Monday, December 28, 2009

Rams Fall to Arizona

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

GLENDALE, Ariz. – On numerous occasions this season, it’s been evident from a glance at the scoreboard that the Rams have been a play or two away from pulling out a victory.

In fact, entering Sunday’s game against Arizona, the Rams had played eight games that the margin of victory was within one possession. They had won just one of those games.

And in each of those situations, the Rams knew that one play here or one bounce there going in their direction could have significantly altered the outcome.

But sometimes, even when the score isn’t that close, a play or two made earlier in the game can change the way a game plays out, if not the result.

Such was the case in Sunday’s 31-10 loss to Arizona. While the final tally isn’t necessarily misleading in relation to the final statistics, it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.

“There was a swing there where it really could have been a tight battle if we had held on to a possible interception and we don’t turn the ball over there with a fumble,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “Two plays don’t make the game, don’t get me wrong. I think the momentum was headed that way.”

The result was a three-touchdown defeat to the NFC West Division champion Cardinals, who improved to 10-5 with the win. The loss drops the Rams to 1-14 on the season.

Once again, though, that record could have gotten a boost in the other direction were it not for some missed opportunities to make the plays that can change a game.

Coming out of the locker room at halftime trailing 17-0, the Rams came out with their usual high energy effort.

On the fourth play of the half, defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey burst through the middle of Arizona’s line and sacked quarterback Kurt Warner, jarring the ball loose. End Victor Adeyanju recovered at Arizona’s 35 and suddenly the Rams had at least a modicum of momentum in their favor.

Five plays later, on third-and-7, quarterback Keith Null floated a deep pass to the left corner of the end zone. The pass appeared to be overthrown but receiver Brandon Gibson adjusted, leaped and hauled in a spectacular catch with his knee landing in the end zone and possession of the ball.

The catch was ruled incomplete but Spagnuolo challenged and the Rams got it overturned.
“(That was) very nice,” Spagnuolo said. “I give credit to the coaches upstairs too. They saw it was a foot and a knee and he came up with it. It was nice to see Brandon get that.”

Gibson’s first career touchdown catch cut the deficit to 17-7 and now there was much more than just a glimmer of momentum in the Rams’ favor.

Arizona began its next possession at its 32. As Warner dropped back to pass, he quickly fired to his right toward receiver Steve Breaston.

Young cornerback Danny Gorrer, playing in just his second NFL regular season game and learning on the fly, read the three-step drop and jumped the route clean with nothing but about 38 yards of green grass and his first NFL touchdown in front of him.

In a matter of moments, the Rams were poised to shave 14 points off a 17-point deficit. One problem, though, as Gorrer forgot to come up with the catch.

“I was reading the three step and when I saw it I just shot it and I thought I had the interception and took my eyes straight to the end zone and I dropped it,” Gorrer said. “That’s exactly what I was doing. As a rookie, I can’t do that. That could have been a turning point of the game. I have to go back to work and just correct my mistakes.”

Still, the Rams defense got the job done, forcing a three-and-out that would give the offense a chance to shave into the lead.

Danny Amendola has been Mr. Reliable all season and nearly cut the lead down himself as he broke a 34-yard return down the left sideline.

As he attempted to juke punter Ben Graham, he collided with two Cardinals and lost the ball. Arizona recovered the fumble and turns it into a 2-yard touchdown run by Tim Hightower that made it 24-7 and effectively turned momentum back to the Cardinals.

The Rams added a field goal from Josh Brown and Arizona got a 3-yard touchdown run from Chris Wells for the final margin.

“That was kind of a 14-point swing,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s the way the game is. You have got to rebound from that and we really didn’t.”

Of course, matters might have been different for the banged-up Rams had they been unable to get untracked in the first half.

Playing without star running back Steven Jackson for the first time this season, the Rams came out battling, playing the Cardinals to a 0-0 draw in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, though, Arizona got untracked. The Cardinals rattled off 17 consecutive points, buoyed by a pair of Warner touchdown passes and Mike Nugent’s 19-yard field goal.

Falling behind made things difficult on the Rams, especially so without Jackson. Jackson has been the constant all year for the Rams and rushed for over 100 yards in the first meeting but he simply wasn’t able to get past his continued back issues and some leg pain in pregame warm-ups.

“He works through it all week,” Spagnuolo said. “He went out there today and just didn’t feel like he would be able to go out there and play at the level he is used to playing and I respect him for that. He never wants to hurt the football team. So we made the decision to put him down.”

With Jackson out, the already shorthanded Rams were about as shorthanded as they can get. Although Kenneth Darby and rookie Chris Ogbonnaya filled in admirably by combining to rush 20 times for 85 yards, the lack of Jackson’s presence allowed Arizona to put even more pressure on rookie quarterback Keith Null with a variety of blitzes.

