Do the Rams have a legitimate deep threat in Danario Alexander? Consider this question answered.
Midway through the second quarter, up 9-7 but trying to shake the cobwebs on offense after consecutive three-and-outs, Pat Shurmur went back to his passing game to move the chains, and with a 3rd and 4 on the doorstep of the red zone, he dialed up that most elusive weapon in the Rams' arsenal -- the deep ball.
However, Danny Amendola never got clean separation from Nate Clements in the slot, and slowed to half speed at the five as the ball sailed unmolested into the end zone. It was an ugly play that left Rams fans discontented, even as Josh Brown kicked away to briefly extend the lead to 12-7.
ottoman89 Bradford throws a beautiful deep pass, but his receivers constantly lose the ball in the air.
RossMiles @RamsHerd @ottoman89 I have been trying to tell @Daniel_Doelling & @TurfShowTimes this is why we don't go deep! Our WR can't cope!
A disheartening sequence sent the Rams into the tunnel down 14-12, and set Rams fans all a-twitter. This long-simmering debate came to a head: should Pat Shurmur even bother dialing up deep passes with these receivers? Leading the dissent was old-school Rams tweeter @RossMiles, with @ottoman89, @Daniel_Doelling, @TurfShowTimes and good old @RamsHerd chirping in debate. But one Rams player was yet to have his say: Danario Alexander, who chipped in a game-changing performance.
After the break, RamsHerd provides a play-by-play breakdown of the true impact of Danario's season-high 40 snaps.
The Rams moved one step closer to their first NFC West crown since 2003 with a white-knuckled win over the discombobulated and deeply flawed San Francisco 49ers. No doubt the national media will mercilessly flog the Niners while contradictorily holding them up as the poster child for the flawed NFC West, but they would be missing the big story of this game. Today, the Rams played what they called a "playoff game," and in the second half, actually raised their game to playoff-caliber football.
It's playoff time now," wide receiver Danny Amendola said. "You can't lose. Got to play to win. Got to attack 'em offensively. Play good defense. Make plays on special teams. And get the job done."
While the execution wasn't always pretty, the Rams followed Amendola's blueprint to the most important home win in a long time.
It wasn't quite a do-or-die game for Steve Spagnuolo's team, but it was for Mike Singletary's squad, and we wondered how each team would respond. Spagnuolo focused on "intensity," and quietly built a gameplan on offense to put the game in Sam Bradford's hands. Singletary waffled on his quarterback, choosing his boom-or-bust big-play threat, setting the tone for this game. It was going to be all or nothing for the Niners.
CL7TWO big win today thank you to all the fans who came out and supported us today and throughout the year. see u guys in 2 weeks, lets go get a W!
The Rams delighted their near-sellout crowd by mixing some daring risks into their normally kid-safe playbook right from the opening drive. After six plays (four passes, two runs) Shurmur dialed up a textbook end-around to Danny Amendola that morphed into something unexpected: Amendola's first ever NFL pass attempt. It was a rainbow to a double-covered Danario Alexander deep downfield that should have been intercepted, but veteran CB Nate Clements plowed through the Rams receiver for an egregious pass interference call and a first-and-goal Rams. A big gamble to go for the throat early led to a Niners' mistake, and a huge momentum-setting play. And a snowplow run by Steven Jackson and the Rams had a 7-0 lead in front of the giddy home faithful.
A comical series of events from the 49ers -- highlighted by two botched snaps, one leading to a safety -- and another huge pass completion to Brandon Gibson set the Rams up deep in the red zone. In the closing seconds of the first quarter, it looked as though the Rams could run away with this game. Of course, as still-healing Rams fans know, it's never that easy.
Fumble. Three and out. Three and out. Punt to Ted Ginn Jr and stand about as he races untouched to the end zone, and suddenly a 49ers team whose only accomplishment thus far was racking up penalties is within two points. Rams answer 7 with 3, and Troy Smith completes two huge plays -- 25 yards to Vernon Davis, 60 yards to Michael Crabtree -- and the visitors suddenly looked poised to complete every St Louisan's nightmare scenario.
