NFC West: Rams-Redskins

Haynesworth fined for hit on Rams' Bulger

September, 25, 2009
9/25/09
4:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth faces a $5,000 fine for unnecessarily diving into Rams quarterback Marc Bulger in Week 2.

The play did not draw a penalty, but I thought it should have and the Rams presumably submitted this play for review.

TV replays showed Bulger wincing as Haynesworth launched himself at the quarterback following a scramble. Bulger was late to slide on the play, but the league determined Haynesworth still could have avoided making such violent contact.

Personnel report: Jackson and Rams' offense

September, 25, 2009
9/25/09
11:36
AM ET
The 2006 season might always stand as a benchmark for Rams running back Steven Jackson.

That was the season he rushed for 1,528 yards and caught 90 passes for 803 yards. He has not exceeded 1,042 yards rushing, 40 receptions or 379 yards receiving over the subsequent two seasons.

Those numbers figured to spike this season as the Rams built their offense around Jackson to an even stronger degree following Torry Holt's release. The problem through two games has less to do with Jackson than with the offense overall. The Rams are averaging 20 percent fewer offensive plays this season than they averaged in 2006, about 13 snaps per game. Jackson has carried or caught the ball on 34.5 percent of the Rams' offensive plays, down from 40.9 percent in 2006.

A few things stood out while watching the Rams against the Redskins in Week 2:
  • The offensive line struggled. Jackson's 58-yard run on the Rams' 16th offensive play came out of nowhere. My notes for the Rams' 15 previous plays included these observations: "Richie Incognito got beat and that blew up the play. ... Alex Barron blatantly holds Andre Carter and gets away with it, but Phillip Daniels crushes Marc Bulger. ... Jason Brown injures MCL. ... Barron holds Carter from behind and replays show he grabbed Carter by the collar, but no call. ... Jason Smith misses Daniels off the ball. ... Barron whiffs on Carter, who lined up way outside but still beat Barron with an inside move. ... Line has no answer when Rocky McIntosh blitzes. ... Play had no chance, too much pressure."
  • Donnie Avery was the Rams' third-best receiver. Something isn't right with the first receiver chosen in the 2008 draft. He's dropping passes, losing fumbles, committing penalties and failing to outrun defensive backs. It's enough to make me wonder if the foot injury is behind him. The fumble he lost deep in Redskins territory wasted an otherwise highly impressive drive featuring better play up front and Jackson at his best. Avery needs a breakout game. He is certainly due.
  • This team drops far too many passes. I counted four against the Redskins, two by Avery and two by tight end Randy McMichael.
  • Bulger is taking a pounding. The quarterback was quite resilient throughout the game. A hit he took in his own end zone during the desperate final seconds left Bulger holding his left wrist. How long before he gets hurt more seriously?
  • The defense is almost good enough. The Rams' predictably poor pass rush is holding them back and could make them vulnerable to blowout defeats against teams with more powerful offenses. Overall, though, the Rams have made strides on defense. They can be decent against the run and their secondary appears significantly upgraded so far (with tougher tests looming, however).

One thing surprised me when charting the Rams' personnel use. The team used two tight ends on the first play and then almost never again. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur tried to use two tight ends on a third-and-1 play later in the game, but second tight end Daniel Fells committed a false-start penalty. The play did not count. He used three tight ends on another play. Overall, the Rams used one tight end on 48 of 50 snaps.

The Rams averaged 1.5 yards per carry on six carries from their base offense (2 RB, 1TE). They averaged 8.6 yards per carry on 12 rushes from their "zebra" personnel group featuring one back, three wide receivers and one tight end. Jackson's 58-yard run boosted the average from this group. Fullback Mike Karney made a few effective blocks from the base offense, but the Rams enjoyed most of their success without him.

For download: This Rams personnel report breaks down every offensive play. A second sheet shows production across personnel groups and much more.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


The Wall of Fame is nearly quadrupling in size after 14 people picked NFC West scores and outcomes exactly for Week 2.

This is our second season running the contest and the first time we've added more than two people in a week.

Great, great work.

Eleven people predicted the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars. That is a common final score, but as a coach might say if this were a game, "I'm not taking anything away from RiWeagley, noahhasabs, RedRumRBS, kstaub869, Primeau1203, ballsthompson, alvaden, Seahawks Ya Dig, SeahawkBell, Jeremy-Clark and brobbb91. They picked the score correctly and we'll add their names to the Wall."

Three others predicted the 49ers' 23-10 victory over the Seahawks: John510asb, RVAninersFAN, ttmoney.