Despite all of that, the Rams still found themselves within a couple of plays of giving the division champions all they could handle on their home field.

“I don’t want to put that on two players or two plays, I think it’s more than that but the bottom line is that is a playoff football team and there was a moment in the game where we were battling a playoff football team and one turn or two here, we are in the game,” Spagnuolo said. “Going forward, I think that’s important, even undermanned as we were, I think it’s important the players realize that.”

Unfortunately, in this 2009 season, it’s a feeling the Rams know all too well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rams Fall Short Against Texans

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

In a week in which the Rams were coming off a big defeat, lost two starting offensive linemen and canceled a practice because of illness, the deck was decidedly stacked against them heading into Sunday’s game against Houston.

It would have been the easy thing for them to simply pack it in and allow the Texans to do something similar to what happened in Tennessee last week.

But the easy thing has been far from the choice for the Rams all year. And with everything seemingly working against them, they put up another valiant effort before falling 16-13 to Houston on Sunday.

To say that there are no moral victories in the NFL might be a familiar refrain and once again the Rams are taking no solace in the fact that they kept it close, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be proud of the effort they put in once again Sunday.

“This is a tough one,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I am very disappointed but very, very proud. After everything we went through this week and being a little short handed with injuries, the guys were out there battling. I just asked them to play each play for each other and I thought they did that.”

The Rams drop to 1-13 on the season with two games to play while Houston improved to 7-7 with the victory and at least put themselves in the middle of a muddled AFC playoff picture.

For the Rams, perhaps the most disappointing thing is that once again they came up just short of getting a win.

Seven times this season, the Rams have been within one possession (eight points or less) of their opponent going into the closing moments of a game. Only the one time against Detroit were they able to make the play or two necessary to get a victory.

“As a team, we have to learn how to put these close ones away,” running back Steven Jackson said. “We have to grow and mature in that area. But for us to come out and fight like this, there is something to look at and take away from it.”

Indeed, the Rams again found themselves with possession of the ball and the chance to get it done late in the game.

Tied at 13 with 4:36 to go, the Rams had it at their 23. On first down, quarterback Keith Null dropped off a screen pass to Jackson that went 25 yards to St. Louis’ 48.

That left the Rams needing only about 20 yards to get into field goal position for a chance to tie it up. And, of course, a touchdown was reasonable from that distance as well for a possible win.

But the next three plays netted zero yards and Spagnuolo faced a decision on fourth-and-10. With two timeouts and the two-minute warning, he opted for the punt.

“At that point we just needed a field goal to tie it and get it to overtime and punt it down in there,” Spagnuolo said. “We would have been able to get the ball back in decent field position and work our way for a field goal…so that’s why I went with that.”

Although the defense had stopped the run well all day, it was unable to do so when it needed to the most. The Texans ran three times, picked up a first down and were able to run out the clock for the win.

“You feel comfortable with the run defense,” Spagnuolo said. “You knew they had to run it; they forced us to use our timeouts.”

Speaking of feeling comfortable, it was clear that Null was much more settled in this week after taking all of the repetitions in practice.

Null was again poised and made good decisions with the ball all day save for a costly interception in Houston territory that could have resulted in points.

Aside from that play, Null finished with 173 yards on 18-of-27 passing, including the team’s only touchdown of the day, a 2-yard strike to Danny Amendola in the second quarter.

“It was a lot different,” Null said. “It seemed like things slowed down for me a little bit. It was a great opportunity to get out there and play again.”

Meanwhile, even with John Greco and Mark Setterstrom stepping in at guard, Jackson was again able to find holes and create yardage.

Jackson missed time this week with flu-like symptoms and continued issues with his back. By Saturday, he was able to participate in the team’s walk through and suit up to play again against Houston.

Once again, Jackson put out another dogged effort despite his ailments. He finished with 82 yards on 20 carries, adding 41 yards on four receptions.

Perhaps more than any of his teammates, it would again have been easy for Jackson simply to shut it down for the season.

That thought isn’t anywhere near Jackson’s mind, though. When asked why he continues to play, Jackson’s response was simple.
“Because I love football and I love this team,” Jackson said.

While there’s no doubting that the Rams’ record isn’t good, they have left no question about the effort they are willing to put forth even when the odds are long.

