More thoughts from Rams-Bengals

The Rams’ cornerbacks had a very rough go last night. In quick succession in the second quarter: Justin King got beat deep middle for what should have been a touchdown, but the throw glanced off Andre Caldwell’s fingers. Jonathan Wade gets flagged for defensive holding on a pass that was tipped incomplete by the D-line, turning a punt situation into an automatic first down. Finally, Ron Bartell mugs 8-5 in the end zone, giving the Bengals a first-and-goal from the 1. Throw in Bradley Fletcher’s busted coverage — he bit hard on a headfake inside, and Chris Henry just blasted up the field behind him — and you have a very dispirited unit.

There were some positives, though: Chad Johnson was rendered largely invisible, which you can credit to primary cover-men Bartell and Wade. And Quincy Butler just continues to make plays. He’s all but guaranteed himself a roster spot with his strong camps and with last night’s interception. Up until this week, I had Fletcher ahead of Butler. Now, they have definitely switched places, in my mind. Mike Sando projects the Rams to keep 8 total defensive backs — corners and safeties. These guys will be battling hard for that eighth spot. (I think King, Wade, and Hill are safe.)

The tight end play continues to be a bit of a concern. Our best in-game receiving option has been Billy Bajema, who has caught all of 7 passes in his career. Bajema, McMichael and Fells have each caught 4 passes, but both McMichael and Fells have been plagued with drops. Additionally, at the age of 30, McMichael’s legs appear to be going, if not gone. He just isn’t getting separation. At the beginning of camp, he was a clear-cut #1. Now he is not, though Fells has not quite made the leap to compete that I hoped he would. I don’t think there’s a doubt that McMichael makes the team, but the Rams may be looking hard for a sure-handed upgrade among roster cuts and practice squads.

The Rams continued to struggle on third down conversions, something that hamstrung the team last season. However, most of those struggles came with the second and third-team offense. Here’s how the first-team offense dealt with these do-or-die plays:

First Quarter

3rd-and-11, STL 10 (14:14) (Shotgun) 12-K.Boller pass incomplete short left to 84-R.McMichael.

This one was on Boller. Poor, jittery throw was nearly a pick-six.

3rd-and-8, STL 44 (10:20) (Shotgun) 12-K.Boller pass short left to 89-R.Curry to CIN 30 for 14 yards (41-C.Ndukwe) [68-J.Fanene].

A very nice run after catch by Curry rescues a too-short route.

3rd-and-2, CIN 12 (6:08) 12-K.Boller pass short middle to 11-L.Robinson to CIN 5 for 7 yards (29-L.Hall, 31-R.Williams).

Perfect slant pass, as Boller and Robinson really start clicking after an early misfire. And the outside pass perfectly set up Gado’s TD on a nifty little shovel pass on the next play. Great calls, execution.

3rd-and-7, STL 19 (:13) (Shotgun) 12-K.Boller pass short middle to 15-T.Carter to SL 24 for 5 yards (22-J.Joseph, 57-Dh.Jones).

A mirror of the pass to Curry, without the run after catch. A conservative call that didn’t fully pan out, though on that side of the field better to play it safe.

Second Quarter

3rd-and-5, STL 36 (4:47) (Shotgun) 12-K.Boller pass short middle to 84-R.McMichael to CIN 49 for 15 yards (41-C.Ndukwe; 29-L.Hall).

This was McMichael’s standout play of the game. Unfortunately, he limped off afterward. No injury was reported, though.

3rd-and-1, CIN 40 (2:59) 25-A.Pittman right guard to CIN 44 for -4 yards (90-P.Sims).

Bengals smelled run all the way, which was a little surprising considering all the third-down passing so far. Not only that, but the defense surged right at the supposed point of attack. Very similar to a play last week against the Falcons, where Karney tried to lead-block but got swallowed up four yards behind the line of scrimmage, leading to a tackle for a loss on Gado. Rams coaches should look closely at this play, are they tipping something in their alignment?

Sadly, the combination of Null and Berlin only converted one third down the entire second half. The Rams finished 4-for-12 in that department after a 3-for-6 start by the first stringers.

The Rams have to cut five players from the roster this week. My guesses for those five are not based on any glaring mistakes from last nights game, but from the usage patterns and lack of competition shown:

1. WR Jarrett Byers — ironically, the Rams appear to be stacked with capable hands at the position. And among the hopefuls, only Sean Walker has developed chemistry with a QB. Byers hasn’t looked bad, but just doesn’t have a home here. Nate Jones should also be worried.

2. TE Eric Butler — fifth on the depth chart, and a distant fifth behind Klopf, Fells, Bajema and McMichael. Did little to distinguish himself from the “camp body” designation.

3. one of CBs Marcus Brown, David Roach, & Cord Parks — among this group of hopefuls, Brown is probably the odd man out. However, Roach’s penalty on special teams last night doesn’t help his cause, and Parks has been little used.

4. DT Antwon Burton — when you get tagged with the 99 in camp, its like wearing the red shirt as an ensign on Star Trek. You might get off a line or two, but then ZAP … you’re gone.

5. MLB Dominic Douglas — only one tackle registered so far in the preseason. For a middle linebacker, that’s as small a splash as a Chinese high diver.