NFC West: Colts-Rams

Searching for clues in the Rams' rubble

October, 28, 2009
Posted by's Mike Sando

The Rams' best offensive tackle might be Adam Goldberg, at least for now.

That was my thinking after watching every snap of the Rams' 42-6 home defeat to the Colts in Week 7.
 Scott Rovak/US Presswire
 Dwight Freeney was a regular presence in the Rams’ backfield on Sunday.

It's a credit to Goldberg and also a poor reflection on the state of the position in St. Louis. Rookie first-round draft choice Jason Smith will of course improve once he makes what appears to be a challenging adjustment to the NFL from a spread offense in college. The other tackle, 2005 first-round choice Alex Barron, does not appear to be enhancing his value significantly while playing left tackle in a contract year.

Smith and Barron were generally not competitive in their matchups with Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, in my view. Freeney is a great player, and most tackles have a hard time against him. Players such as Freeney lead teams to use first-round draft choices on offensive tackles. The Rams have done that, but they are not enjoying the payoff at this time.

Smith played both tackle positions against the Colts. I counted six snaps at left tackle and 22 snaps at right tackle. Freeney beat Smith for a sack on Smith's fifth snap at left tackle. Smith missed Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster on Smith's second snap at right tackle. The Rams threw an interception on the play. Defensive end Robert Mathis decked Smith on one play and beat him on another.

If you are the Rams, you're sifting through these defeats for clues pointing to a brighter future. Those clues have sometimes been tougher to find than one might have expected given how many high draft choices the Rams have used in recent seasons.

With veteran defensive end James Hall out, 2008 No. 2 overall choice Chris Long started at right defensive end. Long played all but one snap by my count, all on the right side. He made a few good plays and hit Peyton Manning a couple of times. Other times, the Colts blocked him effectively with only a tight end, usually Dallas Clark.

Hall and Leonard Little (when reasonably healthy) probably remain the best defensive ends on the team.

The Rams have other young players who have performed well. One of them, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, is facing two serious knee surgeries. Another, James Laurinaitis, looks like a long-term starter at middle linebacker. Safety Craig Dahl has made a positive impact at times. Receiver Donnie Avery flashes ability occasionally, though injuries are consistently a concern.

Overall, though, the Rams need to see more. I hope to take a closer look at them during their bye week.

Wrap-up: Colts 42, Rams 6

October, 25, 2009
Posted by's Mike Sando

The Rams limited the damage better than anticipated for much of the game, but not long enough.

The longer the game went, the tougher life was going to become for the outmanned Rams.

Receiver Donnie Avery got deep for a 50-yard reception, Steven Jackson topped 100 yards and still the Rams never threatened. That would qualify as discouraging for the Rams against most opponents, but not against the Colts. If the Rams were going to lose -- and there was never any doubt regarding this outcome -- they were better off with Avery and Jackson making positive contributions.

The Rams' inability to sustain success in the passing game undercut Jackson's efforts on the ground. The fact that newly acquired receiver Brandon Gibson wasn't a factor -- he was inactive, even though the team expected contributions right away -- did not help.

The Rams need to get Gibson involved next week. They also need to play opponents with less talent. Week 8 affords them such an opportunity.

The big question now is whether the Rams can get their first victory of the season against the Lions. St. Louis has a bye in Week 10 before playing consecutive home games against the Saints, Cardinals and Seahawks.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 23, 2009

NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by's Mike Sando

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

Jason Bridge/US Presswire
Kurt Warner needs to get rid of the football quickly against the Giants' pass rush.
Warner hasn't lost his edge. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner took notice when New York-area reporters asked him about getting rid of the football quickly. The subject was a sore one for Warner during his days as the Giants' quarterback. He took too many sacks and the critics thought he held the ball too long. "If I'm successful, people say I am getting the ball out quick," Warner said. "If I am not successful, then people say I am holding the ball too long. I don't think I have ever held the ball long. To me, it is all based on my reads." Whatever the basis, Warner needs to get rid of the football quickly against the Giants' pass rush. The Giants sacked him only once when the teams played last season, but they hit him 12 times.

