Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Matchup for the Ages (from Missouri Sports Magazine)

Teammates tell Chris Carpenter "Thanks!"

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – http://missourisportsmag.com/?p=37488

It was a matchup for the ages – the team favored to get to the World Series and the team that didn’t belong there.  And it was a pitching matchup for the ages.

The pitchers were old friends, and two of the best pitchers in the last decade.  Chris Carpenter took the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals against Roy “Doc” Halladay for the Philadelphia Phillies.  The similarities were many – same height and weight, same draft round (by the same team), both have won Cy Young Awards…and both have pitched a masterpiece in an elimination game.

It didn’t matter if you’re in Philadelphia or at home in St. Louis, the tension was contagious.  That’s what a great pitching matchup between two great teams will do.  With the winner heading to the National League Championship Series, every pitch was hanging in the balance.  And when it came down to it, one run was all it took.  One great pitcher was just a little greater than the other.

Rafael Furcal led off the game with a triple – the only player in Major League Baseball history to do so in two playoff games (and did it in one series).  After working the count, Skip Schumaker drove him in on a long line drive to right field.  It was all the Cardinals needed.

Several great defensive plays helped Carpenter complete his masterpiece, including a Nick Punto play in the eighth that ended an inning where the Phillies were threatening.  Punto also applied a perfect slap tag on a stolen base attempt in the sixth inning by Chase Utley (who made a great play, himself, to catch Schumaker advancing on an Albert Pujols grounder).  Furcal made several plays that made Carpenter seemingly indomitable – including the play in the bottom of the eighth where he dove through the middle to rob Carlos Ruiz of what could have been a game-changing hit.

Schumaker said it best about the matchup, “I think (Halladay) hung one pitch, and that was it; and I was lucky enough to get the RBI.”  While respecting Halladay and the Phillies, Schumaker marveled at Carpenter’s performance.  He said, “You had a feeling that Carp was going to be on his game.  You want your best guy against their best guy, and see what happens.”

There was a mutual respect between the teams and their starters.  The scene in the locker room had an infectious happiness – the Cardinals were supposed to be out of the race in August.  Pujols said amidst the Niagara Falls of beer and champagne (under which the Cardinals no goggles), “Philadelphia has a great ballclub… we just played a little bit better game than they did.”

St. Louis native Ryan Howard made the final out of the game, a complete game by Chris Carpenter (9 innings, 3 hits, 0 walks).  Both teams were worried for him as he hurt himself leaving the batter’s box on the play.  The injury was reported as a severe ankle sprain.

The Cardinals will play the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 1 of the NLCS.  Game time Sunday is 3:05 CDT on TBS.

 

Jack is Back! Rams – Redskins Preview

It's time for the Rams to start smiling again

The Rams are 0-3.  They’ve been outscored 96 – 36.  They’ve given up 12 sacks in three weeks.  They’re leading the league in penalties.  The vultures are circling.

Everyone’s favorite racially insensitive team-name, the Washington Redskins, will send their war-party to the Dome on Sunday.  But will the Rams get scalped?  This author thinks not.

OK, I’m done with the puns (maybe)…

The Redskins are a tough team.  They have won some close games through heart alone.  Big plays at the right time – such as Redskins Defensive End Ryan Kerrigan’s interception early in the first half against the New York Fakers…I mean…Giants in Week 1 – have given the momentum in games, which they never gave back.  This will be a key on Sunday.  The Rams have to play smarter.  And, due to the law of averages, they will.

Forget about the game against the Ratbirds (Baltimore Ravens).  The Rams were overmatched and underprepared. They didn’t have the proper speed in their backfield to cover Torrey Smith, and they didn’t think the Ratbirds could fly so well – with Joe Flacco taking it to the air nearly 50 times for 389 yards.

Early in the first two games, however, the Rams were competing well against good teams – maybe even outplaying them.  Then disaster happened.  Against Philadelphia, the Eagles didn’t exactly have control of the game.  The Rams and Eagles were tied at seven when Sam Bradford was tripped up by his own center, fumbling the ball and giving the Eagles the lead and momentum that they retained for the rest of the game.  Against the Giants, the failed lateral pass to Cadillac Williams that led to the touchdown for the G-Men was all it took to bring the Rams down.  This cannot happen.

Cadillac Williams want to make amends

What else can’t happen?  Bad penalties.  But teams cannot play fearful of getting penalized, as Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo said.  “I don’t harp on the negative things,” Spags said on Friday. “You know that. But there are two sheets that I put up on the overhead in training camp. One of them is the effect of turnovers in winning or losing. And the other one is the effect of penalties on an offensive drive or a defensive series and the percentages are so glaring. Funny you should mention that because I put those two sheets up this morning. But when I put it up I always say to them it’s just a piece of paper. It’s a bunch of stats, that doesn’t change anything. So I always follow it up with how do you avoid them? What do you do? You move your feet. Corners keep your hands low, so you don’t get hands to the face. So we talk more about that. Other than that it’s go out and play. The thing you don’t want a team to do is to play scared. We go out there and worry about just getting penalties I don’t think we’re going to hit anybody, so there is a fine line.”

But most of all the Rams need to get their swagger back.  That desperately needed swagger will return Sunday, and he’ll be wearing #39.  Nothing makes a team facing a great pass rush better than having an All-Pro Running Back in your lineup.  And, ladies and gentlemen, Jack is back!  Rams RB Steven Jackson is not questionable; he’s not probable.  He’s going to play.  On Thursday, he said, “I’m definitely hoping that last week to this week will change drastically in my playing time. Ultimately we’ve got to do what’s best for the team and whatever the game situation presents, and, for whatever it is, I’m definitely preparing myself to be out there.”

Jack is back, baby!

And this changes everything about the game – the Rams and Redskins will have to adjust their gameplans.  Former Ram and current Redskin Middle Linebacker London Fletcher knows Jackson’s return allows the Rams to make their offense more versatile, and thus harder to play against.  Fletch said, “(The Rams) come at you with a bunch of different formations, personnel and things like that. Excellent play-action pass. Steven Jackson is obviously one of the elite backs in the game. He’s been slowed down since the first week because of the injury he had, but he’s a dominant back. They’ve got some good personnel and good offensive linemen. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”

But it won’t be an easy day for Jackson and the Rams offense.  First off, the Rams won’t be giving him 20-30 plays, like his usual workload.  In addition, the Redskins are certainly a challenge – proven last week by keeping the Dallas Cowboys from scoring a touchdown (the Cowboys were able to put up six field goals for the win, however).  Jackson said, “(The Redskins) have some great linebackers. I believe that’s the strength of their defense, is the linebacker corp. London Fletcher, year in and year out he shows why he is a Pro Bowler and why he is the leading tackler in the last decade. I have a lot of respect for his game and what he brings. They have playmakers on the outside with their cornerbacks and (Safety LaRon) Landry, he’s a thumper. He likes to be in the box. So all three levels, they present challenges that we have to be up for. They’re going to be really aggressive. Just got to make sure than we hone in and trust our responsibilities of the offense and everything play itself out.”

It’s time for the Rams to step up and prove they are truly the best team in the NFC West (not that that is saying much), as others believed prior to the season.  I don’t want to pull a Dan Shaughnessy here, but this is the week the Rams lose the collar.  They don’t have to be the first 5-11 team in NFL playoff history; they can be the first 6-10 or second 7-9 team.  I’m not joking.  They could still be better.  Don’t trust what happens in September.  It’s a long season.

