I left for Poland (don't ask) before the sun came up on Sunday. I was stuck in a forest until Thursday, and had no chance to watch the game, check the score, or do any of the things I normally do as a Rams fan. So on Thursday night when I returned, I immediately opened two tabs in my internet browser: one to ESPN's NFL scoreboard and one here to TST. Thanks for the warm welcome, Rams.
Given Sunday's performance, I think I should preface this week's entry with some perspective. In my hometown of Dallas, Texas, there is an incredible radio show on ESPN called Galloway and Company (website here), hosted by Randy Galloway from the Fort Worth Star Telegram. The Monday show following every Cowboys game is dubbed "Overreaction Monday". I still remain in awe of the perfection of that title. Is there anything more characteristic of a committed football fan than the immediate overreaction before the talking heads have arrived to play devil's advocate?
In my week 1 breakdown, here, I wrote that week 1 "is a tone game." After the Rams' performance on Sunday, I feel this is true more than ever. One game in the NFL season makes up 6.25% of the season. It takes 11 games in baseball to match that amount. What I mean when I suggest that week 1 is a tone game is that the theme of the first third of the season is almost automatically set by the first game. Given Sunday's result, the theme that our team has most blatantly created is "underperformance." Whether it's the defense, the offensive line, or (most popularly) the coaching staff in developing both the tactical and emotional environment for the team, the only thing we could possibly take away from last weekend is that our team underperformed and for that, I'm ashamed as a Rams fan.
So should I chalk up the vitriolic rhetoric TST readers unloaded here and my embarassment at my team's weekend misadventure to overreaction? Possibly. The calls for Linehan and Haslett to be fired are, IMO, premature. Nevertheless, an underperformance like Sunday's should be absolutely unacceptable by any standard to any organization in the NFL that has a modicum of desire to compete. If the Rams can make the most out of this weekend's home opener, it should hold off the displeasure which the Eagles game evoked from the Rams faithful. If they don't, I will be eager to see everyone here unloading their frustrations again following the game. Chances are, I'll be joining in.
Week 2 breakdown after the fold.
(For Giants news leading up the game, check out Big Blue View, our SBN brother here)
St. Louis Rams, 0-1, t2nd - NFC West ; NY Giants, 1-0, t1st - NFC East
I think said enough in the lead. Let's get to it.
STL pass v. NYG pass D: I think the line to be most concerned about from week 1 in this area is this one: 1 rec, 9 yds, 0 tds. That was the extent of Torry Holt's on-field production last Sunday. I would suggest this forces some concerns to the forefront. Is Torry on the downslope of his career? Are the injuries finally making a noticable impact on his agility? Is the decrease in both acceleration and top speed that comes with age beginning to show? Is this just a reflection of the role he'll be expected to play in Al Saunders' O? I hope this is just an aberration and that he can bounce back to normal Holtish production this week against the G-men. ESPN Insiders can check out the scouting report on this game here which suggests Holt's production will be one of the three keys of the game for the Rams, saying "The big-play ability of the Rams' best receiver was MIA last week, and the team needs to go out of its way to establish his presence immediately against the Giants." On a brighter side, Randy McMichael did make good on some of the preseason "Al Saunders makes use of receiving tight ends" hype, catching 5 passes for 77 yards, clearly our best threat last weekend. Of course, new addition Eddie Kennison returns to his first NFL team, having played for the Rams from '96-'98. Will his vast experience in Al Saunders' system help the passing game? With Drew Bennett out, let me echo the popular sentiment seen here at TST since the draft: get Keenan Burton involved. Dane Looker and Drew Bennett aren't going to cut it; Keenan might. I'll take my chances with Keenan Burton. O-line criticism to follow. As for this week, the Giants boast a solid secondary with Aaron Ross (underrated CB) and Corey Webster starting at CB with Kevin Dockery and veteran Sam Madison providing the depth. A solid quartet of safeties (James Butler, Michael Johnson, Sammy Knight, and Kenny Philips) pose problems at the back of the defense. Not as strong as the Eagles, the Giants pass defense poses serious problems for opposing quarterbacks nonetheless. Bulger will have his work cut out for him. (Again, O-line criticism to follow.)
STL run v. NYG run D: In a disappointing performance, Steven Jackson was only able to squeeze out 40 yards over 14 attempts. Whether it was the line or the scheme, I really don't feel like putting too much here. (And again, O-line criticism definitely to follow) Let's focus on the Giants front seven. The Giants don't boast a serious LB corps; it is the rawest spot on their defense. In order for the Rams to capitalize on that weakness, the passing game will have to click to put their timing off and maybe force them to loosen up in man coverage schemes. That will put the burden of running production on the line and SJ vs. the Giants' D-line.
