It’s not news that the Los Angeles Rams 2023 defensive unit is less than a dominating force and matter-of-factly, needs the L.A offense to control the flow of the game for success. While there is nothing wrong with being a complimentary piece, expectations have to be measured when playing upper-level NFL teams.
So it went on Sunday’s 23-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The L.A. offense’s lack of a consistent attack put the onus on the defense to not only stem the tide, but flip off the momentum switch of a well-balanced Philly offense. There were some glimpses of aptitude and certainly some heart, but in the end, it was the same problems that have plagued the defense in the first four games.
So what was the main culprit? Simply a case of lacking of top-tier talent, the very obvious horrible tackling, or something deeper, a series of poor coaching decisions. On Sunday it was a combination of all three that doomed the Rams. Philadelphia rolled to over 450 yards of offense and the game wasn’t as close as the final score indicates.
The tackling problem is a lack of physicality and aggression, too often trying to grab and hold own rather than driving through. The secondary guys are using that ankle-biting technique instead of properly wrapping up. Philly was able to convert 13 of 18 (72. 2%) third down plays. Many of those could have been stopped well short of the line to gain, but arm tackles slipped off, runners bounced off high tackles, or defenders completely whiffed.
It’s easy to complain about Raheem Morris’ reliance on the soft zone coverage, but it’s so widely used across the NFL with similar results. In theory, the umbrella coverage and its many variants force opposing offense into sustaining longer down field marches without making drive-stopping mistakes. What’s so infuriating is that too often Morris’ decisions as to when and where to use it doesn’t seem to show much situational awareness.
When lined up in off coverage with less than 10 yards for a first down, the Rams poor tackling and lack of pass rush almost ensures an easy pitch and catch situation. On the final drive of the 1st half, he locks a corner who has been plagued by letting receivers get behind him in 1on1, with bracket help. With 30 seconds left, you want to encourage underneath 10 yard completions.
Continuing to put Michael Hoecht in coverage on slot receivers and expecting him to turn and run in down field is a flat-out unforced error. He’s game and will play his guts out, but that is not maximizing what he does best and setting him up to fail. Three games in a row he’s given up big plays from that formation.
There is no question that the Rams overall talent level falls well short of the Eagles in all positional areas. Thus, when all other things are equal, they are just not up to snuff to compete with teams at the top of the NFL food chain. Philly had seven drives, not counting the clock-killing final drive. They scored on five of those forays and had a pass intercepted in the end zone on another.
Here’s how those drives shook out.
Grinding 12 play drive for a touchdown. Eagle QB Jalen Hurts completed six of seven crisp, short passes into loose coverage. Four of those went to TE Dallas Goedert. I count 24 extra yard after contact on numerous poor/missed tackles. The defense did stiffen inside the 10 yard line. On third and goal, TE Goedert’s simple mini-post pattern was wide open and although Hurts was late throwing it, an easy touchdown. Eagles 7, Rams 0.
The drive covered 25 yards on nine plays and ended in Philadelphia’s only punt of the day. The Eagles converted two third downs getting to midfield. Then, Rams S Jordan Fuller made a nice coverage on a mid-depth sideline throw and QB Hurts made two short misfires to stall the drive. Eagles 7, Rams 7.
Philly went back to the short pass on another long drive, this one covering 56 yards in 14 plays. It should have been a three-and-out. After a pair short pass attempts (one incomplete), the Rams chased QB Hurts from the pocket on third down and he checked down to a RB. Rams cornerback DeCobie Durant came up to make the hit well short of the stick, but didn’t wrap up and bounced off the tackle, allowing a second-effort first down. Two complete short passes were sandwiched around edge Zach VanValkenberg’s first NFL sack. On third and 12, QB hurts weaved his way up the middle on a designed run, S Russ Yeast missed a tackle right at the stick. From the Rams 34, the drive stalled after short run and two swing passes that didn’t gain much forcing the field goal. Eagles 10, Rams 7.
After the Rams took a lead. The Eagles took over with 32 seconds in the 1st half. Before this drive, the Rams had held Philadelphia to a respectable 156 yards of offense. On the first two plays, QB Hurts was flushed from the pocket, on one he scrambled for nine yards and the other was thrown away. On third and one with 24 with 17 ticks on the clock and after playing most of the first 30 minutes in soft zone, the Rams put CB Derion Kendrick in man coverage on WR A.J. Brown. Kendrick was beaten badly on a long crosser and added insult to injury with a horse collar tackle. The catch, run, and penalty netted 52 yards, well into the red zone. On the very next play with six seconds left, Kendrick was called for holding on in the end zone, first down on the one. A Philly “tush push” scores and the Rams snatch a halftime deficit from the jaws of a lead. Eagles 17, Rams 14.
