The Los Angeles Rams dismantled the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card round, setting the stage for a divisional matchup with the number two seed, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Matt Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, and company would have to take down 7x Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady to make it a step further towards Super Bowl LVI.
The Rams defense started out fast again in this one, stifling Brady with pressure. Tampa Bay’s six drives on offense in the first half consisted of: 31 plays, 118 yards, 3 punts, 1 field goal, 1 missed field goal, and 1 interception. Los Angeles’ offense capitalized and pulled out to a 20-3 lead. It was right near the end of the half, where the tide shifted in Tampa Bay’s favor.
With 0:24, the Rams were in the red zone with a chance to go up 27-3, when Cam Akers fumbled on the 1-yard line.
While the LA Rams did score on their second possession in the second half, the fumbles multiplied. Cooper Kupp, Brian Allen, and Cam Akers (again) all fumbled as the Rams tried to put the game out of reach. Before you knew it, Tampa Bay had tied the game 27-27. With only 0:42 remaining, Stafford and Kupp delivered. Stafford connected with his Triple Crown winner on a 44-yard dime downfield to put the Rams in the red zone. Matt Gay then promptly kicked L.A. to the NFC Championship Game in walk off fashion. As the dust settled, Brady and the Bucs were eliminated, and the Rams found themselves headed back to SoFi with 30-27 thrilling victory and a ticket on the line to play in the Super Bowl.
Give me a WOOOOOOOOOO! x2
In the overview below, I’ll cover the players and position group performances from the Divisional Round including these major topics (*bonus edition - more topics and coverage this week*):
- Matt Stafford - why regression now is not an option
- RB Room: the good, the bad, and the ugly
- “For the Love of the Game” - Cooper Kupp putting together an all time great season
- Pass Pro & Run Blocking trajectories for the OL
- A’Shawn Robinson - key to NFC Conference Championship
- ILB & Edge critical tackling
- Defensive Backs: Stock Up, Stock Down
- Special Teams: group of cast-offs making huge plays
- On Deck: Sean McVay’s biggest game of his career
This article will cover each player’s PFF grade as it fluctuates week to week. The grade next to the individual is his current PFF grade.
*The differential +/- in parenthesis reflects whether or not he improved or declined from the previous week. Lastly, based on my own study of the game, I hand out a grade to the position group based on their ability and impact on the game (as well as injuries, signings, or releases). This grade factors into the overall grade of the positional group for the season, and ultimately the trend of the unit moving forward.*
Matthew Stafford: 83.4 (+0.4), John Wolford: 40.2 (DNP)
Wow. I expected some hiccups in this one from Stafford after a relatively easy matchup in the wild card. I wasn’t far off in my prediction for him in the divisional round: 23/36, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 1 fumble lost. Stafford made it look easy instead; going 28/38, 366 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT + 1 rushing TD. It was his precision early on and his clutch ability late that knocked TB out.
1st Half: 19/24, 211 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
2nd Half: 9/14, 155 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 1 rushing TD
It was another game in which Stafford was successful because he took what the defense gave him. He found OBJ on underneath crossing routes and along the sideline. He connected with Higbee on seams and combination routes. He used Van Jefferson when other options were taken away. And then of course, he was in tune with Cooper Kupp on almost everything.
I loved seeing the Rams operate with “split backs” in shotgun; using Cooper Kupp as the second backfield option. Stafford delivered a couple of lasers off of two-steps and looked off his read by staring down the middle of the field. He did the same thing on his 70 yard TD to Kupp in order to attack the Cover-2; pulling the safety towards the middle; allowing Kupp to work the sideline.
Stafford was just timely. He connected on his back shoulder reads. He ran play action effectively. Out routes - yup, those too. He knew when to use Akers as a safety valve in checkdowns. And finally, he delivered the kill (or snatched the other’s team soul) with a dime to Kupp to set up the game winning field goal.