Roger Saffold and the O-Line needs to step up

The Redskins have a good pass rush; but so do the Rams.  And Redskins Quarterback Rex Grossman has the mobility of Marc Bulger with a broken leg.  The Rams will bring the pressure.  Also, as Rams fans know of Jim Haslett, his defenses love to send the house – all or nothing.  The offensive line of the Rams must step up this week to prove why they make Bank of America exec money, or we’ll have to start charging them for their accounts.  Rams Quarterback Sam Bradford must find a way to check off blitzes – whether it is a quick pass to Jackson, or hot routes to receivers or Tight Ends Lance Kendricks or Michael Hoomanawanui.  The Rams must find a way to win.  And with the Redskins reeling off a loss to the Cowboys, and the heat taken off the Rams by the enthralling playoff run by the St. Louis Cardinals, this is their week.  Rams 23 – Redskins 20.

The vultures are circling, but it’s time the Rams fought them off.

Thanks for taking the time to read this; I hope you enjoyed it.

Thank You, Nyjer Morgan!

Nyjer Morgan says, "Time out; who made the playoffs?"

A couple things I wanted to mention about the Cardinals’ celebration on Wednesday night.  First, this team has proved their toughness.  To be 10.5 games down on August 25th, and to come all this way back, is a testament to that toughness.  And another example is how – unlike nearly every other team that has celebrated in this fashion – not a single player was wearing goggles despite the Niagara Falls of champagne and beer.  That’s tough.  Secondly, they were drinking Budweiser, not that sissy Bud Light or Bud Select, like real men.  Again, those are tough guys.

Next up – these are classy guys.  Jason Motte, and several other Cardinals, thanked Ryan Franklin.  And it was nice to see they appreciate the work that Jim Hayes and Al Hrabosky do by macerating them with beer.  I think that means they like them…

Now, let’s move on the “thank you” cards.  On behalf of everyone in St. Louis, thank you to Ryan Howard, Hunter Pence, Chase Utley, and the rest of the Philadelphia Phillies (especially to the manager, Charlie Manuel for keeping most of his stars in the final series).

Nyjer Morgan show us how happy he is to hear the Cards made the playoffs

And thank you very much to Nyjer Morgan!  The Cardinals were a different team after their last meeting with the Brewers, thanks to the Brewers’ “eccentric?” center fielder.  On September 13, 2011, I wrote about this:

“I know the 5-game winning streak was snapped on Monday night by the mighty (to the Cardinals) Pittsburgh Pirates.  But the Cards are still in it.  That’s right, I said it – they still have a chance to get into the playoffs.  And if they do, I think it’s all because of Brewers Center Fielder Nyjer Morgan.  He may be a player with crazy skills, but that might not be the only crazy thing about him.  I mean, we’ve all thrown our chaw at a pitcher that has struck us out, and made a fool of ourselves on television.  OK, maybe that’s just me.  But I don’t think any of us have called Albert Pujols a little girl.

Prince Fielder saves Morgan's life before Pujols can get close to him

You have to hand it to Morgan, he has more guts than brains.  Many have accused 6’3” 230 pound Albert Pujols of being surly at times, or thinking he’s ten times faster than he really is; but we would never call him feminine like Morgan did.  It’s like the old line by Gene Wilder from ‘Blazing Saddles’ that he said about the movie’s character, Mongo, ‘No, no; don’t do that.  If you shoot him, you’ll just make him mad.’

That might be exactly what Morgan did with the Pujols and the Cardinals.  Morgan might have lit the fire under the Cardinals that they needed.  They have been on a roll ever since.  And the Brewers are starting to look a bit more mortal.  After losing five games in a row, The Brew-Crew defeated the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.  And they also got Rickie Weekes back.  But the Cardinals have a little more incentive to see them in the playoffs, now, and beat them.

Morgan offers his best smile over the Cards' chances

Thanks to the Florida Marlins’ Mike Stanton’s game-winning RBI single Monday night against the Braves, the Cards are only 4.5 games out of the wild card spot – and a ticket to a whole new season, the playoffs.”

I think we all need to send a “Thank You” card to Nyjer Morgan for lighting a fire under this team.

"What do you mean, 'Thank you'?"

Who’s the leader on this team?  It’s not Albert Pujols, it’s not Lance Berkman.  The leader on this team is Yadier Molina.  At the end of the celebration, it was Yadi who told his teammates that they’re not done.  They still have to go through Philly.  And, so, we can all start hating Philly again.  Somebody get out the batteries…it’s time to remember Philly is the city that booed Santa Claus.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go pop open a Budweiser.

Free Classy – O.J. Atogwe

O.J. Atogwe after an interception (AP Photo)

On Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Washington Redskins Free Safety Oshiomogho “O.J.” Atogwe will wear a different jersey, but he’ll also wear a heavy heart.  It wasn’t easy putting on that Redskins jersey for the first time.  Atogwe said, “It was an adjustment period. I’m not going to lie about it. It felt a little weird, a little foreign for a little while, just to have a jersey on that wasn’t a Rams jersey. It took a while to get the feeling of it, but now I’ve made my home here in Virginia and I embrace those colors with pride and integrity.”

Atogwe spent six years in St. Louis patrolling the Rams defense’s backfield – much to the chagrin of opposing quarterbacks.  In his time as a Ram, he played 88 games, amassed 393 tackles, 5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, and 42 passes defended.  That number of 42 PDs is only that low, however, because Atogwe was busy snatching them for interceptions.  One of the world-class ballhawking safeties in the game, Atogwe picked off opposing quarterbacks 22 times in his career.  Only Charles Woodson and Ed Reed have created more turnovers since 2006, 43 and 39 respectively, compared to Atogwe’s 37 (21 INT, 16 FF).  All of those numbers are quite a testament to his game.  But the hallmark of Atogwe’s career is his world-class personality.

Atogwe intercepts a pass (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

Atogwe was born in Canada (Windsor, Ontario), where he was a high school track star, and an all-city basketball and football player.  After a four year career at Stanford University (he also starred in track for the school), Atogwe was drafted in the 3rd round, 66th overall, by the Rams in 2005.  2006 was his breakout season, with 75 tackles, 8 turnovers, and 10 PDs.  Ever since then, he and longtime friend, Cornerback Ron Bartell, were fixtures in the Rams backfield.  That is, until this offseason.

The Rams decided it wise to release Atogwe because of his hefty salary – in June 2010, Atogwe was signed to a 5 year, $32 million contract.  But new Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo’s system required him to play Strong Safety, diminishing Atogwe’s freedom to play more of a centerfield by forcing him to step up in the box more often.  Atogwe wasn’t playing to his strengths, and there was someone more suited for the system available in free agency – the dependable Quintin Mikell.  The Rams released him early enough to sign with another team before the lockout.

And the Redskins wasted no time in signing him.  Atogwe said, “I’d say it happened rather quickly. They got in touch with my agent and began talks shortly after I was released. Then we were able to have very productive conversations where they said what they liked, we said what we liked, and we were able to make it work.”

Atogwe celebrates with Ryan Kerrigan after the latter's TD against the Giants (AP Photo)

It was easier to transition to the Redskins scheme because Jim Haslett is the defensive coordinator.  Atogwe said, “It allowed me to be familiar with the defensive concepts. Coming in it was more a situation of learning the terminology and just also learning some of the nuances in a 3-4 defense. Once we got that out of the way it was back to playing football and having fun.”  And Atogwe was happy to be reunited with Haslett.  “It just feels good to be with Has,” he said, “very dear feelings for him. (I’m) just glad to be back with him.”

