Monday, November 24, 2008

2-9 Rams have number of concerns

Posted Nov 23, 2008

ST. LOUIS — The numbers don’t lie. Rams coach Jim Haslett won’t lie.

Following the St. Louis Rams’ fifth consecutive loss, a 27-3 drubbing by the 6-5 Chicago Bears on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, Haslett was asked what he could possibly say to convince frustrated Rams fans that his 2-9 team really is not as bad as it seems to be.

“Who would say I want to?” responded Haslett. “They look pretty bad to me. The last three games they haven’t played anywhere like they did the first couple of games.

“That would be hard to convince somebody of that, don’t you think?”

The Rams were 0-4 when Haslett replaced Scott Linehan as coach at the end of September. After winning his first two decisions as coach over Washington and Dallas, Haslett’s Rams reverted to their losing ways in the next five games.

And in the last four, they have been humiliated, blown away before the halftime shows could assemble along the sidelines.

Over their last four games, the Rams have been outscored 123-13 in the first half. And if you think their first-quarter margin of futility — getting outscored 38-7 — has been bad, consider that opposing teams have outscored the Rams 85-6 in the second quarter during that span.

On Sunday, the Bears built a 24-3 halftime lead, and the second half was a mere informality.
“You know what?” snapped Haslett, a former NFL linebacker. “Here’s what it comes down to, and I can’t help them.

“I would do anything I can to help these guys be successful. Anything, to put them in positions to be successful individually and as a team. But I can’t tackle for them. I can’t do it any more. I can’t take care of a football for them.

“And the penalties. Special teams had a bunch of penalties that put the offense in bad field position. And I don’t know if the offense would have scored anyway, as bad as they were playing. We get something going on offense and we get a penalty or turnover.

“So those three things I can’t help them with,” restated Haslett. “We can emphasize it; we can work on it, but if they’re going to go out and they’re going to hold or get a pre-snap penalty, I can’t help them.

“I’m helpless on the sideline with that stuff. That’s what they’re paid for.”

Extremely overpaid, many would argue, because these Rams have become so inept they can even dredge up disasterin the face of prosperity.

Such as on Sunday, when Derek Stanley returned a Bears kickoff 75 yards to set up first and 10 at the Chicago 23. The Rams, trailing 14-0 with a great chance to climb back into the game as the second quarter unfolded, got as close as the 12 before three failed plays resulted in a 40-yard Josh Brown field goal attempt that sailed wide left.

And so it went all day long for the hapless Rams. Even before the game started, center Nick Leckey was lost to an ankle injury during warmups. On the Rams’ fifth offensive play, quarterback Marc Bulger went out for keeps with a concussion after the first of five sacks by the Bears, who entered the game averaging just 1.7 sacks per game.

Then the Rams offense, already without starting tackle Orlando Pace and starting running back Steven Jackson, kicked it into under-drive. The Rams rushed for 14 yards on 19 carries, led by Kenneth Darby’s 10 yards on seven attempts.

Antonio Pittman, who started again in place of Jackson, had eight yards on nine carries. Quarterback Trent Green completed 16 of 30 passes for 219 yards, but in addition to getting sacked four times, he threw four interceptions and had two other passes tipped and dropped by defenders. He finished with a QB rating of 37.4.

And the Rams defense allowed a Bears team that had been embarassed 37-3 last week at Green Bay to total 334 yards of offense, including 201 rushing — 132 by rookie Matt Forte.

So, at this point, exactly what CAN Haslett do?

“Maybe I’ve got to just keep playing guys till I find somebody who’s going to do it,” he said. “I don’t know. The focus is not very good; the execution is not very good. We’ll just keep working on it.

“It wasn’t effort today,” Haslett emphasized. “It had nothing to do with effort today.”
If the effort is there, the talent is not.

And Haslett knows it.

“There’s not much you’ve got to work with now,” he said. “You got what you got, right? I’ve got 45 guys, because we’ve got about eight of them injured. And that’s the guys that are playing. We went through (three) quarterbacks today.

Anybody else got another quarterback?

“It’s not like we’re not trying to win these games, I can promise you that. And I’m not trying to be an idiot — it’s just the truth.”

With Thanksgiving on Thursday, the Rams have at least one thing to be thankful for.

Their season ends next month.

Monday, November 17, 2008

St. Louis Rams lose to San Francisco 49ers after another bad first half

AWFUL FIRST CHAPTER • San Francisco puts the Rams in a 32-point hole after the
first half.
A PREDICTABLE ENDING • The Rams experienced similar troubles while losing to
the Jets last week.

