Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rams to perform on prime time TV for finale next week

The St. Louis Rams will move into the NBC prime time slot for their season finale in Seattle. The decision to move the Rams and Seahawks into the prime time slot is understandable, considering the game will have playoff implications. But going into the 2010 season, it was highly unlikely that the Rams were going to see a prime time game, especially since they went 1-15 in 2009.

The games will be at 7:20 CT and 8:20 ET on NBC.. There is a good chance that the winner of the game will ultimately win the division.

Rams break losing streak with a 25-17 victory over the 49er's

The Rams did something they haven't been able to do since the 2007 season- they beat the San Francisco 49er's with the final score of 25-17. The 49er's were widely considered the pre-season favorites to win the division, but the Rams' victory today knocked them out of playoff contention.

The first half of the game looked awfully familiar. In fact, I think we saw something similar just last week against Kansas City. The Rams opened the game against the Chiefs with two solid drives that were not finished, resulting in two field-goals. They're failure to score touchdowns really hurt their chances of winning that game. This week, the team had similar woes in the first half.

The Rams tackled quarterback Troy Smith in the end-zone for a safety, but after receiving the punt and taking the ball into the 49er's red-zone, quarterback Sam Bradford coughed up a fumble and gave the ball right back. The Rams had a chance to take a commanding lead on that drive, but they failed to capitalize.

The fumble was not the only killer for the 49er's. They had six penalties in the first quarter alone, which absolutely killed them. However, the Rams failed to use the 49er's penalty ridden quarter to their advantage, and they did not inflict any serious damage other than a nine point lead. That nine point lead was ultimately turned into a two point lead after Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt for a touchdown.

After Ginn's touchdown the score was 9-7, and the Rams eventually made it 12-7 after a Josh Brown field-goal. Later in the second quarter, San Francisco wide-receiver Michael Crabtree caught a 60-yard touchdown, giving the 49er's their first lead of the game 14-12, and it remained that score until halftime.

The Rams were able to take the lead back in the 3rd quarter with a Josh Brown field-goal, which made it 15-14. It was hard to have any confidence in that lead given the lifeless state of the offense at this point, but thing eventually improved in the 4th quarter.

During the 4th quarter, we saw the Rams do something that we haven't seen them do in the past two weeks, which was finding Danario Alexander deep down field. Alexander caught a 84-yard catch that would've been a touchdown, but he stepped out of bounds. Quarterback Sam Bradford was able to hit Laurent Robinson in the end-zone right after, making the score 22-14.

The 49er's decided to put in quarterback Alex Smith in the game over Troy Smith on the drive following the touchdown. It was probably a move that most Rams fans welcomed with open arms. A.Smith did however lead his offense to a field-goal for his first drive, which made the score 22-17.

On the kick-off following the field-goal, Danny Amendola returned the kick for 84 yards inside the San Francisco red-zone. With over four minutes left in the game, the Rams decided to run on every down and settle for a field-goal, rather that take a shot at the end-zone to seal the game. Probably wasn't a decision most fans agreed with, but luckily it worked out in the end. After the field-goal following Amendola's big return, the score was 25-17, which remained the final score.


Sam Bradford: Bradford was able to throw a touchdown pass today, which is something that he hasn't been able to do in any of the past three games. He did not have any interceptions, despite having five in the previous three games. His 292 yard performance was impressive, as well as his ability to command the hurry-up offense.

Danario Alexander: Every time we think he has gone quiet he comes out with a big game. It is too bad he has knee problems, because he certainly has the talent to be a top receiver in this league.

The .500 hopes: It is good to know that the possibility of the Rams entering the playoffs 8-8 is still alive. Entering the playoffs 8-8 has happened in the past, so it is somewhat respectable. But if they enter with a 7-9 record then they deserve the ridicule that will surely follow.

Defensive-Backs: I am so sick of hearing about how "solid" the Rams' cornerback tandem is. Both Fletcher and Bartell are very replaceable, and showed today. Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree combined for 192 yards and a touchdown, and it's not like it was a secret that they would be the primary targets.

The O-Line: The members of the Rams' offensive-line have embarrassed themselves on a weekly basis, particularly in the run game. Roger Saffold is the only member of that unit that has been consistently playing at a high level all season. Mike Pouncey would be a welcomed choice in the first round if the Rams can address receiver and cornerback in free-agency.

