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Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders 2nd down, second guessing: The Professor’s review

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Happy to come out of the Black Hole with a win.

Los Angeles Rams v Oakland Raiders Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Sitting the Starters In the Preseason Was Not A Brilliant Move

Right away, Los Angeles Rams fans got to evaluate whether Head Coach Sean McVay’s decision to sit his starters for the entire preseason was a brilliant decision in light of the long season ahead or a mistake.

It was clearly a mistake.

The Rams were rusty, and it wasn’t until the second half did Rams fans see the team which they believed should have shown up in the first half.

The Rams offense sputtered and squandered opportunities, and the defense was no better.

Among the TST staff and readership, debate was heated, coupled with fits of anger and frustration over the fact the Rams should have played their starters in the preseason as the team appeared lifeless. Evidence of this was clear with the Oakland Raiders holding a two to one lead in time of possession, sloppy tackling and players seeming to be out of position in the soft zone defense.

But my take at halftime to my fellow brothers in arms at TST was “be patient,” the Rams will make the adjustments in the second half and that the team was just too talented to lose the Raiders being down only 13-10.

Sure enough, the Rams came out smoking in the second half. The defense shut down the Raiders, and the Rams scored 20 unanswered points topped off with a pick-six by CB Marcus Peters just when the Rams needed it, capping off the night in which the Ram fans are grateful for coming away with a win.

The team has a lot to improve on.

Lack of An Edge Rush

The biggest problem I saw on defense was lack of an edge rush. The “Fearsome Threesome” of Suh, Donald and Brockers were getting the job done, penetrating up the middle. But there’s only so much they can do in a “dink and dunk” game.

The key in that type of situation is to have a hard edge rush. Force the quarterback to make a bad throw or decision as the Rams did when LB Cory Littleton picked off the ball. When you come with a hard edge rush, it forces the QB to make a snap decision. In this situation, the QB has two choices either throw the ball away or step into the pocket.

Any QB, including Raiders QB Derek Carr, would rather just throw it away then have to deal with the Fearsome Threesome barreling in on him should choose to make the decision to step into the pocket. By choosing to throw the ball away due to the edge rush, the quarterback may panic and instead of throwing the ball out of bounds, he lofts one up in air towards the sidelines which become easy pickings for defenders. The QB in his haste to make a play, may get off a bad throw or the receiver may drop it.

All of this is what your the defense is supposed to do in a dink and dunk game as the Raiders were playing.

Not every hard edge rush is going to result in an incomplete pass, but the key here is to keep the pressure on throughout the game.

At some point the QB is going to have no choice at all as result of coverage but to step into the pocket and that’s when the Fearsome Threesome can do their most damage, “See ya and nice knowing you.”

The Rams were just missing with the edge rushers. They did a much better job in the second half and it showed. They rotated in out the edge guys to give them a breather. I’m fine with that, but someone in that core of defenders has to become a dominant force.

So I’m taking a wait and see approach regarding my concerns.

Sloppy Tackling

You have to make a tackle at the point of contact.

This was a good game to test the Rams’ defense’s physicality having to face “Beast Mode” RB Marshawn Lynch. The Rams made the initial point of contact on that unbelievable touchdown. I expected once Lynch was slowed down, the Rams swarming defense would swoop on him and bring him down.

Nope.

Instead, Beast Mode ran right up the gut and carried nearly everyone into the end zone.

I’m not buying into the idea that this is Marshawn and that there isn’t a running back in the league who runs like him. This is because on a short swing or screen pass, the Rams defense was just as sloppy giving up chunks of RAC yardage after making contact.

It’s just poor tackling due primarily to lack of participation in preseason. The defense did a much better job in the second half, but not great.

Offense Struggled As Well

The Rams’ offense also got off to a slow start. They were basically non-existent in the first half, BUT FOR the pass interference penalties leading to big gains and keeping in them in the game.

In the second half, once they made adjustments and had that taste of real NFL football, the Rams offense was crisp. RB Todd Gurley took over the game, and everyone knows that a good running game starts with the offensive line opening holes.

The Rams’ offensive line also gave Goff so much time to throw, I could have ordered a pizza and had it delivered while he was setting up to pass. And Goff showed growth, marching the Rams on at five minute drive down the field for a field goal which gave our team a 16-point lead with just under two minutes to play.

If I have a criticism, it goes to lack of red zone production.

I’ve mentioned this before—the key to having a great offensive team is that you finish the job with touchdowns, not field goals. McVay acknowledged that he could’ve done better calling plays in the red zone. I’m fine with that. But accountability must also be borne by the players who have to execute the plays that are called inside the red zone.

I’ve talked about this before on the difficulty but the need to score a touchdown when the field gets smaller.

If you can pick up a first down outside the ten-yard line, concentrate on getting the first down. Then you have four more downs either just inside the ten but more likely around the five-yard line. Once inside, get the ball as close as possible to the goalline on first down. This will give you the necessary options for 2nd and 3rd down.

Nothing wrong with taking a shot into the end zone. Just realize down and distance should it not be successful so you’re ready to score on the the next down.

There’s a big difference being up by 13 in the middle of the 4th quarter and being up by 17 or 14.

As an offense that averaged 30 points a game last year, the Rams will be fine. I just don’t want the lack of red zone production to become a habit as it seems to be with the Atlanta Falcons.

Special Teams

That 55-yard field goal by K Greg Zuerlein was huge putting the Rams up by 10. It was a gutsy call by McVay and Special Teams coach John “Bones” Fassel since GZ had previously missed a 46-yarder earlier in the game.

Imagine the field position the Raiders would have had being down by only seven points taking into account the momentum swing and the raucous “Black Hole.”

I’m not surprised per se that Zuerlein made it. I just felt uneasy since he had missed a shorter one previously.

Grade A for that call and execution.

What I didn’t know, which was brought out during the broadcast, was that the Rams led the league last year in holding calls on special teams with 26—stop this now. There’s no reason for a good return or field position on a fair catch to be ruined by that type of mistake—be smart.

Work on it, get better.

Final Grades

I thought the Rams handled the pressure of the Gruden Return at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum well. They didn’t get raddled, made the adjustments and took over the game in the second half.

The Rams proved that can play with anyone, whether its team trying to out physical them or a team that attempts to finesse them.

I loved this game, because it bodes well for the future cause at some point during the long season the Rams can look back on and say “We can do this, remember the Raider game”

But as a game it must graded on it merits, even if its the first one—C is all the Rams will get from me.

They can perform a lot better and the Rams know it.