ST. LOUIS – The final shot, way down at the Seattle goal, was a lob from Kellen Clemens that had no chance. Then Chris Long, the weary Ram pass rusher, dropped his head in his hands as a terrific show by the St. Louis defense dissolved into the atmosphere.
St. Louis had operated without its regular QB Monday night – Clemens for Sam Bradford (knee) – but the Seahawks were without both starting offensive tackles. And so it was no surprise the whole thing morphed into a hammerball, smash-the-quarterback kind of thing that looked like a chapter out of Verdun… with dirigibles and concertina wire and the French commander declaring, “They shall not pass!”
Both defenses massed troops at the line of scrimmage. Seattle did because the Rams couldn’t throw; the Rams’ did because Seattle couldn’t block. And the result was plenty of man-on-man coverage and ten combined sacks and 200 yards of St. Louis rushing but zero Rams in the endzone.
“That’s the difference in the game,” said Clemens, who hasn’t played regularly since 2007. “They scored two touchdowns, we got three field goals… I thought we had a good plan going in…”
“We explained to [our guys] how we had to play and what we had to do,” said Rams’ coach Jeff Fisher. “We got down to the last play of the game and didn’t make it happen.”
Seattle won it, 14-9, because it used a pair of St. Louis mistakes to cross the endzone twice – once on a short drive after a Clemens interception and another on a blown coverage by their fine right cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who mis-timed his jump and let a big 80-yarder get behind him.
The Rams lost it because their two big thrusts inside the Seattle five – including the one that closed the game – resulted in a solo field goal. Of course, some of the TV blabbers in the postgame tried to gum it up with their overkill analyses, but really it was a night of very stiff hitting and very simple math.
“I thought Kell managed the game well; he handled things,” Fisher said of Clemens, who finished 15 for 31 (2 INTs) in his passing. “He settled down. You know, 5:36 left to go in the game and he took it 97 yards….”
Then he corrected himself. “96 yards.”
97 would have won it.
This season hasn’t bloomed the way Fisher thought it would back in August. He felt he had a roster that could reach a wildcard. On paper the Rams are the youngest team in the league but that’s not what has killed him this year. Injuries haven’t either. It’s been surprising mix of defensive breakdowns and point of attack issues.
You can run on these Rams. San Francisco rushed for over 200. Dallas went for 219 and Houston153. Fisher can get his pass rush cranked up with those fine defensive ends (Long, Robert Quinn) but the linebacking and coverages have not been steady, and in a rough three-game losing stretch in September his defense let out 31, 31 and 35 points.
Wins over Jax and the Texans calmed things for a while, and we saw the Ram defense pitch its top game of the year against Seattle, but it still comes out to 3-5 in the standings and even Fisher wonders why the Seahawks, with their No. 4 ground attack and their QB protection issues, didn’t just smash the ball right at him Monday night.
“That was their choice,” said Fisher. “The big thing in the game was that their punter had the same number of touches as [RB] Marshawn Lynch.”
Lynch ran it eight times for 23 yards. Fullback Robert Turbin got it thrice for five, and the rest of the Seattle offense was 135 net yards, with Russell Wilson dancing around and completing a few balls and getting ka-boomed into the turf by the wound up Ram pass rushers.
“You’ve got to remember,” said Wilson, “in terms of the offensive line, we’ve got (RT) Michael Bowie, who’s a rookie going up against one of the best defensive ends in the game. [Long]. And then Paul McQuistan, who plays guard for us, was playing left tackle and just trying to step up and slow those guys down. Those two rushers are as good as it gets for the most part. You have to give that defense a lot of credit.”
From here the St. Louis schedule isn’t murder. There are bouts with Seattle and SF left, plus Indy and the Saints. But the rest of it – Titans, Bears, Cards, Bucs – would be quite fine if Fisher didn’t have to do it with a very green receiving corps and a reserve QB with a 60.3 career rating.
It won’t be graceful the rest of the way out. The Rams will try to shrink their games with their run calls and they’ll chew the clock and push for good defensive pressure. But progress has stalled. We won’t see Bradford till next year. Fisher is out of options. That lob ball which closed out Monday Night, that hurried floater that came crashing down, may have summed it all up for 2013 St. Louis.
Columnist Tom Danyluk joins FootballNation after nine years with Pro Football Weekly. He is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Super ‘70s,” which you can find on Amazon.com. Questions or comments? Contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.