Rams week 4 recap: In spite of the little things

ST. LOUIS - OCTOBER 03: Mike Williams #17 of the Seattle Seahawks makes the catch as Bradley Fletcher #32 of the St. Louis Rams defends.

Looking back at the St. Louis Rams' week four win over the Seattle Seahawks did not produce quite what I expected, or at least what I expected based on my memory of the game at the time. I had not seen more than a fleeting clip of the Rams' second win of the 2010 season since it actually happened. 

In the foggy places of my memory, the 20-3 victory over the hated Seahags looked easy. A couple touchdowns, a couple field goals and voila, the team was 2-2, and ready for a trip to Detroit, which for many meant a 3-2 record. You know how that turned out. 

Going back and watching the tape, you see an offense that moves in fits and starts. Dink and dunk had nothing to do with the constant failure of moving parts that led to one stalled out drive after another, except for a couple times when it clicked enough to get the ball down the field for a touchdown. Watching the play-by-play, over and over again, there's not really one easy culprit to blame. The entire offense, from the talented rookie to the roster-filler allowing them enough players to field a team...they all combined for a spastic offense that struggled to find a grove. They got away with it thanks to a solid defense, a little luck and poor opponent play in week four, but would pay dearly for it in week five when they collapsed at the hands of a Detroit Lions team that provided the Rams with their only win in 2009. 

My games notes and visual aids breaking it all down, after the jump.

Fits and Starts

The Rams get the ball first, after a so-so Mardy Gilyard return, his specialty. The first snap is an ominous one. Working out of a standard I formation, Bradford hands off to Steven Jackson. Seattle S Lawyer Milloy, who owned the edge of the Rams line for the entire game, blows by an obviously confused Mark Clayton and  tackles Jackson for a loss of three. That's how the running game went in this game. 

Three plays later, on 2nd-and-7, moves up to the line. When the ball is snapped, he beats Daniel Fells and gets to Bradford who manages to throw the ball away rather than take the sack. The Rams of 2010 had a real problem with ancillary blockers, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers. Missed blocks in both the passing and running games caused trouble throughout the season.

Fast forward to the second quarter. Runs up the middle for Jackson are difficult. The linemen, particularly Adam Goldberg, struggle to clear a hole. Let me illustrate with a scene from the Rams' first snap of the second quarter. 

1st-and-10 at the St. Louis 20. Lined up in the I formation, which Seattle can easily defend, it's a hand off to Jackson up the middle. 

Sj2ndqrun_1_medium

The left-most red box in the picture is Jacob Bell, who has moved down to the second level to pick up those linebackers. The red box in the middle is FB Mike Karney, and circled is Steven Jackson. On the other side of Karney is Jason Brown and Adam Goldberg, engaged with defenders. 

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The pile closes in around the ball. Bell was alone with two linebackers, and he engages Aaron Curry, the left-most red oval in the picture here. That leaves Tatupu for Karney. Note Jason Smith with his man far removed from the action. Brown has his man mostly cleared from the hole too. I can't tell who Goldberg is engaged with, but the defender is dragging himself toward the action, and will shake free in a half second. 

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Bell and Saffold have their guys moved mostly out of the way, though Bell's block on Curry would give Jackson just a split second to push through the hole. By this point, it's hard to tell just how much of a problem the pile of bodies in the middle has become for Jackson's chances. Karney (#44) goes low and Tatupu (#51) pushes him down to make the stop. 

Jackson picks up four yards, not exactly a wasted effort for a first down. The point here is to illustrate just how hard it is to find much running room. Together, the blocking just isn't good enough for the Rams to establish a real ground game here. Rather than a failure by a single player, it's more of the collective effort, the sum is less than the parts in this case. Not to take anything away from Seattle's front four and a very good group of linebackers. Coming into this game, Seattle's front seven was one of the league's best, allowing just 67 rushing yards per game. 

The drive stalls out after this play. On second down, Bradford sails one high over Mark Clayton's head. On third, Gilyard is out of sync and get get to a well thrown ball that would have been a first down. Fits and starts. The Rams offense just can't sustain any kind of momentum. 

