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Los Angeles Rams v New Orleans Saints 2nd Down, second guessing: The Professor’s review


Los Angeles Rams v New Orleans Saints Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Credit the Saints

The Los Angeles Rams headed into New Orleans with an undefeated record. They left with a loss putting them at 8-1.

Credit has to go New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton and his QB Drew Brees who completely torched the Rams putting up an astounding 45 points against a defense which is not only not playing well but has fallen far below expectations. The Saints exposed the Rams’ defensive vulnerabilities. Other teams have tried it, but the Saints are on a different level then the others. In the Superdome they put on a show. The Saints did it by scheming to neutralize DT Aaron Donald and taking advantage of the mismatch between WR Michael Thomas and CB Marcus Peters.

The rest of the defense was just as bad. The Rams’ defense missed easy tackles. They failed to put any pressure on Brees. They couldn’t stop the run.

After these kind of losses there’s bound to be finger pointing. Lousy refs. Marcus Peters. Every conceivable excuse gets thrown out to explain why the Rams lost.

The simple fact is the Rams lost because they got beat by a better TEAM on this November Sunday.

It’s hard to imagine the Rams losing a game like this especially when the Rams offense put up 35 points and still lost.

Without corrections midstream, the Rams are vulnerable.

The Marcus Peters Enigma

Head Coach Sean McVay has made sincere efforts to instill a “We not Me” culture in the Rams. So it’s not surprising that Peters publicly took accountability for his poor play:

I can stand up, I can play better, I’ve been playing [poorly] the last couple weeks and that’s just being honest, With me, I’m going to continue to fight and that’s the type of player I am. ... You’re going to get beat in football, but you go out there and you compete to the highest of your ability and [stuff] happens.

The challenge for Peters and the Rams is that talk is cheap.

Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips has to take some blame in this instance.

Peters has been getting toasted every week since CB Aqib Talib got injured. Peters is not a corner to rely heavily upon in man-to-man coverage. In zone coverage, he can use his aggressiveness to read the quarterback’s eyes, but that overly aggressive approach will get you burned in man-to-man coverage.

Some will argue that the Rams have no choice but to play Peters. I don’t. Instead, Phillips should strongly consider situational changes to the secondary. At this point, there’s no evidence to suggest things are going to get better. We have to rely on faith that Peters will put his words into action.

The Kansas City Chiefs traded a two-time Pro Bowl attendee to the Rams gaining little in return. Many thought at the time that General Manager Les Snead got a steal and that the Chiefs were just tired of Peters’ antics. I hope that Peters will turn things around.

The Rams’ offense

Simply put, the Rams left too many potential points on the field against Saints. They had plenty of opportunities, but they squandered them. The Rams were 3/8 on third downs, while the Saints were a remarkable 7/12. That’s not gonna get the job done against a high powered offense shoot out where each possession must result in scores.

QB Jared Goff was on fire. He matched Drew Brees 25 for 36 completion ratio for 346 yards with his own 28 for 40 and 391 performance. But it wasn’t enough. His arm got the Rams back into the game and he never flinched. His gusty performance, staying cool, never letting the score rattle him was one of his best performances. Still, I’m sure he would rather take the win over stats.

WR Cooper Kupp looked 100% healthy even though he was coming off a sprained knee and out of the lineup for two games. WRs Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods made critical catches when needed. RB Todd Gurley didn’t have a great game on the ground, but it was enough to keep the Saints defense on their heels and he made up for it in the passing game. The offensive line didn’t give up a sack.

However, even though high praise has to be given to the Rams’ offense for scoring 35 points and getting the team back in the game, the early interception was devastating. Goff just didn’t see Saints LB Alex Anzalone. The interception came at just the wrong time, and, unlike the Rams, the Saints were able to covert the turnover into seven points.

What I will take away in a positive way is the remarkable comeback the Rams’ offense made in the second half to tie a game which looked unwinnable at halftime. The Rams’ offense was patient, three points here, a touchdown there and then looking up at the scoreboard, the Rams had erased a 17-point deficient.

I would love to give the Rams’ offense an A+ for that, but the second-to-last series when the Rams needed to keep the momentum going with a long drive, even if it was three points, flamed out with a four-and-out. This invariably led to the play that Rams fans have been talking about when Brees hit Thomas for the 72 yard touchdown and the cell phone call, that this game is over.

