This was make-or-break week for the Rams. They had a bye week, they had home field advantage and they had to get a win to keep any playoff hopes alive. Advantages and incentives in all, the Rams still fell short to the Panthers on Sunday. The scoreboard indicated a close game, but the Rams did not score a touchdown until the final minute of the game, leaving them without any time to regain possession and score again for the win.
Rams Offense vs Panthers Defense
The Rams broke their touchdown-less streak that nearly lasted two full games, but it was still an abysmal offensive performance. On third down, the Rams converted less than a third of the time, leading them to lose the time of possession battle by about ten minutes. The Panthers offense wasn’t particularly terrifying, but they were able to sustain and finish drives much better than the Rams were.
For whatever reason, Todd Gurley finished with just sixteen total touches (twelve carries, four receptions). He’s not having an encouraging season, but he’s still the most talented player on the offense and he flashed that ability on Sunday. Despite the flashes, offensive coordinator Rob Boras refused to feed Gurley, instead forcing Case Keenum to throw nearly 50 passes again.
- Rams rolled with more man-blocking concepts than usual. Still played a fair amount of zone, but it was more of a balanced approach than we’ve seen all season.
- Tyler Higbee saw more action than normal, but only ended up actually catching one of his targets.
- Case Keenum has zero ability to throw down field, both in terms of talent and in terms of decision making.
- Kenny Britt was lazy when blocking in the run game and it severely hurt a handful of potentially game-breaking runs.
- The Panthers don’t have great edge rushers, but Greg Robinson and Rob Havenstein made them look great. Carolina got constant edge pressure.
Offensive Lethargy and Incompetence
It’s impossible to quantify, but energy can be sensed in the way a team plays. The Oakland Raiders, for example, have an electric offense that is exciting to watch not only because of the talent, but because the talent is constantly firing on all cylinders. There’s an element to the Raiders offense that can’t be seen, only felt. The Rams lack that quality entirely.
The Rams are on the far end of the spectrum. The offensive line seldom plays through the whistle, the skill players can be seen going through the motions, and there is a total absence of explosive plays. Lifeless is the only word that comes to mind.
Lifelessness is not the Rams only plague. On top of their lack of fire, the Rams offense is largely incompetent, starting with quarterback Case Keenum. There is an overwhelming amount of simple throws that he does not make in every game and it hinders the offense. The third down play above displays both lethargy and incompetence.
Keenum drops back and stares down Brian Quick running a deep curl route. The staring down is not an issue on this play, seeing as the Panthers are going straight man-to-man coverage, so the cornerback is going to be watching the receiver, not the quarterback. Keenum gets to the top of his drop and goes to throw, but places the ball short of Quick, forcing Quick to sprint back to the ball and make a diving catch.
Quick makes a nice grab—credit where credit is due—but he fails to continue the play afterwards. Instead of immediately hopping up off the ground, Quick slowly picks himself up and starts to stumble toward the first down line. Before he can fully stand up, a Panthers defender knocks Quick back down and denies Quick of a first down.
If the Rams either 1) played competent football or 2) played with enthusiasm and urgency, this third down would have been converted. Instead, the Rams let the play go to waste and killed their drive that was working deep into Panthers territory.
At Least Give Todd Gurley a Chance
Todd Gurley has not been able to spring any game-changing runs this season. Last year, Gurley still had issues in generating an efficient rushing attack, but he counterbalanced that inefficiency with insane, electric runs that changed the course of the game and forced defenses to respect him. Gurley has not done that this season.
Part of that is on Gurley, of course. He simply does not look as explosive and fast. At the same time, the offensive line has done a miserable job of setting up big plays for him, and they failed egregiously at doing so on Sunday.
There is no reason for center Tim Barnes (#61) and left tackle Greg Robinson (#73) to both be attacking linebacker Luke Kuechly (#59). More than likely, it was Barnes’s responsibility to climb to the second level and get to Kuechly. That is an extremely difficult block for him to make, but it’s fair to think that maybe Barnes could have gotten there and slowed down Kuechly just enough.