I guess you could make the argument that it was Stafford’s best game of the season. I only recall two errant throws. A redzone throw to Kupp that was behind and almost picked off and a 3rd & 5 in the 2nd half. Despite the great game, Stafford is now in the situation of either flaming out in the NFC Championship or falling flat after the hype of his trade and ups and downs of his first season with LA. It’s hard to quantify what makes the Stafford trade “worth it”. But the easiest way to prove it is winning the Super Bowl this year. He’s right there and just needs to reach out and take it. The way he has played in the Wild Card and Divisional exemplify the quarterback capable of winning it all. Losing now can’t be an option. He wanted to play in big games. Well, nothing bigger than an NFC Championship at your home field against a team that has beaten you the last six times. Time to deliver.
DV Grade: A+, Overall: B+, Trend: Slight-to-Moderate Upward
Sony Michel: 64.8 (-0.2), Cam Akers: 43.9 (-11.0), Darrell Henderson: 68.7 (IR), Jake Funk: 53.6 (DNP), Buddy Howell: 66.6 (IR)
Time for the good, bad, and the ugly with this group.
Cam Akers is still a very good player despite a forgetful performance. He’s a very talented player coming off a major injury and this was his first game back as a RB where he was the horse. That’s a good sign - that he can handle the load. He played 81% of the offensive snaps compared to Michel’s 19%. He also provides a huge upgrade to the passing attack and that was on display versus Tampa. He had 3 rec (3 targets) for 20 yards but those 20 yards were almost all manufactured after the catch.
The bad: Akers carried the ball 24 times for 48 yards (2.0 avg/carry) while Sony Michel only saw 1 carry for 4 yards. I’m not necessarily disappointed by the yardage accumulated. I’m disappointed in how Michel wasn’t a factor. I love Cam Akers and think he is the lead back by far. But Sony Michel is a very good back in the NFL. And his playoff numbers in his career are not only legit, they are impressive. His game logs:
With New England (2018 & 2019):
- 24 carries, 129 yards, 3 TD (Divisional)
- 29 carries, 113 yards, 2 TD (Conference Champ)
- 18 carries, 94 yards, 1 TD (Super Bowl)
- 14 carries, 61 yards, 0 TD (Wild Card)
With Los Angeles (2021):
- 13 carries, 58 yards, 0 TD (Wild Card)
- 1 carry, 4 yards, 0 TD (Divisional)
Only giving Michel one carry against TB is tough to see. He was a big reason for the Rams success in the month of December. I understand that you have to give Akers reps. But why isn’t the split more 70:30. With Michel’s physicality, it helps to be able to wear defense’s down. He also has playoff experience and a SB ring, so the experience isn’t too big. The Rams gave him the ball on the first play of the game against Arizona and he picked up 35 yards. Why not keep stacking his performances from December into January? Against San Francisco, they boast Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and Azeez Al-Shaair. Three rangy and athletic linebackers. Trying to just out-finesse them with Akers won’t work for four quarters. But sprinkling in Michel to come downhill on them could make a step late later in the game.
Cam Akers breakout loading ⌛️ pic.twitter.com/oSmq9Z2kUV— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) January 25, 2022
And now for the ugly. Two fumbles lost by Akers. You feel for him. But it’s playoff football. You can live with the first one. An awkward landing, but nonetheless - it took 3-7 points off the board for the Rams. It also killed momentum for the Rams, to go up 27-3 before halftime and get the ball back. The second fumble is the kicker because in that situation - it simply cannot happen. Ball security is the top priority at that point.
Moving forward, I think Akers will be featured like he was against Tampa Bay. McVay isn’t likely to sacrifice Akers dynamic ability to give Michel more touches. But when Michel is in (19%) of the time - it would be nice to see him get more than one carry. I would like to see them shoot for 5-10 for him.
DV Grade: D-, Overall: C+, Trend: Slight-to-Moderate Downward
Cooper Kupp: 92.6* (+0.2), Odell Beckham Jr: 71.3 (+0.4), Van Jefferson: 60.4 (+0.3), Bennett Skowronek: 57.7 (+0.0), L. Akers: 58.3 (N/A), Robert Woods: 75.7 (IR), Jacob Harris: 58.7 (IR), TuTu Atwell: 60.7 (IR)
Cooper Kupp is a special football player. He plays the game the way it was meant to be played. He plays hard. Fights for every yard. He studies the game inside and out (not just through the WR lens). He does it all, not for himself, but for those around him. He plays with a love for the game.
