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Forget the soft zone, the Rams offense is letting the defense down

Stop blaming Raheem Morris for the problems of the Sean McVay offense

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first 59 minutes and 30 seconds of Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Los Angeles Rams defense played lights out. Tom Brady had thrown the ball more than 50 times without throwing a touchdown pass, something he’d never done in his career.

Raheem Morris and the Rams defense held the Buccaneers offense to go three (or four) -and-out on six of their 13 offensive drives. Tampa Bay was averaging just 3.6 yards per play and had gone 0-for-2 in the red zone. Through the first 59:30 of the game, the Buccaneers had nine points on three field goals.

With the game on the line, the Rams defense stopped the Buccaneers at the seven-yard line as Aaron Donald exploded through the offensive line and Jalen Ramsey broke up the pass. The game should have been over.

And then it happened.

The Buccaneers got the ball back and in six plays, Brady marched down the field with :44 seconds on the clock and no timeouts. He consistently picked on sixth round pick Derion Kendrick to set up first-and-goal at the one. Wasting no time, Brady found Cade Otton for the go-ahead, game-winning touchdown.

That 44-second sequence has been the focus. With the game on the line, the defense lost the game. However, let’s back track a little bit.

The defense already did it’s job once. With under two minutes to play, the Rams defense already got a stop. They already stopped Brady with the game on the line and already had a goal-line stand. The defense gave the offense a chance with 1:52 to play to put the game on ice. The result?

Darrell Henderson up the middle for 0 yards

Cooper Kupp jet sweep to the right for five yards

Darrell Henderson up the middle for one yard

The offense ran three plays for six yards and ran a total of 1:08 off the clock. Sean McVay remained conservative and at no point was there a play-call to “win the game”. Instead, now you’re asking the defense to go out and win the game a second time?

Following the loss, cornerback Jalen Ramsey said,

“The defense should not have had to go back on the field. Simple. Gotta have some dogs who are gonna go get it. We shouldn’t come to the sideline after a big stop like that and our coaches or the other side or whoever telling us, ‘We gonna to need y’all one more time. We gonna to need y’all one more time.’ Like what the f---? We just made a big stop, turnover on downs, with a minute and some change left and no timeouts for nobody.”

The defense did its job. They stopped Tom Brady with the game on the line and asked the offense just to get 10 yards. One first down ends the game. The offense couldn’t do it. Inviting Tom Brady to march down the field twice is playing with fire. We’ve seen that movie before.

Did the defense play well on that final drive? Everyone can probably agree that a loose prevent style defense in that situation wasn’t ideal. However, when the offense simply isn’t doing its job over 60 minutes, it doesn’t matter. That’s not the talking point.

Over 60 minutes, the Rams offense put up 13 points which included just six in the second half. They went 0-for-2 in the red zone and averaged 3.7 yards per play. On third down, the offense went 4-for-15 for a conversion rate of 26.6 percent. The NFL average is 42.9. The Rams offense punted nine times, which included eight three-and-outs.

Most important, when the defense asked the offense to do its part to ice the game after they had already done theirs, they couldn’t get 10 yards. The defense put out a winning effort and did more than enough to get a result.

In Week 9, the Rams defense finished third overall in EPA per play. The only team to finish in the top-5 and still lose was the Indianapolis Colts who have an excuse because Sam Ehlinger is their quarterback. This Rams offense has way too much talent to only be scoring 13 points.

In 271 games this season, three teams have won while scoring 13 points or less. That’s an overall record of 3-268 and winning percentage of 1.1 percent. Asking the defense to go against the odds and not be apart of the 98.9 percent is an extremely unfair ask.

While some want to focus on the final drive because that’s where the game was “lost”, let’s adjust the focus to the entire fourth quarter.

The Rams offense scored zero points in the fourth quarter for the sixth time in eight games this season. They currently have a fourth-quarter EPA per play play of -0.355. If that holds, it would be the second-worst fourth-quarter offense in EPA since at least 1999. If you’re keeping track, that’s 764th out of 765 teams.

Only the 2006 Raiders were worse.

After going up 13-6 with nine seconds left in the third quarter, the Rams had three drives in the final 15-minutes. They ran nine plays for a total of -2 yards and didn’t manage a single first down. The Rams offense finished the game with three consecutive three-and-outs.

Games are won and lost in the fourth quarter and the offense isn’t showing up.

It goes farther than just the fourth quarter. In the first half on Sunday, the Rams offense averaged 0.3 yards per play on first down. That’s the lowest of any team since 2006 according to ESPN Stats and Information.

13 points simply isn’t enough to get the job done. That’s not a winning effort. The Rams offense is averaging 16.4 points per game this season which ranks 29th in the NFL. On five separate occasions, the offense has scored less than 20 points in a game which ties the most in a single season since McVay took over. A reminder: the NFL just concluded Week 9.

According to The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue, the defense specifically is allowing 17.8 points per game (this subtracts offensive/special teams turnovers that lead to points), which is sixth-best in the NFL.

As Rodrigue puts it,

When the Rams first moved to this defense in 2020, their “magic number” was 20. Hold the (opposing) offense under 20 points, and that would set the (Rams) offense up to win.

So far this season, the Rams defense has held up its end of that plan. The Rams defense has allowed 20 points or less in five games this season - this doesn’t include points given up by the offense on turnovers. The Rams are 2-3 in those games.

The Rams aren’t playing complementary football and that’s a problem. However, the biggest problem in that equation is that it’s largely due to the offense. Through nine weeks, the Rams offense has the worst three-and-out rate in the NFL.

An offense ran by Sean McVay shouldn’t be this bad. An offense with Matthew Stafford at quarterback and Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson at wide receiver should not be this bad.

We can talk about the soft zone as it was clearly a problem last week against the San Francisco 49ers. However, on days when it works as designed like Sunday against the Buccaneers, it’s not even a point of discussion when the offense performed as poorly as it did.

The Rams offense ranks 31st in offensive EPA this season. The team at 32 just fired their head coach. That’s not to say that McVay should be fired, because he shouldn’t be. It’s only to say that a highly dysfunctional franchise is the only team behind them.

Through eight games, the Rams sit at 3-5. The offense continues to let the defense down and until that changes, the Rams won’t be going anywhere in 2022.