The Rams jumped out to an impressive lead in the first quarter, and then crashed back down to earth in the middle of the second half. The Rams actually dug themselves into quite a hole, but came roaring back into the game, taking it into overtime. But no matter who stepped up to make plays, inevitably the Rams were unable to overcome their own shortcomings. Ultimately, two chronic issues followed the Rams throughout the day.
Two Big Issues Vs. The 49ers (... and what they can do about them)
- Penalties: There is no one factor that played a larger role in tonights games than penalties. Look no further than Greg Zuerleins 53 yard game-winning field goal that was called back because the ball was snapped 0.5 seconds too late. The most frustrating part of these penalties (especially those in overtime) are that they are procedural. That means they aren't even occurring during the play; they have to do with the rules of the game outside of play. And to take it one step further, many of these were caused by veteran players (i.e. Brandon Gibson, Brit Miller, Austin Pettis).
The Rams have had approximately 34 penalties over the last 3 weeks, and can obviously work to improve in this area. It's as simple as practicing to follow the rules. Frankly, some of our veteran players may not be ready to rise to the occasion in big games. The abundance of penalties over the past few weeks shows that many are not learning from their mistakes, so it may be time to send a message by benching players until it's figured out.
- Conservative Defense: The Rams have shown a very conservative defense in the second half of games. Against the Patriots, Dolphins, and 49ers the Rams gave up more passing yards in the third quarter than in the entire first half of those games. You can see the coverage back off, and basically concede the offense the first 6-7 yards. This begs the team to throw on first down. So they do, and are ultimately successful. This was maddening against the 49ers, as the defense gifted many yards in the form of QB runs. If Blake Williams is making the calls, it would appear that he is undergoing some of the same trials by fire that Quick and other are going through.
The Rams will have to learn to adjust their defensive gameplan, but find ways to stay aggressive. The defense will have to practice hard on schemes that attack the offense (heavy boxes, dime blitzes, 3-3 blitzes, etc.) that can be used in combination throughout the game to keep the opponent guessing. In the 49er game for example, we should have only kept one safety high in the 4th quarter and kept Dahl down in the box to spy the quarterback. This could have possibly prevented some of the long quarterback runs. The Rams kept both safeties high and invited short runs and underneath throws for 7-8 yards.
The issues listed above are fixable. In fact, they can be fixed this year through a combination of coaching and player development. Unfortunately, two of the players that needed it the most weren't on the field today. But that particular issue is for another time.
Overall, it appears the Rams have work to do. Many will claim this tie as a victory for the Rams; however, there was no victory in the way the game ended yesterday. They must turn a corner in the coming weeks, and learn to win on the road. The growing pains are not done yet, but hopefully they will not cost the Rams again as dearly as they did today.