Two separate games were played on Sunday.
Through the first thirty minutes—Game 1, we’ll call it—the Rams and the Saints were tight. Both teams were able to find the end zone plenty of times and it appeared as if the Rams would have their wackiest game of the year: a shootout with Drew Brees.
Unfortunately, once Game 2 got started after halftime, it was over. The Saints opened the half with a 61 yard run. Right then and there, it felt like things were going to unravel and, ultimately, they did.
Rams Offense vs Saints Defense
The Rams scored points! For the first time since Week 6 vs the Lions, the Rams scored 20+ points. Granted, all 21 points against the Saints were scored in the first half, but, regardless of consistency, it was nice to see the Rams finally put up points. At the very least, it’s something to build on with Goff at the helm.
The disconnect between the first half and the second half is largely rooted in the offensive line. The unit was not great in the first half, but they held their own, both as run blockers and pass protectors. They gave enough room for Todd Gurley to rip off a few nice runs, just as they gave Goff enough time to find the correct target and complete throws. When the second half rolled along, the unit reverted back to being themselves, thus the Rams were shutout in the second half.
- Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was a menace.
- The shuffle at offensive line (Rodger Saffold to left tackle, Jamon Brown to left guard) was working until Saffold got injured, hence the total meltdown.
- Todd Gurley’s vision was a problem again.
- Tavon Austin made a real wide receiver play!
The Rams Had a Running Game For One Half of Regulation Football
The thrill was short lived, but for a short moment on Sunday, the Rams had a running game again. With Saffold at left tackle and Brown at left guard, the Rams, somehow, had the Saints beat early on. Gurley was granted a few more yards prior to contact than usual and, on occasion, was awarded a wide open rushing lane. Of course, the offensive line did still break down at times, but their peaks were higher than they have been at any point this season.
This is inside zone. The running back is generally reading front side A-gap (between guard and center) to back side B-gap (between guard and tackle). On this play, Gurley opts for the back side B-gap. Right guard Cody Wichmann, in a rare showing of strength, was able to move the Saints defensive tackle off of his spot and open up the back side rushing lane for Gurley, allowing Gurley to spring free into the second level.
Had right tackle Rob Havenstein been more decisive at the second level, this play could have gone for more yardage. Havenstein needed to just keep moving forward if he thought he’d already overran his angle to linebacker Craig Robertson (#52). Nonetheless, Gurley racked up a sweet thirteen yard run here. The Rams needed to generate more plays like this moving forward.
The Bandwidth of Jared Goff
In his second NFL start, rookie quarterback Jared Goff put his full bandwidth on display. For as many impressive plays he had, Goff also had plenty of poor snaps. That’s not necessarily bad, though; Goff is a rookie and bumps along the way are to be expected. Even in some of his worst moments, there were silver linings.
Goff should have hit this throw. His intended target created plenty of separation at the top of his route, but Goff simply missed. There are a few reasons Goff whiffed on this throw, though they can be tied together into one. Goff doesn’t have a great natural arm, nor does he generate torque cleanly, leaving him to miss throws to the opposite boundary.
For quarterbacks who don’t have stunning natural arm strength, like a Drew Brees, footwork and mechanics have to be able to maximize one’s arm strength. Goff, on this play, plants his front foot a bit early and too tight to his frame. The early plant forces Goff to drag his arm through his release instead of “popping” his arm at the end of the release, while his plant foot being tight to his frame restricts his ability to generate torque. Both of those issues work in unison to restrict Goff’s arm strength and control, leading to throws like this one.
This throw, on the other hand, looks more like the quarterback the Rams had hoped for when they traded up to draft Goff with the first overall pick.
With pass rushers breaking through, Goff was forced to roll to his left and work from there. Goff was able to find a target shortly after being moved off of his spot, quickly reset his feet well and drop a dime on the left sideline. If there is anything Goff was certainly good at in college, it was dropping passes in the bucket downfield, and he showcased that ability on this play. If Goff can continue to look more comfortable off-script like in this play, that would be a wildly encouraging sign of development for him.
