The Seattle Seahawks defeated the St. Louis Rams, 14-9, on Monday Night Football to cap off Week 8 in the NFL. The Seahawks vaunted defense struggled with the run most of the game, surrendering 200 yards on the ground to a Rams team playing without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
Though the Rams seemed to control the game on the ground, they couldn't complete passes where needed, as St. Louis backup quarterback Kellen Clemens looked woefully overmatched for the task of starting in the NFL. Clemens was sacked three times and intercepted twice in the game.
St. Louis, despite the abysmal play from Clemens, was actually in a position to win the game late in the fourth quarter. The Rams picked up a first down with goal to go on the 6-yard line, with 46 seconds remaining and a full complement of timeouts...and that's when things took a turn for the odd.
First Down and Six Yards to the End Zone
Eschewing any type of run, despite having an arsenal of timeouts and plenty of time on the clock, Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer dialed up a pass play on first down. As had roughly 50 percent of his other passing attempts at that point in the night, the Kellen Clemens pass fell incomplete.
Given the options available on first down, I don't want to criticize the call too heavily. I prefer to skip past the call and focus on the subsequent plays that, ultimately, cost the Rams the game, but I'd be remiss in my duties if I failed to tell you what I would have called given the same situation.
If I were the Rams offensive coordinator, I would have run a stretch play. As you can see from the play above, the play runs horizontally, giving the running back the maximum amount of cutback lanes. The play also has the built-in ability to allow the running back to run the ball out of bounds, should he be unable to find a crease with which to attack the defense.
This play serves two purposes. It attacks an already gassed defense by forcing them to run the furthest distance on the field the boundaries allow and sets up play action should the run fail to generate a touchdown. Given St. Louis' success with the run throughout the game, I would have loved to see the Rams attempt this play on first down.
Second Down and Six Yards to the End Zone
With the first-down incomplete pass, the Rams only used eight seconds of clock, leaving them with 38 seconds, a stopped clock and a still full complement of timeouts. This is where I felt the Rams got creative.
St. Louis lined up in the shotgun, with a three-wide receiver set, an in-line tight end and an offset halfback. The Rams spread the field out as far as they could to give Daryl Richardson, playing in place of the highly effective, yet hurting, Zac Stacy, the best chance to get downhill quickly.
At the snap of the ball, the Rams' tackles, center and tight end began blocking straight ahead downfield. The Guards both pulled to the right, and Richardson took the handoff, following his blocks down to the 2-yard line.
The Rams were then forced to call a timeout, reducing their total to two remaining.
Overall, I liked the call. If you have the timeouts, a creatively blocked running play like this is a great call on an early down. It's an aggressive downhill call, with little risk.
Third Down and Two Yards to the End Zone
The Rams looked to be in excellent shape. With third down, and only two yards to go to the end zone, 31 seconds on the clock and two timeouts, the playbook is wide-open. St. Louis elected to put the ball back into the hands of quarterback Kellen Clemens, whose night could charitably be referred to as "ineffective."
The Rams came out with five wide receivers in a shotgun look. The play was a designed wide receiver screen to the left, with a shallow crossing pattern on the backside of the play.
With the Rams lined up in an empty set, the defense was forced to leave a spy (in this case, Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, circled in yellow below) to ensure that quarterback Kellen Clemens didn't simply run the ball up the middle on a draw for a touchdown.
This play is a high-risk call that even if caught, doesn't guarantee any forward progress for the football. There is the inherent risk of an interception, and the receiver is going to be left defenseless after the catch where a vicious hit could cause a fumble.
Calling wide receiver screens are effective when the field is longer than it is wide. Conversely, when you pack everyone into a tight area, and the field has the most space horizontally, there's less margin for error on timing and throws.
The pass was thrown high and behind the receiver, who dropped the football. The Rams, however, got lucky here as Seattle was called for being offside, and the down had to be replayed after the ball was moved half the distance to the goal.
Third Down and One Yard to the End Zone
Faced with a mere yard between the Rams and an improbable comeback victory, Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer decided to try to pound the ball in. The Rams lined up in a three-tight end set and tried to power it in off the left guard.
The call is an ostensibly safe call, it's a vertical rushing play against a team that has been hemorrhaging yardage all day, but it was poorly blocked, and Richardson was stuffed for no gain.
Personally, I would have called for play action here, conceptually something similar to the play below (ignore the yardage markers).
The Houston Texans run a similar play quite frequently, building off the run game and successfully hitting the tight end or fullback for the gain. The Rams were only going to get one shot at a play-action pass, and this was the down to do it. It's an obvious power-run situation, and the defense was, obviously, looking for the run.
Regardless of the call, Rams running back Daryl Richardson was tackled with 24 seconds remaining on the clock, but the Rams failed to call timeout until four seconds remained.
Facing a fourth down with only one yard to the end zone, if the Rams had called timeout immediately and then failed to convert, Seattle would have taken over on the 1-yard line and been dangerously close to a safety. In a game where a safety and a field goal tie the game and you have at your disposal one of the strongest legs in the NFL, letting the clock run was poor time management.
You have to give your team every chance to win, and this was another area where poor coaching failed the team.
Fourth Down and One Yard to the End Zone
Oddly, the Rams decided to line up again in a shotgun formation, with an empty backfield and put the ball in the spectacularly ineffective hands of quarterback Kellen Clemens. Clemens was a 50 percent passer all evening and had thrown two interceptions and no touchdowns.
Perhaps even more bizarrely, St. Louis trotted hobbled running back Zac Stacy back on to the field and split him out wide. If Stacy was too hobbled to run the ball, why was he out there? If Stacy was healthy enough to play, why not line him up in the backfield?
With no running back in the backfield, the coaches had to know Seattle was going to be pinning their ears back. The Seahawks were nice enough to show the Rams their hand, lining up in a Wide 9 concept.
With the defense bringing the house, Clemens was only going to be able to get to one read. The play, despite postgame assertions by Clemens, was a designed two-read play, as you can see from the diagrammed screen grab above.
The result of the play was a poorly thrown ball, nowhere near the vicinity of its well-covered target, receiver Brian Quick, on a fade route from the slot.
The Rams had a massive succession of failures to end the game against the Seahawks, and it cost them a potential win. The coaching staff failed to put their players in high-percentage situations. The play-calling was disjointed and didn't build on the previous plays, and the coaches mismanaged the game clock.
In the final five plays, we witnessed a coaching staff that tried to get cute, only to outsmart themselves.