The Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers faced off in the divisional round of the 2020 NFC playoffs, and LA had a number of injury concerns that kept the team from making a serious playoff push and challenging one of the best squads in the National Football League - quarterback Jared Goff was rehabbing a broken thumb, Aaron Donald was severely limited and not himself, and receiver Cooper Kupp was unavailable.
As a result the Rams sent two first round draft choices and the quarterback they spent years developing to the Detroit Lions for a building block, Matthew Stafford, that was supposed to balance the equation and give Los Angeles a fighting chance against even the toughest squads in the league. The unfortunate news for both Sean McVay and the Rams is that the franchise-altering trade and Stafford’s presence failed to make much of a difference this time around in Green Bay, and Los Angeles now sits at 7-4 after dropping three straight.
How did the various individual performance shape the Rams’ 38-26 loss to the Packers on Sunday afternoon? Let’s dive in.
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR
There were few bright spots for the Rams in this total team loss, but one of the few silver linings is that Odell Beckham, Jr. seems to be acclimating to the team as LA hopes to replace veteran receiver Robert Woods. Beckham caught a 54-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to keep things interesting, which hopefully bodes well for the remainder of the season and his future in horns. It wasn’t the most efficient night for the star receiver, as he converted only 10 of his targets from Stafford into 5 receptions for 81 yards - but this was expected as he continues to learn the nuances of the McVay offense and builds a relationship with his quarterback.
Jordan Fuller, DB
Few defensive players failed to make much of an impact in Green Bay, but second-year safety Jordan Fuller made a number of key plays in the passing game that prevented Aaron Rodgers and the Packers from taking over the game. Fuller finished with 7 total tackles and 2 passes defensed, and most importantly he asserted himself in the deep passing game to prevent multiple big gains and came close to forcing turnovers. Fuller continues to grow on his strong rookie season and is an important role player in the Rams’ secondary.
Von Miller, OLB
On an afternoon where the Rams needed a star to step up and make a game changing impact, Von Miller was the lone individual to answer the call in Green Bay. The veteran edge rusher made a few key stops in the run game and applied pressure to Rodgers in a way few LA defenders were able to. While Miller is in only his second full game with the Rams, you can see the potential impact he will have on future matchups for this team as the remainder of the season unfolds.
Good perimeter contain there by Von Miller on first down run play. Rams' defense needs to come up big here. Too much has been frittered away already.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) November 28, 2021
Van Jefferson, WR
Second-year receiver Van Jefferson continued his strong play on Sunday afternoon against the Packers, hauling in 3 receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown on 9 targets. The highlight of the afternoon was a 79 yard throw and catch from Stafford where Jefferson was able to fight threw contact and take the ball into the end zone.
Cooper Kupp also threw a pass to near-touchdown to Jefferson, but the receiver was called out of bounds. Football is a game of inches, and sometimes things just don’t go your way.
Sony Michel, RB/KR
Veteran running back Sony Michel is solidly in a reserve role to Darrell Henderson at this point in the season, but it was his contribution on special teams that stood out against the Packers - returning 4 kickoffs for 90 yards (22.5 average). While in part due to injuries, the Rams have struggled to find either a reliable kick or punt returner this season - so Michel’s contributions in this area are welcomed.
The running back also had 3 carries for 14 yards (4.7 average) and a reception for 11 yards, and his physical running style stood out on an afternoon where Henderson averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. Michel was the better running back for LA in this particular game.
J.J. Koski, WR/PR
When rookie receiver Tutu Atwell was injured and ruled out for the remainder of the season, J.J. Koski was asked to take over as the primary punt returner. It is hard to be worse than the results produced by Atwell, but Koski fumbled the ball deep in Rams territory on a kickoff to shift nearly all momentum in Green Bay’s favor late in the third quarter.
It is not easy being an undrafted player on the backend of a roster - you are eager to make a play, to make a difference - but it is also important to remain disciplined and not take possessions away from Stafford and the Rams offense. This was a backbreaking turnover that the LA special teams unit cannot allow to happen.