Rams Defense vs Saints Offense
The Saints offense could not be stopped. This match up was supposed to be an unstoppable force versus an immovable object, but the immovable object was entirely dismantled from its perch. It wasn’t just Drew Brees being Drew Brees, either. Running back Mark Ingram totaled 167 yards on 15 touches and scored twice. The Saints offense was firing on all cylinders in both phases. They could not be slowed down.
- Oddly enough, it was the Rams interior defensive line that failed them for a large part of the game. The linebackers didn’t do a great job of filling broken gaps, but the interior defensive line had more negative plays this week than they have had in a while.
- While he did give up a touchdown catch to Michael Thomas, safety T.J. McDonald was one of the best defenders on the field. He was a force in then run game and made plenty of plays in coverage, including a pass defended in the end zone while covering Willie Snead.
- The Rams played a lot of “Bear” fronts (guard, center, guard all covered by defensive linemen) early on. It was the correct approach versus a one-back offense like the Saints run, but the front seven just couldn’t execute consistently.
Michael Thomas Took Over the Game
Rookie wide receiver Michael Thomas is a stud. With no disrespect to the other talented receiving options that the Saints have, Thomas is already the Saints best receiver. He can separate, he can snatch the ball at its highest point and he can make plays with the ball in his hands. Thomas may not be a flashy athlete, but he does everything correctly and makes some indefensible plays.
Thomas kicked off a scoring drive with this sick catch. Thomas runs what looks like a “dig” (deep-in) route variant that is designed to keep the cornerback outside. At the top of the route, Thomas cuts and explodes toward the middle of the field. Brees drills a perfect throw just inside of the defender, and Thomas finishes the play with a sweet catch-and-run.
Later on that same drive, Thomas found the end zone. Right off the snap, Thomas gives a little shimmy to keep himself clean from the cornerback, then flies up the field. Brees delivers a strike between the low cornerback and the deep safety, but there are still about seven yards between Thomas and the end zone when he catches the ball. Thomas steps back to make the first defender miss, the trudges toward the goal line to finish the play. All throughout the game, Thomas was far and away the toughest receiver to cover.
Alec Ogletree is a Liability
I know, I know: Alec Ogletree makes splash plays from time to time, he can’t be the worst starter on the defense! Despite those plays, he is the worst starter on the defense. For every one of Ogletree’s “good” plays, he has five “bad” ones. His run fits are often atrocious unless the situation clearly calls for a running play, but even then, he can fail due to his inability to take on blockers. He should not be playing middle linebacker (in fairness, I said in that the offseason that this could work, but I was evidently wrong).
Based on this screenshot, one would think that Ogletree wraps up Ingram and stops the play before it gets out of hand... right?
Defensive tackle Cam Thomas gets worked out of his gap and is the initial culprit for this failed play, but Ogletree had an opportunity to stop the bleeding and minimize the play. Instead, Ogletree carries himself out too far wide, tries to cut back in and proceeds to whiff on his attempt to bring down Ingram.
Later on in the game, Ogletree also blew his assignment and missed a tackle to allow Ingram to score. Almost every week, Ogletree has been more of a liability than a weapon. It was assumed that getting a broken, washed up James Laurinaitis out of the mix would improve the Rams linebacker corps, but the group does not look any better. The Rams need to find a way to get Ogletree back to a more fitting weak side linebacker position.
In the one game that the defense really needed to step up, they failed. The offense scored enough points in the first half to possibly mount a victory, but the defensive breakdown forced the Rams offense to feel pressured in the second half and, being lead by a rookie quarterback, they could not outscore Drew Brees.
If nothing else, Rams fans can take solace in Goff’s improved performance from last week to this week. Hopefully Goff can continue to build on himself and finish off the year strongly.