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Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions: Report card reflects rust as Rams persevere

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The Rams improve to 11-1 and clinch the NFC West, but receive mediocre marks on the day.

Los Angeles Rams v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Quarterbacks

C minus

I know I’ve probably said it before, but this time I mean it: this was Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff’s worst game of the year. He’d finish the day 17/33 with just 207 yards, an INT and a TD (and a fumble lost), but it could have been much worse, as the Detroit Lions dropped a number of easy INT opportunities. He missed open throws, was hesitant on others and never found a rhythm as he looked more like the player we saw in 2016 than an MVP candidate. If you’re looking for excuses, you can use the old “early road game on EST” but Goff was simply bad in this one. I do think McVay could have helped him out a little bit, but more on that later.

Is this something to be worried about, or just an anomaly? My vote is for the latter, and that we’ll see a much steadier and confident QB in primetime next Sunday night. That said, the next time the Rams come off a bye we’d sure like to see our QB play a lot better.

Running Backs

A grade

RB Todd Gurley resumed his MVP campaign with another quietly impressive/dominant performance, as he rushed for 23/132 on the ground with 2 TDs and added another 33 through the air. Despite getting stuffed quite a bit early on, the Rams OL finally broke open some holes late in the game for Gurley to help seal the victory. I do think we was a little too unselfish by stopping short of the goal line on his big run late — with the way the Rams were executing, I’d just as soon take the points then and there — but Gurley was once again spectacular on the day and helped carry an otherwise stagnant offense. (Note: Malcolm Brown left the game early with a shoulder injury, so we may see RB Justin Davis or RB John Kelly next week)

Wide Receivers

B grade

WR Robert Woods was open all game long, and though he’d finish a respectable 5/67, the Rams left a lot of yards on the field for Bobby Trees. Brandin Cooks was solid with 4/62, and Josh Reynolds chipped in with 2/19. It wasn’t the unit’s best day, but it likely had more to do with Goff’s play than anything the Rams’ WRs did or didn’t do. I’ll offer a B here, but almost consider this an “incomplete,” as the ball just didn’t get where it was supposed to when it was supposed to often enough to really measure this unit.

Tight Ends

C grade

Will the real Rams TEs please stand up? A week after contributing heavily in the victory over the Chiefs, TEs Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett combined for just 3 catches for 26 yards. The Lions’ pass rush was getting home a little bit, so I’m sure McVay felt compelled to leave Higbee in to block more, but even if they’d been open, not sure #16 would have found them.

Offensive Line

B grade

Despite a few shaky moments, overall a pretty solid day for the OL. The run game was stymied early, but eventually wore the Lions down and started to create some nice lanes for RB Todd Gurley. G Austin Blythe, in particular, whipped up a few flapjacks out there. The Lions’ front was definitely able to get pressure on Jared Goff, but he didn’t take an inordinate amount of punishment, and some of it was self-inflicted as he held the ball a little too long.

Defensive Line

B plus grade

Aren’t you glad we paid the man? Where this line/defense/season would be without future HOF / GOAT DL Aaron Donald is a question that’s worth asking. Time and time again, he makes the key play to seal victories for the Rams, and this week was no exception as his strip sack of Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford could not have come at a better time. Predictably, Ndamukong Suh’s tough-guy antics drew a few flags, and his attempt at a scoop-and-score on the Donald strip sack was laughable. Once again, Michael Brockers was borderline invisible in the box score, but on the whole a solid day for the DL as they held the Lions to just 100 yards rushing on the day.

Linebackers

C minus

The good news? EDGE Dante Fowler had easily his best game as a Ram, registering a sack and 3 tackles for loss. Fowler was also stout against the run and looked aggressive and locked in all day. The bad news? ILB Mark Barron can’t tackle, ILB Cory Littleton can’t cover, and EDGE Samson Ebukam followed up a career day with another fizzler (though we’ll give him points for staying active and recovering the Stafford fumble). During one stretch, the Lions targeted Littleton on three successive plays — a bit of a recurring theme here in 2018. If his strong play continues, Fowler could play his way into a solid offer from the Rams this offseason, but expect to see major changes in this unit heading into 2019. Four games left, maybe it’s time to consider taking a look at Micah Kiser?

Defensive Backs

B plus grade

Welcome back, CB Aqib Talib! Was it a dominant performance? Is Lock Angeles now, like, a thing? Not quite, but just having Talib’s presence out there seemed to be a calming influence on the LA secondary. Granted, Detroit’s receivers after WR Kenny Golladay were shoveling snow a few weeks ago, but what we didn’t see on the day were any huge breakdowns or blown coverages. The much-beleaguered Troy Hill was a standout, with one near-INT (on a great read) and a game-sealing pick to clinch the NFC West. FS Lamarcus Joyner got called for one bad/long interference penalty, and continues to look lost, but otherwise the secondary did an admirable job in the win.

Special Teams

A minus grade

K Greg Zuerlein was machine-like on the afternoon, P Johnny Hekker averaged 50+ (and executed a kick-ass no-look hold while pointing out a possible DET infraction), and coverage units were sound. PR Jo Jo Natson had a nice return called back, and KR Pharoh Cooper appeared to return to Pro Bowl form a bit, as Bones’ Crew was once again very solid. (Side note: Are punt returns and kick returns more or less obsolete? Outside of Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill, have there been more than a handful of special teams TDs this season?)

Coaching

C+

Coming off a bye, this team should have been sharper and better prepared. In HC Sean McVay’s defense, you can’t quite gameplan for your QB showing up like he just blew tubes and went streaking in the quad the night before, but I do think he could have found some rhythm throws to get Goff’s timing on track. Despite 23 carries from Todd Gurley, it still seems like McVay abandons the run when he needs it most — and though you appreciate a playcaller who will fade tendencies to keep defenses off-balance, sometimes meat and potatoes are the best thing on the menu. On two of the Rams’ drives that ended with FGs, I’m sure it was tempting for him to pull a Sean Payton and go for it, but with Goff struggling, he was wise to take the points and let the game play out. Defensively, the Rams seemed to blitz a little bit more on the day, perhaps due in part to Aqib Talib’s return and CB Marcus Peters’ return to his more natural role. Now armed with his full complement of players and the emerging Fowler, we should see DC Wade Phillips start to fine-tune his gameplan heading down the stretch and today was a step in the right direction.

Bring on the Bears!