After our Los Angeles Rams were mauled, chewed up and spit out by the Pittsburgh Steelers defense in a 17-12 loss, the defending 2018 NFC Champions aren’t looking likely to repeat the task now at 5-4.
There are a number of reasons for the demise of the Rams, but the true test of Rams fandom doesn’t take place when the team is winning. It’s how we pick ourselves off the turf and recover from failure.
Like everyone else, my first reaction to losing in Pittsburgh was literal disbelief and anger. I was stunned our offense was so anemic getting badly beat up. It was even more painful watching Mike Tomlin smiling, pumping his fist with each third down stop which he had every right to do. Kudos to the Yellow and Black. They came to play and played their hearts out. They deserved that win.
On the other sideline , the Rams looked like a shell of the team that we saw play last year.
Left with ashes of the last Sunday’s game, the Rams and their fans are reeling.
We know it doesn’t get any easier down the stretch with the schedule, but we can learn valuable lessons on the way down.
So can the team.
First things first
Fans must have faith in the organization. Nothing aside from losing will turn a fan base sour faster then lying as to why.
Going right to the heart of the matter, the Todd Gurley saga has been a fiasco.
The team should just stop telling Ram fans he’s good to go and then not play him the way we have been used to seeing him on offense or compounding the problem by saying he’s not being load managed—it’s simply not true. The more frank you are with us, the more understanding we can be about the situation. If Todd is not the same running back as he once was tell us the truth.
But when our star running back gets no touches in the fourth quarter in the Steelers’ game and our head coach continually makes excuses about why he’s not playing his star running back—it’s plain and simple dishonesty to the fan base. What’s even more galling is seeing Gurley on the sidelines in this critical period of the fourth quarter laughing and smiling as if nothing is really wrong leaving him to remark, when asked if he was surprised at not playing, “Not really. I’m used to it.”
Lack of transparency leads to frustration, speculation and anger. Until the Rams admit the truth of the reality, Rams Head Coach Sean McVay will continue to get peppered with questions about Gurley each week by the press. And deservedly so.
You may be able sell tickets in the short run with a lot of smoke and mirrors that there’s nothing wrong with Gurley so fans going to the game can anticipate seeing him out there on Sundays, but when he’s not being utilized, the long-term damage to the organization leads to fans not believing that the organization can be trusted to tell the truth.
We can be much more understanding of the Rams’ predicament at 5-4 knowing that Todd’s knee is a real problem and not sugarcoat it than with phony stories that cause McVay’s nose to look like Pinocchio's growing bigger and bigger each week.
Injuries to the offensive line
The most glaring reason for the Rams’ demise has been the injuries to the offensive line. What was once the strength of the team the last two years with consistency among the starting rotation has finally caught up to them. What the Rams have now now is a patchwork line. We’re at the point we have to throw out there who ever we got and cross our fingers.
Because these injuries deplete the ability of McVay to utilize his normally aggressive passing gameplan, he needs to dial it back not just because the offensive line can’t protect QB Jared Goff, but because Goff can’t shoulder the responsibility playing poorly even when he has protection. Goff is not the whole problem, nor is he blameless. We know that the injuries to the Rams offensive line don’t make things any better, but rather it just adds to the Goff’s problems.
When faced with adversity, football teams still need to go down fighting. This can only be accomplished in the run game rather then trying too hard to make a plays with an ill-timed mistake amid poorly pass protected plays. Running the ball is not that hard to figure out even with a depleted offensive line—just knock the snot out the guy in front of you!
When your line is outmanned or outsized, you can correct it with a variety of run plays designed to trick the defense such as counters, traps and fly sweeps.
But the Rams have to stay with the run game and be patient. The Rams can’t repeat their flaw in the Steelers game by avoiding to play Gurley when he’s consistently churning yardage. When there’s a hole, any running back can get through it even an injured Todd Gurley.
You learn a lot about your team when you play smashmouth football especially about just how tough the team really is. The more the replacements play, the better they get. They learn.
Ram fans know that some of the replacements will get it right away, some will not. Some will have the skills to be a NFL offensive lineman, some will fail. But they will get better and gain valuable experience and if the Rams are to suffer another season of injuries like this one, we know next year who to count on as the “next man up.”
As the the run game opens up, so will the passing game. It takes a lot more unit cohesion to keep the pocket free for Goff. Alignment, knowing who’s next to you, and communication all play a huge role in keeping a quarterback from the turf or hurrying his throw or making poor decisions.
Goff is no Russell Wilson with his legs.
The less you pass with an inexperienced offensive line will help the offensive line focus on what they have do in those predictable passing situations rather than reacting to it when the pass is really not necessary to sustain a drive.
If the pocket collapses in predictable passing situations, on the sidelines, players can see what looks right and what looks wrong. They develop the relationship needed in the passing game to refine their collaborative technique: maybe cutting down their splits, learning how to time a biltz pickup, or with more time together as a unit communicating with one another which is paramount.
As it stands now four of the five offensive line starters in the Carolina Panthers game aren’t going to be playing DE Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears. This current patchwork line can never look like a unit unless it can open holes for the run game and give time for Goff to throw the ball and work together in a real game situation not just practice.
Run the ball and this will surely take some of the pressure off Goff to make plays with his arm as long as McVay is willing to modify his style to suit the players he has on the field.
The test for Rams fans
We now know what the Rams are up against. Ram fans should not be jumping from a sinking ship, but should come out and support its team, knowing how dire the situation is.
Diehards like myself have never abandoned our Rams. Now having returned to their real home, all Angelenos should be prepared to rally around our team as well.
I will never forget how great Los Angeles Rams fans can be. Just a year ago, the Rams played the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2018 game of the year. On short notice, with the game being moved from Mexico City, our community suffering from wildfires and tragedy came together and came out for the game. In my 60-plus years of watching Rams football, it was the greatest regular season game I’ve ever attended.
We made a difference.
We can make a difference again by showing our team we’re with them and understand what they’re going through.
We’re suffering now, and there’s still going to be tough times ahead. However, a win this week, followed by another win, etc. can rejuvenate our hopes. There’s lots of football ahead and still an outside chance this team can make the playoffs. We’re being tested as much as the team.
So let’s do this and beat the Bears!