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Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions: 2nd down, second guessing

Back-to-back NFC West Division Champions!

Los Angeles Rams v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Let there be no questions.

The Los Angeles Rams played a very poor game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. But it’s these kind of games that separate Champions from the also rans.

The Rams looked like a team unprepared for this game with the bye week layoff. This was evident in the performance of QB Jared Goff who had a bad day off target too many times.

Despite the lack of production, the Rams were able to score 30 points against a Lions team bearing a pathetic offense.

It was enough.

In winning the game, the Rams clinched the NFC West maintaining a slim one-game lead over the New Orleans Saints for the #1 overall seed in the NFC playoff picture.

The Rams’ offense stumbled and bumbled giving the Lions opportunities to win, but the Rams’ defense showed up holding the Lions to 16 points. CB Aqib Talib was clearly a welcome return on a snap count; the only time the Lions scored a touchdown was when he was on the sidelines.

If DT Aaron Donald has not solidified his place among the greatest defensive tackles to ever play the game after his performance on Sunday, then there’s nothing he can do to convince the naysayers.

What went wrong with the Rams’ offense

Tempo.

The Rams’ offense played like a team coming out of a bye. They were slow to start. Goff might have had his worst game since his rookie year. Passes to wide receivers Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds were off target even though the receivers were wide open.

The Rams huddled more in this game then we’ve seen them do all year. Early when cobwebs were showing, they should have gone no huddle to up the tempo much sooner.

Head Coach Sean McVay’s playcalling in the first half didn’t help either. Too often, he went for the knockout when Goff was off rather then just taking what the stout Lions’ defense was giving him in order to keep drives going. But in the second half, the Rams’ offense got back on track by running through RB Todd Gurley.

This game was by no means indicative of things to come down the stretch. The Rams were coming off a long layoff after a huge win over the Kansas City Chiefs on a historic Monday Night Football Week 11. There was bound to a let down.

But coming away with a 30-point performance and a win not playing at your best? That’s a clear sign of a championship-caliber team.

The Rams’ defense showed signs of improvement

When your offense is having a bad day, it’s up to your defense to make up the difference for you.

The Rams’ defense had their best performance since Week 2 holding the Lions to a mere 16 points.

Because the Rams’ offense struggled, this gave QB Matthew Stafford more opportunities then he should have had. The Rams’ defense rose to the occasion holding the Lions to just over 100 yards rushing in total which is a vast improvement over their average.

The Lions have no running game to speak of especially without RB Kerryon Johnson, but against the Rams, you have to establish the run in order to keep the Rams’ offense off the field. And then... Aaron Donald. He was in the backfield making tackles on the run. He had a strip sack fumble. Bottom line, he is the most dominant force on defense I’ve ever seen.

The return of CB Aqib Talib was a smashing success. The Rams’s defense is better with him and will continue to improve once he comes off the snap count which is just in time for the stretch run and playoffs.

There are just not enough superlatives to describe him. I am literally speechless marveling this once-in-a-lifetime player. It is unimaginable that Donald from his position as a defensive tackle has a legitimate shot at breaking the sack record for a season.

The Rams’ special teams

Under the radar, but noticed, was the outstanding game PK Greg Zuerlein had. Not only did he make all his field goals attempts, which were by no means gimmies from 47 yards out, his kick-offs were all for touchbacks. This was a vast improvement over the game he had against the Chiefs.

We all know P Johnny Hekker is a great punter, but we didn’t know he could point and hold the ball for field goals at the same time.

Disappointing has been my fan favorite PR JoJo Natson. He hasn’t had a big return in a long time, which is bugging me. The one time he got one, the Rams were called for a block in the back penalty. The Rams need him to start giving them more then just the proverbial fair catch.

KR Pharoh Cooper should be replaced by Blake Countess and I will leave it at that.

X-factors

The biggest X-factor which had an impact on the game was the nutty onside kick Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia called when only down by seven. In not making the play, whose chances of success are slim to none in the first place, it gave the Rams the ball in great field position.

As a result, Zuerlein knocked down another 47-yard field goal making it a two-possession game in the middle of the fourth quarter—dumb move. If that were the Rams doing this, I’d be looking to fire the head coach right after the game.

Heads up

A lot has been talked about Gurley’s run for the end zone. That turned out not be a run to the end zone. I questioned his decision making on that move downing the ball at the two, but my son, the student said it was a brilliant move. The Professor must have taught him well, because shortly afterwards and given time to think about it was a smart move. Not only were the Rams able to take more time off the clock, they invariably scored the touchdown making it a two possession, two touchdown lead.

I will admit I was wrong to criticize, but I was taken over by emotion thinking the initial run was enough to win the West.

Winning the West

The Rams win sealed the NFC West and back-to-back division championships. Unlike last year, this was expected. So as much as I enjoy this, its end of the beginning. There’s a lot football left to play and home field advantage throughout the playoffs is something all Rams fans want.

Down the stretch the Rams need to act like Champions and play like Champions.