So the 1st half breakdown was a little time-intense. I'm going to try a different format this time. Let me know what works and what jerks. My plan is to follow this format up with a mini-PBP type piece to get photos/videos of the half for everyone to go through themselves on either a specific matchup or a player or formation or something of specific interest.
Rams, 15:00 3Q (STL 10 - ARI 10)
- Second down's even worse, as both tackles (LT Rodger Saffold and RT Jason Smith) both whiff on a strong Cardinals blitz. For all the talk about how Steven Jackson is slipping from his peak, the fact that he rarely enjoys the kinds of room that other top producers (Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Michael Turner) do doesn't get the same attention. Hard to stand out when you're running into this:
Good night, and good luck.
Cardinals, 12:57 3Q (STL 10 - ARI 10)
- On second down, the Rams only rush four, sitting back in coverage. Derek Anderson dumps off to Jerome Johnson, but the pass is low and dropped. Diggs didn't a great angle on it, but would have only gone for 4 or 5 anyway.
- Anderson is now working an incompletion streak of six in a row. He picks up a very poor shotgun snap that dribbles on the ground and tries to throw it out of bounds; it doesn't get there. Lucky number seven comes with free intentional grounding. A low line-drive punt gives Amendola room to return, and he makes the most of it setting the Rams up at Arizona's 38-yard line. *cue whatever song reminds you of missed opportunities, because they're about to arrive by the boatload. I suggest the blatantly titled Missed Opportunity by Hall & Oates*
Rams, 11:54 3Q (STL 10 - ARI 10)
- The drive starts wonderfully, with a great individual run by Steven Jackson:
When he cuts it outside, there aren't any lead blockers. It's just Steven Jackson. Sometimes, that's plenty.
- Two quick passes don't gain much ground for the Rams on the next two plays, but a roughing the passer penalty on Calais Campbell extends the drive.
- The Rams missed a great opportunity on the next play; the Rams run the ball against a 4-2-5 Nickel look from the Cardinals, and everyone sets up their blocks well...except for Jacob Bell:
Here, you can see Calais Campbell has gotten to the Bell's inside, partly because Campbell got the better jump and partly because Bell engages him on his outside shoulder. Because he has the angle, Campbell is going to turn his hips and work horizontally to cut off the running lane if he can get there in time:
Now he's working along the 12-yard line to try and get to Steven Jackson before he weaves through his blockers. You can see everyone else is being dealt with, and Mardy Gilyard is going to take on one of the deep men which should give AxJax a one-on-one look toward the end zone. If he can just get past Campbell...
Bell never gets enough leverage to take Campbell off his path. At this point, he can either commit a penalty and hope the refs don't see it, or see if Jackson can escape Campbell's tackle. He wisely chooses the latter, but Campbell wraps up Jackson's ankles to bring him down with just a 2-yard gain.
- A false start on Adam Goldberg is followed by a power run attempt on 2nd and 13. Why that's even in our playbook with this offensive line, I'm not sure. Needless to say, it doesn't go well.
- On 3rd down, Sam Bradford's count gets Clark Haggans to jump offside (negating what would have been a turnover on another post-reception fumble by Billy Bajema). On the 3rd down and 6, Bradford tries to hit Amendola in the corner. It's not a bad throw, but it reveals a lack of synchronization between the two. Bradford thinks Amendola is going to drop all the way into back corner, but Amendola doesn't sense how much more room he has and stays about 2/3 of the way for the jump ball. Field goal, shmield goal.
Cardinals, 8:22 3Q (STL 13 - ARI 10)
- After an incompletion and false start, the Cardinals face a 2nd & 15 at their own 24. The line holds up well as Long stunts inside of Robbins (who is double teamed), and the coverage is strong as well. Unfortunately, deep man-to-man coverage and Atogwe's slow change of direction leave a huge space for Anderson to scramble into:
Decent vision and awareness from Anderson; it was a rare sight in this game.
- Speaking of fluky, the next play was ridiculous. C.J. Ah You gets around the edge and strips the ball from Anderson. It goes bouncing backwards, and Clifton Ryan scoops it up in stride, heading toward an apparent touchdown. But Steve Breaston comes all the way back and strips the ball out of Ryan's hands from behind. The Cardinals would recover the ball in the end zone for a touchback, as the Ram fan chorus collectively let out a huge litany of profanities in unison.
To give you a sense of the speed difference, Ryan recovered the fumble at about the 23-yard line, at which point Breaston was at the 31, 8 yards back. By the time Ryan got to the 6, Breaston had caught up to knock the ball free:
Oh, Steve Breaston. Now I have to hate you forever.
