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Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers, 2nd Down, second guessing: The Professor’s review

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Winning ugly is still winning.

Green Bay Packers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams came away with a lucky win against the Green Bay Packers to remain undefeated at 8-0.

The Rams offense played poorly in the first half. When stops were needed, the Rams’ defense too often had critical coverage lapses in the secondary. But despite the Packers’ defense coming to play and the sheer specter of QB Aaron Rodgers, the Rams’ special teams prevailed thanks to (now former Packer) KR Ty Montgomery making an ill-conceived decision to run the ball from the end zone with 2:05 on the clock and compounding his blunder by fumbling on the tackle made by the Rams LB Ramik Wilson.

The Rams still needed to get one first down to run out the clock to seal it, something they immediately did when RB Todd Gurley ran wide to left and smartly went down in bounds to wrap up the win.

Time ran had run out for a Rodgers miracle.

The Rams’ offense

Packers Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine, former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, primarily runs a 3-4 but likes to call his defense a “flex” defense because of a willingness to adjust out of the 3-4 into a 4-3. Against the Rams, Pettine dialed up a totally different look giving the Rams’ offensive line a lot of seven-man fronts especially when the Rams were in 2nd or 3rd and long. This worked well as the Rams were unable to get their downfield passing game clicking in the first half due to the pressure creating understandably hurried throws from QB Jared Goff. Credit also has to go to the Packers’ secondary who in man-to-man coverage blanketed Rams WRs Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds.

The Rams’ offense looked stymied and uneventful, but as we’ve seen all year, it was just a matter of time until Head Coach Sean McVay would figure it out and the offensive line would make the appropriate adjustments.

In the second half, the biggest play that started it all was sneaking Gurley across the middle who after catching the ball had nothing but green ahead of him.

After that big touchdown, the Packers were forced to pull out of the seven-man front, flexing back into either 3-4 or 4-3, making it much easier for the Rams’ offensive line to give Goff more time. That gave McVay the ability to dial up the downfield passing plays which opened up the Rams’ running game. In the end, the Rams came within one point of their scoring average.

Patience is a virtue. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. As successful as the Packers were on defense, the Rams can expect to see a lot more of the seven-man fronts as they go down the stretch.

Hopefully the Rams will treat this a learning experience.

Final Grade: D

The Rams’ defense

In the 3-4, secondary coverage relies primarily on man coverage, not zone. When you’re playing against Rodgers with a base 3-4 and you don’t blanket the receivers, you’re going to get burned.

CB Marcus Peters lacks the skills to play man coverage. Expecting him to get better at the halfway point of the season is probably asking too much. He lets his aggressiveness get the best of him, and opposing teams’ offenses are exploiting it with stop-and-go moves, fakes to the inside and double moves. Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips seems to be scheming to hold the fort until CB Aqib Talib comes off the injured reserve list, but at this point the Rams’ coverage is a major problem.

The Rams tried their best to adjust. S Lamarcus Joyner lined up as the signal safety. He started in the middle of the field but quickly cheated over to Peters’ side. Rodgers spotted the adjustment immediately and promptly responded by burning replacement CB Troy Hill on the other side for a touchdown putting Green Bay right back in the game.

If you blitz Rodgers, you have to get to him. It was this very play that caused Rams fans to sense that if Rodgers got the ball again in the closing seconds, he was going to march his Packers down the field for the win as he has done so many times.

But, if he’s isn’t on the field, he can’t beat you...

Final Grade: C+

The Rams’ special teams

Football is not just a game of offense and defense. One third of the plays run from scrimmage are the special teams.

Fans most often identify special teams with field goals, punt and kickoff returns. You don’t watch the game for the fun of a punt or kickoff and the only thing most care about on field goals is whether the kicker made it regardless of how it looks.

But this part of the game, the actual punt and kickoff themselves, can be extremely important.

The Rams are lucky to have P Johnny Hekker. He’s not having his usual Pro Bowl-caliber year in 2018; however, he made perfect punt in this game which gunner Sam Shields was able to down at the Packers’ 1-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, the Packers ran the ball up the middle and got caught by LB Mark Barron in the end zone for a safety. The Rams were now down 10-2 with hope that if they were able to score a touchdown on the ensuing drive, they could be even at halftime with a two point conversion.

PR JoJo Natson, Jr., gave the Rams a nine-yard return to start a drive from their own 28 that marched down the field for the touchdown that included two crucial plays. The first was first a deep pass to the sidelines which Cooks caught. The Rams followed this up after the two-minute warning with beautiful completion by Gurley on the wheel route. From the Packers’ three-yard line on third and goal, Goff hit Reynolds for the touchdown and even though the two-point conversion failed it was 10-8 at halftime.

