If we're considering the 6-2 Vikings as a postseason-ready team, and I don't think that's an unfair assumption, then it's fair to contextualize yesterday's game as a wild card-lite affair. And in that sense, losing to a playoff-caliber team on their turf isn't a tough loss to swallow. If anything, having the lead at halftime and being tied at the end of regulation suggests the Rams are on the same plane as the Vikings.
Still, two major issues persist and prevent the Rams from being anywhere close to a top tier team: the impact of a lack of a passing game on 3rd downs and the penalties.
In their three games since the Week 6 bye, the Rams have converted just four of their 37 third downs, a slightly better than 10% conversion rate. Going into the game yesterday, the Rams already had the worst 3rd down conversion rate in the NFL at 25.9%. They followed that up by going two for 16, just a 12.5% rate. After yesterday, the Rams are down to a 23.76% rate overall through eight games. Let's not mince words. That's horrible.
As for the penalties, things have gotten worse over the course of the season:
Rams penalties in 2015: Wk 1 v SEA: 4 Wk 2 @ WAS: 9 Wk 3 v PIT: 7 Wk 4 @ ARI: 7 Wk 5 @ GB: 8 Wk 7 v CLE: 9 Wk 8 v SF: 12 Wk 9 @ MIN: 12— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) November 9, 2015
That's 33 penalties since the bye. It's worth pointing out that this is a direct Jeff Fisher quote from the preseason nearly three months ago to the day:
What’s interesting is that our on the field practice, full-speed penalties are way down compared to where we were last year. And that’s a point of emphasis for us. So, we’re not having the false start things, the frequency of them that we’ve had over the years. Just the discipline things down the field with the contact and the holding and the hands to face, all of those things that we emphasize. So that’s encouraging for me. That'll carry over because we have to get that number down.
It's not going to go down. It's part of Fisherball.
The Rams aren't going to clean up the penalties. The passing offense is going to continue to struggle. That's what Fisher does. That's his philosophy. It's why this is the product in year four.
The hope should be that it can eke out enough wins to get the Rams into their first postseason in 11 years, not that things turn around statistically. The former's possible. The latter's not.
For all the talk of the injuries on the field yesterday, the Rams came away largely unscathed. With so many regular Rams starters sidelined, the Rams could ill afford more injuries to a roster already pockmarked with midseason losses.
We should get the update in the introductory remarks today during Fish's press conference.
Well, again...passing offense. Penalties. It hurts. And it's not something the Rams can really get over.
Still, the Rams had the lead at halftime and had it tied up at the end of regulation against a playoff-caliber team on the road without Robert Quinn, T.J. McDonald, Rob Havenstein, Chris Long or Alec Ogletree. It's the most blatant silver lining the Rams will probably have to digest all year.
The Rams now drop back to 4-4 on the season into the Fisher-bred confines of .500 football. Here's your post-Week 9 NFC West:
It's going to be a interesting next couple of weeks in the NFC West. Arizona heads to Seattle in Week 10 before taking on the 8-0 Bengals in Week 11. After that, it's a two-game road trip to San Francisco and St. Louis. Seattle follows up with San Fran after Arizona. So by the time the Rams come back to NFC West football against the Cardinals in Week 12, things will likely look very different.
As for the NFC, the 8-0 Panthers are atop the mountain with the 6-2 Packers joining the Cardinals and 5-2 Giants as your divisional leaders. The Vikings and the 6-3 Falcons hold your wild card spots. The Rams, Seahawks and Eagles are all sitting at 4-4 looking up.
With the NFC West schedule web above yet to be weaved, the Rams have the Bears at home and then head to Baltimore for Week 11. If the Rams handle business, they could be heading to Cincinnati at 6-4 in Week 12. To keep the postseason within striking distance, that's likely a necessary outcome. And with a three-game homestand following the Bengals game, the schedule offers a fortunate window for the Rams if they can take advantage of their opportunities in the next month.