With two games left to go in the season, that isn’t likely to change.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” end Chris Long said. “We came out here and played hard. That’s our job. But we have got to win, too. We have got to stick together. Nobody is going to pack it in. That’s not what this team is about. We have got to stick together the next two weeks and try to win a ball game or two.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rams offense completely inept, lose 17-9 to Bears

December 6, 10:46 PMSt. Louis Rams ExaminerTim Klutsarits

The St. Louis Rams had nine possessions in the Chicago Bears end of the field and had exactly nine points. Nine times, nine points. In a word, ridiculous. The Rams continued their season long ineptness on offense to cost the team a win as the Chicago Bears beat the Rams 17-9 at Soldier Field. A game that was begging to be won from the Bears was handed right back to them. In a season that has one low moment after another this one takes the cake. Not only did the Rams lose to a bad team but they would not even stand up and take the win that was all but being handed to them. This should be a wakeup call to Steve Spagnuolo to not only blow up the entire offense but blow up the entire offensive coaching staff at the end of the season. Here is the long list of sins today for the Rams.

Offensive Coaching: The NFL is not a league that is built on patience and it is time for Steve Spagnuolo to realize that Pat Shurmur is not going to be able to get it done as an offensive coordinator or it is going to eventually lead to the demise of the head coach. The playcalling and offensive gameplan could arguably be called the worst in St. Louis Rams history and that is including some horrible efforts through the years. How can you explain having that many chances in Bears territory and not have any results? The offense is not getting better as the season is going along, it is regressing.

The most damning part of today for Shurmur was in the 4th quarter, with the Rams down 17-6, they faced a 3rd and 11 from the Chicago 32.. The Rams need two scores and specifically a touchdown. It is possible 4 down territory if you get a chunk of that yardage back. The Rams call a draw play to Steven Jackson that goes for nothing. Instead of picking up 8 or 9 on a pass, or anything else, the Rams wind up having to kick a 50 yard field goal. On the Fox broadcast you can even see Steve Spagnuolo walk over to Shurmur and question the call. It was just one of many curious calls this afternoon, but certainly the most baffling.

What is worse is that the Rams do nothing to try and get the ball down the field. The Rams quarterback never throws deep or tries to get something that is designed to pick up 15-25 yards. Not only do they not go deep but there is no imagination in the plays that are drawn up. When you don't have the talent you have to trick defenses. Football 101. You better be doing lots of play action and using trick plays when appropriate to try and make something happen.

Steve Spagnuolo has made a mistake with his offensive coordinator. There is no question the Rams don't have much offensive talent, outside of Steven Jackson, but what is happening to this team on offense is inexcusable. The Rams should be shopping for an offensive coordinator this offseason along with some new offensive talent.

Kyle Boller: There is no question that the Rams don't have much in the way of wide receivers and they don't have a great offensive mind calling plays but Kyle Boller was awful today. It is further proof that the Rams should be getting Keith Null ready to start the final two games of the regular season. They have nothing to lose and if Null cannot perform better then Boller at this point then not only do the Rams have to look for a starting quarterback and a backup next season they need to find three quarterbacks. It is time to empty the bench and see what everyone has.

Alex Barron: The Bears defensive line was running circles around Alex Barron today. There are only 4 games left in the Alex Barron era in St. Louis. I hope he doesn't get Steven Jackson or a quarterback killed before we can get #70 out of here.

Defensive Backs: I am very certain that Steve Spagnuolo does not teach his defensive backs to run wildly down the field covering wide receivers without knowing where the ball is. If he did Spagnuolo would not be in the NFL. So why in the world were James Butler, Quincy Butler and Ron Bartell all guilty of that at various times today? They weren't taught that I know. This isn't the preseason. They have all been in the league for awhile. How can that happen in Week 13 of the NFL season? Inexcusable.

There are two things that I did want to mention today that should be highlighted for the Rams.

#1 Steven Jackson is a man. His back is killing him. It is a cold day in Chicago and he still managed to put up 112 yards rushing. He is the heart and soul of this team and if there were just 5 more Steven Jackson's on offense the Rams would be a playoff team. Unfortunately one player cannot carry an entire franchise. Jackson, and center Jason Brown, were the only starters on the field today for the Rams that I would not consider trying to move or upgrade at that position during the offseason.

#2 I said in an article last week that one of the goals the Rams should have in the final 5 games is to hold two of the remaining team's running backs under 100 yards rushing. I didn't believe that today was going to be that day but the Rams did accomplish that keeping Matt Forte at 91 yards. Maybe that is something that can be built upoin heading into Tennessee next week.

The losing is getting real old for myself and for Rams fans. I can only imagine how old it is getting out at Rams Park. I am still waiting to see someone say enough is enough of this garbage, but we sit here in Week 13 and see the same mistakes over and over again. I thought Steve Spagnuolo would have imprinted his style and what he wants out of his team by now. It is not happening. It is not to say that is won't ever happen but there are going to have to be bigger changes in the offseason then just a couple positional changes. It should be known that everyone's job is on the line during these final four games. Then let's see who can the Rams build with and who needs to get out of Earth City.