Robinson, on the other hand, needed to be swinging out to the perimeter. If Robinson got out in space and at least ggot in the way of the safety that came down to tackle Gurley, Gurley then had a chance to sift through the mess and break off a big run. We’ve seen Gurley do that before, and this play could have been a chance to see it again. But Gurley was failed by those around him.
Rams Defense vs Panthers Offense
Despite an abysmal performance from the offense, the Rams defense played a good game. The bye week allowed them to get a few key players back to full health and properly prepare for the Panthers offense. Had the Rams offense played a halfway decent game, the Rams could have easily won this game. Alas, the Rams offense failed again and wasted a stingy performance from the defense.
- Aaron Donald played out of his mind. We all know how transcendent he is, but this particular game was one of the best performances of his career.
- Having a healthy Trumaine Johnson was key. He did a good job of forcing tough throws and defended passes in his area; a presence that was dearly missed when Johnson was injured.
- The linebackers are starting to figure it out. They still have too many plays where they are a second too late, but progress is being made, especially with Mark Barron.
- T.J. McDonald had issues covering Greg Olsen.
- Cam Newton was missing reads at an abnormal rate and he misfired a few more times than usual. The Rams defense was good, but they benefited some from an unusually ineffective performance by Newton.
- The Rams employed some “bear” front looks (center and both guards covered by a defender) and had success in doing so.
Michael Brockers is Essential
When the Rams were without Michael Brockers, their run defense was not the same. Dominique Easley and Cam Thomas filled in for Brockers and played relatively well, but they could not replicate the dominance of Brockers. While Brockers does not get the attention that Aaron Donald does, Brockers is as vital to the scheme and defense as Donald.
Brockers controls the line of scrimmage. He alone dictates where run plays go. When matched up with a single blocker, Brockers moves said blocker wherever he pleases, and Brockers holds his ground against double teams. As most 1-techs are, Brockers is vastly under appreciated, but he is a dominant player whose impact was felt on Sunday.
Brockers single-handedly ruined every gap on this play. At the start of the play, Brockers barrels into the left guard and resets the line of scrimmage, forcing the guard to step back. With the guard on the defensive, Brockers has already ruined the backside A-gap (between center and guard) and B-gap (between guard and tackle) before the ball is in the running back’s hands.
Brockers never stops driving his legs. Even as Jonathan Stewart receives the hand off, Brockers is fighting through the blocker and forcing himself into Stewart’s immediate vicinity. Stewart has no choice but to bounce the play wide and figure it out from there. Unfortunately, the rest of the Rams defense was not able to capitalize on Brockers’ excellent play, but that dim the light on just how impactful Brockers can be by himself.
Panthers Tipping the Run and Still Executing Successfully
Overall, the Panthers did not run the ball with overwhelming success. The Panthers only accrued 59 yards on 25 carries, and the Rams were able to stop four of those 25 plays in the backfield. That being said, the Panthers rushing offense still had moments of success, especially when working quarterback Cam Newton into the mix.
When the Panthers wanted to use Newton in the running game, they let the Rams know. They cleared the box and forced the Rams defense to beat the option game. By pushing three receivers as far away from the formation as possible, the Panthers created a scenario that nullified defenders that were not in the box, and gave themselves an 8-vs-6 advantage in the box.
Here is the actual play from a different angle. The Rams lost this play before the ball was snapped simply because they were outnumbered. A superhuman effort from Aaron Donald could have still stopped the play, but to count on Donald being that guy on every single snap is unwise.
With a two man advantage in the box, Newton ran right at the Rams defense and picked up six yards, which was more than he needed to convert for a first down.
Both teams played an ugly game. Neither offense had an inspiring performance, and the overall feeling of the game was like two amateur fighters swinging aimlessly at each other until the other tripped and fell down. The Rams tripped and fell down.
Jeff Fisher is irrefutably in trouble. He has been for a while now, but sitting at 3-5 with a road game coming up is not where the Rams want to be, and that is largely Fisher’s fault. The end appears to be nigh.