Welcome to the new home and design for RamsHerd.com, here on the Bloguin network. We're hoping that you'll be comfortable here, as we continue to provide content throughout the 2010 season and beyond. Many thanks to everyone at the Fanball network for launching and supporting RamsHerd from the beginning, and most importantly thanks to you, the faithful readers, commenters, and followers on Twitter.
The next few weeks will be busy ones, as we migrate the archive of content, including our infographics, over from Wordpress to the Bloguin platform, while adding new content and coverage as the Rams' season continues its positive arc.
What do you think of the new format? The RamsHerd site is being built on the latest Bloguin platform, and we'd love your feedback on the layout, the features, everything.
Week 11: Falcons (7-2) at Rams (4-5)
Nov 21, 2010 3:00 CST
The Atlanta Falcons played like older brothers to the young and growing Rams on Sunday -- they showed the Rams how to play, then beat them at their game. For all the talk of the Falcons being a model franchise for the Rams to pattern themselves and their game after, on the field it was a matchup between unequals; the Falcons simply dominated the clock on offense, limiting the number of chances Sam Bradford and the Rams had to pull off an upset. Consider these numbers a brief portrait in inequality:
- Despite averaging the same yardage per play (5.6), the Falcons ran 70 plays, the Rams ran 54.
- The Falcons held the ball for 35:55, the Rams only 24:05.
- Despite bringing every kind of rush imaginable, the Rams got only 2 hits on the Falcons' unflappable quarterback, and zero sacks, on 39 dropbacks. (The Falcons hit Bradford only once that was tallied on the stat sheet, and also amassed zero sacks.)
- Most damningly, the Falcons converted 9 of 17 tries on third down; the Rams converted just one of ten.
The resulting score -- 34 to 17 -- doesn't reflect the closeness of the game's first 45 minutes, as the Rams and Falcons traded punches like a couple of seasoned division rivals, rather than a pair of teams who meet once every three or four years. But in the final 15 minutes, the student finally faltered in front of the master, as Sam Bradford's NFL rookie record number of 169 consecutive pass attempts without an INT ended on the Falcons 2 yard line. In the span of a moment, the Falcons 9-point lead transformed from yet another challenge to write into the Story of Sam Bradford, to an impossible distance to be written in this game's epitaph.
Thus ended the Rams' last best hope of staying in this one; a final eight points were tacked on as admonishment from the master to the pupil, saying in effect, "This is the NFL. When you get scoring opportunities, stop messing around and score."
More observations after the break:
The Rams face off against their superpowered alter-ego this week, the NFL team whose roster and philosophy most closely resemble what Billy Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo are trying to build in St Louis -- the AFC South leading Atlanta Falcons. The question is, after years of beating themselves, can these new and improved Rams beat their ideal image?
Sam Bradford vs Matt Ryan
Both quarterbacks are whip-smart on the field, and play with calm and poise. On the Wonderlic -- a test which measures not only a level of intelligence, but the speed of that person's decision-making, Ryan scored a very high 32; Bradford aced it with a 36. And in terms of raw performance, Bradford's rookie year is shaping up as a mirror image of Ryan's:
|Ryan '08||Bradford '10|
|Team's record through 9 games||6-3||4-5|
However, Bradford and the Rams don't get to play against Matt Ryan of 2008 -- they get this year's much-improved version. In the last month of the season, Ryan has taken a quantum leap forward in performance, throwing 7 TDs against only 1 INT in this last three games, all wins for the Falcons.
The big caveat? All three of those games were played on the comfortable home turf. If there's one hurdle still remaining for Ryan to get over before he can join the upper class of NFL quarterbacks, it's becoming more consistent on the road. (Sound familiar?) At home, Ryan is averaging 270 yards passing and 2.2 TDs per game; on the road, these lofty numbers drop to a much more pedestrian 229 yards, 1.2 TDs. And his team's fortunes have fallen in road travels as well: Atlanta is only 2-2 with a -7 points differential in road games; the Rams are currently playing +40 football, with a 4-1 record on our own home turf.
