Rams-Jaguars: Final Observations

Thanks to the trusty NFL Game Rewind service, I was able to watch the Rams lose valiantly against the Jaguars — and it was a valiant, if gut-emptying, effort. Unfortunately, it will take all of that again and, as Marc Bulger himself says, a “perfect game” to have even the slimmest chance this week against the Indianapolis Colts.

Overall, the Rams game-planned well and played relatively mistake-free football. There were comparatively few mental mistakes by the players, something they have really struggled with in road games. However, when the game turned away from the gameplans and into a physical battle, they simply got out-toughed by the Jaguars — yes, even by the tiny Maurice Jones-Drew — and lost the game of inches. This physical inequity, as well as a few key mometum-changing moments, led this game from a win to a loss.

My quarter-by-quarter observations after the break:

First Quarter

Rams on Offense: Touchdown
The Rams come out, as they did the week before, in a hurry-up offense and immediately start moving the ball down the field. Not on their first play, of course, a signature game-opening SJ run for a single lousy yard, but on their next — a 22-yard completion by Bulger over the rookie CB Derek Cox. Burton gets easy separation on the play, and on the next — an 8-yard slant, again working against Cox.

The matchup against Cox will prove to be one of the game-deciders, as the rookie looks bad early but dramatically improves as the game goes on.

Because our commenter CoachConnors asked me to, I paid special attention to the efforts of Jacob Bell, and got rewarded with an early blocking mixup that led to a sack of Bulger by 99-Atiyyah Ellison. As on the play previous, Ellison rushes to the outside of Bell’s shoulder. Bell chips him into Barron. On the slant, it held up barely long enough. On this play, Barron got simply flattened by the third-year DT. Barron looked terrible on the play, in what would become a running theme of this game.

I was surprised to see the Jaguars playing so much 4-3 defense, but they showed a 3-4 on the following play, a third-and-eight. However, this backfired as the Rams let eight defenders get tied up on the strongside, and released Incognito to pave the way downfield on a beautifully executed screen to SJ.

Jackson picks up another first behind more good blocking. Bell and Brown tag-teamed very well on a pair of inside rushers, keeping the pocket stout. Aside from Barron getting his ass handed to him on the sack, the Rams are playing mistake-free, penalty-free football, setting up a very nice 17-yard TD pass to Avery, and that rarest of gems: a Rams lead.

On the touchdown pass, Shurmur dialed up Mike Sando’s favorite “Tiger” personnel group – two tight ends (bunched left), two WRs (wide and slot right), and one RB. The Tiger look confused the hell out of the Jaguars defense, as a linebacker was lined up against Avery in the slot. The speedster took advantage of the obvious mismatch and jetted outside on the backup man — again, the rookie Cox — for the TD grab. Because Avery is not a very physical player, it takes a bit of trickery like this to get him into open space, where his speed can really be a weapon.

Jaguars on Offense: Touchdown
Nate from Teal Power gave us the skinny on how to defend Jacksonville in our Q&A last week: “The entire Seahawks defense on 1st and 2nd downs were set on stopping Jones-Drew and on 3rd down blitzed most of the time.” So what do the Jaguars do? Set us up by running MJD twice into the pile, and throwing from a shotgun set on third and long.

When I say it was a set up, I mean it was the last time the Rams would see that sequence until late in the third quarter. Garrard and the offense immediately shifted into primarily throwing on first down, often taking shots deep to try and defeat the Rams’ aggressive fronts. [Memo to Pat Shurmur: Do this!]The strategy paid immediate dividends with a long connection to Holt, who absolutely undressed Ron Bartell in coverage.

Then the physicality of the Jaguars took over. CB Bradley Fletcher had a very nice tackle for little gain on an early run by Jones-Drew, going low. But as MJD trucked toward the goal line following Holt’s catch, Fletcher tried to go high on the player (listed at 5’7″ 207 pounds) and got bounced like a fly off a bowling ball.

