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Rams-49ers: The Good, the Bad and the Difference

What was the difference in Sunday’s loss to San Francisco?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The 4-2 death sentence? Oh ye of little faith.

Within the previous decade, the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs, 2018 New England Patriots, 2014 Patriots and 2011 New York Giants all started 4-2 and went on to win the Super Bowl. The 2010 Green Bay Packers started 3-3 and won the Super Bowl. Sure, many other teams started 4-2 and did not win the Super Bowl, but don’t get in between me and a well constructed narrative.

The Rams lost to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, which improved the Niners record to 3-3. In a strange coincidence that is unexplainable, the 2015 Denver Broncos lost to the Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders, two teams that started 3-3 that season. The Broncos won the Super Bowl that year.

Los Angeles was unable to move the ball on offense like they had expected, gaining 311 yards, and lost to a rival by eight points. Last season, the Chiefs had a poor showing on offense, gaining 309 yards, and fell to 4-2 in a loss to the Texans by seven points. Now here’s where it gets eerie: eight is one of the two closest numbers to seven.

Maybe the Rams played like champions.

Should concerns be raised after Sunday night’s 24-16 loss? More like situations that will need to be addressed. The Rams have only forced one turnover in the last three games. Either the 49ers or Buffalo Bills seem to be the best team that LA has faced this season — and it might be San Francisco depending on how Monday night’s game against Kansas City goes — and they lost both of those games. Not only did they lose, but large deficits in both games made optimism difficult.

That’s a situation that will be addressed next Monday night against the 5-1 Chicago Bears. One thing I am sure of is that the Rams will have at least some good moments next week. They had some this week, but unfortunately a few more bad ones.

The Good

Jared Goff to Robert Woods for touchdown on third down

Never did the game have a greater chance of being a close contest than at this moment. The moment prior to Sam Sloman’s extra point attempt.

Goff had a handful of plays like this one that reminded me of the fact that he’s been almost perfect in the first and fourth quarters this season. But a combination of events — accuracy, pass protection, receiver play, good defense — slowed down almost all potential for big plays. This one snuck in there.

This one Leonard Floyd play

Here’s a play by Leonard Floyd.

Goff to Josh Reynolds

These were not plays that LA was able to successfully run earlier in the game. I think the best part about it though is that Reynolds made a difficult catch. Sort of strange defense.

Offensive line: No sacks allowed, 5.9 yards per carry

There are going to be better ways to measure an offensive line than by these two numbers, but I think the eye test confirms the offensive line wasn’t much of a problem, outside of their penalties.

“Illusion of Complexity” and Robert Woods

Cris Collinsworth mentioned the “illusion of complexity” in Sean McVay’s offense after a pair of runs by Woods to pick up a first down. Former Rams assistant Matt LaFleur explained “illusion of complexity” after he was hired as head coach of the Packers last year:

“We want to have like plays, meaning, plays that start out looking the same that are different. We also want to create what we call an ‘illusion of complexity,’ meaning we’re going to run the same concepts, but how many different ways can we run them?” LaFleur said. “Whether it’s out of 11 personnel, 12 personnel, 13 personnel, just to make it a little more difficult for the defense.”

“Sometimes I gotta put analytics in the dumpster. I’m sorry.” - Al Michaels

The Bad

Deebo Samuel for 35 yards

Deebo Samuel gives 49ers the first touchdown of the night

Allowing YAC on first drive

Cris Collinsworth called Deebo Samuel a “powerhouse from the waist down” after his first drive and while I’ll leave that up for you to use as a soundbite in the future, he’s not wrong that Samuel powered the 49ers to an immediate seven point lead. Samuel was like a Derrick Henry wide receiver, catching six rushing attempts for 66 yards.

Jared Goff’s uncharacteristic first drive and first half

Goff started one of seven and finished the first half with five completions on 12 attempts for 42 yards. Even on the Rams first half touchdown drive, Goff’s arm was only a factor on the 10-yard touchdown throw to Woods. Goff overthrew Kupp twice on the first drive. On the second drive, he was nearly picked off on third down. He had a poor throw to Tyler Higbee on the next drive but made up for it by picking up the first down with a run on third down. McVay only called runs for the rest of the drive prior to the Woods touchdown.

What I like about Goff’s touchdown is that it really saved his offensive line from a bad penalty. But he knows he had his worst game of the season.

Sam Sloman blocked PAT

People seem less and less likely to be okay with letting the Sloman experience continue for much longer.

4th and 2 to George Kittle turns into a long touchdown

It seemed odd that the 49ers ran on third-and-6 but then it became clear that they always planned to go for it on fourth down. I don’t know that I can really blame Darious Williams for this one. Despite all the “Jalen Ramsey is in the Star role” hype, George Kittle caught seven of 10 targets for 109 yards.

Third and Goal turns into another touchdown pass for Garoppolo

This play happened right after Troy Hill nearly intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo but couldn’t hang on. There were many big 49ers moments that happened right after a missed opportunity.

Jared Goff interception in end zone / anything that wasn’t a touchdown

On the play before this, Goff threw a perfect pass to Cooper Kupp and the receiver couldn’t turn it into a score when he probably could have. Whether it was picked or dropped would not have mattered though since it was fourth down and LA couldn’t script an answer here.

However, I am not even sure if he’s throwing to Van Jefferson or Robert Woods here.

Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods combined seven catches on 19 targets

The last time that Woods had a catch rate as low as 4 out of 10 is in the 2018 Monday night thriller against the Chiefs, when he had 4 out of 11. But even in that game, Woods had 72 yards and a touchdown. Woods also had one of his least productive games as a receiver last season against San Francisco when he had no catches on four targets.

Kupp has never had a game where he was targeted at least nine times and only had three catches. He finished with those numbers and 11 yards. He was shutout against the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, but also struggled in that loss to the 49ers.

Unsurprisingly, San Francisco has managed to contain Woods and Kupp and because of that, were successful defensively in both of those games. They didn’t even need Richard Sherman this time, instead turning to Jason Verrett.

The offensive line’s penalties

Andrew Whitworth had a few mistakes. A David Edwards holding penalty negated a touchdown and if he didn’t hold, the defensive player would have negated the touchdown.

No sacks

The Rams had the most sacks in the NFL over the previous three weeks, but the 49ers gave Jimmy Garoppolo plenty of time to immediately throw the pass behind the line of scrimmage.

The Difference

Because I think we so often put the postgame focus on quarterbacks or coaches or an entire defense or an entire offensive line, I want to test the waters of talking about each team’s top two receiving weapons.

The Rams defenders got bullied and Brandon Staley’s defense got beat over and over again by Kittle and Samuel. I am not sure how much of a difference Jordan Fuller would have made, but that is something to look for the next time the team’s meet. Garoppolo threw to them 16 times and completed 13 of those passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns.

To repeat LA’s numbers to their top two weapons: seven of 19 for 40 yards and one touchdown. Maybe an interception.

I don’t know that Garoppolo was any better than Goff on Sunday but I do know that he got a lot more help.