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Los Angeles Rams At Jacksonville Jaguars: 2nd Down, Second Guessing

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A special day for the Rams’ special teams.

Los Angeles Rams v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images

Recap

If not for special teams, the Los Angeles Rams would have lost their Week 6 contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Both the offense and defense lacked discipline and as this author has repeatedly written about, it has become the team’s Achilles’ heel.

So six games into the season, it’s time we starting handing out the “Daffy” Player of the Week Award to the player or players who continue to make Rams fans’ lives tough to live.

The envelope please...

And the Winners Are

OLB Robert Quinn.

The first play which put him into the running was lining up in the neutral zone. The second which sealed the deal was his penalty for illegal roughness.

This is the second time this season that Quinn has been flagged for not knowing where the football is before the snap (he did the same thing against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3). This is a completely unnecessary penalty, and, although it wasn’t enforced due to a successful play by the Jags, Quinn managed to earn the award by following that up with another penalty when he wrapped up RB Leonard Fournette for a loss and decided to throw him to the ground even though his forward progress had been stopped after the whistle. Without the penalty, the Jags would have been facing 3rd and long; instead, that penalty ceded an automatic first down and 15 yards.

A middle linebacker cannot go headhunting or arm tackling when blitzing in the 3-4. The goal is to bring the ball carrier down. So add MLB Alec Ogletree to the list.

Too many times thus far this season, Tree has gone headhunting looking for a knockout blow or worse reaching with his arms to make a tackle. This is particularly irksome when it comes in the process of making a tackle for a loss. When engaged in this utterly useless process, it enables the ball carrier to slow down and squeak away with a one- or two-yard loss rather then a four- or five-yard loss. This happened more than once this weekend.

If the excuse is that he’s most undersized middle linebacker in the NFL, why did the Rams sign him to a long-term extension last week? Save the money for Aaron Donald...

WR Sammy Watkins gets a “Daffy” for just being Sammy Watkins after having caused an unnecessary commotion with his tweeting about wanting to get the ball more and then having the audacity to drop passes thrown his way. His tweets last week forced HC Sean McVay to change his gameplan of running the ball and taking what the defense gives you on pass plays, into: “We have to find a way to get Sammy the ball.” Well, the Rams threw the ball to Watkins more than once, and he dropped it. No excuses for a wide receiver who complains about “touches” to drop any pass thrown to him—zero tolerance for crybaby diva wide receivers who bellyache and drop passes. Not only does Sammy get a “Daffy” award, he has earned automatic membership into the Dez Bryant Club, for selfish comments made off the field that are detrimental to the team.

WR Robert Woods gets an honorable mention for not tucking the ball away after a critical catch. His fumble put the Jaguars on the Rams’ side of the field which could have easily cost the team the game.

PR/KR Pharoh Cooper also deserves honorable mention for muffing a punt that also almost cost the Rams the game. Cooper is no better an adventure back there catching punts than PR Tavon Austin—the Rams should put WR Cooper Kupp back there and leave it at that for the rest of year.

Both Cooper and Woods didn’t up their play enough to earn a “Daffy” this week even though they made critical errors; instead they both had an overall good game. Cooper ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown which is always outstanding, and Woods made some difficult clutch catches.

The Rams’ defense merely gets a participation mention for blowing Cooper’s momentum-changing opening kickoff return for touchdown away by allowing a 78-yard touchdown to Fournette on the Jags’ first play from scrimmage.

Coming into the game, every team in the league knew that the Jaguars have no passing game — it’s all about Fournette. The Rams’ sole objective was to stop the AFC Rookie of Year candidate. Obviously overcome with excitement, the entire defense wasn’t paying attention and allowed Fournette to waltz into the end zone. Luckily, the defense snapped out of it after the Jags tied the score at 7-7 by shutting Fournette down the rest of the way.

The Rams’ lack of focus through six games has been their modus operandi. Their self-inflicted wounds could have easily cost them two games in the win column and have been the biggest contributing factor in their only two losses.

Everyone knows that penalties and turnovers are part of the game; it’s not that your team does it, but rather when your team does it that are the problem.

