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Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints: 2nd down, second guessing

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Undefeated after two.

The New Orleans Saints came into the Coliseum seeking revenge against the Los Angeles Rams for last year’s no call in the NFC Championship.

Not only did the Saints fail to get any form of revenge losing 27-9, adding they may have had their whole season ruined when starting QB Drew Brees suffered a significant thumb injury when he hit his hand on DT Aaron Donald’s outstretched arm.

Motivated by pride as the defending NFC Champions, the Rams were dominant throughout, Unfortunately, they were unable to capitalize on the first half field position and a turnover killed a positive drive so it was a tight game at halftime leading only 6-3. In second half the Rams, QB Jared Goff finally got his act together and the defense absolutely stifled Brees’ replacement at quarterback: Teddy Bridgewater.

With the Rams holding a 20-9 lead at the 10:00 minute mark of the 4th quarter, Goff hit WR Cooper Kupp over the middle to bear one of the greatest individual efforts the Professor has ever seen by a Rams player. What a great play:

On the ensuing play, Goff snuck the ball over the end line, and Saints fans bolted for the exits creating a river of black and gold in the exit aisles.

The Professor has enjoyed many Rams regular season games over the years, but this victory goes to the top of list.

When the Rams lost to the 1985 Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship game and then won the following year in the regular season matchup, it certainly gave me pleasure. It just couldn’t replace the heartbreaking feeling about losing the championship game. The same emotions come to mind when reminiscing about playoff games against the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys and follow-up victories in the subsequent regular seasons.

The last time I can remember a revenge game for the Rams, it was a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, who had just lost Super Bowl XXXIV to the Rams. The Rams lost the preseason game all the while pointing to their ring fingers since the only game that really counts is the one that awards you the Lombardi Trophy. Although Titans fans may have gotten some gratification in winning that game, it’s small comfort when you lose a Super Bowl as losses like that never leaves you.

Fans, coaches and players remember the losses more than the wins.

I’ve just never seen the Rams followup a big win in the playoffs like they did Sunday especially as big a win as this was considering the incessant whining from Saints fans since the no call. The loss by the Saints isn’t gonna stop their fans from crying and milking the NFC Championship game for all its worth.

After the loss, the Saints may be a lot farther away from the playoffs. Another meeting with the Rams might loom in the playoffs though Saints fans will need Brees to come back at full strength.

The Rams on the other hand have 14 more games to go and there’s still plenty of room from improvement. Here’s the Professor’s take moving ahead.

Offense

If a wide receiver gets his hands on the ball, he has to do what’s he paid to do—catch it. However, quarterbacks also develop chemistry with their wide receivers. A quarterback like Goff, chosen number one in the draft partially for his accuracy, is now going into his fourth year at the position. Over the last two years, he has had plenty of time to develop chemistry between himself and wide receivers. Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Kupp. They aren’t used to having balls coming from Goff high, low, or outside. It screws up the chemistry.

In the first half, Goff dropped a beautiful long pass in to Cooks who made an even more outstanding catch putting the Rams in scoring position for what looked like a sure a touchdown drive.

As the Professor saw it, that was the only good play Goff made in the first half.

Goff was definitely better scanning the whole field in this game then he was against the Carolina Panthers, but his mechanics were off often times throwing the ball to wide open receivers high, low and outside in the first half.

A high throw is often the result of nerves either panicking in the pocket due to the rush or letting your emotions trying to force a play. Adrenaline will do that to a quarterback.

Watching the first half, the Rams squandered too many opportunities which kept the Saints in the game. This was because the wide receivers were dropping catchable balls or because of bad passes from Goff.

While my son, who is still a student learning the game from the Professor, thought the targets were letting Goff down, I was leaning more to Goff misplacing the passes. There’s no reason to turn an easy pass and catch into a tough one, and the Rams’ wideouts aren’t used to getting inaccurate throws from Goff. It’s not a 50/50 argument with the Professor...it’s the quarterback’s job to get the ball to the wide receiver so he can make a catch. Having developed the kind of chemistry Goff has with his wide receivers, there’s no reason to make it any tougher then it needs to be.

Putting aside the long pass to Cooks, Goff now has two back-to-back terrible first halves. His inaccuracy has led to stalled drives and a mere six points at the break against the Saints. He can do better. And he needs to moving forward.

