hard early, got good blocking in the middle, and had 10- and 8- yard rushes in the 1st. But he did a poor job picking up the blitz, and with the Rams driving well and getting close to a score in the 3rd, Lamar committed a CRUCIAL fumble that sucked out whatever life the Ram offense had left. Who knows if Mike Martz can trust him with the ball any more? Marshall Faulk did get into this game, but he came in cold and never appeared to warm up. He dropped two EASY catches, including a sure big play in the 3rd right before Warner’s 2nd INT. At the start of the 2nd, Marshall had a huge hole on a 3rd-and-3 draw play from near midfield, but inexplicably, he missed it horribly. He limped off the field at one point; that’s when Gordon came back in and committed that big fumble. Faulk rushed for 29, Gordon for 30, and neither man was much of a factor receiving. Faulk was game, but probably had no business being out there.
* Receivers: Total offensive disappointment continues here. Torry Holt caught 6 for 80 and converted a couple of 3rd downs, but was mostly a mess. He dropped passes, lost a ball late in the 2nd for a near-disaster, and nearly fumbled at the 4 during the Rams’ LONE scoring drive. Once again Torry does not pick up his game when the offense is struggling. Isaac Bruce caught 5 passes, 3 on the FG drive, including a 27-yarder for his 600th career catch. He didn’t quit today, but he also had a drop and wasn’t much of a factor in the 2nd half. The Eagle secondary shut down the Ram WRs on a lot of plays. Rickey Proehl converted a 3rd-and-3 in the 3rd despite being held, and made a great play before Gordon’s fumble. On 3rd-and-10, he caught a 5-yard pass and ran for 6 more, both hands covering the ball. Somebody clone him!
* Offensive line: The offensive line was already getting whipped before the turning point of the game, which was when Orlando Pace left with a hamstring injury. That put John St. Clair at LT and Andy King at RT, his first game action since August. From then on the Eagles got huge pressure from the edge on just about every pass. When St. Clair wasn’t busy committing illegal hands to the face, he was getting whipped by Hugh Douglas (2 sacks). Douglas’ pressure forced Warner’s stupid TD INT to Taylor. After the Eagles’ FG, Douglas immediately whipped St. Clair for a sack. Max protection, when Mike Martz deigned to use it, wasn’t even enough given the lack of talent at the tackles. Douglas beat Faulk, James Hodgins AND St. Clair for a 4th-quarter sack. N. D. Kalu, who I believe is not Michael Strahan, smoked King for FOUR of Philadelphia’s EIGHT sacks. Injuries and lack of NFL-quality tackles made the Ram offensive line a total disaster today, and that has become the most urgent area they must address in the offseason. They have to resign Pace and find a replacement for St. Clair, who I doubt can get the job done.
* Defensive line/LB: The defense made a big turnaround from last week. Jeff Zgonina stripped A.J. Feeley on a 3rd-down scramble to give the Rams an early break. Ryan Pickett stopped Duce Staley for a loss to help stop the second drive. Grant Wistrom stepped up. He drew an illegal-hands penalty to take an Eagle TD off the board right after Warner’s fumble, and then broke up a screen pass on 3rd-and-19 to force an Eagle punt. After the Rams’ missed FG, Wistrom whipped Tra Thomas for a sack. Zgonina got the Rams’ second sack, dropping Feeley at midfield for a big 14-yard loss on an apparently blown screen pass. Leonard Little then revved up. He whipped the TE for the Rams’ third sack a couple of plays after Zgonina’s sack. Leonard’s pressure probably forced Feeley to overthrow an open receiver in the end zone in the 2nd before they settled for a FG. The defense continually made big plays to bail out the offense. Tommy Polley forced Dorsey Levens to fumble right after Holt’s fumble. After Gordon’s fumble, another big play by Little: he runs a full 9 yards downfield and strips the ball away from Brian Westbrook after a 1st-down catch. The defense repeatedly stopped the Eagles in the 4th. They held them at the 50 after Warner’s 2nd INT, and stopped them again with 5:00 left. Travis Fisher made a huge play to stop a James Thrash end-around, then Johnny-on-the-spot Wistrom stuffed a similar play on 3rd down. Great game up front – they forced 4 fumbles, had 3 sacks and kept the Eagle offense out of the end zone. Should have been enough to win, huh?
* Secondary: The secondary was usually solid. The Eagles had just 181 passing yards and no receiver had more than 3 catches. Travis Fisher had the best game of his career. He batted a 3rd down pass to end Philly’s 1st drive. He had tight coverage on an incomplete bomb right after the Ram missed FG. Dre Bly broke up a 3rd-down pass after Warner’s 2nd INT to force a punt, then forced a key turnover early in the 4th. With the Eagles driving for a score, he popped the ball loose from Chad Lewis, and James Whitley fell on it. With 8:31 left, the Eagles had a possession that lasted just 14 seconds, thanks to a big hit by Bly and a pretty tip-away by Fisher. Fisher showed world-class speed and effort to stop the Thrash end-around late in the game. That looked like it was going a long way, but Travis stormed in and held Thrash to 3. That’s a lot of good plays. But the Eagles frequently got WRs wide open. If they had held on to a ball or two, not even close today. Pinkston whipped Bly for 35 to set up their FG, and there was another WR alone deep on the play, so TWO CBs blew assignments there. Ah, the mistakes of youth. But they made a lot of good plays today.