Obviously, big plays killed the Rams in Week 10. But are you aware of just how much? Check out this graphic representation of the 49ers' drive charts from last week's matchup:
Of 421 total yards for the 49ers offense, 321 resulted from a total of eleven big plays. ("Big plays," highlighted in green, are plays that travel 15 yards or more.) An additional 85 yards resulted from three huge penalties, including the last pass interference call that former director of NFL officials Mike Pereira now says shouldn't have been called.
Yes, you heard that right. If not for big plays and big penalties, the Rams' defense would have held the Niners to 16 yards of total offense. Mind boggling.
Keep this in mind as the Rams prepare to battle Matt Ryan, Roddy White and the Atlanta Falcons this week, an offense that loves the big play...no comments
Like most of the football world, I stand in awe of what Michael Vick did last night to the Washington Redskins, mercilessly torching their secondary and slashing through the line, putting up Tecmo Bowl numbers: 6 touchdowns on more than 400 yards combined rushing and passing, with no interceptions, no fumbles, and only 8 of 28 passes falling to the ground. And as a guy with Vick on his fantasy team, I kneel in honor of the 54.1 points he delivered. And like most of the football world, I stand in long term appreciation of the career of Kurt Warner, his contribution to the Rams, the city, and to the game in general. However, Vick's glory and redemptive story stand in direct contrast to the legacy of Warner and his decision to retire, thanks to a story published this morning by Peter King, nominating Warner as the Sportsman of the Year.
"I don't think about one more game defining me,'' he said. "I'm thinking about the 50 years with my family after this part of my life.'' That's the first reason why I'm choosing Warner as my Sportsman of the Year. He knew when to fold 'em, when so many athletes want one more bow, or one more million.-- SI.com: "My Sportsman: Kurt Warner"
On the contrary, Michael Vick had to struggle with the decision to forcibly un-retire himself, to work against all public opinion and against steep odds, to earn his way back into the huddle.
There were times early in the offseason when Vick was linked with the Rams, and I'm not shy in saying that I was hesitant, based on his limited body of work with the Eagles last season. Hesitant to believe that he could come all the way back, and hesitant to believe that the town, or even the locker room, would embrace him as the leader of their franchise.
I'd say no player in the history of the NFL has been mis-evaluated like post-prison Mike Vick.
I think it's fair to say that no player in the history of the NFL has ever fallen from grace as far and as hard as Vick did, and come back this strong. He is more than "all the way back" -- if anything, he's become a better player than he ever was. (Albert Breer of NFL.com suggests one reason why...)
Marty Morhinweg has to be a HFC candidate in '11. His QB work speaks for itself -- And it's hard to blame him for what happened w/Lions....
Consider: McNabb has played 6 years w/o Morhinweg, and topped 60 percent passing in 0 of them. In 6 years w/him, did it 4 times....
And now this -- maginificient work Morhinweg and Reid have done with Mike Vick, in addition to developing a damn good young QB in Kolb?
One reason @JimHarbaugh is such a strong HFC candidate is b/c of his ability to develop QBs. That strength should help Morhinweg too.
Fortunately, thanks to the rapid and astonishing development of Sam Bradford (credit to Richard Curl? Or to the gifted one himself?), quarterback is one area that the Rams can cross off their list of needs for the next ten years or so. But that doesn't stop us from appreciating Vick's remarkable story, and imagining what could have been in a Rams uniform.
Ironically, Peter King chose the complete antithesis of Vick's story, in lauding Warner. To Mr. King, Warner's decision to walk away from football and onto the motivational speech circuit, and the cast of Dancing With The Stars, and to his own living room with his kids, is worthy of celebration.
No doubt, Vick could have tried the same path. He could have tried to accept his exile from football, and become a poster child of penitence, working the speech circuit to preach the sins and the power of self-forgiveness. But to do so, he would have had to cage the beast within him that is saying "I can still do this, I can still compete, I can still be the best." And we saw last night just how strong that beast within him is. If he had tried to walk away, tried to live the life of a football expatriate, that beast would have torn Michael Vick up from the inside. It would have destroyed him as thoroughly as he/it destroyed the Redskins.
Both are compelling stories. But which deserves the honor for 2010? The man who stepped away from sport, or the man whose only chance at true redemption lay between the white lines?
With all respect to Kurt, I would have to side with #7.