* * * * * * *

SAN FRANCISCO — Costly turnovers on offense, missed tackles on defense, and a
huge halftime deficit.

"It was terrible," coach Jim Haslett said. "You turn the ball over three times
in the first half … and then we do nothing on defense to stop 'em. They scored
every time they touched the ball except for the turnover in the first half."

Sound familiar? It should.

At least the Rams showed marked improvement over the first half of last week's
Meltdown in the Meadowlands, a 47-3 loss to the New York Jets. They trailed by
40 points in that one at the half.

In Sunday's 35-16 loss to San Francisco, the Rams trailed by a mere 32 at
halftime in the Collapse at Candlestick.

"The first halves have been devastating to us as a football team, and it's
tough," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "It's tough to recover, when you go in
at half with a team up 40, up 35, on you."

Last week in the Meadowlands, the Jets scored on all seven of their first-half

Sunday at Candlestick Park, the 49ers scored on only five of their six
first-half possessions. (Only a fumble by 49ers running back Frank Gore deep in
St. Louis territory prevented it from being six for six.)

"Coach (Haslett) emphasized all week to come out strong," quarterback Marc
Bulger said. "And he said it again (Saturday) during our walkthrough that we
need to come out fast. We can't have a little adversity hurt us. That was our
(problem) earlier in the year and it seems to have crept back a little bit."

A little bit?

The Rams did manage a couple of first downs off the opening kickoff, advancing
to the San Francisco 30. But then, Josh Brown missed a 48-yard field goal, his
first miss inside 50 yards in 12 such attempts this season.

"That's really not the way you want to start," Haslett said. "Move the ball
down and miss the field goal. And then it led to disaster after that. It just

San Francisco's first possession ended when Gore had the ball poked out from
behind by safety Oshiomogho Atogwe at the end of a 37-yard run. Cornerback
Jason Craft snatched the ball in the air just before stepping out of bounds for
the Rams' first takeaway since the Oct. 26 New England game.

But starting from their 13, the Rams went three-and-out. A short and low punt
by Donnie Jones was returned 29 yards by Allen Rossum, allowing San Francisco
to take over at the St. Louis 34. Four plays and one pass interception penalty
later, the 49ers were in the end zone. (The flag was against Craft, who was
trying to cover longtime Ram Isaac Bruce.)

Gore scored untouched on a 5-yard touchdown run. Two Rams defensive linemen
were knocked down on the play.

Begin snowball effect.

After a St. Louis field goal, a 42-yard pass play from Shaun Hill to Bryant
Johnson set up San Francisco's second TD. (Cornerback Fakhir Brown fell down in
coverage on the play.) The score became 14-3 San Francisco on Hill's 2-yard TD
pass to Vernon Davis, who was strangely open in the middle of the end zone —
where were the Rams' linebackers and safeties?

Now the avalanche began in earnest. Bulger was involved in turnovers on the
Rams' next three possessions — first on a botched center exchange with Nick
Leckey, and then throwing two interceptions.

The St. Louis defense did absolutely nothing to stem the momentum, yielding
touchdowns after each of those three turnovers. A frequent sight was Rams
defenders falling to the ground as one attempted arm tackle after another went

"You can't explain it, you can't make excuses for it," defensive tackle Clifton
Ryan said. "That's what we get paid to do on defense — to tackle the ball

And don't be fooled by San Francisco's relatively modest total of 334 yards
offense. The game was lost in the first half, when the Rams' defense coughed up
259 yards — a pace that would have yielded 518 yards at game's end.

Gore (106 yards) became the sixth opposing running back to top 100 yards
against St. Louis this season. Hill, making just his fourth career start,
became the sixth opposing quarterback to have a 100-plus passer rating (142.3).

So it was more than just the Bulger turnovers that led to another disastrous
first half. Even so, Bulger now has eight turnovers in the last three games:
five interceptions and three lost fumbles.

He was uncharacteristically terse when it came to discussing the botched
exchange with Leckey.

"Those things happen," Bulger said. "It's up to me and him to make it work. And
I'll just leave it at that."

Similarly, Haslett wasn't very expansive when asked about a possible
quarterback change. Last week, Haslett pulled Bulger out of a 40-0 game, later
saying he did so because the contest was over at halftime. Why not this week,
trailing 35-3 at the half?

"I just felt that Marc needed to go in there and try to score some points,"
Haslett said.

Did he think about switching to Trent Green against the 49ers?

"No, not at all," Haslett replied.

Will he switch to Green next week against Chicago?

