Once again, the Los Angeles Rams defense started out red hot, with a big assist from the clock-gobbling offensive unit. But when the offense started to take its foot off the gas, the momentum swerved the Indianapolis Colts way and L.A. had to claw and scratch its way to a 29-23 overtime win.
Until midway through the third quarter, the Rams defense allowed zero points, 114 total yards, and five first downs. Then the roof fell in. In four drives over 10 minutes, Indy closed up a 23-0 deficit and tied the game by rumbling for 231 yards on 29 plays. Each scoring drive was punctuated by foolish penalties and big passing plays set up by the escapability and athleticism of Colts quarterback (QB) Anthony Richardson.
One of my pre-game keys to the Rams defense’s success was giving rookie QB Richardson a lot of different defensive formations to decipher. Not long into the game it became obvious that Richardson is still learning the nuance of the pro game and is basically a one read QB. His strength right now is the ability to extend plays with his stellar athleticism, both running and throwing.
L.A. Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris must have noticed this on film because he ran predominantly the base 5-2 (38 snaps) and his preferred 4-2 (21 snaps). He did move the linebackers Ernest Johnson, Christian Rozeboom and Quentin Lake in and out of the defensive line’s interior and edge. Using faux charges, jumping in and out of gaps, as well as blitzing.
Here’s how the drives broke down:
As expected, QB Richardson was the lynch pin of the Colts offense. Of the six plays ran on the opening drive, he broke the pocket on three plays (one a completed pass) and a fourth was designed run. He netted 11 yards rushing and seven yards passing. Linebacker (LB) Ernest jones chased him out of bounds for sack to kill the drive. Rams 7, Colts 0.
On the first play, QB Richardson got outside of edge (E) Byron Young’s contain and scampered for 23 yards. After a short four yard completion underneath, Richardson ran off tackle on a designed run behind two pulling linemen for eight yards. LB Jones again wrapped up the tackle and safety (S) Jordan Fuller stripped the ball from Richardson, forcing a fumble that cornerback (CB) Ahkello Witherspoon recovered for the turnover. Rams 14. Colts 0.
L.A. forced a quick three-and-out and one net yard. Rams rookie defensive tackle (DT) Desjuan Johnson was active for the game and got some early action. He was involved in the first two plays of this drive. On the first, he was driven well back off the line of scrimmage and combined with fellow S Russ Yeast to tackle the Colts running back after a seven yard gain. On the second, Indy tried sweep outside and E Michael Hoecht stretched it out well, allowing Johnson and fellow DT Bobby Brown to scuttle the play for a loss. The drive closed out when QB Richardson overthrew an open wide receiver (WR) on an out pattern. Rams 17, Colts 0.
With the Rams having scored on four straight dives, Indy finally embarked on a sustained drive, gaining 46 yards on nine plays. It all went for naught as ex-Rams kicker (K) Matt Gay missed a 47 field goal attempt. QB Richardson ran the ball four times on the drive and was two of three through the air. The big play was a 30 yard pass, where WR Josh Downs gave CB DeCobie Durant a little inside head fake and beat him down the seam. Colts RB Zack Moss followed with an eight yard run to the L.A. 35 when DT Kobie Turner was a half count late into the gap and slipped off the tackle at the line of scrimmage. After a quick WR screen for a first down at the 29, QB Richardson ran the ball twice. On the first, he tried to run wide but the play was stretched out by E Hoecht and CB Derion Kendrick for a three yard loss. On the second, he broke the pocket outside for eight yards. On third and five, QB Richardson bounced a short pass over the middle. The Colts lined up to go for it on fourth down, but jumped before the snap to force the ill-fated field goal attempt. Rams 20, Colts 0.
QB Richardson opened play with a mid-length throw down the sideline to the 45. The WR went high to corral the throw and S Russ Yeast hustled over and timed his hit to knock the WR out of bounds and an incomplete pass. A holding penalty moved Indy back and on play three of the drive, E Byron Young flushed QB Richardson out of the pocket. DT Kobie blew him up, but it was ruled too high, a roughing penalty and new set of downs. DT Bobby Brown then fought off his block and stopped a first down run for no gain. On second down, DT Aaron Donald broke through and finally drug QB Richardson down for a sack and on third down, S Jordan Fuller had good coverage on a crossing pattern and the pass was incomplete. Rams 20, Colts 0.
