In an old-fashioned shoot out, the out-manned Los Angeles Rams were devastated by an overtime 37-31 road loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Adding insult to injury, it was a 76 yard punt return for touch down that provided the winning margin.
Yes, the defense was out-manned, but that man was Lamar Jackson. He was outstanding, taking what the Rams gave underneath and not forcing the ball, supported by enough deep throws to keep the Rams secondary from compressing down. It appeared the L.A. game plan was to try and confuse him with different coverages instead of exotic blitz packages. And actually, the Rams did get some pressure and the pocket integrity held up pretty well, Jackson was just too agile and elusive to be boxed in.
2 pt play. Lamar dodges one pass rusher and then throws a pinpoint pass into a tiny window while leaving his feet and getting drilled, as one does. pic.twitter.com/AqhajF4bHu— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) December 11, 2023
Not only did he extend plays with his feet, he was able to turn those pressure situations into ground gains. By my count, he ran only one option play for just a couple of yards, the rest were scrambles. The Ravens decided to take the underneath passes rather than pound the football on the ground. Some of that was dictated by the Rams ability to move and score on offense, but as Rams fans know so well, allowing the opposition to play pitch-and-catch is a standard occurrence.
Here’s what the drive charts looked like.
Quarterback (QB) Lamar Jackson starts slowly, completing a couple of short passes. Edge Michael Hoecht stones two straight runs to force a punt. Ravens 0, Rams 0.
Cornerback (CB) Derion Kendrick got burned for 20 yards. He got caught gambling/peeking inside on a double move. After a well overthrown deep attempt, the Rams pass rush stepped up. Linebacker (LB) Ernest Jones got a short sack and on third down, QB Jackson broke contain where Defensive tackle (DT) Kobie Turner laid the hit to force an incompletion. Rams 3, Ravens 0.
After a pair of decent runs to open the drive, tight end Isaiah Likely goes in motion and nobody mirrors him. He simply kept going down the sideline and QB Jackson hit him for a 50 yard touchdown (TD) pass. Ravens 7, Rams 3.
QB Jackson danced away from good pressure and weaved for 11 to open the drive. After a short run and incompletion, Jackson hits a quick out for first down. A sure tackle would have made it very close, but poor efforts turned into a 15 yard gain. Now near midfield, QB Jackson finds wide receiver Odell Beckam running open behind the defense for a long TD. Safety Jordan Fuller was caught flat-footed by an in/out move by Beckham and burnt. Ravens 14, Rams 10.
QB Jackson again goes deep and it looks like the receiver has a step on CB Ahkello Witherspoon, but the pass is short and ‘Spoon intercepts it from trail position. He makes a fine return, as well. Rams 17, Ravens 14.
With 1:45 left in the half, a scenario played out that is all too familiar to Rams fans. Into soft umbrella coverage, QB Jackson completed seven short passes and Baltimore got a field goal with ticks left in the half. Rams 20, Ravens 17.
Baltimore opened the second half working the ground. Five runs sandwiched around a deep incompletion. The big play was E Michael Hoecht rushing inside and getting pinned, while S John Johnson took a horrible angle and the running back got around the end for 27 yards. It could have been worse, a third down underneath pass to wide open WR Odell Beckham clanked of the top of DT Aaron Donald’s helmet to force a field goal. Rams 20, Ravens 20.
Bizarre three and out for a safety. A short run by QB Jackson, a dropped pass, and on third down, the Ravens center snaps the ball too early. It rolls into the end zone and Jackson kicks it past the end line. Rams 22, Ravens 20.
QB Jackson started the drive by breaking the pocket and scrambling for 16, then he he converted three straight first downs by throwing underneath right at the stick. On the Rams side of the field, he completed a 17 yard pass to WR Odell Beckham. On his four third down conversion attempt, he got outside the pocket and a fine lock down tackle by E Michael Hoecht forced a 33 yard field goal. Ravens 23, Rams 22.
After the Rams offense went three and out the defense came up with one of their own, Play one was a run up the gut for no gain. QB Jackson had all day to throw on play two, L.A. only rushed three and after seven seconds LB Ernest Jones joined the fray and Jackson weaved his way for five. On third down, the Rams blitzed and the short underneath pass was well-covered by CB Derion Kendrick short of the line to make. Ravens 23, Rams 22.
A methodical drive versus umbrella coverage, QB Jackson went 7-10 on the drive. When the Rams did get pressure he danced away. E Byron Young did get a sack late in the drive that set up 3rd and 17, but the next play was a crossing pattern that S Jordan Fuller didn’t react to and went for a TD. Derion Kendrick was beaten for a two point conversion. Ravens 31. Rams 28.
Ravens kneel down with seven seconds and move to overtime. Rams 31, Ravens 31.
Baltimore wins the toss. Rams defense steps up and forces a three and out in overtime. CB Ahkello Witherspoon comes up and stops a run after four and on two straight plays, L.A. got late pass rush pressure and forced QB Jackson to throw it away. Rams 31, Ravens 31.
This was a game L.A. was supposed to lose, Las Vegas doesn’t put 7.5 point spreads on evenly matched teams. But the Rams hung tough and could/should have stolen this one. Post-game, I was trying to think about how the L.A. defense could have played better, without jumping to kneejerk reactions.
There were the standard week-to-week problems, some poor tackling, soft coverage, and not setting the edge. But none of those really were the main cause, just contributors. What sticks in the craw are the big plays. In Raheem Morris’s three seasons, the common thread is giving up big plays. For a team that uses so much umbrella coverage, the Rams are continually exploited by explosive plays. Why so many?
L.A. is in the Top or Bottom 5, depending how you look at it, in explosive pass plays given up over 14 weeks. There are always contested deep catches, but on a weekly basis, it appears the Rams opposition has receivers running loose, uncovered. And not in just one area, across the field. Some can be attributed to the pass rush, or rather, lack of it, receivers working their way into open spaces in the zone. But too often, foes are hitting short underneath passes that are more akin to timing routes than reads or options.
Is it really such a lack of talent problem? They too often seem confused and back on their heels. The lack of speed is certainly noticeable amongst the secondary and linebackers, but that can’t explain it all away. This not a smothering defense nor are they particularly play makers, they are not going to “win” games. So going forward they have to cut it loose with the blitz and more aggressive coverages. The time has passed for trying to over-coach and conservatively control the outcomes. Let them go fast and loose.
The Rams are 6-7 with four to play, they cannot afford to allow the next three teams the luxury of the underneath pass game and hope the offense shows out. The Washington Commanders are going to fling it all around the field and while both the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants are flawed, they have decent passing defenses.
The Giants have won 3 straight games under Tommy DeVito pic.twitter.com/hYeqfowikp— PFF (@PFF) December 12, 2023