Week 3: Packers (1-1) at Rams (0-2)
|Week||Date||Opponent||LY: Record||LY: Points||3Y: Record||3Y: Points|
|3||Sept. 27||vs. Green Bay Packers||6-10||419/380||27-21||1155/1037|
|Rams games vs opponent, last three seasons:|
|Week 5, 2006: Won 37-31 at home
Week 15, 2007: Lost 33-14 at home
I was at this game, and witnessed the gut-wrenching torment first hand. Despite scoring a relatively amazing 17 points, the Rams were playing catch-up all day trying to erase their own early mistakes. This game marked Steven Jackson’s first fumble of the year, the first appearance of Kyle Boller, the first turf monster injury in the House of Horrors (James Butler, knee), and the gruesome end of Laurent Robinson’s season. To be honest, I’d rather watch this than watch that game again.
But in hopes of finding some sort of silver lining in the middle of a hailstorm, we dive in.
The physicality of the Packers’ receivers and tight ends made their run game much more potent. The Rams and Packers both tried sweeps to the right on second down in the first quarter. Jackson’s was a designed cutback against the grain of his offensive line – it went for three yards. Meanwhile, Ryan Grant scuttled behind an armada of blockers for eleven easy yards and a first down. Among those blockers? The veteran Donald Driver, tight end Donald Lee, and rookie wide receiver Jordy Nelson. And each one of them locked up against a would-be tackler among our linebackers and secondary.
It’s fair to argue that the Rams haven’t had a physical presence at wide receiver since Isaac Bruce’s departure. (In the wake of stories surrounding his retirement, Bernie Miklasz told one of a game against New Orleans where Bruce leveled 16 different Saints on downfield blocks. To his credit, Donnie Avery made an effort last season, but unfortunately rang up as many penalties as successful blocks. Hopefully the Rams spend some serious time with their receivers in downfield blocking technique in camp this summer.
- Mike Karney was a non-factor, because Steven Jackson wasn’t following his blocks. Jackson loves the cutback run, loves finding space. Karney may be a good lead blocker, but it’s hard to block when the entire flow of the defense is cutting like a riptide away from you, and toward the runner. Too often he’s visible lunging after a linebacker as a D-lineman brings Jackson down two gaps away.
- Jason Brown had a rough day — part of a rough year — trying to run block. He was matched up against the huge and surprisingly nimble Johnny Jolly, nose tackle in the Packers’ 3-4 defense. Looking up his PFF rating, the stats underscore what we think we’ve seen: Brown is decent in pass protection, but below average in the power blocks. His rating in 2008 with the Ravens was much better though, so I went back and watched a bit of his matchup that year against the Giants. He definitely showed more life and more pop coming off the line, matched up against the smaller (but still very active and effective) Giants defensive front. Maybe it’s age or conditioning, maybe it’s a product of his linemates, but Brown dropped from the 3rd-highest rated center in the PFF rankings to 23rd in one year. The Rams have to get more from him to justify making him the highest-paid player at his position.
Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin ran a clinic on offensive adjustments. The Packers were able to score nine quick points despite gaining only two first downs, thanks to three gut-wrenching turnovers on three consecutive Rams drives.
In the early going, the Rams defense gave the Packers a taste of what our offense has been getting. In the crucial red zone stops of the first quarter, the defense stacked the box on first downs, sniffed out running plays and brought linebackers on the rush, but then dropped back into coverage with no blitz when Rodgers was in the shotgun. And it worked brilliantly.
To counter, McCarthy dialed up a long throw — and Donald Driver made a miraculous one-handed grab with Bradley Fletcher draped on his back like Superman’s cape — re-establishing the passing threat. It was the first of many deep passes designed to take advantage of the Rams’ man/press coverage. As soon as the deep pass backed the Rams off into a base defense, they ran the ball to Grant. As soon as they re-established Grant, they used him as a decoy at the goal line — running him parallel to the line of scrimmage while handing the ball directly to the upback, who plowed forward for an easy score. It was John Kuhn’s only carry of the game, and he ran right through a hole vacated by James Laurinaitis, who was bird-dogging Grant down the line.
This drive that put the Packers up 16-0 effectively put the Rams’ defense on the defensive for the rest of the game.
There were lessons to be learned from this game, but unfortunately the Packers were the ones doing the teaching. While we don’t expect Spags to suddenly adopt a 3-4 defense — and this defense did give up 17 points to Kyle Boller’s offense — Shurmur could do a lot worse than to imitate the play design and calling that Green Bay put on display in this game.