The Rams’ 3-1 record in the preseason was earned when their opponents pulled their first-teamers off the field. Unfortunately for the Rams, Seattle showed no such courtesy.
Seattle’s front seven and the noise level of the stadium consistently flustered the Rams’ attempts at offensive execution. It should say something that our best offensive lineman today was Alex Barron, who made Patrick Kerney largely a nonfactor in this game. However, Brandon Mebane, Darryl Tapp and Darren Jackson were constant threats, and the rookie Aaron Curry was often sent into the backfield as well. The result was starkly similar to last year’s Rams line performance — multiple drive-killing penalties, a collapsing pocket, and very few inside running lanes for Steven Jackson. Our guards collected 40 yards in penalties, with the People’s Champion, Richie Incognito, amassing a false start and two personal fouls for “finishing blocks” well after the whistle.
If we lived in feudal Japan, Spagnuolo might call upon Incognito to draw his short sword and perform ritual suicide, but he was hardly the only problem on the Rams’ line. Brown and Bell, despite being penalized less, were far from effective. The Rams generated absolutely no running room between the tackles, even in the first half when Seattle was playing relatively “honest” (i.e. not loading up the box), and again Steven Jackson was solely responsible for his yardage.
The line play continued to ripple outwards in terms of consequences for the Rams’ offense. Much of the optimism behind the Football Outsiders’ preseason prediction of an 8-8 record or better depended on three key factors that were all in poor form today:
- Heavy investment in linemen — they focused on our high draft pick, but the free agent dollars given to Brown should also be factored in. While Smith didn’t make any obvious mistakes, there was a constant flow of ugly teal shirts into the Rams’ backfield, and the Rams designed few running plays in his direction.
- Improved red zone performance — their rationalization was that this would get better simply by improved luck alone. The Rams went an ugly 0-for-2 in this department.
- Better third-down performance — Rams went 2 for 12 today, and 0-for-3 in terms of these key factors.
Again and again, though, penalties put the Rams in unfavorable third down situations. Here is a chart of the Rams 12 third-down opportunities, and you can see this for yourself:
|3rd-and-14||Richie Incognito: false start on first down||Punt|
|3rd-and-22||Richie Incognito: unnecessary roughness on second down||Punt|
|3rd-and-7||Donnie Avery: illegal block/holding on second down||Punt|
|3rd and 2||None||First down|
|3rd and 1||Randy McMichael: false start
Jason Brown: delay of game
|Missed field goal|
|3rd and 12||None||Punt|
|3rd and 5||Seahawks’ Darryl Tapp: offsides||First Down|
|3rd and 20||Richie Incognito: unnecessary roughness||Punt|
|3rd and 9||None||Punt|
|3rd and 6||None||First Down|
|3rd and 8||None||Punt|
|3rd and 9||None||Punt|
|3rd and goal||None||No score|
Incognito was benched briefly after his second personal foul, but the coach didn’t bawl him out in the process. Instead, he put his arm around the player and gave him just a few words — probably something to the effect of “keep giving them hell, but stop when the whistle blows.” As you can see from this chart, the Rams got markedly fewer penalties from this point forward, but by that time any semblance of offensive rhythm on first and second downs was blown.
While there were positives deeply buried in the game, particularly in our first quarter performance, the Rams offense cut its own throat with these drive-killing penalties.