The Rams have the best player in the NFL ... and then what happens?
While Aaron Donald had his most dominant statistical performance of the season — though he wouldn’t be “Aaron Donald” if he wasn’t the best player on the field during most of the snaps he takes regardless of whether he gets two sacks or not — the Rams had their worst defensive effort thus far in 2020.
Even having forced two turnovers and two short three-and-outs against the Bills on Sunday, LA struggled to contain quarterback Josh Allen, who to his credit may not have any skeptics left after this week. Allen completed 24 of 33 passes for 311 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
He also rushed for a touchdown but that’s better information for the people who care about points accumulation over football.
The real concerns for the Rams are threaded in the pass defense and pass rush, which may have simply caught a break in Week 2 when it faced off against Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles, who struggled again during a 23-23 tie to the Cincinnati Bengals today. Wentz was as unimpressive against the Bengals as he was against LA.
In Week 1, the Rams faced Dak Prescott and he went 25 of 39 for 266 yards and a touchdown. Prescott’s 2020 value is even tougher to judge as he’s since faced the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks, potentially the two worst pass defenses in the NFL. Partly evidenced by Prescott’s back to back 450+ yard efforts.
Los Angeles paid good draft picks and money for Jalen Ramsey though and there is growing confidence in players like Darious Williams and Jordan Fuller, while John Johnson had his first interception of the season on Sunday against Allen. It was an impressive play by Johnson on a terrible throw and decision by Allen, so it is also not quite indicative of the Rams’ typical pass defense.
Because the Rams also allowed a reception on almost the exact same distance and spot on the field per NextGen Stats.
Allen was able to make a living in the middle of the field and especially when going to his left. On any pass that was less than 20 yards downfield and not to the right, Allen went 16-of-19 with two touchdowns.
Josh Allen's passing chart courtesy of Next-Gen Stats pic.twitter.com/Q5HWaOb7eN— Cover 1 (@Cover1) September 27, 2020
On a positive note, the Rams did turn more pressures into sacks this week than they did last week, getting to Josh Allen four times, including twice by Donald. Leonard Floyd got his second sack of the season, which is somewhat encouraging, and Morgan Fox got his first. But Allen finished with the second most time to throw of any quarterback in the NFL this week behind Russell Wilson, and while that has something to do with Allen’s mobility, it also speaks to the lack of pressure outside of those sacks.
For most of the season it has felt like the front seven has consisted of Aaron Donald and little else. Micah Kiser did win NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his 16 tackles against Philadelphia, but clearly opposing quarterbacks are not afraid to throw in the middle of LA’s defense. Allen wasn’t and neither was Wentz, which is why Kiser had so many opportunities.
The early loss of Fuller to a shoulder injury and being replaced by Taylor Rapp is also a consideration, but is the sixth round rookie really the defense’s third best player already?
He could be if Fuller was the reason for the Rams even coming close to containing opposing rushing attacks, which they really haven’t. Los Angeles ranked 20th in rushing yards allowed and 23rd in yards per carry allowed entering the game and then Bills running back Devin Singletary looked at times like as much of a rising star as Allen.
Devin Singletary just did unspeakable things to the Rams defense— Josh Reed (@4JoshReed) September 27, 2020
Five months after he was another day three pick, Fuller now appears vital.
The Bills only had 21 carries for 101 yards but it never felt like running wasn’t an option; it only felt like Allen throwing was a better option.
Giving up 35 points isn’t something Sean McVay’s Rams did often during his first two seasons with the team. It only happened four times in 36 opportunities. It has now happened four times in the last 16 games, and there was another contest when they allowed 34.
What will happen next? LA’s upcoming schedule is Giants, Football, 49ers, Bears and Dolphins leading into the bye. If the defense can’t improve its numbers through that stretch, then it will be difficult to assess how they’ll survive the second half of the schedule.