And the game gives back to him. On a route (non-intended) for him to be the primary WR, but rather a decoy, he finds himself on the receiving end of the biggest play in the game. A 44 yard timeless strike down the middle of the field.
Cooper Kupp is doing what no WR has ever done. In 19 games this year, he has 159 receptions, 2191 yards receiving, 18 TDs. In case you are wondering how that breaks down, it’s the following: 8.3 rec, 115.3 yards, 0.94 TD per game. If that doesn’t embody MVP, I’m not sure any other position other than QB stands a chance in the future.
How @CooperKupp's "love of the game" route beat the all-out blitz and sent the @RamsNFL to the Championship Round. #NFLTurningPoint streaming now on @ESPNPlus pic.twitter.com/cmu4ILf7CO— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) January 28, 2022
Odell Beckham (92% snap share) is fun to watch in this offense. He isn’t the feature WR that he was in his prime with the New York Giants. But his versatility is so unique. His hands (strength and radius) are probably Top 5; arguably #1, in the league. He’s got such a great feel to be able to pluck the ball out of the air and control it with grip strength against defenders or DBs around him. His first catch of the game on a simple 6 yard curl and his catch along the sideline with heels facing the sideline are prime examples of his ability just being too much to defend.
Van Jefferson (90% snap share) had 4 balls thrown his way in the entire game, although only 3 are logged as targets because of a penalty on TB. The incompletion was on a goalline fade to Jefferson on 3rd down. It seemed that Jefferson just got forced too much to the sideline and Stafford didn’t have great placement/ran out of room to fit it in. However, the two still connected later on. Jefferson had 2 receptions for 29 yards. Both plays were strong plays by Jefferson working the far sideline. Again, it’s great insurance when Jefferson is making plays as the 4th option in the offense (sometimes 5th option) with Akers being more involved.
Ben Skowronek (8% snap share) was not targeted and was primarily used in run blocking.
Outside of a Kupp fumble, this group played very well.
DV Grade: A, Overall: A, Trend: Slight Upward
Tyler Higbee: 68.9 (+1.6), Kendall Blanton: 38.4 (+5.8), Brycen Hopkins: 51.6 (+0.0), Johnny Mundt: 64.7 (IR)
This has been my favorite stretch of Tyler Higbee football, other than his impressive finish in the 2019 season. Higbee had 4 rec (7 targets) for 51 yards. He worked the Buccaneers in the middle of the field. He was responsible for 3 first downs, narrowly missing a 4th. The seam route to Higbee in the first quarter was a beautiful play in using Higbee’s frame and ability to put stress on a defense like Tampa Bay. With defenses having to focus and converge on Kupp and OBJ, Higbee gives the Rams short area and downfield ability.
Blanton (11% snap share) wasn’t a non-factor in this one. He had 2 rec (2 targets) for 18 yards and a TD. His TD was great attention to detail; as he held his block on JPP to buy Stafford time on his rollout. He then presented himself as an option, getting his eyes around for Stafford to hit him for a simple pitch and catch. His other catch was actually great positioning and hand strength. Stafford hit him for 11 yards along the sideline with a defensive back draped around him. Good to see that the moment isn’t too big for a backup TE that was once a practice squad tight-end.
Hopkins (1% snap share) only played 1 snap on offense.
DV Grade: B, Overall: B, Trend: Slight Upward
Andrew Whitworth: 85.3 (DNP), Joe Noteboom: 78.6 (+0.5), David Edwards: 67.1 (-2.3), Brian Allen: 77.3 (-1.6), Coleman Shelton: 59.6 (DNP), Austin Corbett: 68.0 (-1.3), Bobby Evans: 48.2 (DNP), Rob Havenstein: 82.2 (+0.9), Alaric Jackson: 70.2 (DNP)
Andrew Whitworth did not play in this one because of a knee. Joe Noteboom filled in and was a rock. He only allowed 1 pressure and 0 QB hits, shutting JPP of the Bucs down completely.
Havenstein was just as strong, also allowing 1 pressure and 0 QB hits against Shaq Barrett.