But it wasn’t easy to leave St. Louis.  He has the greatest respect and admiration of the Rams coaches, the General Manager, and his former teammates.  He said he had “No hard feelings whatsoever. The Rams gave me a wonderful opportunity. I had six wonderful years in St. Louis. I’m thankful for all they did. They have great people over there, and when you’re dealing with great people, it’s never personal. There’s a business side to this game that you have to respect, so I respect their business decisions and I pray for blessings for them as they go forward except for this Sunday. I send my love to (General Manager) Billy D. (Devaney) and Coach Spags (Spagnuolo) and all (those) boys up there.”  Again, the man is classy.

The feeling is mutual on the other sideline.  Spagnuolo said about Atogwe, “He’s the best, I love him. It’ll be great to see him. Relationships run deep in this league, at least I’ve always felt it was all about people and all about relationships. And that was a strong one, O.J. and I. Had a lot of tremendous moments here in the two years we were together, but we both know the business. Both of us understand it and I wish him well. I think he’s playing well. He’s on a good football team. That’s a good defense he’s working with. It’s good because, one of the reasons because he’s on it. I’m looking forward to seeing him, I am.”

Atogwe was especially dejected to hear about Bartell’s season-ending injury, something Rams fans can relate to.  “I was very sad,” he said.  “Me and Ron have talked quite a bit since then. I’m just happy that he is healthy and he is going to be able to be restored to great health and I’m just praying for him and his family.”

Atogwe and Ron Bartell break up a pass together (Getty Image/Otto Greule, Jr.)

But Bartell’s not his only friend on the Rams.  Atogwe sent trinkets to some of his former teammates to show how much he missed them – action figures.  “I sent a couple to the fellas,” Atogwe said. “Chris Long got one. I think I sent one to Jack (RB Steven Jackson). A couple other players may have got one – just little momentos.”  The action figures all said something about the player’s personality.  “Chris Long got Green Lantern, and Green Lantern’s character is very much based on having a lot of fun, being kind of a wild child, but having very strong will. That’s why I gave that to Chris Long. And then Jack got Wolverine. He’s one of the toughest guys I know especially after that 2008 season or 2009 season when he played with a jacked up back. That’s why Jack got that one.”

Another Redskin that Rams fans will love to see on Sunday is former Rams Middle Linebacker London Fletcher – but they won’t be glad to see him once the game starts.  At age 36, he should be on the downside of his career at his position.  Yet “Fletch” hasn’t missed a beat, still making it to the top ten in tackles in the NFL (and has done so since 2004).  Atogwe said, “Well, Fletch is such a standup guy, if he says it, that’s what it is. What he says goes. That’s the man right there. I just try to help the guys as much as possible, whether it’s conversations about a certain look that we’re seeing or certain techniques that we’re going to play in a certain coverage. I just try to bring confidence and I guess you would say a sense of peace where I go so players can just go out there and make plays and we can get these wins.”

Fletcher and Chris Neild sack Eli Manning (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Atogwe doesn’t take having a guy like Fletch as a teammate for granted.  “Really,” he said, “in a short while, having known him and been around him, I really look up to him. He’s a great man, a very blessed individual. He’s a great leader. He works hard day in and day out. He studies hard. He’s the type of player you want to play with and you want to play behind because you learn so much just having known him and you’re a better person having known him. I’m truly blessed.”

To be able to play at Fletch’s level for so long shows a lot about his character and conditioning, something Atogwe can only hope he can live up to.  He said, “To play that long means you’re really taking care of your body, you’re playing the game in a way that allows you longevity. It’s not afforded to everybody, and those who do make it and play that long means they’re doing things right.”

Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan thinks Fletch could play forever.  “Sure does,” he said. “He is playing at a very high level. You don’t really think about somebody’s age, you’re looking at their playing ability and he is playing very well.”  But Shanahan is also impressed with Atogwe. saying, “you’re dealing with a guy with the utmost character. You’re dealing with a great football player and I’m just glad he’s on our football team.”

Fletcher likes what Atogwe brings to the table on and off the field, appreciating his sometimes goofy personality off the field, and his excellent play on the field.  “O.J. is like a calming force back there. He can be one of the guys that really calm things down. He’s a very cerebral player. He’s a talented football player. You look at his ability to create takeaways. The Monday night game, it wasn’t a takeaway that he had, but they tried to hit a fade route into the end zone and he comes over the top and dislodges the ball from the receiver. So he’s an excellent football player. We’re fortunate to have him.”

It will be bittersweet for Fletcher to return to St. Louis, as well, despite how long it has been since he donned the blue and gold.  “It’s been 10 years since I’ve played with the Rams,” he said. “St. Louis and that organization, that was a special time and a special place. It will always be dear in my heart. To be able to accomplish what we accomplished there. The fans were great to me. I can remember there would be several banners throughout the dome with ‘Fletch fanatics’ signs. I used to love that. I mean, that got me going. As far as extra motivation, like I said it’s been 10 years, so my motivation now is go out and play well regardless of who it is.”

Fletcher tackles Ahmed Bradshaw (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

No matter how few points the Rams have put on the board thus far, Atogwe has faith that they’ll turn it around.  “They are an exciting offense,” he said.  “They had some nice, impressive drives against New York. They moved the ball very well up and down the field against them, just weren’t able to put points on the board. Had a lot of explosive plays that game. Same with the Philadelphia game, they were moving the ball very well and just weren’t able to finish it off. So we know they’re definitely capable of being productive if given the opportunity.”

Atogwe is really looking forward to Sunday’s game against the Rams.  It will be different to be on the other sideline, but other things won’t be that different to him.  He said, “It’s going to be like it’s always been: number 20 now out there making plays like he did when he was 21.”  And the man wearing that number 20 will still exude the kind of class he has for six years wearing number 21.

Thanks for being classy, and taking the time to read this.  Please leave a comment if you like.

Where’s the Aspirin?

Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo didn't have much to be happy about Sunday.

“I don’t have an explanation,” Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo said.  “I wish I did. If I had I would’ve solved it at halftime, but I don’t. I know one of the things, (the Ravens) came in with a little different approach then we thought. They were laying it down-field and they were successful at doing it. Had they missed a few of those maybe it would have been a little different.”  I hate to say it, Coach Spags, but probably not.

This should be a one-word column – “painful”.  But I’m not sure if I’m talking about the pain endured by Sam Bradford (16-32, 166 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) or Rams fans.  I could use another word – “pathetic”.  I know, after my last two columns following Rams games, you might have been reading this to get some positive thinking from me.  But I just cannot find anything positive about the game.  Let me think of something while you’re waiting for the play-by-play guy from CBS to pronounce Michael Hoomanawanui’s name correctly (he didn’t do it once).  Hey, if I can spell it, you should be able to pronounce it.

Chris Long recorded his 3rd sack of the season, and 2 QB hits like this one.

If there is a positive from the loss against the Baltimore Ravens, it’s that the game is over.  I’d like to say that the hard part of the season is over, but it isn’t.  There’s a lot more pain to go through.  The Rams proved that Sunday.

When you think of the Baltimore Ravens, or “Ratbirds” as they are affectionately known by some fans, you obviously think of defense.  Pro Bowlers abound on this side of the ball for the Ravens, including one of the best middle linebackers of all time, Ray Lewis.  He’s the kind of player that opposing running backs want to fake an injury like a New York Giant.  But I can’t think of any reason the offensive line of the Rams should not have shown up.  There’s too much money invested in a crew that’s supposed to protect Bradford to have him running for his life for 60 minutes.  Right tackle Jason Smith, chosen second overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, somehow made me miss Alex Barron.  It was a brutal day for him.  Coach Spags had to dump him for Adam Goldberg at one point in the game.  Spagnuolo said, “Jason, it appears, I’d have to see the film though, but he appeared to struggle a little bit today. It’s a little bit like a pitcher in baseball, doesn’t have his stuff some days. So he had a rough day.”