The updated and significantly expanded Wall of Fame now features:
  • Elion245. Forecast the Redskins' 20-17 victory over the Seahawks in Week 12 (2008).
  • Leesters. Forecast the Bears' 27-3 victory over the Rams in Week 12 (2008).
  • habitat730. Forecast the Cardinals' 34-10 victory over the Rams in Week 14 (2008).
  • IamJonasJones. Forecast the Cardinals' 30-24 victory over the Falcons in a wild-card playoff game (2008 postseason).
  • JohnnyBloodletter. Forecast the 49ers' 20-16 victory over the Cardinals in Week 1 (2009).
  • RiWeagley. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • noahhasabs. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • RedRumRBS. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • kstaub869. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • Primeau1203. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • ballsthompson. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • alvaden. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • Seahawks Ya Dig. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • SeahawkBell. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • Jeremy-Clark. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • brobbb91. Forecast the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the Jaguars in Week 2 (2009).
  • John510asb. Forecast the 49ers' 23-10 victory over the Seahawks in Week 2 (2009).
  • RVAninersFAN. Forecast the 49ers' 23-10 victory over the Seahawks in Week 2 (2009).
  • ttmoney. Forecast the 49ers' 23-10 victory over the Seahawks in Week 2 (2009).
The fine print: Those submitting predictions for "You called it" must pick the winner correctly for their scores to be considered. Scoring is easy to calculate. The difference between a 20-17 prediction and a 31-14 outcome would be 14 points. We would calculate this by adding the difference between 20 and 31 to the difference between 17 and 14.

We'll begin taking predictions for Week 3 later in the week.

Jackson's 58-yard run in 10 quick steps

September, 22, 2009
9/22/09
5:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Ten things I noticed watching the Rams' Steven Jackson break a 58-yard run against the Redskins in Week 2:
  • The Rams were operating from what offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur calls their "zebra" personnel package with three wide receivers, one tight end and Jackson alone in the backfield. This left the Redskins with only two linebackers on the field.
  • The Rams ran away from Albert Haynesworth, who was lined up over left guard Jacob Bell. Left tackle Alex Barron obstructed Haynesworth just long enough for Jackson to escape between right guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Jason Smith.
  • Incognito and center Jason Brown initially double-teamed defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin. Incognito came off the block quickly and buckled linebacker London Fletcher with what appeared to be a left hand to the facemask. Fletcher lost leverage and Incognito buried him. Fletcher's left earhole was close to touching the grass.
  • Smith grabbed left defensive end Phillip Daniels by the jersey and held him. Daniels wasn't going to make the tackle.
  • Jackson ran strong and broke free from safety Chris Horton about 2 yards past the line of scrimmage. Horton overran the play but still appeared to grab Jackson by the foot.
  • Safety LaRon Landry came charging toward the line of scrimmage in run support, but he might have misjudged Jackson's speed and maneuverability. Both were between the hashmarks and within 5 yards of one another when Jackson cut to his right. I'm not sure if Landry even touched him.
  • Receiver Keenan Burton, lined up in the left slot, could have done a better job blocking safety Reed Doughty.
  • Receiver Donnie Avery hustled downfield to help with blocking, but he wasted the effort by shoving cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the back, drawing a penalty.
  • Coach Steve Spagnuolo grabbed Avery by the left forearm and appeared to be encouraging the receiver, not berating him. Avery seemed more interested in getting back on the field than staying around to listen.
  • As noted after Week 1, I'm still waiting to see whether the Rams are better off running the ball with fullback Mike Karney on the field. This was a second-and-10 play. I'm hoping to chart the Rams' personnel use before time runs short.

Around the NFC West: Rams lose top pick

September, 21, 2009
9/21/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams rookie Jason Smith appeared to suffer meniscus damage in his knee. Thomas: "If it's a torn cartilage and Smith needs surgery, he could be sidelined for about a month. Adam Goldberg took over for Smith at right tackle against Washington." Center Jason Brown also left the game, though he returned.

Also from Thomas: says the Rams have "a long way to go" in coach Steve Spagnuolo's estimation. Donnie Avery was "disconsolate" after another rough game. Brown: "We definitely did a lot better this week than we did last week. ... We're going to get better. It's still early in the season. It's still early with our offense, and there's tons of room for improvement."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gives Marc Bulger a C-minus grade against the Redskins in Week 2. The receivers drew a D-plus. Coats: "A week after being shut out in Seattle, the Rams at least scored. While not producing big numbers, Marc Bulger was considerably more efficient running the Rams’ new offense. He put a nice touch on a 2-yard fade pass that WR Laurent Robinson hauled down in the end zone. Bulger wasn’t intercepted, but threw for a meager 125 yards, with a mediocre passer rating of 77.2."