The Rams went in the tunnel down 14-12, leaving a stunned crowd to contemplate, for 20 minutes, what the hell they had gotten so fired up for. How had the 49ers sucked all the momentum out of the building? Was this to be the same old Rams, after all?
Sometimes, though, football is a deceptively simple game to analyze. When the bell rang for the second half, one team got out of the corner and was simply better than the other, and that team was the Rams. They kicked off to San Francisco and the Rams defense set about shattering the eggshell-thin veneer of confidence that the 49ers held about themselves.
Six plays later, that job was done:
As it turns out, all it took was a good pass rush and an easy interception by Singletary's future son-in-law, Oshiomogo Atogwe, leading to this epic meltdown on the sideline. It also led to a Rams field goal, and a 15-14 lead that our boys in blue steadily reinvested in like a good nest egg. After three drives of three-and-out in the first half, the Rams had none in the second, trucking consistently and methodically down the field by giving Bradford the keys and letting him drive.
And here's the key stat, especially for an offensive line that has been earning withering scorn for their inability to open running lanes: on 38 dropbacks by their budding star quarterback, Sam Bradford was only hit twice, only sacked once.
Bradford got all of his key receivers involved in the second half, hitting Brandon Gibson, Laurent Robinson, Danny Amendola and Daniel Fells for key gains, while racking up 168 yards passing in the latter frame. The biggest play of them all, a 46 yard strike down the left sideline, went to Danario Alexander, who is suddenly healthy and looking like a serious X factor in the weeks to come.
Yes, I said "weeks", with an S. Because the Rams now firmly control their destiny, and head up to Seattle to complete Mission Improbable: winning the NFC West and bringing a playoff game back to these bewildered and delighted Saint Louis Rams fans.
With Rams-Niners week reaching a fever pitch, this makes a perfect opportunity to reach out to Josh at The Red and Gold to exchange some questions and answers. (You may remember Josh's work from Niners Nuggets on the Fanball network -- like us, he has migrated over to Bloguin and is keeping the fire burning.)
RamsHerd: Are you surprised that Singletary went with Troy Smith in this game, and do you think it's the right move?
The Red and Gold: I wish I was more surprised by Singletary's move back to Troy Smith. Fact is, Alex Smith had his last legitimate chance against the Chargers and laid a big egg. Troy Smith is more mobile, more apt to make the big plays and has a good grasp of the system. I also think it's a plus that he performed very well against the Rams in San Francisco back in week 10 with 356 yards passing and a touchdown with no interceptions.
Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Mike Johnson seem to have the 'which Smith' debate every week. I've never been an Alex Smith fan and I think going with Troy Smith for this game is the right decision.
RH: The Niners' offense was wide open in your first matchup with the Rams. Should we expect more of the same, or was that an aberration?
TR&G: It's a little tough to predict because the 49ers offense has been so erratic and inconsistent all year but with Troy Smith at the helm and with the 49ers season on the line, I would anticipate it being a wide open game. I think Troy will be throwing a lot downfield and hopefully keeping the Rams off-balance with his threat to run. Alex Smith at QB is a little more conservative but I'll be we see Troy taking his fair share of shots downfield and continuing to get Brian Westbrook involved in the offense.
RH: Your draft this year produced two key components toward rebuilding the offensive line. How have they performed, and did they fill the team's biggest need?
TR&G: Both Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati filled big needs for the 49ers and both have performed well. Davis has had more struggles this season but it seems like he'll be a good long-term solution. As for Iupati, I've read that some already consider him one of the top 5 guards in the NFL, regardless of experience. That might be a bit of a stretch, but he has definitely played well and is much more consistent. As you know, the less you hear about an offensive lineman, the better he is. That has been the case much more with Iupati than Davis.