Rams on Offense: blink and you’ll miss it
In a game with relatively few mental mistakes, Bulger makes a huge one on this series, trying to thread the ball through double-coverage to Donnie Avery. They say Rashean Mathis was blown up against Seattle, but he was lights out against us this weekend. I saw him physically overpower Burton on a number of routes, and was step for step with Avery on this route. The ball shouldn’t have been thrown, and certainly should not have been underthrown. It was no way to reward an electrifying (and penalty-free) 58-yard return by Amendola.

Jaguars on Offense
The Jags and Rams exchange three-and-outs, with Little and CJ Ah You getting credit for bringing heat and forcing an incomplete on Jacksonville’s 3rd and 4. Then, the Jaguars’ attack begins anew with another big play in the passing game, this one to Mike Sims-Walker. And again, Ron Bartell loses his man.

A big weakness in Bartell’s game becomes apparent — he loves to line up sideways, facing into the snap rather than fronting his player. Whether this is by design, to bluff a corner blitz, or by personal preference, it often leaves him flat-footed. Especially on a quick snap against a young, fleet-footed pass catcher like Sims-Walker. Bartell chases lamely as Dahl has to come up and clean up his mess.

However, Bartell immediately atones by flashing the primary strength of his game — he’s willing to play physical. Two plays later, he dives into the pile and lays a hat precisely on the ball being carried by Jones-Drew. Fumble, Rams recover.

Second Quarter

Rams on Offense: Avery gets dinged
At this point, Jason Smith subs in for Adam Goldberg, and the line appears not to miss a beat. It raises the question — if both players are healthy, and if Smith is at least as good as Goldberg, why isn’t he out there full time? And why is he practicing at left tackle?

In a play that proves to be a turning point, Donnie Avery is singled against Derek Cox, who this time sticks to him like a bad reputation. Bulger has to throw long, Avery leaps, stretched full out, lands on his hip and curls up like a bug. The drive stalls, Rams punt.

Jaguars on Offense: Sack city
The Rams start showing blitz on nearly every play, and occasionally make good by actually sending Laurinaitis — such as in the third down play in which JL’s man (Jones-Drew) catches an easy first down ball with the linebacker still a step away from the QB. In a running theme, the safety blitzes worked very well, but the linebacker blitzes that Garrard could easily pick up did not.

However, the pass rush does start to show itself, taking advantage of both rookie offensive tackles, Britton and Monroe on consecutive plays. Rather than bench either player, though, Del Rio kept both in the game all day long. Perhaps it was because of plays like Monroe’s — who, after he was beat by Hall for the sack, dove on the older player’s back and pancaked him face down into the turf. There was no flag on the play, and more importantly, no “sack dance” for the 32-year-old. Even though the drive failed, Monroe’s play kept the physical advantage on Jacksonville’s side.

Rams on Offense: Field Goal
A few things stood out on this drive, which was extended by a bone-headed play on Jacksonville’s part. With the Rams facing a 4th and 1 and deciding — against character! — to go for it, the outside linebacker 51 lining up in the neutral zone (and well away from the ball) gifted the Rams with a fresh set of downs. It’s very likely that the run attempt would have fallen short.

  • Jacob Bell had a strong series of blocks, including a perfect seal-off of #99 that sprung a 10-yard run by Jackson.
  • Burton showed rare physicality fighting for a first down.
  • The two TE sets are really effective, especially when they are overloaded to one side.
  • Whatever was ailing Josh Brown early this season appears to be okay now. He absolutely nailed the FG.

Third Quarter

Jaguars on Offense — That was a fumble, ref!
For whatever reason, the Rams seem to respond really poorly to extended rest. They consistently come out of timeouts and halftime a step slow. This drive, we see this manifested in the first of a series of third-down, drive-extending pass interference calls against us. (And we learn that the Rams lead the league in PI penalties. Fun facts!)

The defense is playing aggressively, but missing its chances for big plays — Bartell drops an INT on this drive, Dahl drops one on the next, and after Quincy Butler screams into Garrard, the refs wave off the fumble as an incomplete pass.

(A Rams offensive drive follows that is so inoffensive as to not require comment.)