Also from Coats: Brown apologized to the Redskins' Albert Haynesworth for previously suggesting the defensive tackle would wear down during games. Coats: "Brown and Haynesworth met at midfield after the final whistle." Brown: "I apologized. He and I have played against each other several times, and he knows that no matter what I say, I respect him. And I know that he respects me. We shook hands."

More from Coats: The Rams' defense appears to be making progress. Coats: "The last time an opponent failed to reach the end zone against the Rams was Nov. 18, 2007, in a 13-9 victory at San Francisco."

Chris Lee of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides a photo slide show from the Rams' 9-7 defeat.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch questions the Rams' game management after Bulger is forced to burn timeouts. Also: "The Rams defense kept the Redskins out of the end zone, and Steven Jackson rushed for 104 yards. But the bottom line is the 12th consecutive loss for the franchise. Disappointing. The Rams have played two games and have scored 7 points. That’s inexcusable."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says the Rams' performance was "a step in the right direction."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are tough and passionate, but not very resourceful. Burwell: "The dropped passes could have been forgiven if only Avery had just held on to the ball when the Rams needed him the most."

Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com singles out positives and negatives from the Rams' performance against the Redskins. Among the negatives: "You can't be out of timeouts early in the fourth quarter in a one score game. You just can't. Everyone jumped all over Mike Martz for the timeout thing but there were many times it was justified and he never was caught short at the end of a game because he didn't have any. That is a major flaw in time management."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams' defeat came down to a few plays. Wagoner: "All told, it was a valiant effort by the Rams that just came up short. In the aftermath of a difficult loss, it can be hard to remain optimistic but you wouldn’t know it from talking to those who populate the Rams locker room." Bulger: "It's a different locker room this year. We know we are getting better. This thing is going to turn whether it’s next week, the week after, three weeks from now. It’s going to turn. I promise you that."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


SAN FRANCISCO -- A couple of NFC West-related thoughts while the 49ers and Seahawks warm up at Candlestick Park:
  • Calais Campbell steps up. The second-year defensive end is making the Cardinals look smart for letting Antonio Smith leave in free agency. He's been solid on defense and his blocked field goal set up Antrel Rolle's long touchdown return. The Cardinals' offense is still finding its way, but the defense is playing at a high level and Campbell is making an impact wherever the Cardinals use him.
  • Beanie dropping the ball. Beanie Wells' two fumbles have prevented the Cardinals from putting away the Jaguars. Wells looks very good as a runner. He's not going to look as good standing on the sideline. That's where he'll be in crucial situations if he doesn't do a better job holding onto the football.
  • Jackson breaks out. Steven Jackson's 58-yard run against the Redskins marks the first signs of life on offense for the Rams. Marc Bulger followed it with a 2-yard scoring pass to Laurent Robinson for a 7-6 Rams lead at Washington. Getting a road win -- or any kind of win -- early in the season would be huge for the Rams after what happened in Week 1. The Rams were competitive at Seattle and the score was close into the third quarter. Can they finish what they've started at Washington?
If the Rams and Cardinals win on the East Coast, does this make the NFC West a little more respectable? I think so.

On the air: Rams in Week 2

September, 15, 2009
9/15/09
6:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan of Fox get the call Sunday when the Rams visit the Redskins in Week 2. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. ET.
Week Team Opp. Network Crew Crew Rank
1 STL SEA Fox Ron Pitts, John Lynch, Rob Desir 6 of 7
2 STL WAS Fox Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan
5 of 7

CBS has eight crews. Fox has seven. The networks rank their crews, with higher-ranked ones drawing more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

Earlier: Rams in 2008.

Did the Rams not beat Cowboys, Redskins?

October, 21, 2008
10/21/08
2:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Our latest power rankings show two lines of thinking on the resurgent Rams: my thinking and everyone else's thinking. I'm clearly outnumbered on this one.

I ranked the Rams 16th, a reward for beating the Redskins on the road and the Cowboys at home. The Redskins were ranked third in the ESPN.com power rankings when the Rams defeated them. The Cowboys were ranked sixth even though everyone knew Tony Romo's finger was hurting.

The coaching change in St. Louis, coupled with the team's dramatically improved play, led me to discount the Rams' 0-4 start. This is a new team, right?

