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10 plays that doomed the Rams in loss to Steelers

Are more changes coming? Should there be?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the sting of the Los Angeles Rams 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers is a couple of days out, we can take a deeper look at some of the cause and effects. Some changes have already been put in place. And others may be instituted after takeaways from the game.

It’s been previously reported how the Rams shot themselves in foot while falling to Pitt and now it’s time to a deeper look at some of the individual perforations. Here’s 10 plays that put L,A. in the trauma center.

#1) Cooper Kupp’s drop in opening drive

Not the first one, wasn’t going to be much there. But the second one would have been good for a first down near the Steelers 30. Following, a ticky-tack holding call and a sack killed the drive. Good starting field position (Rams 37) was wasted.

#2) Not going for it on fourth down

Actually a two play series. With 4:19 left in the first quarter, the Rams face a third and five from the Steelers 35. The Rams call a run which is fair, particularly if you plan to go for it on fourth down. Problem is, the Steelers have eight men on the line of scrimmage and when Stafford doesn’t check out of the play, the run is stopped after a gain of one. Instead of going for it, L.A. elects to try a 53 yard field goal. The NFL conversion rate of going for it on fourth and four is 46.4%. The missed field goal led to a short field for Pittsburgh just the same as a turnover on downs.

#3) Matthew Stafford’s interception to open the second half

As was his tendency the whole Steeler game, Staff was hell bent on targeting his initial read. The Pitt defender read it the whole way. Was it the play that changed the game? That’s up for debate, the Rams had plenty more chances, but it was an early momentum change and emotional uplift for Steel City.

#4) Missed shot at an interception

Linebacker Christian Rozeboom beautifully read it, dropped into the passing lane and got two hands on the ball, but just couldn’t bring it down. Sure, it was a tough catch, but it should have been made. While some may debate this, those are the plays that have to be made to step up and win games. An INT right there, in Steeler territory, might have changed the game. It certainly would have flipped momentum back to L.A.’s side.

#5) Tyler Higbee’s third quarter drop

The Rams were moving, eight plays on the drive had them at the Steelers 33. On second and nine, Stafford put it on the lanky tight end at the 16. With the safety flying in, Higbee flat dropped it. Hard to claim that he short-armed it because it hit him in the hands, but he was undoubtedly trying to cover up and protect himself. However you want to call it, the drive was doomed. On the next play, Stafford looking all the way at Cooper Kupp, could not envision that TuTu Atwell was breaking free on a flag pattern and broke the pocket to force an incomplete pass towards Kupp.

#6) Another missed field goal

Yes, it was 51 yards. Fourth and nine made it a bridge too far to go for it, but this was a horrible miss, not even close. Here’s a guy who’s been around long enough to have worked out his stroke and yet, still whips across the ball instead driving through it. Worse, it gave the Steelers another short field and for the third time they would capitalize on a mistake for a score. That’s 14 points off three missed kicks and an interception for those keeping tally at home.

#7) Derion Kendrick gambles and gets beat

After the missed field goal, it could have been a quick three and out. Two short passes only gained a couple and on third and eight, Derion Kendrick lined up in man coverage, nine yards off the ball. The wide receiver made a made a break outside and pivoted back towards the middle. Instead of trying to wrap up the tackle a yard short of the stick, Kendrick tried to undercut the route and was woefully short. The play went for 39 yards deep into Rams territory. To add insult to injury, Byron Young hustles past Kendrick from well behind the play to force the runner out of bounds. Steelers score two plays later to tie up the game.

#8) The winning drive and not one blitz

This was not one bad play, it was a bad series. The Rams use of blitzes from multiple angles had kept Steelers QB Pickett out of rhythm all afternoon and under 130 yards passing. But inexplicably, with the game on the line, the defense went passive. and did not blitz once during the 10 play, game winning drive. Pickett answered by playing pitch and catch to the tune of five of five for 61 yards.

#9) Matthew Stafford’s tunnel vision

Maybe it’s being caused by all the pressure he’s been under, but again, Tutu Atwell was breaking clear on a flag route. On second and 10 from their own 43 and 5:46 left in the game, Staff dropped back. There was some pressure from a late blitz, but in single coverage, if Atwell’s even, he’s leavin’, and he had a step while Stafford was still in the pocket. Staff’s eyes never left Kupp.

#10) DeCobie Durant asleep at the switch

Pittsburgh kept the ball for the final 5:28 of the game, but the Rams did have a chance at an early three and out. A couple of runs up the middle set up third and three from the Steelers 21. When QB Pickett dropped back, Aaron Donald almost beat a double team and they all crashed into the QB a half count late. While DeCobie Durant bailed into a two-deep safety role about four yards outside the hash marks, the wide receiver ran right up the hashes, Durant appeared to be cheating/shading to support the cornerback. Durant was looking towards the sideline where no one was and as soon as the receiver cleared the linebacker, Pickett hit the wide open target. The Rams were officially dead.

Final thoughts

The offense has taken pretty well to a more downhill run game when they’re willing to stick with it. But I did see some outside zone runs in the second half, I don’t know why, but it sure stood out as a non-sequitur from the duo/gap game. To my eye, Matthew Stafford didn’t have a good game. In his defense, he was under pressure and made a couple of big-time throws. But I thought he locked on to his primary read and forced it there too often and was late delivering when he went through progressions.

On defense I’m speechless. You play stellar for three quarters by keeping a young, struggling quarterback off balance with blitz packages aiming at him from all angles, but decide to quit attacking late in the game and allow that QB to play simple pitch and catch. On previous game film, the Steelers were shown using a fair amount of back shoulder pass plays, but it didn’t look like L.A, had worked much on defending it. Pitt didn’t call a lot of audibles, but I did notice that when the Rams went into the BOSS fronts (more linemen on one side), the Steelers ran at the weak side gap.

This one is gone and the only thing to takeaway is film study to work on the player’s mistakes, but I do think the Rams coaches have to decide on each unit’s personality. Now they’re off on a two game road trip against teams where wins could loom large as the season comes down to the wire. Will we see the gritty Rams that showed up in first three quarters of the Steelers game, or the semi-liquid ooze of the last 15 minutes?