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Rams win over Commanders was closer than the score indicates

Intelligent, disciplined start morphs into second half dark side for Rams

Washington Commanders v Los Angeles Rams
Rams defense— Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
Photo by Ric Tapia/Getty Images

It’s easy to be torn about the Los Angeles Rams defense. Maybe coaches, fans, and pundits have underestimated them. L.A. showed both the Jekyll and Hyde personas to their game in Sunday’s 28-20 win over the lowly Washington Commanders.

In the first half, the dapper gentlemen were smooth, disciplined and kept mind over matter. The Rams allowed a meek three first downs, 83 total yards, and 10 minutes of possession. But in half two, the Rams defense morphed into a hideous creature, making bad penalties, allowing 215 yards of offense and giving up explosive plays.

Overdramatic? Yes, but the point is this game was closer than many will admit and the Commanders just aren’t a good football team. Let’s enjoy the win and the resulting playoff seed, but try to compartmentalize the good and bad.

Here’s how things shook out on the drive chart.

Drive #1

L.A. came out of the gate looking to keep Quarterback (QB) Sam Howell. On the first snap the Rams used their base 5-2-4, on snap two they lined up in a 4-2-5 and rushed three while dropping eight into coverage, and on third down blitzed six in front a man coverage with a single high safety. It resulted in a three and out. Safety (S) Quentin Lake knocked down the third down pass in sticky coverage. Rams 0, Commanders 0.

Drive #2

QB Howell has shown enough athleticism to be a problem. He was able to break contain for a couple of nice runs and hit a 24 yard pass completion on a scramble. All told, he hit three of four passes (and had another called back) to get to the red zone and a seven yard run up the gut put Washington at the L.A. 14. Again the Rams went to single high man coverage and short was tightly covered and thrown wide. On third down and three, L.A. strung out a sweep well for no gain. The Commanders went for it on fourth with QB Howell trying a rollout pass, backup edge Nick Hampton got a big paw up and knocked down the pass that was aimed at a wide-open receiver. Turnover on downs. Rams 3, Commanders 0.

Drive #3

After recovering a fumble at their own eight yard line, the Commanders took a conservative attack. A couple of short runs that were filled nicely by safeties (S) Lake and Jordan Fuller. On a third down screen, E Byron Young’s speed blew up the timing and the pass was thrown away. Three and out. Rams 3, Commanders 0.

Drive #4

Quick three and out. Rams still using predominantly single high man coverage and pressure is giving QB Howell fits. Three straight incompletion where throws were late and off target were the cause. Cornerback (CB) Ahkello Witherspoon used his length to tip one away from trail position, S Russ Yeast was a step slow reacting to a flat pass, but the ball was high and behind, and E Michael Hoecht drilled a short cross underneath dislodging the ball. Rams 10, Commanders 0.

Drive #5

A third straight three and out, this one with a little excitement. When the Commanders get field position at their own 40 after recovering a second fumble, the Rams stay with man and getting enough rush pressure to fluster QB Howell into check downs. On third down linebacker Ernest Jones came on a delayed blitz and was too much for the running back to block, getting the sack. The Washington punt snap was botched and L.A. got the ball at their 30. Rams 10, Commanders 0.

Drive #6

Not really a drive, just fielding the Rams kickoff ended the first half. Rams 13, Commanders 0.

Drive #7

Trailing 20-0, the Commanders crossed up the Rams a bit by coming out running in the second half. RB Chris Rodriguez pounded between the tackles for 27 yards on three carries to get a first down on the Rams side of the field. Bobby Brown then slipped through on a wide zone block to give Rodriguez a loss of two, a very short underneath completion, and on third down, CB Ahkello Witherspoon and S John Johnson had nice bracket double coverage down the sideline, with ‘Spoon just missing on an interception. Rams 20, Commanders 0.

Drive #8

After a good punt return, Washington took over just on the L.A. side of the field and scored in six plays. The Rams had a chance to get off the field. After a short completion and run for no gain, LB Ernest Jones blitzed on third down and while he didn’t reach the QB, he did reach up a swat the pass down. On fourth down, a good pass rush forced QB Howell to scramble and he was able to pick out a receiver on the run and convert. Two plays later, Howell hit a wide-open WR Curtis Samuel on a flag pattern. On his break, S John Johnson was caught flat-footed and none of the other possible defenders followed him to the corner. Rams 20, Commanders 7.

Drive #9

What could have changed the momentum of the game, turned into a three and out. A beautiful punt, put the Commanders at their own nine yard line. On the first play, LB Ernest Jone blitzed and just lost balance and missed a bailing QB Howell at the goal line. Howell got outside and ended up weaseling for a couple before getting out of bounds, After a run up the gut for one yard set up third and long, WR Terry McLaurin beat CB Ahkello Witherspoon down the sideline and got away with holding up sideline to boot. McLaurin appeared to make a spectacular one-handed grab, but the pass was ruled to have touched the ground. A major momentum swing was averted and Washington had to punt from their own end zone. Rams 20, Commanders 7.

Drive #10

On the first play, the Rams flush QB Howell from the pocket. Running to his right, hthrows back across his body towards the middle of the field. A high throw is tipped up in the air by the WR and caroms off LB Christian Rozeboom into the waiting hands of S John Johnson for the interception. Rams 28, Commanders 7.

Drive #11

With 9:05 left to play, QB Howell is sat down in favor of veteran Jacoby Brissett. Washington took over at their own 33 after a missed Rams field goal and Brisset led them to a five-play 67 yard touchdown. He scrambled away from pressure for nine on the first play and then completed four straight passes. Three were of the underneath variety and the 29 yard touch down was WR Terry McLaurin running right past CB Derion Kendrick. Rams 28, Commanders 14.

Drive #12

Here’s why the Washington Commanders are in line for a Top 5 draft pick. They go down to Rams one yard line, that’s 64 yards on two plays, in 16 seconds and then it takes them three minutes, two penalties and two fourth down conversions to close the deal and score. CB Derion Kendrick was victimized on the opening two explosive plays and committed a fourth down penalty that gave Washington a new life. The L.A. defensive front did not give an inch on three run plays and S Quentin Lake made a nice pass break up before getting juked on the touchdown. Another bad snap led to a blocked extra point. Rams 28, Commanders 20.

A win is a win, right?

You can look at this game two ways.

One, the Rams jumped out to a big lead and coasted on in. Washington scored a couple of second half touchdowns and made the score look closer than it really was. On offense, L.A. had both the run and pass game rolling and dominated in total yards, first downs, and time of possession. The defense aggressively blitzed and played tight coverage behind it, there was a lot of Cover1, man-to-man coverage with a single high safety.

Or two, L.A. could not put the Commanders away, a team that will finish with one of the worst records in the NFL. Yes, the defense certainly dominated in the first half, but turned around and gave up over 200 yards in the second. Worse yet, it was the explosive plays that have marred the Rams all season that made this game close. At the end of the third quarter, when Terry McLaurin almost made the one-handed grab, he had beaten Ahkello Witherspoon deep and was held all the way up the sideline. That penalty was obvious. That was a huge break and momentum could have easily flipped to D.C.

The takeaway is that the Rams have to bear down the whole game. The offense can be playmakers, but the defense are grinders. I liked the splurge of aggressive coverage and would like to see it continued. The next opponent and their quarterback Derek Carr have been up and down. I would like to see L.A. attack him, he can be riled.

The Rams control their playoff aspirations, it’s all game-by-game now. The defensive weak spots are obvious, can they cover them enough to make a real run?