The Los Angeles Rams fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-17, in Week 7. It was arguably the most disappointing loss for the Rams to date this year. The Cincinnati Bengals game was more about play-calling. The Rams had this game in their grasp and let it slip away due to self-inflicted errors. This team is good enough to be in the playoff hunt at the end of the year. Losses like this could end up having an impact later on. Let’s jump into 10 takeaways from the game.
1. Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman Were a Good Duo
There was a lot of concern on whether or not head coach Sean McVay would stick with a semblance or a run game with Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman. Throughout the game, the two combined for 30 carries and looked like a pretty good duo.
Not a bad first game back for Henderson. Worth noting the two negative runs. His -0.67 RYOE/att was the sixth lowest for the week.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) October 23, 2023
Royce Freeman ranked 5th in yards per attempt and his 0.99 RYOE per attempt ranked fourth. Finished second in RYOE% at 58.3%. pic.twitter.com/X9gDzdfZCa
Henderson scored a touchdown in his first game back and was stout in pass protection. Freeman meanwhile averaged more than five yards per carry and was one of the more efficient running backs of the week. While the Rams will miss Kyren Williams, Hendo and Freeman should be able to get the job done.
2. Puka Nacua Took Over The Game
Nacua had a down-game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6, but was back at it against the Steelers. When the Rams needed a big play on offense, he was there to make it. The first Rams touchdown drive was sparked by a 36-yard Nacua catch and run. Later on in the game, Nacua’s acrobatic catch along the sideline sparked an eventual touchdown to respond to the Steelers score following the interception.
The rookie wide receiver needs a better first step coming out of screen passes and needs to add some refinement to his game. However, with Cooper Kupp seemingly off, Nacua stepped up to the plate and was a positive in the offense.
3. Rams Have a Maher Problem at Kicker
The Rams left seven points on the board because of missed field goals by Brett Maher. Now, it’s fair to note that they likely don’t go for two if Maher doesn’t miss the extra point. With that being said, six additional points on the scoreboard would have been huge in this game and his misses had a major impact.
Following Maher’s first miss, the Steelers offense went down and kicked a field goal of their own. His second miss led to a Steelers touchdown that saw them tie the game. Those are momentum swings, especially the second miss. If the Rams go up 20-10 at that point, it becomes a two-score game. That forces the Steelers to start chasing points which isn’t where they want to be.
The primary issue at kicker is that it’s more complicated at this point than “just go sign somebody else.” There’s really not anybody else. Robbie Gould is going to cost more than the Rams are willing to give and is 40. It’s unlikely that he signs for a team staring at 3-5. Cade York struggles under pressure. These are offseason issues. Once you’re in-season, let alone Week 8, you get everybody else’s damaged goods. Can you get lucky again with another Matt Gay? It’s possible, but highly unlikely.
Maher is 14-for-16 from inside 50-yards. The issue seems to be outside of 50-yards where the Rams have attempted more field goals than any other team this season. McVay needs to be able to adjust his play-calling. He’s been lucky with Greg Zuerlein and Matt Gay, but that may not be the case with Maher.
4. Interception to Start Second Half Changed Everything
Coming into this game, I said that the Rams couldn’t beat themselves on offense. Well, that’s exactly what happened. The Steelers offense was struggling to move the ball. With a chance to extend a lead and take control of the game, Matthew Stafford threw an interception to TJ Watt that gave Pittsburgh the ball inside the 10.
Yes, the Rams went down and scored on the very next offensive drive. However, what if that touchdown drive happens on the opening possession of the second half? At that point, the Rams are looking at leading 17-3. If the defense isn’t giving up a late drive in the first half, the offense is turning the ball over to start the second half. These are self-inflicted errors that cost games.
5. The Rams Beat Themselves
That leads directly into the next takeaway. The Rams beat themselves in this game. Self-inflicted errors came back to haunt them when all was said and done. On the opening drive, the offense got down to the Pittsburgh 41-yard line. A drop by Kupp that would have led to a first down turned into a holding penalty and then a sack. On the following possession, the Maher missed his first field goal. However, while Maher missed the field goal, it was a “go” situation from an analytics standpoint.
These are plays that the Rams need to be able to make. As it stands, they’ve been far too inconsistent within a 60-minute period of games to beat good teams. The Rams could easily be 5-2 right now and instead are 3-4. Much of that is self inflicted both from a play-calling standpoint and execution standpoint.