- So after the touchback, Deuce Lutui commits a hold on first down. The Rams defend the next two passes perfectly, leading to a 3rd & 16. The crowd is starting to bring it, so Arizona calls a timeout. Following the TO, the Rams rush four against the Cards who are lined up in the shotgun with 2 RBs -- both sit back to protect Anderson. So just to throw out the simple math, its 3rd and 16 and the Cardinals have four receiving options going against seven pass defenders for the Rams. Anderson has all day to throw, and as he moves out of the pocket toward the right sideline, LaRod Stephens-Howling jumps out in the flat. When he does, both James Laurinaitis and Craig Dahl jump out of their zones to pursue LSH:
Breaston, denoted by the giant arrow, is pretty well covered underneath by Laurinaitis (on the hash) and Dahl (between the hash and the numbers). But when LSH comes out of the backfield:
Both of them jump to prevent the potential dump off from picking up significant yardage. This should have been Laurinaitis' responsibility, leaving Dahl to stay back. When they both go, there's not a Ram within roughly 10 yards of Breaston.
Painful, painful failure.
- The Rams would kill off the drive and force a punt after a good run stuff and two incompletions, including a memorable dropped INT from Bartell. A photo essay in three parts:
Rams, 3:41 3Q (STL 13 - ARI 10)
- AxJax plows behind Mike Karney for 9 yards to start the drive, and rumbles off tackle to the left for the first.
- Again, the offense comes apart. Adrian Wilson comes untouched on the blitz, and Bradford gets it away to nobody just to avoid the sack, It's a pretty favorable no call on intentional grounding for the Rams. In the end, it wouldn't matter. On second down, Darnell Dockett embarrasses Adam Goldberg:
Notice the nice arc of the offensive line: the interior linemen have held ground, and Jacob Bell has even gotten beyond the line to open a lane. The offensive tackles have properly turned their hips outside while maintaining hand contact. Everything looks good. Wait a second...what the hell is Goldberg doing in the middle of the running lane? He's a good 5 yards away from where his point of attack was! That's because Darnell Dockett rode him backwards as soon as the ball was snapped. I feel kind of bad for piling on Goldberg, but he was horrendous in the run game this year. This game was no exception.
- On third down, Clayton ran a short post but dropped a low pass. He still probably should have caught it, though he might have been short of the first. Regardless, it was a messy third down attempt.
Cardinals, 1:44 3Q (STL 13 - ARI 10)
- More spotty successes for the Rams on this defensive series. First and second go well, as Bartell covers Fitzgerald perfectly on the deep ball on first down, followed by great pressure from Chris Long to force an errant throw on second. I think you see where this is going.
- Larry Grant plays a horrible coverage angle on third down on Steve Breaston who would pick up about 35 yards on the play. Initially on the line to suggest a blitz, Grant backs off for his assignment to Breaston. Instead of moving vertically toward Breaston's break point, he moves horizontally directly toward Breaston. Uh, no. You don't defend a pass by going directly at the receiver, since in a second he'll be about 6 yards away from that position. You end up looking like this:
Grant races over to Breaston right as he breaks to the inside. As you'd expect, he gets a good 5 yards of space on Grant, and even Derek Anderson can hit a target that close with that much room.
- Arizona runs a good WR screen and backside handoff to move the ball to the St. Louis 13-yard line and a new set of downs
- James Hall plays the run perfectly on first down, and a good throw by Anderson for a diving Fitzgerald in the end zone is dropped.
- Now 3rd & 11 from the the 14, Anderson sits in a comfortable pocket from a shotgun set. Rookie wideout Max Komar slants in and catches ball for roughly 7 yards. Larry Grant meets Komar and is about to tackle him short of the first down when Craig Dahl comes on Komar's blind side and slaps the ball out. Grant falls on it, and the Cardinals leave the door wide open for the Rams.
Rams, 14:08 4Q (STL 13 - ARI 10)
- After Darnell Dockett nearly tackles Steven Jackson in the end zone, the Rams fun a FB dive on 2nd down for some breathing room. On 3rd & 12, Bradford performs a minor miracle for a rookie by hitting Bajema perfectly in stride for 14 yards. Huge play.
- On the ensuing first down, Bradford sells the playaction masterfully and waits for Laurent Robinson to come across the field before hitting him for another first down. Great execution and patience from Bradford.
- Bajema loses his block on first, and the Rams pick up just two on the ground. A dump off to Fells picks up four, and the Rams are facing another third down. Needing just four, Bradford throws for Amendola on the out, but the press coverage throws off the timing of Amendola's break. Danny looks for a penalty, but the refs don't throw the flag. Fair no call, IMO:
You can see Bradford is through his motion and about to release the ball while Danny is battling with CB Michael Adams to establish space. I like the no call, as the contact was intiated prior to Bradford beginning to throw, and I don't see how you can let go much faster than Adams does. If it was a Rams CB on an Arizona WR and they threw a flag on this, I'd be livid.
- Donnie Jones gets off a HUGE punt, and Mardy Gilyard immediately covers down on the tackle. He hurts his wrist in the process, though.
Cardinals, 10:09 4Q (STL 13 - ARI 10)
- The Rams are 10 minutes away from a season-opening victory. Yes, this would count as a jinx in real time, so don't say something like this in a game thread, jerk.
- Anderson waits for Breaston to run away from Grant on the dig, and Laurinaitis is too deep in coverage to help. Animal, Jr. chases him out of bounds just past the first down marker.
