National Football League

Stalter’s Game Notebook: Rams-Seahawks

+ Everyone seems to have an opinion on what the Rams should have done on the fourth-and-goal play that decided the game on Monday night versus the Seahawks. Some have said that they would have run it four straight times, while others wanted Kellen Clemens to attempt a slant against Seattle’s “zero” coverage or allow Jared Cook to high-point a pass in the back of the end zone. No matter what your play call would have been, I’m guessing you didn’t want to see the game decided on a back-corner throw to Brian Quick. Me either. Pre-snap, Clemens could be seen frantically motioning Quick to tighten his split on the outside, which signifies that the second-year receiver wasn’t confident of where he was supposed to line up. He didn’t fight through the press, either, as he was easily re-routed to the sideline instead of the back of the end zone where Clemens went with his pass. Worse yet, Quick never located the ball until the play was over and the Seahawks had begun celebrating their seventh win of the season. All of that effort wasted on a low-percentage throw on the most important play of the night. Frustrating doesn’t begin to cover the moment.

+ I’ve been asked what I would have liked to see the Rams do on the goal line Monday night, and that’s easy: play-action. If I have four cracks at the end zone, two of those play calls would be play-action. If you can freeze the linebackers and/or safeties for a half second, that half second might be all the time the quarterback needs to find an open receiver, or walk into the end zone himself. I don’t get why a running back wasn’t lined up in the backfield on that final play and, if you wanted to spread the defense out, running a quarterback draw with the mobile Clemens would have at least shown some creativity. Calling a bootleg and giving Clemens a run-pass option would have been intriguing as well. Not to beat a dead horse, but the last thing I expected was any play design that made Quick a realistic option.

+ The Rams dominated the game outside of two plays: the 80-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate and the Richard Sherman interception that set up Seattle’s first score. Other than that, the Rams ran the ball at will, shut down the Seahawks’ outstanding rushing attack, and marched 96 yards up the field almost seamlessly on one of the best defenses in the NFL. Unfortunately for Jeff Fisher and Co., they came up just one yard short.

+ How does a team out-gain its opponent by 204 yards, dominate the time of possession, compile seven sacks and yet still lose? The two biggest factors in any game are the turnover and yards-per-attempt stats. The Rams lost in both categories, as they turned the ball over twice and completed passes at a 5.1 YPA clip. Granted, Clemens isn’t suddenly going to turn into the second coming of Dan Marino, so they’ll have to live with the paltry yards-per-attempt numbers (especially if Zac Stacy continues to rush for 4.6 yards per carry), but turnovers can and must be avoided if this team is going to remain competitive.

+ The Rams found the steal of the fifth round in running back Zac Stacy, who has displayed excellent vision, balance and decisiveness since entering the starting lineup. Most important, he’s given the Rams an offensive identity that was absent in the first four weeks of the season. Besides rushing for 134 yards on 26 carries (5.2 YPC), what was most impressive about Stacy’s performance on Monday night was that everyone at the Edward Jones Dome knew the Rams wanted to establish the run, and he still picked up yards in chunks. He’s been the single-best part of the Rams’ offense this season.

+ There isn’t a defensive end in the NFC playing better than Robert Quinn right now. DeMarcus Ware and Aldon Smith are usually considered the best pass rushers in the NFL when healthy, but Quinn is having a season for the ages. Granted, Paul McQuistan has no business playing left tackle, but let’s not take away from what Quinn has accomplished this season. He looks like a man among boys out there.

+ I’d be remiss if I talked about Quinn and not Chris Long, who played his best game of the season save for Week 1 against the Cardinals. In fact, the entire front seven was outstanding on Monday night, especially when you consider Marshawn Lynch and the rest of Seattle’s normally potent running game was non-existent. A lot of the talk last week surrounding this game was how the Rams’ defense needed to step up in the wake of Sam Bradford’s injury. Really, Fisher couldn’t have asked for a better performance out of his defensive unit.

+ One of the unsung heroes for the Rams was Johnny Hekker, who averaged 45.5 yards on his four punt attempts and pinned the Seahawks twice inside their own 20-yard line. The Seahawks’ field position was horrendous in the first half, and that was thanks in large part to Hekker’s performance. He’s quietly having a tremendous season.

+ On the pregame show the topic was brought up about who, regardless of record, was the best team in the NFC. Randy Karraker made a compelling argument for the 49ers and Neil Rackers said he favored the Saints, especially inside the Superdome. I spoke up for the Seahawks, who will eventually get Percy Harvin back and the offensive line healthy again. But that wasn’t a very impressive team on Monday night. Why they ran Lynch only eight times is beyond me, and they should have given McQuistan more help on Quinn. Their run defense wasn’t very impressive, either, and you have to wonder if their O-line is going to get Russell Wilson killed at some point. I’ll maintain what I said on Monday night: If the road to the Super Bowl runs through Seattle this year, then I love the Hawks to play in the title game. But if they fall short of the No. 1 seed, then maybe San Francisco is still the team to beat in the conference.