So with that said, even in the loss...

Final grade: B+

The Rams’ defense

The first half was a debacle. It was one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen by our defense. Too many times rather then being in 2nd or 3rd and long, the Saints were in 2nd or 3rd and short. The Rams couldn’t stop either the run or the short pass on first down due to sloppy tackling.

When the Saints ran wide, OLB Matt Longacre was completely out of position. He’s supposed to force the runner inside. Instead, he compounded the problem by whiffing on the tackle as RB Alvin Kamara ran right by him. On pass plays there was no edge rush whether it was Longacre, Dante Fowler Jr. or John Franklin-Myers in the rotation.

But I’m not going to just complain about the edge rush.

The Saints did a yeoman’s job of keeping DT Aaron Donald in check. Where were DTs Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers? Someone has get in there when Donald is being doubled-teamed. Plow that offensive lineman right back into the backfield and into the face of the quarterback!

The Rams’ defense gave up a whopping 35 points in just the first half. It wasn’t until the second half that appropriate adjustments were made. The Rams stacked the box causing the Saints to be less effective on first down and putting them in 2nd- or 3rd-and-long. The adjustment should have been made in the first half and why it took that long to figure that out is something only Grandpa Wade can explain.

The Rams’ defense overall didn’t tackle well. They didn’t cover well. They put no pressure on Brees who walked away sack-free. They weren’t just bad in the first half, they were terrible. A sustained effort kept the Saints to just 10 points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough, having given up 35 in the first half.

I was sick to my stomach watching the Rams defense in the first half and that performance alone gets a grade of F.

But overall, taking into the consideration what they did in the second half, the Rams’ defense worked its way up.

Grade: D+

The Rams’ special teams

There are moments in a game which define the outcome in more ways then one.

K Greg Zuerlein is one of the best long field goal kickers in the game. When he stepped up to make a 51-yard goal the Rams had to have, he missed it. The miss was much worse then leaving three points off the board since the Saints were able to start their offensive drive from their own 41-yard line. On the drive, the Saints scored a touchdown.

But on that fake field goal when punter and field goal holder Johnny Hekker took off, he had green in front of him. It looked like Hekker had stretched his arm enough over the line before going out of bounds for the first down as the refs spotted him short. The Rams challenged the spot. It was close, but too close to change the call on the field.

Although Rams fans have complained about the poor spot, there’s nothing that can be done. Momentum changers like that have to be followed up with a defensive momentum changer stop. The Rams’ defense failed to provide one from their own 13-yard line as the Saints marched 87 yards for a touchdown.

You can argue that the 4th down attempt took three points off the board. You can also argue that the refs cost the Rams seven points as they would’ve scored from the 13-yard line. The fact remains the Rams’ defense has to make the stop on the ensuing drive. Had they prevented the Saints’ offense from crossing the fifty, the Rams’ offense gets the ball and marches right down the field for the score they didn’t get the last time.

Final grade: C

The X-factor

The crowd noise for New Orleans fans did not play a factor in this game. What did play a factor was the advantage home field was given by the refs to the Saints.

These are things you have to play through as good teams play through it keeping their focus.

Obviously, something happened that led RG Rodger Saffold to lose it. I’m not upset over the penalty or the fact Rodger got into it with Goff, given the fact football is an emotional game and its only a regular season game.

The Rams are no longer undefeated. The Saints now believe that they’re the team to beat for the NFC crown. Good for them, because now the pressure will be on them to live up to the hype. There’s lots of football left to be played, and it’s highly likely these two teams will play each other for a trip to the Super Bowl.

If the Saints believe that they have the Rams’ number, think about how poorly the Rams played and still almost came away with incredible comeback. The Saints’ remaining schedule is just as tough as the Rams and they still have to face their NFC South rival Carolina Panthers twice. A slip up by the Saints will shift home field advantage back to the Rams in the event these teams face each other in the playoffs.

The Rams, on the other hand, need to use this loss as motivation taking their pain out on the Seattle Seahawks this week in Los Angeles.

If the Saints and the Rams meet again, I would expect an entirely different outcome.

Rather then give a final grade, I would send the Rams to the principal’s office for some needed chewing out.