Rams need Witherspoon back in lineup

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Yes, the Rams were awful in their exhibition opener. Allowing 340 yards rushing is never a good thing. The offense also struggled. A few observations after watching the first few series:

  • The Rams have no chance on defense without Will Witherspoon at middle linebacker. A sore shoulder caused Witherspoon to miss this game. Without him, the Titans repeatedly exploited replacement Tim McGarigle, who came to the Rams as a seventh-round choice in 2006.

  • Titans tight ends Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler flattened McGarigle on a third-and-2 run up the gut. Third-and-2 is often a passing situation in the NFL, but not when the Rams have this personnel on the field defensively.

  • Right after the third-and-2 play, LenDale White broke into the clear even though McGarigle was unblocked. The young middle linebacker simply missed. Crumpler engaged strong-side linebacker Quinton Culberson for a few yards and the Rams had no chance.

  • White was at it again on the next play. Again, McGarigle wasn't there to stop him. Finally, on the next play, the Rams found a way to stop White. But defensive end Leonard Little was the one to bring him down.

  • Rookie defensive end Chris Long made no discernable impact early in the game. I thought otherwise when the Rams stopped the Titans on a fourth-down running play, but replays showed Long's backup, James Hall, driving Scaife into guard Jake Scott on the play. Long was not on the field. Hall created a chain-reaction by pushing Scaife into Scott, who moved backward into White's path, blowing up the play. The Rams have been high on Hall in camp. This was an impressive play.

  • On offense, Rams quarterback Marc Bulger had little chance to succeed early in the game. The Titans weren't going to respect the Rams' ground game without Steven Jackson. The Rams opened in one-back, two-tight end personnel. They pulled right tackle Alex Barron on a sweep to the right. Titans cornerback Nick Harper chopped down Barron as if Harper were the one delivering the block. The defense swarmed running back Brian Leonard.

  • The Rams came back with four-receiver personnel on their second offensive play. They tried a draw play, but the Titans were not fooled. After two plays, the Titans had stuffed the Rams' real running game and sniffed out their manufactured one. This was going to be a long night for the Rams, particularly with left tackle Orlando Pace still getting his bearings after two injury-shortened seasons. Pace should be fine, but he wasn't close to peak level here.

  • The Rams took over deep in their own territory after that fourth-down stop by Hall. They played it safe with heavy personnel (two backs, two tight ends). The Titans manhandled this grouping. On second down, Kyle Vanden Bosch crumpled Rams tight end Joe Klopfenstein. Titans rookie defensive end Jason Jones then knifed past Rams guard Richie Incognito before smashing into Leonard in the backfield.

This matchup was a very difficult one for the Rams. Tennessee is physical on both lines. Jeff Fisher's defense is well established. The Rams are still learning Al Saunders' playbook. They were without Jackson, the focal point of their offense. Pace was not 100 percent. The Titans were going to expose the Rams' poor depth at linebacker. I didn't know they would expose it for 340 yards, but the Titans might be better than expected.