Matthew Stafford, QB
The Rams acquired Stafford to be the equalizer in potential playoff matchups such as this, but the veteran quarterback continued his streak of turnovers - throwing a pick six and fumbling deep in Rams’ territory to essentially spot the Packers 10-14 points. LA’s defense has not been effective in recent weeks, but it’s also tough to overcome your offense putting the opposing team in a position to play a ball control style of offense and a wide margin for error. Stafford made a number of turnover-worthy throws that were ultimately dropped by Packers defenders, so the box score could have been much worse. Sure, LA’s signal caller threw for three touchdowns, including two beautiful bombs to each of Jefferson and OBJ, but the overall efficiency and his ability to make the routine throws were not enough to compete against one of the league’s best in the Packers.
The Rams’ former quarterback was booted to Detroit for his propensity to turn the ball over, but this alarming trend has continued under Stafford. At this point it is certainly fair to wonder how much Los Angeles actually upgraded in the quarterback swap - can Stafford and the Rams return to an efficient passing attack that keeps the ball out of harm’s way?
Jared Goff would be getting heat like none other right now. None. Other. Just saying.— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) November 29, 2021
Troy Reeder, ILB
Troy Reeder had a team leading 13 total tackles in Green Bay, but there were multiple occasions where the Packers were able to able to convert in key moments through the air with Reeder as the nearest defender. The off-ball linebacker is fairly stout against the run, but he can be taken advantage of in space - which was certainly the case Sunday afternoon.
The trade to send former starter Kenny Young to the Denver Broncos becomes more and more of a head scratcher each week, and Reeder will need to assert himself or he will continue to be picked on each week.
I was told the Rams wouldn't miss Kenny Young. https://t.co/z7xy6m2MGQ— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) November 28, 2021
Sean McVay / Clock Management
While it was not necessarily a deciding factor, McVay’s clock management at both the end of the first half and towards the end of the game were concerning.
The Rams called a timeout just before halftime, which incentivized the Packers to go for (and convert) and fourth and short opportunity. This did not impact the score but it easily could have - and it’s fair to say this was poor process on the account of the head coach.
At the end of the game the Rams trailed by two scores with nearly a minute remaining on the clock. McVay decided to run the ball with Henderson (which resulted in a minimal gain) and then sent out kicker Matt Gay and the field goal unit to shorten the Packers’ lead. After the Rams kicked the field goal there were less than 20 seconds left on the game clock. If LA was considering kicking a field goal at that range, why run the ball to keep the clock running and give your team less time to potentially recover an onside kick and score again? The game was mostly out of hand at this point, but this is still poor clock management and bad process.
The Rams’ quarterback wasn’t the only member of the team struggling with decision making on Sunday.
Sean McVay / Special Teams
There is no reasonable excuse for the product the Rams have put together on special teams for the last two seasons, under two different coordinators. That fumble could ultimately prove to be lethal, in a season of ST mistakes and narrow escapes. https://t.co/9CvvSMeVKS— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) November 28, 2021
Since former special teams coordinator John Fassell left to take the same role with the Dallas Cowboys, McVay’s Rams have severally struggled in the third phase of the game. After the team has not churned through two coordinators in two years, it’s fair to place blame on the head coach - the results simply are too poor to accept and are forcing the team to bleed at the margins. Do the Rams not sufficiently prioritize special teams, or have injuries piled up enough where depth is a significant concern moving forward? Either way, things must turn around in a hurry or this level of performance will cost the Rams in a close game once again.
Aaron Donald, DT / Jalen Ramsey, CB
Los Angeles needed its star players on defense to rise to the occasion and slow Rodgers and the Packers’ passing attack; however, Green Bay was able to sustain drives and score points efficiently and effectively - especially in the first half. Sure, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey came close to making plays, but the overall impact was not enough. Rodgers was rarely pressured for most of the game, which is usually Donald’s specialty, and Ramsey was unable to affect the game at the level he typically is able to. It was a disappointing afternoon for what are usually two difference-making players.