The Rams were right back in the game thanks to the punt by Hekker, the downing of the ball by Shields, the safety by Barron and resulting change of possession.

The next critical special teams play is what kept Rodgers from another comeback win after K Greg Zuerlein made a field goal it gave the Rams an uncomfortable 29-27 lead.

What I am about to say has been highly criticized by my fellow TST staffers, but I don’t care. This is the Professor teaching the students.

With 2:05 left and one timeout left, that’s plenty of time for Rodgers. Had Zuerlein either kicked the ball into the middle of the end zone or out of the end zone, no time runs off the clock preserving the two timed outs. Instead Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel brought his group together. He told Zuerlein to short kick the ball on the chance that KR Ty Montgomery would take the bait and run it out for a fumble. At worst, the two-minute warning would leave Rodgers with only one time out left and a ton of field to make up.

On the other sideline, Green Bay HC Mike McCarthy told Montgomery that under no uncertain terms was he to run the ball out of the end zone so that the Packers could get the touchback. Rodgers would then be able start at the 25-yard line while preserving those precious two time stoppages left for the Packers.

Montgomery took the bait and caught the ball just inside the end zone and decided to run the ball from the goal line. Bad move.

This wasn’t all Montgomery’s fault. His up back should have been screaming down it while waiving waive his arms.

Because the Zuerlein kick landed one yard inside the end zone, it’s not easy to judge where your feet are. When your watching the game horizontally, you can see it. But if your eyes are properly focused on the ball coming in vertically and attention given to catching the ball, you go for the catch. You don’t want the ball to hit the goalline and bounce into the field of play either because that’s a live ball. You’re also not far enough in the end zone to judge whether you should catch and down it because if your knee touches the goal line, it out of the end zone.

Ty Montgomery should have just left the ball alone. he didn’t.

Where I have parted ways with my fellow TST writers is putting all the blame on Montgomery without giving any credit to the Rams special teams for forcing him into making a bad decision.

Had he not fumbled the ball, this mental mistake wouldn’t even be talked about. The only reason for the argument is that Rams special teams caused a fumble, something they were coached to do by Fassel.

After the fumble, the Rams ran Gurley to the left on third and long. He picked up the first down and was headed to the end zone for a touchdown — a bettor’s dream at this point since the Rams were 81/2 point favorites. But Todd doesn’t care about the million dollar losses suffered by those who took the Rams and gave 8 1/2 points as he smartly waited to be tackled and since the Packers had no more timeouts left. With one snap left, the Rams ran out the clock.

Packers fans can complain all they want that their team would’ve won the game had not Montgomery violated the explicit instructions laid down by his head coach.

As PT Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”

The Rams baited the Packers, and they took the bait. The Rams fans that did go to game got the chance to say, “See ya. Have nice trip back to freezing Wisconsin!

It’s attention to details like that wins football games.

The Rams didn’t play well on offense or defense, but were able to come away with a win thanks to the special teams that were by no means perfect. They were unable to get any big returns from either KR Blake Countess or Natson. Nevertheless, the Rams kickoff and punt squads were outstanding when they needed them most.

Final Grade: B+

The X-factor

Angelenos should be ashamed of themselves.

Los Angeles waited 22 years to get their Rams back. Rather then embracing them, Angelenos either don’t show up or those that have tickets decide that profit should trump fan loyalty so they can sell their tickets to opposing teams’ fans.

Last Sunday was no different as the Coliseum was at least 55% yellow and green.

This lack of local support has been constant problem for the Rams since returning to Los Angeles.

Playing the Coliseum is no better then if the team were playing a road game.

I have a suggestion for ticket holders who seek profit over loyalty, the same ones who complain about greedy NFL owners: Instead of selling your tickets to the fans of the other team, why not donate the tickets to a local youth foundation, YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, etc., or church so that some young people who have never seen a football game can go.

After making this donation, get a receipt so you can write if off the cost of the ticket as a charitable donation.

By doing so, you profit both ways, not only in your pocket book at for end of year on your taxes, but more importantly you’ve probably changed a young person’s life with your kindness and increased the Rams’ fan base.

I’m not here to explain the virtues of a capitalistic system. If you own the tickets, you’re certainly free to do what you want with them. But for me as a diehard Rams fan, I would rather eat the cost of the ticket than have to sit next to a cheesehead or some fan putting his arms together screaming “Skol!”

What makes me so mad is that our Los Angeles Rams are 8-0! Only nine teams since the merger have accomplished this feat at this point in the season.

What do the Rams have to do win Angelenos loyalty, like other fan bases in Chicago, Green Bay, Pittsburgh or Cleveland, fan bases who go out of their way to give unwavering support to their teams in good times and bad?

Even though the Rams got no love from Angelenos they battled through it and for that they deserve an X Factor grade of A+.

Final Grade B-