Week 10: Rams (4-4) at 49ers (2-6)
Nov 14, 2010 3:00 CST
You could characterize this frustrating, mistake-filled loss so many different ways. Either a sign of progress, or a reminder of how far the Rams still have to go. A single heartbreaking loss or a staggering portrait of a season that has been tantalizingly close to great. A requiem on the offensive coordinator and head coach, or ... a reason for self-induced amnesia.
@RamsHerd I just came to. Banged my head against the wall after a phantom pi call gave 49ers ball at 20. Don't remember ne thing after.
That wall, whether figurative or literal, has been a real problem. The Rams have already hit it three times in their last three road games, each one with a chance to jump above .500 and take sole possession of 1st place in the division. They've hit that wall hard, harder, hardest, but landed on the near side each time. But until they actually get over, around, or through that mental block, let's officially declare a moratorium on talk of the playoffs, shall we?
The Rams did a lot of good work in building a 17-10 lead, and that work is worthy of a nicer post than the one I'm writing now. Chris Long had a transcendent game, abusing Vernon Davis and Anthony Davis all afternoon, and the Rams defense as a whole didn't give up a single third-down conversion all game. Steven Jackson bulled for 148 total yards and a TD, gaining half that yardage as a receiver, and Sam Bradford was throwing darts all day long. But they wasted the fruits of that labor with a series of mental miscues and missed opportunities.
Turning Point #1: Rams fail to get points from a blocked punt
49ers OLB Manny Lawson apparently wasn't aware who #50 on the Rams was, or that he needed to be blocked on a punt try by Andy Lee from deep in their own territory. So the little fireplug Bryan Kehl came free and got a hand on Lee's punt, which traveled only 18 yards and set the Rams up on the outskirts of field goal territory. Rams are up 17-10, and have a prime opportunity to make this a two-score game, and turn the crowd firmly against their home team.
However, they could make only two yards of forward progress as both Steven Jackson and Laurent Robinson dropped catchable passes on 2nd and 3rd down. It was Jackson's only drop of the game; one of four for Robinson, though, who will be wearing goat horns for yet another week. But this wasn't as damning as what happened next.
As Spagnuolo debates whether to throw a challenge flag on Robinson's near-catch, the Rams' special teams unit dawdles onto the field for an apparent 51-yard field goal try. But the play clock winds down to zero, and sits on empty for several seconds before the snap ... which goes directly to Brown, who then pooch-punts the ball inside the 10?!? It was a WTF moment for the ages.
Look, coach, it's really simple. Kick the damn field goal. Get the damn points.
Rams go 3-and-out four consecutive times as their lead dwindles and disappears.
All day long, the Rams were passing to run the ball, lining up four wide to clear out zones and using short hitches and screen passes to make manageable gains. So when I tell you that the Rams passed the ball on 8 of their 12 offensive snaps in these four fateful drives, understand when I say that they were being way too conservative.
Each of these passes either classified as a dink or a dunk. Short left. Short middle. Short right. Not one pass traveled even ten yards in the air. This was the west coast offense's equivalent of "three yards and a cloud of dust." This was essentially 12 consecutive running plays, an attempt to run the clock out on the entire fourth quarter, holding a single score lead.
Do you know how much of the fourth quarter these four drives ate up? Not even six minutes. Was anyone surprised when the Niners came roaring back to put ten points on the board and take the lead with 2:10 to play? I can't say I was.
This isn't how games are won, coach. It certainly isn't how playoff teams are made. You can't put one bullet in a guy and crouch over him, feeling his pulse, hoping that he lays there politely and dies.
Rams can't cover, tackle Frank Gore
Frank Gore had 3 catches all game, totaling 67 yards. Amazingly, all three came in one drive, erasing all the bad penalty karma that his team had suffered all day long. He broke four tackles and drew a face mask penalty on a 31-yard run after the catch to put his team on the Rams' side of the 50. And he came out of the backfield completely uncovered on two consecutive plays to make a first down out of 3rd-and-32 and 4th and 18.
On the very next play, Troy Smith found Michael Crabtree for the go-ahead score. Sorry, I don't have any pithy coaching advice here.
Daniel Fells lets victory fall from his fingertips.
