I heard some moaning in the CBS studios about how dull this game was, particularly from Shannon Sharpe, as I was watching the Broncos beat the Chiefs. I mention this for two reasons; firstly it allows me to remark (simply in passing) I was the only one on the team to pick the Broncos this week and secondly because I quite enjoyed the game. Rest assured, after watching the Colts last week, this was an epic nail-biter that will take many hours to forget.
A lot of the commentators talk during the game centered on how the poor Cleveland rush defense (on the back of one poor showing against Houston last week) would cope with Steven Jackson. Obviously this neglected the fact that the Rams offensive line is not living in the same time zone as the Texans or that the Browns actually have a fairly stout group of run defenders. In the end, Jackson played well to pick up 128 yards at 4.7 a pop, but he never broke anything over 22 and got the majority of his yards (71) in the first half of the game. In fact, after the first drive of the second half, the screw tightened on St. Louis and they only managed drives of 8, 27, 3, 11 and 8 yards.
Unfortunately for Pat Shurmur’s team they were intent on throwing away a game they should have won.
Josh Cribbs fumbled a punt return to give the Rams the go-ahead field goal, before Alex Smith fumbled again at the St. Louis 9 on what should have been the game-winning field goal drive, only for Cleveland to recover the ball and then botch a 22 yard attempt. The snap hit the left guard on the field goal, Alex Mack, on the foot and whilst the hold was good the ball sailed well left.
St. Louis – Three Performances of Note
Keeping It Together
It’s odd that St. Louis won because trying to pick more than one really good performance from the team is difficult. The man who did the most to help the Rams secure another victory though was middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (+2.9). He wasn’t outstanding in any particular facet of play but graded positively in every one and was the guy who kept a defense that kept losing players, together. During the game all of Chris Chamberlain, Darian Stewart and Al Harris were hurt – the latter two not returning and the Rams ended up using 20 different defenders. Through it all Laurinaitis played every snap, made eight tackles (seven of which were stops), sacked Colt McCoy and batted down a pass. To be fair, he didn’t beat that many linemen but he was adept at reading the gaps and coming through unblocked to make plays.
An Extinct Species
Finding a tight end that can block these days is a difficult job, even if your requirement doesn’t include much in the way of pass catching. On the basis Billy Bajema (-6.0) has played 297 snaps (or about 46% of all Rams offensive plays) and been targeted as a receiver only 13 times, so it’s fair to assume his main role is to block. On the evidence of this performance, if that includes asking him to block defensive ends, it isn’t a fantastic idea. It didn’t matter whether he lined up on the left and faced Emmanuel Sanders or on the right and took on Jabaal Sheard; he got no change out of either. A good case in point comes in the third quarter (6:38 left) on 2nd-and-5, Sheard drives him back and then goes outside him to stop Jackson for no gain. On a slightly better note, he continued his improvement as a pass blocker, giving up no pressure on the nine occasions he stayed in.
A Worrying Trend?
Since his return from injury Sam Bradford (-3.0) hasn’t looked his normal self. He was playing OK without exactly setting the world on fire up until Week 6 but here, and in Arizona, he has struggled. This time it was as much a case of forcing throws as anything else; trying to get balls to Brandon Lloyd despite close coverage from Joe Haden and also almost getting picked off by Usama Young (first quarter, 2:50 remaining) looking for Jackson on a wheel route. Add to this ignoring Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita underneath in coverage (one of which led to an interception) and a paucity of quality decisions to balance them out, and it all sums to a very poor day. This is the type of display that makes me laugh when I hear the phrase “winning is the only thing that matters” because while it may have been enough to “win” this game, it won’t have that effect very often.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
It’s rare a team has so few “bad” performances and loses. No one on the Cleveland team did much wrong but neither did many truly excel. Worthy of some note though was rookie Jason Pinkston’s first positively-graded game of the year (+3.0). Prior to this he’d been doing his best to accomplish the impossible; provide a downgrade on the criminally-overrated Eric Steinbach at LG. However, despite his best efforts, even he managed to get some movement against the two ends who come inside in nickel. Both C.J. Ah You and James Hall usually play on the outside of the line in base but come inside to rush the passer in nickel. When the Browns decided to run against this Pinkston had consistent success against them. His pass-blocking, which on the season has been a little below average, continued that trend as he gave up a hit and a sack to Hall but nothing else in 35 pass blocks.
Phil Finds Form
Phil Taylor (+2.4) started off the season with a huge splash against the Bengals but after a solid outing at Indianapolis the next week has been steadily regressing thereafter. This decline culminated in his last game with the Texans when Chris Myers and Mike Brisiel gave him, to coin a phrase, “a right going over”. So how would he respond? The good news for Browns fans is he responded very positively. He picked up a hit, blowing inside Harvey Dahl with 11:04 left in the fourth and on the next drive sacked Bradford after getting outside Jacob Bell. Add in some usually solid work as a run defender and it felt like a very positive step to getting the rookie back on track.
Haden vs. Lloyd
The best and most interesting matchup of the day came as the premier player from each team faced off against each other on virtually every passing play. Joe Haden (-0.9) followed Brandon Lloyd (+1.0) everywhere and was across from him on most of the 29 routes he ran. Initially, it looked as if the wide receiver had his measure as he left him for dead on one pass in the first quarter (4:11 left) and snagged one of the prettiest catches you are ever likely to see before also losing him for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. However, the sophomore star fought back and gave up only one further reception (for 10 yards on 2nd-and-14) despite Lloyd being targeted a further five times. I think I’d call this one a draw and look forward to a rematch as soon as possible.
– It looked to have been coming for some times as Ahtyba Rubin always sees a lot of playing time but in this game he beat his previous best of 92.8% of snaps by playing every defensive down.
– I gave Jim Mora a bit of a hard time in my previous Re-Focused but never accuse me of being anything but even-handed. Check out his assessment of the coverage of Greg Little’s 52 yard catch with 23 seconds left in the half to get a real insight into DB play.
– Not only did the Rams lose the three defensive players mentioned above but neither Roger Saffold or Michael Hoomanawanui returned after their injuries either.
PFF Game Ball
In a game lacking in real stand-outs on either side my Game ball goes to James Laurinaitis for finding a way to keep his defense in the game.
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