October 30, 2011

Rams Ambush Brees as Right Tackle Unravels Saints Offense, 31-14

A brutal day for the Saints in old nemesis St. Louis, where the winless Rams got their first win of the season against the high-flying Saints.  Coming off a record-setting demolition of the Colts, the Saints were shut out in the first half by the underdog Rams.

Steven Jackson got out to a good start against the Saints, picking up a first down on a simple outlet pass, evading Jo-Lonn Dunbar for the first down.  Feeley's next three passes were incomplete, including two deep shots for WR Brandon Lloyd to test the Saints secondary.  Lloyd was actually open on the first, but excellent closing speed by Malcolm Jenkins let the Saints' free safety bat the ball away harmlessly.

The Saints picked up a quick first down to Graham on their first play from scrimmage and a seven yard run by Pierre Thomas.  Facing third and three, the Saints converted with a pass in tight zone coverage to Lance Moore,  who survived a hard hit by Quintin Mikell.

Five snaps into the game, RB Chris Ivory entered the game and ran left, picking up two yards but making a strong cut to his right.  Brees then fired incomplete twice for Moore and Colston, putting Thomas Morstead back on the field for a punt.

On the Saints' second snap, DE Will Smith cut underneath protection, dismissed TE Michael Hoomanawanui and sacked Feeley for a nine yard loss.  On the next play, MLB Jonathan Vilma dropped Steve Jackson for a five yard loss, setting up third and 23 from the Ram 5.  A safe draw to Jackson got punter Donnie Jones out of his end zone.

Ivory's second carry on the Saints' second drive was his first broken tackle of the season, setting up 3rd and 7 from the Saint 45.  Brees in shotgun rolled right and evaded a free rusher and found Sproles in stride out of the backfield for a 19 yard backfield.  Comically, DE Chris Long drew coverage on Sproles.  On the next play, another free rusher came but got to Brees for the sack.  A long completion to Lance Moore picked up 17 on 3rd and 22, setting up a field goal attempt by John Kasay.

Kasay missed from 49 yards out, his first missed field goal since October 2.

Feeley threw a first round pass to Lloyd while being dropped by pressure for a first down, and the Rams were into Saints territory.  Two plays later on 3rd and 9, LB Jonathan Casillas was sent on another relentless blitz by Gregg Williams, and batted Feeley's pass into the air, forcing another punt.

The Saints picked up a first down with a pass to Meachem and a Pierre Thomas short-yardage conversion, but soon found themselves with 3rd and 13 after a blown-up screen to Jed Collins.  At the start of the second quarter, the Saints looked deep but Brees only found Pierre Thomas underneath for a short gain and another punt.  Scoreless through the first quarter, the Saints were falling into the Rams' trap - giving St. Louis and its fired-up, World Series-winning fanbase hope and confidence.

Morstead's punt pinned the Rams at their 12, then Roman Harper's first down blind smash sack of Feeley punt the Rams at their own 3.  On second down, Harper allowed Jackson to get outside of contain and Jackson picked up 10 yards to make it 3rd and 9.  Feeley in shotgun withstood the blitz and completed wide open underneath to WR Brandon Gibson.  Feeley got another Ram first down with a quick out to Lloyd, who beat Patrick Robinson inside for 11 yards.   Jackson powered for 15 yards before Will Smith picked up his second sack of the game for a seven yard loss.  Jackson's quick out was short of the line by two yards, setting up 4th and 2 for the Rams.  Feeley found WR Greg Salas wide open underneath, and Salas slipped a gang tackle at the sideline and broke free.  CB Tracy Porter caught him by the ankles after a 33-yard gain to the Saint 7.

The Saints called a timeout before the next snap, and after a long TV timeout, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, a one-time Rams interim head coach, threw the red challenge flag.  Sean Payton watching from the booth no doubt saw something.  challenging that Salas stepped out of bounds up at the 23.  The referees ruled in the Saints' favor, reducing the gain to 17 yards.

Nevertheless, the Rams were driving and the Saints hoped to take advantage of the delay to stall the Rams' impressive drive.  On the next snap, Feeley rolled right and CB Jabari Greer almost intercepted his shallow pass.  Jackson was bottled up by rookie Cam Jordan and others for a short gain, setting up 3rd and 7 from the Saint 20.

Feeley was drilled by Casillas - again - and his pass was battled into the air by Will Smith.  Josh Brown's field goal attempt from 37 yards away was good, giving the Rams an probable 3-0 lead.  St. Louis hadn't lead in a game since Week 2.

The Saints got the drive going with a 3rd down conversion pass to Pierre Thomas and a first down outlet pass
to Jed Collins, who showed surprising shift in the open field and gained 14 yards down the right sideline.  Two plays later on 3rd and 4, Rams rookie first round pick DE Robert Quinn sacked Brees by beating Bushrod inside.  Morstead punted again, and a high-speed fracas broke out when a Ram blocked a Saint into the punt returner, then DB James Butler of the Rams was flagged for unnecessary roughness for inciting a shouting match by shoving on the sideline.  The Rams took over deep in their own territory again.

Feeley picked up another first down with a pass to Salas, but a false start and a delay of game helped pin the Rams back deep and force another punt, a 55-yard boomer by Donnie Jones, fielded by Sproles at his 25.  Right before the two minute warning, Brees hit Moore for a quick 13 yard gain.

Then on back to back to back plays, DE Chris Long beat RT Charles Brown, once to force a near-interception, then a second time to give up a sack, and on third down Long tipped Brees' pass incomplete.