None of the other 11 panelists voted the Rams higher than 23rd. The average was 25th, with a low vote of 29th.

How high do the Rams deserve to climb based on their turnaround?

Rams have opportunities on special teams

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- The Rams needed a 75-yard fumble return for a touchdown to beat the Redskins in Week 6. Special teams could provide them with big-play opportunities against the Cowboys.

The Cowboys' special-teams struggles against Arizona in Week 6 determined the outcome, from J.J. Arrington's kick-return touchdown on the first play to Sean Morey's blocked punt on the final play.

The Rams' Dante Hall had a 34-yard punt return and a 32-yard kickoff return against the Redskins. Hall was also playing significant snaps at receiver, where he was ineffective. The Rams plan to replace Hall with younger receivers, notably Keenan Burton, in the three-receiver personnel groups. In theory, that could allow Hall to focus more on the return game.

The Cowboys are allowing 9.0 yards per punt return and 23.2 yards per kick return. Those numbers are right around the league averages (9.9 and 23.0). But with punter Mat McBriar out, the Rams should have the edge on special teams.

Rams kicker Josh Brown and punter Donnie Jones are having very good seasons. Jones has a 41.6-yard net average, fourth-best in the league. Brown has made 3 of 4 field-goal tries from 50 yards or longer and all four from 40 to 49 yards.

Closer look at Rams' offense

October, 18, 2008
10/18/08
11:52
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams were a different team under Jim Haslett in Week 6, no question. Some of those differences merely coincided with the coaching change, notably personnel issues that reflected Randy McMichael's season-ending injury.

I also saw a team playing with an edge. This was refreshing to watch after seeing the Rams' previous efforts this season.

Here are a few things I noticed when breaking down the Rams' offensive personnel use against the Redskins in Week 6:

  • McMichael's injury means the Rams no longer have the personnel to run the two- and three-tight-end groupings offensive coordinator Al Saunders wanted to run. Receiver Torry Holt didn't even start the season opener because Saunders opened with multiple tight ends and Dane Looker as part of an unconventional grouping.
  • The Rams used three receivers on nearly 55 percent of offensive snaps (not counting quarterback kneeldowns and quarterback spikes). I counted more than one tight end on the field 10 times, or 18.9 percent of snaps. Those 10 plays produced only one first down. The two-back, two-tight-end grouping produced four carries averaging minus-0.8 yards with no first downs, plus one incomplete pass and one sack. Bad, bad, bad.
  • The Rams ran 24 of the 53 snaps I charted with Steven Jackson, three receivers and one tight end. These groupings produced 10 carries and a 5-yard rushing average, but only one first down. Jackson picked up yards running in longer-yardage situations, when the Redskins might have been playing the pass. The 14 pass plays from this group averaged 7 yards per attempt with four first downs. This included the 43-yard pass to Donnie Avery on third-and-13 late in the game.
  • Saunders is making significant efforts to get Avery involved in the offense. The Rams threw five passes to Avery and ran him once. These plays netted 68 yards.
  • Holt was more effective in the game than his stats indicated. This still would not qualify as a good game by his standards, but he did make key short-yardage receptions to convert on third and fourth downs. Overall, the Rams threw to him 11 times. These plays netted 23 yards, one reason the Rams had only eight first downs.
  • The Redskins had success getting pressure through the right side of the Rams' line. I didn't necessarily see the Rams losing one-on-one pass-rush battles, but the Redskins were able to free up blitzers for free shots at Marc Bulger. Right tackle Alex Barron might commit outside, only to have a blitzer come free inside. Either the quarterback needs to account for this blitzer of the Rams need to have a back help out.
  • Bulger showed more obvious signs of toughness than we have seen in the past. He took a hard shot on a scramble and fought through it. His offensive teammates rallied around the display. This must continue.
  • Center Nick Leckey had problems with shotgun snaps. He put a few low and risked throwing Bulger off his rhythm.
I'm taking those observations with me to St. Louis on a flight that arrives Saturday night. In the meantime, here's an Excel file with two sheets: one showing the Rams' production by personnel group, the other featuring a play-by-play log sortable by drive, down, distance, personnel, play type, yards gained/lost and more.

Haslett escapes fine for DB hit

October, 17, 2008
10/17/08
5:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rams coach Jim Haslett escaped a league fine for hitting the Redskins' Leigh Torrance along the sideline during the Week 6 game between the teams.

