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Los Angeles Rams at Denver Broncos 2nd Down, second guessing: The Professor’s review

Victim six on the road to the Super Bowl

Los Angeles Rams v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Final scores can be misleading

Against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5, the final score of 33-31 reflected the closeness of the game. This week? The final score of 23-20 against the Denver Broncos was not reflective of the game being close.

The Los Angeles Rams dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. RB Todd Gurley ran for over 200 yards, and the Rams’ defense held the Broncos’ running game in check. The Rams created self-inflicted wounds which made the score close. Those are correctable though—a good thing. The Rams are now the only undefeated team in the NFL. This is great, but it means nothing. The ultimate goal remains...

Winning the Super Bowl.

We not me

Second down, second guessing allows us to be critical of virtually everything that doesn’t work. No one, including Head Coach Sean McVay, is above reproach.

Being aggressive is the cornerstone of McVay’s offense. However, if the Rams are to reach the ultimate goal of a NFL Championship, they must improve in every facet of their game including game management.

The fourth down call to seal the win against the Seahawks was gusty, aggressive and the right call to play the game to win.

In this game, the Rams were ahead 20-3. The Broncos were marching down the field, but S John Johnson III got a fortuitous interception turnover. This was a critical momentum changer...or so we thought. Even though the interception was deep inside Rams territory, it spoiled the Broncos’ chances of getting back into the game. All the Rams offense needed to do was maintain possession to run some clock. But on a third and forever, McVay called a pass play. The pass play he called had a marginal likelihood of successfully getting the first down. Worse the pass got tipped, hit the helmet of WR Josh Reynolds, and bounced into the hands of a Broncos defender.

The turnover could’ve been avoided had McVay just run the ball, punted and forced the Broncos to march down the field working against the clock. Instead, Denver got the ball back almost in the same spot as their turnover and scored putting them right back in the game at 20-10 going into the fourth quarter.

I have no idea what was going through Coach McVay’s at that time, but no amount of explanation is necessary. He let his aggressiveness get the best of him when game management called for the Broncos to earn a win, not have it handed to them.

When your running back is making a mockery of the opponent’s defense, keep feeding him the rock. For reasons unknown to me, Gurley was replaced by RB Malcolm Brown in a red zone possession. Maybe it was the altitude and Todd needed a breather. Maybe McVay had heeded my advice that in the red zone to pound the ball into end zone. What better player to do that with then our bowling ball in Brown.

But when your running back is having the kind of day Gurley was, he should’ve been in there.

The swing pass to Gurley is a huge weapon for the Rams. Sometimes, it’s the first option, but most often its the second or third read by QB Jared Goff. When Jared was forced to look to Gurley for the pass, the Broncos’ cornerback was playing Gurley to his inside shoulder. Afraid of the pick six and playing it smart, Goff either ate the ball for a sack or just threw the ball away. What should have been spotted was using the corner’s inside position as an advantage. Pump fake the swing pass and float the ball to Todd’s outside shoulder on a wheel route. With the Broncos’ secondary guarding against the deep ball to the opposite side, that play would have picked up huge yardage. One completion on that play would have forced Denver to change their coverage opening up for Jared to hit the deep pass plays which were non-existent in this game.

I may be just a Rams fan, but I also don’t have a Microsoft Surface Pro when watching the game on TV. If I could spot the appropriate adjustment to make, then it’s reasonable to conclude that Coach McVay should’ve also. Instead, the Rams continued to employ the same play with the same results.

So I’ve said it. No one is above criticism in the Professor’s class, including boy genius Sean McVay. In the playoffs, the Rams aren’t going to be playing teams who are 2-4. They will be playing teams who are equally well-coached who rarely make the kind of mistakes I saw this last Sunday.

There’s plenty of time to fix this. So let’s fix it.

The Rams’ offense

This was not a great game for Goff as far as his numbers were concerned. Give credit to the Broncos’ secondary. It forced at least three coverage sacks, but the lack of a 300-yard passing game can be misleading.

When Goff spotted he had no where to go with a pass on critical third downs, he used his legs to pick up the first down going into what our managing editor calls “GIRAFFE MODE.” That’s something we normally didn’t see from Jared last year, but it is beginning to become part of his game. This is growth in the right direction. Take what the defense is giving you. Don’t force the ball into coverage.

The offensive line was outstanding on the run. Although they gave up some sacks, these were coverage sacks. Jared had no where to go with the ball. Goff might have tried to throw the ball away instead of holding the ball—he didn’t and the result was the sack.

Gurley had the game of his life behind his stellar offensive line. He carried the team to victory with his running. This was smashmouth football at its finest.

There was little the Rams did in the passing game, but the bubble pass to WR Robert Woods leading to the chip shot field goal to seal the deal was an outstanding play on his part.

Grade: B+

The Rams’ defense

The Rams shored up their defense against the run. That was the good part...but their pass defense suffered again.

For all the angst over the loss of CB Aqib Talib and the play of his replacement CB Troy Hill, credit has to be given to Broncos QB Case Keenum and his wide receivers. On the two deep balls, the coverage was there. It took a great toss and catch. Sometimes you have to give credit to the opponent for making a good play.

If that’s the case, how do you stop that kind of play?

It begins and ends with rushing the quarterback. If the Rams had put more pressure on Keenum, he doesn’t get the throw off or at least is hurried enough to make a bad throw. Sometimes, even pressure can’t stop things. Hill did the best job he could. It happens. No one is perfect.

Additionally, the Rams did defense did a terrible job on the bubble screen. The secondary got blocked out by tanking bad angles when going to make the tackle, This pass play, unless you catch the defense with its pants down, should get no more then five yards at best, not ten yards or more.

Bad angles driving towards the receiver between the blocks are easily correctable.

I’m not even going to discuss the last Bronco touchdown since it’s a waste of time to argue against the zebras. Instead of throwing penalty flags, don’t waste my time. Just put up seven points for Denver—if you can reset the clock at your unfettered discretion, why not the scoreboard.

Grade: B+

The Rams’ special teams

KR/PR JoJo Natson returned to the lineup and almost broke one. He got a break on the fumble being called down on contact, but concerns about getting hit on his broken hand were something he needed to get out of his system. Hopefully, it’s completely in the past now.

PK Cairo Santos needs to make the big field goal from distance. 40-50 yards should not be that difficult. I guess that won’t be Santos’ problem with the Rams moving on from him with PK Greg Zuerlein apparently set to return.

Grade: C-

The X-factors

The Rams handled the crowd and inclement weather and played through the cold, This will serve them well down in December and January should they be forced to play on the road in a non-dome stadium.

I have to mention the horse collar on WR Cooper Kupp. That was a dirty play.

It’s not that S Darian Stewart simply committed a penalty with the horse collar tackle. That happens. It’s that Stewart didn’t release once he knew he had Copper by the back of his neck. Instead, he pulled down on the horse collar close to the sidelines. The Rams are lucky they didn’t lose Kupp for the season.

That was a bush league, garbage play.

Final grade: B