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4 things we learned in Rams half-hearted loss to the 49ers

Stafford could use some help from his pass-catchers going forward

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The product that Sean McVay and his fellow coaches put on the field Monday night may have been one of the worse losses in the McVay-era, and that’s even including their loss to the winless New York Jets last season. The LA Rams defense was absolutely man-handled. Out-classed. Embarrassed. Abysmal. The game plan for the San Francisco 49ers was simple—win in the trenches and punch the opposition in the mouth, which they did... 44 times to be exact. That is how many rushes Kyle Shanahan called against Raheem Morris’ defense.

And the offense? Matthew Stafford threw an interception on the first drive of the game that was intended for newly acquired Odell Beckham Jr. and then on the following drive Tyler Higbee dropped a pass and watched as Jimmie Ward picked the ball out of the air and ran for an easy touchdown. Suddenly the scoreboard read 0-14 49ers, a lead Shanahan would never give up. The night was filled with uncharacteristic dropped passes from some of LA’s most experienced and questionable decisions from 13-year veteran Matthew Stafford.

The Los Angeles Rams had a chance to close the gap for the first seed in the NFC playoff race but instead fell victim to yet another loss against the struggling 49ers.

Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel. Through all the bad that fans and the nation has watched over the last two primetime games the Rams are still 7-3 and are playoff-bound. With seven games left in the season there are plenty of opportunities for McVay and his coaching staff to right the ship.

The future is for a different conversation, however, these are the things we learned in LA’s lost against the 49ers.

The Rams may have made a mistake not cutting Johnny Hekker

Matthew Stafford may have been the best Rams punter on the field Monday night after dialing up an interception that pinned the 49ers within the 10-yard line. Johnny Hekker, on the other hand, looked like a veteran punter out of his prime.

The argument that may have been made at the beginning of the season to keep Hekker on the Rams roster was his threat as a passer but I would make the case that it actually makes the the coaching staff more prone to mistakes. Against the 49ers, McVay called a fake field goal attempt in the red zone on fourth-and-8 that did end in a completion to Kendall Blanton but for only two yards and zero points on the board.

Hekker’s days of kicking 60-yard bombs seem to be over. He kicked on average just 41.3-yards per punt and did not pin the 49ers within the 20-yard line a singe time. On nearly every one of Hekker’s kicks the punt returner had to run forward 10 yards just to be able to call the fair catch and secure the ball.

Hekker’s offseason competition, Corey Bojorquez, is enjoying a solid 2021 campaign. On the year his averaging 48.5 yards per punt to Hekker’s 43.1 and in Week 9 averaged 54.25 yards a punt on four attempts. Bojorquez has averaged over 50 yards a punt in four games this year while Hekker has yet to hit that mark a single time.

Though it may be one of the quieter headlines due to the nature of the position, it may be time to look at other options after this season. Unfortunately for the Rams, Bojorquez will no longer be available after they passed up the opportunity to sign him this offseason.

The defense has ... issues

In the last two weeks the Rams have faced physical teams and lost both games in horrendous fashion. Against the 49ers it was not the offensive line getting thrown around but rather the defensive line. Jimmy Garoppolo only threw the ball 18 times against the Rams and that was more than enough because the other 44 attempts the 49ers had on offense were rushing attempts that LA had no answers for.

(4:50) “You touch him at three and they fall for seven,” Miller explained in the press conference following the loss, “that’ll kill any football team. It doesn’t matter what football team you’re on.”

This is definitely not the defense from last year that was predicated on speed and sure tackling. In Week 10 the Rams defense was defined by broken and miss tackles that lead to huge gains for the 49ers. When they were finally able to get their foe into third down situations they allowed easy short completions. The 49ers converted eight of their 14 third down attempts and turned a fourth-and-5 into a touchdown.

With a bye week to figure things out it may take Raheem Morris changing his defensive philosophy in order to turn things around for the previously number one ranked defense in the NFL. Deebo Samuel was allowed to run rampant against the Rams, would that not had been different with Jalen Ramsey trailing him the entire game? Morris currently uses Ramsey in the star position to keep the opposing teams offense guessing his location and allow his best player to make more consistent plays on the ball. While it has worked for Ramsey in the stat sheets this year in the mean time the Rams defense is torched by the oppositions best players.

The receiving core did not do any favors for Stafford

Looking at Stafford’s pedestrian stats from the outside would paint the notion that the quarterback was at fault for the offenses deficiencies. The veteran QB completed 26 of 41 attempts that went for 243 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.

Stafford’s first interception was a prayer when he threw it deep to Beckham as the play completely collapsed around him. The lack of rapport was obvious between the two as the newly acquired receiver did not see an opening in coverage and took his route to the outside while Stafford thought he would go inside. Regardless of the miscommunication the deep ball would have likely ended up intercepted or incomplete even if Beckham was in the spot Stafford thought he would be in.

The second interception was a tight end screen that bounced off of Higbee and taken to the house by Ward. Stafford’s ball placement may have been a little low but in no way was it an uncatchable ball. That is a routine play that Higbee needs to do a better job at securing. In the third quarter the tight end would be credited with his second uncharacteristic drop on a third-and-7 at the Rams 12 yard line. With nothing but daylight in front of him instead of turning up the field Higbee watched as the ball fell harmlessly to the ground.

It was not only Higbee either. Cooper Kupp had a critical drop on third down that lead to a Hekker punt, but Van Jefferson’s miss may have been the most exhausting. On a second-and-5 at the 49ers 18-yard line Stafford threw a dime to the left corner of the end zone in a spot only his receiver could have come down with it. Instead of a toe-tapping touchdown to get LA back into the game it ended with Jefferson bobbling the catch and coming down with it out-of-bounds.

Stafford had no help from his receiving core against San Francisco. Their poor performance on Monday night football showed a lack of inspiration after losing one of their captains in Robert Woods the Friday before the game.

It is nearly impossible to learn a playbook in two days

Beckham is getting a lot of heat after only two days with Rams prior the game against the 49ers as many in the media felt that McVay was attempting to force-feed the football to the Rams newest acquisition. It will take many games before we truly figure out what Beckham can do for LA and anyone can make an honest judgement on his arrival to the Rams. One thing that can be certain though, at least Morris is not being forced to game plan against him when his team rolls into Lambeau field on Nov. 28. The Rams opened as 1.5 point favorites over the Packers, according to DraftKings Sportsbook in early opening odds. However, those odds may shift depending on the results of the Week 11 matchup between Green Bay and Minnesota on Sunday.

More than likely if Woods did not suffer his injury Beckham may not have even dressed against the 49ers with a bye week looming in the near distance. He needs time to learn the playbook, figure out the blocking schemes, and build rapport with Stafford before he can make an impact on the team. Two days is just not long enough and it showed in Monday night’s game. When the offense was in score now mode Beckham sat out to the sidelines so the offense could get their team out of the huddle quickly and set for the next play without having to tell him the route.

If I were to give an early prediction for the game against the Green Bay Packers, Beckham will be well improved.

What did you learn from the Rams loss against the 49ers? Let me know in comments below!