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Finding highlights in the Rams lackluster loss to Texans

Good signs from the defense, but mistakes ground Sean McVay’s high flying offense

NFL: Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams
Landen Akers cannot corral a pass in loss to Texans.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

A solid effort by the Los Angeles Rams defense could not carry a sputtering offense, losing game two of the 2022 preseason to the Houston Texans 24-20 on Friday. The two teams combined for seven fumbles and 16 penalties for 171 yards. To go from bad to worse, the Rams lost their top draft pick, Logan Bruss, to a season ending knee injury as well as fan favorite Daniel Hardy for an extended period with a high ankle sprain.

NFL: Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams
Daniel Hardy records a sack with an assist from Decobie Durant
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe the the most interesting thing about the game was the the way in which opposing coaches, Sean McVay and Lovie Smith, approached the game. Two totally different game plan applications.

For Houston, Smith plowed straight ahead from the old-school book and played his top players into the second half. McVay and the Rams stuck to his new age groove— show their foes, current and future, nothing but the simplest schemes with players who are in the bottom third of the roster. Where Smith and the Texans were intense and wanting/needing to win, the Rams coaching staff was loose and cutting up on the sidelines.

Lovie Smith is trying to change a losing teams culture, while LA is simply getting their guys on tape, to either coach up keepers or give something to NFL scouts to scour when looking at discards.

A quick word on LA’s discards

The Rams didn’t wait until Tuesday to announce their roster deletions. Kendall Blanton has really struggled with blocking and while he has good hands, he’s not really an NFL offensive weapon. Raymond Calais had every opportunity to earn a role at RB4. His reps running the football were good, but he just wasn't aggressive enough as a kickoff returner, on coverage teams, or blocking. Letting JJ Koski go on with an injury designation is the right move. The wide receiver room is just too deep, if he can’t be a camp body for the preseason games, let him heal up and try somewhere else. AJ Rose never really had a chance, he had that nice touchdown, but like Calais, he just didn’t flash enough to move up. I had Jairon McVea as a Week 1 cut, LA’s secondary has eight players of professional quality and three rookies that have that potential.

A couple of others that could have gone were cornerback Tyler Hall, tackle Bobby Evans, and safety Quinten Lake. Hall was out of position on two deep passes, the pass interference call at the end of the game and earlier in the end zone, when the receiver dropped a sure touchdown. Evans played the whole game at right tackle and again struggled. It’s one thing for the rookies and bubble players to make mistakes and struggle, but after three seasons on the active roster and eight starts, his play hard to defend.

There were a few highlights on Friday night

The quarterback battle

Fans have to be satisfied with the status quo. Both John Wolford and Bryce Perkins played well enough, but neither really distinguished themselves above the other. The Rams came out throwing (35 passes) against the Texans, after working to establish the running attack (17 passes) in game one of the preseason.

If you are a fan of Wolford’s ability to run the offense and hit the open short and mid range throws, then you think he solidified his grasp on the QB2 job. He didn’t wither against a ferocious Houston pass rush, hit open receivers after making his reads, and showed some escapability. On the negative side, under his lead, the Rams only converted one third down in nine attempts and could only muster two yards in his only trip into the red zone.

On the other hand, if you think that Perkins’ ability to avoid pressure and extend plays with his running ability gives him the edge, he once again showed he is that guy. His extraordinary effort to get in the end zone on the third quarter two-point conversion was the kind of play very few NFL QB’s can make. When some of his throw come off his hand, it can make you say “what was that?”, but he led them down the field twice in the fourth quarter and deserved to post a game winning drive in the books.

Undrafted and still standing

First the bad news on Daniel Hardy. He only logged nine snaps before suffering a high ankle sprain that will require a procedure to fix. After the game, McVay said that Hardy is a candidate to start the season on designated IR (Injured Reserve List). The good news is that Keir Thomas and Benton Whitley got substantial early-game snaps and held their mud against a mostly first-team Texan offense. Not outstanding, just mirroring the upgrade in competition from game one. The Rams will need four edges to start the season and with Chris Garrett still shelved with injury, Thomas and Whitley have huge opportunity.

Lance McCutcheon backed up his flashy debut with a strong effort. He ran more short and mid range routes. The release of tight end Blanton and the parallel move of Jacob Harris back to tight end portends a roster spot is locked in.

One of the best stories out of the Rams training camp is Chandler Brewer’s play at guard. He’s in his fourth year in LA and last saw active roster snaps (17) back in 2019 when the Rams line was decimated by injuries. He has stacked two consecutive solid outings and with the season ending injury to Logan Bruss, has a path to the active roster.

If Jonah Williams continues to use that sweet spin move in his pass rush repertoire, he could make some real noise this season. He has outplayed Earnest Brown thus far, and will join Michael Hoecht and Marquis Copeland in the defensive line rotation. These three will have until mid-October to impress, that’s when Bobby Brown comes off of PED suspension.

Another long-time Ram, having spent almost all his time on the practice squad (13 active snaps), Jake Gervase is probably only a roster candidate because Travin Howard cannot stay healthy. He made the permanent move from safety to off ball linebacker and has thrived in preseason. He looks solid in calling the defense and has tackled well. An added bonus if Gervase can crack the roster— he is a versatile special teams player.

Final thoughts

The Rams bottom third of the roster defense gave the Texans all they could handle in the first half. The defense played well enough to win, It was a bad beat to lose on a couple of big plays/penalties. The offense was obviously hobbled by a sub standard line performance. The Rams came out passing and didn’t run much, if any, outside zone running plays.

I realize that McCutcheon’s ascension is the big story, but Jacob Harris stepped right in after a layoff and played well, he had a handful of catches and two stellar blocks on the Rams second-to-last possession, the go ahead scoring drive.