Morstead's punt attempt was blocked by the rookie Quinn, and the ball rolled harmlessly out of bounds.  Jonathon Amaya was beaten on the blocking assignment.  Two plays later, Jackson punched it in for a touchdown and a 10-0 Rams lead with 1:10 left in the half.

After Sproles' kick return was stuffed at the Saint 12, Brees threw deep for Henderson and was picked off at the Saint 38 by DB Josh Gordy.  Brees threw underneath and Henderson didn't appear to run the comeback that Brees expected.

The Rams looked to be stifled but two different hands to the face penalties on Junior Galette, a defensive holding call against Patrick Robinson, and a Feeley scramble gave the Rams a 1st and goal at the Saint 3.  A false start moved the Rams back to the 8, then Galette helped redeem himself by harassing the quarterback's arm and forcing an incomplete pass.  But on the next snap Feeley threw to Lloyd on a quick streak into the end zone, beating Patrick Robinson, and the Rams were up 17-0 with :17 left in the half, certainly the stunner around the NFL at halftime.

It is the first time since week two of the 2007 season that the Saints were shutout in the first half, a 31-14 losing effort to the Bucs.

Looking to start out fast, the Saints were undone by second year RT Charles Brown, who was beaten badly by Chris Long for a sack and then committed a false start, forcing Brees to throw short of the line on 3rd and 24.

The Rams moved methodically down the field on the power of Steve Jackson, who ripped off a 32-yard run and scored on a shotgun draw where Sedrick Ellis and Junior Galette politely complied with their blockers.  The sputtering Saints offense found a single first down before punting, with Morstead booming a 58-yarder downed at the Ram 6.

Feeley, on 3rd and 6 from his own 9, gave the Saints exactly what they needed.  An all-out, eight man blitz saw Jenkins and Casillas with straight shots to sack Feeley, who fumbled at his goal line.  Will Smith tried to recover the ball before Vilma scooped it up for a defensive touchdown with 1:21 left in the third quarter.

Following another of Morstead's league-leading kickoff touchbacks, the quarter ended with the Rams facing 3rd and 6 at their own 24.  That's when WR Brandon Lloyd dropped a wide-open slant, his defender Patrick Robinson having been picked in traffic and Porter flat-footed.  Jones punted a moonshot 59-yarder that pushed Sproles back to his own 17, though a good return started the Saints off at their own 32.

Trying to hold on to the momentum, the Saints converted a 3rd and 1 with Chris Ivory up the middle for six yards, then converted a 3rd and 12 with a Brees running forwards strike to Colston for 25 yards.  RT Charles Brown, a victim often in today's game, went down on the play.

One more strike over the middle to Colston moved the Saints down near the goal line, and Pierre Thomas sprinted in up the middle from three yards out for the offense's first points of the day.  Kasay's extra point made it 24-14 with 10:03 left in the game.

The Rams were undone by Lloyd again on their next drive, when the receiver drew a 15-yard chop block penalty.  Jackson picked up 15 but the Rams punted again, giving the ball to Brees at his own 33 with 6:28 left.

Brees would fire incomplete three straight times, with Chris Long abusing Pat McQuistan, Brown's replacement at right tackle.  With 6:12 left down by 10, the Saints would punt.

Lloyd for once would do his team a huge favor, making an outstanding sideline catch from a great throw by Feeley to convert a 3rd and 5 with 5:17 left.  But three plays later, the Saints would stop Jackson on 3rd and 4, forcing another Jones punt.  Sproles called for a fair catch at the 18.

Brees' next pass was picked off and returned for a touchdown by Darrion Stewart, who jumped an underneath route for Jimmy Graham.  Jahri Evans would be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play for kicking the ball into the stands.  That pick six sealed the game that the Rams owned from the second quarter on.

Down 31-14 with 2:51 left, Brees took over at his own 20 and nearly threw his third interception of the day.  Clearly Brees was feeling pressure from his porous right tackle position, where the Saints have played three men behind Jon Stinchcomb, who was cut in preseason.  Brees was sacked for a fifth time in clothesline fashion by Chris Long, who blasted McQuistan with just over a minute left.  It was Long's third sack of the day.

Brees converted a fourth and long with a sideline pass to Lance Moore, then moved across midfield with a dangerous screen to Sproles.  Another sideline out to Moore moved the Saints to the Ram 35 with :44 left.  With Brees' streak of 34 straight games with a touchdown pass in danger, Brees would get sacked for the sixth time when he tried to run forward out of the collapsing pocket with :23 left.  The Saints called their final timeout with :24 left.

Scrambling Brees flipped a pass to Sproles, who turned upfield and got out of bounds with :17 left at the eight yard line.  A jump pass to the end zone for Graham was incomplete on first down, leaving :15.  Colston up high couldn't haul in a fingertip pass at the back of the end zone.  On third down, Brees kept his streak alive (now at 35) with a score to slanting Lance Moore, keeping the streak alive and making the score an academic 31-21 with :06 left.

The Saints' onsides kick was recovered by the Rams.

Despite a long journeyman career in the NFL with four teams spanning 12 seasons, AJ Feeley had never played against the Saints.

The game was setup to be a matchup of two of the NFL's top punters, Morstead and the Baton Rouge native Donnie Jones.  Though Morstead had a crucial punt blocked, it wasn't a disappointing show of vertical football boomers.  Morstead's 62 yard long beat Jones 59 yard long punt, both placed three punts inside the 20.

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