The 49er's: After all of the hype surrounding the 49er's this season, and after they were declared division champs before the season even began, it was certainly good to see the home team personally murder their hopes and dreams. Looks like the city of San Francisco is done with football for 2010, but at least they have their pride rallies and bath houses to keep them occupied until next season.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rams vs. 49er's: Pre-Game Package

The Rams are coming off back-to-back losses against the New Orleans Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs, and it is very possible that they will be stuck in a "must win" situation for the remainder of the season. Though they are not mathematically eliminated if they lose one of their two remaining games, they need to finish out with wins in order to guarantee a playoff spot.

Anytime a team is in "sudden-death" mode it's not a very ideal situation. Luckily for the Rams, their two remaining games are very winnable. They will play the San Francisco 49er's tomorrow for their 2010 home finale, and they will end the season in Seattle against the Seahawks. Both of those teams have had their struggles, and they are both division rivals of the Rams. Simply put- if they beat their division rivals for these last two games then they'll go to the playoffs; if not, then they won't (and they probably don't deserve to if that is the case).

The Rams lost to the 49er's earlier in the season in San Francisco; it was a 23-20 overtime loss, at a time when the Rams were still struggling to find their first road victory. Since the Rams did lose that game, it is clear  that this game won't be easy, but many things have changed since then.

The biggest difference between week 10 and now is the injuries that the 49er's have accumulated. Star running-back Frank Gore has once again found himself on the injury-reserve list, and all-pro linebacker Patrick Willis will be limited with a hand injury. Their starting offensive-tackle Joe Staley will miss the game with a broken fibula. Back-up running-back Anthony Dixon will either miss the game, or be very limited with an ankle injury. And to top it off, linebacker Takeo Spikes will be limited with a hand injury, and their number two receiver Josh Morgan will also be limited with a shoulder injury.

One advantage that the 49er's still have is their big play receivers- wide-receiver Michael Crabtree and tight-end Vernon Davis. Back in week 10, those two scorched the Rams' secondary for a combined 8 receptions for 140 yards, including one touchdown. Given the sad state of the St. Louis secondary, it is obvious that those two receivers should be the Rams' primary focus on defense.

Another advantage that the 49er's had in week 10, that they will still have this week, is quarterback Troy Smith. It is probably safe to assume that most Rams fans would rather watch the defense face the career bust Alex Smith, rather than the mobile Troy Smith who terrorized the Rams defense in their last match-up with 356 passing yards, including one touchdown pass.

Troy Smith stands at only six feet tall, and his vision is extremely limited inside the pocket (probably the reason why he has never been a consistent starter). His vision greatly improves when he is able to roll outside of the pocket, which is precisely what the Rams allowed him to do in their last match-up. The goal of defensive-ends Chris Long and James Hall should be to contain T.Smith inside the pocket, as well as apply consistent pressure, as he is prone to mistakes.

On offense... you can call it a "rookie wall", you can call it a "slump", but whatever you call it, quarterback Sam Bradford has to snap out of it and make some plays through the air. The Rams have struggled to establish a run all season long (especially during goal-line situations), so their best bet is to get touchdowns through the air. Get Steven Jackson involved as a receiver. Coordinator Pat Shurmur needs to figure out a way. Because after all, the 49er's have the 25th ranked pass defense in the NFL (Rams rank 19th just to give you an idea), so they must take advantage.

The Rams offense has been completely out of sync the past two weeks, and they've had absolutely no rhythm. If they can find that rhythm, contain T.Smith and his top receivers, then the Rams should pull this one off. It shouldn't be too difficult of a task considering that they have home-field advantage, and it took two pretty solid teams to initially disrupt that rhythm.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bradford has been ideal for the Rams even before he was drafted

I've been reading a lot of negative comments from fans concerning Sam Bradford's unsatisfying production from the past few games. It's hard to argue that the past few games have been solid performances for Bradford, and it would not be unfair to to claim that he has been flat out bad recently.

The past three games have been against Kansas City, New Orleans and Arizona. Bradford has not thrown a single touchdown pass against any of those teams, and he has accumulated five interceptions. Also, he has exceeded 200 yards in only one of those games (New Orleans).

But when fans start to claim that Bradford has been infected with Bulger-syndrome, and that the Rams should start back-up quarterback AJ Feeley for the final two games, you know that those fans are being over dramatic.

