Last week, I wrote that the Rams looked like a team in identity crisis: gone was the aggressive defense, and the team took a huge number of unnecessary risks in the passing game, inviting pressure to try and open up deep passing plays. That week had none of the hallmarks of the Spagnuolo identity we were expecting to see. Well, this week on a frigid Chicago field, the Rams returned to character — with SJ running the ball for 118 tough yards on 28 carries, and the defensive front seven establishing a physical tone.
Unfortunately, we saw the return of a lot of other unpleasant hallmarks of the Rams’ recent past — a completely inept defensive backfield, a ton of untimely penalties by both offense and defense, and a passing game so conservative it might make Rush Limbaugh blush.
The result was an unholy mess of a game, one in which the Rams ventured to the Chicago side of the field seven times and scored only nine points. The offense, 30th in the league in scoring last season, has done the unthinkable and taken a step backward. Rams fans are finding little comfort in the relatively close 8-point losses of the last few weeks.
There were positives in this game, and they were easier to see than in last week’s head-scratching affair against the Seahawks.
- The Rams special teams kept us in the game all day long. Danny Amendola looks like the real deal as a return man, consistently making strong, decisive cuts and giving the Rams advantageous field position all game long. Three times he gave the Rams starting field position past the 40 yard line. Donnie Jones and new special teamer George Kent coffin-kicked the Bears inside the ten on multiple occasions, and Josh Brown made two long field goal tries to salvage points from stalled drives.
- Steven Jackson continues to be a force. Despite lacking a breakaway burst for most of the game, and despite running against 8- and 9-man fronts, Jackson bulled his way for 112 yards and five first downs, then caught an additional four passes to boot. His effort and ability would have paid huge dividends in the passing game if the Rams had a functional play-action game plan working.
- The Rams run defense closed down the Bears’ running lanes for most of the day, forcing a fumble and five three-and-outs for Chicago and continuing to give the our unworthy offense second and third and fourth chances to redeem themselves. David Vobora, James Laurinaitis, James Butler and Craig Dahl had strong individual plays against the run, and Oshiomogho Atogwe forced two fumbles before exiting the field late in the first half. Yes, the Bears ended with over 100 yards rushing, but most of that came in the second half as Chicago successfully used the run to kill the clock.
- Rams receivers played relatively mistake-free. Okay, I’m grasping for positives here. But besides a bad drop on third-and-9 by Amendola, the WRs for the Rams made plays in the few times that Boller could accurately get them the ball. Given more opportunities by even an average quarterbacking performance, and we could be talking about a much different outcome.
That said, there were some overwhelmingly bad things happening in this game. If I were grading the Rams, unit by unit, I wouldn’t stop at FAIL-ing the defensive backfield. I would have them expelled.
The Rams DBs lined up against a set of raw, undisciplined WRs whose only weapon is straight-line speed. And they got burnt to a crisp. Bartell was targeted all day, and did little to shake the target off his back. In the game’s first big play, Ron Bartell fell five steps behind Devin Hester, and James Butler couldn’t locate the ball — a badly underthrown, shaggable fly ball — while hustling over in deep support. Result? a 48-yard completion, Hester’s only one on the day. Very next play, Quincy Butler (who had his worst game as a pro, by far) fails to turn his head in exactly the same way, and draws an easy pass interference penalty in the end zone. Three plays later, touchdown Bears.
The Rams DBs showed poor technique time and time again, and the referees could easily have flagged them twice as many times as they did. And it is likely the fault in the scheme — which calls for bump-and-run against shifty, speedy WRs — as much as the talent on the field. It was a picnic for Cutler, who likely hasn’t seen a secondary this bad since his days in the AFC West.
Meanwhile, his relative success put the complete ineptitude of Kyle Boller in sharp relief. His puny 113 yards on 32 throws, and 48 QB rating on the day, were a horrifying flashback to his awful game against San Francisco earlier in the season. The Rams desperately need an “average” option at quarterback, and Boller is seemingly unable to provide it. A sample of post-game Boller tweets:
And finally, Pat Shurmur … deserves a whole series of posts to figure out what the hell is wrong with his play calling. The TV broadcast crew of Dick Stockton and Trent Green were openly confused by the Rams’ offensive sequencing, and suggested that he might have gotten “in a rut.”
At 1-11 and despite having the league’s second-leading rusher as a weapon, it might be a bit deeper than a rut at this point. More like a chasm of suck.
Overall, though, as much as this game hurts, with a decent QB and a decent offensive gameplan, this was a very winnable game on the back of a defensive-minded team effort. Even with the first-half breakdowns in the secondary, the Rams kept within striking distance. From that standpoint, a return to “Rams Football” in this game could almost be seen as a good thing.