The Rams are now in Jeff Fisher Equilibrium. A 3-1 start seemed promising at first, but the Rams are no different than a year ago or the year before or the year before that. Despite career performances from quarterback Case Keenum and wide receiver Kenny Britt, the Rams left the Motor City with one more loss than they got there with. The Rams have reverted back to the mean.
Rams Offense vs Lions Defense
There is an easy argument to be made that this was the best the Rams offense has looked all season. The passing offense stayed on schedule, the running game was more effective than the previous five weeks and nobody gave up the ball until the Rams final possession of the game (though the Rams did fumble once, but they recovered). Moral victories don’t exist in the NFL, but at least the Rams can look back on this week’s offensive film and come away happier than after any other game this season.
Quarterback Case Keenum managed to string together nineteen straight completions. No matter the circumstances or difficulty of the throws (and some of them were difficult), nineteen straight completions is an impressive feat for anyone. Unfortunately, Keenum only knows how to play for 55 minutes in a given football game, inevitably leading him to throw a game sealing interception on second down with about a minute still on the clock.
Wide receiver Kenny Britt played a critical role in Keenum’s record-setting tear of 19 straight completions. Britt caught seven passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns. What the box score doesn’t show is how insane two of those catches where, both on the same deep vertical route bent toward the sideline. On the second of those two catches, Britt fought through contact and hauled it in with one hand. It was as great a catch as there was all day around the rest of the league.
- Right guard Jamon Brown is an instant upgrade over Cody Wichmann. Brown is still subpar, but he has splash plays that give him some value.
- The offensive line wasn’t perfect, but it looked better than it had all season. They held up well in pass protection and were somewhat productive in the run game. Hopefully there is more improvement to come.
- Lions defensive tackle Kerry Hyder had himself a game. Multiple tackles for loss, one of which was in the red zone.
- Case Keenum had a few genuinely impressive throws. Not “impressive for Keenum” type of throws; no, they were legitimately good throws.
- Penalties set back multiple drives. That has to change. At one point, the Rams turned a 3rd-and-5 into 3rd-and-15 due to two straight false start penalties.
Kenny Britt is Even Better Than We’d Hoped
Kenny Britt’s performance goes well beyond his gaudy stat line. All game long, Britt abused his opposition. He won a handful of times over the top, but both of his touchdowns were a product of short throws that required him to barrel through multiple defenders in order to score. Britt displayed as much athleticism as he did toughness and situational awareness. He knew when to cut off his routes, when to attack, when to fight for yardage.
This should have been a five yard gain, at best. Britt had other plans, though. Britt catches the pass with one defender dragging him down by the back of his jersey, then sheds that draping defender, runs over two others and, finally, drags a fourth defender into the end zone.
The Lions defense didn’t do anything wrong. They played tight coverage. After the catch, there were defenders in good position to make a tackle. Everything was fine, in theory. Britt’s strength and willingness overpowered what the Lions had put in place, though. Britt was not going to be stopped short of the goal line.
The Passing Game is Becoming Fun to Watch
No, Keenum is not why the passing offense is fun to watch. His outing on Sunday was the best of his career, yes, but it was against the league’s worst defense and will certainly be an anomaly. That being said, the offense continues to expand as the season rolls on. More and more wrinkles are added each week to keep defenses on their toes. Offensive coordinator Rob Boras now has enough in his arsenal to mix up his calls and truly play a game of chess, and he did so excellently on Sunday.
The Rams have ran something similar to this before. In the past, the playing coming across the formation to catch a pass in the flats was a tight end giving the mirage of a “wham” block. In fact, the Rams ran that play earlier in the game. This is a new twist on that concept.
On this play, wide receiver Tavon Austin motions to the backfield, where he comes across the formation to give the look that he is taking a hand-off. Everyone on the Lions defense bites for the fake, stepping to the right side of the formation. While Austin sweeps to the right without the ball, running back Todd Gurley quietly squeaks out to the left. Keenum gets the ball to him quickly and lets Guurley do the rest. Gurley got within inches of scoring on this play, allowing Keenum to later run it in for a touchdown.
That is one of many great play designs and calls that Boras cooked up on Sunday. For the past couple of weeks, his offense had begun looking more exotic and interesting, but it had yet to feel cohesive. Prior to the Lions game, the Rams offense had never felt like a fluid being. Sunday was different.
Unfortunately, penalties killed some of the flow, but Boras orchestrated a melodious offense on Sunday. He did not over commit to either the run or the pass, nor did he exclude any of his best playmakers from the game plan. Boras managed to feed his playmakers and attack the Lions biggest weakness with simple throws in the same game.