As mentioned before, the Jaguars have crossed up the scouting reports, throwing frequently and successfully on first downs, and Flajole responds by switching into a vanilla 4-3 set with safeties deep. This does nothing to prevent the onslaught, making life easier for Garrard and Jones-Drew, who starts running the ball out of three-WR sets. Ach du Lieber!

Somehow, despite two more PI penalties on third down (not technically “shooting ourselves in the foot,” since these are mostly borderline calls on aggressive plays), the Rams get a stop. Quincy Butler shows us to play the ball, not the receiver! Who knew?

[Another Rams drive, another punt.]

The Jaguars recognize that the key to the Rams’ defensive success is the pass rush, and are doing a lot of things to defeat it — rolling Garrard 12 yards straight back, a la Aaron Rodgers in the Green Bay game; keeping tight ends in to block; and hitting hot reads on short dropbacks. However, one of these hot read passes turns into a tipped ball and easy INT by Laurinaitis, stopping yet another red zone drive by the Jags. They had nearly as many missed scoring opportunities this weekend as the Rams did against Minnesota.

Fourth Quarter

Rams on Offense: Making Bernie Miklasz mad
In his post-game 5 Minutes column, Bernie lambastes the Rams for forgetting Steven Jackson in the second half. Nowhere was this more apparent than on a critical, possibly early game-turning play in this quarter with the Rams still ahead 10-6!

They faced a third-and-two after a Jacksonville time-out. That could be a running down, right? You could conceivably give the ball to your best player and have him extend the drive, right? I mean, this isn’t crazy talk. Instead, Shurmur dials up a pass against Derek Cox, forgetting that this isn’t the first quarter and that the rookie is really starting to play some good ball. Matching him up against the 102-year-old Tim Carter (Willard Scott says happy birthday!) makes his life a lot easier, too. Cox easily slides in front of the route and plays the quick pass, knocking it harmlessly to the turf.

This, to me, is a prime example of the kind of mental mistake that kills a team, and falls squarely on the coaches, not the players.

Rams punt. Jacksonville takes the lead against a vanilla 4-3, almost a prevent defense. Is anyone really surprised?

Jaguars on Offense
Just watch this play: the third-and-goal from the 1. Masterful coordination and execution by the offensive line in very tight quarters. This is the discipline that playing in the AFC South demands.


Oh, and refs? This isn’t pass interference, either.

This is not pass interference, either

Leonard Little on Offense
I won’t even go into the Rams on offense, other than to observe that Barron and Jason Smith — who is playing the fourth quarter after Goldberg took the third — got blown up on consecutive plays to set up a third and 13, and then Tim Carter’s complete failure to come back to the ball kills a drive. Nightmarish.

Leonard Little, on the other hand, nearly single-handedly saves the Rams with a brilliant catch-and-run of a fluttering would-be screen pass. His dive for the pylon could have been the highlight of the year, if the Rams had pulled this one out.

Jaguars on Offense: Touchdown
Despite these opportunistic plays, the Jaguars are finding the sledding downfield smoother and easier than ever before. The physicality of the Jags offensive line, and the perceptible loss of speed by the Rams’ front as the game wore on, conspires to allow Jacksonville to drive for the go-ahead points. The final run is capped by a desperate block by Eugene Monroe on Chris Long — Monroe holds him just long enough to let MJD squirt through.

Rams on Offense: Please! Call the time out!
There are 23 seconds left when McMichael catches the ball for a first and goal at the nine. The Rams have a timeout. Why doesn’t Bulger use it? Why doesn’t the coach use it? Why is Bulger scrambling up to the line to dump the ball into the turf to stop the clock? Do they think that game-saving timeouts inside of two minutes have to originate from the replay booth? I… I’m completely at a loss.

To quote CoachConnors:

Clearly a massive undertaking, almost experiment in simulatenous learning curves, as we have rookies in HC, OC, and DC who have never held those posts before. Leadership sometimes doesn’t take hold right away.

So true. Immediately after the game, Spags said he thought laying up for the field goal was the right strategy. Hopefully, he doesn’t still think so today.