The Los Angeles Rams fell to 2-3 after losing 23-14 to the Philadelphia Eagles. While not many expected the Rams to win, it was a winnable game. The offense was completely shutout in the second half in Cooper Kupp’s debut. It’s another example of just how far the Rams still have to go as a team. They’re certainly competitive and play above their talent level, but just don’t have the horses to go 10-rounds against the best teams in the NFL. Here are 10 takeaways from Sunday’s loss.
1. Puka Nacua is Going Nowhere
There was some concern on whether or not Puka Nacua would still be featured in the offense in Cooper Kupp’s return. He finished with seven catches for 71-yards and a touchdown. To say the least, the Rams are going to find ways to get both players the ball.
Reports of Puka Nacua’s demise were greatly exaggerated ‼️ pic.twitter.com/8R7PBm2gxe— PFF (@PFF) October 8, 2023
Nacua had a big drop on third down and had a fumble that took the Rams out of field goal range. However, he’s very clearly the second wide receiver in the offense and will be going nowhere.
2. It was nice to have Cooper Kupp back
On that note, it was great to have Cooper Kupp back in action. On the opening drive alone, Kupp had a pair of catches on third down that moved that chains and then also had a reception on fourth down.
Kupp didn’t get in the end zone and seemed to not be on the same page as Stafford on a few plays. Stafford said after the game,
“I think some of those plays are just...I’m cutting the ball loose at a certain time and thinking he’s doing one thing and nobody’s right or wrong, it’s just not on the same page and that’s part of football. It’s not going to be perfect all the time.”
These are things that they’ll get worked out as they get more live reps together. It’s worth remembering that Kupp missed a lot of training camp and then hasn’t been able to practice. Stafford and Kupp will get it worked out, but the first game was promising.
3. What to make of the offensive line
The offensive line seemed to perform well in the first half and give Stafford ample time to throw. In the games that the Rams have lost, the offensive line seems to only be giving up pressures in what is considered “true pass sets”. This is basically when defense is expected a pass. According to PFF, “True Pass Set” excludes plays with less than four rushers, play action, screens, short dropbacks and time-to-throws under 2 seconds.
All but two of the pressures that the Rams allowed came in “true pass sets” on Sunday. This tends to happen in the second half when Sean McVay gets away from the run and the offense turns into pure drop back game. The offensive line gets worn down as the game goes on. That’s to be expected against a defensive line like the Eagles and shows the importance of remaining balanced.
Kevin Dotson performed well and only allowed one pressure. He needs to be the starting right guard moving forward.
4. Sequence to End the First Half Ended All Momentum
The end of the first half was very reminiscent to that of the San Francisco 49ers game. Following a drive in which the offense scored late, the defense gave up a quick touchdown drive aided by penalties. Against the 49ers, the Rams had a chance to take a 17-10 lead into the half and get the ball to start the third quarter. On Sunday, the offense scored to go up 14-10 and got the ball to start the second-half. Instead, they trailed 17-14.
Those are opportunities where the Rams can really take control of games. Imagine the Rams leading 24-10 or 20-10 against the 49ers had they not given up a late score and gotten points on their opening drive of the third quarter. Imagine leading 21-10 or 17-10 if the same had happened on Sunday. Instead, a late drive given up by the defense killed the momentum in both situations.
“That was tough and those will be things that we’ve got to be able to look at and it was almost identical to the way that things played out against the 49ers. It was, in some instances, déjà vu. We got to figure out, alright, how can we be better in some of those situations?”
The coaching staff seemed to recognize a mental lapse in terms of focus as they called a timeout following a nine-yard scramble from Hurts. Unfortunately, the defense couldn’t escape the mental errors.
If the Rams lose this game, the last drive of the first half and this opening drive are two to go back to.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) October 8, 2023
Much like SF, had a chance to take control of the game. Had a lead. Gave up a late TD. Punted to open the half.
Derion Kendrick will take the blame, as he should. His play is very up and down. On the drive before he tackled Quez Watkins in space to force a fourth down. At the end of the day, this is the bed that the Rams made when they traded Jalen Ramsey. Who are you replacing Kendrick with? AJ Brown is an extremely good wide receiver. Kendrick shouldn’t be the top cornerback on a roster, but again, it’s the bed the Rams made.
This was a huge turning point in the game. The offense didn’t respond coming out of the half and the Eagles were able to pull away.
5. The Offense Has Major Issues in the Second Half
The defense will get the brunt of the second-half criticism because that’s simply how these things go. That’s not to say that the defense isn’t at fault, but it’s time to look at the other side of the ball.
This Rams team is built with the idea that the offense will score points and for the defense to do just enough. As explained by Cody Alexander of Match Quarters, the Rams’ defensive philosophy is to play a mitigating style of defense.
“Survive and live to play another down. It may not be the sexiest way to play football, but for the Rams and their depleted defensive roster, this philosophy gives them the best chance to win.”
During the offseason, the Rams traded Jalen Ramsey and cut Leonard Floyd. This isn’t a defense that’s built to carry a team from a talent perspective.
The team is built with the offense being the focus. That offense was completely shutout in the second half. That’s the unit that has to come through for the Rams and they scored zero points after halftime.
