The Los Angeles Rams fell 19-16 on Monday Night Football to the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a disappointing loss for a number of reasons. After feeling good about how the team played against the San Francisco 49ers, it was a different vibe after this one. The Rams had several opportunities to come away with a win, but coaching and mistakes on offense led to self-inflicted errors. Here are my 10 takeaways from this week’s loss.
1. Rams Kept the Bengals in the Game and Paid the Price
If you watch the English Premier League, you should be relatively familiar with Chelsea Football Club. As a fan of Chelsea, every week I watch a team dominate possession and get high quality chances, only to not be able to find the back of the net and score. Because of that, Chelsea are unable to put away teams and leave themselves susceptible to bad luck goals and losses to inferior clubs.
That’s what Monday Night felt like.
The Rams had endless opportunities to put the Bengals away early in the game. After the TuTu Atwell touchdown, McVay called three straight passes and the Rams ended up settling for a field goal. The next time in the red zone, Kyren Williams picked up seven yards on 2nd-and-10. Another throw and another incompletion led to a field goal. Later in the game, Matthew Stafford found Van Jefferson for 46 yards. The very next play, the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted.
It can be argued that the Rams should have led 14-3 early in the game. Even a 10-3 scoreline puts the Rams in control. They never got control and went 1-for-4 in the red zone. Because of that, they paid the price with a loss.
2. 10 Runs Against 31st Ranked Run Defense is Inexcusable
Coming into the game, the Bengals had the 31st ranked run defense and were 26th in run defense EPA and 28th in run defense success rate. With that being said, you would think that the Rams would have gotten back to a more run-heavy focus on offense like they did in Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Instead, in a game that was tied or within one score most of the way, Kyren Williams carried the ball 10 times. It’s not even that Williams was inefficient. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry and two of his first three runs went for six and seven yards. In the first three quarters, the Rams offense averaged -0.085 EPA per rush compared to -0.264 EPA per dropback. They were three times more efficient running the football and simply didn’t do it. Sometimes McVay becomes his own worst enemy and that looked to be the case on Monday Night.
3. Does McVay Trust Kyren Williams to Carry the Load?
Playing off of that, it’s fair to wonder whether or not McVay is comfortable with a running back like Williams carrying the load. Going back to last year when Cam Akers was benched, Darrell Henderson never had more than 12 carries in a game. Over the past two weeks, Williams has 14 and 10 carries in those games.
This isn’t to say that trading away Akers was the wrong move. However, if Williams is only a 10-15 carries per game guy, the Rams need to find someone that can handle 20 carries or a complementary player to Williams who can handle 5-10 attempts per game.
In Week 1, the Rams ran the ball 37 times — 22 of those attempts came from Akers and 15 from Williams. Did McVay not run the ball on Monday Night as much as he should have because of the depth behind Williams at the running back position or Williams isn’t someone that can handle full workload?
4. Joe Noteboom Was Paid as a Left Tackle Only Not To Play There
For a second consecutive game, the Rams offensive line depth was tested. While Joe Noteboom left the game for a period once again, he did return. This time, the big injury came with Alaric Jackson at the left tackle position. Instead of moving Noteboom to left tackle and plugging in Tremayne Anchrum at right guard, the Rams kept Noteboom at guard and played Zach Thomas at left tackle.
It makes sense that the Rams would want to keep things as cohesive as possible, making a switch at one position instead of two. However, Thomas became a liability and the Rams weren’t giving him help. On top of that, he was put in an extremely unfair situation with the Rams offense going completely one dimensional with a complete drop back passing game. This allowed the Bengals to pin their ears back and feast on an injured offensive line. The sharks smelled blood and didn’t hold back.
The Noteboom situation continues to get more confusing. Kevin Dotson and Warren McClendon were inactive. While McVay’s reasoning for playing Thomas at left tackle made sense, that should have been Noteboom.
5. A Good Defensive Performance Was Wasted
If you would have said before the game that the defense would hold the Bengals to 19 points, create a turnover, hold Joe Burrow to a 25.2 QBR, most would have expected a Rams win.