6. Rams Top Need in 2024 is a Left Tackle
The situation is what it is for the 2023 season. However, heading into the offseason, the Rams need to get some stability at left tackle. Alaric Jackson is a very good depth piece to have. However, in a full-time role his weaknesses get exposed. The Rams actually had a good game plan for TJ Watt. The did a good job chipping him with a tight end and running back.
Nick Herbig telling @missi_matthews that he watched Alex Highsmith beat the Rams LT earlier in the game so he used the same move for his first NFL sack. His football IQ is so good.— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) October 23, 2023
Here's both reps. #Steelers https://t.co/p8MNGomj7k pic.twitter.com/V3ltT1UayU
However, the Rams offensive line gave up 10 pressures and six of those came from the left tackle spot. Again, Jackson is fine when it comes to playing teams like the Cardinals or even the Seattle Seahawks who don’t have a premier pass-rusher. Unfortunately, the talent level just isn’t there to hold up against good pass rushers.
7. The Defense Self-Destructed in the Fourth Quarter
Everyone here should know that I’ve defended the Rams defense time and time again over the past three years. However, they deserve some criticism for the fourth-quarter performance. The simply weren’t at the level that they are capable of or need to be at in the big moments.
It’s fair to say that they were put in some unfair positions after the missed field goals and especially after the interception. With that said, the Steelers came into the game having the 32nd-ranked red zone offense, scoring a touchdown on just over 25 percent of their red zone possession. They went 3-for-3 in the red zone on Sunday.
In quarters 1-3, the Rams defense allowed a success rate of 36.4 percent. That rose to 71.4 percent in the fourth quarter. In the first three quarters, the Rams defense had the best defense in the NFL. They allowed an EPA per play of just -0.364. However, in the fourth quarter, they were the worst defense in the NFL, allowing an EPA per play of 0.637. It comes down to being able to play for 60 minutes and avoiding mental lapses.
8. Offense Once Again Disappears When it Matters
Simply put, the Rams offense has not been very good in the fourth quarter this season. They’ve been completely shutout over the final 15 minutes three times, including twice over the last three games. Taking away the Seahawks and Cardinals games as well as the garbage time touchdown against the Bengals, and the Rams have averaged 1.2 points per game in the fourth quarter.
Since Week 2, the Rams offense ranks 30th in the NFL in EPA per play and 29th in offensive success rate. Against the Steelers, their fourth quarter drives went as follow:
- 3 plays, seven yards, punt
- 5 plays, 18 yards, punt
Neither drive lasted longer than two-minutes and they picked up just one first down. Again, this is the unit that’s supposed to be able to carry this team. However, they consistently have disappeared when it matters.
9. Important to Remember the Rams are a Young Team
The Rams have been frustratingly inconsistent at times this season. However, that happens with being as young as they are. Following roster cutdowns, they were the second-youngest team in the NFL ahead of only the Green Bay Packers.
With youth comes mental errors. Those should get better with more experience. However, this is what this season is going to be over the next 10 games. The Rams have 2024 and 2025 in mind. This season is about finding building building block and youth you can build around your core with and then adjust accordingly.
10. The NFL Needs More Transparency With “Eye in the Sky” Officiating
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the officiating because the Rams hurt themselves enough times where it shouldn’t have even mattered what calls were made late in the game. The Rams still needed to march down the field and score a touchdown just to tie. With the way the offense was performing, that was no guarantee.
The NFL eye in the sky can instantly overturn certain calls but not others. I don’t know how an obviously bad spot in the Steelers-Rams game can’t be immediately fixed.— Master (@MasterTes) October 22, 2023
With that said, there needs to be some more transparency on when the eye in the sky official can and can’t be used to fix a blatantly obvious missed call. What are those conversations like and what exactly is being said? In the Premier League after a VAR decision, if needed, the league will release the audio of the conversations that were had during the review process. This isn’t to say that the Premier League has good officiating, but that’s at least some transparency on understanding how a decision was made.
Either the “eye in the sky” needs to be eliminated in order to get rid of any confusion or be used to ensure that the correct calls are being made. The NFL seems to be in the middle right now with the challenge system and it makes for a process that’s not transparent which leads to questions on motive for when the additional help is used.