- The Rams blitz, but Larry Grant pulls a Larry Grant and repeats his coverage mistake from two photos above.
Notice how Komar is moving downfield, but Grant is moving sideline to sideline? Anderson does. He just lofts the ball past Grant for 20 easy yards. Courage marks too for Anderson throwing the ball with Dahl on a beeline for his upper torso.
- After an illegal formation makes it 1st and 15 from the Arizona 40, the Cardinals dink (dump off to LSH for 6) and dunk (checkdown to Hightower who scampers for 16) into Rams territory.
- The Rams rush four as Breaston blows by Larry Grant (trend official) up the seam for another 27. The Cardinals are clicking, and the Rams look gassed.
- A hold on first down pulls the Cardinals back out of the red zone facing 1st and 20 from the Rams' 21. Chris Long affects the throw on first, as it's underthrown and too far outside for Komar.
- Fitzgerald finally makes a mark on the game (and it's a big one), juking James Butler out of his shoes and heading to the corner. Anderson has plenty of room and just lobs it up. Overall, the Rams did a great job on Fitz. 15 targets, and just 3 receptions for 43 yards. The TD was a body blow though.
Rams, 6:08 4Q (STL 13 - ARI 17)
- The pressure's on now for Bradford, and he responds well. The Rams get a first down after two classic Shurmur plays - a hitch to Laurent Robinson for 6 and a quick slant to Clayton for 5.
- Two bungled plays leave the Rams with a 3rd & 16 from their own 34, but another huge conversion keeps the drive going. Out of the shotgun, the offensive line gives Bradford plenty of time, and Clayton curls off cushioned coverage from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to make the catch, spin and sprint up the line. For a pair that didn't have many repetitions before week 1, Bradford and Clayton have uncanny timing together.
- The Rams bungle a running play on first, but the Bradford bootleg (one of the most common plays of the year) works again as Bradford hits Bajema just short of the first down. Jackson would line up at FB, with Amendola behind him at RB, before plowing through for the first down. The clock hits the two-minute warning, and Rams fans are beginning to believe in Sam Bradford.
- The next three plays are a mess. Bradford throws deep for Robinson in the end zone, but it's a bit behind him. The window was small, as DRC had Robinson covered well, but the throw negated any chance of a TD.
- Jackson misses his blocking assignment, and Bradford barely gets his checkdown off before getting pummeled. The pass was well underthrown, and probably better to have not been caught since time is a factor and the Rams needed a TD.
- Now 3rd & 10 from the 21, Sam scoops a poor shotgun snap off of his shoelaces. Unlike the Bradford-Clayton connection that suggests a innate football connection, Bradford and Robinson are on two different pages. As Robinson hits the middle of the field, Bradford assumes he'll zig back outside. Instead, Robinson sits down on the hitch. The throw is a good yard and a half behind Robinson.
- It's four-down territory at this point, so the offense stays on the field. Bradford drops back as the Cardinals rush just four, but can't find a comfortable option. He waits until the last moment before a desperation attempt for Bajema around the 5, but it's intercepted by Kerry Rhodes. Rhodes returns the ball all the way to the Rams' 30 before Sam tracks back to tackle him from behind.
Cardinals, 1:28 4Q (STL 13 - ARI 17)
- In a game of missed chances, this play might define how mentally unprepared these two teams were. Tim Hightower squirts through a small hole as Larry Grant comes to make the tackle for an otherwise forgettable play; however, just before Hightower's knee hits the ground, Laurinaitis comes in and clubs the ball out.
The ball (brown arrow) comes free as Laurinaitis delivers a perfect punch strip; it's pretty obvious Hightower's knee (red arrow) isn't on the ground. Bradford gets one last shot.
Rams, 1:21 4Q (STL 13 - ARI 17)
- Honestly, there's nothing incredibly notable from this drive until the last play. It was methodically productive. Over ten plays, the Rams would move 40 yards downfield for a final play to throw it up. As we all remember, it wasn't to be. In fact, the biggest takeaway was that this was no time to be methodical.
The Rams marched up the field taking only what the Cardinals gave them. The final play came from the Arizona 36; that's obviously not nearly as favorable as, say, your final play coming at the 10-yard line. It was more than anything, an omen. A precursor of what was to come.
A defense that showed signs of capability, but had obvious holes that kept them from being anywhere close to dominant. An offense that had talent in spots, but lacked a receiver who could be relied upon in crucial situations (of course, you could argue that Clayton was developing into that role before the injury abbreviated his season in the week 5 Debacle in Detroit). The promise of Sam Bradford held back by a Shurmur-coordinated offense that was as tight as a Ramsey 9500UT (that's one hell of a winch, BTW).
In a few months, we'll be at this point of the 2011 season. The point where one game is over, and all the things we thought we knew have been completely blown up replaced by overreactionary trends that tend not to blossom. If I can change one thing, it's that the Rams will be 1-0 after the first 60 minutes of the 2011 NFL season.
I'll try to get week 2 ready for next week. Holler.