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PFF grades confirm Rams defense had a rough day against Steelers

It was a poor outing for LA’s secondary, especially Derion Kendrick & Ahkello Witherspoon

Pittsburgh Steelers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams’ Week 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was probably one of their more frustrating appearances so far this season. Matthew Stafford and the offense seemed disjointed throughout the game. The defense seemed to break at the most inopportune times and allowed 24 points to an oft-maligned Pittsburgh offense led by a much-criticized offensive coordinator in Matt Canada.

This loss reflects poorly on nearly all aspects of the team. Coaching, the franchise QB, their star WR, and there were poor performers across each layer of the defense.

Let’s take a dive into how the team fared in terms of Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades this week:

Top five grades on offense:

1 - Puka Nacua, WR: 88.7

After a 8 catch, 154-yard performance the rookie receiver is now over 750 yards on the year. It’s unusual for a fifth-round pick to become a 1,000-yard pass catcher, but it’s even more extraordinary to do it as a rookie and at the pace Nacua is accomplishing.

He racked up the yardage in a number of ways in this game: physical runs after the catch and with downfield contested wins.

2 - Kevin Dotson, RG: 80.3

Dotson has been LA’s best lineman since he replaced Joe Noteboom (who’s a healthy backup now) at RG in Week 4 versus the Indianapolis Colts. His acquisition looks like a very shrewd and wise move by Les Snead. Dotson had a run blocking grade of 90.4 against Pittsburgh.

3 - Royce Freeman, RB: 78.9

The eye test while watching the game told me that Freeman was running harder than the recently reunited Darrell Henderson, and the PFF grades confirmed that. Freeman also fared much better than Henderson in pass protections (70.7 vs. 36.4).

The veteran had 12 carries for 66 yards (5.5 average).

4 - Rob Havenstein, RT: 76.7

Havenstein had a difficult assignment in TJ Watt and fared well in this game. He did not surrender a single pressure in pass blocking.

5 - Tutu Atwell, WR: 64.9

Atwell caught an odd 31-yard touchdown pass from Stafford just before halftime that was maybe intended for a blanketed Cooper Kupp. The third-year receiver makes plays when the ball finds him, and he needs to be a bigger part of the offense moving forward.

Other notes on offense:

Alaric Jackson faced emerging edge rusher Alex Highsmith for most of this game and allowed a disappointing six total pressures and a pass blocking grade of 29.1. It may be time for LA to consider replacing Jackson in the starting lineup with Joe Noteboom, but the truth is neither are probably the long-term solution at that position.

Top five grades on defense:

1 - Christian Rozeboom, MLB: 77.4

It’s probably not ideal for the Rams if Rozeboom is their highest graded player on the entire defense. The most impressive part of him game came in pass coverage (81.4) where he was targeted twice without allowing a completion and earned a pass break up.

2 - Russ Yeast, DB: 76.6

Yeast led the defense with five total tackles and was active in the run game. LA brought him into the box often where he played 21 snaps (38%).

3 - Jordan Fuller, DB: 69.9

Fuller played 14 snaps in the box but mostly aligned as a free safety. Neither Yeast or Fuller were targeted according to PFF.

4 - Aaron Donald, DE: 69.3

LA’s star defender recorded a team-high five pressures on Kenny Pickett in the pass rush department. He notched two tackles but was also dinged for a miss, which was detrimental to his tackling grade (31.8).

5 - Michael Hoecht, OLB: 63.3

Both of Hoecht’s pressures in this game resulted in sacks. One of those sacks were unblocked and he had to beat a pass protecting running back to earn the other. There was only one play in this game where he was asked to line up in the slot as a coverage player.

Other notes on defense:

We know that Derion Kendrick faced personal adversity this week in wake of his arrest last Sunday evening following LA’s win over the Arizona Cardinals. The second-year corner missed practice time and probably was not able to prepare for this game in the way he normally does. It’s interesting that the Rams elected to play Kendrick on 21 snaps instead of turning to reserve corners Duke Shelley or Tre Tomlinson. The on-field results were not good for Kendrick as he finished with a mark of 33.5 and allowed receptions on all three of his targets for a total of 67 yards.