"Well, we'll see," Haslett replied.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What to Watch Answered: Jets

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer


What to Watch Answered: New York Jets

1. Favre’s Flubs

THE SITUATION: Rams coach Jim Haslett has been around the NFL for a long time. And for his money, there’s not been a better player to suit up than New York quarterback Brett Favre.

Even though Favre has a reputation as a gunslinger who will make risky throws that can lead to turnovers, Haslett says he’d take his chances.

“I think he may be the best player that ever played the game at least the most competitive player that ever played the game,” Haslett said. “I love the guy. If I was building a football team and somebody said you could have one player, I guess you could go back in history, that’s the guy I would take because I love his competitiveness, his arm strength, his mobility, the guy, I don’t even know how old he is now, 39, and you can still see it. Does he throw the ball up once in a while? Yeah, that’s just because he’s competitive. The guy’s a great leader, you see him jumping around on the sideline, he’s everything you want in a quarterback.”

Even in his advanced age with a new team, Favre has found a way to adapt to his new surroundings. Jets coach Eric Mangini has asked Favre to manage the game and take fewer risks.

That has worked in some instanced but Favre has still thrown 12 interceptions to his 15 touchdowns.

For the Rams to have a shot to win on the road Sunday, they must find a way to get Favre to make some of those mistakes and take advantage when he does put the ball up.

In 2006, the Rams got a win in Green Bay when Leonard Little forced a Favre fumble in the closing moments so there are plenty of players on the roster aware of what can happen with a risk take like Favre handling the ball.

“A couple of years we were admiring who he was and he coughed up that fumble for us to win the game,” guard Richie Incognito said. “It’s great to play guys like that but it’s better to go out and get a win against a legend like that.”

THE ANSWER: The Rams had so many problems stopping the run that it almost made Favre obsolete. But on the few occasions where Favre did put the ball up for grabs, the Rams simply didn’t make the plays. The Rams blew some coverages for big plays for tight end Dustin Keller and Fakhir Brown and Jason Craft dropped easy interceptions. The Jets had no turnovers as Favre finished with 167 yards and a touchdown on 14-of-19 passing and most important zero interceptions.

2. An Anonymous Duo

THE SITUATION: It’s a near certainty that running back Steven Jackson won’t play against the Jets because of continued complications from a thigh injury.

Injuries to Antonio Pittman and Travis Minor have left the Rams to rely on little known Kenneth Darby and Samkon Gado.

Gado has more experience but just signed on Tuesday and Darby has two carries in his NFL career.

“Whoever goes this week, we think we have capable guys,” quarterback Marc Bulger said. “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on our line to make those holes and we might have to simplify the game plan a little bit, but I think they are definitely capable.”

The Jets have one of the league’s best rush defenses, ranking fourth in the league at the halfway point of the season. Most teams play against Jackson and the Rams with an eighth defender in the box but that isn’t likely to happen with the Jets because of the injury to Jackson.

Most likely, the Jets will protect against the pass, daring the Rams to run.

“If we can’t run the ball versus Cover 2, then that presents a big problem, because they can double both outside guys and we can’t run,” Bulger said. “It’s not a good situation, so when they are in Cover 2; we have to be able to run the ball.”

THE ANSWER: The Rams surprised some by starting Pittman, who bounced back late in the week and practiced. But there wasn’t much room to run for any of the Rams’ backs against New York’s No. 4 rush defense. As a team, the Rams rushed for 80 yards on 21 attempts. Darby looked the best running the ball, carrying four times for 32 yards but he coughed up a pair of fumbles, one of which the Jets recovered and turned into points. Pittman had 13 attempts for 28 yards and Gado carried twice for 4 yards.

3. Air Saunders

The SITUATION: Earlier this week, Haslett jokingly referred to the Rams offense without a running game as ‘Air Saunders.’ Last week when the Rams ran out of running backs, that description wasn’t too far off as offensive coordinator Al Saunders had to dial up pass play after pass play.

This week, it’s clearly going to be difficult for the Rams to run the ball but no matter what type of defensive game plan the Jets have, they must find a way to stretch the field and give Bulger time to throw the ball.

“You have to simplify it for our young guys, but at the same time you can’t go too simple because we don’t know if they’re going to put eight guys in the box, we don’t know if there are just going to say, ‘Hey, they have young guys at running back, we’ll play Cover Two and stop the run and be able to stop the pass.’ There are a lot of things you have to be ready for,” Bulger said. “I think with Steven (Jackson) back there, you know that it’s going to be eight in the box, pretty much every week. With one of these guys, like I said, we’re not sure, so it’s going to put a lot of responsibility on our line. If we can get our running game going, you can dictate the defense a little bit, but it’s going to be up to us to prove that we can get more than two yards a carry against them.”

