Game #13: Four More

Roman Gabriel was the prototypical Quarterback type. At 6’5″ tall, 220 lbs. with a cannon for an arm he was the mold General Managers tried to find until the mobile QBs arrived on the scene.

Ron Rivera‘s first assignment as full-time Defensive Coordinator was to contain the Dolphins. That didn’t go particularly well, did it? Ron tried to cover Tyreek Hill with a rookie Safety one-on-one on two occasions. Two touchdowns later the experiment failed. Ironically, one week later the Tennessee Titans, another team with a poor record showed the League exactly how to beat the Dolphins. If Tua Tagovaiola is on his feet with the ball coming out headed towards Hill or Jaylen Waddle, you’re in trouble. The Titans put heavy pressure on Tua sacking him five times. When he has been sacked four or more times his record is 1-9. Early on they also showed Man coverage only to drop into a single-high zone. The Fins took the bait and ran Waddle over the middle on a crosser… straight at a waiting Safety. Old-Timers call that a “Hospital Throw.” Waddle got whacked. He returned, but was not the same. They roughed up Hill also. Suddenly Miami looked very ordinary. Getting physical on the Fins is the key. The week before Washington did none of that.

The League had an outbreak of Spoilers last weekend. Five underdogs beat favorites all with playoff ambitions. New England started the party on Thursday shocking Pittsburgh at “The Ketchup Bottle” to hand the reeling Steelers their second loss in five days. Both came against teams with only two victories in hand entering the game. If you think the “Fire Ron” chatter is loud here, Yinzer Nation is none to happy with their Head Coach either. Ron has not had a winning season in four tries here. Mike Tomlin has not had a losing season in sixteen tries there and is two wins away from seventeen. Yelling to fire Head Coaches is what fans do best.

The underdog madness continued unabated throughout the weekend. Cleveland beat a Division leading Jacksonville team behind a 38 year-old QB in Joe Flacco that was summonsed off the couch a week earlier. In Cincinnati another backup QB suddenly looks like a cheaper version of Joe Burrow, but just as effective. The J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets made Zach Wilson, the poster boy for lost QBs look like a second coming of Tom Brady without any warning. And, finally, the Giants behind the fairy tale story of Tommy “Soprano” DeVito held off the Packers. All five of these teams are operating on backup QBs. Cleveland is on its fourth QB. The Giants are on their third. Something else they all have in common is that they played more physical ball than the favorites. Other than Game #1 against Arizona Washington has yet to follow suit.

Washington enters this game with a chance to be a spoiler. The old line for spoilers going into a game is, “If we’re not going to the playoffs, you’re not either.” It should be on a sign in the WFT Locker Room this week. Perhaps there should be a sign in larger font nearby: “Be Physical!”

Cleveland Rams players try to keep warm using bales of hay during the 1945 NFL Championship Game against Washington on December 16 at Municipal Stadium. It was -8 degrees F at kickoff. Over 32,000 fans braved the elements to see the last Cleveland home game for the Rams.

The Rams have been around a long time. But, they are not one of the charter members. Neither is Washington. Prior to coming to DC in 1937 the franchise originated as the Boston Braves in 1932. The Washington move corresponded with the origination of the Cleveland Rams. In 1945 the franchise recorded its only championship in Cleveland with a 15-14 victory over the WFT. It would be the last home game in Cleveland for the Rams. The following year the owner, businessman Dan Reeves moved the team to Los Angeles.

Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch hauls in a pass against the Cleveland Browns October 7, 1951

Unlike the later moves of baseball franchises to the West Coast which immediately brought financial returns the Rams struggled at first. The “Dons” of the All-America football conference provided direct competition. The Rams lost a lot of money until the Dons and the rest of the conference folded in 1949. With the Dons gone the Rams embarked on a string of successful seasons that included another championship in 1951 behind Norm Van Brocklin and “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. The old Coliseum packed record attendances to see the team.

Things get interesting for the franchise in the early 1970s. The Colts’ owner Carrol Rosenbloom swapped franchises with the Rams’ Bob Irsay. This eventually led to both teams moving to new cities. In 1984 Irsay moved the Colts to Indianapolis with the infamous Mayflower moving van in the middle of the night amid snow episode. In 1995 Rosenbloom’s widow moved the team to St. Louis. It would stay there for 20 years winning one championship. “The Greatest Show on Turf” squad in 1999 produced stunning success on offense. Hall of Famer Kurt Warner threw 41 touchdowns against 13 picks. It was a special team. But, St. Louis was not special enough to keep the team. In 2015 they headed back to Los Angeles.

In 2021 former Washington Assistant Coach Sean McVay led the team to its second Super Bowl win. Like Tampa Bay the year before LA landed a veteran QB to lead the charge. Again, just like Tampa Bay the year after the Super Bowl was a disappointment. McVay publicly considered retirement. Super Bowl hero Cooper Kupp has been in the Training Room more than the field. Things are rebounding, however.

This Rams team has been “in” every game this season. Even though the record is 6-7 there is a better-than-even chance this team makes the playoffs. They have played tough football against good teams. Tough guy Matthew Stafford has played through injury. Kupp has recovered from his ailments. Last week they hung 31 points on an excellent Baltimore Defense. The loss came on an overtime punt return. Not coincidentally, Washington gives up 30.3 points per game.

Washington’s best rusher, Brian Robinson is out for this game with a hamstring. Linebacker Jamin Davis is out for the season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. The 2021 first round pick has developed incrementally since being drafted. His run defense has been good, other than a bad gash in New England for a 64 yard TD. But, his pass coverage is not at all good. He’s one of those linebackers, and there are more than a few of them in the League that simply cannot cover a “Wheel Route.” The team moved him from the Will position to the Mike to shield him from those. He now poses a dilemma to whoever it will be running the football operations this coming spring. Do they deploy the “Fifth-Year Option” to retain him through 2025 or not? League-wide teams are selecting the fifth-year option on less than 25% of players drafted at #19 or lower. He’s right on that bubble demarcation. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

As for this game the hope is that Sam Howell has a good developmental game. Perhaps the WFT will decide that it wants to join the spoiler party. LA has a solid path to the playoffs. The Burgundy and Gold are not expected to be an impediment. Then again, neither were any of the five teams that pulled the upsets this past weekend.

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