It was a quiet night of beers for two dads over at the Tap Room, and as Tom and I stood at the bar with two Kolsches in front of us, conversation turned to The Wire. I started watching the series on his recommendation last year, and Mrs. RamsHerd and I devoured all five seasons as fast as Netflix could send them to us. We laughed over Landsman and The Bunk, talked Omar and Marlo and the nature of villainy, and the unlikely five-season story arc of Bubbles. But when talk turned to Season 4, Tom shook his head.
“That’s the one I can’t watch again. It’s too much. Knowing what happens to those kids, it’s… intense.” Tom punctuated this, as he often does, with a short self-deprecating laugh and a sip of beer.
As I turn back to Games 4 and 5 on the Rams’ schedule, two ass-whoopings by a combined score of 73-10, I know exactly how he feels. I sit down to watch them again, and the gruesome outcomes loom over the optimism of the opening kickoff and 0-0 on the scoreboard.
But there may be nuggets of wisdom embedded within, so we daren’t turn away. Enter the den of evil once known as Candlestick Park.
Week 4: Rams (0-3) at 49ers (2-1)
|Week||Date||Opponent||LY: Record||LY: Points||3Y: Record||3Y: Points|
|4||Oct 4||at San Francisco 49ers||7-9||339/381||19-29||956/1157|
|Rams games vs opponent, last three seasons:|
|Week 2, 2006: Lost 13-20 @ San Francisco
Week 12, 2006: Won 20-17 at home
Week 2, 2007: Lost 17-16 at home
Week 11, 2007: Lost 13-9 @ San Francisco
Week 11, 2008: Lost 35-16 @ San Francisco
Week 16, 2008: Lost 17-16 at home
The official recaps called this game a “defensive statement” for the 49ers, allowing the Rams only 177 total yards, and never allowing a dent on the visiting scoreboard. But the Rams’ defense was trying to make a statement as well, giving only 14 points on 233 yards of total offense. Both teams had similar figures in terms of number of first downs (13-9), third down percentage (30%-31%), and limiting the damage from the running game (23 carries for 79 yards vs 24 carries for 74). But the quality of those runners tells the story behind the stats.
- Glen Coffee’s best rushing day on the season was roughly equal to Steven Jackson’s worst. Shutting down Coffee was no challenge for any other team the Niners ran him against, so the Rams shouldn’t get bonus points for holding the Frank Gore-less run game in check. However, the Niners collapsed on SJ at every turn, and did it mostly without needing the help of their defensive superman, Patrick Willis. How was that?
- The 49ers simply were not biting on fakes or misdirection. Singletary gets a lot of pub for instilling “toughness” on defense, but perhaps not enough credit for instilling “smarts.” The Niners were always watching for the ball, always ready for Jackson’s cutback away from his lead block or away from the flow of the offensive line. One play that caught the announcers’ eye was a fake end-around to Amendola and what looked like a gaping hole opened up by Richie Incognito. But the defense didn’t over-pursue the fake and swarmed to the hole, stopping Jackson for a minimal gain. The veteran presence of players such as Takeo Spikes and Nate Clements, who have seen every kind of play fake under the sun, is augmented by the physical skills of younger players like Manny Lawson and Ahmad Brooks. And it’s working for them, at least against the run.
If Kyle Boller was ever the answer, what was the question again? The way to beat the Niners last season was through the air, but you had to be damn good to do it. Their 8 losses last season were quarterbacked by Matt Ryan, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselbeck and, as the exception that proves the rule, Vince Young. Boller is so incredibly far away from being able to provide quarterbacking at the level of these eight individuals, or even at the level of a Marc Bulger, that it’s almost frightening. I remember wistfully hoping that he could at least make plays with his feet, but his primary “play” was the headless-chicken bootleg.
This was Boller’s first opportunity to show something, and what he showed was that Rams’ opponents had absolutely nothing to fear from the pass. Drop enough people back in coverage, and Boller would take so long to read through his progressions that eventually, long after he should have thrown the ball, somebody would get to him. And blitzing Boller on obvious passing downs, which made up most of the second half, was pure bloodsport. As far as I’m concerned, he was not a part of the Rams’ team. He was and is a separate entity of suckdom. The Rams went 1-10 last season, and Kyle Boller was 0-5.
For the most part, the offensive line did their job. This may sound counterintuitive, but the line held up relatively well against the onslaught, at least in the first half when the Rams had the luxury of pretending to run a balanced offense. When the Rams had success on the ground, it was by plowing forward behind strong drive blocking. And this was without any significant blocking help from their tight ends. New draftee Michael Hoomanawanui could really contribute in these teams’ next matchups.
Also, it will sound funny considering I have spent most of the spring and summer bashing him, but the worst drive-killing penalty on Alex Barron — negating a first-and-ten inside the 49ers 20 with the Rams ready to equalize the 7-0 lead — was complete and utter BS on the part of the ref. It was a case of Barron being flagged by reputation, rather than by deed.
We will look further at the offensive line this week, as they may quietly have become the one part of the team that we shouldn’t be too worried about.
- On defense, the most intriguing battle was between Atogwe and Vernon Davis. In a breakout season, Davis had a relatively quiet day, being targeted only 4 times and catching only three balls for 43 yards. Only twice last season was Davis, the team’s most prolific receiver, targeted less often. And two plays on the Niners’ opening drive helped tell the tale: The first was a five-yard curl on 3rd and 3. Atogwe is right there, establishes inside position, but Shaun Hill smartly throws it to Davis’ outside shoulder. He is all hands, catching the ball, and drags forward a few extra yards with Atogwe draped on him. First down. Three plays later, facing third and nine, the Niners line up essentially four wide with Davis running straight up the seam from the slot position. The pass comes to him, but Atogwe is there, bringing elbows and knees to Davis’ hands. The ball boots out harmlessly, and the Niners are forced to punt. Davis gets only two more looks in the game’s remaining 55 minutes.
- The Rams’ early response to adversity was just to bear it. Spagnuolo never deviated in this game from his conservative gameplan, even as the bad luck mounted and the scoreboard numbers taunted. Perhaps he didn’t have much choice, with Boller at the wheel, but he kept on trying to grind the game out one first down at a time. Whether noble or Quixotic, at least we know he hasn’t lost the team with this approach. Only games.