The only thing more bitter than dropping what could have been a fourth win in a row is the fashion in which it happened. For three and a half quarters, the game appeared as if it could have gone either way. Then Jeff Fisher smote the city of Los Angeles with his inept coaching decisions.
First, Fisher called for a field goal while inside the ten yard line down 23-16 with six minutes left in the game. Greg Zuerlin nailed the kick, but the Rams still needed to score a touchdown to get themselves a lead. Fisher opted for the conservative play call and it came back to haunt him when his offense desperately needed to stay on the field later in the game.
The Rams faked a punt on their next possession from their own 23 yard line with three and a half minutes left to go in the game. Due in part to the play’s transparency, ball carrier Bradley Marquez was not able to convert the first down, granting the Bills the ball on the Rams 25 yard line. Buffalo quickly scored a touchdown, then intercepted Case Keenum for a second time on the ensuing drive. Despite 50 or so minutes of competitive football, Fisher swindled himself out of the opportunity for a win.
Rams Offense vs Bills Defense
If this game confirmed anything about the Rams offense, it is that Case Keenum’s explosive play potential is nonexistent. His inability to throw accurate passes down the field and extend plays in the pocket was as evident as ever on Sunday. The Rams offense is severely capped with Keenum at the helm.
The structure of the offense is quietly expanding, though. There have been more plays that look like one another to the defense until it is too late for the defense to realize it is, in fact, not the play they thought it was. Those minor additions have mostly been on play action plays and run-pass options.
In addition to minor wrinkles in the play action and run-pass option game, offensive coordinator Rob Boras made it a point to get Tavon Austin more involved this week. Austin’s seven receptions and three carries (ten total touches) were both season highs. He did not bust off any ridiculous plays, but he made the most of his rushing attempts and it was nice to see the staff do their part to get Austin the ball.
- The OL had a few bright plays early on, but many of the Rams four-plus yard runs were a product of the Bills going to a true 3-4 “odd” front (both guards uncovered), leaving the gut of their defense a little exposed. The OL was still largely abysmal.
- Case Keenum left so many yards on the field. Even on the deep shot to Tavon Austin on the sideline, Austin had a touchdown if Keenum threw the ball somewhat in stride... Keenum forced Austin to the boundary and he trailed out of bounds shortly after the catch.
- Rodger Saffold loses to every defender that doesn’t play him straight up. Stunts, shaded players, players aligned in gaps, moving targets at the second level; Saffold can’t block any of them. He’s not who he once was.
- Todd Gurley’s peaks and valleys were magnified this week. He had some miserable moments in terms of vision and patience, while he shined in other instances with his raw power and burst.
Spicing Up the Offense
The offense has slowly been adding plays and wrinkles week by week, but this week’s offense was especially interesting. Not only was it the biggest jump the Rams have seen in terms of creativity, but it was probably the team’s best performance in terms of the skill players being put into (somewhat) optimal operating conditions and executing. Of course, the capitalization on those opportunities was stifled by Keenum, but the offense showed potential.
This is a power run play tagged with a one-man pass option. Run-pass options are not foreign to the NFL, especially after coaches like Chip Kelly and Hue Jackson stepped into major roles, but the wrinkle of the pulling guard is interesting. The Atlanta Falcons are notorious for a one-man pass option like this, but I can not recall - and I certainly could be wrong - the Falcons pulling a guard on the run play tagged with their pass option.
The Falcons tend to fake an outside zone play away from the pass option to grant space to the lone receiver. On this play, the Rams still pull the defense away from the receiver with the direction of the run concept, but the pulling guard is an interesting addition to this tight, under center run-pass option. Linebackers are often taught to key the guards, so adding a pulling guard to clear people away from the lone receiver is brilliant. It is little plays like this that give hope to the future of the Rams offense.
Todd Gurley’s Vision Problem Reared Its Ugly Head
I almost went with a segment on Keenum’s pocket ineptitude, but that is a tired endeavor. Instead, Gurley’s vision dilemma is the subject of this segment. It needs to be made clear on the front end that Gurley is not a bad player or a “bust” draft pick. That is not the case. Rather, the offensive line has taken a step back from an already porous state from last season. Gurley has become increasingly frustrated and his vision has suffered as a result of that frustration.
Gurley simply does not trust the system on this play. In fairness to him, the offensive line and rushing game plan has desperately failed him to this point. Gurley has to his this hole, though. It’s clear as day.
This play more than likely would not have resulted in a 30 yard gain. Realistically, the linebacker gets a piece of Gurley if he goes left or forces Gurley to the right, allowing the safety time to help make a tackle regardless of Gurley’s direction. It was not setting up to be a special play, but there was an avenue for Gurley to pick up an easy 4, 5, 6 yards on this play. He failed to do so.
Instead of trusting what was in front of him, Gurley veered off wide to the left, running directly into trouble. Gurley got bailed out by a facemask call, but he made a mistake on this play. The most troubling aspect of this is not necessarily the egregious mistake, but the fact that Gurley has been much better than this in the past.
The early stages of Gurley as a Ram were exciting. He powered through rushing lanes, ran forward without hesitation and asserted himself. He’s not doing much of that this year. A good chunk of the blame falls on the offensive line not giving him any reason to have faith in them, but it is still on Gurley to identify the rare cases where they do a good job and to take advantage of this situations. He is too often struggling to do that this season.