STL O-line v. NYG D-line: Keep in mind, this is NOT the Super Bowl MVP (still laugh at the Eli selection) line from last year. Strahan is retired, and Pro Bowler Osi Umenyiora is out until '09. Those two changes mean Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins, and Jay Alford share time inside while Justin Tuck (also underrated, but will get his share of media coverage with Osi out) and Mathias Kiwanuka playing DE. Kiwanuka is nursing a shoddy left ankle from the final play of the Giants' season opener, but he will probably end up getting the nod. Either way, expect to see backups Dave Tollefson and veteran Renaldo Wynn getting some time. Why am I ignoring the Rams' O-line? Because their play on Sunday forces me to. They were disgustingly unproductive which makes it nearly impossible for Bulger to get in sync with his receivers. It can't get any worse this week, but it could be the same. If it is, expect VanRam to get the "Rams have to draft an O-lineman" bandwagon started.
NYG pass v. STL pass D: Given last week's torching, is anyone else afraid that Eli will eclipse Donovan McNabb's week 1 numbers (21/33, 361 yds, 3 TDs)? When Philly sits their two starting receivers (Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis) and yet DeSean Jackson, Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis each go for 100+, is there anything besides dread to feel going into this week's game? I know our passing defense isn't this bad, but they found a way to play that way. What would stop them from a repeat performance (The same could be said for the O-line)? Someone has to light a fire under this unit and provide them with some motivation, whether that's Coach Linehan, Marc Bulger, Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk, or Deacon Jones, someone has to get the talent to surface. It's really hard to write about the Rams O-line and secondary back to back. I should have done this in a different order, because I'm physically pissed off right now. Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer will get their looks, so the Rams' corners and safeties have to take better angles on their tackling lanes (see Hank Baskett touchdown before halftime last week) and hope that the D-line presses Eli to throw quickly. Otherwise, Plaxico is going to make a lot of Rams fans unhappy, including myself.
NYG run v. STL run D: Brandon Jacobs is a bowling ball who looks like a human. His style of power-only running eventually winds up getting those kinds of runners injured. Luckily for the Giants, Ahmad Bradshaw, Derrick Ward, and Reuben Droughns provide an incredibly deep running back corps for New York if that happens at some point this season. On the other side of the ball, the Rams actually saw some success at the LB position last week; that will have to be improved on since Leonard Little appears to be unavailable for this one (ESPN profile here). Expect a lot of tackles (or at least chances) from Will Witherspoon, Quinton Culberson, and Pisa Tinoisamoa.
NYG O-line v. STL D-line: As of right now, it looks doubtful that Leonard Little will suit up for this one. It looks like Chris Long will slide over to take his spot, and James Hall will start at RDE with Victor Adeyanju and Eric Moore playing backup. They'll have their hands full with the overperforming offensive line that the Giants have. It hurts me to see overperformance right now; none of the Giants' O-linemen are standouts or incredibly gifted, but they are an incredibly cohesive group of veterans who play as a unit, not as a collection of five individual players. That's what I was hoping for out of our line (even with Orlando Pace as a star tackle), but my hopes were quickly tempered with week 1. Maybe some optimism is left, but it will take a performance to revive it. As for the D-line, I just want to see improvement out of Adam Carriker and Long. This game should provide them with a great opportunity to showcase any development thus far.
This week's top 3 storylines brought to you by the works of our presidential hopefuls:
1.) The Audacity of Hope (Barack Obama): After last week, it's hard to be positive. One game (one horrible, horrible game) had fans calling for Jimmy Johnson to come in as head coach. Can the Rams right the ship? With week 3 in Seattle, this team has to gel ASAP to have any shot of success this season in, yet again, the weakest conference in the NFL. It's depressing to talk about playoff chances in week 3, but it's the reality, because if this team starts off 0-3, it's going to be hard to not spend the following 9 months or so talking about new head coaches and the draft. (early example: the St. Louis Dispatch's week 2 preview here that focuses on Linehan)
2.) Hard Call (John McCain): Linehan is officially on the hottest seat of any coach in the NFL. He has to show competence, not even greatness, but mere competence in running a team. He has to extract 60 minutes of effort from every player in a Rams uniform. He has to keep coordinators and players on the same sheet. He's got to display emotion and keen judgement. And damnit, he's got to show that he's an NFL coach, because there's not many people that would say that he is right now.
3.) Big Plays on Big Days (3k): In case you didn't know, I am the self-appointed Presidential candidate of the Turf Show Times Party. Seriously though, something that really disappointed me last week was the lack of a big play. No touchdowns, nothing significant out of Steven Jackson (who's offseason holdout has put an even bigger spotlight on his production), no Bugler to Holt connections that force us to reminisce, no sacks to add some fire to the dream of a Carriker-Long pair in the Pro Bowl someday... The Rams have to make something happen that invigorates the fans. They have to remind us why we care. Someone or on this team has to show us a reason to stay compelled, and they need to do it soon. Discuss.