The Los Angeles Rams were able to stave off the heroics of Tom Brady in last year’s NFC divisional round playoff game, but the GOAT got his revenge with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9 - defeating the Rams 16-13.
While LA’s lead seemed safe for most of the second half, they kept playing with fire by being overly conservative on offense and giving the Bucs opportunity after opportunity to catch a spark.
At first glance it seemed the defense deserves the brunt of the blame for surrendering the lead in the game’s final moments; however, 13 points should never be considered enough to win in the NFL. The magic number is normally closer to 21 points, which is a mark the Rams have failed to meet in six of their eight games so far.
Sunday’s effort just flat out wasn’t good enough, and it’s time to point fingers on an individual level:
Cooper Kupp, WR
Kupp was the offense against Tampa Bay - and he amassed 8 receptions for 127 yards. He scored LA’s only touchdown when he was wide open on a 69-yard catch and run down the seam.
Last year’s triple crown winner also caught another 30+ yard pass to get the Rams into field goal position, where he was again wide open. Kupp was the primary driver of the offense again in Week 9, and it’s tough to wonder how bad this unit would be without him in 2022.
Aaron Donald, DE
The star defensive end is having a down-year in terms of production, but this can in part be attributed by how quickly opposing QB’s are getting rid of the football - and by soft of coverage LA is playing in the secondary.
Donald was in the backfield all game long and disrupted Brady on multiple high-leverage occasions. His most impressive play of the day came on a quick sack on left tackle Donovan Smith - he got to Brady on fourth down despite how quickly the ball had been coming out.
Terrell Lewis, OLB
Lewis flashed on the field several times in Tampa. The third-year pro had a strong start to the season but faded of late, and he had a bounce back game against the Bucs - but he overall still needs to be more consistent.
Lewis forced a holding penalty late in the game to kill a Tampa Bay drive. He also jumped a quick pass by Brady, but ended up dropping a pick six. The outside linebacker gave juice as a pass rusher off the edge, but also made plays in the running game and in coverage. We just need to see that from him more often.
Derion Kendrick, CB
First, give Kendrick credit, despite all of Troy Hill, David Long, and Cobie Durant all recently rounding back into full health, Kendrick has held on as the primary starter at outside corner.
His over-aggression resulted in a long pass play last week against the San Francisco 49ers, and he as grabby at times against the Bucs - getting called for defensive pass interference twice. These were two of the biggest plays of the afternoon for Tampa Bay, and the second gave the Bucs the ball on the one yard line - they scored the game-winning touchdown the next play.
One silver lining to a potentially lost season for LA is the fact that Kendrick is getting playing time and taking his lumps now, because he could be an important piece on the defense moving forward. But for now it’s all growing pains and rookie mistakes.
Bobby Evans, LG
The Rams drafted Evans in the third round and have had four years to develop him into a starting-caliber player, but he’s been the worst player on the offense this season and gave up two sacks to Vita Vea.
The lack of success says as much about LA’s scouting and internal player development as it does Evans as an individual. He should be ready and prepared for this situation, not a clear liability in the middle of the offensive line.
Van Jefferson, WR
Jefferson’s first target of the game was a deep shot over the middle of the field, and the third-year receiver was wide open on the play - but he dropped the pass as the fell to the ground.
This dropped pass was symbolic of Jefferson’s day - he was targeted five times but couldn’t convert a single reception. At least he was more involved after not being targeted once during his season debut a week ago.
Butter Fingers Van Jefferson pic.twitter.com/PzlATm5M6D— Shannonnn sharpes burner (@shannonsharpeee) November 6, 2022
Sean McVay, Head Coach
There are two sequences from the game that highlight the over-conservative approach on offense and perhaps a mismanagement of personnel.
The first scenario followed two impressive, physical runs by Darrell Henderson for first downs - including a 23-yard run that is the longest for the Rams this season. With the team on the goal line, McVay opted to sub out Henderson for Cam Akers. They then passed the ball three times, and all fell incomplete. Matthew Stafford had Ben Skowronek wide open in the back of the end zone, but he skipped the ball in the turf. The next play he threw a turnover-worthy pass into the heads of Devin White, which was intended for Allen Robinson.
Three consecutive passes in RZ after Henderson runs 33 yards on two carries to get them there. Stafford nearly picked on the third attempt. Rams hit the FG. https://t.co/WIitfwNuXW— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) November 6, 2022
The second sequence was the Rams’ final offensive possession, which started with a run by Henderson for no gain. McVay then gave Kupp the ball on a jet sweep, who could have maybe fought for the first down but slid in bounds early to ensure the clock kept rolling - this was a gain of five yards. The next play was a run by Henderson for maybe two yards, which was followed by a punt and eventually the Bucs’ go-ahead touchdown.
It says volumes about the trust the team has in Matthew Stafford that they’d prioritize making sure the clock stays running over trying to throw for a first down.
Which brings us to...
Matthew Stafford, QB
While Tom Brady threw 58 passes and willed his team to victory, the Rams took a very conservative approach on offense and managed Stafford with only 27 attempts. LA’s signal caller completed only 13 of those throws for 165 yards and a touchdown.
One team seemed to understand that if they were going to build any sort of offensive production it would come by running the offense through their quarterback, the other seemed afraid to let their quarterback make a mistake. Stafford didn’t turn the ball over for the third time this season and the second game in a row, which is an encouraging sign.
But you expect a star QB to elevate their surrounding cast to rise above a bad situation - and Stafford has played better in the past despite being on Detroit Lions teams with lesser personnel. The veteran missed a number of throws today, the worst being the aforementioned skip to Skowronek in the end zone.
Stafford has contributed to the offensive struggles this season.
Stafford had Skowronek out of structure but skips the pass. Back to back passes in RZ after two big Hendo runs.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) November 6, 2022