Outside of a playoff game in the Coliseum, this was one of the most nerve wracking games I have ever attended. The game was a slugfest. The final score of 35-23 was not indicative of how closely the Los Angeles Rams almost lost this one.
For every score the Rams put up, it was just enough to stay ahead. Then, the Spanos’ Chargers would get the ball and QB Philip Rivers would pass his team down the field, putting the Chargers right back in it.
This put the pressure on the Rams’ offense to match the Chargers, but QB Jared Goff had a career day as the Rams’ offense came through, The Rams punted only once the entire game in the fourth quarter.
The Battle of LA was brutal on the Rams losing CBs Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to injuries, but the defense came up with a critical turnover in the fourth quarter. Then, the offense was able to run out the clock out for the win.
Stan Kroenke’s tenants were finally evicted. The horde of Charger fans were completely dejected as they left the Coliseum. I tried to be consoling, informing them as they walked the down the steps to the tunnel “Take either the 5 or the 405 freeway SOUTH, to San Diego, you’ll be home in 2 hours!”
This was an important victory for the Rams since a “win is a win,” but the Rams need to put up better performances if they wish to maintain their two-game division lead.
The Minnesota Vikings are coming to town for a nationally televised Thursday Night preview of what might be the NFC Championship Game and the Rams have a lot to do in four days.
The Rams’ defense
This was by far the biggest test for the Rams’ defense, especially their secondary.
The best way to stop a high powered passing team is to have a pass rush.
Since acquiring Ndamukong Suh coupled with the return of Aaron Donald and placing them side-by-side with Michael Brockers, we were thought to have an unrelenting pass rush.
It hasn’t materialized yet.
I’ll give some credit the to Rivers for stepping up and making the throws when hurried, but the Rams need to close down the lanes leaving gaps to step into. There should be no room for a quarterback to escape as the pocket collapses with that kind of humanity bearing down on him.
Maybe, it’s the fact that the “Fearsome Threesome” are still getting used to playing with each other or maybe Donald is still getting his sea legs together. In either case, that’s just making excuses.
To have only three sacks in three games with this defensive line bolstering three first-round picks and the reigning defensive player of the year is unacceptable. These guys are close to getting it, but they have to seal their gaps and start getting sacks.
With the ability to pass, the Rams’ secondary was challenged for the first time in three games having to face the likes of WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. In this game, the Rams weren’t great. Instead, it appeared due to the lack of challenging offensive powerhouse the corners and safeties were figuring things out as they go. Sometimes they seemed confused; sometimes they just missed making the play on the ball. That’s going to happen when good wide receivers make great catches on great throws. I have no problem giving credit to the opponent when that happens.
With the loss of Peters and Talib, there was obvious concern that this game could turn ugly. Thankfully, it didn’t due to the Rams’ offense matching the Chargers score-for-score after taking an early lead.
Since the Rams are invariably going to be without their starting corners for the next couple of weeks, its imperative that the “Fearsome Threesome” live up to their expectations. If the Rams’ defensive front can come through, the Rams can weather the storm defensively.
The Vikings are as good a team as ever to get this unit started.
The Rams’ offense
I don’t care if QB Jared Goff is considered to be a “system QB” or not. As long he keeps having days like he did against Chargers, he’s going to be great. He led the team making crucial third down completions to keep drives alive and matching the Chargers score-for-score.
The Rams’ offensive line were outstanding giving Goff plenty of time to read the defense in order to find the open wide receivers. They also did a pretty good job of keeping the Chargers guessing, opening up holes for both RB Todd Gurley, who had over 100 yards rushing, and RB Malcolm Brown.
The Rams’ wide receivers once again performed admirably. WR Cooper Kupp’s catch-and-run for the touchdown was not only a thing of beauty. It was a huge momentum changer.
This was by far one of the best offensive performances I’ve seen from the Los Angeles Rams. Rams Head Coach Sean McVay had an excellent gameplan, and the Rams’ offense executed it.
If I have a criticism, it’s the unforced errors.
You can’t turn the ball over when you’re on your way to scoring. Gurley has to hold onto the ball, not fumble, and Goff can’t throw an interception in the end zone when you’re looking to come away with at least three points.
You can pad the stats all you want with big offensive numbers, but if you’re not scoring on these drives, even if it’s just a field goal, you’re keeping the opponent in the game.
The Chargers also made a huge mistake when S Derwin James attempted to run the interception out of the end zone leading to another blocked punt by special teams extraordinaire LB Cory Littleton for a touchdown. Later in the game, the Chargers imploded again with fourth-down fumble on a drive which the Chargers needed to keep them in the game.
This was the definition of nerve-wracking. Had the Chargers not fumbled, measuring for the first down would have been close—too close for comfort. This might have been an entirely different outcome if Chargers DE Joey Bosa was playing, but that’s the way it goes sometime.
Besides the turnovers, the Rams caused self-inflicted wounds late in the game with an unnecessary holding penalty away from the play and an offensive pass interference call on a big gain for a first down when the Rams were marching for another score on the Chargers’ side of the field to put the game away.
Sometimes I feel these calls are made up just to keep the game competitive by the referees since a penalty for holding on the offense can be called on every play, but away from the play... come on. This is also true of a pass interference called when a wideout is setting a pick. Whether the wide receiver is attempting to run through the defensive back or his being held up by the defender, those calls can go either way.
But if you want to keep the fans watching on television for ratings so that there won’t be a blow out, expect to see the yellow flags.
Grade B+ to A-
The Rams’ special teams
Being a punt returner for the Rams has become a dangerous profession. JoJo Natson broke his hand, and now the Rams must look for another returner. Using Kupp shouldn’t be an option; risking him getting injured as the other returners have is to much risk to bear given his value as a wideout. There are very few good returners out there at this point, so Special Teams Coordinator John “Bones” Fassell has his work cut out for him.
I don’t know what the Rams can do. Just having a guy fair catch the ball isn’t in the nature of the Rams’ special teams aggressiveness. Getting an extra 15 yards for field position on a punt return is very important.
Meanwhile, K Sam Ficken missed a 46-yard field goal attempt. Not good. The Rams are going to need him until Greg Zuerlein returns to make those. I’ll give him pass this week since it was his first attempt after coming off the street, and he must’ve felt a lot pressure. But that’s it. Every other attempt must be made from here on out.
P Johnny Hekker only made one appearance the whole game, and that one time he pinned the Chargers down deep forcing their offense to take valuable time off the clock on that series of down.
Grade B, even with the blocked punt cause that’s what my Rams are supposed to do!
Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn got out coached in this game. His decision to kick a field goal instead of going for it on fourth down and short being down by 15 led to the Chargers loss. With only so much time left, assuming the Chargers defense could stop the Rams offense which they hadn’t done all day, he would still have needed two touchdowns to win. As a result, the decision to go for the field goal instead of trying to get the touchdown was foolish. Consequently, time ran out on the Chargers and found themselves using their timeouts, leaving them no time to mount a miracle comeback.
Thank you, Coach Lynn.
Final Grade for overall team play is a B, and a pill to calm my nerves.