But let’s not blame Smith entirely.  Nobody on that line had a good game.  I don’t care about all the Pro Bowlers on the Ravens; these guys were taking holding penalties on 5-yard losses.

The offensive line, however, is not entirely to blame.  The defense was atrocious.  When asked what frustrated him most, Coach Spags said, “There’s a lot of things, too many probably.”

Jack is back, surely a positive for the Rams.

Running back Steven Jackson said, “We’re very disappointed. We have the talent. Coach and (General Manager Billy) Devaney have gone out and tried to make each and every position competitive so we could have the best guys on the field at all times. For these last three games, for whatever reason, we’ve continued to stump ourselves, continued to turn the ball over, continued not to execute, and it’s very frustrating because the hard work the guys have put in, especially during training camp, is not carrying over into the game. Each and every person, all we can do is look at each other or look at ourselves in the mirror and that’s where we can start, right there. It’s very frustrating, especially as a team leader. You want more, especially because you see the grind. You see what guys are putting in, and for whatever reason it’s just not happening for us on Sunday.”

I know the Ravens had a lot to prove after their loss, which Lewis and his teammates were trying hard to forget.  Lewis said last week, “You just go win or loss, 24-hour rule after it’s done. Then it’s done. We understand the corrections and the mistakes that were made, simple.”  He acted as if he didn’t see anything that happened in that previous game at all…which we’ve heard before.

Was it just me, or was Baltimore a little too excited to have that game so much in their control?  You’d think a lot of those guys were winning the Super Bowl against a good team, and not playing a reeling Rams team in Week 3.  They were up by 30 points and were still trying to air the ball out.  What, exactly, was the point of that?  The Ravens defense lived up to their nasty reputation, as well.  Jackson said, “I felt the Ravens’ defense were trying to be bullies. I felt they were trying to do an intimidation factor, and that’s not something that we’re going to be victims of.”

Joe Flacco took a big hit from Justin King, forcing a fumble.

If there is a silver lining, the Rams have only four more games to go until they actually get to play someone in their own division.  Then they might have a chance to win a game.  Three weeks ago, many Rams fans might have thought their team would have a chance to win some of these early games against challenging teams, such as the Washington game next week; but it doesn’t look like that right now.  The Rams couldn’t run the ball, they couldn’t throw the ball (until later in the game), they couldn’t stop the run, and they couldn’t stop the pass.  Oh, why don’t I just have Jim Mora tell the story…

The bright side is that the NFC West is so bad the Rams could come out of Week 8 with no wins (0-7), and still make the playoffs.  I’m starting to think that we might see the first 5-11 playoff team in NFL history.

The Rams have to hope that Steven Jackson can be healthy enough to get 20 carries for the rest of the season.  Also, Mark Clayton will rejoin the team in a few weeks.  The offense will get better, but the team has to find a way to protect Bradford.  The defense…well…they have to find someone who can cover a wide receiver.  Cornerback Bradley Fletcher has shown some positive strides, but he’s not going to be able to hang with Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald.  And lord knows just how ugly the games against the prolific passing arsenals of New Orleans and Green Bay will be.  I mean, we just watched Joe Flacco (Joe Flacco!) light up the secondary for 389 yards.  The pass rush has been OK, but the Rams are hoping they continue to improve.  Safety Quintin Mikell accurately said, “The bottom line is we got a lot of work to do, but we have the guys in this locker room that can do it.”

The Rams, overall, have to be better.  By the fourth quarter, all three of the games have been out of their grasp.  And the fans let them know they weren’t happy with the team, showering them with boos.  Bradford knew they deserved it.  “Yeah,” he said, “that’s frustrating. I understand where the fans are coming from. They expect more out of us. They deserve more out of us. We’ve got to give them more. We share their frustration.”  And the fans and Bradford shared a lot of pain.  Where’s the aspirin?  At least I can end on a good note…

Cheer up!

What’s That Smell? Ahhh…I Smell Hockey…

David Backes reminds us why we miss hockey (Getty Image/Dilip Vishwanat)

You can feel it in the air.  Actually, you can hear it on the air Thursday on the Mighty MOX (KMOX).  I’ve never been happier to hear Kelly Chase and Chris Kerber.  Now that we’re all huddled around the radio to listen to the Blues game as if it’s 1967, I thought I’d give you something to read.  The Blues are back, and it’s not a moment too soon.

It’s great to hear the common sounds of Blues hockey season – Captain America David Backes making a hit, Chris Stewart scoring a goal, and Eric Brewer giving up a puck that leads to the game-winning goal.  Only this time, Brewer did it for someone else.  I don’t want to pick on Brewer too much, much to the chagrin of many Blues fans; after all, he did score the game-tying goal prior to the give-away.  And Adam Cracknell made a nice play to give the Blues the win.  But what stuck out for me in the game Wednesday night against Brewer’s new team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, was the fact that the Blues would not stop pushing.  Every time they would get a lead, the Lightning struck back.  But then the Blues just kept on taking the lead back, making for an electrifying (OK: Sorry!) evening.

Backes acting like a captain (Getty Image/Dilip Vishwanat)

Stewart’s three points (1 goal, 2 assists) that night might be a sign of things to be continued.  After coming to the Blues late last season, Stewart had 15 goals and 23 points in 25 games with his new team.  This is the kind of guy who can play with anyone, so the Blues won’t have a hard time matching him up with linemates this season.  Having him play with Patrik (who’s so good he doesn’t need a ‘c’) Berglund, though, could make for an interesting combo.  Berglund (6’4”, 218) has shown signs of brilliance – even dominance – at the end of last season, at the World Championships (8 goals, 10 points, +7 in 9 games; 2nd in the tournament), and in training camp.  With the two of them together (Berglund and Stewart, who’s 6’2”, 228), very few teams will be able to counter that kind of speed and size.  Throw newcomer Evgeny Grachev (6’4”, 224), who’s been dubbed “Double G”, and you have an all new Legion of Doom.

Grachev celebrates one of his goals Tuesday night

For the first time in a long time, there is quite a bit of competition brewing in camp.  The backup goaltending job is up for grabs between the Des Peres Giant, Ben Bishop, and newly acquired Brian Elliot.  Elliot made 21 of 22 saves (including stopping shots on 7 of 8 powerplays for the Lightning) on Tuesday night.  Wednesday, Ben Bishop faced Tampa’s “A” team (including captain Vincent Lecavalier, sniper Steven Stamkos, offensive dynamo Martin St. Louis, powerplay specialist Mattias Ohlund, and…I’ll say it…Eric Brewer), and made 21 of 24 saves – all of the Lightning goals were scored on the powerplay.  Time will tell on this one.

Brian Elliot makes a save Tuesday night (Getty Image/Dilip Vishwanat)

There are many other players fighting for a job, literally and figuratively.  Ryan Reaves, Stefan Della Rovere, and Anthony Peluso are trying to make the club with their fists.  With 28 games in the NHL under his belt, and after adding several pounds of muscle to battle the big boys on other teams, Reaves is the favorite to win this spot.

Anthony Peluso fighting for a NHL spot

The defense has what seems like a set crew, with the top five being Alex Pietrangelo, Barret Jackman, Roman Polak, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Kevin Shattenkirk.  Nikita Nikitin packed on some pounds to help him control the corners more (to go along with his solid puck play), and Kent Huskins was acquired via free agency to round out the group.  But don’t forget Ian Cole.  It will be interesting to see how much of a difference another year of experience will make for the former 1st round pick.  And he scored a goal Wednesday night against the Lightning.  Another guy to watch in the preseason is Brett Ponich.  If nothing else, he’ll be easy to see considering he’s 6’7”.  Let’s hope he turns out more like Chris “Captain Elbows” Pronger than like Todd Reirden.  Ponich was in the box all night on Tuesday, which certainly was reminiscent of “Captain Elbows”.  Another defenseman to keep an eye on is Mark Cundari; his vitals won’t frighten even small children (5’10, 180), but he’s not afraid to go into the corners.  And the guy is tall with the puck, running the powerplay for the Peoria Rivermen last season – think Dennis Wideman.

