The atmosphere around the Coliseum prior to Los Angeles Rams against the Seattle Seahawks was tense. Southern California had been jolted by fires forcing the Rams to cancel practice. Many players, coaches and staff were forced to evacuate their homes. Making matters worse was the mass shooting tragedy last Wednesday in Thousand Oaks minutes away from the Rams practice facility.
The Rams were coming off a tough loss to the New Orleans Saints which ended their undefeated streak and in came the Seahawks. Neither team particularly likes each other very much.
Despite the tense atmosphere, it was Salute to Service day. So for a short period of time, Angelenos and the Rams took advantage of the opportunity to forget our troubles, pay tribute to those who risk their lives for us and say thanks to our first responders.
Distractions aside, the officiating in this game was horrible. I haven’t seen a game so one-sided with critical penalties called against the Rams in years. Maybe there were a few that were legitimate, but from what I observed, the Seahawks played dirty, and the Rams took the bait. This was the kind of game where all the extracurricular activity was unnecessary. My preference in games like this, where the opponents get every break from the referees and act like thugs, is to come away with a win.
And we did.
So Seattle can pack their bags, head back to Washington and start planning for the 2019 season. The Rams victory virtually sealed up the NFC West and at 4-5 the Seachickens will be lucky to make the playoffs as a wild card team. Good riddance.
Despite the win, there are now trends which the Rams are showing that must be corrected for the stretch drive. It’s not what your team did in September or October that really counts, but what your team does in late November to December and be ready for the playoff run in January.
What’s wrong with the Rams’ defense
The simple answer from my esteemed editor is—nothing. He rightfully points out that among the playoff-bound teams in both the NFC and AFC the Rams are leading the pack in overall defense. He points out that in today’s professional football where high-powered offenses are the vogue and rules designed to enhance this focus on the defense is not what it used to be as the silly old bespectacled Professor remembers it.
He’s got a point and will agree to certain extent up to this: Defense wins championships.
At this point during the season, the Rams’ defense looks crummy. If the Rams could just shore up a few of their flaws, there wouldn’t be an issue as to whose the best team in the NFL.
Rather then improve from the beginning of the season, the Rams’ defense has regressed, and it’s not getting any better. Sure, Rams fans can look forward to the return of CB Aqib Talib and the continued improvement from OLB Dante Fowler Jr., but the fact remains if the Rams don’t fix that run defense, things are going to be dicey in the playoffs.
The problem is lack of gap control. The Rams defensive front is overly aggressive, trying to make the crushing stop in an attempt to dislodge the runner from the football. This leads to the defensive line taking bad angles causing them to reach to make a tackle and invariably whiffing.
It doesn’t help that the Rams’ inside linebackers, Mark Barron and Cory Littleton, are smallish for the position. This faster, more mobile linebacker may be symbolic of the times, but I have another idea.
The only thing the Rams defense needs to do is slow down—let the play come to them. The defensive line and linebackers have been overpursuing allowing for cutbacks by the ball carrier which wind up for huge gains on the ground. If the Rams would merely stuff the line, there’s no room for the runner to go.
This puts teams in 2nd- or 3rd-and-long, and in today’s game chances are your opponent is going to throw the ball. This is when the Rams can then tee off to get the quarterback. I’ll take the occasional draw play or screen for a big play that gets a first down since its still about keeping the opponent out of the end zone and off the scoreboard that matters.
In the secondary, the Rams will need to continue to hold down the fort until Talib gets back. The Rams’ pass defense isn’t that bad considering how the game is played today, but it can get better. I believe that the more the Rams’ secondary gets playing time, as it’s constructed now, the experience will bode well for games that really matter down the line.
Fix the defense against the run, and everything else will fall in place.
The Rams’ offense doesn’t need fixing
The Rams’ offense is doing great. Even though the Rams have lost WR Cooper Kupp for the season with an ACL injury, it hurts them more in the run game then it does the passing game. Kupp is a fearless slot receiver and tremendous blocker off the edge. He also is a great hands receiver. He will be missed.
The Rams have the weapons to adjust, though. WR Robert Woods will likely take over Kupp’s primary duties and WR Josh Reynolds will move into Woods’ spot. Woods is a pretty good blocker. He’s not as fearless as Kupp, but all he has to do is up his game a notch in this area. Head Coach Sean McVay has also demonstrated more willingness to pass to tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. This will open up more opportunities for the Rams to attack defenses with a bevy of options.
All of this is contingent on RB Todd Gurley continuing to be able run the ball with success. The Rams’ offensive line has been outstanding in both the run game opening holes and in the passing game giving QB Jared Goff plenty of time to scope out the field. Goff has responded, growing leaps and bounds with his decision-making in finding the open receiver or finding the safety valve when needed.
The Rams’ offense is a scoring machine. Losing a valuable player like Kupp hurts, but it’s not the end of the world.
I’m more concerned with the Rams’ defense than the offense. The Rams have too much talent on this side of the ball. Stop crying about the injury—it’s next man up.
The Seattle game
As mentioned, I am very upset about how the referees officiated the game against the Rams. Their calls led to 14 points for the Seahawks with a phony roughing the passer call and unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
This was in stark contrast to the Seahawks, who were getting away with holding and illegal procedures which went against the Rams as a neutral zone violation. The Rams’ haven’t been getting the holding calls for the last three weeks. It’s right in front of the zebras.
Nevertheless, arguing and complaining about it either during the game or league officials in New York City gets you nowhere. Instead it leads to an unsportsmanlike penalty being called against Fowler allowing the Seahawks to continue a drive when the Rams had the stop. That’s just plain stupid.
On the play which DT Aaron Donald got what he thought he was fumble and rumbled down the sidelines, OT Justin Britt took a cheap shot on him four feet out of bounds. The referee who was standing right there didn’t even bother to reach for his flag and didn’t do a thing until Donald rightfully retaliated.
This is typical of the Seahawks. Head Coach Pete Carroll coaches his team to have fun, but his definition of fun when playing the Rams is to condone baiting the Rams with dirty play into retaliation.
The Rams have to learn not to take the bait.
In this instance, I really don’t have a problem with what Donald did either after the play or after the game. The way I saw it, the Seahawks. who have little of no chance to make the playoffs, were determined that the best way to prevent the Rams from going to the Super Bowl is to go out and try to injure the Rams’ best players. It’s not the first time this year I’ve seen opponents employ this strategy. I saw it with Darian Stewart of the Denver Broncos, who rather then let go of the horse collar he had on Kupp pulled down on it knowing he was at the sidelines with all that stuff around so the impact would be worse as Kupp went out of bounds.
I blame the head coaches in this league for creating an environment where causing injuries to opposing teams are encouraged and rewarded. For those who say football is about hurting the opponent, there’s a vast difference between going out and trying to hurt the opponent with a solid tackle or hit, then intentionally going out and trying to injure a player.
If one cannot distinguish which part of the line to draw upon—that’s the problem to begin with.
With the win, the Rams are an absolute lock to win the NFC West Division, and in the end that’s really all the counts. In addition by winning this game, the Seahawks’ chances of making the playoffs are a lot slimmer then before they arrived at Coliseum and their chances of watching the post season from the comfort of their couches is greatly increased—all of that brings a big smile to all Rams fans, especially the Professor.
So long Seahawks. See ya next year.