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Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings: 2nd down, second guessing

The better team won on Sunday.

Los Angeles Rams v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images


Coming into Week 11, the Los Angeles Rams were on a roll.

Coming out of it, the Rams stumbled through their road trip against the Minnesota Vikings, 24-7.

This was by far the best opponent the Rams faced year, and the Rams simply didn’t play up to the challenge. All phases (offense, defense and special teams) played poorly.

It has to be said that at this point in the season, the Vikings are a better team than the Rams. To say anything less isn’t giving the Vikings the credit they deserve for a big win. Plain and simple, the Vikings outplayed the Rams.

There’s some good to come from a loss like this. The Rams will learn that when you play on the road, your team must battle through adversity. The Rams remain a good football team and will overcome this disappointing loss. As tough as this loss may feel now, fans should take heart knowing there’s still a lot games to be played and a good chance the Rams will rebound from this defeat.

What Went Wrong On Offense

The Rams opened the game with an outstanding drive which got them out to an early seven-point lead. The drive was a successful by using the pass to set up the run. On their second drive, the Rams found themselves pinned down at their own ten-yard line.

The Rams’ high-powered offense’s failure to move the chains on this series of downs going three-and-out instead was one of many critical turning points in the game which went in favor of the Vikings. Not only did the Rams not do anything of significance on this drive, they lost yardage. As a result, P Johnny Hekker was forced to punt from the back of the end zone.

For this first time in “who remembers,” he got off a bad punt. Adding insult to injury the Vikings got another five yards by an illegal shift penalty. Suddenly, Minnesota was in business starting their own second drive at the Rams 35-yard line.

While it was gutsy to try to throw out of their lousy field position inside their own 10-yard line, QB Jared Goff and his offensive line just can’t give up a sack there. In hindsight which is always 20-20, the Rams should have ran the ball on 3rd down and played the field position game. Instead, with the sack, Hekker didn’t have any room to get his leg into one of those booming punts and Pharoh Coopers’ penalty hurt as well.

Seven plays and 1:40 later the game was tied and the battle had begun.

On their third drive, the Rams went back to the pass set up the run offense, but when WR Sammy Watkins got flagged for an offensive pass interference penalty the drive stalled.

The Vikings got the ball back but the missed a field goal giving the Rams a chance to re-establish the momentum.

The Rams then moved 61 yards. On the ninth play on this drive, QB Jared Goff hit WR Cooper Kupp in stride. Kupp barreled his way to the 1-yard line but forgot to hold onto the ball fumbling away a sure touchdown. There’s no telling how much that fumble had on the Rams psyche, but the Rams chance to take a 14-7 halftime lead was gone.

The momentum shifted back to the Vikes even the score at halftime was 7-7 it could have easily been 14-10. with the Rams ahead.

As frustrating as the first half ended, one still felt that if the Rams defense got a three and out on the opening drive against the Vikings in the second half, the Rams were poised to win this game.

The Rams defense did just that.

However, the Rams offense was unable to capitalize. Back and forth the the momentum shifted between the Vikes and the Rams.

After Vikings K Kai Forbath missed another field goal it felt like the Rams were poised to take the lead, but once again the Rams blew that chance by going three and out.

When the Vikings scored on the ensuing drive, the Rams had a chance to tie the score but Kupp let a pass sail right through his hands. Had the play been executed not only would have the Rams been in position to tie the game with this drive at the very least they would have come away with three points.

For those who are upset with Kupp for not making the big plays when called upon this year, he’s not the only one who has dropped catchable passes. TE Tyler Higbee drafted last year has done nothing but drop catchable balls since his acquisition and true to form he did it again against the Vikings.

After Kupp’s drop things started to look bleak. You felt very uncomfortable about the way the Rams offense was performing and sure enough nothing of significance came after that. The Rams ineffectual offense faded into the sunset.

The game was over once Minnesota was able to exploit injuries to the Rams secondary, scoring on a 65-yard pass play to WR Adam Thielen.

Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay’s ability to dial up his high flying offense was put to the test by Vikings defense minded Head Coach Mike Zimmer—Zimmer prevailed.

The Rams offense just didn’t make the plays when they were called upon to do so. The game was played like it was a playoff slugfest. In these types of games every mistake, missed opportunity or dropped pass by the Rams was magnfied to upteenth degree.

The young Rams collapsed under the pressure.

What Happened To The Rams Defense

The Rams didn’t get a single sack against the Vikings. Instead when they put pressure of QB Case Keenum, he bootlegged out of trouble and found his receivers for the completions. Case was on fire Sunday against his former team.

The tone was set on the Vikings first drive.

Headunter OLB Robert Quinn went to strip the ball. Case ducked. DE Matt Longacre was still able to grab Keenum, but as crazy as this Sunday was, Case escaped from the grasp.