Goff needs to get off to a better start so the Rams come away with touchdowns in the red zone rather then field goals. Had Goff performed to level he did in the first half of this game as he did in the second, the Rams would’ve won this game earlier and by a wider margin. The season has just begun, but the Rams’ offense isn’t displaying the kind of production fans saw early last year. More surprisingly, the offense hasn’t played up to the level of the defense.

Under Head Coach Sean McVay, the Rams have been able to avoid a single injury to his starting offensive line. That came to an end with the ankle injury to RG Austin Blythe. While the Rams are optimistic that Blythe’s injury will not hold him out of the lineup for long, replacement Jamil Demby offers concern. Demby was okay this week, but if Austin is out for a significant number of games, the Rams’ inexperienced interior offensive line could be exposed.

Crossing my fingers on this one.

Two years ago, I created the “Daffy Award.” It’s not a honor to receive.

The last player to get it was DE Robert Quinn which he earned for being penalized for lining up in the neutral more then once during the season. After receiving the award, for his bonehead play, Quinn was then traded in the offseason. The Rams played so well in 2018, I didn’t really feel any need to award it although I was tempted to give it to McVay after the Rams’ loss to the Bears was followed up with a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

This year, I’m taking the Daffy Award out of the closet shining it up to award it to RT Rob Havenstein. For two weeks in a row, he has killed Rams drives with a holding penalty forcing the Rams to settle for field goals. If Mr. Havenstein doesn’t appreciate the Professor’s Daffy Award, I am more then happy to get repeatedly pancake blocked as long as he doesn’t hold, grab or pull my shirt. I will have no regrets on my way to be taken to hospital. My only words will be, “See? You can do it!”

Grade: B+

Defense

After last week’s game, Donald found his picture on the side of my milk carton in my refrigerator. Lucky for Rams fans, we found him on Sunday. Donald was outstanding against the Saints despite being double and triple teamed. He picked it up finding ways to pressure both Brees and Bridgewater.

This was the best defensive regular game performance I’ve seen the Rams play under Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips holding Saints RB Alvin Kamara to just 45 yards rushing on 13 attempts. They also held the Saints to just 187 yards passing which is an amazing feat and highly laudable against offensive “guru” New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton. Not only were the Rams tough as the truck commercial, they knocked the stuffing out of the Saints especially rookie S Taylor Rapp. The Professor loves that style of football since defense wins championships.

Once again the Rams’ defense was opportunistic getting another turnover this Sunday and were far better in all phases on defense then they were against the Panthers. The Rams did give up 9 points, but through two games that just 18 points per game which should be enough to win considering when the Rams offense is clicking on all cylinders they’ll easily score 30/

There’s still room for improvement, yet the monster defense I had envisioned in the beginning of the year is starting to take shape.

Grade: A-

Special Teams

P Johnny Hekker was okay. Right now he’s not making the booming punts Rams fans are used to and he needs to get better.

K Greg Zuerlein didn’t kick the kickoff out of bounds and made all his kicks, so that’s a positive sign.

If one player stood out it was PR JoJo Natson whose punt return in the third quarter down to the Saints’ 25-yard line was timely and instrumental forcing the Saints into needing at least two possessions just to get even with the Rams heading into the fourth quarter.

Grade: B


There’s a lot of work ahead for the Rams if they plan on going back to Super Bowl.

The Rams are returning to their original home this week for a Sunday Night spectacle facing off against the preseason fan favorite Cleveland Browns.

Before, this game, I suggest taking a look at Sosa’s statistics and analytics especially his video tape breakdowns. When you watch a game as the Professor does in realtime, you’re not capable of actually analyzing what just happened. Sosa does a great job of filing in the gaps. It takes a lot of work to do what he does.

Last week, his analysis was spot on.

Even an old guy like the Professor, who doesn’t put much stock in stats or analytics, can learn something now again from insightful observations made by the younger generation.

Sosa’s breakdown will therefore be a must read for the Professor prior to my preview of the Browns’ game.

Overall grade for Week 2? An A just because I enjoyed winning this game so much.

It was so perfect, I ran out of pacifiers and kleenex in the fourth quarter as the Aints’ fans bolted to the exits.