As for biggest need, it is clear this season that the 49ers have more needs than they thought. Their three biggest needs this offseason (in my opinion) will be quarterback, head coach and offensive coordinator. The defense has also been a disappointment and addressing a cornerback and probably outside linebacker will be critical as well.
RH: Obviously, this isn't the year most people thought the 49ers would have. Does the possibility of winning the division absolve all wounds, or are there troubles that run so deep that this team is in need of change regardless?
TR&G: If the 49ers somehow win this weak division, I don't think all will be absolved - unless they go deeper into the playoffs. There are too many big issues on this team. Mike Singletary is not the team's long-term solution at head coach and I don't think should be coaching any team for a while. He would make a good coordinator but he just isn't ready. The 49ers are working on building a new stadium in Santa Clara and need all of the good will and fan support they can get. They are not going to get it by underwhelming next season again. The 49ers fired their offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye, a few games into the season and replaced him with Mike Johnson. He's not ready either to call the offense for an NFL team. It starts at the top and goes from there. I think the 49ers next year will be a drastically different team on the field and in the front office.
RH: Game prediction?
TR&G: I am going to be optimistic and say 23-19 (I am also optimistic on my fantasy team as well since I have Josh Brown as my kicker). I think the 49ers squeak this one out like the last one...
Mike Singletary's last shred of patience with Alex Smith lasted a damn short while -- two starts, one good, one bad, which is about what you get. This week against the Rams, he has decided to see if lightning can strike twice: he's named Troy Smith as the starting quarterback. That shiver you just felt run down your back? That's cold illogical fear -- not a pure animal fear that you might have against a monster opponent like a Drew Brees or Tom Brady, but a fear borne of shame. A fear that asks into the dark: "Can we really let Troy Smith have his way with us ... twice?"
Fellow Bloguin man Josh over at The Red and The Gold offered this take on Singletary's now constant vacillation at the helm of this team:
This whole situation reminds me of when I'm hungry and looking for a snack, I'll keep going back to look in the same cupboard, the same drawers 10 times somehow thinking that a new snack will magically appear. I think Mike Singletary and Mike Johnson are going back in the same QB cupboard thinking a new QB will magically appear.
Now that he's apparently made up his mind, though, it falls to the Rams to prevent Troy Smith from showing the same magic he did in their first matchup. The numbers are simply astounding...
Week 10 vs STL
Weeks 11-13 (average)
Rookie Season (avg as a starter) **
* one of his TDs in Week 10 was a rushing score. ** Smith has only started two games in his career before this season, both in his rookie season.
The simple fact is, the Rams' softness on big plays made Troy Smith look like a brand new quarterback. And while I generally frown on the Steve Spurrier philosophy of interchangeable QBs, in this case, why not gamble and dare the Rams to stop you?
For the Rams, this game offers a big chance at redemption, especially in the secondary. The timid play of the Rams' CBs -- notably against the Saints, as VanRam at TurfShowTimes pointed out:
Without pressure, the responsibility for shutting down the Saints' mighty passing game was left to a banged up secondary, without top cornerback Ron Bartell and key role player CB Justin King.
-- "Questioning the Rams defensive strategy against New Orleans"
Also notable in that New Orleans game was the consistent depth that the Rams' DBs gave up in front to the fleet core of Saints receivers. Even on a third-and-three, our corners were consistently lined up 6-8 yards off the line of scrimmage, all but conceding the first down rather than get burned big plays...
Exactly the kind of big plays that Troy Smith and the Niners blitzed us with just a few weeks earlier. The Rams' defensive mojo has not been right since that week. This rematch on the home turf offers as good a chance to get it back as we will have, as we push forward toward the next level.