Good Defense and a Little Luck

Seattle gets the ball back after that series with the Rams leading 7-3. Were it not for the defense and a help from the Seahawks, it could have easily been a one point difference or even a Seattle lead after this series. 

The Rams start it off right with beauty sack from David Vorbora on 1st-and-10. 

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Vobora, circled in yellow, gets close to the line, standing just off Eugene Sims with Seattle LT Russell Okung on the other side in a two-point stance. The ball is snapped.

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Okung is focused on Sims who drops back, just after confusing Okung and letting Vobora race by the first-round pick who does not have a very good game. The former Mr. Irrelevant sacks Hasselbeck who never saw him coming. Interesting note on the front four. Sims is on the weak side. Gary Gibson is getting double teamed right in front of Hasselbeck. Jermelle Cudjo is tied up with the right guard, and Chris Long has left the right tackle wondering as he breaks inside of Cudjo and in the guard. The Rams also bring Diggs from the other side, rushing two linebackers and Chris Long. It's a loss of seven.

On second down, Seattle picks up three yards on a Justin Forsett run. Big Mike Williams bails them out with a veteran move to snag a 17-yard pass and convert on 3rd-and-17. The Rams send six men on that third down. Seattle does a pretty good job in pass protection, giving Hasselbeck just enough of a pocket to make his throw/ Bradley Fletcher in covering Williams pretty tighly, riding him outside, but Williams makes a nice cut to come inside, shutting Fletcher out of the play and allowing Williams to make the catch. He is immediately brought down by Fletcher...first down. 

Same series, 3rd-and10. The Rams again send six and get pressure on Hasselbeck. However, Brandon Stokley, the intended target, sees the pressure, breaks off Justin King and comes back up to make the catch for 8 yards. 

Seattle surprises the Rams, deciding to go for it on 4th-and-2. The defense is caught off guard, with the nickel unit still on the field. They get lined up in a standard formation, with Justin King lined up in the weakside linebacker spot to the right of James Laurinaitis

Failed4thdownconversion2ndq_medium

The fullback, Robinson, breaks out to the flat. Justin King, outlined with the 'L' shaped line, is caught looking, perhaps unsure if he needs to take one of the receivers coming past him. Laurinaitis see Robinson and breaks in that direction. King does too a half-second later, but runs into Fletcher. Robinson has the ball and an easy first down, but he can't make the catch. Sometimes you're good; sometimes you're lucky. 

More of the Same

The Rams get the ball back after that, and the offense sputters down the field. After six-yard run, a Kenneth Darby holding call puts them back 10 yards. Two plays later, on 2nd-and-9, Jason Smith misses his assignment, Lawyer Milloy (who else), resulting in a sack, loss of 6 yards. Curry helped apply pressure after another bad Darcy Johnson block too.

Bradford connects with Amendola for 14 yards to set up 4th-and-1 at the Seattle 42....they're going to go for it. Jackson, by the force of his own will, converts, but a Darcy Johnson penalty suffocates the drive. Johnson has a terrible game, a reminder of how a roster like the Rams', loaded with fringe players and budding young superstars, still struggles to put it all together. 

Bradley Fletcher picks off Hasselbeck on the ensuing possession, and returns it for 28 yards, putting the ball on Seattle's 3-yard line. Should be an easy score for the offense, right?

No. Three yards might as well be 300 for an inconsistent bunch like this. 

1st-and-3, they give the ball to Jackson, naturally. And...

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Jason Brown shifts and takes Mebane out of the play. Bell pulls and latches onto a Seattle defender to help clear the lane. The play falls apart for two reasons. First and most egregious, Goldberg's man, DT Colin Cole, shucks the Rams RG off pretty easy to make the tackle (circled above). Red Bryant tosses Jason Smith, and Bell picks him a little late which allows Bryant to help fill the running lane. Jackson has a pretty good head of steam here, needed to hit a hole in traffic. Had Cole not been able to wrap Jackson, the Rams RB probably would have been able to miss Bryant and get into the end zone. 

