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Los Angeles Rams At San Francisco 49ers: 2nd Down, Second Guessing

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What a game!

Los Angeles Rams vs San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Overview

Even though this was the best Thursday night game in years and spectacular to watch, it was an emotional rollercoaster for Los Angeles Rams fans who not only wish to see the San Francisco 49ers lose but lose badly.

Give credit to the Niners for making a game of it.

On the other hand, it takes “two to tango,” and the Rams did their best to keep the Niners in the game although it should’ve been a blow out.

Let’s break it down

Penalties

There is no “I” in “TEAM.”

Individuals must be held accountable when they make a mistakes that can cost the TEAM a victory.

The first penalty for which there is no excuse for occurred after the Rams scored a touchdown by virtue of an interception from the two-yard line. The defense took the field and held the Niners so that on 4th down with four yards to go they have to punt. What does CB Blake Countess do on a punt return? He goes offside giving the Niners a first down and the Niners take advantage of the mistake tying the game.

Momentum shift number one and 7 points.

THe second penalty for which is there is no excuse: OLB Robert Quinn lines up in the neutral zone as DE. The play continues and Niners come up short which would have meant another punt. Instead, they get a first down and kick a field goal.

It wasn’t a huge momentum changer, but that’s another 3 more points.

Penalty number three—TE Gerald Everett forgets to put his mouthpiece in before he leaves the huddle so he fiddles with it at the line of scrimmage but can’t get it in time to get himself properly set for one second prior to the snap. A penalty for illegal procedure is called.

This penalty didn’t change momentum or the score but it was indicative of the kind of sloppy, unnecessary, self-inflicted wounds the Rams were putting on themselves which kept the Niners in the game.

Special Teams

What can be said about a punt returner who two weeks ago “muffed” a punt and then does the same thing in the third week, but this time the muff is on his own 5-yard line?

For as much money as the Rams paying WR Tavon Austin to be a “punt returner” since he is by no means a wide receiver, there is no excuse for this. Austin is being paid $15 million dollars this season and has 26 positive yards from the line scrimmage—this is an unacceptable waste of money. His failure to cradle the ball into his chest led to another score by the Niners.

Momentum shifter and 7 more points.

Tavon then did it again inside the 10-yard line, but this time he was able to reset long enough to bring the ball back into his chest for the catch.

It’s hard to explain why Tavon is still running back punts after his three week non-performances. If it’s that people make mistakes and he’s entitled to a second shot, he got his second chance after the Colts game and blew it against the Niners.

The thing about punt returners is they suffer the same mental dilemma field goal kickers often get into. Once kickers start missing easy kicks, they get into a mind funk overcorrecting their previous mistake, miss the kick again and “boom” the downward spiral begins. This will eventually lead the head coach into having no faith in his kicking game forcing him to adjust from making easy in game play decisions into tough ones. After a few of these, the kicker is then cut and replaced. However, in most instances the damage has already been done having suffered losses in winnable games.

So who should Tavon be replaced with?

The guy the Rams have behind Tavon as their punt returner is WR Pharoh Cooper. He is the Rams first teamer kick returner on kickoffs.

At the most inopportune time, Cooper fumbles the ball on a kick return leading to another Niner TD. Granted it was one of those helmet to ball situations that can happen, but in this instance the most important thing the Rams kick returner had to do was merely hold onto the ball so the Rams offense could run clock. Instead thanks to the fumble, the Niners got the ball back in great field position and proceeded to come within a game tying two-point conversion to tie the game.

Cooper didn’t have to run back the kickoff for a TD. All he has to do was hold onto the ball, get it to 20- or 25-yard. If the Rams offense was forced to punt into deep Niner territory, the Niners to would have been forced move the ball without any timeouts into a position just to make the TD and the 2-pointer to tie.

Instead, Cooper chose to run the ball back with reckless abandon. When he found space, he blasted his way through creases thinking he could win the game with an amazing kickoff return for a touchdown. A kick returner once overcome with this emotion is oblivious to his surroundings. That wasn’t smart football.

Do the Rams want to replace the 15-million dollar man with Cooper? After that bonehead play by Cooper, what’s the difference?

Momentum shifter and 6 more points for the Niners.

Football fans know that 99 out of 100 times, recovery of an onside kick is not likely by the kicking team being more luck than skill. The reason is simple: no one knows how the football is going to bounce off the tee and needs to travel at least 10 yards with players bunched up all over the place and the kicking team still has to get the ball.

In this case, the ball hit the ground first (no fair catch available) went up in the air and hit a Niner in the back of the helmet. As the ball was descending to the earth it wound up in the clutches of another Niner player—that’s not a designed play, its luck.

The Rams were blessed because on the ensuing drive when the Niners were going for the game-winning field goal, the referees called offensive pass interference against them or the Rams could have easily lost the game.