Not that you need anyone to tell you that the NFC West playoff picture is a mess ... but you may be surprised to know that each of the 6-8 Rams, the 6-8 Seahawks, and the 5-9 49ers have a chance to win out and get in. Because of the way the scheduling gods laid out these final two weeks, and because of the multiple tiebreaker advantages that each team holds over the other, there are five distinct possible finishes to the playoff race -- three of which end up with a 7-9 playoff team.
The Rams finish 8-8 and alone in first place, beating San Francisco and Seattle, and ensuring that neither can finish with better than a 7-9 season. Also, Mike Singletary is probably fired, and Matt Hasselbeck is probably looking for work.
If Seattle Wins Out...
The Seahawks finish 8-8 and alone in first place, ensuring that neither the Rams nor San Francisco can finish with better than a 7-9 season. Also, Mike Singletary is probably fired, and Pat Shurmur may be looking for work.
If San Francisco Wins Out...
The 49ers finish with a 7-9 season, and hold tiebreakers over the Rams (two head-to-head victories) and Seattle (ditto), if all three teams finish at 7-9. However, the Niners need a Rams win over Seattle in Week 17 to ensure this scenario. Also, Matt Hasselbeck is probably looking for work, but Pat Shurmur just might have saved his job.
If the Rams beat San Francisco but lose to Seattle...
The Rams would lose their head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Seattle, and Seattle will be desperately hoping for a miracle win by Arizona. If they get it, the Seahawks would advance to the playoffs based on the fourth level of NFL tiebreakers: "strength of victory." And if that's the case, then it will be Lovie Smith and Mike Martz who are to blame. Essentially, because Seattle beat the Bears, and the Bears inexplicably do not suck, the teams the Seahawks have beaten have a better overall record than the teams the Rams would have beaten.
Correction: As Andrew points out in the comments, Seattle would win based on a 4-2 record in the division, while with a loss to Seattle, the Rams would fall to 3-3.
If the Rams lose this week...
They can still make the playoffs if they beat Seattle in Week 17, but have to hope for a miracle win by Arizona. In this scenario, the Rams could be alone with seven wins in the NFC West, or beat Seattle based on a head-to-head tiebreaker.
It has now been three weeks since Sam Bradford has thrown a touchdown pass, possibly the longest drought of his football playing days. The Rams have lost two of those three games, both against playoff-ready teams, preventing them from taking the next step forward into becoming a postseason contender themselves. While we can't pin those losses entirely on Sam Bradford, one thing is clear -- opposing defenses have changed their tactics, and clearly believe that they can pin a loss on the Rams by ratcheting up pressure on young #8.
Bradford's drought came after a miraculous 6-game stretch in which he threw 11 touchdowns against only 1 interception; this stretch was capped by a "breakout performance" in Denver: his first 300-yard game, and his first 3-touchdown game. While the resulting pyrrhic burning of Denver's coach, Josh McDaniels, stole headlines, the league's defensive coordinators took more notice of Bradford's official debut as a star quarterback.
Most notably, Sean Payton's Saints departed from their usual gameplan, specifically to prevent Bradford from getting comfortable.
Gregg Williams pressured more than normal in this game, which is saying something. The Saints came after Bradford with a variety of pressures, many off the right side. Later in the game, as the Saints built a large lead, Williams sent safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper on blitzes seemingly at will. The Saints finished with three sacks (one by Harper and another by linebacker Jon Vilma), eight quarterback hits and a forced fumble. "I thought that aspect of the game was important with regards to what quarterback was going to be in duress and which one wasn't," Payton said. "I felt like that was something we were able to win and that led to a lot of the things we are discussing now, like the time that Drew (Brees) had and the pressure we were able to apply on their quarterback."
How has pressure played into this slump? Check out this graphic charting the opposition's onslaught on the pocket.
(Note: "hurries" are not captured as part of the NFL.com game book, and have to be manually charted, which the fine fellows at PFF do so well. No doubt, when they finish their analysis, the KC number will be high.)