In the preview for the Lions game, a point was made about the Lions linebackers and how miserable they were. Boras, a man far smarter than I, saw the same weakness and set out to expose it. Boras called for repeated quick outs, quick hitches and deep crossers off of play action to annihilate the Lions linebackers. That was the easy part of the day.
In addition to those successes, Boras also needed to sprinkle in big plays. At the hands of Britt, those big plays happened and forced the Lions defense to play a conservative zone shell, making it even easier to attack their linebackers. Once the Lions were scared of the pass, Boras gashed them with Gurley. For the first time all season, it truly felt like the offensive game plan was working exactly as it was designed.
Rams Defense vs Lions Offense
It was a typical day of Rams defense on Sunday. The defensive line looked great, the linebackers took themselves out of the run game and the secondary was a shambled mess. Los Angeles’s lone defensive rookie stood out, though.
Rookie linebacker Josh Forrest made his first real impact this season. He recorded two tackles for loss and looked strong when bringing down ball carriers. After poor game last week, Forrest needed this type of rebound game.
- Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron aren’t a good linebacker duo. If you’re going to roll with a nickel look as the base of the defense, the linebackers can’t both question their run fits and miss tackles in space.
- E.J. Gaines got Moss’d by Andre Roberts for a touchdown. Dawg.
- Like the offense, the defense was hampered by awful penalties.
Give Dominique Easley a Medal
Aaron Donald’s accomplishments are well documented. He is the best player on the field at all times and his greatness goes without saying. Dominique Easley could use some love, though. The Rams signed him in this spring as a second chance signing after he had been cut by the New England Patriots. Easley is now one of the defense’s best players.
Bless Larry Warford’s heart. He tried on this play, he really did. But Easley is the better football player. With Easley lined up directly over Warford, neither of them have the angle advantage pre-snap. The match up then comes down to which player can get to their spot first. That is a battle Easley will never lose.
Easely fires off the ball and thwarts Warford a couple of steps backwards. Once he’s asserted his dominance, Easley then carries Warford across the line of scrimmage, sealing off all of the rushing lanes in front of running back Zack Zenner.
Now, try watching the play without paying attention to Easley. Detroit’s left tackle and fullback look to be paving a decent rushing lane for Zenner. It doesn’t look like it would have been a game breaking run for the Lions, but it was shaping up to be an effective gain. Had Warford gotten to Easley’s inside shoulder and pinned him away from the play, Zenner could have picked up twice as many yards as he did. Easley single-handedly wrecked this play. Easley made a handful of plays like this in Detroit.
It Was Not Lamarcus Joyner’s Day
As always, Lamarcus Joyner made his presence known in the run game. He had a handful of nice tackles and even registered a hurry on Matthew Stafford in the red zone. Unfortunately, Joyner’s presence was also made known in coverage, but for all the wrong reasons.
In fairness to Joyner, this was an excellent throw by Stafford into a tight window. Joyner blew his coverage, though, and he is the reason there was any window at all.
The Lions lined up wide receiver Anquon Boldin in the slot to the left of the formation. Joyner matched up across from him and should have been responsible for sealing him off from any inside route. Shortly after the snap, Stafford faked a hand-off to Zenner, getting Joyner to spring up to the line of scrimmage and bail his coverage assignment. Lo and behold, the small window that Joyner opened by abandoning his assignment was enough for Stafford to rifle in a throw to one of the toughest wide receivers in the NFL.
Joyner was late in coverage a handful of other times throughout the day. He did not look good to any degree as a coverage player. For the most part, Joyner has always been a player who was just okay in coverage and excelled in run defense, but against Detroit, Joyner was irrefutably bad in coverage. It may have been the added pressure of not having Trumaine Johnson on the outside or the lack an elite edge rushing presence due to Robert Quinn’s injury. Even then, Joyner’s play in coverage was simply poor.
In the blink of an eye, the Rams are back to being the Rams. Being set back to .500 by the Detroit Lions is almost perfect, seeing as they are the polar opposite of the Rams. Detroit’s offense is slightly above average, while their defense is the worst in the NFL; the Rams have a defense that is slightly above average and an offense that is near the bottom of the league. It was like looking into a fun house mirror image of the Rams, except the mirror image jumped out and kicked the Rams in the shin.
The biggest takeaway from this loss is that the Rams are a 55 minute team. They can stay in games and battle until the final minutes, but if they need to rally toward victory while battling the clock, they have little to no chance. Case Keenum doesn’t have the ability or bravado for those moments. He can keep the team alive throughout the game, sure, but he can not win the game if he needs to.
Keenum shouldn’t be expected to do that, either. He is a retread quarterback who shouldn’t really be starting to begin with. He’s doing all that he is capable of, he just is not capable of much. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Rams adjust to try to better themselves in late game situations. This is now two weeks in a row where the Rams crumbled when they had a chance to comeback late in a game. Something has to change.