Keenum is not your classic drop back pocket passer. In fact, dropping back under pressure due to his size, Case’s ball floats high into the air in order to avoid the bigger defenders barreling down on him. Unfortunately, last Sunday, the ball found itself into outstretched arms of the Vikings receivers—boy do they have great hands and concentration.

The Vikings receivers made the pass plays on offense the Rams offense couldn’t do.

Another problem which plagued the Rams throughout the day, wasn’t 3rd downs, but was what was happening on 2nd downs. Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur caught both Rams inside LBs Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron flat-footed.

The Vikings stretched the Rams secondary by running their wideouts down the field. Since the primary target was well covered, it wound up being the third option coming across the middle that killed the Rams.

As the Rams inside linebackers moved left, the Vikings receivers ran away from them. Case under pressure spotting the coverage smartly passed the ball to his third option and away from the Rams inside linebackers so only the Vikings receiver could catch it.

Unlike the other opponents the Rams have faced these Vikings specialists have speed. Both Ogletree and Barron were then left trying to catch-up trying to make the tackle. By forcing the secondary to go down field by the time the Rams corners and safeties came up to help, the Vikings had gained enough yards for either a first down or had easy third and shorts. Consequently. rather then the Vikings defense chasing the Rams offense all day, it was the Rams defense who were chasing the Vikings offense.

In this instance, the statistics don’t lie as the Vikings offense controlled the ball for 37 minutes compared to the Rams who had a miserly 22. The Vikings offense was able to set the tempo of the game and by the time the 4th quarter came around the Rams defense was just flat out tired.

Even though the Rams were only down 14-7 in the fourth quarter, the wheels fell off the wagon when Keenum connected on 65 yard pass play touchdown to Thielen. Clearly injuries to the Rams CB Nickell Robey-Coleman and Kayvon Webster hurt the Rams on that play as they were forced to utilize rookie CB Dominique Hatfield. He made a bad play—it happens and I’m not ready to throw the young man under the bus for one bad play.

Gaining experience in this game will help the Rams defense in the long run and hopefully after reviewing the tape Hatfield will learn from his mistake and get better.

One other item which which has gone unnoticed about that drive was the penalty to DT Aaron Donald for roughing the passer. This is not the first time that Donald, out of frustration has managed to pick-up a completely unnecessary penalty. Remember the Rams’ opening game against the Niners in San Francisco last year? This penalty took the Vikings from having to deal with a 3rd and long at their own 7, to being a first down at the 25-yard line.

As good as Donald is, he is not above criticism. He made a bonehead play that hurt his team. There was virtually no reason to shove Case Keenum after he had clearly thrown the incomplete pass. Donald deserves every penny he’s gonna get the from the Rams in his new contract, but I’m old school when it comes to these types of foolish and unnecessary mistakes even on quarterbacks who already overly protected by the rules—it’s a cheap shot and had I been the ref, I would have thrown him out the game. Donald displayed lack of poise. His actions were completely uncalled and it definitely hurt his team.

What Happened On Special Teams

Hekker didn’t have a good day punting for the Rams Sunday. He was okay, but not what one expects from him. On the punt from the end zone, maybe Special Teams coach John “Bones” Fassell shouldn’t have called for the quick snap, as that clearly caught Pharoh Copper in the illegal shift, and instead provided Johnny more time to get his leg into it. Nonetheless, you expect Johnny to get off a better punt.

Looking Ahead

The NFC North is named the “black and blue” division for a reason. Coming out of the game, the Rams were battered and bruised. Injuries to Webster, Robey-Coleman and WR Robert Woods are part of the game. The Woods injury is highly significant since he’s the Rams’ leading wide receiver in yards and catches. Lucky for the Rams, it wasn’t serious enough as he’s expected to miss only two weeks.

With that said this is the time that the Rams veteran players need to step it up. Players replacing starters need to look upon this as an opportunity which they must take advantage of.

I have full confidence that the replacements will do, especially WR Josh Reynolds and Pharoh Cooper.

The Road Ahead

Things don’t get any easier for the Rams this week having to face the resurgent hotter then a pistol New Orleans Saints at home.

In the long run, since NFL football is a marathon and not a sprint as LT Adam Whitworth said, the Rams needed a little adversity. This is the kind of game your team learns from. It tells you what kind of character each individual is made of in relation to the team. Suck it up, move on and get back to winning games. If the Rams see the Vikings again in the playoffs, I am sure they will play a better game.

I would be remiss if I didn’t wish all my readers a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Late November is the best time of year for obsessive football fans—three NFL football games on Thursday, big college rivalry games on Friday and Saturday, and back to NFL football on Sunday.

It doesn’t get any better then this and I can’t enough of it.