The biggest difference in previous years to this one is the competition to make the fourth line.  The last few years we had to ask ourselves “which AHL players are going to make the team”.  This year we’re asking “which NHLer is going to have to go down to the AHL”.  Thanks again, Doug Armstrong.

I know it’s hard for some to get revved up for hockey with the Cardinals coming together to make an exciting push for the playoffs, and the Rams getting their season started (albeit not very well).  But, my fellow hockey fanatics, it’s time to smell the hockey in the air.  Is that a smelly hockey glove I smell?

(Photo by Tom Gannam)

Thanks for taking the time to read this; please leave a comment if you like.

“Don’t Call Me Stupid” – Rams/Giants Review

Nietzsche: #1 Rams Fan

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, “To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity.”  While it may seem a bit nutty to start a sports article with a quote from Nietzsche, who coincidentally went nuts in later life, himself, I think it’s appropriate after the loss by the Rams on “Monday Night Football”.  Although the Rams made plenty of what you might call stupid mistakes, on the field and on the sidelines, they cannot forget their purpose this year – to make the playoffs.  A winless start after two games is not earth-ending, or unpredictable; and it shouldn’t be any reason to believe the Rams cannot attain their goal.

“Stupid mistakes”, “stupid play-calling”, “stupid use of players” – these are the comments I’ve heard from many Rams fans.  Even pundits (inside and outside of St. Louis) are agreeing with these comments.  In some cases, these comments are far too precise.  But desperation is the mother of stupidity.  That’s my philosophical quote.  The Rams were desperate to prove themselves not just to the city of St. Louis, but the national audience of MNF.  And it gave birth to some stupid moves.  A screen pass that turned into a lateral pass, and a drop, which turned into a Giants touchdown, is probably the one that jumps foremost in a Rams fan’s mind.  Any momentum the Rams were trying to get back after already losing the lead was extinguished by a desperate improvisation by QB Sam Bradford, and then a foolish surrender on the play by RB Cadillac Williams.

Bradford knows he has to be better (stlouisrams.com)

The second “stupid” play on the field that will probably come to a Rams fan’s mind is the muffed punt return by rookie Greg Salas that expedited the Giants’ first touchdown (after getting stuffed by the Rams defense prior).  However, it might be called “stupid” because of Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo’s decision to have the rookie return punts, at all.  RB/KR Jerious Norwood is more than capable, and certainly would have been more confident than Salas.  But Norwood wasn’t even returning kickoffs.  Another rookie, who just joined the team after the Eagles game, RB Quinn Porter, was the man put in that position.  And Porter’s fumble resulted in the Rams starting from the seven yard line on a subsequent drive.  Two rookies making their debuts in high-pressure positions on MNF is hardly putting your guys in the best situation to succeed.  In Coach Spags’ defense, these guys are “pros”, and should be able to catch/secure a punt/kickoff; and they both somewhat made amends later in the game by having good returns.

The third “stupid” (and we’ll call these) “plays” came from the secondary at extremely untimely situations.  CB Al Harris and S Quintin Mikell had a miscommunication on a long pass play to Mario Manningham helped the Giants set up a touchdown.  Two veteran players cannot allow a player to be so wide-open; but I read some pundits say that is attributable to poor coaching.  And CB Justin King cannot strangle every wideout that beats him in his coverage.  Giants wide receiver Brandon Stokley got away with one on him, as King desperately (you notice I’m using this word often in this piece) tried to communicate with the officials.  The two of them looked like third-graders slap fighting over the classic “he started it” argument.  King has some skills, and is a good, physical corner, but he has to learn the tricks of the trade better from vets such as injured Ram CB Ron Bartell – who knows how to clandestinely disrupt a receiver’s route without getting so touchy that it looks like he’s trying to give the guy a wedgie.  King’s penalties gave the G-Men too many opportunities after his defensive counterparts had stopped them.

Quintin Mikell and Justin King tackle Ahmed Bradshaw (stlouisrams.com)

Fourth in the “stupid” category is the coaching, both in the use of personnel and play-calling.  Too many times, the Rams squandered Red Zone opportunities.  I don’t want to beat the proverbial dead horse, but winning teams don’t beat themselves by not scoring when they’re so close to the goal.  Bradford admitted he has to be better in the Red Zone, which is true.  But he also has to have better options.  As MNF commentator Jon Gruden said on the telecast, someone has to get open in single coverage when the opposing team sends the house at Bradford.  This would be easier if Lance Kendricks and the 6’5” Danario Alexander were out in those situations more.  Big targets are easier to hit when you’re under pressure as Bradford was.  I know Bradford looked away from Kendricks on one chance to hit him in the RZ on an out route, but he was probably afraid to give Pro Bowl Safety Antrel Rolle a chance to pick it.

Danario Alexander, making one of his 3 great catches (stlouisrams.com)

Speaking of both Kendricks and Alexander (“DX”), why weren’t they utilized more in the passing game, overall?  It worked when they were.  DX was thrown to three times, and had three catches for a career-high 122 yards.  The G-Men’s depleted secondary couldn’t cover him.  And speaking of things underutilized that worked, what made the Rams stop using the “sugar huddle”, as the Eagles game’s commentator, Brian Billick, called it, after extended success for the second game in a row?  The Giants were exhausted, and exasperated, and extempore when the Rams were using it.  It worked so well that the Giants began faking injuries.  Bradford said he heard one of them say, “Someone go down”, which he was obviously frustrated by.  What frustrates me, and I’m sure I’m not alone, is that the Rams inexplicably stopped using the tactic shortly after.  One of my favorite writers, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, put it best about the Giants craven acting.  About these Academy Award winners, he asked on stltoday.com, “how pathetic was it to watch members of the Giants defense rolling around on the field and faking injuries to stop the clock and put the Rams on pause? I thought real men played in the NFL; I didn’t realize this was European soccer.”

Coach Spags was unimpressed with their acting, as well.  He said, “I have the same sense and I talked about it with (Referee) Terry (McAulay). They can’t make the decision of whether somebody’s hurt or not hurt. You just don’t know that. I don’t know. Part of the game I guess.”

Spagnuolo pleads his case to the officials (stlouisrams.com)

It’s interesting to see that there are fewer bridge-jumpers among Rams fans after the loss to the New York Giants than there were after the loss to the self-proclaimed “Dream Team”, the Philadelphia Eagles.  As overrated as the Eagles proved to be, the Rams were much better matched against the G-Men.  I’m guessing fans were more able to brush it off after seeing the St. Louis Cardinals actually look like a winning team the past couple weeks.

Mistakes were made, but fans can only hope the Rams learn from them.  It’s surely high time they correct them, especially with a nefariously tough Baltimore Ravens team coming to town next weekend.  Bradford needs to play better under pressure, but he’ll need some help – fewer drops, fewer muffed returns, etc.  He’ll need fewer mistakes by him, his teammates, and his coaches.  But it’s a long season, and time will tell what this team is truly made of.

Coach Spags saw some bright spots to the game, such as Bradford’s career day (331 yards).  Bradford did most of his damage on throws more than 10 yards, which is something many people questioned.  Spags saw the emergence of DX and Mike Sims-Walker (6 catches for 92 yards) as true threats in the passing game.  And Spags saw his defense continue to battle with their backs against the wall.

