Rams break through: Three thoughts on a big road win

Broncos (3-7) vs Rams (4-6)

November 28, 2010

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Billy Bajema celebrates the Rams' breakthrough win

NFL.com: Recap | Box Score | Video

Firstly, some site business: this may be one of my last posts on the current Ramsherd.com site design, as we are close to rolling out a new format and design, as part of the Bloguin network. The web address will remain the same, and you’ll still get the same quality of posts, but in a shiny new wrapper. Readers can always hit me up on Twitter (@RamsHerd) during this transition. A lengthier tribute is owed, but thanks to everyone at the Fanball network for shepherding and supporting this site over the last 16 months.

Secondly, I have only an incomplete viewpoint on this game, as we were still driving across the southeast when the afternoon games kicked off. I saw part of the Titans’ demolition at the hands of the Texans from a Chilis in Murfreesboro, and was halfway into Kentucky when the Rams and Broncos kicked off. By the time I got to radio range, the Rams had taken a 14-13 lead. I will have a more detailed recap after having the chance to watch the replay on Game Rewind.

That said, here are my initial reactions on the way the game played out:

36 points was barely enough to win!
In my game preview, I stated flatly that the Rams would have to break the 17-point barrier to come out on top. As it turns out, they doubled that total and added a couple more for good measure, and very nearly lost anyway. If there was ever an object lesson for the need to never let up off the gas pedal for Coach Spagnuolo, this game was it.

Remember, these are the Rams you are coaching, the same Rams who used to pull off these wild come-from-behind victories on their opponents, including a gonzo 41-36 win over the Broncos back in 2000 led by Kurt Warner. The shock and gut-hurt that we’ve suffered in this season’s last minute losses are seen as sweet karmic victories by the rest of the league, payback for the era when the Greatest Show Rams tormented the rest of the NFL and ushered an entire generation of defensive coordinators out of the game. No one will pity the Rams for losing a shootout, so it was fortunate that we won this one.

Spags owes Chris Long big time
Spagnuolo might look back at the last defensive series, in which Chris Long went into hyper beast mode (and Denver inexplicably stopped double-teaming him) and pretty much single-handedly stopped the unstoppable Denver offense, and say to himself “We might have built our lead on offense, but we won the game on defense. We won it Spag-style.” But he’d be only partially right.

The Rams built their lead on offense by unleashing their quarterback for three full quarters, by getting a huge weapon back on the field (Danario!) and then using him perfectly, by performing all kinds of legerdemain with their unsung trio of tight ends. But then, they very nearly lost the game by playing “Spagball” at the game’s most critical juncture.

Needing a first down to ice the game and keep the Broncos’ offense off the field, the Rams started their drive “run-run-pass” twice, and “run-run-run” once. All three times they punted, and all three times left the Broncos with short fields to work with. With the wind at their backs, Kyle Orton needed only one or two plays to get within Matt Prater’s field goal range to tie the game, and very likely send the Rams to a second consecutive overtime road defeat.

I love Steven Jackson, but…
… these Rams just aren’t built to depend on him any more. It’s clear that this offensive line’s construction and strength is in pass-blocking, not run-blocking. However, Spagnuolo still thinks of the Rams as a “ball control” running team, in the image that he had when he first took the job and had little more than #39 to build around. Now, it’s time for the offense to fully pass the torch.

I’m not saying that Jackson needs to be benched, but even with a 20-point lead, 29 carries for Jackson is not smart football if two thirds of them end up as stuffed plays.

The Broncos do not possess a good run defense, but the Rams are so obvious in their attempt to ride SJ as their horse, that he all but invites massively stacked lines on running downs. Look beyond the sub-2.5-yard average per run on the day for a telling stat: all four drives that ended in a three-and-out started with two consecutive gives to Jackson. Conversely, the bulk of the Rams’ success came on misdirections, on moving the pocket, or on play-action. In short, success came from throwing the ball.

When you can build a 20-point lead by throwing the ball, here’s an idea: you can keep throwing it to win.