For three and a half quarters, it appeared as if the Rams were going to squeak past the Dolphins and reestablish their .500 equilibrium. The Rams offense scored a measly ten points all game, but for most of the match up, the Rams defense had shut the Dolphins out. The Dolphins then scored two touchdowns on their final two possessions and snatched a victory away from what began to look like a helpless Rams team.
Rams Offense vs Dolphins Defense
Jared Goff’s first start went as it was expected to. The rookie played conservatively, struggled to move beyond his first read and did not make a major impact throw, be it a touchdown or an interception. Considering the weather conditions and the Dolphins monstrous defensive front, Goff could have certainly been much worse. It’s not much, but it is encouraging that he was able to protect the ball.
In fairness to Goff, the Rams’ play calling was sub par. The run game was used too sparingly, for one, especially considering that the rain was making it tougher for Goff to pass the ball. Todd Gurley ran the ball 20 times, which feels seven or eight carries too little considering that Sunday was arguably Gurley’s best performance of the season.
In addition to an underused ground game, the passing combinations that the Rams were using became highly predictable. The Dolphins defense knew the route combinations better than the Rams offense did by the second half. Even worse, many of the combinations on third downs did not give Goff many options beyond the sticks, though that can be diluted by the fact that Goff didn’t test beyond the sticks, either.
- The Dolphins defense was all over the passing game by the second half. They knew what was coming and did a good job of defending against it. The cornerbacks played well.
- Tight end Lance Kendricks is total liability in the run game.
- It’s been highlighted in separate articles before, but Todd Gurley isn’t as explosive as last season. While he had a handful of sweet carries yesterday, Gurley left yards on the field that 2015 Gurley wouldn’t have.
- Defensive tackles Jordan Phillips and Earl Mitchell went ballistic. They weren’t perfect, but they were the somewhat surprising difference makers for the Dolphins defense.
What Did We Learn About Jared Goff?
Jared Goff looked exactly like he did at Cal on Sunday. In his first start, Goff looked active in the pocket, but it came off more as jittery than calculated. He was sacked just once, but that can be countered by pointing out that Goff failed to take advantage of clean pockets on a number of occasions. When the ball came out of his hand, the ball too often took too long to get to the target or missed the target entirely. In other instances, Goff failed to recognize better passing options than the one he chose, especially down the field.
ICYMI, Jared Goff attempted 5 passes Sunday that traveled more than 10 yards: https://t.co/UCK7TkyJyl— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) November 22, 2016
A portion of the blame for those issues can be credited to rookie struggles. To some extent, many of those issues would show up for any rookie quarterback who isn’t Andrew Luck or Cam Newton. The concern with Goff is that he did all of those things at Cal. Of course, they showed up less often because he had three years of experience in the same system and was blessed with an abundance of talent around him during his junior season. Nonetheless, those issues were there at Cal and they are here in the NFL.
Don't like Goff drifting to his left here, but WRs didn't help him much on this play. pic.twitter.com/DO4ZhtNf09— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlass) November 23, 2016
In the play above, Goff was not aided by his wide receivers, but the protection was fine until Goff ruined it. Instead of staying put or sliding to his right, away from pressure, Goff decided to slide to his left, where the protection appeared to be less sturdy and where his receivers were outnumbered 2-to-4 by defenders. The play was likely doomed anyway because nobody got great separation, but Goff’s process was poor and sheds light on some of the concerning habits he has in the pocket.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Goff had a few flash moments that were encouraging. They were too few and far between, but a couple of splash plays are better than none at all.
This is one of very few first down conversions on third down by either team. Knowing he was going to get pressure in his face immediately, Goff got into a good spot to get the ball out and threw it as quickly as possible.
Goff is rarely this flexible in the pocket. More often than not, Goff needs his feet to be planted firmly and to do his best to drive on the ball. Goff isn’t allowed that luxury on this play, but he gets the job done anyway. The Rams need more of that from him.
It took Goff a little too long to bail the pocket on this play, but he still narrowly escaped. Once he removed himself from the broken pocket, Goff was able to stay calm and find a receiver down the field. It will be imperative for Goff to react to these sorts of plays faster, but on this play, he showed some ability to play out of the pocket.
Ups and Downs in the Running Game
Todd Gurley had what may have been his best day of the season. Considering he only ran for 3.8 yards per carry on 20 carries, that is rather sad, but he had more “peak” runs this week than any other week this season. That alone made this performance stand out from the rest.