Indy changed focus on their first scoring drive of the game, pounding up the middle for three straight plays. Some of the Rams tackling problems reared its head as RB Zack Moss rumbled for accumulated 40 yards through the A gaps. On a 35 yard touchdown pass, QB Richardson started with a play action fake, broke the the pocket and looked like he would run, but found tight end Moe Allie-Cox beating E Michael Hoecht on a crossing pattern. S Russ Yeast bounced off a tackle at the four and Cox carried Hoecht on his back into the end zone. On a two point conversion, QB Richardson broke the pocket and kept the play alive with a scramble unit he found wide-open RB Moss to convert. Rams 23, Colts 8.
The momentum had definitely swung to the Colts side after a poorly thrown interception by Rams QB Matthew Stafford at their 41. L.A. actually forced a quick three-and-out, that was negated by a penalty. A short run and a wide throw forced third down. DT Aaron Donald flushed and stripped QB Richardson. LB Christian Rozeboom recovered. The refs saw a ticky-tack illegal contact penalty down field that appeared to be initiated by the WR. The extension went for naught. After a short run and incompletion forced third-and-long, E Byron Young caught QB Richardson breaking the pocket and locked him up, Richardson’s strength allowed him to unload it, forcing fourth down. The fourth down pass into the flat was thrown wide and the Rams took the ball. Rams 23, Colts 8.
A holding call started the Colts drive as the fourth quarter opened. After a short incompletion, QB Richardson was under pressure by DT Aaron Donald and uncorked a long pass up for grabs down the sideline, CB Ahkello Witherspoon was hanging on to WR Alec Pierce for pass interference, but Pierce hauled in the completion. S Russ Yeast added insult to injury with a spearing penalty and the play/penalty traversed 53 yards. Richardson then left the pocket for a completion and first down inside the Rams five. Two short runs by RB Zack Moss got very little and on third down the Colts called QB Richardson’s number on an off tackle power run behind two pulling linemen for the score. Matt Gay made the PAT. Rams 23, Colts 15.
The Colts again started with three straight RB Moss run plays for 12 yards. Two wide open 20+ yard passes to TE Andrew Ogletree sandwiched around another short Moss run had Indy in business at the Rams 27. The first completion had QB Richardson being flushed from the pocket by E Byron Young and finding Ogletree on a broken play and on the other he was wide open in the seam of the soft zone. Two short runs and slightly high throw that was well covered by CB Witherspoon forced fourth down. On fourth down, QB Richardson moved right out the pocket and got outside of E Young (who was clearly held) and found TE Granson who had come all the way across the field for a first down inside the five. Two runs gained nothing and on third down, wing TE Ogletree was left uncovered for the easy touchdown pass. Indy converted the two points to tie the game on a play action fake up the middle and short pass to the wide open motion man. Rams 23, Colts 23.
After the Rams went three-and-out, the Colts got their best punt return of the day and took over at their own 35 with 1:32 on the clock. Needing a 25-30 yards for a game winning field goal attempt, the Rams defense stiffened and forced three straight incompletions. The first was a misfire, and a second batted down by E Michael Hoecht. On the third, Colts TE Kyle Granson made an out-and-up move on S Quentin Lake and gained a step. Instead of leading him, QB Richardson threw a back shoulder pass and Granson couldn’t make the falling catch. Rams 23, Colts 23.
QB Richardson kneeled to kill the last five seconds and move into overtime. Rams 23, Colts 23.
The Colts didn’t get one. Rams score a TD on first drive of OT. Rams 29, Colts 23.
