Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome was a perfect example of how a team fails to execute a game plan that was doomed from the start.
The Rams didn’t just lose 34-6 to the Vikings on Sunday, they lost on Monday, too. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. And every other day earmarked for preparation against Minnesota.
I thought Jeff Fisher did the prudent thing a year ago following an embarrassing 35-11 loss to the 49ers when he ditched the Rams’ spread attack and went back to his roots of “smashmouth” football. Even though the team invested time and resources devoting itself to spreading opponents out, Fisher realized quickly that the philosophy wasn’t working. The team needed an identity and since that point, the Rams have strived to be a power-based team, cut from the same mold as the Seahawks and Niners.
But power football doesn’t work if your opponent is more physical than you are. The Vikings didn’t use complex concepts in order to hold the Rams to only 3.3 yards per carry on Sunday. They didn’t dig out Dick LeBeau’s fire zone blitz or use some form of witch magic to keep the Rams in check. They flat-out beat the Rams straight up, with four down linemen, gap control football and near flawless execution.
The Rams couldn’t establish their running game from the start, and the results were rather predictable.
You can talk about Shaun Hill’s rough first half, but I don’t remember anyone talking before the game about how Hill was going to be the key to victory. The focus, and for good reason, was on the team’s rushing attack, which was neutralized by Minnesota from the opening snap.
It also didn’t help that the entire Rams’ game plan offensively lacked creativity and imagination.
Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner had to know that Gregg Williams was going to be aggressive, which is why the Rams’ defense saw plenty of draws, traps and screens in efforts to counter the speed of St. Louis’ defensive line. If Robert Quinn or Chris Long were too quick to rush up the field, they could only flail at Adrian Peterson as he ran past them through sizable running lanes. T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod made a couple of nice tackles in the first half to keep Peterson from breaking off long runs, but when your safeties are making the majority of the tackles, then you’re losing the battle up front.
Granted, the Rams held Peterson to 75 yards on 21 carries, which is a victory in itself. But when you go beyond the stat sheet, you’ll realize that Peterson was controlling the action and setting the table for Turner’s more creative play calls. The Vikings aren’t the first team to run an end-around or a jet sweep with a receiver. But it kills a defense when they have to hesitate for a split second because their opponent is using their own aggressiveness against them. The end result may have only been 75 yards for Peterson, but that’s fine by Minnesota when Cordarrelle Patterson adds 102 yards on just three carries.
Speaking of Patterson, I’m sure throughout the game many fans were clamoring for him to be a Ram right now instead of Tavon Austin. But while Patterson certainly offers the same explosive skill set in a much bigger, stronger frame, I’m not convinced the Rams would know how to use him. As you noticed, the Vikings didn’t line Patterson up in the backfield and run him off-tackle.
While Austin continues to struggle creating separation, breaking tackles and making decisive decisions, he’s also hamstrung by a complete lack of creativity from Brian Schottenheimer.
What’s frustrating is that we saw how Schottenheimer used some imagination in victories against the Bears and Colts a year ago. But then there are games on Sundays when you’re left scratching your head as to how 5-foot-8, 176-pound Austin is expected to break a Sharrif Floyd tackle and beat the last two lines of defense.
All of this ties into my original statement: The Rams lost this game well before kickoff on Sunday. While the players are to blame for failing to execute, even if they didn’t miss tackles, commit penalties or throw back-breaking interceptions, I’m not sure the overall game plan was good enough to win anyway.
We’ll see how the Rams respond as they get ready to travel to Tampa on Sunday. I’m willing to bet that we’ll see a more focused and determined team than the one that took the field at the Edward Jones Dome a few days ago.
But if the Rams can’t win Monday through Friday, then they’ll once again put themselves in position to fail on Sunday.