The reason the past three games have looked so bad is only because Bradford has been shockingly good for the most part, even before the Rams drafted him. Prior to the past three games, literally every obstacle has been overcome by Bradford with more than ideal results...

1) The Injury
During Bradford's final season with the Oklahoma Sooners he injured his shoulder's AC joint which eventually sidelined him for the entire season. This raised questions on whether or not he would be a safe investment for the Rams' number one overall pick.

Before the option of drafting him could even be considered, it was necessary to see him throw. Scouts had a chance to see him throw at his pro day workout, which was Bradford's first time throwing for an audience since the injury. He not only proved that he could throw again, but he completed 49 out of his 50 passes (the one incompletion being a dropped ball by the receiver). Sports writer and NFL analyst Gil Brandt claimed it was the best work out he has witnessed since hall-of-famer Troy Aikman's pro day.

2) The Washington Drama
A report was released by Bradford's agent Tom Condon that claimed Bradford would not sign a contract prior to the draft. A newspaper in Washington D.C. interpreted the report as a sign that Bradford would not want to play for a lifeless franchise such as the Rams, and that the Washington Redskins (drafting number four overall) would likely be his preference.

This report was quickly mistaken for Bradford's actual opinion. Following the claims, Bradford was on national television for an interview. When the reporter asked him about the claims, he immediately put the topic to sleep. He claimed that he had no idea where the rumors came from, and he assured the reporter that he would play hard for any team that drafted him.

3) The "Hold Out"
As the 2010 training camp was about kick-off for the Rams, the team had not yet signed Bradford to a contract. The fact that they were cutting it so close led fans to speculate a possible hold-out. Bradford missed the team meeting on Friday, as he was not yet signed, but he arrived to the teams first "real" training camp practice on Saturday after signing his contract. It's probably safe to say that missing the team meeting did not hurt is development.

4) Pre-Season
After generating nothing but positive reports out of training camp, it was finally time to see how Bradford could do against real opponents. He easily made his potential clear as he threw for three touchdowns and 338 yards during the pre-season, including his game against the Patriots, who he scorched for 189 yards and two touchdowns.

5) The QB Battle
Despite Bradford's solid pre-season performance, there was still no certain decision on whether he would start over AJ Feeley (who was injured at the time). Three days after the team's pre-season finale he was officially named the starter.

6) Yeah, but what about REAL defenses?
That's a line that was thrown around a lot regarding how Bradford would perform in the regular season, as oppose to the pre-season. But given that he is one of only three rookie quarterbacks to ever exceed 3,000 yards, I'd say he killed that argument.

The point? Patience. The Rams are just not a very talented team, and that is the ugly truth. No one can really expect them to have a stone cold defense, or an electric offense with the players they have. So is it really so hard to believe that a rookie quarterback on a mediocre team can have a cold streak? He killed the six concerns listed above pretty quickly, so the current concerns will likely be dead as well with a little bit of time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rams lose to Chiefs 27-13: Post-Game Package

The Rams got flat out outplayed for a second week in a row. Last week it was against New Orleans, who won the Super Bowl last year. But this week there was really no excuse. Horrible play-calling and execution resulted in them getting overpowered.

Things were looking good when the Rams got field-goals on their first two drives. They took a 6-0 lead, but their inability to score touchdowns didn't do them any favors. The Rams' defense frequently gets winded towards the end of games, so anyone familiar with the 2010 Rams should have known that that they needed touchdowns rather than field-goals.

The defense didn't wait until the 4th quarter to become futile, like they typically do; instead, they lost their energy by the start of the 2nd quarter. The Chiefs got their first touchdown on a 2-yard pass to TE Leonard Pope, and got their second touchdown of the quarter on a 2-yard run by RB Jamaal Charles. The Rams trailed 14-6 at halftime.

Instead of making the proper adjustments, and regaining the momentum, the Rams entered the second half with a pathetically flat offense. The defense played somewhat decent, as they prevented the Chiefs from getting any touchdowns in the 3rd quarter, but they gave up a field-goal in the 3rd quarter, as well as one in the 4th. This made the score 20-6.

The Rams then managed to comeback and make it a one score game. A solid drive in which they finally opened up the passing game eventually ended with Steven Jackson marching into the end-zone. This happened with about four minutes left in the 4th quarter, making the score 20-13.