Two tights still make sense. The Cardinals' dramatically increased use of two tight ends upon Ben Patrick's return might not be a one-game phenomenon. Receiver Anquan Boldin's ankle injury could limit how much the Cardinals use him. Putting a second tight end on the field makes sense if Boldin is indeed limited. Arizona also faces likely issues in pass protection against the Giants. A second tight end could help in that area as well, unless Arizona decides to spread the field and stick with its quick passing game. Rookie running back Beanie Wells has vastly outperformed Tim Hightower as the lone running back from the Cardinals' primary two-tight end grouping. Wells has a 4.3-yard average on 16 carries from this grouping. Hightower has a 2.3-yard average on 11 such carries. Is the Cardinals' offensive identity evolving?

Clements one key for the 49ers. The Texans' Andre Johnson takes his turn against 49ers cornerback Nate Clements. Clements has helped the 49ers match up well inside the NFC West. The Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald has averaged about 35 fewer yards per game against the 49ers since San Francisco signed the veteran corner in 2007. That success hasn't always transferred against other receivers. Terrell Owens surpassed 200 yards receiving against Clements and the 49ers in 2008. Roddy White had a 200-yard game against Clements and the 49ers in Week 5. The 49ers need Clements' best in this matchup. I'm not sure if they will get it. Johnson's size-speed combination could be problematic.

The Rams are protecting the pass protector. The Rams are leaning toward starting Adam Goldberg at right tackle even though rookie first-round choice Jason Smith is healthy enough to play. It's probably a smart move. The Colts' Robert Mathis tends to dominate whichever tackle he lines up against. The Rams have brought along Smith slowly. Throwing him onto the field against Mathis in his first start since suffering a knee injury would not produce positive results for Smith or the Rams. Goldberg is going to have problems, too, but the expectations are different for him. The Rams will probably fall behind the Colts, putting St. Louis in obvious passing situations. Mathis and fellow defensive end Dwight Freeney have to like their chances.

Michael Crabtree's time has come. The 49ers' rookie receiver makes his NFL debut Sunday against the Texans. Are the 49ers getting ahead of themselves? My thoughts on the video.

Avery, Butler participate fully for Rams

October, 23, 2009
Posted by's Mike Sando

The Rams needed positive news on the injury front and they apparently got it Friday.

Receiver Donnie Avery and safety James Butler both participated fully in practice. The team is listing them as probable for Sunday.

Avery's presence is critical for the Rams' offense. Getting the ball to him could be tough given how the Colts rush the passer, but Avery does have the potential to pose a downfield threat. Nothing about the Rams' downfield passing game threatens opposing defenses when Avery is unavailable.

Avery has averaged 15.7, 17.4 and 17.0 yards per reception in his last three games. His per-catch averages were 7.7, 4.0 and 4.0 in the first three games.

A hip injury sidelined Avery for most of the Rams' game against the Jaguars in Week 6. Avery has a touchdown reception in each of his last two games.

The Rams' chances against the Colts

October, 23, 2009
Posted by's Mike Sando

Michael writes via Facebook: Mike, how do the Rams remain even closely competitive with the Colts on Sunday? Magic? Divine intervention? Hell freezing over?

Mike Sando: Sorry, Michael. Weather forecasts for Hell are calling for temperatures in the 50s on Sunday.

Peyton Manning is amazing.

His first exhibition game was my first game as a beat reporter covering the Seahawks. I settled into my seat in the Kingdome press box and was finally going to get a first-hand glimpse of this most-hyped player. I had spent the previous two seasons as a beat reporter covering Ryan Leaf at Washington State, so I was tuned into the first-round quarterbacks that year.

Manning drops back to pass for the first time in an NFL game of any kind and he throws a long touchdown pass to Marvin Harrison against Shawn Springs.

We sort of looked at each other like, "Oh, OK, this is how it's going to be."

That is how it has been and that is how I expect it to be Sunday.