The interior of the offensive line wasn’t ideal. Edwards and Corbett each allowed 4 QB pressures and Brian Allen threw a snap 25 yards behind Stafford for a lost fumble. Allen also committed a head-scratching holding penalty in the first half where he essentially tackled Devin White on a stretch play going left.
After seeing the OL thrive in December by creating plenty of room for Michel in the run game, the run blocking has been hampered by a lack of running lanes and holding penalties. Of the remaining teams, this is how Los Angeles stacks up in the playoffs in rushing the football.
Kansas City: 49 attempts, 288 yards (5.9 yards/carry)
Cincinnati: 43 attempts, 148 yards (3.4 yards/carry)
San Francisco: 67 attempts, 275 yards (4.1 yards/carry)
Los Angeles: 68 attempts, 218 yards (3.1 yard/carry)
Shockingly, the Rams lead in rushing attempts, but they have not been efficient as of late. And outside of a 35 yard run for the first play in the playoffs for LA, the Rams average drops to 2.7 yards/carry. Not exactly a great recipe for sustaining success. The 49ers defense has only surrendered 72 yards/game in the playoffs. So tough sledding awaits the Rams in their run-blocking assignments. Especially since the Rams did not run the ball well in Week 18 against this 49ers defense. They ran 26 times for 46 yards (1.76/carry).
McVay must revive and commit to a physical run game to use Stafford at his best.
In pass protection, the Rams have been relatively clean. Stafford has been sacked 3 times in the two playoff games thus far. The offensive tackles have been good against the likes of JJ Watt, Chandler Jones, JPP, and Shaq Barrett. However, the 49ers front is significantly better (stronger and faster) with Arik Armstead & Nick Bosa leading the team. They tallied 5 sacks against the Rams in Week 18, with Armstead collecting 2.5 of those by collapsing the pocket. His size against Brian Allen presents a significant challenge. Edwards or Corbett need to be communicating in help on him specifically.
As for Bosa, I would think you would align Higbee on Bosa’s side in order to chip him. This gives the OL the ability to pinch while also giving either Whitworth or Havenstein routine help. The chip then allows Higbee to still be an option in the passing game. This is where McVay’s strategy in RBs will likely present itself. If he wants to counter a strong SF pass rush, he’ll likely use Akers to draw more 1:1 scenarios in pass situations if they go wide. Or he can run Akers in the flat (like he did versus TB).
DV Grade: C+, Overall: C+, Trend: Neutral
Aaron Donald: 93.6* (-0.2), A’Shawn Robinson: 73.8 (-0.5), Greg Gaines: 70.7 (-1.2), Bobby Brown III: 64.5 (DNP), Marquise Copeland: 67.6 (-0.1), Mike Hoecht: 48.7 (DNP), Jonah Williams: 64.9 (DNP), Sebastian Joseph-Day: 62.4 (IR)
Aaron Donald and his dawgs got after Tom Brady. Their goal was to affect him. It did not matter if it was interior pressure or from the edge. They were committed to making him feel their presence. And they executed it to perfection. The one shame in allowing Tampa Bay to comeback was that it erased the dominance this unit put on in the first half. Outside of the first two runs in the game, the DL shut down the run (13 rushes, 51 yards, 3.9/avg). Because of the three second half fumbles, the defense was put on the field significantly more than they should have been and they were fatigued.
Aaron Donald getting ready for Divisional Round vs. Bucs pic.twitter.com/wzV1xou7hy— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) January 23, 2022
Aaron Donald continued with his greatness per usual, adding 5 tackles (3 solo), 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 PD, and 3 QB hits. Just another day at the office for him.
Gaines (97% snap share) recorded 2 tackles (1 solo). A’Shawn Robinson (35% snap share) recorded 3 tackles (1 solo).
Again, a shame because if LA doesn’t turn the ball over, I’m not sure Tampa Bay musters up anything in the second half. But that’s in the past and time to move on.
