Rams vs. Cardinals: Three Big Decisions

This is usually a forum to review Sunday’s action. Where I delve into each play and drive that ultimately lead to the outcome and made up the days drama. Today I find myself unable to take the same approach. This is not to say there was not big, important momentum turning plays throughout the game.

There was Nick Miller’s punt return for a touchdown, Lance Kendricks and Sam Bradford both fumbling the ball away, Interceptions by Rod Hood and James Laurinaitis, Beanie Wells running wild and Patrick Peterson again punishing the Rams for kicking to him. There was also Bradford and Brandon Lloyd connecting on a beautiful pass and catch at the end of the first half that put the ball on the three yard line and the two again connecting on a corner-route for a perfectly thrown touchdown in the 4th quarter. Of course there was also Spagnuolo not challenging John Skelton diving for a first down.

As big as these moments were…as crucial as they were to the eventual outcome. They were all over shadowed by three grossly inept, cowardly and costly decisions by head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Three decisions that in my opinion lost Spagnuolo any remaining supporters he had out there and had to at least lose him some of his players. Most importantly these decisions will ultimately be the nail in his coaching coffin.


Decision 1

As the 1st half came to a close Sam Bradford hit Brandon Lloyd for a 26 yard strike down the left sideline giving the Rams a 1st and goal at the three yard line with  seconds remaining. What took place next was frustrating enough. A false start by Jason Brown then a sack of Bradford pushed the Rams all the way back to the seventeen yard line.

To me the maddening part, the frustration comes from the fact that Spagnuolo waited roughly 25 seconds — until just 12 seconds remained in the half — before taking the team’s third and final timeout.

That’s not what Spagnuolo wanted to do. His plan after the sack was to run the clock all the way down to a few seconds and then have Josh Brown kick a field goal as time expired in the half. According to Spagnuolo post game comments which I have listened to repeatedly, his assistants talked him into trying one shot at the end zone, which is why the timeout came at 12 seconds.

“I just felt like it was going to be a tight football game,” Spagnuolo said. “We had to have points, and I didn’t want to take a chance at losing (the football), so I was trying to be smart there.”

A head coaches assistants should not be required to convince their head coach to try and win a game. Spagnuolo and the Rams took the three points for a 10-3 halftime lead. But the four points left on the field by not scoring a touchdown might have made the difference between a rare victory and a 23-20 loss, their 7th in a row at home, to the Arizona Cardinals.

Decision 2

In the third quarter, trailing 13-10, they had a fourth-and-1 play on their own 30-yard. The Edward Jones dome shaking in anticipation that Spagnuolo would go for the first down. It was one of those moments in which a struggling team already eliminated from playoff contention — with six games left — had nothing to lose. When Spagnuolo asked for a measurement, it showed the Rams were only half the length of a football away from a first down.

But Spagnuolo ordered a punt.

“It was just way too early in the third quarter,” Spagnuolo said. “We’re on our own 30. I just felt it was too risky in my opinion.”

What exactly would ‘Spags’ have risked by going for it? The expiration date on the season already is long gone. The only thing the Rams are jockeying for is favorable position in the first round of next spring’s NFL draft. So where was the risk? Even if they failed to get the first down, you don’t second guess the decision to go for it because it was the bold thing to do and the right thing to do.

What happened next was just awesome.  The punt right down the middle of the field to Cardinals return man Patrick Peterson, who already had three touchdowns of 80 yards or more on punt returns (including the game-winning 99-yarder the last time these teams met) was taken 80 yards untouched for a touchdown that gave the Cards a 20-10 lead.

This was a horrendous sequence of events for Spagnuolo and the Rams. Fortunately for Spags…not for the fans or Rams we only had to wait about 20 more minutes before he made another decision that would overshadow this one.

Decision 3

With 3 minutes, 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Rams now trailing by three points, Spagnuolo was faced with another fourth-and-1 situation. The ball was on the St. Louis 36 and this time he didn’t hesitate. He called for another punt, and that was the ballgame.

“I thought it was (fourth and 2),” Spagnuolo said. “I thought it was 2 yards (not 1). We had three timeouts (and) I thought if we could hold them, didn’t let them get the first down, we’re going to get the ball right back.”

He was the only one who thought that because his defense had been gashed by the Cardinals on the ground all game long, giving up 268 yards rushing, including 228 by Beanie Wells. The Cardinals were averaging more than 7 yards a carry, and there was absolutely a no chance the Rams would get the ball back again. Everyone knew it, except the one guy who really needed to.

And the Rams never got the ball back. They used all three timeouts and the Cardinals ran out the clock.

There’s another clock that is still ticking, and it’s the one that measures the time remaining on Spagnuolo’s head-coaching life. I cannot imagine what Spagnuolo could do to salvage his job…but I guess we have five more weeks to find out.