Though the Rams were one score away from tying the game with time left in the final quarter, the game was not nearly as close as it looked at that point. The Rams were getting outplayed for the majority of the game, and it continued after the Rams gave the ball back to the Chiefs following the Steven Jackson touchdown. On the Chiefs' first play of the drive, Jamaal Charles broke free for an 80-yard run and was tackled inside the 5-yard line. The drive ended in a RB Thomas Jones touchdown, which shattered the Rams hopes as they fell behind 27-13.

The Rams made a pathetic attempt at a hurry-up offense. A sack put them into a 4th-and-forever situation, and Bradford threw his second interception to end the game.

The Rams did not lose their season because of this game. They are possibly in "sudden-death" mode for the rest of the season, meaning one more loss could very possibly end their season. However, even though their season is not over, the last few games have made it painfully clear to the fans that the Rams are just not a very talented team. They are benefiting from a ridiculously weak schedule, and they are capable of being overpowered in every way by winning teams.


S. Bradford21/4318102
S. Jackson196718
S. Bradford2203
D. Amendola760016
D. Fells447025
S. Jackson537013
B. Gibson329013
L. Robinson2808

M. Cassel15/2918411
J. Charles11126180
T. Jones2262116
M. Cassel617013
J. Battle2907
D. McCluster1-40-4
D. Bowe253028
C. Chambers342026
J. Charles327014
T. Moeaki325012
T. Jones116016
T. Castille112012
D. McCluster1707
L. Pope1212T


Danny Amendola-  Amendola was probably the only offensive player to show any heart today. Amendola led the team in receiving with 7 catches for 60 yards. He is also the one who made the Rams' only touchdown drive possible.

Steven Jackson- Jackson needs to get some credit for scoring the team's only touchdown of the game.

James Laurinaitis- Laurinaitis was flying around the ball today. He had 10 tackles in the game, but that doesn't tell the whole story. He is a big reason why this game was not a blow-out.

Sam Bradford- Bradford has been looking like a rookie the past two games. The last two games he has been struggling with tipped passes, which is something he was struggling with during the pre-season. And I won't put a lot of blame on him for the interceptions, as those were in desperate comeback situations, but that might force some to question his 4th quarter comeback ability.

Offensive-Line- Three penalties on Jason Smith alone, and they were penalties that absolutely killed drives. But the penalties aren't everything, as the protection for Bradford was inexcusable and pathetic. If the Rams can answer their wide-receiver and secondary issues in free-agency, then I certainly would not oppose OG/C Mike Pouncey as a first round draft pick.

Receivers- Way too many dropped passes today, something that has been haunting the unit all season long. If I were one of the receivers, I would really try to avoid dropping passes, as each of the receivers are very replaceable. Laurent Robinson was particularly frustrating today.

Defense- The defense did a solid job in the 1st and 3rd quarters, but that was not nearly enough. Anytime the opposing team has 200 yards of combined rushing... it is a very bad day.

Pat Shurmur- This is not Shurmur's first appearance in "The Ugly" section. The guy just shows week in, and week out, that he is not an NFL caliber Offensive Coordinator. He doesn't have all of the talent in the world to work with, but shouldn't he compromise by attacking the defense's weak points? In the case of Kansas City, their weak point is their secondary; and not only did Shurmur avoid attacking the secondary, but he did the exact opposite. I would not be the least bit surprised if Shurmur lost his job following the season. That doesn't mean it will happen, it just means I wouldn't be surprised.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rams vs. Chiefs: Pre-Game Package

The Rams are about to enter a very important game. The three game road trip was their first major test, which they passed after winning two out of those three games. Their next test will be this Sunday against Kansas City, possibly the most difficult team remaining on their schedule.

The Rams really didn't stand a chance against the New Orleans Saints; as I mentioned in my Rams @ Saints pre-game article, the Rams just didn't match up well with New Orleans. They have a weak secondary, which was easily exposed by the Saints' potent air attack.

The Saints also entered that game with the top ranked pass defense in the NFL. Typically, the Rams are able to win games when their passing game flows with ease, but the solid Saints' secondary prevented that from happening. So between the passing game getting shut down, and the Rams' weak secondary, they just didn't match up very well.

This Sunday should be the exact opposite. The Chiefs are a solid team, but the Rams' strengths certainly match up well with the Chiefs as a whole.

