So how many sacks does Carolina Defensive End Julius Peppers pick up Sunday? It's a reasonable question. The answer lies in how often the Rams assign a second body to Peppers on passing downs. He is a beast, a bigger version of Leonard Little. He and Wide Receiver Steve Smith are the two Panthers that can take over games.
Scott Linehan is getting his first real taste of being second guessed. His fourth and one call at Seattle tells me two things, if I may be allowed to read between the lines. One, he didn't have confidence in his defense to hold a five point lead. That's reasonable given the defense's performance in recent weeks. Two, he didn't have confidence that his offense could bang out a yard and a half on the ground. And, that's the Rams biggest deficiency on offense--lack of production in the short yardage running game. It's been a problem all season long and remember Orlando Pace was already out of the game. That's where you run when you need a tough yard--behind your all-pro tackle. If the Rams don't do anything but improve their short yardage ground game in the off season, the offense will again become a 28 to 30 point a game offense. They're leaving too many points on the field. The Kansas City game was a perfect example. The Rams gained 450 yards of offense but only scored 17 points. Scott Linehan has instilled a sense of toughness in his team. But, more work needs to be done. You can't solve all your problems in one training camp.
Having said all this, I still think the smart play Sunday would have been to kick the field goal. I too had doubts about the defense's ability to shut off the Seahawks. But, even if Seattle had scored a touchdown, the Rams could have won or forced overtime with another field goal. But, I'm realistic about this: guys who ascend to head coaching positions from an offensive coordinator background will take risks at times. That's how they make names for themselves and get noticed. Mike Martz made the same play call in the same situation at Denver in the 2002 opener. Kurt Warner's pass was incomplete, the Rams lost by three and Martz was criticized heavily. Martz and Linehan aren't the only head coaches who would have gone for it. And, had the play been successful, he'd be called gutsy and daring.
Even after the Seahawks returned the late kick off to the Rams 49 yard line, the Rams defense still had a chance to make it tough on place kicker Josh Brown. But, the defense allowed 27 yards and two first downs that set up Brown in chip shot range. The defense also failed to slow down Matt Hasselbeck in the first meeting at the Dome. Late in that game, he drove the Seahawks 40 plus yards to get into Brown's range. It's reasonable at some point to expect the defense to slow down a team late in the game. The Cardinals gained about 15 big yards on the ground before Kurt Warner fumbled in week three. And Brett Favre drove his team right down the field in week five before Little made a game saving play.
Jim Haslett is the right guy for the job. But, he still needs bigger and better players at a couple of positions. I would hope the Rams devote as much as 75 percent of their off-season resources to the defense. And, if they believe that Haslett is the guy to get it done, then he should have some imput in those free agent and draft decisions. It will be interesting to see if he blitzes as much Sunday as he did in the second half at Seattle. The blitz was just as effective in slowing down the run as it was in getting to Seneca Wallace. The problem Sunday is the Rams will start rookie Tye Hill at corner and the Panthers have a strong wide receiver combo in Smith and Keyshawn Johnson. So, Hill will get a beat a time or two. But, I have no doubt he is on his way to being a very good cover corner in the NFL. Is this the week we finally see Jerametrius Butler play? I hope so. He's been buried in the doghouse. Before his knee injury in 2005, the guy was a top-flight NFL cornerback.