* Special teams: No news here – still bad. The punt unit had the first punt downed at the 1, but Robert Thomas slid into the end zone with it when he covered it up. Terrence Wilkins called a fair catch on one punt and then attempted to return it. Mitch Berger kicked RIGHT AT ultra-dangerous Brian Mitchell ALL DAY, and he had some nice returns. A Mitchell fumble was wiped out by a MORONIC illegal motion penalty on Don Davis. Bobby April again trotted out the STUPIDEST play in sports, a squib kick at the end of the first half that set the Eagles up at midfield. T. Wilkins had a couple of good kick returns – one to the 42, one to the 35. But these guys play so stupid, I don’t understand how April lasts from one week to the next.
* Coaching/discipline: I thought it was a terrible decision by Mike Martz to stay with 50% Kurt Warner all day. If Jamie Martin is that bad, cut him. Philly was all over the short stuff, daring Warner to throw long, and he couldn’t. Martz banged Gordon inside a lot to try to cut down Jim Johnson’s blitzing. But once amateur hour arrived for the offensive line, there was little Martz could do except leave Conwell and others for more protection. When he did, that is. Martz was willing to leave Warner in an empty backfield even behind that sieve of a line, which is ridiculous. After Gordon got going, Martz brought Faulk in cold. Then Gordon comes in to spell a limping Faulk, fumbles, and enters Martz’s RB Protection Program. It was extremely questionable to have Jeff Wilkins trying a 55-yard FG, when he can’t hit 45-yarders reliably indoors. I don’t care if Hurricane Camille was blowing back there – you punt that ball. Timeouts were wasted horribly again in the 1st half. One had to be wasted apparently because Martz couldn’t decide quickly enough whether or not to try the 55-yarder. Those TOs would have been nice to have in the last 2:00, when the Rams got down to the 4, 3rd-and-1 with about 20 seconds left. Unable to stop the clock, they had to try the fake spike/quick pass into the end zone. The lack of TOs really forced their hand. Credit to Lovie Smith for the fire the defense played with today, but Philadelphia beat Ram blitzes with regularity in the 2nd half, and the Eagles got a lot of receivers wide open downfield.
* Upon further review: Mostly well-called game by Bob McElwee’s crew. Good calls on the illegal hands penalties. They nailed a bunch of really-close fumble and non-fumble calls, including Lewis’ in the 4th. I do not feel Holt’s fumble was a correct call, but I’d also agree that McElwee didn’t have a definitive angle. But doesn’t his leg stop moving because his knee has hit the ground? Why do the NFL’s referees let Warner get walloped all the time? Like the late first-half scramble where he got nailed by two Eagles after he slid? And they blew a call big time to seal the game, saying Wistrom was offsides when Tra Thomas flinched bigtime. They get a passing grade for making a bunch of good calls and not being a deciding factor.
* Cheers: Everybody likes to complain about commercials during games, but the first quarter today was almost commercial-free. Now for some St. Louis heresy, because I’m close to suggesting that Joe Buck should stick to baseball. He missed 3 spots by at least 5 yards, and was so quick to criticize the Rams’ 1st-half 2:00 drive, he ignored that they had no timeouts. If they run on 3rd-and-1 at the 4 and fail, Joe, they can’t get the FG team in on time. I thought the fake spike was a great call. Cris Collinsworth accused the whole team of flatness, which I thought was over-generalized. But he and Aikman made a lot of great points, focusing on Warner’s hand, pointing out Martz’s attempts to stretch the defense, Philly’s design to clamp down on the short stuff, and gave great analysis of replays. Best broadcast I’ve seen this year. And congrats to the brave fans who yelled “Bruuuuuce” several times. We heard ya.
* Who’s next?: Priest Holmes is the best player in the NFL this season, but is not likely to be the main story next week, with Dick Vermeil and Trent Green meeting their old team in the regular season for the first time. Trent’s having a decent season but is definitely blessed to be on the same team as Holmes, the NFL’s leading rusher and by far the team’s leading receiver. The Chiefs put a lot of pressure on their opponents’ LBs. Not only do you have to watch Holmes on every play, but the #2 option is TE Tony Gonzalez. The Chief WRs, Johnny Morton and Eddie Kennison, have been a pretty poor excuse for an NFL unit, but Green isn’t sacked much. That testifies to how well and how often they get the ball to Holmes. It could be up to Polley and Archuleta to have career games to keep the Chiefs in check. Ordinarily you would say the Rams have no excuse to do anything but gash Kansas City’s defense. Going into today, they were in last place in total defense by FIFTY yards a game. They allowed 300 passing yards a game and don’t get to the QB much. But 50% Warner, 50% Faulk and 0% Pace for an offensive line with only 2 starters playing at their regular positions does not leave the Rams in a position to exploit even that weak defense. Especially when the team is 1-5 on the road heading into a game in front of about 60,000 St.Louis-haters (can anybody explain that to me?). The Rams are just playing for pride now, and don’t have the manpower even for that.