More than half the battle with running the ball is being able to win up front. Normally, the Rams lose on 95% of their run snaps, but against the Dolphins, they seemed to win a few more times than usual, even if they also had a handful of abysmal plays. The Rams offensive line showed their highest of highs and lowest of lows on Sunday.
The blocking scheme on these two plays is the same, but the difference in the Dolphins defensive front ruined the second play because of how left guard Rodger Saffold handled it.
In the first play, Saffold has a 3-tech lined up to his outside shoulder. With the defensive tackle’s alignment, Saffold is in great position to pop the defensive tackle, allow left tackle Greg Robinson to take the defensive tackle (which he failed to do, but that’s besides the point), then carry himself to the second level to take out a linebacker. This was perfectly executed by Saffold and it cleared a lane for Gurley.
The Dolphins changed their alignment on this second play. Instead of a defensive tackle lined up at 3-tech to Saffold’s outside shoulder, the defensive tackle, Jordan Phillips, is lined up in a 2i technique, which is a shade over the guard inside shoulder. This alignment means that Saffold needs to hold up Phillips for a longer period of time to let Robinson make his way over. Instead, Saffold treats Phillips like a 3-tech, quickly passes him off without giving Robinson ample time and allows Phillips to grab a tackle for loss.
Rams Defense vs Dolphins Defense
Up until the final two Dolphins possessions, the Rams defense was lights out. They had picked off quarterback Ryan Tannehill once, forced the Dolphins to attack the short areas of the field and, for the most part, did a fine job in run defense. The defensive line was getting pressure on their own and blitzes were hitting home; linebacker Mark Barron had one of his bi-monthly good games; the secondary played above their normal standard for most of the game. But then they fell apart.
The Rams defense allowed two touchdowns on Miami’s final two possessions. Penalties, a deteriorating run defense and sloppy secondary play all came together during the Rams’ demise. All of a sudden, everything went wrong for the Rams defense and they simply looked helpless. I can’t explain what happened. The better team found a way to win.
- Linebacker Mark Barron had one of his best games of the year, but linebacker Alec Ogletree was... not good.
- The Rams dropped at least three interceptions. They did come away with the one in the end zone, but they could have had plenty more than they did.
- Blitzes were hitting home, causing many of Ryan Tannehill’s mishaps.
- On the final two drives, the Dolphins ran an absurd amount of ‘dig’ routes and deep curls. It was predictable, yet it still worked for them. The Rams just couldn’t stop them.
- Defensive back Lamarcus Joyner played notably well. He was used all over the field, racking up a couple of pass breakups and a sack.
Capitalizing on Big Plays
The Rams could have dominated the turnover battle. Despite an abnormally reckless game from Ryan Tannehill, the Rams only came away with a single interception. On three other occasions, Rams defenders had passes hit them in the hands, then ultimately hit the ground.
Linebacker Mark Barron nearly snatches this pass out of the air. In a zone coverage assignment, Barron saw where Tannehill was going to go with the ball and floated up the field to get in the way of the ball’s flight path. While he did an excellent job of reading the play, Barron failed to complete the play, a play that would’ve given the Rams the ball an easy shot to score.
Robert Quinn is Fine
Robert Quinn had an interesting sequence on Sunday. As the Dolphins were slowly trotting down the field, Quinn jumped offsides and warranted a flag. The Dolphins declined because Tannehill completed a pass anyway, but it certainly irked Quinn that he was flagged. Quinn got his vengeance on the next play.
Sack! In spite of reports earlier in the week that Quinn had been hospitalized, Quinn still made plays like this against the Dolphins. The Dolphins were hindered by injuries all along the offensive line and Quinn took full advantage of it. Quinn flew by the left tackle for a sack on this play, in addition to creating havoc for Tannehill on a number of other plays. Tannehill was noticeably uncomfortable for most of the game and Quinn was a key factor in manufacturing that discomfort.
The Rams Rams’d it. I mean really, really Rams’d it. It was an eye sore of a game from both teams, but the Rams held on for most of the battle. In just two drives, the Dolphins closed out the game with more points than either team had accrued throughout the rest of the game.
This was the most crushing loss of the season. The opener was miserable, too, but this game should have been a win. For more than 50 minutes, it was a win. The Rams never trailed in this game until there was less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. If there is anything that this game reassured, it’s that the Rams are a team that can hang in games, but struggle to finish them.