One of Sims-Walker's 6 receptions Monday (stlouisrams.com)

Coach Spags also saw too many mistakes – by his team, and by him and his staff.  All stupidity aside, it’s a new week on Sunday.  You can dwell on the past mistakes, but it’s more important to learn from them and look ahead.  As Spags said, “we’ll just forge ahead. We’ve got some good coaches here and some good players and nobody here is going to feel sorry for us. We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves and we’re going to go back to work.”

Nobody should give up on this team yet.  The Rams will not forget their purpose.  Since I started with a quote from a philosopher, I’ll end with another.  Rene Descartes said, “You just keep pushing.  You just keep pushing.  I made every mistake that could be made.  But I just kept pushing.”  Keep pushing, Rams.

Monday Night Football Prediction – 9/20/11

The Rams Must Bring Eli Manning Down to Win (AP Photo)

I thought I’d give you an update on the Rams/Giants Injuries, and my prediction, for Monday Night Football.  For the full preview, read “They Might Not Be Giants” at this link: http://joerichtermedia.com/?p=282

Out for the Rams is DE C.J. Ah You (wrist), and of course CB Ron Bartell is lost for the season.  Two surprises that came up are that WR Danny Amendola was upgraded to “doubtful”, but he hasn’t ruled out that he will play; and Steven Jackson hasn’t ruled out playing, either.  There isn’t much reason for the Rams to press Amendola into service, though, and he certainly doesn’t need to prove his toughness by playing with a bum wing (dislocated elbow).  With Jackson, however, Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo said the team would “probably work him out on game day and see where we’re going.”  Even though Jack has to be dying to get some Monday Night action (he hasn’t played on Monday since 2006), he has to be sure he’s healthy – it isn’t worth the risk.

Though he had limited participation in practice on Saturday, Michael Hoomanawanui (I just got carpal tunnel spelling that) should be in the lineup, which should take the pressure off of Lance Kendricks.  It’s time for LK to show those skills he previewed in the preseason.  This solid tight end tandem could open things up for the wide receivers, and if they bring their hands with them to the game this time, the Rams should score some points.

QB Sam Bradford, CB Bradley Fletcher, and LB Josh Hull will play.

The Giants are really banged up.  CB Prince Amukamara, TE Travis Beckum, and DE Osi Umenyiora are out.  DE Justin Tuck and WR Hakeem Nicks are questionable; Tuck said he is less than 100%, but Nicks said he was ready last Wednesday.  If they’re out, the Rams better count their blessings.

My prediction: if Jackson plays, the Rams win.  If Tuck and Nicks don’t play, the Rams win.  If those don’t work out, things get complicated.  I’m going to be sorry I said this.  But I predict the Rams will bring the house down on Eli Manning, and that will be the key – forget about stopping the run like my pundit friends are saying.  The GMen are going to try and pound the ball (Head Coach Tom Coughlin is old-school), and they will get yards.  The Rams just can’t allow them to run rampant in the air.  With holes in the St. Louis secondary, the Rams have to be in Eli’s face all night long.  The Rams win 21-20 in one of the great Monday Night games in years.

They Might Not Be Giants – NY Giants/Rams Preview

Rams Hope to Light Up Monday Night (stlouisrams.com)

They might be Giants, but the Rams stack up to them pretty well.  Dating back to 1938, the Rams own the all-time series against the Giants at 25-13.  The Rams are beaten up after their first game, but they are not alone.  The Giants are dropping like flies, as well.  Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin said, “We’ve had what, three ACLs, we had a guy break his foot, he stepped on the field one day, we had a guy tear a (pectoral muscle).”  So the Rams will get no sympathy from them.

Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in Week 1, so each has a lot to prove to their fans, to the rest of the league, and to themselves.  “For us (the Redskins game) was a divisional game and those are extremely important,” Coughlin said.  Even though the Rams aren’t in their division, they know this game is as important as any other, especially with all the mistakes they made last week.  “We’ve got a lot of correcting to do and we’ve got a lot of improvement to go through. I think the players all share that feeling.”

Sam Bradford should be back for Monday – his finger is feeling better, and was on the practice field Wednesday.  Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo was obviously relieved, saying that was the “understatement of the year”.  Coach Spags said, “We all know how we feel about the quarterback on any team, because it’s an important position, and we know what Sam means to ours.”

Everyone, Including Bradford, is Glad He'll Be Under Center (stlouisrams.com)


But Sam was just as relieved as his coach.  It will be his first Monday Night Football Game.  “
If I wasn’t playing something,” Bradford said, “definitely Monday night football was always a highlight of my week. I remember it being the only game on TV that night and I remember watching it and thinking how cool it would be to play on that stage some day and how fortunate we are to be here, going to play on Monday night football for the first time next week.”

Bradford thinks it’s important for the Rams to rebound well on Monday, no matter the stage.  He said, “Obviously we feel we dropped the game last week. As last year goes to show we were a game away last year and had we closed out some of those games earlier in the season it would have been a different situation last year. I think everyone in this building understands the importance of getting wins early in the year.”

But even if Bradford plays, the Giants still plan on stopping the run first.  Coughlin said, “First of all you try to stop the run which…they demonstrated the other night the Rams run the ball well. Sam is a very good, young quarterback who has really matured and developed in his year of playing time. We’ll do the best we can against a very good player.”

The Rams strength last week was the running game, but they might have to get things done another way against the Giants.  The Giants gave up only 74 yards to Washington running backs (Tim Hightower had 72 and Roy Helu had 2), an average of 2.8 yards per carry.  They’re a team that makes stopping the run its focus.  Bradford said, “They’re big, they’re physical. It’s hard to run the football against these guys. There’s just not a lot of space inside. They do a great job of putting pressure on the passer. We’re going to have to be really good up front both in the run game and the pass game this week.”

Though Steven Jackson is still questionable for Monday’s game with his thigh injury, Coughlin doesn’t think there’s much of a letdown with Carnell…er, I mean…Cadillac Williams in there.  Coughlin said, “Well, he played very well, and of course I know of him in his younger years, but he played very well the other night. Both backs really displayed strength and power and quickness and the ability to move the pile. And 91 yards against the Eagles is a lot of yards.”  Coughlin doesn’t see how he needs to change his game plan because of the roster changes.  “I didn’t see a whole lot of difference in terms of how they used the backs,” he said, “I thought the backs were used in a similar fashion.”

Jerious Norwood Eludes a Defender (stlouisrams.com)

And look for Jerious Norwood to get some action, as well.  When he gets space, he can make things happen; as if he greases up his jersey before the game, he’s hard to get a hold of.  He only got 3 carries for 10 yards, but had the most 20+ yard kick returns in the NFL (tie) in Week 1, showing how hard to handle he can be.

Pro Bowl DE Justin Tuck feels the same about the Rams offense.  “Their running game can be tremendous,” he said.  “Obviously it helps if you have 39 (Steven Jackson) back there. Even with Cadillac…he still had 91 yards on 19 carries, so we definitely have to put them into some situations where they have to rely heavily on their quarterback – who is a great and up and coming quarterback. We would rather have him be one dimensional than have the option of handing it off and being able to drop back and pass too.”

Cadillac Williams Looks For Another Big Game (stlouisrams.com)

Tuck knows Williams very well.  He said, “Actually, I played against Cadillac in high school. I remember him before he had the knee injury. The knee injury still hasn’t slowed him down. He’s still a great, great back.”  When asked how good Williams was high school, he said one word, “unstoppable.”  Rams fans hope the Giants won’t be able to stop him Monday.

 

Let’s look at what kind of defense the Rams will be facing.

