First off, let me thank VanRam for hosting me during my time in Springfield, Missouri, the Queen of the Ozarks, the Princess of the lower West Southern Midwest, the Jewel of the Cave State, and, most notably, the home of tthe United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. Van was kind enough to take me on a tour of the MCFP, where he currently resides until 2015 or until a parole board decides otherwise.
Never mind all that, because the Rams are playing football again this weekend.
Breakdown of the home opener after the fold.
Washington Redskins, 0-1, 4th - NFC East
STL pass - 17/36, 47.2%, 170 yds/gm (24th), 0 TD, 0 int, 63.5 rat (25th), -31.1% pDVOA (26th)
WAS pass D - 20/29, 69.0%, 248 yds/gm (21st), 1 TD, 1 int, 93.5 rat (21st),
29.5% pdDVOA (21st)
Eli Manning did a serviceable job against the Redskins passing defense last week, although having jumped out to a 17-0 lead, the Giants pounded the ball pretty heavily in the second half. I think we'd all be shocked if the Rams can achieve similar early successes. Still, outside of CB DeAngelo Hall and FS LaRon Landry, this isn't an incredibly strong pass defense. Fred Smoot is dealing with a rib injury that may land him on the sidelines, and rookie Kevin Barnes, a 3rd round pick out of Maryland, was a non-factor. And yet I'm not entirely optimistic.
The Rams struggled to provide Marc Bulger with many options when he had time, though credit should go to Laurent Robinson who proved his profitable preseason was no fluke catching 5 passes for 87 yards including a 45 yard reception late in the game. Donnie Avery had a team high 6 receptions, but failed to make a difference down field. The one name that needs to have a better receiving game is ironically not a receiver. Steven Jackson can be very special when he's released on a screen into the open field with a blocker or two in front of him. Strangely enough, that didn't happen once against Seattle. Action Jackson should grab at least 3 receptions this week; our receiving corps just isn't capable of opening up defenses on their own at this point. Of course, he's got to get more in the ground game...
STL run - 18 rsh/gm, 77 yds/gm (20th), 4.3 yds/carry (14th), 0 TD, -6.8% rDVOA (17th)
WAS run D - 31 rsh/gm, 103 yds/gm (22nd), 3.3 yds/carry (13th), 0 TD, -30.6% rdDVOA (10th)
Given how poor the run blocking was against Seattle, this could get ugly. Washington can stuff the trenches and boasts some great talent in their LB corps, including former Ram London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh and rookie SLB Brian Orakpo.
Much of this will be determined by playcalling. The Rams were unable to develop sustained drives, much of that due to the Incognito factor as we've discussed ad nauseum. Without the time of possession, Steven Jackson was never able to get into a groove. If we're able to avoid the foolish penalties we incurred in Seattle, he should get at least 20 touches. As for how much success he'll have, that's as much up to his linemen as it is up to him.
STL O-line - 3 sacks allowed/game (t-18th)
WAS D-line - 1 sack/game (t-20th)
Pass-wise, the Rams did a decent job of giving Marc Bulger time to throw. Two of Seattle's sacks came because of the protection downfield, or rather the inability of the Rams' receivers to get open. Washington doesn't boast an incredibly volatile pass rush, but with the Rams' O-line, you never know who will end up in the backfield. Especially on running plays.
The Rams were incredibly ineffective against Seattle's D-line which is hardly a top-tier front four. Having all 350 lbs. of Albert Haynesworth in his prime to deal with isn't a simple task, but if Jacob Bell and Jason Brown can limit him to the occasional disruption, it should suffice...if the right side of the line can open things up for SJax. Incognito and Jason Smith need to form a tandem that is known less for emotional outbursts and inexperience, and more for their blocking. That needs to happen sooner rather than later, because the Rams are quickly approaching the reality that they're wasting a premier talent in Steven Jackson. Hopefully, Incognito can channel his rage (which will surface early as he'll get an earful from the crowd upon his introduction) into the chest of opposing defenders, let up when the whistle stops and put together a game free of kinds of things that have come to define him on the field. It would do him and the team a world of good to not have to deal with that crap every Monday.
WAS pass - 19/26, 73.1% (5th), 187 yds/gm, 1 TD, 1 int, 93.6 rat, 5.1% pDVOA (20th)
STL pass D - 25/36, 69.4%, 279 yds/gm (26th), 3 TD, 2 int, 96.9 rat (25th),
34.0% pdDVOA (22nd)
Jason Campbell consistently found Antwan Randle-El and Chris Cooley against the Giants, as that pair racked up 14 catches for 166 yards. Absent from their passing game was Santana Moss, who only caught two passes for just six yards. Clinton Portis grabbed a single pass, reducing Washington's passing attack to essentially two options.
