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Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks 2nd Down, second guessing: The Professor’s Review

Lots to work on...

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations Meets Reality

The Link is a tough to place to play, but the expectations of last year’s blowout by the Los Angeles Rams came crashing down to earth with a lackluster 33-31 win in Week 5.

This 12th man stuff is a bunch of phony baloney. It’s like saying if I play Madden in my house, it will give me a home field advantage. If you’re the better player, it shouldn’t make any difference that you know where the bathroom is.

The Rams came into this game expecting to win. That, they accomplished. What they didn’t expect was getting smashed in the mouth by the Seattle Seahawks’ run game which led to playaction passes burning the Rams secondary.

If you were concerned about the Rams’ defense coming into the game, nothing they did against Seattle would allay those concerns. In fact, what Seattle did to the Rams may have exposed the defense to a vulnerability, an Achilles’ heel which could plague them the rest of the way—the inability to stop the run.

Even though the Seahawks lost, they were able to establish an identity by having an effective running game. They can go to toe-to-toe with any of the high powered offenses in the league. Credit has to go to Seattle for making a game of it, and the Rams should hold themselves responsible for the Seahawks success.

Time to bring back the Daffies

Last year I created the Daffy award. It goes to a player who does something so inexplicable that only a confused, unfocused football player could do it.

For example against the San Francisco 49ers last year, the dishonor went to DE Robert Quinn for lining up in the neutral zone on a 3rd and four even though the pass was incomplete. This led to a new set of downs and a score by the Niners putting them right back in the game.

It’s that kind of play that sets the tone of the game from a complete lack of mental focus.

This year, CB Troy Hill wins this one hands down for his goofy play. There was absolutely no reason to throw any player down as he did leading to a 15-yard illegal roughness penalty. Had he been thinking, it would have been 3rd and 17. Instead, it lead to a first down, extending the drive and a touchdown by the Seahawks.

Congratulations Troy, Your Daffy is in the mail.

There is simply no explanation for this. I was left completely dumbfounded, which some might argue is my natural state.

Red zone ineptitude

A blocked punt is a momentum changer both ways. If you don’t score after blocking a punt, momentum will shift back to the team who got the punt blocked. If you do score, even if it’s just a field goal that may be moral victory for the other team, it’s still a score.

Get a touchdown out of it? That can be a game changer.

Instead of getting any points off the blocked punt by LB Cory Littleton who went unblocked due to a missed assignment, not only did the Rams NOT come away with any points, they turned the ball over.

Two things went wrong on the interception.

First and foremost was the playcall. Head Coach Sean McVay, as good as he is, made a Pete Carroll-esque mistake by trying to throw the ball at the goalline. QB Jared Goff compounded the mistake by not throwing the ball away when the receiver was covered so the Rams could live for another day or at least come away with a field goal. He made a costly mistake by attempting to force the ball into the place where he shouldn’t.

Lousy playcall and even worse execution.

That turned the momentum changing blocked point for the Rams back to the Seahawks.

Additionally, even though the Rams’ offense scored over 30 points and their offense was moving the ball up and down the field, not scoring a point when you get the ball inside the 5-yard line is unacceptable.

The Rams have a finesse running game. That I will admit. But being old school, there’s nothing worse to the psyche of your opponent than slamming the ball into the end zone. If RB Todd Gurley can’t get it done, put in steamroller RB Malcolm Brown. And when it becomes obvious Brown’s getting the ball, go with two running backs in the backfield with both Brown and Gurley and let either one smash the ball into the end zone. If that doesn’t work go to double tight ends, putting as much beef up front as possible.

If you can’t get a touchdown that close to the end zone ramming it right up the gut, you don’t deserve to win.

All this other fancy stuff in the red zone will work only if you demonstrate you’re tougher then your opponent is. Success at the goalline with power football opens up vulnerability to the pass for those easy dink-and-dunk pass plays.

33 points is good. 40-something is better, especially when your defense is giving up 30.

Shut up and play football

The only baggage in acquiring CB Marcus Peters is his inability to control his emotions.

Cornerbacks have to have short memories. You get burned. It happens. You have to forget about it and get ready for the next play.

Peters had a bad day. He got fooled way to often on the playaction. He also allowed his aggressiveness to get the best of him on the stop-and-go route. Once the receiver got behind him, he was easy pickings for QB Russell Wilson.

We all have bad days, but in football you cannot take your own frustration out on your teammates. Yes, football is an emotional game, and maybe Marcus is one of those persons who needs to let his emotions out much like I do when I watch the Rams make a bad play. But there is also a time and place for it, and it’s not on the sidelines in front of the television cameras.

My criticism is not limited to Marcus as he wasn’t the only one caught on camera allowing his emotions to carry him away. Too often we saw Rams players getting into it after the play was over. There’s no need for this extracurricular activity. Nine times out of ten the referees are going to flag the retaliator not the instigator.

The Seahawks had nothing to lose. Even if they had won the game, they would still have been a game out of the first place with a return match in Los Angeles where the Rams would more then likely even the score. It’s no wonder they were chippy. They provoked hoping that by doing so, it would get the Rams off their game and it worked.

Just shut up and play football. Stay focused and relax. All this other stuff is meaningless.

Victory is the prize you want.

The Rams’ offense

There’s a lot of good to say about the Rams offense. They can’t be stopped.