On the defensive line, Giants Defensive End Osi Umenyiora (knee) should be out of the lineup.  However, though he said his neck is “less than 100%”, outstanding DE Justin Tuck should be ready on Monday, which isn’t good news to Sam Bradford – Tuck said sacking quarterbacks is favorite part of playing football.  With both Rams Offensive Tackles banged up last week, Tuck and his counterparts should be trouble for them.  DEs Jason Pierre-Paul (2010 first round pick – the 6’5” 278 DE that does backflips, like he’s two Ozzie Smiths) was effective last week (6 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble), and Dave Tollefson had a sack and two tackles.

At 6’7”, 317, Defensive Tackle Chris Canty is a roadblock in the middle.  And starting partner, Linval Joseph (6’4”, 323), is no little person, either.  But if the Rams RBs can get past the line, they have to face a young, but strong linebacker corps.

LBs Greg Jones, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Spencer Paysinger Tackle Tim Hightower (AP Photo: Evan Vucci)

6-year veteran LB Mathias Kiwanuka (6’5”, 267) had five tackles in his start in Week 1.  7-year veteran Michael Boley (6’3”, 230) had four tackles and a fumble recovery.  Beyond 5-year vet Zak DeOssie (2 tackles in Week 1), who’s mainly their long snapper (2011 Pro Bowler) there isn’t a lot of experience.  The Giants have four rookie LBs in Mark Herzlich, Spencer Paysinger, and 2011 6th round picks Jacquain Williams and MLB Greg Jones (had a productive career at Mich St., started 46 games, 465 tackles).  Jones had 4 tackles last week, catching some eyes.

It’s good to hear that Sam Bradford is healthy, because if Rex Grossman can get over 300 yards passing against the Giants, then you’d think Bradford could.  Losing Danny Amendola is tragic, but it affords an opportunity for Greg Salas, Danario Alexander, or Austin Pettis to step up.  Salas made a good catch for 21 yards on Sunday, and has a solid-enough frame (6’1”, 209) to be a third-down guy.  And his 4,345 yards in college give him the 6th highest total in NCAA history.  So, Coach Spags will have to decide on either Alexander (deep threat) or Pettis (extra 3rd down help/punt returner) – or if they even go with five on Monday night.  Dominique Curry should play for his special teams ability.  Coach Spags said on Wednesday, “We have five wide receivers, obviously, that are healthy on the 53; and whether we go in the game with four or five we will determine at the end of the week. Then we’ll decide who, if it is only four, we’ll decide who the four are.”

The Giants secondary is good in the middle.  Antrel Rolle is a Pro Bowl safety (2010: 87 tackles, 4 interceptions), and made 7 tackles in Week 1.  Kenny Phillips is a big, strong tackler (6’2”, 217) who made 9 of them in their first game, along with two passes defended.

2011 first round pick, Cornerback Prince Amukamara (foot) is questionable.  Dependable DB Terrell Thomas (2010: 102 tackles, 5 interceptions, 21 pass defended) is on the IR, as well, which might create some space for Rams receivers.  There was a reason the Giants picked Amukamara, their lack of solid corners, and the Rams hope they can take advantage.  They especially can take advantage of an inexperienced slot corps if Salas can step up.  In that same regard, the Rams tight ends could have a field day if Mike…hold on while I copy and paste it…Hoomanawanui can get back in the lineup.  Having “Hooman” back could take the pressure off Lance Kendricks, whose drops last week were costly.  Kendricks’ hands should return this week.

Kendricks Looks to Make His First Monday Night a Great Night (stlouisrams.com)

Now let’s take a look at the Giants offense.  The good news for the Rams Defense is that the Giants managed only 75 yards in Week 1.  Starting Running Back Ahmed Bradshaw managed only 54 yards (44 rush, 10 rec) last weekend, an average of 3.4 rushing yards per carry.  But he had over 1500 all-purpose yards last year, and shouldn’t be forgotten.  It should be a key for the Rams to shut him down – the Giants are 14-24 under Tom Coughlin when they don’t manage 100 yards rushing.  Forget about last week against the Eagles – Vick’s versatility and slipperiness inflated the rushing yards against (236).  RB LeSean McCoy only had 10 rushing yards in the first half.  If the Rams can play at that level against the Giants for a full 60 minutes, things should go much more smoothly.  And don’t plan on Eli Manning running for 97 yards – or slipping out of the pocket as easily as Vick did.  He’s going to seem like a turtle stuck in mud compared to Vick.

Ahmed Bradshaw Tackled By London Fletcher (AP Photo: Susan Walsh)

Manning now has the longest QB starting streak in the NFL, after his brother Peyton had to miss his game on Sunday, at 104 games.  Put it this way, the Cleveland Browns have started 12 different QBs during Eli’s streak.  Manning had 268 yards (18 of 32) last Sunday, numbers he wasn’t satisfied with.  He’ll be looking to feast on a depleted Rams secondary after not getting a touchdown last weekend, while being intercepted by Redskins rookie Ryan Kerrigan.  The Giants finished last season 10th in passing yards and 7th in scoring.  Without CB Ron Bartell (and perhaps without other starting CB Bradley Fletcher) the Rams will have their hands full in the passing game.  The Rams have to get a good rush on Manning to shut him down.

Manning Sacked by London Fletcher and Chris Neild (AP Photo: Susan Walsh)

In the offseason, the Giants added Center David Baas, after he started 53 games for San Francisco – and was their full-time starter for the last two seasons.  Pro Bowl-starter, G Chris Snee (6’3”, 305), anchors the Giants line, just as he has since 2004.  Snee has started all 108 games he has played in the NFL.  On the outside, Kareem McKenzie (6’6”, 330) has been a fixture at Tackle since 2004.  Will Beatty started on the other end in Week 1, but had only started 6 games before that in his young career.  Look for the Rams DEs to get them some.  It’s imperative that they don’t let Manning get comfy in the pocket.

Chris Long sacks Vick (stlouisrams.com)

Wide­ Receiver Hakeem Nicks (79 rec, 1052 yards, 11 TDs) is probable, and said he is feeling like his knee should be ready to go on Monday.  He’s sure to give Rams cornerbacks fits.  Nicks had 7 catches for 122 yards before leaving the game.  Mario Manningham (2010: 60 rec, 944 yards, 9 TDs) had only 49 yards last week.

As far as the cornerbacks go, the Rams have Justin King and Al Harris ready to go.  King still has to prove himself in the pro game as an outside corner, but that was his game in college.  Having had to learn the inside game in the pros, he’s welcoming a return to the outside.  Harris was a two-time Pro Bowler, but knee troubles have kept him in a backup role.  The Rams are hoping he still something left.  To help out, the Rams resigned CB Tim Atchison – who had just gotten home and unpacked after his prior release from the Rams practice squad when he got the call to come back.  Atchison showed versatility in camp, playing both the outside and nickel corner positions.  Coach Spags said, “You don’t normally want to throw somebody into the heat this quick but I thought Tim showed enough in training camp both from the physical part and knowledge part that deserved to get him back here.”

James Hall Looks to "Get Some" Monday Night (stlouisrams.com)

It’s a great matchup between these two teams.  On defense, both teams need to get after each other’s quarterbacks and limit the opposition’s running back.  On offense, both teams need to find a way to exploit a weak secondary on the other side, and find a way to break through each other’s solid defensive front lines.  It will be a close game, so it will come down to the usual game-breakers.

Third Down will be important, as always.  The Giants were 1 for 10 last week on Third Down plays.  The Rams allowed the Eagles to covert 8 of 13, mostly because of Michael Vick scrambles, so should automatically improve on that.  On the flip side, the Rams were only 2 of 12 on Third Down.  Somebody has to step up and make plays.

