Its a short week, so let’s get straight to point.
If you’re a “it’s just a preseason game” person, this article is not for you. Instead, be happy with your participation trophy. No need to read on because there is nothing to be concerned about. The Rams will go 16-0, win the division, have the best record in the league and will be one of two teams participating in the Super Bowl. Preseason games are meaningless, they “don’t count.”
On the other hand since a football game is a contest, there will always is a winner and loser. When on the losing end of any game, whether it counts or not, is an unpleasant experience. That’s why you try again the following week to correct the mistakes to win the game.
There are four types of teams heading into a new season of professional football.
The first tier are the two teams who participated in last year’s Super Bowl. They don’t have a lot worries coming into the next season.
The second tier of teams are those that made the playoffs who merely need a few pieces of the puzzle to be complete, but if they stay pat and don’t make change they don’t improve and could easily fall from contenders to pretenders.
The third tier are those that just missed the playoffs. Maybe it’s players, coaches, or injuries that caused a failed season. There are plenty of needs, but if the owner is committed to winning those problems can be resolved.
Then there’s the final set of teams: losers. Teams who had no shot at the playoffs by mid-season. They’re so bad everything needs to overhauled—head coaches and often the general managers are fired and new coaches are brought in. Player personnel are re-evaluated and significant changes are made bringing new hope and optimism that next year things will be better.
The Rams are in the that final category. They finished 4-12, last year. They fired the head coach and replaced him with the youngest head coach ever hired in Sean McVay. He was given two goals: 1) change the culture surrounding the team and 2) make QB Jared Goff the quarterback envisioned when he was drafted.
In order to do that, it’s implied that the new coach has a “play the game to win” mentality. McVay said all the right things to the Rams fans at his first press conference. His “We Not Me” creates an expectation that he will hold himself out and his players accountable when they lose.
If the third preseason game is supposed to be the dress rehearsal for the games that count and the fourth preseason game worthless (which it is), then the performance by the Rams, despite lacking key injured starters, (who we’ve been told will be ready for opening day) was deplorable.
The LA Chargers came ready to play to win, and the Rams looked like 4-12 squad from last year.
Thankfully, it is only preseason, but if the past is prelude to the future even a meaningless game requires analysis.
Despite the turnovers, despite the horrendous defense, despite all the mistakes, the Rams had a chance to win the game. So what does Sean McVay do to change the culture from losers to winners? He allows a kicker, who last week had a 15-yard net punt who will never make the squad attempt the game-winning field goal for the WIN. What happens? He misses it!
But that’s not the end of the story. The Rams still have a chance to win with 2:00 minutes to go; however McVay replaces Sean Mannion (who threw for the only Ram TD in the game) with the third-string QB who promptly goes out and lays an egg.
Both decisions were akin to the white flag of surrender coming out in the #FightForLA.
But, take heart Rams fans of the contrarian view. It’s only preseason. The preseason is about evaluating the talent by giving players an opportunity to make the squad, NOT about winning. Thus, any coach who intends to change the culture around a team that hasn’t been in a playoff game in 11 years knows instinctively that fan base will understand that it’s more important to save the leg of their starting field goal kicker for the regular season and thus there’s no legitimate reason to tire him out when a meaningless game is on the line.
For those that have watched football longer than the head coach has been alive, we learned something we never knew--starting field goal kickers need rest too. It’s a long season.
When a team does everything it can to make you a better player, the hope is that the player will respond by doing everything he can so that the T-shirt with the phrase “We Have Faith In Goff” is warranted.
Last week Jared looked like the investment was beginning to pay off. This week it, Jared looked like last year’s “bust”. But it’s not all his fault.
The TD fumble was the indirect result of RT Rob Havenstein whiffing on his block of DE Joey Bosa. He rebounded from this by making a terrible throw to WR Sammy Watkins which got intercepted leading to another score and at the 6:00 minute mark of the 1st quarter, the Rams were down 21-0—14 of those points were the result of two turnovers.
Take heart Rams fans. It’s only preseason.
If preseason is truly about evaluating talent and not winning, Mannion is the better QB to start the season. The problem is the naysayers will invariably come back with “Mannion didn’t play against the 1st stringers so you can’t project him being a better QB then Goff who played against starters.”
The problem with that argument is that Mannion has NEVER been given the chance to start. He led the Rams to a comeback win against the Raiders and an almost the win against the Chargers. He could be no worse than Goff who enjoys an undeserved faith that he will somehow figure the pro game out.
There’s no downside to having Goff sit for a year. Look what a couple of years on the bench did for another Cal Bear QB: Aaron Rodgers. If the Rams need to make a change in the games that count because Mannion isn’t performing, by all means put the youngest QB in; however, remember this: in the games that count, making the same critical mistakes that Goff has made will not result in wins, they will result in losses.
Since Goff will start on opening day, lets hope his ability to move the ball effectively as he did when he did play against the Chargers will culminate in touchdowns, not turnovers.
The Right Side of The Offensive Line
This is a lost cause. The right side played “okay” against the Raiders and came back against the Chargers with another dreadful performance.
At this point, the Rams have two weeks to figure out what they want to do. If they pick up a player either at RG or RT through the waiver wire or trade, he’s not going to instantly know the offense. It will be four weeks before the Rams could even think about putting him out there since it takes an entire preseason for the offensive lineman just to get acquainted with his linemates; thus, even after four weeks while the Rams play in the games count, you have to factor this into your thinking about whether its worth it to make a trade or pick up a player whom another team doesn’t want on their 53-man roster.
There are ways to mask the problem; nevertheless, this is the NFL. Other teams are going to catch on fast to what the Rams are doing. Attempts at avoiding or ignoring the right side of the offensive problem is not a solution.
It has to be fixed sooner rather than later for this team to have any chance on offense.
The Defensive Line
The first line of defense is a pass rush. A decent pass rush can cause the QB to hurry his throw resulting in over and under throws and an incomplete pass. Without pressure, any experienced QB like Philip Rivers will torch the Rams. Give Rivers and Chargers Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt credit, they exploited a glaring weakness to its full advantage. Without DE Aaron Donald, the Rams are without any weapons at first line of defense to a pass. Rivers had all day to throw and because he had time, his WR(s) found places to open up for beautiful big plays down the field.
Had Rivers been out there for the entire first half, the score would have been 42-0 in the middle of the 2nd quarter. That’s how bad it looked.
But, have no fear Rams fans, it’s just preseason. LBs Robert Quinn and Mark Barron who haven’t played any preseason games, didn’t play. For this game CB Nickell Robey-Coleman and OLB Connor Barwin were out. If you’re of the opinion that preseason is an evaluation process, this no problem. It’s easy to step in and play at the highest level required in a game that counts despite the fact you’re learning to adjust to 3-4 instead of 4-3 your used to playing in. These are pros. With the snap of their fingers, Donald (if and when he ever comes back, who is needed desperately), Quinn and Barron will be fine.
If you truly believe that’s what going to happen, then the Rams will have no problem in the regular season either stopping the pass or the run and we can anticipate that every game will be a shutout.
The Rams are better than they were last year. Through three meaningless preseason games, they have at times shown life on offense. Given the right opponent, the defense will play well.
Since the third preseason game is the “premiere” preseason game, one should be giddy with excitement that his year. Once the real games begin, one will not have to worry about having to buy 12 new big screen TVs this year, it will only be 8—that’s what you call improvement worthy of happiness after watching meaningless preseason games.
Next week, a positively useless game against the Packers is strictly for those who live for preseason games because they’re watching the game to see that their picks on who makes the 53-man roster were correct rather then whether the team wins.