With two must-win games remaining, the Rams offensive line will have to step up its protection, and their offensive pace must quicken to keep the opposing pass rush on its heels. Especially as both remaning opponents, the 49ers and Seahawks, have been a step ahead of the game in terms of putting the heat on Bradford.
The Rams were full of the giving spirit on the last Sunday before Christmas. They gave the Chiefs hope by not converting either of their opening scoring drives for touchdowns, then gave them life by going into a full-scale offensive meltdown throughout an abysmal second quarter. As the defense broke down, the Rams gave away the lead, and eventually just wrapped up the win with a nice gold bow and simply gave the game away.
tlc27 If only, if only. If is a big little word guys, main point is that we are a better football team than that. #rams
Yes, but to borrow a phrase, "if Ifs and Buts were patience and guts, the Rams could have given us all a merry Christmas."
Todd Haley has to hope he gets Coach Spagnuolo as his "secret Santa" every year.
Despite getting an early present from the San Diego Chargers, who mauled the 49ers 34-7 and has coach Singletary contemplating yet another quarterback change, our boys in blue could not take advantage. A win here -- and a win was certainly there to be had, had we played our "A" game -- would have given the Rams full control of their destiny. Now, we badly need some holiday charity from the Seahawks, and to win our last two games.
Rams observers have to question how prepared this team was to win this game -- not only in game-planning, which was atrocious, but in execution. Everything appeared to be off this week. The offensive tangle of poor effort, poor positioning, poor coaching, and poor coordination presents a gordian knot, making it nearly impossible to tease out just one thread.
WR_83 @RamsHerd At the risk of being totally honest, this looks like a game from last year.
When the tide came in for KC, it came in a flood.
The afternoon started out with great confidence, as the Rams posted a quick 6-0 lead with strong play in all three phases. The pre-game sit-or-play drama surrounding Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel seemed irrelevant, as Sam Bradford completed 6 of his first 7 passes, Steven Jackson was rolling, and Josh Brown was connecting on field goal tries.
KCChiefsBlog It won't matter how Cassel looks if the defense plays like this all day. #chiefs
After that, though? The bottom fell out of the Rams' offensive game plan. The next three offensive drives totaled 1 yard as Sam Bradford ran plays out of the Keith Null playbook: targeting nothing more than five yards down field, spending more time dancing or dodging yellow flags than in diagnosing defenses and running through progressions. It's difficult to credit the Chiefs for doing anything particularly special on defense, though it should be mentioned that their young secondary led by Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr, and Eric Berry, did a nice job in coverage. However, with the Rams Excel spreadsheet filter set to "dump off," It was a pretty simple task to simply keep everything in front and make tackles for minimal gains.
After a dismal first quarter, Matt Cassel began to make plays, helped by a wall of protection, an unusually timid defensive game plan, and the blind eye of Referee Ron Winter's crew. The ugly blotches of red among the blue-shirted Rams fans at the Dome came to life as the Chiefs rolled up two long touchdown drives, taking a 14-6 lead.
Meanwhile, Thomas Jones did much of the damage on the ground, as his power running ground away at the Rams' defense. In a classic one-two punch, Jones softened gaps for fleet-footed counterpart Jamaal Charles, who broke the Rams' backs with an 80-yard run in the fourth quarter, just two plays after the Rams finally scored to get within a touchdown.
Yes, the score may not look it, but the Rams were one possession away with under 5 minutes to play in this game. And yet, as a final score, 27-13 doesn't feel like a large enough gap. This was a game the Rams blew themselves out of, raising the hackles of any fan who dared consider us playoff-worthy.
One team will have to win the NFC West. NFL rules dictate it.
By that logic alone, the Rams are still in the running, as all four NFC West teams lost this weekend by a combined score of 114-50. I think we would all appreciate it, though, if the Rams actually played up to the potential they showed just as recently as two weeks ago. If they could, we might be ready to actually celebrate a division title, instead of possibly having to apologize for one.