Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rams pathetic in 37-7 loss to Ravens


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
quarter score.

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

Miscues Cost Rams Again

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 tackleRodger 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.
Quarterback 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 kickerJosh 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.
Rookie 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.”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Forget 4-0, Rams are focused on the Eagles

Steve Spagnuolo was just minutes removed from completing an unbeaten preseason, and just hours away from starting a weekend of roster cuts. So when does he start thinking about Philadelphia? He couldn't tell a lie.
"Uh, two weeks ago," Spagnuolo replied, evoking laughter from reporters Thursday in Jacksonville.
Quarterback Sam Bradford also came clean.
"Yeah, I've definitely peeked at some Eagles film," Bradford chuckled. "Obviously, the preseason's great because you get some work in live situations. But I'd be lying if I said that my mind was totally into the last couple games and wasn't focused on Philly."
So here come the Eagles — to the Edward Jones Dome for the Sept. 11 season opener. The challenge for the Rams is to make sure the "Dream Team" doesn't turn opening day into a nightmare.
"Yeah, it's going to be exciting," defensive end Chris Long said. "They're a great team. We'll get in there and watch some film on 'em immediately. It's gonna be an awesome challenge and a good barometer to see where we are."
As for the preseason, Rams veterans have been around long enough to know that 4-0 in exhibition play doesn't mean much. When asked if he could take anything out of preseason perfection, running back Steven Jackson flatly replied:
"Absolutely not. ... We always talk about any time they keep score you go out to compete and win the game. But preseason is just that. It's a fine-tuning, allowing guys to get back in the groove of football, allow talent to be evaluated. But now, come next week, we've got to get ready for Philadelphia and the scoreboard really matters."
So what mattered about this Rams preseason?
• Learning the new offense.
It's hard to get a bead on what exactly to expect from coordinator Josh McDaniels. There were preseason games when the Rams emphasized the run, and games when they seemed to put more emphasis on the pass. But Bradford, the man under center, has a growing comfort level in the scheme.
"We were put in a lot of different situations, saw several different types of defenses," Bradford said. "When you look at what we were able to do, I think the things that we did (against Jacksonville), we were much more comfortable with than we were Week 1. We saw some things (Thursday) that I don't know if we would've been able to adjust to in Week 1."
Bradford expects to see new wrinkles from McDaniels on a weekly basis as the season progresses. But the core principles and plays, he has down.
• Establishing the running game.
Even though the Rams found the going tough against Tennessee and Jacksonville, they still finished with 451 yards rushing. That's their fourth-highest total in the 17 preseasons since the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995, and only 29 yards off the "St. Louis" Rams preseason high of 480 yards in 2004.
Even though the per-carry average was only 3.3 yards, Jackson looks ready to roll after his busiest preseason since 2005, and it's clear that the addition of backups Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood provides quality depth. Beyond the handoffs, the success of the screen pass against the Jaguars was encouraging to coaches and players.
"That was something that we really wanted to work on," Jackson said. "Over the last three weeks we've been unable to get the screen game going. So that was a point of emphasis going into the game, getting the timing down with the offensive linemen and just making sure we got some reps at it before the (regular) season."
• Run defense.
The results were spotty here. The Rams yielded 4.6 yards a carry. After springing major leaks against Tennessee, they had some moderate ones against the Jaguars. In particular, Spagnuolo was not happy with the run defense in the first half, when the Jaguars gained 82 yards on the ground, including runs of 27 and 14 yards.
"And there was one particular play that we've worked on that was a little frustrating," Spagnuolo said. "A simple communication to the end and it gets taken care of. "
But it wasn't, and as Spagnuolo noted: "When you don't stop something, you're going to see it again."
• Receiver search.
The Rams look like they've unearthed a gem at tight end in rookie Lance Kendricks, who led the team in catches (11), receiving yards (155) and touchdowns (three). Spagnuolo, though, has consistently tried to play down expectations for the second-rounder from Wisconsin.
"I think Lance has done a great job both from the mental part of it and physically making plays," Spagnuolo said. "What we've got to remember, we haven't seen everybody's best for every play, for 60 minutes. So I don't want to be blinded by the fact that we did do some good things in training camp. We had some young guys step up. But it's gonna get a lot tougher certainly beginning on Sept. 11."
The top three wide receivers — Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola — all had their moments but didn't get a ton of work. Much of preseason was devoted to seeing what others could do. Mardy Gilyard, Danario Alexander and Donnie Avery all got plenty of work, but none of the three should rest easy about earning a final roster spot. Not with rookie draft picks Austin Pettis and Greg Salas in the mix, or even with Dominique Curry's special teams ability a factor.
"It's one of those things you don't like to see because I think we've got a great group of wide receivers," Bradford said. "I think we've got seven or eight guys who could legitimately play for this football team. I'm not really sure who they're going to keep and who they're not. But I know the guys that are here, we're going to be ready to roll next week for Philly."
As of now, and apparently for the past couple of weeks, that's all that matters for the Rams.