The Los Angeles Rams special teams unit was beaten up in preseason, but now that games count, they are not the glaring weak spot that fans expected. Even after the 30-23 loss to San Francisco, fan confidence is still running high. A strong showing in the first two weeks by the L.A. offense has buoyed special teams play. Punts have been limited to a total of three and the addition of veteran kicker Bret Maher has paid off with 6 of 8 field goals, the two misses being from 55+ yards.
Although there appeared some incremental progress vs. S.F., the special teams were kept relatively quiet by the Rams dominating the time of possession. So after the game review, I added some musings from watching the All-22 version of the game.
3-and-outs this season:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 20, 2023
14 - PIT
13 - IND, CIN
12 - JAX, PHI
11 - MIN
10 - TB, TEN, CAR
9 - CHI, ATL, NYG
8 - NE, GB, CLE, DAL
7 - KC, WAS, SF, HOU, NYJ, DET
6 - ARI, LAC, MIA
5 - BUF, SEA
4 - NO, LAR, DEN
3 - BAL, LV
Ethan Evans handled the duty again and was stellar, booting the ball through the end zone for touch backs on all six kickoffs. None were close to being returned. Now that’s the way to prop up your coverage unit.
Field goals and extra points
Another good showing for Bret Maher. He converted both of his extra points attempts, as well all the field goals. He was successful from 43, 48, and 38 yards. The kicks were not as solidly struck through the heart of the uprights as in Week 1. His first kick, from 43, just snuck inside the right goal post. I guess it’s his post-season melt down from last year that makes me draw labored breath’s when he lines up over 40.
The Rams are scoring on 58% of drives, tops in the NFL. That means the big leg of Ethan Evans doesn’t get much work. Against the 49ers, he had two boots. The first punt was a high, short punt that was fair caught just inside the 20 for 36 net yards.
He flipped the the field on his second punt. As the 3rd quarter wound down, the Rams went three-and-out after two incomplete pass and a sack for a 10 yard loss to their own 15. Evans unleashed from the L.A. five and the ball flew to 49er 17, 82 air yards. After a 10 yard return, the net was 72 yards.
Kyren Williams was credited with one punt return and Austin Trammel logged a kickoff return. After a long punt that pushed Williams back to the 17, he had enough room for an 11 yard return. Gunner blocker Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson did a good job of holding his side to help create the room.
To open the 2nd half, Trammel got one he could handle at the at the one. It was a bit strange. While the kick was in the air, he held his arms out to side like it was going to fly into the end zone. A very sweet move if it’s a decoy to throw off ‘Niner coverage. It appeared he hesitated a count after catching it, but looked like he had good burst after takeoff. He made a nice move and appeared to have a big hole, but the other deep man, Ronnie Rivers, veered into his path and knocked off the timing. Trammel had to settle for 21 yard return.
Snaps, holds, blocks
Another spot on game from snapper Alex Ward, he doesn’t get down the field in coverage like ex-Ram Jake McQuaide, but his snaps are right there. Same with Evans and his steady holding. I thought there was progress on the punt/FG block scene. One near-block close call and better rush penetration overall.
No matter how often you watch the game, All-22 gives a much better perspective. Here are some loose thoughts in no particular order.
It’s clear that the 49ers were attacking Ahkello Witherspoon’s side of the field on those swing, sweeps and quick screens. Spoon is known for coverage and going back to his draft profile, his willingness to tackle and fill in on run support is lacking.
Jonah Williams had a strong showing vs. Trent Williams and George Kittle. Time after time, Williams got his arms extended on Williams and serial-holder Kittle and used a wicked stack and shed move to hold and contain his gap.
Michael Hoecht was really moved around the defensive formation. He not only played edge, but was also lined as an inside linebacker and at both 3T and 5T defensive tackle. He was in the 5T role on the CMC long sideline run.
Sean McVay really called a stellar game. The quick, short passing game did two things. One was neutralizing the ferocious pass rush. The 49ers put a lot of capital into their defensive line and slowing down that unit is imperative for a chance to win. Two, it forced Fred Warner to hustle into those 12 yard passing lanes and opened up those short drag/crossing patterns. The Rams tried one pass over 15 air yards, the out to tutu Atwell late in the game that was ruled out of bounds. There wasn’t that many deep route clear outs either.
Ditto for Shanahan. S.F. had many plays that completely fooled the L.A. defense. The had many receivers breaking wide open downfield that Purdy misfired on or didn’t see. The Rams coverage often had two players in the same place, almost bumping into each other and leaving wide swathes of field open. The Rams coverage seemed to be tying to communicate, but too often total areas where left unmanned.
There was talk about Matthew Stafford looking too much for Puka Nacua. From above you could see the rookie was open another half dozen times when Staff didn’t locate him. Open all day is an over-used term, but in this case very apropos.
How good has #Rams rookie WR Puka Nacua been?— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) September 20, 2023
• On pace for 213 catches (NFL record is 149 by Michael Thomas)
• On pace for 2,261 yards (NFL record is 1,964 by Calvin Johnson).
Safe to say: Sean McVay got himself a serious steal in the 5th-rounder out of @BYUfootball. pic.twitter.com/s17LTHpDJB
Putting the edges, Hoecht and Byron Young in coverage on the slot receiver didn’t work. S.F. attacked right there every time L.A lined up in that formation, it fooled no one.
In the Rams run game, the timing on pulls and whams was much better. Against Seattle in Week 1, the just seemed off count. The Rams receivers did not have a good game blocking, they too often chose the wrong defender, didn’t sustain, or flat out missed.
Next week in Cincinnat
After two weeks, the Bengals are struggling on both offense and defense. Will the Rams continue the air onslaught or try to take advantage of Cincy’s #31 ranked run defense. The Rams special teams unit can only gain advantage by another strong showing from Matthew Stafford and Company.