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What’s really killing the Rams in their upset bids: End of half defense, 2nd half offense

How the Rams are playing in the middle 8 minutes and the second half is not going to help L.A. win many games

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams are one of the worst second half offenses in the NFL through five weeks, perhaps saved only by the Dallas Cowboys having one of the weakest efforts of the season on Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers. But if the Rams don’t figure out what’s not working after halftime, if Sean McVay is using up his entire bag of tricks in the first half and then getting “adjusted” by the opposing coach each week, L.A. will find out that there is somewhere to go but up.

This level of second half offensive production won’t work in a league that is designed to reward endurance, sustainability, and the team that shows up in the fourth quarter.

Since Sean McVay took over in 2017, and really since Aaron Donald’s arrival in 2014, the Los Angeles Rams have mostly dominated the Seattle Seahawks. However, no half by the Rams against the Seahawks may have been better than L.A.’s dominance of Seattle after halftime in Week 1:

The Rams won the half 23-0 and held the Seahawks to 12 YARDS, nine of which came on a meaningless end-of-game run by Zach Charbonnet. The offense scored on all five second half drives, including two touchdowns and three field goals.

Where did that team go?

Rams are tied for last in second half passer rating

Through five weeks, the Rams and Cowboys both have a passer rating of 60.7 in the second half of games, tied for the worst mark in the NFL. Stafford has completed 54.5% of his second half throws, averaging 6.0 yards per attempt and throwing one touchdown with four interceptions.

Individually, his 60.7 passer rating is 34th in the NFL among passers with at least 20 second half attempts. Only Dak Prescott is worse at 58.2, as Cooper Rush actually raised the Cowboys’ second half rating slightly on SNF.

Stafford ranks 34th in completion rate, ahead of only Anthony Richardson, who has less than half the number of second half attempts, 31st in Y/A, is tied with seven others who have four interceptions, and is tied for 28th with only one second half touchdown. When you remove backups from the list, like Andy Dalton and Aidan O’Connell, then the only QBs with 0-1 second half touchdowns are Jared Goff, Ryan Tannehill, Trevor Lawrence, Prescott, and Stafford.

Goff’s Lions are 4-1 and presumably haven’t needed him as much in the second half.

The Rams are 2-3 and would have a much better record if the offense didn’t stall out in the second half. Trying to make excuses or put blame on the offensive line and injuries, same as the 2022 season, won’t change the rankings. It won’t improve the numbers. They are what they are and L.A.’s second half struggles are the reason for being 2-3 instead of 4-1 or 5-0.

Week to Week

As said, the Rams outscored the Seahawks 23-0 in Week 1’s second half.

49ers 20-6 advantage in final 32 minutes

In Week 2, the Rams held a 17-10 lead over the 49ers near the end of the second quarter, at which point San Francisco got the ball back with just under two minutes left in the first half. The 49ers never even got to a third down on the final drive and were at L.A.’s 20-yard line with :17 seconds left, at which point Derion Kendrick basically intentionally interfered with Deebo Samuel to force Kyle Shanahan into a decision with :11 seconds left and no timeouts.

The 49ers of course went for it and Kendrick got a facemask penalty. :06 seconds left.

The 49ers went for it and an incomplete pass left :01 seconds left.

The 49ers bypassed a field goal opportunity and Brock Purdy ran it in to tie the game 17-17.

On L.A.’s first six drives of the second half, the Rams went: Punt, Interception, Punt, Field Goal, Interception, Turnover on Downs

From the end of the first half to the turnover on downs, the 49ers outscored the Rams 20-3, until McVay had his team kick a meaningless field goal to make it a 30-23 final despite there being no time left on the clock for a miracle. The box score says that the L.A. Rams scored six points in the second half, in reality they scored three.

Bengals 16-10 advantage in final 33 minutes

The Rams held a 6-3 lead in Cincinnati when Joe Burrow got the ball back at his own 40 with 1:13 left in the first half. The Bengals were near the red zone when Byron Young sacked Burrow to guarantee a field goal try instead, which Evan McPherson made from 53 yards out.

L.A.’s first five drives of the second half went: Field Goal, Interception, Punt, Punt, Punt

The Rams gained a total of -13 yards on their three drives in between the interception and a 61-yard touchdown drive to make it a 19-16 score with 1:03 left and one timeout remaining. That put the Rams, again, in an onside kick situation just to have a chance at a miracle. This time there actually was a minute left on the clock, but recovering an onside kick is so improbable that Bengals head coach Zac Taylor probably wasn’t that concerned with the Rams scoring their first touchdown of the game at that point.

An injury to A.J. Jackson may have hurt L.A.’s chances in the middle of the fourth quarter, but the Rams still scored their only touchdown of the game after Jackson left.

Colts 23-3 advantage in 2nd half of regulation

As noted, Anthony Richardson is only completing 50% of his second half throws, but the Colts showed absolutely no fear in the second half of their game against the Rams, with Indy’s offense having three touchdown drives of at least 62 yards in their first four possessions of the third quarter.