If indeed the Rams are able to create some running lanes and at least keep the Jets honest, there should be some more opportunities for speedy young receivers Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton and Derek Stanley to make plays down the field. This could also be the type of game where a precision route runner like Torry Holt could finally break loose for a big game. The Jets are vulnerable in pass defense.

THE ANSWER: The lack of a running game and the large early deficit made the Rams take to the air earlier than they would have liked but it didn’t matter much as they continued to struggle to complete passes and protect the quarterback. Bulger finished six-of-13 for 65 yards with an interception in the first half before giving way to Trent Green. Green fared better, going five-of-10 for 70 yards but threw a costly interception deep in New York territory.

4. Monster in the Middle

THE SITUATION: Of all of the offseason acquisitions the Jets made this year, none was bigger in a literal and physical sense than mammoth defensive tackle Kris Jenkins.

The Panthers gave up on Jenkins as an overweight malcontent but apparently Jenkins didn’t take kindly to being dismissed for the low price of a third and fifth round draft choice.

Now, Jenkins is making the rest of the league pay.

“I think probably based off what I see; he’s probably one of the most dominant guys in the league right now,” Haslett said. “The guy is an unbelievable force, two, three guys can’t block him, stays in on passing situations, he’s quick, he’s powerful, to me he’s one the best players in the league right now that I’ve seen.”

Jenkins is the anchor in the middle of New York’s 3-4 defense and has a propensity for taking on multiple blockers and allowing the other defenders to run free.

But Jenkins also has the ability to make plays and push the pocket. At 6’4, 349 pounds, Jenkins is more athletic than he looks and has found a way to compile 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks while taking on two or three blockers at a time.

The mission of slowing Jenkins falls to the interior line where Incognito, center Nick Leckey and left guard Jacob Bell reside.

Incognito has been playing some of his best football since Haslett took over and relishes the chance to face some of the bigger, more imposing defensive tackles. Bell and Leckey are on the small side and don’t match up as well with Jenkins.

“Jenkins is a great player,” Incognito said. “He’s playing dominant football right now and there’s no better test of where we’re at as an offensive line than going up against a stud like him.”

THE ANSWER: Maybe it didn’t show up in terms of tackles (he wasn’t credited with any in the unofficial press box stats), but Jenkins was stout in the middle, taking on multiple blockers and allowing the guys behind him to make tackles. Was a major force in limiting the Rams’ rushing attack.

5. Sturdy Special Teams

THE SITUATION: The Rams special teams has been the most consistent unit on the field for most of the season and the coverage units have been especially strong in recent weeks.

Helping matters has been the lack of top tier returners they’ve had to face but this week they will face one of the best returners in the league in New York’s Leon Washington.

Washington returned three kicks for touchdowns in 2007 and is fourth in punt returns and sixth in kick returns this season.

If the Rams can control Washington and find a way to win the field position battle, they will have a much better chance of pulling off the upset.

THE ANSWER: Perhaps the only area in the game where the Rams didn’t struggle. Coverage was good and Washington didn’t get loose for any significant returns.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Edward Jones Dome is Kurt Warner’s House

In Kurt Warner’s first NFL start, he threw three touchdown passes in the 1999 season opener to air lift the Rams past the Baltimore Ravens. Little did we know what this would lead to. The game was played at The Edward Jones Dome, and nearly 10 years later, Warner is still ripping the place up.

Sunday Warner completed 23 of 34 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns and no INTs as his Arizona Cardinals owned the Rams 34-13. Warner’s passer rating for the game was 120.0 I did a quick check and this was one of Warner’s best games at The Ed. The 342 yards represented his eighth-highest total in the venue.

In 31 games at the Edward Jones Dome, Warner has completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 8,731 yards and 66 TDs for a passer rating of 102.5. And how about this stat? Warner’s team has a 27-4 record at The Ed. As a Ram, Kurt was 24-4 in home games (23-4 as the starter), and the Cardinals are 3-0 when Warner plays in St. Louis.

The Edward Jones Dome is to Warner what Asbury Park is to Springsteen.

Moving on …

– It was awesome to see Dick Vermeil, and inspiring to see the way the crowd responded to him during Sunday’s halftime ceremony. Definitely the highlight of the day. And DV, bless him, came through by having to pause to choke back the tears when he addressed the audience. What a great human being he is.

