Problems in red zone hurt Jets
In a game of strange play-calling and decisions, the Rams emerged as winners .. and wild-card qualifiers.
ST. LOUIS -- The best thing you can say about the Rams' strange 32-29 overtime, season-ending victory over the Jets was at least the game didn't end up a tie on the scoreboard. But in some ways, the results ended up a draw.
Both teams made the playoffs as wild cards. And that's what they are in the playoffs -- wild cards. The fact the Rams play a Seahawks team on Saturday they've beaten twice this season, they may have a decent chance to advance in the playoffs.
Emotionally drained St. Louis coach Mike Martz didn't know that the Rams clinched a playoff spot until he had reached the locker room.
On the other hand, word filtered to the Jets' sideline during overtime that the Bills had lost to the Steelers, meaning the Jets had secured a playoff spot -- though the news didn't affect what was taking place on the field.
"There is no way coach is going to come back on head phones with 14 seconds left to go and say that Buffalo lost," Jets quarterback Chad Pennington said. "That ain't happening."
Of course, as crazy as this game was, maybe offensive coordinator Paul Hackett might have. It was a game of strange calls, strange plays and strange decisions. But it was exciting.
|“||I think each week our confidence is building. Winning breeds confidence and it gives you that swagger. It gives you momentum. I think we have real good momentum going into the postseason. ”|
|—Rams WR Torry Holt|
The Rams, ranked 20th defensively going into the contest, had just 28 sacks before Sunday. But Hackett said after the game that the Rams had the fiercest pass rush he's seen this season. They sacked Pennington six times. A week ago, Bryce Fisher earned defensive player of the week honors after a big outing against the Eagles. He had an encore performance against the Jets.
Fisher had six tackles and two sacks Sunday, but the entire Rams defense was flying to the ball. Offensively, the Rams allowed only one offensive touchdown to the Jets, an eight-yard pass to tight end Chris Baker. The Jets gained 324 yards of total offense and moved the ball at will between the 20-yard lines. However, their inefficiency in the red zone hurt them in St. Louis and could be an issue against the Chargers in Saturday's AFC Wild-Card matchup.
San Diego scores touchdowns. The Jets have gotten into the bad habit of moving the ball only to settle for field goals. Against the Rams, the Jets had three drives inside the Rams' 15. Twice, they settled for field goals.
"We've got to score more points," Pennington said. "Obviously, if we are going to be a championship team, we've got to put the ball in the end zone. Right now, we're great between the 20s, but the last two games, we haven't done a good job inside the red zone. It's not the talent level. It's not the play-calling. It's the execution."
Actually, the Jets' scoring problems go back a month. Take away the 37-14 victory over the Seahawks and the Jets have combined for two offensive touchdowns in three games. Considering the year Curtis Martin has had, that's inexcusable.
Martin ran for 153 yards on 28 carries to finish the season with 1,697 yards, topping Shaun Alexander by one yard for the NFL rushing title. What's weird is that the Jets don't play action much off those Martin runs.
"As you watch them on field, play action is not their game," Rams safety Adam Archuleta said. "It's like any game. What teams do in the first quarter, they do the rest of the game. Once you kinda dictate and they come out in their formations, that's pretty much what you are going to see. You can kinda tell their game plans accordingly. They just [call] the same plays."
The Rams adjusted their defense accordingly as the game progressed. They put pressure on Pennington early with line stunts. The Jets' unwillingness to use play action gave the Rams defenders confidence. They settled into more man-to-man coverage so they could slide an eighth man near the line of scrimmage to try to hold down Martin.
"We just couldn't get that ball in the end zone," Hackett said. "We've got to figure out what we need to do to get that ball in the end zone."
In the third quarter, trailing 21-14, the Jets got down to the Rams' 15. On a second down, Pennington missed on a pass to Santana Moss. Left tackle Jason Fabini drew a false start penalty and then the Jets had one of those patented tosses behind the first-down markers. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery was stopped at the 15, five yards short of a first down. Edwards settled for a field goal and a four-point deficit, 21-17.
Pennington executed a nice five-minute drill before the end of regulation, moving from New York's 41 to the Rams' 9. Pennington followed with three passes. All three were incomplete, including a near interception by Archuleta. The Jets settled for the game-tying field goal. Maybe they need to try a few running plays. With no play-action threat, red zone scoring can be tough.
"We have to convert some drives and move the football," Edwards said. "We stalled back at the 30-yard line and couldn't score points. You have to be able to score a lot of points. We scored a lot of points in the second half. We scored one touchdown on offense, but we had special teams and a defensive score. We have to do a better job."
Conversely, the Rams seem poised to advance in the playoffs. They played hard on defense, and Bulger was outstanding, completing 29 of 39 for 450 yards and three touchdowns. All day long, Bulger torched Jets cornerbacks Donnie Abraham and David Barrett even though they were playing mostly in zones. He hit seven passes of 26 yards or longer.
The Jets had one safety playing closer to the line of scrimmage and the other three defensive backs spread over the rest of the field, slanting double coverage to either Torry Holt or Isaac Bruce. Bruce suffered a hip contusion at the end of the third quarter and missed chunks of the fourth quarter and overtime. --> "The offensive line did a great job even though we didn't have a lot of running," Bulger said. "Their pass blocking was great. They gave me a lot of time in the pocket."
Steven Jackson was limited to just 29 yards on 10 carries, but he had four grabs for 51 yards.
"I think each week our confidence is building," Holt said. "Winning breeds confidence and it gives you that swagger. It gives you momentum. I think we have real good momentum going into the postseason. It will be up to us to patch some things in the run game as well as stopping the run as well as getting better on special teams."
Much-maligned defense coordinator Larry Marmie drew praise from Martz and his players after the game because things are coming together. In the last four games, the Rams have allowed 83 points, but for yardage numbers are getting better. During that four-game strength, the defense has allowed only 273 yards a game, 91 yards on average better than the first 12.
"These guys really understand what they're doing now, and we're very multiple," Martz said. "Our defensive staff comes up with different things each week. Players are excited about it. They are putting a lot of study time in. They understand it now. They're playing with great enthusiasm and intensity. They've become resilient."
Neither team has that aura of a Super Bowl champion, and even though the Jets look like the better team on paper, the Rams have a little more confidence and may go further in the playoffs. Though the game ended up a victory for the Rams, this game produced two wild cards, one -- the Rams -- who look a little wilder than the other.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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