Sunday, Bloody Sunday: The Rams Do It Again

So there I was yesterday, typing happily away as the Rams' fourth quarter wound down. I had most of a column done, and I felt pretty damn good about it. 

I had a column nearly ready to go about how the Rams had just barely held on to beat the Seahawks, despite not putting the Seattle team away when they had the chance.

There were plenty of things to really, really like in this game, I had written, despite the score being much closer than it should have been. A couple of turnovers in the first half had taken points off the scoreboard for the Rams, and even put some on for the Seahawks, but the defense was outstanding, Steven Jackson had looked great for the first forty minutes or so, Mark Bulger and Torry Holt had connected a couple of times, and the Rams just looked sharp in general.

Was it a perfect game? No, it most certainly was not. However, for a St. Louis Rams team that has been just stunningly awful for quite a bit of this season, it was damn near a masterpiece. I may not have had a picture, due to the NFL's ridiculously antiquated blackout rules, but I made up for it with the vividness of my mind's eye.

Yep, I had most of a column written, Dead Rising on the XBox, half of a Michelob Golden still to drink, and a turkey sandwich on pumpernickel bread from Black Bear Bakery. Life just felt good. (By the way, if you've never had Michelob Golden, do whatever you can to get one. AB doesn't really sell it in this area of the country, so it isn't always easy, but it is soooo worth it. Just a tip from your friendly neighborhood sportswriter.) 

There was just about three minutes left on the clock while I was thinking these warm thoughts. 

By the time those three minutes were gone, my column was useless, my beer was gone, and my sandwich suddenly tasted of rancid mayo and tears. 

It may have been the ugliest three minutes of football I can personally recall, and that's saying something, considering that I've either watched or listened to every Rams embarassment this season. At least this one was on the radio; I was spared the ignominy of having to watch it happen. Instead, I simply sat there, dumbfounded, as Steve Savard and Jim Hanifan struggled to describe to me the utter collapse that was taking place in the dome. 

By the time those three minutes were gone, Steven Jackson was back to being an overpaid bum, Mark Bulger had choked in crunchtime, Torry Holt had been flagged for an offensive pass interference call that, after seeing the replays, I have to say was flat out bullshit, and the Rams' defense that had held Seattle in check so beautifully in the first half had thoroughly and massively defecated all over the bed, then proceeded to roll around in their own waste while weeping and screaming. And if that image is a bit too much for you, then you obviously had better things to do yesterday than follow the Rams game. 

So, first, the bad: 

This team needs to get one thing taken care of, and soon, and that's ball control. Just hold on to the goddamned ball. Seriously. If not for the two turnovers in the first half, the Rams are likely looking at a shutout going into halftime, and ten or maybe even fourteen more points on the board for themselves. Instead of 17-7, it could have easily been 31-0, and on the way to a rout. But neither Derek Stanley nor Joe Klopfenstein could accomplish the simple task of holding on to the ball, and the Seahawks were allowed to hang around and hang around, despite getting dominated. 

The Joe Klopfenstein turnover hurt me in particular, for a couple of reasons. One, at least the ball that Derek Stanley lost was on a jarring hit. The one Klopfenstein lost was basically just sheer lazy ball handling on his part. Two, it really hurts me because I'm a huge Joe Klopfenstein fan. I really am. When the Rams drafted him, I was all kinds of excited, as he had been probably me favorite tight end in that draft. I'm still a fan, and felt that Scott Linehan severely underutilized Klopfenstein, nearly ignoring him in the passing game. I think Klopfenstein has the size, the hands, and the ability to separate to become a really dangerous weapon in the Rams' offense. But if that's the kind of ball care we can expect, then there's really no reason to throw it to Joe. Instead of a first down on right around the Seattle seventeen-yard line, the play resulted in Seahawks' ball back near midfield. Just awful. 

The play calling in the fourth quarter was, to put it mildly, suspect. I don't know if it was a result of Jackson being out after getting his bell rung and Jim Haslett and Co. trying a little too hard to force something good to happen, or just a run of questionable calls, but even the Seahawks' players after the game were commenting openly on the fact that the Rams got away from what was working. See, that's not good. 

Still, there were some real positives in the game Sunday. I really, really like the 3/4 defensive alignment that Haslett and Rick Venturi trotted out there against Seattle, and I hope he sticks with it. The Rams actually have the personnel to run the 3/4, with Chris Long, Adam Carriker, and Victor Adeyanju all capable of being effective in a three-man front. The linebacker corps is much better suited to such an alignment, I think, as it allows guys like Will Witherspoon and Jason Kraft to be a bit more mobile and attack the opponents' backfield, while taking Witherspoon out of the middle linebacker position that he really just isn't cut out for anyway. When you go with this sort of alignment, Oshimago Atogwe really shines as well at free safety, roving more freely instead of being confined to run support. Just a much, much better use of the talent, in my ever so humble opinion. 

Sadly, even the defensive performance ended up leaving a bad taste, as in the second half, it seemed the coaching staff went conservative, trying to protect the lead, rather than continuing to attack and force the issue. My father is fond of saying the only thing a prevent-defense prevents is winning, and the longer I watch football, the more inclined I become to agree with him. 

This team is obviously a very different squad with Steven Jackson healthy and on the field. When he's out there, the Rams are capable of opening up some space, as defenders have to stay home and watch for Jackson, lest they get burned. Jackson gets hit in the head and sits out some plays here and there, and the opposing D just pins their ears back and comes right on in. Bulger threw the ball better, and the offensive scheme was certainly more imaginative than what we've seen for a while, but I think the biggest difference between the Ram offense of recent weeks and the almost-competent effort we saw on Sunday was having the big man out there. When your opponent has to respect your running game, it changes the tone of everything. Let's just hope Jackson can stay on the field for the rest of the season. 

All in all, it certainly wasn't the worst Rams game I've sat through this year. Still, though, when the smoke cleared and the dust settled and whatever other metaphor you would like to throw in there, the Rams still ruined my sandwich and my beer. And really, isn't that what counts?

- Aaron Schafer
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