– Since the start of the 2007 season, Rams QB Marc Bulger has a passer rating of 72.4. He’s moving into Tony Banks territory. During Banks’ three seasons as the Rams starter (1996-1998), he had a QB rating of 70.2. As the starter, Bulger is 1-7 in home games since the start of last season.

– Excluding the early 80-yard TD grab by Derek Stanley, the Rams netted only 106 yards passing on their other 32 passing attempts Sunday. And Bulger’s QB rating for the game was 60.9. And the Cardinals had been poor against the pass this season. Before Sunday, they’d given up an average of 230 yards passing per game (21st in the NFL) and quarterbacks had a whopping 108.6 passer rating against them. But the Rams couldn’t get much going through the air. Bulger was terrible, the blocking was awful, the receivers had some drops, the play calls were puzzling,

– Did anyone understand the Rams’ play-calling strategy on Sunday? I sure didn’t. I have no idea what Al Saunders was up to. The Rams opened the game by trying to pass to the tight ends and the fullback. They do not have tight ends who can reliably get open or catch the football. And the fullback, Dan Kreider, has caught 16 passes since the end of the 2004 season. Meanwhile, the Rams ignored wideout Torry Holt for the entire first half. And after falling behind 31-7, the Rams clearly needed to pick up the tempo and go no-huddle and pass the ball. Instead, Saunders apparently decided that it was time to establish the run. They ran Antonio Pittman on three consecutive plays on the next drive, which ended with a punt.

– Since Steven Jackson became a Ram in 2004, he’s averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Not great, but consider this: all other Rams running backs from 2004-2008 have averaged 3.6 yards per carry.

– It happened again Sunday, when AZ safety Adrian Wilson whipped Krieder for a sack. Krieder, supposedly a blocking specialist, has now missed two blocks this season that led to a sack and lost fumble and points for the opponent. Isn’t that the reason why Krieder is here, to block? And if he can’t block, then why is he here?

– That sluggish Rams running game doesn’t help Bulger any. But when receivers are open, you’ve got to get them the ball. And you don’t see many throws worse than Bulger’s INT that was returned for a touchdown by CB Antrel Rolle.

– By the way, ex-Ram QB Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 21 of 31 passes for 162 yards and two TDs to lead the Cincinnato Bengals to an upset win over the Jax Jaguars.

– Very disappointing performance against the run by the STL defense. Arizona came into the game averaging onky 81.6 yards per game on the ground, with a pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry. Sunday, the Cardinals smashed the Rams for 177 yards rushing on 33 carries, averaging 5.4 yards per run. The 177 yards was the 15th-highest rushing total in a game for the Cardinals since they moved to Arizona in 1988. They hadn’t rushed for more than 175 yards in a game since Oct. 3, 2004.

– Look, I’m no Jim Hanifan … but I find it hard to believe that Brett Romberg wouldn’t be a better option than the undersized Nick Leckey at center for the Rams.

– Can we please see Donnie Avery and Derek Stanley return some kickoffs and punts?

– Fans were sniping at Rams coach Jim Haslett on the Internet boards, and I understand the frustration, but after all he is 2-2 as the head coach. Which beats 0-4. And 3-13 for that matter. This is going to take some time, folks. Even with the hideous outcome on Sunday, this team has reponded well to Haslett.

– Vermeil on Haslett: “I really like him and respect him. Boy, does he have some fire in his belly.”

– From 1999 through 2004, the Rams were 43-10 at the Edward Jones Dome. Since the start of the 2005 season, they’re 9-19 at home.

– Guard Jacob Bell, who was injured Sunday, is having a rough season. He hasn’t played well. The Rams threw a lot of money, $36 million, at Bell last offseason to get him away from Tennessee. The last time the Rams tossed big cash at a free agent from Tennessee, the object of their affection was the $30 million WR, Drew Bennett. That’s right: $66 million for these two duds. You think Jeff Fisher is laughing? Might be a good idea to avoid those FAs from Tennessee from now on. Put it this way: the Bell signing isn’t going to make anyone forget the free-agent signing of guard Adam Timmerman before the 1999 season.

– What an impressive first NFL start by Arizona rookie RB Tim Hightower, who slashed for 109 yards rushing on 22 carries. Hightower was the a fifth-round pick and the 149th selection overall; 14 backs were drafted before him.

– Now, keep that in mind and think about this: the Rams have an awful offensive line, and they used a third-round pick (the 65th overall) on tackle-guard John Greco. And Greco can’t get on the field. The Cardinals didn’t hesitate to bench Edgerrin James, who had been a top back for a long time until starting to show his age. But the Rams, afflicted with this bad O-line, can’t find any game clock for Greco. Hmmm…