Tuesday, September 27, 2011
BY JIM THOMAS
Ray Rice? Sure. Anquan Boldin? Of course. But just about the last thing
the Rams expected entering Sunday's game with the Baltimore Ravens was a
lethal dose of Torrey Smith. Actually, three lethal doses in a
disturbing 37-7 loss at the Edward Jones Dome.
There's no other way to describe it. It was a pathetic showing for the
Rams, particularly in the first half. In an offseason and preseason of
heightened expectations, the Rams have fallen flat three games in a row.
Sure, the early-season schedule has been daunting, but the Rams clearly
haven't been up to the task. Not even close. Now 0-3, the Rams have been
outscored 96-36 in a league where 40 to 50 percent of the games every
year are decided by seven points or less.
Smith, by the way, was there for the taking by the Rams in the second
round last April _ a wide receiver with the kind of elite speed to get
behind opposing secondaries. (Instead, the Rams took tight end Lance
Kendricks.) On Sunday, Smith got behind the Rams' secondary, more
specifically cornerback Justin King over and over and over.
Smith caught three passes for 133 yards in the first quarter. All went
for touchdowns. And in each case, King was victimized with Smith
basically just running by him with his 4.3-second speed. Smith had
struggled in the preseason and early season, and had trouble catching
the ball, which was part of the scouting report on him coming out of the
University of Maryland. He had even argued with his followers on
Twitter, asking them to be patient, that the plays were coming.
They came in a flood Sunday. He had no trouble catching the football. In
fact, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco overthrew him on two other occasions
in the end zone in the first half. Other than defensive end Chris Long,
who got his third sack of the season and had several other hurries and
hits, the Rams couldn't get any pressure on Flacco, and didn't do much
blitzing in the first half.
When Flacco wasn't throwing deep over King, he was picking apart the St.
Louis defense with underneath stuff. Known as grounding, pounding
offense, the Ravens couldn't look a gift horse _ or make that secondary
_ in mouth. Flacco threw it a whopping 31 times in the opening half.
When the Ravens weren't beating the Rams' pass defense, they were
averaging 10.9 yards per carry on the ground in the opening half.
Running back Rice had a 53-yard gain on 3rd-and-1. On that play, the
Rams' missed two tackles. They missed a lot of tackles Sunday, and all
told yielded 406 yards in the first half. Normally, 406 yards is
considered a good offensive output for four quarters _ not two.
The St. Louis offense was just as inept. Quarterback Sam Bradford
completed only four of 15 passes for a paltry 17 yards in the first
half, throwing his first interception of the season. Bradford was sacked
twice for 14 yards in the first half, so the Rams' net passing total at
halftime against a Baltimore defense that supposedly was susceptible to
the pass was three yards. Three.
The Rams reached Baltimore territory only twice, stalling once at the
39. On the other penetration, they reached the Ravens' 14 after a
nine-yard run by Cadillac Williams, but right tackle Justin Smith was
penalized 15 yards for shoving Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis on the
play. Referee Scott Green's crew somehow missed the fact that Baltimore
defensive end Arthur Jones reacted by shoving Smith to the ground.
After the penalty, on a second-and-7 from the Ravens' 26, Bradford threw
his first interception in 89 passing attempts this season. Danario
Alexander stumbled on the play, leaving only Baltimore cornerback
Lardarius Webb to catch the fade pattern down the right sideline.
The Rams did break the shutout in the third quarter on a 34-yard pass
from Bradford to Brandon Gibson. But once again, there were too many
dropped passes, too many penalties, and yes, yet another defensive
touchdown for the opposition _ this time when 330-pound Ravens defensive
tackle Haloti Ngata rumbled 28 yards with a Bradford fumble for a fourth
Smith, a No. 2 overall pick by St. Louis in 2009, was benched in the
fourth quarter after yielding a sack. Other than that, the Rams were the
model of efficiency and performance.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For one quarter of football Monday night at MetLife Stadium, the Rams controlled the action against the New York Giants.
What they had to show for a fairly dominant opening 15 minutes turned out to be the same thing they’d have to show for the full 60 minutes of a game that for the second week in a row saw the Rams make the types of mistakes that ultimately result in a loss: nothing.
Despite a fast start in which the Rams dictated the tempo with a fast break offense and a resilient and defiant defense, a pair of huge miscues shifted the lead and momentum in favor of the Giants.
When all was said and done, New York emerged with a 28-16 victory and improved to 1-1 on the season. The Rams fall to 0-2 with the loss.
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot until we had no foot left,” left tackle
Rodger Saffold said. “We have to just keep from stopping ourselves and just play the game.”