Give props to the rookie: Sam Bradford very nearly willed his team to victory despite all these harbingers of doom. He ran a clinic in the two-minute drill, moving his team from his own 15 to the 49ers' 15 in 8 plays spanning 95 seconds. It's pretty amazing what this kid can do when the hobble is taken off his legs. But unfortunately, all he can do is throw the ball; he can't catch it for his receivers, too.
Rolling out on 2nd down, he found Daniel Fells with a step on Takeo Spikes, and put the ball on a rope, hitting Fells right on the hands, perfectly in stride, with nothing but a balmy San Francisco breeze between Fells and the end zone.
A catch here bails out the coaches; it was a perfectly fine play call, and a great throw. And with under 35 seconds left on the clock, a score here silences the crowd and keeps control of their playoff fate in the Rams' hands.
But there's that word again. "Playoffs." A dirty word right now. And like this pass from Bradford to Fells, control of our playoff destiny has hit the turf.
The refs call pass interference...
Just stop. Stop it already. The wall has doled out enough punishment for one night.
For all intents and purposes, Steven Jackson was the Rams' offense in 2009. He got the ball on first down as often as any back in the NFL, and seldom took a handoff with fewer than eight men in the box. But still he carried the team forward, most notably in the team's one win against the Detroit Lions, when he finished with 149 yards and a touchdown on 22 jarring carries. He traded paint with every player the Lions could throw at him on defense, and they were the worse off for trying to stop him. Count Mike Sando among the believers:
However, heartwarming testimonials and inspirational perspectives from the real world can't crack the ice-cold heart of fantasy football. From that frosty perspective, there's no getting around the fact that, as a top-five pick in many leagues, Jackson's 2009 season was hugely disappointing.
Those that drafted him are no doubt still kicking themselves, and vowing to stay away this year. But while doing some research for Fanball's Fantasy OwnersEdge column on Jackson's prospects for 2010, I discovered just how unlucky his year was. In fact, it was one of the strangest seasons in NFL history, matched by only three other runners in the modern era.
Essentially, it's really rare for a runner to be this good and to have so few opportunities to score touchdowns. Here's the list of every season since the AFL-NFL merger that featured a rusher with more than 1400 yards running, and fewer than five TDs.
For Warrick Dunn, 2006 was his best yardage year ever, a surprising swan song for a runner always cast as a platoon back, and one expected to start ceding major carries to younger and flashier players like Jerious Norwood. But the scoring offense in Atlanta ran through Vick, who surprised everyone with a sudden ability to hit his receivers in the red zone. While Dunn led the team in rushing scores, Vick threw a career-high 20 touchdown passes for the 7-9 Falcons.
Barry Sanders saw a team falling apart around him in 1998, failing to add significant talent around him while he single-handedly carried the team to five winning seasons in seven years. When semi-competent quarterback Scott Mitchell went down, leaving the team in the hands of young Charlie Batch, defenses keyed up that much more against Sanders. In a stunning move, Sanders quit the game all together after this season, leaving Detroit in a franchise tailspin from which it is still trying to recover.
In 1981, Tony Dorsett and the Cowboys were in the midst of their primes, with quarterback Danny White (childhood hero of my Texas-bred wife) taking over for Roger Staubach and continuing a string of seven consecutive 10-win seasons that was only interrupted by the labor strife of 1982. Dorsett meanwhile had scored 11 touchdowns the previous season, and accounted for 36 in his first four years in the league.
However, old-schooler Coach Landry always maintained a stable of hard-headed fullbacks, and wasn't afraid to give them goal-line duties. Ron Springs was the lucky man this season, plunging in ten times to the much more heralded Dorsett's four. Perhaps this approach helped save Dorsett from needless punishment in his age 27 season -- he accounted for 36 more touchdowns over the next 7 years, with a fullback or two riding herd the whole time.
Of these three comparables, Jackson's season is closest in spirit to Barry Sanders', except for one obvious difference -- Jackson hasn't given up. And, as I state in the OwnersEdge impact report, there are reasons for optimism in 2010 assuming Jackson's back holds up: With any regression to the mean in terms of sheer luck, not to mention the real potential of an improved offense, Jackson's red zone opportunities and touchdowns should go up.no comments