Rams-Seahawks: Risks and Rewards

I had a chance last night to go back and review the first half of the Rams-Seahawks game, watching it for the first time after suffering through the local blackout. It doesn’t get any prettier in the rewatching, but it’s worth noting that the game didn’t slip away immediately. It was lost one fingertip at a time.

The one thing from the tone of the game that really seemed to jump out at me was that the Rams seem to be experiencing an identity crisis: the hallmarks of the Spagnuolo team that we were expecting to see was a team that made aggressive gambles on defense, and played straight up run-first smashmouth football on offense.

In this game, they did exactly the opposite.

After their opening drive — Laurinaitis getting a sack on the game’s first play on a blitz — they played a lot of basic four-man rush on defense, and were uncharacteristically tentative in the stopping the running game. If the strategy was “contain Hasselbeck’s fantasy numbers,” it was successful on the stat sheet — but he was able to convert key downs to Nate Burleson pretty much at will. And Justin Forsett had the now-typical career day for no-name Seattle running backs against the Rams.

Meanwhile on offense, they rolled out 4-WR sets for the first time this season, threw deep balls much more often than normal, and took some gambles that you don’t expect a conservative Spagnuolo team to take. In particular, the Rams appeared to invite pressure in the passing game — Kyle Boller was hit 13 times, a huge number in addition to being sacked 3 times and diving head-first into opposing players at the end of his scrambles. Yes, the Seahawks blitzed a lot, but many of these pressures in the first half appeared to be by design, trying to bait the defense into creating a hole, and gambling that Boller would be quick enough with his feet and release to take advantage. Sometimes it paid off, but every time he got creamed.

The high risk plays did help generate scoring opportunities, but the Rams kept gambling with those. In many cases, the safe play or the more “calculated” risk around the red zone would have resulted in the Rams entering the locker room with at least a 3-point lead, if not more. ESPN’s Mike Sando touched on some of the risks and rewards for both teams in a look at pivotal fourth downs, which goes to illustrate my point.

My take [on the fourth-and-four try at the end of the first half]: This one is tough to justify because 4 yards is a relatively long way to go. Running the ball isn’t much of an option in that situation. The Rams were playing the Seahawks tough to that point. The game got away from them a bit after the interception.

Arguably, the game was always on the verge of slipping away. It never felt as though the Rams had control of the gameplan. It makes me wonder if there is a desperation setting in, a “nothing to lose” attitude among the coaching staff, where they are excusing themselves from deviating from their original plans, and entertaining whatever play-call happens to pop into their heads.

In other words, it was a Linehan-esque day at the Dome. And one post-game tweet in particular stuck in my head as a question that deserves an answer:

HixxinSoulard Is Steve Spagnuolo a better NFL headcoach than Scott Linehan? Discuss. Show your work.

A couple of weeks ago, I would have sad “yes,” unreservedly. Right now, though, I wonder.