After a beautiful Ethan Evans punt forced Philadelphia to start at their own five, all three of the aforementioned Rams weaknesses came into play. The wasn’t much pass rush pressure, some shoddy tackling, and the poor decision to put edge Michael Hoecht in coverage on a slot receiver. The Eagles moved 75 yards in five plays, the killer being TE Goedert beating Hoecht down the sideline for a 49 yard catch and run. The poor play on this drive was bailed out by CB Akhello Witherspoon playing sticky man coverage and reading an underthrown ball to grab an interception in the end zone. Eagles 17, Rams 14.
Again, P Ethan Evans stuck his punt inside the 10. Up to this point, the Rams defense had only allowed 50 rushing yards, but Philadelphia started to use their big front line to lean on L.A. with another long drive. This one traversed 83 yards with 49 of those coming on the ground. The biggest blow was on third and seven, Edge Ochaun Mathis flushed QB Hurts from the pocket, but could only get a hand on him. Again, CB Durant drew a bead five yards short of the line to gain and almost whiffed, edge Byron Young followed up in pursuit but didn’t wrap up and QB Hurts bounced off the shoulder bump and carried on to the first down. WR AJ Brown broke loose fro CB Durant across the middle for anther 25 yard gain to the red zone. The Eagles would five more plays for short gain and another first down, but the Rams did stiffen up and force a field goal. Eagles 20, Rams 14.
With 10 minutes left in the game, Philadelphia embarked on a 10 play, 72 yard drive. Two big plays did most of the damage. After opening the drive with a short run, QB Hurts used a spin play action move and had all day to throw. WR Brown ran along crossing pattern from one side of the field to the other and was wide open for a 36 yard gain into Rams territory. After a run for a loss and short completion, it was third down. The Rams lined up in a coverage formation with four down linemen, one LB, and six defensive backs. Philly crossed things up with an off tackle power run behind two pullers. LB Ernest Jones didn’t take on TE Goedert in the hole, choosing instead to go low and at angle. Goedert bumped him right out of the hole. There was no other run support and RB D’Andre Swift was patient and rambled for 17 yards. Once In the red zone, Philadelphia appeared to take their foot off the gas and ran a few more conservative plays a booted the field to make it a two score game. Eagles 23, Rams 14.
The game was all but over, Eagles were just grinding clock while the Rams futilely burnt their timeouts. Philly ran the ball seven straight times just short of 20 yards. I guess you could say that L.A stopped the “tush push” to kill the drive. I wouldn’t, but maybe someone else might. Eagles 23, Rams 14.
Any defensive progress since Week 1?
Yes, in certain areas. Most of the ground damage was inflicted by an athletic QB breaking the pocket. But the Rams tackling is still atrocious, the pass rush is not getting home, and some of the defensive calls/formations are head-scratching.
There has to be drills where these guys can practice wrapping up tackles during the week. You could make a strong case that the Rams inability to wrap up and tackle cost this game. I think that DC Morris is doing all he can with blitzing, both actual and simulated and this week’s defensive line rotation really helped in keeping guys fresh. I hope it continues. But all the players not named Aaron Donald are hardly showing additions to their pass rush moves, if any. I understand that Morris is trying to show a lot of different looks to try keeping opposing QB’s off balance and their timing, but opposing coaches are exploiting certain looks. Finally, the defensive play calling going into half has been exploited in every game.
Allowing Philadelphia to go 95 yards in 32 seconds was simply shameful, but not unprecedented.
All four previous of the Rams opponents have gotten themselves into scoring position as the 1st halves have wound down. Seattle Seahawks got the ball with 1:45 and moved down into field goal range, but missed a chip shot, the San Francisco 49ers got that same 1:45 and moved 75 yards for a score, Cincinnati Bengals had 1:13 and got down to score a field goal, and the Indianapolis Colts had the most time, 5:48, but controlled the ball until finally missing a late, very makable, field goal.
All that said, very few, if anyone, thought the Rams would be 2-3 at this point. The schedule does take a more handleable turn for the next 6-7 weeks. If the Rams are to compete for sneak-in Wild Card spot, they're going to have to figure out ways to win, not lose these tough games.
Best team the 49ers have played so far is the Rams imo.— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) October 9, 2023
And I mean that as a complement to the Rams, not as a dig on the Niners schedule.