The Chiefs are a run first team, and they can absolutely kill teams with big plays on the ground. However, the Rams have a solid run defense. If the Rams can shut down the Chiefs' rushing attack, then the Chiefs will have no life to their offense.

Of course that is easier said than done, but it's not like the Chiefs have been facing power house run defenses all season. Here are the Chiefs' 2010 opponents that rank in the bottom ten of the NFL in run defense: Denver (31st) twice, Indianapolis (29th), Oakland (26th), Cleveland (23rd), and of course Buffalo (dead last at 32nd). So six out of their thirteen games this season have been against teams that rank in the bottom ten in run defense. They even lost to three of those teams (Oakland, Denver, and Indianapolis). They were also forced to go into overtime with Buffalo, who has the worst run defense in the NFL.
The Rams must stop the Chiefs' solid ground game.

So given that Oakland, Indy, Denver, and Buffalo were not slaughtered by the Kansas City run game, it is hard for me to believe that the Rams' 12th ranked run defense will be blown away. Mix that with their quarterback's questionable injury status, and the K.C. offense is not very scary.

Quarterback Matt Cassel had his appendix removed, and he was forced to miss the Chiefs' game last week against San Diego (which they lost 31-0). Cassel is a limited participant in practice this week, and his status is considered day-to-day. Even if Cassel does play, the chance of his abilities being limited are great.

As far as the Chiefs' defense is concerned, their run defense ranks right in the middle at 15th. This means that Steven Jackson won't be able to run wild, but he certainly will not be shut down. The Kansas City run defense is pretty equal to the New Orleans run defense as far as ranking go, and New Orleans' ability to stop the run last week was hardly the problem for the Rams, as Jackson rushed for 96 years with a 6 yards per carry average.

The Kansas City pass defense (22nd) is just as bad as the Rams' (21st), and we know how bad the Rams' pass defense can be. This is very good news for the Rams, as they are often able to win games when their passing game is working. If Danario Alexander can step up and have another big day, then the Rams have a chance to make some huge plays through the air.

This Sunday is a big game, one of the biggest in recent Rams' history. If the Rams lose, then they are in a sudden-death situation for the remainder of the season. If they win, then they will have a great shot at winning the NFC West. In fact, if they win on Sunday, and beat San Francisco the following week, then that should just about clinch the division.

PREDICTION: Rams 31  Chiefs 20


Sam Bradford474286288417
Steven Jackson27610813.94
Kenneth Darby3310032
Danny Amendola685678.33
Brandon Gibson4449211.22

Matt Cassel354212250323
Brodie Croyle177400
Jamaal Charles19211776.13
Thomas Jones19076645
Dwayne Bowe5988815.114
Tony Moeaki3845111.93

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

This Sunday is the biggest regular season game since 2004, so support your team

It is hard to remember the last time the Rams have played a meaningful regular season game. But this Sunday they will take on the Kansas City Chiefs, and the outcome of the game may have serious implications on their playoff hopes.

The last time they've been in a game this meaningful? The 2004 season against the New York Jets for the season finale in St. Louis. The Rams entered that game with a 7-8 record, and they needed a win in order to qualify for the wild-card. The Rams beat the Jets in overtime 32-29. They moved on to the wild-card round of the playoffs, and beat the Seattle Seahawks. The Rams then lost in the divisional round to the Atlanta Falcons. Had they lost that game to the Jets, they would've never been in the playoffs at all.

The same could be true for this Sunday. A loss doesn't necessarily eliminate them, but it could put them into a 'sudden-death' situation for the final two games of the season. If they do win, then they will have a great shot at winning the division, even if they win just one of the two final games (against San Francisco in St. Louis, and against the Seahawks in Seattle).

The Rams match up well against the Chiefs, especially since they are a run first team. Also, the Rams may be blessed with the opportunity to play against the Chiefs' disastrous back-up quarterback Brodie Croyle, with starter Matt Cassel listed as questionable. But I will discuss all of this later in the week in my pre-game articles.

For now, just know that this is a huge game, and it would be very helpful if Rams didn't have to face a sea of red in their home stadium. Meaning if you are a real fan, and if you want to see a win, then don't sell your ticket to a Chiefs fan; and if you are 'on the fence' regarding whether or not you will buy a ticket, don't think, just do it. Since both teams are in Missouri, and since Kansas City is a very popular team, the Rams need help from their fans if they want that home-field advantage.