I've tried to remain open-minded about the progress of this team. I knew it would be hard for this team, with the schedule the Rams were given through the first half of the season, to have a better record than last season.
But my faith in this team, its path and its head coach has finally reached rock bottom. For me, the final nail was not driven into the coffin with Patrick Peterson's walk-off punt return. No, it came before that.
It wasn't the blocked attempt at the game winning field goal. It came before that.
The final nail in the coffin came when the Rams had the ball late in the fourth quarter. After the two-minute warning, Bradford connects with Austin Pettis for a 9-yard gain setting up 3rd and inches from the Cardinals 33.
What followed was a series of events that led to one of the toughest losses in St. Louis Rams history. Let's look at the tape.
Situation: 3rd and Inches. Play Call: Zone Lead
The Rams come out in a standard goal line formation (2 RB, 3 TE). The strength, that is to say Hoomanawanui and 6th OL Mark Levoir (since Kendricks was out), is to the right. The Cardinals line up in a double eagle look (five defensive linemen and three LBs in the box) and will bring a run blitz.
How it’s drawn up:
Ideally on this play, Brit Miller (49) kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage, Patrick Peterson (21). Billy Bajema (47) seals O'Brien Schofield (50). The rest of the left side of the line has to prevent all penetration.
Jackson (39) is to run between Miller and Bajema and is responsible for beating whoever may show up in the hole.
How it’s executed:
47. Billy Bajema - It is unclear to me whether the Rams were on a silent count or whether Billy doesn't know the snap count. If it is the former, this is a horrible decision by Bradford. For one, a hard count may have resulted in some kind of defensive encroachment and an easy first down. Secondly, Bajema is the point of attack on this play. He has to win his battle. Forcing Billy to work with a silent count puts him at disadvantage.
If it is the latter… well (deep breath) really what can you say. A mental letdown like this at this point in the game is of an amateur level. But then again isn't that pretty much what we've come to expect from this team?
Regardless of who is at fault, the result is that at the snap of the ball Bajema is looking inward to see the snap of the ball.
Bajema is beat badly of the ball, O’Brien Schofield is able penetrate. The edge is lost. Schofield proceeds to blow up the lead blocker, Brit Miller, as well. This causes a pile at the point of attack.
63. Jacob Bell - Bell has a tough assignment. He has to reach-block Calais Campbell. Campbell is the 6'8" 300-pound DE who sent the game to overtime when he blocked Josh Brown's field goal. Ideally, Bell is to able get to Campbell’s outside shoulder and tries to prevent Campbell from running the line. At the very least, Bell cannot give up penetration. Any offensive line coach will tell you penetration kills zone.
Here, Bell fails miserably. Not only does Campbell run the line, he penetrates the gap, driving Bell into Steven Jackson and killing SJ39's forward momentum.
76. Roger Saffold - SJ39's momentum is completely lost when Roger Saffold, climbing up to the next level, gets outworked by safety, Rashad Johnson. Saffold and Johnson collide. Saffold falls (because he quits moving his feet) and Johnson delivers the first solid hit on SJ39.
Schofield and former Ram Paris Lenon made the tackle.
Situation: 4th and 1. Play Call: Zone Lead. Again.
Yes, this was the same exact play call, as confirmed by Spags today at his press conference. (Let that sink in.)
How it’s drawn up:
How it’s executed:
Brit Miller (49) - There is a good chance that when a zone lead is called on 4th and inches and your lead blocker blocks no one the play will no end in a favorable result. The man Miller thought he was going to have disappears and he does a poor job of adjusting. Instead of making an adjustment to seal inside, Miller actually bumps Saffold off of who he is blocking.
Jacob Bell (63) - Bell actually wins the battle initially after the snap. But eventually Campbell out works him and is able to tighten down the hole and get an arm on SJ39.
Jason Brown (60) and Harvey Dahl (62) - Absolutely poor effort here by these two. While the blocking on the front side of the play wasn't particularly good, but the tacklers both came in through the back side.
You can tell a lot of about the character of an offensive linemen by their effort on the backside of plays. Both Brown and Dahl attempt to cut-block Paris Lenon (51 - offscreen) and Darnell Dockett (90). Both cuts are lazy flops at the feet of the defenders. Lenon easily fends off Brown and scraps over the top to meet SJ39 in the hole. Dockett needs to do little to fend off Dahl and with his great motor he able to help Lenon bring down Jackson.
On the decision to go for it on 4th
I didn’t like the decision, but I certainly understand it. A first down there and the Cardinals cannot stop the clock. The Rams would have had three chances to continue nudge their way closer for an eventual game-winning field goal attempt by Josh Brown. (Of course, it could have been blocked.)
Also, I didn't like that the same play was called. While I don’t even mind electing to run left again, I do mind using the same exact run call.
Further, if I know it is two-down territory, the first play I'm running is a quarterback sneak, bad ankle and all. Because you're not going to lose any yards and you've got a good chance of getting the first down. And if I don't get it, the defense is going to have to play the quarterback sneak on fourth down.
Regardless of the call, though, at the end of the day players make plays.
The Rams had a chance to finish the Cardinals off many times on Sunday and failed to do so. The two plays above were just an example of this failure. However, given the magnitude of the plays and the lack of effort given on those plays, one has to seriously wonder if the head coach has lost this team.
1) The picture of the 4th and 1 play tells a great story: 1 yard needed and Jackson is facing the sideline 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
2) I still don't understand the decision to go for it on 4th and 1. I think the decision not to kick the field goal shows a tremendous lack of confidence in Josh Brown and the defense, both of which had been great the entire game. And showed a surprising amount of confidence in the offense, which failed all game to make a big play when it needed one (yes, the running game had been good, but not when there are 10 in the box [you can see 10 Cardinal defenders in the 4th and 1 pic]). If Brown misses, the Cardinals get the ball back 5 yds farther down the field than when they got it after the stop. If he makes it, you have the LEAD and you put your defense (who at that point still would have outscored the offense in the 2nd half 4-3) back on the field to win you the game. I suppose I just will never understand how, in that game, the coaching staff had more faith in their offense than they did in Josh Brown and the defense.
I just noticed Adam Goldberg down there with what looks like a failed cut block attempt also, getting literally run over by the Cardinals #53. Maybe it was just naptime for this elder trio? This was a west coast game, and it probably was past their bedtime...