The Rams are going to see a different brand of football. SF will not be dropping back 57 times to throw it. They are going to have to play a much different trench game. It’ll be four quarters of slugging it in the run game and then the occasional pass play. If the DL can shut the run down early enough, the game should get easier, but it doesn’t mean it’s over. Jordan Rodrigue from the 11 personnel podcast & The Athletic, did a great job of acknowledging that SF will counter with toss plays to expose the gaps that LA is playing. The Rams must be able to make their counter to prevent exposure. Weather a punch or two from SF, but then put them back on the ropes and force them into passing the football.
I think A’Shawn Robinson is the key to the defensive line in this game, other than Aaron Donald (who yes has been quiet in the last 4 games vs. San Francisco). But A’Shawn will need to have a good performance here. By only playing 35% of the snaps in the divisional round, his body should be fresher going into this week. He normally plays anywhere from 40-55% of the defensive snaps. Against SF, he will play more. He’ll need to win more too. Shanhan won’t want AD99 to beat him, so A’Shawn will have his opportunities 1 on 1. Can he win them?
A’Shawn Robinson looks like he is just trying to do his job and Greg Gaines keeps bothering him pic.twitter.com/aTjl0YYo9H— (@TL_LARams) January 25, 2022
Copeland (4% snap share) played only a handful of snaps without recording a tackle. He will likely play more in the Conference Championship. I would like to see Bobby Brown III see time in that game even if it’s on first downs. His 6’4” 325 lbs seems like a physical matchup against SF rather than using Gaines at a 90+% or Copeland. Gaines is a great player, but his size can hurt him in this type of game coming up.
DV Grade: B+, Overall: A-, Trend: Neutral
Troy Reeder: 46.7 (+0.5), Ernest Jones: 58.6 (IR), Travin Howard: 81.5 (+1.1), Christian Rozeboom: 63.9 (N/A)
The inside linebackers grades this season have typically come down to their effectiveness in tackling. They are typically the cleanup guys from all the work done in the trenches. Since I have been giving them praise for their work in the pass game, I will be more critical than usual and say they need to be better in tackling and the run game going into this Sunday. Reeder was out of place on both of the runs used by Tampa to start the game. He was then late on the 4th & inches in the 4th quarter where Fournette made him miss on an ankle tackle en route to a 7 yard TD. Those arm tackles won’t work this week. Plain and simple.
Fortunately, the Rams are getting Ernest Jones back. But based on reports, it seems like he isn’t 100% and won’t be on the field the whole time. So there could be a rotation between him and Travin Howard based on down & distance. Perhaps, Jones is used in 1st & 2nd down work, with T-Howard coming on passing situations where he has excelled as the best coverage linebacker.
Reeder (88% snap share) is pretty much locked in as the green dot signal caller for the defense, so expect him to continue that this week. But 3 tackles (1 solo) can’t be his stat line two weeks in a row.
Travin Howard (79% snap share) saw a huge amount of play time because of the pass-heavy scheme by Brady/Arians. Howard registered 6 tackles (2 solo) and was pretty sticky in coverage around the middle of the field.
DV Grade: C, Overall: C+, Trend: Slight Downward
Leonard Floyd: 70.5 (-1.3), Von Miller: 90.5* (+1.3), Justin Hollins: 66.2 (-1.0), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: 78.3 (+3.9), Terrell Lewis: 50.3 (INA), Chris Garrett: 53.8 (INA), Justin Lawlar: 63.8 (INA)
Right there with Aaron Donald, Von Miller was in Brady’s face (literally) all game. 4 tackles (3 solo), 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, and 1 QB hit (HAHA) was his box score. The star’s acquisition at the trade deadline was bigger than expected. With Floyd’s play dropping as of late (I suspect because of a back injury), Miller’s contributions have been well-timed.
Leonard Floyd (89% snap share) had a better game than his recent trend. He got back in the sack column, along with 4 tackles (2 solo), 1 TFL, and 1 QB hit.
Justin Hollins (21% snap share) hasn’t been the same since his pec injury. It was another game for him without finding himself in the box score or even pressuring the quarterback. If the Rams are going to use him in rotation behind Von and Floyd, he’ll need to step up.