Let’s say, it’s 3rd and long from the 50-yard line. Your team takes a shot by throwing a deep pass down the sidelines and it winds up being intercepted at the 5-yard line. So what. The play is no better than a punt or may even be better if the corner or safety is stopped right there since most punts from that part of the field wind up either in the end zone as a touchback or land just outside the 10-yard line. On the other hand if it’s 3rd down with the ball on the opponent’s 2-yard line and your team is called for illegal formation or illegal procedure, that kind of mental error will invariably hurt since it puts the offense into a 3rd and long from the 7-yard line signalling that the next play is most likely a pass into the end zone. If your team chooses to run instead, it’s likely to merely get your team closer to the goalline for a field goal. If the FG is good, one cringes at the thought of having to take four points off the board because your team made a silly mistake.

Fortunately, the Jags are so inept in the passing game that the Rams were able to hold on for another victory.

Offense

The Rams’ offense scored a whopping 13 points. This Rams win was solely due to the 14 points scored by the special teams.

The reason for lack of offensive production especially in the 2nd half, (wherein the Rams scored only 3 points) was bad playcalling by McVay in critical moments.

Going into the game, the recipe for victory was to move the chains with RB Todd Gurley running the ball. The Rams were following that game plan, but when the Rams got away from it by throwing into the Jags’ strength on defense the drives stalled.

The Rams were 4-13 on third down because their second and fours turned into too many third and fours. Huddle up, get set and capitalize on the fact you’re only a few yards from keeping a promising drive going—pound that ball.

Instead on one series, the Rams decided to run their “no huddle” offense on third and less then a yard to go. The Rams got to the line of scrimmage too quickly which caused the offensive line to miss their assignments against a scattered Jags front, and Gurley lost yards—time to punt again.

In another critical situation, the Rams called for a jet sweep which should now be known as the Austin decoy play. Not only did the play not work, it hasn’t worked since Week 4 as every team in the league has seen this movie before.

Making matters worse in order to accommodate former Buffalo Bills habitual complainer “Daffy” award winner Watkins, McVay called for the deep ball. This is a great call if it works, but more often than not it won’t work against a defense which is number one against the pass. It wasn’t, and thus the play wound up being a wasted opportunity to put points on the board with nothing more to show for it other than the “Well, we tried to get Sammy the ball” excuse. In fact, Kupp was wide open underneath on a crossing pattern which is where the ball should have gone.

On the positive side, QB Jared Goff played a good game. He didn’t make any mistakes and effectively ran what McVay was calling. What he is still learning is just how quickly the pocket collapses in the NFL. He must not panic, step into the throw and with confidence make the pass.

Gurley had a solid game. This is impressive in light of the fact the Jags knew that Gurley was going to be the focus of the Rams game plan, given how bad the Jags play against the rush. When another team is focusing on one player and that player steps up, it says a lot about the player. In this instance since Gurley is a running back, kudos also go to the offensive line for opening the holes for Todd to run to.

This wasn’t a great game for the offense points wise, but they controlled the line of scrimmage enough to get the Rams the win.

Defense

The “Leonard Fournette Show” was a one-scene play. After that, nothing happened as the Rams defense stymied him the rest of the way. This was due to DTs Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers outstanding play in getting penetration at the line of scrimmage against a stout Jags offensive line. The Rams are also looking better against the screen pass.

A particular standout play occurred when CB Nickell Robey-Coleman came up with a HUGE interception just when it looked like the tide was turning in favor of the Jags.

Special Teams

ST Coach John Fassel had the Rams ready to go this week. First, there was the opening kickoff return for a touchdown by Cooper followed up later with blocked punt for a TD. The blocked punt was a thing of beauty rarely seen in the NFL since rushing the punter comes with a lot a risk. If you don’t get the ball, your team is likely to receive a 15-yard penalty for roughing the kicker. In this case, that didn’t happen and what made even more spectacular was the way in which RB Malcolm Brown was pulled and pushed into the endzone by a caravan of Rams players.

That’s outstanding football!

P Johnny Hekker did his usual job of keeping the Jags offense pinned down deep in their own territory, and K Greg Zuerlein made a fantastic 56-yard FG. But, this is the expectation rather then the exception with these guys.

The Rams have no time to savor this victory. They beat a Jags team who need a quarterback desperately.

The Rams now move on to London where they play the Arizona Cardinals, who had themselves an impressive win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Cardinals acquisition of RB Adrian Peterson is instantly playing dividends.

The Rams will therefore have their work cut out for them if they wish to maintain their slim NFC West Division lead.

This is a big game if the Rams hope to win the division crown. Lose, and the Rams will have a tough time winning the NFC West.