Without either WR Brandin Cooks or WR Cooper Kupp, WR Josh Reynolds and WR KhaDarel Hodge stepped right in filling the void. WR Robert Woods then became the go-to guy, and he too had a big game on plays when the Rams needed it.

Gurley had a good day and for me came up with the play of the game.

When the Rams needed to run out the clock, they ran a run play designed to go right. Gurley saw there was no hole, stopped, cut back left and picked up eight yards. It was 10 yards and a first down, but the Rams got a bad spot. Nonetheless, this run led to the Seahawks having to use their time outs and as time became the Rams greatest weapon on 4th down, Goff’s quarterback sneak sealed the win.

None of this would have happened had it not been for Gurley’s recognition to turn a minimal gain into a big one when it counted most.

Goff has been so good running the Rams’ offense that a 300-yard passing game is kinda getting ho hum.

Grade A-

The Rams’ defense

The Rams’ defense was trash. They played terribly. The Rams defense got beat up and pushed around. Still, when it was needed the Rams came up with some critical stops, so not all was lost.

Yet in the last two weeks, the Rams’ defense has given up a whopping 62 points.

The Rams ranked 23rd against the rush according to Football Outsiders’ analytics going into the game and it took another hit after the Seahawks game now dropping to 28th. This led to getting torched on the play action passes down the field. They made the Seahawks wide receivers look like the next coming of the Rams.

Arguably, this could be my expectations of what should have happened being given a cold shower of reality, Nor am I buying into it was just one of those random things that happens from time to time.

If you have a week to prepare for a test in the Professor’s class, don’t give me excuses for a bad grade due to lack of preparation. It appears the Rams were more worried about how much steak and lobster they should eat at the expense of DT Aaron Donald rather than the Seahawks.

This week the Rams defense earned their grade: F

The Rams’ special teams

Coach John “Bones” Fassel yet again put his guys in position for a big play on the blocked punt only to see the Rams squander the opportunity with an interception at the goal line. The real twist was the Seahawks drop kicking the kick-offs in the hopes of pinning the Rams’ offense deep and taking away returns from KR Blake Countess. It worked since OLB Matt Longacre is no speed demon, but it was all for naught since no defense can stop the Rams.

This back-and-forth in the kickoffs trying to pin the other team deep in order to prevent the big return was employed by both teams. It did little to enhance the game and finally Coach Fassel just had K Cairo Santos kick it into the end zone—which is the only sure way to prevent a big run back.

Santos got the job done and looked better in doing it then former PK Sam Ficken. Nonetheless, he shanked an extra point. This had to be a factor in the Rams going for it on 4th down as there’s a big difference being up by two points versus three points at that point in the game.

Maybe Santos’ leg got tired as he’s not used to playing with a team that scores as often as the Rams’ offense does. Who knows? If someone can figure out why it is that place kickers make the big ones and miss the little ones, give me a call. I’m all ears.

The X-factor

As I said in my preview of this game, Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll is the poster boy for how to lose a big game. His calling his last time out when he did led the Rams to rethink their position on punting the ball and instead decided to go for it.

Even if the clock would have left the Seahawks with only one minute to play, they would have preserved that last time out. Given how bad the Rams’ defense was playing, the Seahawks could have at least gotten close enough to try a long field goal to win the game.

On the other hand, Head Coach Sean McVay took advantage of Carroll’s gaffe, changed his mind, and went for the win.

That’s my kind of coach!

Not only did McVay make the right call, he never let up on his aggressive play calling despite losing Cooks and Kupp. He never hesitated relying on his substitute players to make the plays when others would most likely gone into a shell.

Nor do I buy into the referees not calling holding when it was obvious or failing to call illegal roughness against the Seahawks for the hit on Cooks. You can’t have it both ways. Either you hate the rule or you’re for it. Nine out of 10 times when your team is doing the hitting, you’re against the rule and nine times out of 10 your for the rule when your player gets whacked.

I’m all for protecting players in the head and neck area, but if it’s close, I tend to lean in favor of the defender since its hard to let up once you make the decision to go high. In other games I watched this Sunday, the rule was enforced even in the close plays when it wasn’t in the Rams game. Consistency in application of the rule is what’s more important so that fans and players know what constitutes an illegal hit to the head and neck area or leading with the crown of one’s helmet.

If there’s one constant in my 60 years of watching football, it’s that referees miss calls. It’s particularly unnerving when the calls aren’t going in favor of the Rams and worse when it appears that by the referees are abusing their discretion are calling questionable penalties against the Rams leading to concluding favoritism.

I have therefore taken the position that’s it best to forget about the zebras. They’re worthless. You’re not going to get them to change their calls.

The Rams should just take note of this crew so they can better prepare for games these knuckleheads are working next time they see them. Don’t expect the calls going in your favor. Forget about it, and just keep playing your game.

The Rams did this very well in Seattle by playing through the appearance of favoritism. In fact, Seahawks fans would argue the Rams caught a break on a pass interference penalty in the red zone on third down leading to a Rams touchdown in the 4th quarter.

Final grade—A+

Overall grade

For some, my criticisms may seem a bit harsh. After all, the Rams won the game, and it’s only the fifth game of the season. The games could just be a hiccup along the road to the Super Bowl.

But I saw more negative than positive in this contest.

It’s one game at a time, and clearly the Rams can rebound this week against the Denver Broncos. That doesn’t take away from what I saw this past Sunday.

The Rams are surely capable of better performances then what they put out the Link.

Final grade C-