While many enjoy how well the Rams play in the fourth quarter this season, the idea of being labeled a "slow" starting team is troubling. Yesterday against the Minnesota Viking, we saw how a team can fail when their game plan goes wrong. What was most concerning is how the Vikings seemed to be throwing everything they had into a game with playoff implications, and the Rams looked to be using offensive plays that were vanilla at best. Minnesota played a "bend, don't break" defense in their secondary, while turning their front seven loose with a variety of blitz and stunt packages. The Rams played the run on the defense, and rightfully so with Adrian Peterson on the field. They put all their eggs in one basket - hoping to nullify Peterson - and lost.
This game hinged on two great runs by Peterson, a fumble and an interception. Call it what you want, but this game was about mistakes made by the Rams more than it was anything close to stellar play by the Vikings offense. It also re-emphasized the horrible problems the Rams have on their offensive line and at safety.
Let's take a look at a few areas the Rams excelled or failed...
The potential loss of Harvey Dahl for the rest of the season should alarm not only Sam Bradford, but every Rams fan too. Dahl is by far the best offensive line man the Rams possess. Mean and nasty, he's the one guy offensive line coach Paul Boudreau has counted on. This entire unit has been a mix and match group all year, and there's quite literally no position the Rams can't improve this off season. The two first round picks the Rams have in the 2013 NFL Draft should be focused on fixing the offensive line. Rodger Saffold is the most penalized offensive player in the NFL. Barry Richardson is struggling, and now he'll be without Harvey Dahl on the right side. Robert Turner has been great all year filling in for an over-paid and injured Scott Wells, but he had his worst day of the year against the Vikings defensive tackles. This unit is just plain bad.
The "defensive coordinator by committee" experiment has run its course. One of Adrian Peterson's long runs can be laid at the feet of whoever decided it was a good idea to have Kendall Langford drop into pass coverage. He opened the hole for Vikings fullback Jerome Felton to get a clean shot at James Laurinaitis, giving Peterson easy access to the secondary. This was a blown play call from start to finish, made worse by Craig Dahl over-committing to the his left side, leaving no one to his right. The Rams have been burned quite a few times when they've sent defensive tackles into pass coverage... Defensive tackles in pass coverage, really? Whoever calls this play needs to go back to coaching school. If your game plan is to stop the run, and defensive tackles are kind of handy in this regard, why on earth would you give Adrian Peterson a four yard wide hole to run through? This play is a microcosm of concerns the Rams have shown when it comes to defensive packages. Is the St. Louis defense vastly improved this season? Yes, but it's hard not to think it's due to personnel added more than the defensive schemes called each week.
Every Rams' player who can't grasp what an "Illegal Block in the Back" is, and how many return yards these penalties have cost the team this year, needs to find other employment. Maybe the Rams' special team coach John Fassel should spend two minutes showing his charges the difference between the front and back of a player's body? These penalties are field position killers. At the start of the season, you can accept these fouls as youthful exuberance. At this point in the year, the basics should be ingrained in every rookie on the team by now. Special teams play for the Rams has been mediocre at best. All the "Megatron" talk is long gone as Greg Zuerlein struggles with consistency. Johnny Hekker may be able to throw a nice pass for a punter, but he's consistently shank-ing at least one punt in each game. I'd be surprised if Hekker is on the team next year.
Steven Jackson quietly tossed the ball he carried when he crossed the 10,000 rushing yards Rubicon to someone standing on the sidelines. While Adrian Peterson gathered in his 212 rushing yards, Jackson's combined 146 yards was left to the shadows. The single bright spot for the Rams in Week #15 of the this NFL season, #39 did what he's always done. He's the most talented player on the St. Louis Rams, bar none. Kudos to you Mr. Jackson, and let's hope the Hall of Fame voters in the future see just how great you have been for the game of football.
Sam Bradford passed for 377 yards on Sunday. His interception and fumble wipe out one of his best performances of his NFL career, and rightfully so. I've mentioned "one step forward, one step back" before, and this game really didn't prove much for Bradford. It didn't disprove much either... The Vikings pounded the Rams quarterback for four sacks and near countless hits. He should have called a time out after taking a hard hit on a scramble that may have led to his fumble a couple plays later. But you have to like the toughness he showed. Yes, he threw three touchdown passes, but he gave the ball back when it really counted. You get a big 'ol "Meh" for the Vikings game.