The Rams defense allowed a success rate of 34.2 percent which ranked fifth in the NFL in Week 3. They were the only team in the top-5 to lose. Out of the teams ranked inside the top-10 in in defensive success rate in Week 3, the New York Jets and Las Vegas Raiders were the only other teams not to win.
To put it simply, the Rams defense played a game that deserved a win. They continually got stops when they needed. The only thing they didn’t do was score. Despite two offensive turnovers, they allowed only three points off of those turnovers. The defense finally got a turnover and it was a big one that should have given the offense an opportunity to tie the game.
Raheem Morris’ group did its job and unfortunately the offense had an off-night and wasn’t able to get win.
6. TuTu Atwell Was Nearly the Player of the Game
Atwell had a good game, but almost was a big reason why the Rams won. He should have scored a touchdown on the opening drive and then nearly had a touchdown in the second quarter, but the ball went over his head. It was Atwell who scored the Rams’ lone touchdown of the game late in the fourth quarter which was also their lone third down conversion.
There weren’t a lot of positive on offense, but Atwell was one of them. If he’s able to keep his foot in bounds on the end around in the first quarter, it can be argued that this is a different result.
7. The Rams Miss Cooper Kupp, Especially in the Red Zone
The absence of Cooper Kupp was felt in a game like Monday Night’s against the Bengals. in total, the Rams finished 1-for-4 in the red zone and only scored on their final red zone possession.
Last season, four of Kupp’s six touchdowns came in the red zone. In 2021, Kupp led the NFL with 18 receiving touchdowns in the red zone. Inside the 20, the windows get tighter. This isn’t to say that Puka Nacua can’t become a red zone target or that Atwell can’t be used in the red zone. However, Atwell’s target in the back of the end zone that went over his head might be a touchdown with Kupp.
Again, this isn’t to say that Atwell and Nacua haven't been good because they have been. With that said, the Rams offense is missing that go-to wide receiver that Kupp has been over the last two years. They have a minimum of one more game without their top wide receiver.
8. Byron Young and Kobie Turner Continue to Impress
Byron Young continues to get better with every game that he plays. The rookie finished with five pressures and while he didn’t record a sack, he consistently in the backfield and putting pressure on Burrow. He had his best game so far and is only getting better with experience.
The same can be said about Kobie Turner. He had three pressures against the Bengals and Aaron Donald and Turner teamed up for a sack at the end of the first half that forced Cincinnati to kick a long field goal. These two are a huge bright spot on the defense.
9. The Officiating Was Bad, but Good Teams Overcome It
I’m not typically one to blame officiating for a loss. However, it’s hard not to see the impact that they had on the game. If Atwell had been called out initially, that’s one thing. However, it was called a touchdown on the field and there wasn’t indisputable evidence to overturn it.
oof refs overturned Tutu Atwell's TD pic.twitter.com/Uladfl9rzS— #RingerNFL (@ringernfl) September 26, 2023
There was some controversy on Logan Wilson’s first interception and whether or not the ball hit the ground. Tyler Higbee scored a touchdown, but the play was called dead as the Bengals allegedly called a timeout before the snap. Atwell was brought down by the back of his jersey and a horse collar flag was picked up.
It wasn’t a great performance by the officiating crew.
With that being said, after Atwell’s touchdown was called back, the Rams didn’t run the ball with Williams who has excelled when running the ball inside the five yard line this season. The Rams had opportunity after opportunity to win and they didn’t get the job done. Good teams overcome those types of officiating errors.
10. Rams Beat Themselves and Missed an Opportunity
It was talked about during the week, but the Rams had opportunity on Monday Night to show that they were ahead of schedule and should be considered among the contenders in the NFC. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t get out of its own way.
At the end of the day, you can’t go 1-for-11 on third down or settle for field goals and expect to win. The Rams simply made too many mistakes and right now, they don’t have the talent to overcome self-inflicted wounds.
Through three weeks, I expected the Rams to be 1-2. However, the way the cards were dealt, this was a chance for the Rams to go 2-1 with a matchup against the Colts on the horizon. At 3-1, you’re looking at a potential playoff team. Now, Monday Night wasn’t a must-win game, but if the Rams miss the postseason by a game, this is one that you look back to as a missed opportunity.