Witherspoon and Kendrick both generally had good games. If you want to complain about them, it should be more about their tackling effort. On ‘Spoon’s one bad coverage play, if he had spent less effort putting the chicken wing clamp on the receivers arm and just played the ball, he might have got an interception. The announcer and pundits praised Anthony Richardson’s strong arm, but man, that was a lollipop up for grabs. On Kenderick’s one bad coverage play, it was zone coverage and the Colts TE came all the way across the field. Was Kendrick too deep and out of position? Or just a case of a fine football play extended by an athletic QB. DeCobie Durant was guilty of allowing space in his coverage and gave up catches. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson got one snap on defense and was charged with a penalty. It was a ticky-tack call where the WR ran into him downfield after the play was decided.
Other than forcing the fumble, Fuller was quiet. He does well keeping things in front of him and generally tackles well as the last line of dense. But he is a step or two slow, and doesn’t close on the sideline well. Late in the game, the Colts repeatedly attacked his and Witherspoon’s side late in the game when they got inside the five. Passes for a touchdown and a two point conversion were converted in the flat before Fuller could react.
Russ Yeast was aggressive in run support and made a sweet play defending a pass on the sideline, aggressively knocking the WR out of bounds before he get his feet down.
Quentin Lake didn’t play a lot, limited to nine plays subbing in for LB Rozeboom. He had one pass breakup and was credited for another when he was actually burnt.
Ernest Jones and Christian Rozeboom are scrappy. I think that's the right descriptor. They lack plus athleticism in space, but are relentless in hustle and pursuit. While neither are thumpers, they tackle well and play best triggering downhill. Both are on pace for well over 100 tackles on the season.
Again, both Byron Young and Michael Hoecht played 95% of defensive snaps. DC Morris continued to move Hoecht around the formations and Young was also out covering the slot this week as well. Hoecht did improve on defending the run, but his pass rush moves appear limited to the power-to-speed bull rush and can’t keep up on crossing routes when pass covering on slot receivers, whether wide outs or tight ends.
Young made simple drops into zone coverage. What Young does do well is get after the passer. He doesn’t have a lot moves in his tool box yet and needs to at least develop a strong swipe to keep those bigger, longer tackles from latching on to him (Remember Trey Hendriksen schooling Zack Thomas with the swipe in the Cincy game?).
Chasing a QB like Anthony Richardson around is work, you have him within your grasp and poof, he’s gone. He can juke you or overpower you. Young created consistent pressure and that’s the deal, the other pass rushers not named Aaron Donald have to win their 1on1’s for this defense to find real success.
Nick Hampton and Zach VanValkenberg only got three snaps each, just enough for the other two to catch a breath.
Aaron Donald was, well, Aaron Donald. Creating havoc. Jonah Williams was limited in practice all week with a bad back and only played a little over half the snaps. He has really stepped into the A’Shawn Robinson role and plays the run very well. Larrell Murchison has been getting limited snaps and is yet to make the splash he did late last season. Desjuan Johnson saw his first NFL action, early in the game too. He can move laterally, but got overpowered on a couple reps. Nose tackle Bobby Brown upped his game and got some penetration, I’m not so sure of that 81.1 Pro Football Focus grade, but his play was much better than the first three weeks. Was it because he was facing off against Colts backups? We’ll see next week vs. the Philadelphia Eagles.
Aaron Donald was on another level yesterday.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) October 2, 2023
Had eight total pressures which tied for 3rd in the NFL in Week 4. That doesn't include a "should have been" strip sack.
Any win on the road is a good win. There’s still the nagging thoughts about missed tackles and at times the defense is either confused or completely blowing coverages. A few plays a game they look lost and cannot grasp why.
I’m not so sure if the Colts offensive line injuries were a blessing or a curse, the Rams got consistent pass rush pressure, but it was like playing into Anthony Richardson’s hand. He easily escaped the rush numerous times and his biggest plays came on the move. Next week, Philly brings an active QB AND a strong offensive line.
The Rams could get Ochaun Mathis back this week and it will be interesting to see if he can earn some snaps sooner or later. Having Byron Young and Michael Hoecht playing 95% of snaps while banging heads, chasing QB’s and running after receivers in coverage doesn’t seem a recipe for long-term success.