The Redskins had submitted the play to the league for a possible fine, a source said. Here's what Haslett said about the collision Monday:

"Basically what happened was, he is a flyer on their punt team and I was in the white area, so I backed out of the white and then I saw he was getting a little closer so I backed out of the white area and I could not get any further back, when we jammed him out of bounds. So he decided he was going to run the sidelines and he is supposed to run the white, he can't run behind the bench. So he was coming at me, so I figured it was me or him. He was going to run me over or I was going to get him, so I got a good shot on him. I did not want to get run over. You see those coaches that get toppled, it was not going to be me."

The league is cracking down on players for hits on one another. Coaches are in another category. At least Haslett didn't lead with his headset. That probably would have drawn a fine.

Rams, Cardinals earn acclaim

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
12:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFC West players claimed two of three NFC player of the week honors announced by the league Wednesday. This is new territory for the division. Before this week, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner was the only player from the NFC West to win the award in 2008.

Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (defense) and Cardinals receiver Sean Morey (special teams) joined the Saints' Drew Brees (offense) as the winners for Week 6.

Atogwe had four tackles, a forced fumble and a 75-yard fumble return for a touchdown during the Rams' upset victory at Washington. Morey's blocked punt in overtime helped the Cardinals score the winning touchdown against Dallas.

Factors beyond Darnell Dockett's control prevented the Cardinals' defensive lineman from challenging Atogwe for the defensive award.

An officiating error wiped out Dockett's fumble-forcing sack deep in Cowboys territory. The Cardinals recovered, but officials incorrectly ruled the play dead. Dockett made a similar play, with Arizona recovering the fumble in the end zone this time. But referee Peter Morelli invoked the tuck rule while using replay to reverse the ruling on the field. Dallas maintained possession.

Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston was nominated for the offensive award after catching eight passes for 102 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys.

Around the NFC West: Rams rejoice

October, 13, 2008
10/13/08
9:37
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch describes the Rams' glee upon learning that Josh Brown's game-winning kick sailed through the uprights. Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said he didn't know whether to cry or laugh.

Also from Thomas: The Rams lost cornerback Ricky Manning to injury. The team is extremely thin at the position.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says there's a big difference between Scott Linehan's Rams and Jim Haslett's Rams. Confidence was the key to beating the Redskins, Dante Hall said.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the big pass play to Donnie Avery came on the same call St. Louis used for a 73-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Also from Coats: Brown wasn't so fortunate facing a nearly identical situation at FedEx Field three years ago. The ball bounced off the upright that season.

More from Coats: Haslett gets an "A" on the postgame report card.

Paul Tenorio of the Washington Post catches up with Rams offensive coordinator Al Saunders, whose offense helped beat the team that fired him. Saunders and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder chatted on the field before kickoff.

Rapid Reaction: Rams 19, Redskins 17

October, 12, 2008
10/12/08
4:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' upset victory over the Redskins at FedEx Field gave new coach Jim Haslett the victory he needed to rebuild the team's confidence and restore quarterback Marc Bulger.

The feeling before the game was that St. Louis needed to perform well enough, even in defeat, to suggest things might be different with Haslett taking over for the fired Scott Linehan.

This outcome was better than anything the Rams could have imagined. Bulger, benched by Linehan in a desperation move, bounced back from a hard hit and made a critical throw to rookie Donnie Avery to set up the winning field goal.

Josh Brown, the Rams' marquee addition in free agency, bailed out hot-headed guard Richie Incognito, whose 15-yard penalty turned a potential chip shot into a 49-yard try. Brown needed to make that kick for the Rams to salvage what's left of their season.

The Rams struggled on offense for much of the game. But they played well enough on defense to keep the game close and give them needed hope.

The Rams, widely regarded as the worst team in the league before this game, might not be the worst team in the division depending on what happens in other games today. That's a huge step forward for Haslett and the organization.

Going where no roster has gone before

October, 12, 2008
10/12/08
10:52
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

PHOENIX -- Greetings from the sunny, cloudless and soon-to-be warm desert. The weather isn't the only reason it feels like training camp around here. The other reason: Expectations remain high for the home team, usual for mid-October.

The Cardinals (3-2) can claim legitimacy with a victory over the Dallas Cowboys at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Let me recognize the occasion by providing roided-out rosters for the Cardinals, Cowboys and the other NFC West teams and their Week 6 opponents. If that's not enough, be sure to check out the sheets allowing you to sort each team's offense and defense by 18 statistical categories through the first five weeks. This is a relatively weighty file -- 3.5MB -- but worth the trouble for those of us who simply cannot get enough. Download here.

(Read full post)

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