Much like last week’s season opening loss to the Eagles, the Rams again played a talented NFC East opponent. And again, the Rams found themselves in a competitive battle in which they showed right away they can play with some of the league’s better teams.
But despite any type of fast start or plays that appeared to have the Rams tracking toward a victory, an avalanche of mental errors that resulted in penalties, red zone woes and turnovers led to the only statistic that truly matters: points for the opponent.
“(It was) a little bit of the same story as last week,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I thought there were a number of times we shot ourselves in the foot. It’s very difficult to beat these football teams, any football team in this league when you find a way to beat yourself. If you can win like that first then you can go from there.”
All indications from the way the game started had it looking the Rams were going to jump all over the Giants early. After getting a defensive stop to start the game, the Rams came out in a no-huddle offense designed to keep the Giants in the same personnel and keep them off balance.
Sam Bradford – who was schooled in a similar offense at Oklahoma – directed it perfectly, firing darts all over the field including a 68-yard catch, roll and run for receiver Danario Alexander.
Alexander was tracked down at the 1-yard line and that’s where the problems began anew for the Rams. Running back
Cadillac Williams was stopped for a loss of 1 and Bradford fired incomplete twice, leaving kicker Josh Brown to boot a 21-yard field goal for a quick 3-0 lead.
That was just the beginning of the failed red zone opportunities, though. The Rams would get inside New York’s 20 three more times and come away with a touchdown just once when Alexander climbed the ladder for a 19-yard touchdown that would account for the final margin.
In the red zone trips where the Rams settled for field goals, Bradford was 1-of-6 for 4 yards. Williams gained 10 yards on three carries and the Rams not only failed to score a touchdown but also to gain a first down (on the two possessions where that was possible).
The missed chance from the 1 was the second week in a row the Rams had a first and goal from the 1 and couldn’t cross the goal line.
“I think it’s everything,” Bradford said. “I think it’s decision making, execution. It takes all 11 guys doing their job on a play to score a touchdown and I think we are starting to understand that or at least I hope we are starting to understand that. If one guy doesn’t do his job, it results in us not scoring a touchdown and leading to a field goal.”
Of course, the Giants did their part to slow the Rams too, by any means necessary.
Thrown off kilter by the Rams’ no huddle attack, the Giants defense was sucking wind on the Rams’ second possession. So, they opted to find ways to stop the game to catch a breather rather than call timeout.
“It was great,” Bradford said/ “We had them exactly where we wanted on those first couple drives and they couldn’t get set, they couldn’t line up so two of their guys they told them ‘Someone go down, someone go down.’ So someone went down and grabbed their leg. I was pretty frustrated about that.”
That wasn’t the only thing to frustrate Bradford and the Rams, though. Following the opening field goal, the Rams defense came up with another stop and the Rams were poised to get the ball back.
Greg Salas, in place of Danny Amendola, couldn’t handle the punt and the Giants recovered it and converted it into a 3-yard touchdown from receiver Hakeem Nicks after the benefit of another disturbing Rams’ trend, a costly penalty. That one went for 23 yards on a pass interference and Nicks scored two plays later.
After Brown’s second field goal to make it 7-6, the Rams defense got another stop and promptly drove into Giants territory. On third-and-8 at the Giants’ 25, the Rams called for a screen to Williams hoping to catch the Giants off guard when they came with another all out blitz.
But Bradford’s pass to Williams was a lateral and Giants linebacker Michael Boley scooped it up and raced 65 yards for a touchdown as a stunned Williams looked on. Suddenly, it was 14-6 Giants and they never looked back.
“It was a designed screen to Cadillac,” Bradford said. “I think they were bringing zero pressure, bringing someone off that edge. I hurried and tried to get it around the guy and in doing that I threw it backwards. I just can’t do that. In hindsight, I probably should have just called timeout and got out of that play.”
With the Giants benefiting from those Rams turnovers and the team’s eight penalties for 85 yards, Alexander, Bradford and the Rams passing game was tearing off big chunks of yards.
Bradford threw for a career-high 331 yards and the Rams had five plays of at least 23 yards. Alexander was Bradford’s primary target, catching three balls for 122 yards and the touchdown.
“He did a great job today,” Bradford said. “We believed we had some matchups outside that we could take advantage of. They came up and tried to press him a couple times and he did a great job of getting off the line and beating his guy down the field and then made some really nice catches once I put the ball up there.”
Alexander’s emergence and Bradford’s work were far from enough, though as the Rams again couldn’t overcome their own mistakes and came away with another big missed opportunity. .
“We are probably not going to win too many games if we continue to do that,” Spagnuolo said. “We have to find a way to iron it out.”