Turnovers could make the difference for each team.  Manning’s interception started the second half off wrong (the third play of the half), and those points scored on its return were costly.  The Giants never gained the momentum, or the lead, back.  Bradford, being tripped by his own man, fumbled the ball in the first quarter against the Eagles, leading to a touchdown – and a letdown in momentum.  The Rams never got the momentum, or the lead, back.

Bad penalties cannot be made (Giants had 8 penalties for 63 yards, and the Rams had 9 for 60), nor can chances be missed (both teams missed a Field Goal in Week 1).

Both teams have a lot to prove on Monday night, and there’s no better stage to prove it.

Thanks for reading.

 

From the Undrafted Rookie – Around STL Sports (9-13-11)

BLUES – FINALLY, CAPTAIN AMERICA IS REAL

On the Blues knighting David Backes as their new captain, this is a no-brainer.  There are so many reasons why, and an article I wrote months ago should explain that.  You can read that at this link: http://joerichtermedia.com/?p=59

Backes is the kind of guy you want to follow; he’s tough, talented, and tenured.  The Blues did the right thing.  They couldn’t make General Manager Doug Armstrong – who has done a terrific job since joining the staff – the captain, so Backes is the next best thing.

Though there is a lot going on sports-wise in St. Louis, I can’t put in words just how excited I am to see the Blues get out there.  My anticipation is bubbling over watching Alex Pietrangelo blossom as a star defenseman, Chris Stewart emerge as a star power forward, and Jaroslav Halak become a true #1 netminder.  There’s so much that we have longed to see – the continued brilliance of Patrik Berglund, the rocking mullet of TJ Oshie, etc.

The Blues New Captain, Captain America

But if I might protest something, it would be the choice of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” for the Blues ad campaign.  I just saw the commercial on the Blues website, (I’d add the link, but I don’t want to put you through the obnoxious college ad) and was selfishly bothered.  I never started believing that Berglund can actually play the piano (although the guy’s charismatic goofiness should certainly be part of the campaign), and I did stop believing that the song should be played outside of a high school dance.  Besides, it sings about Detroit, which should be enough said.  OK, maybe I’m being too nitpicky here (I admit being a bit petty), but didn’t Tony Soprano get shot to that song?  Sorry, late spoiler alert…

Regardless, it’s nice that the exhibition season will start next week (September 20), and training camp begins Friday, September 16.  And it’s classy of the Blues to allow fans to be there at the St. Louis Mills to see them officially take the ice for the first time of the 2011-12 season.  Many of the boys in blue are already there, which shows me the Blues, themselves, will not stop believing they owe it to the fans and the franchise to make it back to the playoffs.

 

 

RAMS – MAYBE WORST FEARS REALIZED

Well, we talked about it before, and now our worst fears have been realized.  The positions with the least amount of depth for the Rams were ones most battered on Sunday.  First off, Rams Quarterback Sam Bradford slammed a finger on an Eagles player’s helmet, leaving him inactive in practice until at least Wednesday.  It turned out to be just a bruise, but the finger he hurt was on his throwing hand, and the franchise QB wasn’t exactly meticulous on Sunday (I thought he was trying to hit the cameramen on the sideline on a couple throws) to begin with.  Neither was AJ Feeley.  This is very concerning in a league that has a quarterback fetish.  The NFL knows these guys are the faces of franchises, and have bent and changed rules over the last two decades to benefit the passing game.  Teams cannot live on the run alone.  “Keep our fingers crossed,” Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo said, “no pun intended.”  Hey, Spags; I make the corny jokes around here…

All-Pro Running Back Steven Jackson was updated to “week-to-week” by Spagnuolo.  But it’s a wait and see scenario with Jackson.  He said, “I’ve always trusted Steve with injuries and how he feels. He knows better than anybody how his body reacts.”

Even worse, Wide Receiver Danny Amendola – Bradford’s go-to guy – is out for who knows how long.  It was determined that he dislocated his elbow, and was getting an MRI during Spagnuolo’s press conference Monday.  They’ll more info midweek.  If Amendola doesn’t require surgery, then he could be back sooner than originally expected.  Spagnuolo called him a “tough sucker”.  Spags said Danny is “a lot tougher than me.”

But what might be the costliest injury is losing Cornerback Ron Bartell.  After suffering what everyone thought was “just” a stinger, Bartell wanted to go back into the game.  In the understatement of the season, it’s a good thing the Rams didn’t let him.  It turns out that he has a broken neck.  Ouch.  He could miss the rest of the season.  You got to feel bad for him, considering how long he has waited for this team to be a winner.

Ron Bartell (stlouisrams.com)

Who will take Bartell’s place on an already short list of quality corners?  Cornerback Bradley Fletcher suffered a toe injury, as well, possibly leaving only two healthy corners for Week 2.  The Rams will have to see how Fletcher comes along this week.  Right now, they might have to look outside for another corner to fill in.  “Obviously you have Justin (King) and Al (Harris) here,” Spags said.  He added that they “may have to find a way to get another one.”

There was some good news.  Offensive Tackle Jason Smith and Defensive End C.J. Ah You are listed as day-to-day after their injuries turned out to be less serious than previously estimated.

Right now, it’s a waiting game for the Rams to see just how depleted their first game left them.  “We didn’t envision starting like that,” Spagnuolo said.  “We certainly didn’t envision losing all these guys but between the coaching staff, personnel staff, the players just find a way to rally and go play.”

 

 

CARDS – THANK YOU, MORGAN?

Nyjer Morgan Gives a Lesson in Class

I know the 5-game winning streak was snapped on Monday night by the mighty (to the Cardinals) Pittsburgh Pirates.  But the Cards are still in it.  That’s right, I said it – they still have a chance to get into the playoffs.  And if they do, I think it’s all because of Brewers Center Fielder Nyger Morgan.  He may be a player with crazy skills, but that might not be the only crazy thing about him.  I mean, we’ve all thrown our chaw at a pitcher that has struck us out, and made a fool of ourselves on television.  OK, maybe that’s just me.  But I don’t think any of us have called Albert Pujols a little girl.

You have to hand it to Morgan, he has more guts than brains.  Many have accused 6’3” 230 pound Albert Pujols of being surly at times, or thinking he’s ten times faster than he really is; but we would never call him feminine like Morgan did.  It’s like the old line by Gene Wilder from “Blazing Saddles” that he said about the movie’s character, Mongo, “No, no; don’t do that.  If you shoot him, you’ll just make him mad.”

That might be exactly what Morgan did with the Pujols and the Cardinals.  Morgan might have lit the fire under the Cardinals that they needed.  They have been on a roll ever since.  And the Brewers are starting to look a bit more mortal.  After losing five games in a row, The Brew-Crew defeated the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.  And they also got Rickie Weekes back.  But the Cardinals have a little more incentive to see them in the playoffs, now, and beat them.

Nyjer Morgan Reminds Us to Floss

Thanks to the Florida Marlins’ Mike Stanton’s game-winning RBI single Monday night against the Braves, the Cards are only 4.5 games out of the wild card spot – and a ticket to a whole new season, the playoffs.  While the Cards will be hard-pressed to catch the Brewers (6.5 games back   games slip away, especially against the Pirates.

One more note.  Getting Chris Carpenter for two more years at a reported $21 million total is a steal by the rate pitchers are getting these days.  It’s important to have the one-two punch of him and Adam Wainwright next year.  If Jaime Garcia can come back next year with a more consistent season, the Cards will have one of the best top three pitchers in the league.  And the money saved could help the Cards retain Morgan’s best friend, Albert Pujols.  Maybe…

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