Since Week 2, the Los Angeles offense has completely disappeared in the second-half of games. They scored two field goals against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2 that included a pointless one as the clock expired. In Week 3, they had one field goal outside of a garbage time touchdown. Last week, the offense only had one field goal in the second half.
Since Week 2, the Rams offense in the second half has been nearly non-existent.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) October 8, 2023
Week 2: Two Field Goals
Week 3: One FG, One Garbage Time TD
Week 4: One FG until OT touchdown
Week 5: 0 points
The Rams offense ranks 31st in the NFL in second-half offense EPA in Weeks 2-5. They are averaging just -0.268 EPA/play in that time span. Only the New England Patriots led by Mac Jones and Bill O’Brien are worse. It’s an issue that dates back to last season. Since the beginning of 2022, the LA offense ranks 31st in second-half offense EPA, averaging -0.161 EPA/play. Only the Tennessee Titans are worse.
The issue in the second half of games this season is first and second-down success. The Rams’ success-rate on early downs in the second-half of games this season is 36.9 percent. This ranks 26th in the NFL. Their 36.5 percent dropback success rate in these situations ranks last.
Not including the final two drives for the Rams, McVay called four runs to 14 passes in the second-half. Taking away garbage time when the Rams had less than a 10 percent chance to win, the offense averaged 0.903 rushing EPA/play. In contrast, they averaged -0.720/play in dropback EPA. The Rams were never going to beat the Eagles running the ball, but that’s not having a feel for the game as a play caller.
Again, this isn’t to say that the defense is not at fault, but the offense has to be able to do its part. Right now, it’s one of the worst units in the NFL after halftime.
6. Rams Lacked Complementary Football
That leads into my next takeaway. The Rams lacked complementary football that’s needed to win games. There was an opportunity to go into the half leading, 14-10. Instead, the defense gives up a quick scoring drive and the Rams instead trailed, 17-14. While the offense got the ball to start the second half, they punted.
With the Rams trailing 20-14, Ahkello Withspoon intercepted Hurts in the red zone. The Rams offense proceeded to punt when points of any sort would have gone a long way and shifted some momentum.
McVay touched on this after the game, saying,
“We’ve got to play better complimentary football. That’s one of the things that I thought was really reflected. Whether it was in the first half or even in the second half. I thought Witherspoon’s interception, where it’s still a one possession game, we’ve got to figure out how to go turn that into points. There’s opportunities that I know we’re capable of making and then we’ve just got to be able to string it together.”
The issue is both sides not pulling their weight when needed.
7. Game Was Lost on Third-Down
It’s easy to point at the time of possession and blame the defense for allowing long drives. The fact is, the defense allowed just two drives of over 5 minutes in the second half. Again, it comes down to both sides of the ball not coming through in the big moments.
You sustain drives and get off the field by winning on third down. The Rams simply did neither of these things. In the second-half, the Rams offense was just 1-for-6 on third down. Meanwhile, the defense allowed the Eagles to go 6-for-9. Both of those numbers need to be better.
8. Cobie Durant is Officially in a Sophomore Slump
It’s time to talk about Cobie Durant and his sophomore slump. He had a missed tackle on third down on Kenneth Gainwell that ended up being a first down. Later in the game, the same thing happened when Durant went to tackle Hurts. Simply put, Durant has been a liability in the run game. While he is smaller, this isn’t something that we saw in his rookie season.
It may be that Durant isn’t fit for the “star” role, but he’s taken an unexpected step back after a strong rookie season. Again, this is the bed that the Rams made, but they also need to find ways to put Durant in positions where he can succeed.
9. Too Many Missed Opportunities
While the Rams didn’t score any second-half points, there were a few missed opportunities. Stafford seemed to have TuTu Atwell up the seam, but was rushed and his pass was slightly off target. It’s a play that possibly goes for a touchdown.
Tutu Atwell near 63-yard house call sheeshpic.twitter.com/uQTpbWpHeX— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 9, 2023
In the first half, Puka Nacua had a drop on third down. The ball was a little high, but he needs to be able to come up with that catch. There were a few deep balls in which Stafford and Kupp didn’t seem to be on the same page as well.
Trailing by six in the fourth quarter, the Rams faced a 4th-and-5 from their own 42 yard line. The analytics had the situation as a “go” situation. Instead, McVay opted to punt and the Eagles ended up kicking a field goal to make it a two-score game.
Down by 6, Rams had a fourth and 5.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) October 8, 2023
McVay punted. Analytics say it was a STRONG go for it situation.
Rams now trail by 9 with 4-minutes to play pic.twitter.com/BctnLkBvSA
McVay said it himself in the post-game press conference several times, “The margin for error was really small.” These are costly errors that decide games.
10. Rams Lack Depth and Consistency to Compete With Top Teams
It was pretty clear by how the Rams approached the game on defense that they didn’t feel they have the talent to win one-on-one. Raheem Morris consistently brought Ernest Jones on a blitz as just rushing four wasn’t getting the job done. As the game continued, the Rams offensive line started to wear down in pass protection and the pressure started to get to Stafford.
One thing has been clear through four weeks. The Rams are going to compete week in and week out. They aren’t a team that’s going to roll over just because the matchup says that they shouldn’t stand a chance. This was the first game where the talent deficit, overall depth, and youth on the roster was really felt. The Rams will continue to grow and learn from these moments, but right now, it leads to some frustrating stretches in winnable games.