The Los Angeles Rams came up short today against the Minnesota Vikings losing 7-24 in a playoff-caliber matchup that exposed some of the biggest issues the Rams face as they prepare to face down the chance to make the playoffs for the first time since making the playoffs in the 2004 season.
At the expense of overreacting, I think we learned three main things today.
The Rams have avoided really feeling the injury issue for a season and 10 weeks. Today, it hit at a position that got severely exposed: cornerback.
With reserve CB Troy Hill out injured and added to the inactives, the Rams were already thinned out at the position. When CB Kayvon Webster and CB Nickell Robey-Coleman were injured mid-game, it forced the Rams to go to the bottom of the active roster with CB Blake Countess and CB Dominique Hatfield.
Against a team of as high of quality as the Vikings, that’s a prescription for disadvantage, and that disadvantage was exactly what the Vikings exploited by routinely targeting Hatfield and capitalizing on it with a huge TD to WR Adam Thielen.
While many will question why he was in unaided coverage with Thielen, that play exposed perhaps the biggest skill deficiency on the team.
The Rams do not have an effective pass rush
This is something we’ve written about extensively on the site and discussed for months on Turf Show Radio.
The Rams just can’t get to the quarterback consistently.
Because the combination of OLB Robert Quinn and OLB Connor Barwin is not adding sufficient threat to the interior rush led by DL Aaron Donald, Defensive Coordinator is relegated to using the blitz to try to perturb opposing quarterbacks and disrupt offensive plans.
It’s just not optimal, and good teams can burn you from time to time on it. And today the Rams got burned.
We’ll talk about solutions and mitigating strategies moving forward, but it is what it is. The Rams just don’t have an effective rush, and today the Vikings’ offense took advantage of it in a game in which the Rams had few moments to really come up big...and even didn’t in those few moments.
The Rams just aren’t ready for the big stage
Yes, this was the kind of test the Rams hadn’t faced for more than a month. And yes, the Rams failed. It doesn’t mean they’ll fail every test from here on out with quality teams yet to play. And it doesn’t mean the Rams can’t improve from here on out and get ready for the biggest section of a regular season schedule since the 2010 season.
But as it stands today, the Rams just aren’t ready to play this kind of football.
And sure, no play reinforces that moreso than WR Cooper Kupp fumbling on the 1-yard line. Was it a huge swing at the time? Of course. Does it feel more momentous in retrospect? Hard to say no.
The 2017 season is shaping up to be special, even in the afterglow of the loss today.
The Rams aren’t perfect. Nor do they need to be.
We’ve known since Week 2 this team wasn’t going 16-0, nor was anyone calling for them to. What matters most is how this team grows from a loss to an 8-2 team sprinting toward the playoffs.
If the Rams face the Vikings in the playoffs, the conversation in the run-up will start with today’s game. But it well end with what the Rams do after today.
And nobody will get to control that conversation more than the Rams themselves in the weeks and games ahead.
Buckle up, Rams fans.