Okoronwko (24% snap share) finds himself either in the hot or cold region. He played well in the divisional round in limited time. He tallied 2 tackles (2 solo), 1 PD, and 1 QB hit. Okoronkwo actually played very well against San Francisco in Week 10 - when the Rams were still acclimating Von Miller to the defense.
The edge unit’s success in the conference championship is also going to come down to its tackling efficiency. Floyd in particular was weak in that department in Week 18. With Kittle coming across the line on trap blocks and the guards pulling, these edge rushers MUST contain and get physical. The arm tackles will not suffice to advance.
DV Grade: B+, Overall: B+, Trend: Neutral-to-Very Slight Upward (Caution: Leonard Floyd)
Jalen Ramsey: 84.4* (-0.8), Darious Williams: 59.0 (-5.4), David Long Jr.: 59.9 (+1.5), Dont’e Deayon: 68.0 (DNP), Robert Rochell: 61.9 (IR), Grant Haley: 64.0 (DNP), Kareem Orr: 28.1 (DNP)
The cornerback group might have gained some clarity. Dont’e Deayon did not play a single snap in the game after appearing in 69% of the defensive snaps this season. He was often swapping time with David Long Jr, and appeared to have the upperhand going into the playoffs. Deayon was exposed in Week 18 against San Fran, so maybe that put him in the doghouse? I cannot confidently say a reason though.
Jalen Ramsey wasn’t his elite self against the Bucs, but the receptions he allowed were in soft coverage outside of the 55 yard TD. The 55 yard TD was just a misjudged play on Ramsey’s part. I think it was attributed to these factors: 1) I don’t think Ramsey expected the deep throw and 2) Evans stuttered ever so slightly when the ball was in the air and Ramsey’s head wasn’t around at that point - Ramsey stuttered along with Evans and by then it gave Evans enough separation. It was an uncharacteristic play from the All-Pro CB. He hasn’t made excuses and I expect him to bounce back this week.
Darious Williams (100%) was Brady’s target in this one. He allowed 9 rec (14 targets) for 135 yards. He did have 7 tackles (5 solo), 1 TFL, and a PD.
David Long Jr (85% snap share) as mentioned earlier was the 3rd CB on the field. He actually played well; leading the team with 7 tackles (7 solo) and added a TFL. Since he is a 5’11, 200 lb CB, I expect him to keep his role as CB3 over Deayon who is 5’9”, 150 lbs.
Despite DWill being picked on and an off day for Ramsey, I’m not hitting the panic button with this group.
CBs Stock Up:
- David Long Jr
CBs Stock Down:
- Jalen Rameey
- Darious Williams
- Dont’e Deayon
DV Grade: C-, Overall: B-, Trend: Slight Downward
Taylor Rapp: 65.5 (DNP), Terrell Burgess: 64.0 (+1.6), Nick Scott: 60.3 (+11.0), Eric Weddle: 64.2 (+5.5), Jordan Fuller: 74.3 (IR)
What a time for these depth guys to come together. Special teams standout Nick Scott has gone from minimal playing time to having to handle a full-time starting safety spot. His interception at the end of the 1st half was a textbook read. The type of read you see from your elite safeties. Apparently Eric Weddle has been a big influence on him. So Weddle’s return has provided significance in that way.
Weddle (85% snap share) leapfrogged Terrell Burgess (19% snap share) within a two week span. I’m still not sure why the Rams do not trust Burgess in a larger role. I’d actually like to see him play in the conference championship. He’s a very good tackler and finds himself around the football. He reminds me of John Johnson in Johnson’s first two seasons.
Weddle made 4 tackles (2 solo) in his second game removed from unretiring. He did make a costly penalty in the 4th quarter; drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty for a helmet to helmet hit on Mike Evans. Had the football not hit the ground prior to the hit, the Bucs would have kept the ball to continue their drive.
The Rams have Taylor Rapp listed as questionable (concussion) on their injury report this week. McVay has indicated that he is available, but I’m not sure if he will start and play based on the continuity for Scott & Weddle. Rapp may leapfrog Weddle or Burgess, but I think Scott will likely keep his spot.
S Stock Up:
- Nick Scott
- Eric Weddle
S Stock Down:
- Terrell Burgess
- Taylor Rapp
These guys will be playing a lot more run support than originally accustomed to. They will need to be disciplined with play action and avoiding the eye candy that Shanahan throws their way.