The Rams kicked a field goal on their opening possession of the second half, then went: Interception, Missed FG, Punt, Punt, Punt.

Between their 7th and 11th drive of the second half, at which point ANY points would have won the game in regulation, the Rams gained a total of 92 yards. There was another turnover and I would argue that missing a 48-yard field goal is as bad as a turnover.

Finally in overtime, the Rams had a 75-yard touchdown drive and didn’t let the Colts get the ball.

Eagles 13-0 advantage in final 30:30

Huzzah, the Rams score a touchdown with :32 seconds in the first half and hold a 14-10 lead over the Eagles! But gave Jalen Hurts :32 to work with three timeouts.

A.J. Brown gained 38 yards and a horse collar tackle by Kendrick put the Eagles at the LA 14 with :07 seconds. In an unbelievable repeat of Week 2, Kendrick pretty much intentionally interferes in the end zone with Brown and puts the ball at the LA 1 against the one team in the NFL that is KNOWN for being able to gain two yards at will because of their “tush push” play.

It didn’t matter if there was all 00:00 on the clock, the Eagles were going to go for it after a a penalty and they allowed Hurts to run it in to give Philly a 17-14 halftime lead.

The Rams second half possessions: Punt, Punt, Punt, Turnover on Downs, End of Game

People will look at the scoreboard and say that L.A. “held the Eagles” to only six points. Sure, that is true and it does matter. Points determine winners, not yards.

But here’s another thing that is true: The Eagles gained 75 yards, 83 yards, and 72 yards on their first three drives of the second half. The Rams gained a total of 64 yards on their first four possessions of the second half.

Then L.A. gained a meaningless (this is the third time in four games that the final drive was meaningless) 31 yards to end the game.

So in the last four games, the Rams drives prior to their last drive of the game:

21 total drives

3-of-4 on field goals

11 punts

4 interceptions

2 turnover on downs

Teams plan all week for the first quarter, but winning teams devise game-winning strategies after all the cards are out on the table. You’re supposed to go into halftime knowing not only what you did well and can repeat, but what the other team did well that you need to stop.

The Rams have played moderately good defense in the second half, so to some degree we could say that Raheem Morris has done enough.

But the Rams have been so abysmally bad on offense after halftime that we have to assume that opposing defensive coordinators are able to adjust with an almost 100% success rate since the Seahawks failed to have a plan in Week 1. In the last four games, the Rams have managed only nine points and not a single meaningful touchdown in the second half, barring their overtime touchdown against the Colts that only came AFTER a scoreless third and fourth quarter by the offense.

And in every loss this season, the Rams have been utterly embarrassed at the end of the first half.

The most important 8 minutes in football

I watched a great video this offseason that was notably made by an Eagles YouTuber, which highlights that the best teams in football—at any level—win these eight minutes of the game: The final four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half.

It’s not just winning the last eight minutes of the game that matters. It may be more important to win the middle eight minutes.

Well, the Rams have been terrible in the middle eight minutes of their last four games, just as they were great in the middle eight minutes of Week 1’s win.

We can say with some confidence that L.A. lost their bid to upset the two undefeated teams in the NFL—the 49ers and Eagles—because they allowed touchdowns on the final play of the second quarter both times. Both of these touchdowns also came after not one, but multiple penalties by Derion Kendrick. He had multiple big penalties in both instances!

However, it’s hard to be mad at Kendrick, not just because he faced Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown, but because he was probably instructed to get a penalty if he had to do it.

The real problem with those plays is that the offense left too much time on the clock and that the defense was able to bend to allow those teams to get so close. Although the horse collar penalty on Kendrick was probably even worse than the DPI in the end zone. That was his fault and it put the Eagles at the 14 instead of the 29.

But it’s not Kendrick’s fault that the Rams haven’t been able to score a meaningful second half regulation touchdown in any of their last four games. His issues are far easier to clean up and identify—which we see in spurts throughout each game, as the defense has done just enough to win games—than whatever is happening on offense.

That’s an entire unit, an entire phase of the game, and not even Cooper Kupp’s return in Week 5 (in which he was targeted four times and caught two passes for 23 yards in the second half) helped the Rams score any points after halftime against the Eagles. Van Jefferson has been targeted 10 times in the second half all season, catching four passes for 69 yards with one first down. Kyren Williams is averaging 3.8 yards per carry and has run for four first downs on 29 attempts in the second half of games. (Cam Akers had 18 carries for 19 yards in the second half against Seattle prior to his trade.) Tutu Atwell has caught 77% of his 13 first half targets for 9.2 yards per target, but only 52% of his 27 second half targets and gained 5.9 yards per target.

It’s as if teams know what’s coming and worse yet, know how to stop it.

Now it’s the job of McVay to figure out how they know what’s coming and how they can’t stop it. Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Puka Nacua are too talented to be stopped like that, too good to have not scored a single point in the second half on Sunday, but the Rams will far too far behind in the NFC playoff standings if they don’t figure it out soon.

Before it’s too late.