In total, that’s 24 points the Niners got due to Rams mistakes.

If one eliminates the mistakes, the final score is Rams 41 and Niners 16.

That’s about where the final score should have been based on most explosive offense Ram fans have seen in years.

The mistakes kept the Niners in the game.

Credit the Whiners from the north for making it a battle and discredit goes to the Rams for making the mistakes which kept them in the game.

Correcting The Problem

There is a certain amount of discipline that goes along with playing football, both on and off the field. What’s acceptable to one coach may be unacceptable to another. Factor in that young teams, and especially rookies, will make mistakes.

The Rams can be happy with the victory but there’s a lot of room for “disciplined” improvement.

Sean McVay and Jim Fassell need to stress the importance of eliminating these errors.

If it continues to happen, it’s more likely the Rams will lose these kind of games against better more football savvy experienced opponents, rather than win against a rebuilding Niner team.

Defense

When the Rams needed their defense most at the end of the game, the defense stepped up (DT Aaron Donald) added by an offensive pass interference penalty.

What the Rams didn’t do in the first half was stop the run. In the second half and going into the fourth quarter, the Rams’ defense was able to stop the run but not the pass which was the only way the Niners could get back into the game.

The first line of defense to a pass is the rush. Any QB given time, including Brian Hoyer, will burn your defense. There is no discounting how important the rush is. It causes the QB to hurry his throws, make critical read errors, etc.

There were moments in this game when it looked like Hoyer had forever in the pocket. Having so much time, he was able to hit WR Pierre Garcon for huge gains. On one play Garcon made a great catch. On another, CB Trumaine Johnson slipped. These things happen.

But do these things happen when there’s a rush with a bad throw?

It is less likely an QB is going to make a pinpoint accurate pass when he’s under pressure. With virtually no rush, the Rams got burned.

Whereas the Rams offense is predicated on how well QB Jared Goff will do, the defense is predicated on how well Aaron Donald does. He was better in this game then against Washington, and he looks like he’s getting his football legs back. Still, he’s about another week and half from having a full grasp of the 3-4 and in complete football shape.

The biggest problem on defense now in the newly made up 3-4 is the Rams middle linebackers, MLB Alec Ogletree and MLB Mark Barron. Both are not the kind of stout middle linebackers needed to stuff the run. They’re leaner and quicker, but are not “heavy” run stuffers.

As a result, they depend on their instinct to take the right angles towards the gap. Washington exploited this weakness, and so did the Niners to a certain extent. The difference is the Niners’ offensive line is no where near as gifted as the Redskins.

Wade Phillips can fix this. There is no doubt in my mind that the Rams defense will get better at both stopping the run and pass. Week 4’s contest against the Dallas Cowboys will require it.

Aaron Donald is a beast on defense. He made the sack that won the game. As long as Wade can find ways to free him up, he will continue rise to the occasion. The Rams defense will be fine. Eliminate the mistakes, and the Niners only score 16.

Offense

Was this a coming of age game for Goff or will he revert back to what Rams fans saw last year?

There is no question that Jared Goff played his best game at QB. He was frankly remarkable given all the questions, doubters and naysayers ready to give up on him.

He made the reads, made the throws and with his newfound weapons in Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett, the Rams lit it up.

Put that together with a strong performance at RB by Todd Gurley, both in the run and passing game by catching balls out of the backfield, and Rams fans haven’t seen this much offense since the “Greatest Show on Turf” soon to be known as Chris Collinsworth coined it “The Greatest Show on Surf”

But the Rams offense can’t just stop at the Niners game. They need to continue to up their game and get better.

As was pointed out when Goff goes back to pass instead of stepping up in the pocket, he continues to backpeddle. This is dangerous. The DE is coming off the edge, keeping the QB in front of him as he should do. By going back, Goff gets himself into a heap of trouble if refuses to step up in the pocket rather then go right into the clutches of the DE.

When he senses the DE is close, he often panics causing him to throw the ball off his back foot rather than stepping into the throw. This leads to a weak throw, knockdowns and interceptions. Step up into the pocket, set your feet, and make a solid throw.

The difference between Goff in the first half when he fading back into the pocket and his stepping up into the pocket in the second half was a night and day improvement.

Goff was on fire.

Goff is picking the NFL game up, and he’s learning quickly to adjust. Credit goes to Sean McVay.

Receivers also get credit for making the catches, because there’s nothing worse then a QB making plays only to see his WR(s) drop balls losing confidence in their play making abilities.

The one notable exception was TE Tyler Higbee who dropped a sure TD. Mr. Higbee, when the ball is placed right where it should be, catch it!

This was a huge game for the Rams. They beat the Niners but also established themselves as having a powerful offense. Get that defense rolling and eliminate the special teams errors and the Rams will be making heads turn as they shock the football world.