The Rams, on the other hand, were incredibly scrappy early, nabbing two interceptions from a blatantly uncomfortable Matt Hasselbeck before he settled in and exploited the LB corps by making the most of TE John Carlson. The Rams have another receiving TE they'll have to deal with in Cooley, but given how productive Carlson was, you would think the Rams spent a lot of time this week trying to figure out a way to keep him contained. What does that mean for Santana Moss? With Oshiomogho Atogwe at the back, there's always a good chance of a pass deflection or interception on deeper passing plays. He's addicted to the ball like Eminem and pharmaceuticals. If nothing else, we'll get a sense of whether the aggresive pass defense we saw in the first quarter was something to expect or an aberration.
WAS run - 21 rsh/gm, 85 yds/gm, 4.0 yds/carry (15th), 1 TD, -3.9% rDVOA (16th)
STL run D - 34 rsh/gm (5th), 167 yds/gm, 4.9 yds/carry (28th), 1 TD, 1.4% rdDVOA (21st)
Clinton Portis, wacky alter egos and all, is still an effective back, though he has lost a step of that quickness that made him a phenom out of college and the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2002 with the Broncos. While he has a relatively average offensive line in terms of run blocking, he can still be a grind-it-out back than can keep his legs pumping and grab a first down when it's needed.
The Rams, though, have improved their run defense not just by adding James Laurinaitis in the middle, but at the point of attack, defensively. Still, Laurinaitis' contributions can't be overlooked -- he finished with a game-high 14 tackles, 10 of them by himself. He has a nose for the ball, and it should be on display again tomorrow. The key for the Rams has to be consistency. Take out Julius Jones' 62 yard TD scamper, and the Rams held Jones and Edgerrin James to a combined 29 carries for just 85 yards. That is wonderful run defense, something we haven't seen much of in years past. Making sure they don't allow the big play is going to be a must in this game, because the Rams' offense can't carry this team.
WAS O-line - 3 sacks allowed/game (t-18th)
STL D-line - 0 sack/game (t-29th)
Washington's Chris Samuels will likely play tomorrow, though his knee is acting up (and has been) following surgery in the offseason. If he plays at less than 100%, the Rams have a chance, a slim chance, a chance so infinitesimal, you'd need a NASA-engineered telescope to see it, but a chance nonetheless of getting a sack. It's not just the defensive line's fault, though Chris Long's struggles are pretty evident at this point. It's also a factor of timing. With the blitz packages the Rams ran in Seattle, too often were targets open immediately for Hasselbeck. The Rams need to get better at closing off passing lanes early so that Hasselbeck has to go past his blitz progression and takes that extra second to make a decision. Much of that depends on linebacker coverage, but it also help when you can get pressure off the edges.
I'll go out on a limb and say the Rams rack up 2 sacks; if we can close out a bit more aggresively in tight coverage, which we've seen flashes of, I think Campbell will have to tuck it and take the sack. If not, expect some high quality interception chances.
1.) "When I'm going out there Sundays, I'm being watched": Yes, yes you are. How are the Rams going to handle the scrutiny now that they've replaced Detroit, in the minds of many, as the NFL's worst? Sure, we here know it's not true, but I doubt anything we say here filters its way into the locker room. What does, is the stories that make it into the Post-Dispatch's coverage of the Rams, and one thing we will all be watching is Incognito after the whistle.
2.) "I'm disappointed in myself and disappointed that I let my teammates down. It's not a feeling that I like to have.": The cohesion of this team is going to be huge going forward. We saw last year how tough it is when parts of your team start falling apart (thanks, Linehan). Dealing with adversity and regrouping every Monday, win, loss or tie, is going to be a huge factor for this era. Spagnuolo seems to have succeeded in dealing with the intangibles early; his handling of Incognito could prove to be a masterstroke...or a virus. Making sure Incognito becomes a part of the whole is a necessity if this team is going to get to the bye week with more than one win.
3.) "I play with passion. I play with fire. And I play to win.": That fire was evident from the defense last weekend immediately. And we saw it later in the game when Marc Bulger shocked the world and grew a pair. How will that translate to the field? Certainly, it helps the team come together, but will it result in any kind of offensive production? It sure as hell didn't in Seattle. The offensive line has to get fired up to get the running game going. And, of course, they have to shut it down in between the whistles. Too many penalties made it next to impossible for the Rams to put drives together. The coaching has to take responsibility for that. It can't happen if the Rams are playing to win tomorrow.
Well, that's it. Cogs, do you want to say goodbye to everyone?