On the next play, second down, Bradford gets the snap and instantly lock onto his man, Clayton. Seattle picks him off with ease. You can see Bradford slap his helmet, upset with the rookie move, after the play. He missed a wide open Jackson standing on the goal line, and Daniel Fells was also in a position inside the end zone to make a catch. 

Third Quarter, Same as the First...and Second

The third quarter starts off similarly for the offense, but finally it starts to click. Seattle has applied pressure to Bradford all day, seemingly endless pressure, especially from the edges where safeties and linebackers met little to no resistance from the ancillary blockers, not to completely exculpate the offensive line. 

After a Schumur-ian decision to run the ball, something that hadn't worked well all day, on 2nd-and-14, the Rams make it happen with a couple of beauty screen passes, one to Jackson for 49 yards and a second to Darby for a 21-yard touchdown. 

The defense continued it's strong play in the second half. It was the perfect Spagnuolo cocktail of defensive success. Three sacks and plenty of pressure over the last two quarters combined with very good coverage from the secondary.

More Blocking

John Greco comes into the game late in the third quarter. The blocking improves tremendously Grecoblock3rdq_medium 

In the picture above, you see Greco pushing his man out of the way, off to the opposite side of the field while Bradford is rolling out to his right to hit Danny Amendola (see directional arrows).

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Here you see Greco pulling, taking out a defender and allowing the play to come around to Bradford's right side. Bradford hits Fells for a 15-yard gain. 

But it's not all easy pickin's for Greco. On 3rd-and-7 at the Seattle 43, he fails to pick up LB Will Herring who races in for an easy sack on Bradford. That was the end of the day for Greco, feeding the whispers that the coaches prefered Goldberg for his pass blocking, i.e. his blitz pickup, over the less experienced Greco. 

Wrapping Up

A win is a win, however a team gets it. Sapgnuolo said after the season that he trusted his defense more than the offense, leaving that unit to close out games. That was certainly on display here. The offense is never the sum of its parts, never able to string together more than two series of moving the ball relatively well. 

The blocking, or lack thereof, never allowed the Rams to get the running game going, hence the defense and some more dinking and dunking to close out the game after taking a lead. No running game, meant more pressure on Bradford, and he finished fairly well on the stat sheet given the amount of white and green jerseys he had in his face all day. 

An incomplete roster stands out here. On defense it's most notable in the nickle packages, with inconsistent coverage from fringe guys like Justin King and the rookie Jerome Murphy. You also see it up front, with the defensive line often featuring Eugene Sims and Jermelle Cudjo along side Gary Gibson on the not-so-obvious rushing situations. 

Roster holes and inexperience are especially obvious among the Rams offense. Goldberg gets by with his pass blocking, not because he doesn't allow pressure, but because he never seems to allow the most obvious lapses in pick ups, the kind of sacks that end up injuring a quarterback, not a desirable outcome when you have a first-overall pick in his rookie season tasked with saving a moribund franchise in the coming years. The stunts the running game, which hurts the overall balance of the offense, and football is all about balance.

Add into the mix a relatively young offensive line beyond the guards and a group of receivers and tight ends who just aren't ready for prime time, and it's impossible to sustain a drive. Even Clayton had a down game, missing some catches he should have made and whiffing on a few blocks. 

For all the talk about big ticket free agents, the Rams saving grace will come in two places. One, getting another year of experience for the talented, but green players. Knowing the system and the schemes should cut down on some of the little things that build up and stop the offense. Second, upgrading the talent among the role players and the bottom part of the depth chart will help tremendously. Too often the Rams leaned on sub-par players, like Darcy Johnson who is absolutely terrible in this game, to play essential roles, be it blitz pickup or coverage schemes on defense. 

Detroit ate the Rams alive the week after this one because of the totality of those shortcomings boiling into a complete collapse. 

Opponents like the Seahawks allow you to get away with cumulative inefficiencies (though they didn't in week 17), but the teams on the Rams' 2011 schedule feed on those kinds of mistakes. 

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