WC Grade: B, Overall: B-, Trend: Very Slight Upward
Johnny Hekker: 64.7 (-1.1), Matt Gay: 81.9 (-0.3)
I don’t want to jinx it or get ahead of myself, but I am super proud when watching this group. They were in a dark place through the first 13 weeks of the season. They were a bottom-dweller in the special teams rankings, but over the last 2 months they have been playing fantastic special teams. A group of cast-offs: Matt Gay (released by TB), Brandon Powell (free agent mid-season after release from BUF), and Jake Funk (neglected draft prospect because of injuries) have been huge in the turn around.
Brandon Powell was phenomenal; returning 3 punts for 60 yards. His longest return was 33 yards and the commitment to picking a lane and getting upfield was exactly what you want to see. Jake Funk has been underrated in the punt return blocking as DeCamillis has utilized him as a deep blocker to give Powell extra space at the catch point. Funk has had some crucial blocks; giving Powell a corner and lane to get upfield.
There was a report by Mike Tirico before the game that Matt Gay had sustained an injury in warmups. But the report has yet to be verified. In the early going, Matt Gay looked fine; managing his kickoff duties and connecting on his XPs and two first half field goals (26, 40). It wasn’t until the 2nd half when Matt Gay missed from 47 yards - that Rams fans became concerned. The missed FG was uncharacteristic in that it was short of the crossbar. Matt Gay, well known for his strong leg, routinely hits from that distance. Based on Gay’s reaction, he was shocked by the miss. No injury was verified post-game or made known this week. But to redeem himself for his current team and exact revenge on his former squad, Matt Gay was the closer in this one. His 30 yard FG as time expired propelled the Rams to the NFC Championship.
Johnny Hekker punted 4 times for 195 yards (48.8 avg/punt) with one being downed inside the 20. He was even better than his line reflected as Skowronek failed to down a punt inside the 5; getting greedy by trying to down it at the 1 yard line, but he miss handled the football; giving the Bucs a touchback.
DV Grade: B, Overall: B, Trend: Neutral
MCVAY AND CO.
McVay felt confident putting the ball in Stafford’s hands 42 times. He knew he could attack Bowles’s defense and they were successful yet again. While I continue to advocate for a few more touches for Michel, I thought the scheme of play calling was great. There was a great balance in shotgun, play action, and split back formation.
Raheem Morris’s group was better than the 27 points “allowed” on the scoreboard. Had the offense not fumbled 4 times, the defense would have been talked about significantly more. Morris got the pressure he needed from AD99 and V. Miller to make an impact on Brady. All eyes now turn to Morris being able to solve the physicality of the 49ers. He made himself vocal by saying “pay back” is in order. I can agree that it definitely is (and overdue).
DeCamillis should be smiling. The turn around he has manufactured in the late season with his special teams unit has been night and day. If not for a Matt Gay missed FG from 47 and a Ben Skowronek muffing a downed punt, his group would have been spotless. Can’t have it all though, I guess.
Based on the end of TB and going into the Conference Championship against SF, hopefully ball security (offense) and tackling (defense) were the focal points this week.
This game not only holds a lot of weight for the significance of being the NFC representative for the Super Bowl. It holds a lot of weight to McVay’s coaching hierarchy moving forward. Shanahan has had his team’s number the last six matchups and McVay has to find a way to buck the trend. The winning HC also carries a significant title in being the face of young coaches around the NFL. And last but not least, McVay made a move to get Stafford to win these types of games. He believed he had maximized Goff’s talent and could only move forward with a better arm at the quarterback position. A loss leaves the Rams shaking their heads; having made big moves but without a Lombardi Trophy to show for it. Win and you shake the demons of the 49ers, a team they allowed into the playoffs after a 17-3 halftime lead. Win and you are in the Super Bowl…
DV Grade: McVay: B+ / Morris: B+ / DeCamillis: A-, Overall: B+, Trend: Neutral
RamNation let’s get it!
Conference Championship Prediction: Rams 23, 49ers 16