Over the next couple games, I'm going to start a college football player watch series (which you can get a jump on by checking out our SBNation partner Mocking the Draft) to look at the players who will come out in the first three rounds or so of the '09 NFL draft. If (or what's looking more and more like when) Scott Linehan is let go, the Draft will coincide with a new head coach's tenure which should provide an early assessment of where the Rams are going.
With that in mind, a series that gives out grades to the positional groups might kickstart some discussion on where and when we need to draft.
Grades after the fold.
Bulger showed some flashes of the quick strike pass that has been so effective over the last couple years, whether it was hitting Torry on the short slant or the drop screen that saw Jackson haul in 7 catches yesterday. His problem seems to stem from the issues with the O-line. Without having the confidence that he has the time to checkdown multiple receivers and exploit passing lanes, he seemed to force a couple shorter options because they develop quicker. My reasoning for the C- was that he lacked the accuracy we've gotten accustomed to. He overthrew Dane Looker when he was wide open in the 4th quarter, he threw behind McMichael twice (by my count) which prevented him from turning and heading upfield, and the placement on a couple screens was a bit off.
Again, O-line issues affect the grade. Steven didn't have many holes to deal with, and playing from behind the entire game limited him to just 13 carries. Still, his change of direction seemed awkward. I don't remember if it was Aikman or Buck who mentioned that it might have been his shoes and some new cleats, or something to that effect, but the most obvious example was when he fell on that early run with a ton of field ahead of him. The low grade comes from Jackson's inability to show his talent (power or agility) on any other play, really.
I might catch some heat for this, but with the secondary the Giants have, I thought the wide receivers and McMichael did a good job of giving Bulger some options. Dane Looker looked competent, and Holt reminded us of his capabilities on the short slant and the touchdown reception. Hopefully over the next couple games before Bennett gets back, we'll see Keenan Burton and Donnie Avery involved more.
A pathetic grade for failing to block in either attack: running or passing. Six sacks in the game, and four in just the first half, against a Giants team that was without Osi Umenyiora is pathetic. While Jackson only had 13 rushing attempts, rushing lanes were non-existent. The only reason why it wasn't an F was because they showed flashes of pass protection in the second half. Hopefully they can build on that second half going into the divisional opener next week at Seattle.
A decent effort by the D-line, I thought. A sack each for Chris Long and Victor Adeyanju without Leonard Little and the line did a decent job against the rush. The lack of consistent penetration meant problems. Too often, Eli Manning had all day to throw, which allowed him to let the downfield routes develop so he could deal with the misplays in the secondary. Without quality tackling from the LB and S positions, the line could have stepped up against the run to make the plays, but it just didn't happen. Nevertheless, Brandon Jacobs had 93 yards only because he broke off two runs of 30 and 28 yards, carving up the linebackers. Aside from those two runs, he only had 35 yards. Adding Leonard Little to this mix should make for an interesting battle in the trenches next week when Seattle has the ball.
Poor tackling on the run (although the trio of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw can be as punishing as any running corps in the league) and a lack of presence in the middle characterized the defense yesterday. Witherspoon and Tinoisamoa combined for 12 tackles, but too often they were deep into the field and allowed the runner to use his body on the tackler, not the other way around. This group has to minimize the big running play. Consider this: Jacobs had 3 rushes for at least 10 yards, Derrick Ward had 4, and Ahmad Bradshaw had 2. Yes, you can attribute some of that to the D-line, but the linebackers have to take the majority of that blame.
This was tough to watch. Eli went 20/29 using Amani Toomer to play with coverage. I give them an F for two reasons: no interceptions, and Domenik Hixon catching 3 balls for 60 yards. We saw the same problem with Philadelphia with 3rd-level targets and below. The Rams, conversely, haven't been able to use a 3rd passing option effectively. Against the Eagles, McMichael caught 5 balls, and Jackson and Dante Hall caught 3. Yesterday, Holt caught 6, Jackson hauled in 7 receptions, with Looker, McMichael and Hall each catching 2 combining for just 66 yards on those 6 catches. But back to the coverage. It's just piss poor. Eli was just tossing balls at them, and too often our secondary was taking horrible angles. I don't know if this can be improved on much this season, but maybe with better pressure at the line and an increased usage of the blitz would certainly help. If you're looking at pressure to make your coverage manageable, then you already have problems. This group has a ton.
Josh Brown and Donnie Jones were great yesterday. Brown hit a pair of 50+ FG's and Jones was stellar punting 6 times averaging more than 50 yards per punt. The reason they don't get a full 'A' is return duty. Dante Hall showed horrible return vision. The days when he could get by on acceleration and agility are over. Donnie Avery got his first return yesterday (and hopefully that should increase with time), but Hall returned 6 kickoffs averaging 18 yds/return and returned the Giants' lone punt for 7 yards.
The problems are too significant for this team. As we saw last year, without an effective O-line, it's near impossible to get your offense going. So far, the Rams have 367 yards of total offense in two games. McNabb passed for 361 in the first. On the other side of the ball, we've given up 635 passing yards in two games. We're making it very, very hard on ourselves to perform to an acceptable standard.