Rams Defense vs Bills Offense
As was expected, the Bills ran all over the Rams defense. The Rams cleaned up their act a bit in the second half, but Buffalo still toted the rock well. LeSean McCoy and friends ran for 193 yards on 27 attempts against the Rams defense, good for 7.1 yards per carry. Surprisingly, only one of Buffalo’s three offensive touchdowns were scored on the ground, but it was their rushing attack that put them in position to score.
The Rams defense was bailed out some by a poor Tyrod Taylor performance. Taylor averaged 5.4 yards per pass on 23 attempts, plus he was sacked twice. Taylor did protect the ball well, but he missed plenty of open reads and deep shots down the field. In more ways than one, Taylor looked like if Case Keenum had Russell Wilson’s legs attached to his body.
Ultimately, the Bills offense was playing Fisherball. They ran the ball aggressively, limited turnovers and played great defense to help keep the offense comfortable. That is what Fisherball is supposed to be and Rex Ryan did it better than Jeff Fisher did.
Credit Rex Ryan for out-Fisherballing Fisher.— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) October 10, 2016
- Alec Ogletree was the worst player on the field in the first half. Missed multiple tackles on the first drive and nearly gave up a touchdown pass in the red zone (of course, Taylor eventually scored anyway). Ogletree sorted himself out a bit in the second half, but he had another rough outing.
- The Bills botched a snap to put themselves at 2nd-and-28... and still picked up a first down two plays later. Do with that what you will.
- Buffalo’s WRs got great separation down the field a number of times and Taylor missed them, which is odd considering how good of a deep passer Taylor was a year ago. Game could have been out of hand.
- LeSean McCoy was better than everyone else on the football field. He was impossible to tackle and his stop/start ability was surreal. Shady’s back.
- It goes without saying, but losing Trumaine Johnson for any stretch of time is detrimental. EJ Gaines looks okay this year, but only in shallow zones. Troy Hill is not good in coverage. Problems are on the horizon.
Getting Punched in the Mouth to Open the Game
Defending Buffalo’s rushing attack is like getting punched in the mouth and then gutted by a butterfly knife. The Bills offensive linemen, primarily their guards, are a bunch of street fighters. They’ll punch you repeatedly, put you on the ground, then pick you up just to pummel you again. Their offensive line - and even their fullback - is a force to be reckoned with.
This was the first play of the game. From the looks of it, it is an “iso” type of play with the fullback leading the way through the weak side cut back lane, if necessary (and it was here). Right off the snap, linebacker Alec Ogletree gets sucked into the strong side of the play and Buffalo’s left tackle Cordy Glenn keeps defensive end Eugene Sims outside. Linebacker/safety Mark Barron is then left 1-on-1 in the alley with Buffalo’s fullback. Without much trouble, Buffalo’s fullback Jerome Felton blows Barron completely out of the play, granting McCoy plenty of room to run.
Plays like the one above were common all throughout the game. Buffalo ran right at the Rams and had a lot of success in doing so. Their offensive line and man power was overwhelming for the Rams depleted defensive line and weak linebacking corps. Los Angeles struggled to pin down the perimeter, too, though.
The Rams lost this play by alignment. There is no reason for the single-high safety and the strong side linebacker to be on the weak side of the formation by the time the ball is snapped. It’s tough to know for certain what the adjustment should have been because I do not know the call, but it’s more than likely that the safety should have rotated to the other side of the formation to become an alley player or the linebackers should have shifted over. Regardless, the Rams looked unprepared to handle a simple motion adjustment on this play, allowing Mike Gillislee to waltz into the end zone after a pitch from Taylor.
Dominique Easley Stepped Up When Called Upon
Los Angeles was missing a number of defensive linemen on Sunday, most notably Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn. In the absence of Brockers, Dominique Easley had to step up. Cam Thomas took a good deal of Brockers’s snaps at 1-tech (between guard and center), but Easley played some snaps there, too, in addition to his normal 3-tech alignment (between guard and tackle). Easley played everywhere and played well.
(Buffalo went with an unbalanced look to the left on this play, so for the sake of simplicity, each OL will be referred to as their number instead of position)
Easley did the most to keep this play to a minimum gain. Lined up at 3-tech, Easley fires off into the #79 and #64 combo block. Granted, #64 did not do much to combat Easley, but that is due in part to how quickly Easley was in #79’s face and forcing him backwards.
With #79 in “retreat and recover” mode, #76, the pulling player, had his path disrupted. #76 had to step wide of #79, making #76 late to his spot. With the timing of the play disrupted by Easley’s immediate destruction, the Bills blocking scheme was too slow to develop and could not create the space that McCoy needed to pick up a decent gain.
Regression caught up to the Rams this week. After a number of close victories, the Rams squandered their chance at victory over the Buffalo Bills in the last six minutes of the game. The Rams had been outplayed, at least to some degree, throughout the course of the game, but they still had a chance to win in the final minutes of the game. Unfortunately, the situation called for Jeff Fisher to step up as a calculated decision maker and he failed miserably to handle that task.
Close games are going to be a problem for the Rams. If they find themselves in manageable deficit situations in the future this season, it’s tough to imagine the Rams winning those games considering the lack of explosiveness from a Case Keenum lead offense and the stubbornness of Jeff Fisher’s coaching decisions.
Of course, a number of injuries on defense helped put the Rams in the close game situation that they were in this weekend, but good teams overcome injury. With the loss of Trumaine Johnson for at least a couple of weeks, the Rams defensive front will be pressed to be special and ease the pain of an inept secondary. How well the defensive front can recover and perform will be make or break for the Rams over the course of the next few weeks.