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Self-inflicted wounds lay the Rams defense to rest

After playing three stellar quarters, L.A. let’s Pittsburgh steal it at the end

NFL: OCT 22 Steelers at Rams
Michael Hoecht gets two sacks vs. Pittsburgh
Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It took the Los Angeles Rams multiple attempts, but eventually they shot themselves in the foot enough times to finally bleed out in a 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The L.A. defense was staunch for three quarters, allowing 78 net yards and four first downs. But when the wheels came off in the final 15 minutes, nothing could correct the slide and the game careened into a ditch. Pittsburgh boat-raced for 178 yards, two touchdowns and 12 minutes of possession in the fourth quarter to steal the win.

Quite simply, this a game the Rams should have won easily. It doesn’t matter who’s to blame, coaching, offense, defense, or the kicker. Letting this one slip away is an unforced error from a team that cannot afford them if they dare to dream of competing in a playoff race.

Here’s how it happened on the weekly drive chart review:

Drive #1

A quick three and out. After a completed short checkdown pass, edge Michael Hoecht came untouched off the edge for a sack. On third and long, cornerback (CB) DeCobie Durant comes on a blitz hitting quarterback (QB) Kenny Pickett as he threw, forcing a high, wide throw and the punt. Rams 0, Steelers 0.

Drive #2

After a couple of short runs set up third and one, Pitt went to the air. Wide receiver (WR) George Pickens caught a short pass against soft coverage by CB Derion Kendrick and rambled for 17. Running back (RB) Najee Harris ran twice, gaining six off tackle on the first and then losing five when CB DeCobie Durant strung out a sweep. Although he missed the ankle-dive tackle, safety Jordan Fuller was there to clean it up. On third and long WR Pickens beat CB Ahkello Witherspoon down the sideline, but the throw was just a bit wide for the catch to made in bounds. Rams 0, Steelers 0.

Drive #3

QB Pickett opened the drive with a 14 yard pass, CB DeCobie Durant had close coverage. Two consecutive runs off tackle, but on opposite sides of the line put Pitt on the Rams 28. The Steelers lined up a RB to try and block Michael Hoecht off the edge and Hoecht beat him, chased down the QB and pulled him to the ground for a sack. On second and 21, an underneath pass gained nine. On third and long, WR Diontae Johnson turned a short drag pass into a 19 yard gain to the Rams eight yard line but luckily, it was nullified by a crackback block. QB Pickett’s re-try on third down was a wide screen and dropped. Pitt kicker (K) Chris Boswell hit the 53 yard field goal. Steelers 3, Rams 0.

Drive #4

A quick three and out. CB DeCobie Durant had good coverage and broke up a pass, the interior of the defensive line stopped a run up the middle for one yard, and the line got pressure up the gut with defensive tackle (DT) Kobie Turner chasing the QB outside and forcing the throwaway. Steelers 3, Rams 0.

Drive #5

Pittsburg opened wide with an end around, but CB Witherspoon fought off a block to hold the play to one yard, then turned around and got beat with a back shoulder pass for 20. It was nicely executed though, with DT Aaron Donald barreling into the QB as he threw it. The interior the stopped a wide run for minimal gain, an open WR short-armed and dropped a pass over the middle, and on third and long, safety Russ Yeast came untouched on a blitz and forced the QB to throw it away for an intentional grounding. Rams 3, Steelers 3.

Drive #6

Kneel down with 15 seconds left to end the first half. Rams 9, Steelers 3.

2nd half

Drive #7

L.A. QB Matthew Stafford gave Pittsburgh tremendous field position at the Rams seven yard line with an interception to open the second half. A wide run and swing pass to RB Najee Harris, along with some poor tackling, got Pitt to the one and QB Pickett snuck in from there for the TD. Steelers 10, Rams 9.

Drive #8

For all intents and purposes, another thee and out. A short pass to WR Diontae Johnson into soft coverage and a holding penalty on a run for no gain into the interior made it second and 12. Linebacker Christaian Rozeboom got both hands on a high pass over the middle, but couldn’t reel it in and the ball fell incomplete. On third and long DT Aaron Donald flushed the QB from the pocket with pressure right up the middle and edge’s Hoecht and Byron Young cleaned up the play. Rams 17, Steelers 10.

Drive #9

Pittsburgh took over at their own 41 after a missed field goal and at the third quarter’s end, faced a third and nine. On the first play of the final period, QB Pickett had time to throw while WR Diontae Johnson juked outside and cut back inside to catch the ball just short of the stick. CB Derion Kendrick tried to undercut the pass, but was well short of getting to the ball, the WR took off upfield and two missed tackles later had a 39 yard gain to the Rams 18. RB Jaylen Warren plowed straight ahead for three and on his second carry, took a pitch and started wide, but cut it back off tackle and sliced through the second line of the defense untouched to score and tie up the game. Rams 17, Steelers 17.

Drive #10

A 10 play, 80 yard drive to take the lead. WR George Pickens beat man coverage by CB Ahkello Witherspoon for 18 yards but got up and talked his way into a taunting penalty for a net gain of three yards. RB Najee Harris pounded the gut for three, RB Jaylen Warren carried Rams E Michael Hoecht for six, and QB sneak went for first down. From their own 34, QB Pickett hit WR Pickens with a nice back shoulder pass/catch for 21. RB Harris ran right up the middle twice for 15, From the 30, WR Diontae Johnson beat CB Kendrick on an out pattern for 11 and Pitt was in the red zone. After a 12 men on the field penalty cost the Rams five, QB Pickett hit TE Conner Heyward on a play action bootleg counter pass to the three and RB Harris pounded it in from there. Steelers 24, Rams 17.

Drive #11

Pitt controlled the ball for the final 5:28 of the game. The Rams had a chance to squelch the drive early, but after two runs up the middle brought up third and three, QB Pickett found WR Pickens all alone up the seam for 31 yards. A couple of short runs had the Rams using up their time outs. On third and eight, the Rams blitzed six, QB Pickett had enough leeway to hit ex-Ram WR Allen Robinson. The play was ruled short and on fourth down, QB Pickett appeared to be down behind the stick, but the referees didn’t see it and the Rams did not have any challenges left. Victory formation and three kneel downs let Pittsburgh steal a win. Steelers 24, Rams17.

What happened?

It’s natural wanting to find the lynch pin where things went wrong, but can also be very complicated and frustrating. It really becomes difficult when a unit plays well for a major part of the game and then suddenly comes apart at the seams. So, was it some of fans favorite whipping posts? Scheme, tackling, talent, lack of pass rush?

Mistakes, at the wrong time can incorporate any one or combination of the four. We’re not talking about a constant barrage of misplays, the Steelers only had two drives over 45 yards for the game, and three over 33 yards, they just all came in the final quarter. All three had one thing in common, a big play.

A 39 yarder when Kendrick mis-judges his break on the ball and two missed tackles downfield leads to the tying TD. On the lead-taking drive, QB Pickett gets four wide open looks for 51 yards. He’s struggled all season, but pretty good when allowed to play pitch and catch. And finally on the clock-killing final drive, WR George Pickens runs free right down the seam for 31 yards with DeCobie Durant looking to the sideline and not reacting to a free runner in his area.

The offense certainly dealt some bad cards with its second half sputtering, the interception and missed field goal. Defending short fields is surely tough, but giving up 170+ yards in one quarter, let alone the fourth, isn’t going to win many games. What this defense needs is someone to step up and make a play when the game is on the line. What this defense has to do is minimize the mistakes.